Summary and Analysis
Warriors and chieftains from considerable distances gather at Heorot the next morning to marvel at the trophy, Grendel's claw, and to celebrate Beowulf's victory. Some follow the ogre's bloody footprints down to his lake where the water boils with Grendel's blood. On the way back to Heorot, Hrothgar's scopentertains the men with traditional songs as well as an improvised account of Beowulf's victory. Included is the story of Sigemund, an ancient hero who is recalled in honor of Beowulf. In contrast, the scop also sings of Heremod, a bad ruler who brought sorrow and death to his own people. Hrothgar gives a speech from the porch at Heorot and thanks God for Beowulf's triumph. Beowulf briefly recounts the battle, and even Unferth is impressed enough to keep silent. Work is begun to refurbish Heorot. A great feast is held in Beowulf's honor at which Beowulf and his men receive numerous gifts.
One of the themes of the poem is that man's fortunes change, and he should celebrate but take care when fortune seems to turn his way because disaster may visit soon. One must not tempt the gods of irony. The Geats and Danes unwisely assume that victory is complete with the death of Grendel. For now, however, everything is celebration. Warriors who trembled and hid from Grendel boldly track his footprints to the lake where he apparently has died. Scholars delight in the account of the scop's performance and his improvisation on the way back to Heorot. He tells the "great old stories" (869) in honor of Beowulf's victory, including the tale of courageous Sigemund, whose killing of the dragon foreshadows Beowulf's final battle and his death. The Beowulf poet thus subtly implies that all glory is fleeting and that death waits for all (1002 ff.). The scop's account of Heremod appears to be in contrast to Sigemund and a reminder of what can happen when a king goes bad. All of this is part of a celebration.
Back at Heorot, Hrothgar's praise of God, and only secondarily Beowulf, may seem intrusive in what is predominantly a heroic story. Some scholars feel that this passage indicates tampering or, at the very least, a genuflection by the poet or scribe who was ostensibly a Christian and probably educated by the Church. Beowulf's response mentions the will of God but frankly recounts his own courage. His only regret is that he could not present the king with a complete ogre body as trophy. His account drips with irony rather than gore, depicting the struggle in terms of hospitality. He wanted to "welcome my enemy" (969) with a firm handshake but was granted only a "visitor's token" (971), rather than a full corpse, when Grendel left "that dear gift" (973), his giant claw — a kind of macabre gratuity for services rendered.
The refurbishing of Heorot is interesting in its emphasis on brightness and light. In a land (Scandinavia) where winter is cold and dark while summer is unusually bright, it is understandable that light has a positive connotation. Beowulf has just mentioned "bright God" (979). God is light. Goodness is bright and shining in the poem. Grendel and the fen are dark and evil. Inside refurbished Heorot, the tapestry gleams; gold weaving shines on the walls; pictures shift in the light; the building itself shines.
Hrothgar's generosity is an indication of his character. Of course, he has much for which to be grateful. Although aged and no match for Grendel, his gifts to Beowulf and the other Geats are splendid. Beowulf receives a golden banner, helmet, and mail-shirt as well as a jeweled sword. All the items are laced with gold. In addition, he receives eight magnificent horses, with golden trappings that hang to the floor, and a gem-studded saddle. The other Geats receive various valuable heirlooms. The poet assures us of the generosity of the gifts.
mere a small lake or marsh.
two seas apparently the Baltic and the Atlantic; possibly the Baltic and the North Sea.
Waelsing reference to Sigemund, son of Waels.
Fitela nephew of Sigemund, possibly his bastard son.
Heremod Danish king who ruled disgracefully before Scyld rose to power.
hand-spike a kenning referring to the nail on Grendel's claw.
battle-talon another reference to Grendel's claw.
flagon a vessel for holding mead or other alcoholic liquids, usually made of metal or pottery and featuring a spout as well as a handle.
Hrothulf son of Halga, nephew of Hrothgar.
Ingwines another name for the Danes, literally "friends of Ing."