The poem begins in the land of the Danes (also called the Spear Danes, I guess because they belong to a tribe that uses spears.) We’re told about the first king of the Danes named Scyld. He was a really buff, cool dude who led his tribe to victories on the battle field. When he kicked the bucket, he was put on a really big ship with his armor (byrny and buckler) and a lot of bling. After all, he make his tribe wealthy and powerful.
So his son Beow becomes king and is really cool. Then Beow’s son, Healfdene, becomes king and is a good king. Finally, Healfdene’s son Hrothgar becomes king.
Now Hrothgar is a very powerful warrior. Under his reign, his tribe becomes even more powerful and wealthy. All the warriors bring the bling home from battle and Hrothgar, being a really good and fair king, shares the wealth. That’s why Hrothgar is often called things like the “giver of rings.” Hrothgar becomes so successful that he builds a new mead hall (social center) for the tribe. He calls it the Hall of the Hart (which is a deer like animal) or Heorot.
As in most things, when everything is going really well for Hrothgar, a monster, Grendel, comes into the story. Grendel is a hater; he doesn’t like listening to all the happy Danes. He hears the scops (storytellers) singing lays (stories told in song) and is really bummed. So one night, he sneaks down to the hall and bursts in. He kills 30 men and takes them with him to his lair (crib). Grendel eats the bodies. YUCK, how unsanitary!
Although the warriors of Hrothgar try to stop him, Grendel continues to raid the tribe and kill anyone he can. He enjoys a midnight snack. Now we know Grendel is outside the rules of society because he attacks at night (a no-no for this time period), and he refuses to pay wergild. Wergild is man-payment.
Well, Grendel stalks Hrothgar’s tribe for 12 years. The story of this horrible monster reaches the Geats, a tribe in what is now southern Sweden. The king of the Geats, Hygelac, has a warrior by the name of Beowulf who is strong like bull. Now Beowulf figures that he would go to the Danes and make his reputation by taking on this bully. He gathers his posse of 14 and sails for Heorot.
When the ship arrives in Denmark, a guard of Hrothgar meets them. This guard is mad brave; even though these 15 really big warriors in all their war gear come off the ship, he goes to question them. He asks all those important questions like, “Yo, what are you doing here? Who are your fathers? Where did you come from?” He was such a good guard that he knew immediately that Beowulf was someone special.
When Beowulf meets Hrothgar, we find out that Beowulf’s father was down with Hrothgar. As a matter of fact, Hrothgar did a really big favor for Ecgetheow (Beowulf’s father). So Beowulf is kind of paying back. Hrothgar orders a really big feast for the guests. PARTY!
While drinking too much, one of Hrothgar’s men insults Beowulf. Unferth claims that Beowulf is full of hot air because he lost a swimming contest to his friend Brecca. Beowulf must defend himself and tells what really happened. It seems that Beowulf and Brecca, when they were young and stupid, had a bet. They both jumped into the ocean with their byrnies and swords. For five days and nights they swam together. (Beowulf didn’t want to leave Brecca fearing for his friend’s safety). On the fifth night, a storm came up and separated the two. Beowulf was attacked by a nicor (sea monster), which he fought off with his sword. Another monster grabbed him which he also fought off. He ended up fighting monsters all night. When the storm finally stopped and he could take a breath, he swam to shore and found nine sea monsters that he had killed. Then he had to walk home (not having any taxis or cell phones to call the taxis).
Well, after the insult by one of his men, Hrothgar felt that he had to give Beowulf the right to fight Grendel to prove himself. AND YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!!
After Beowulf pulls off Grendel's arm, there is great rejoicing! Hrothgar gives Beowulf a beautiful banner, a helment, a byrny, an heirloom sword, eight horses, and his own saddle. Hrothgar also gives Beowulf's men heirlooms and treasure. He also sends with them gold for the man whose life was lost. Hrothgar's queen, Wealtheow, gives Beowulf a collar and girdle and asks Beowulf to protect her sons.
Okay, thus ends the first third of the book. Think - How does Beowulf fit the characteristics of an epic? What is so important about the guard that Beowulf and his men meet when they first arrive in Denmark?