LINES 1,399 – 1,798 : Beowulf’s Mission
AEschere’s head is found near Grendel’s mere, and the Danes are
inconsolable. The water teems with serpents and strange monsters, and Beowulf kills one and pulls it ashore.
Unferth, who had an earlier dispute with Beowulf, now recognizes that the
Geat Lord is a true hero and offers him his sword, Hrunting, who has never failed his owner in hand-to-hand combat.
Dressed in his armor and with the help of God, Beowulf plunges into the lake
to seek out Grendel’s mother.
He swims deep down and Grendel’s mother spots him, and drags Beowulf to her lair. Because of his corselet, he is protected from the ogress’ claws and then her dagger when she tries to stab him. Beowulf draws Hrunting and hits Grendel’s mother’s head, but the sword is blunted and has no effect on her. He then resorts to fighting the ogress at close quarters and the two struggles on the floor. Beowulf then springs to his feet and notices a sword of giants among the items in the cave. He just has enough strength to wield this huge sword and inflicts a mortal wound on Grendel’s mother. Suddenly, the lair is flooded with light and Beowulf decapitates the body of Grendel that lies close by.
On land, those that wait see the water boiling with blood and assume that
Beowulf has been slain. The Danes return to Heorot, but the Geats remains to mourn their leader.
Beowulf decides to return with Grendel’s head as a trophy, and the hilt of
the giant’s sword, the blade had melted because of the ogress’ blood.
There is great celebration in Heorot, and it took four men to drag Grendel’s
head over the floor. This was a terrible sight.
Beowulf recounts his battle with Grendel’s mother and Hrothgar bestows more
honors on the valiant Beowulf.
The differences between Beowulf and Unferth are resolved, and the latter
gives Beowulf his sword named Hrunting in order to help in the battle with Grendel’s mother.
We note that most warriors looked after their gear very carefully, and
treated their weapons with respect, giving their swords names.
They perhaps thought more of their swords than they did of their women. We will note that in more modern fantasy tales that this naming of swords is a recurring theme, in particular in Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’. Therefore, Unferth’s gift of his sword is a great gesture.
The poetic description is perhaps at its peak in describing the battle
between Beowulf and Grendel’s mother. Although the ogress is weaker and smaller than her son, the match is more even because she is fighting on her own territory, and Beowulf does not have the element of
surprise in his favor.
In the first combat, Grendel was immune to the swords and daggers of the
humans. This situation is then reversed because Beowulf’s finest quality corselet makes him immune to the ogress’ claws and dagger.
Again the audience is reminded that this is a battle between good and
evil. They are reminded that Grendel’s mother was descended from Cain, and is therefore evil, and that Beowulf has right on his side and is sent by God to rid the Danes of this evil.
The action of the battle scene is expertly described as follows:-
“It was then that he saw the size of this water-hag,
damned thing of the deep. He dashed out his weapon,
not stinting his stroke, and with such strength and violence
that the circled sword screamed on her head
a strident battle-song.
'.. Had not the battle-shirt then brought him aid,
his war-shirt of steel. And the wise Lord,
the holy God, gave out the victory;
the Ruler of the Heavens rightly settled it
as soon as the Geat regained his feet.”
We read here the divine intervention ensuring that good will prevail against
evil. The instrument of death to Grendel’s mother is a combination of the wise Lord and the war-shirt. God gives man the ingenuity to construct Beowulf’s corselet.
The poet makes a real attempt to build the tension in this section by
creating an eerie atmosphere and plunging our hero into an unknown world where the ogress commands this watery domain.
Towards the end of the passage, we note the loyalty of Beowulf’s followers
who remain to mourn his apparent death, while the Danes return to their hall with the prospect of having the evil return and plague them.
From Hrothgar’s point of view, he is an ageing monarch and longs to live out
the remaining years of his reign in peace and tranquility. Beowulf was his last hope of attaining this.
The audience may think that the King will have peace in his lifetime, but
the poet mentions the neighboring evil King, Heremond who Hrothgar will try and appease later in the tale.
Finally, the reader can be in no doubt that there is a strong Christian
viewpoint in this poem.