Beowulf kills Grendel with his bare hands and Grendel's mother with a giant's sword that he found in her lair.
Later in his life, Beowulf becomes king of the Geats, and finds his realm terrorized by a dragon , some of whose treasure had been stolen from his hoard in a burial mound. He attacks the dragon with the help of his thegns or servants, but they do not succeed. Beowulf finally slays the dragon, but is mortally wounded in the struggle. He is cremated and a burial mound by the sea is erected in his honour. Beowulf is considered an epic poem in that the main character is a hero who travels great distances to prove his strength at impossible odds against supernatural demons and beasts.
The poem also begins in medias res or simply, "in the middle of things," which is a characteristic of the epics of antiquity. Although the poem begins with Beowulf's arrival, Grendel's attacks have been an ongoing event. An elaborate history of characters and their lineages is spoken of, as well as their interactions with each other, debts owed and repaid, and deeds of valour.
Beowulf (modern English translation)
The warriors form a kind of brotherhood linked by loyalty to their lord. The poem begins and ends with funerals: at the beginning of the poem for Scyld Scefing 26—45 and at the end for Beowulf — Beowulf begins with the story of Hrothgar, who constructed the great hall Heorot for himself and his warriors.
In it, he, his wife Wealhtheow , and his warriors spend their time singing and celebrating. Grendel, a troll-like monster said to be descended from the biblical Cain , is pained by the sounds of joy.
Hrothgar and his people, helpless against Grendel, abandon Heorot. Beowulf, a young warrior from Geatland, hears of Hrothgar's troubles and with his king's permission leaves his homeland to assist Hrothgar. Beowulf and his men spend the night in Heorot. Beowulf refuses to use any weapon because he holds himself to be the equal of Grendel. This display would fuel Grendel's mother's anger in revenge. The next night, after celebrating Grendel's defeat, Hrothgar and his men sleep in Heorot. Grendel's mother, angry that her son has been killed, sets out to get revenge.
Earlier, after the award of treasure, The Geat had been given another lodging"; his assistance would be absent in this battle. Hrothgar, Beowulf, and their men track Grendel's mother to her lair under a lake.
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After stipulating a number of conditions to Hrothgar in case of his death including the taking in of his kinsmen and the inheritance by Unferth of Beowulf's estate , Beowulf jumps into the lake, and while harassed by water monsters gets to the bottom, where he finds a cavern. Grendel's mother pulls him in, and she and Beowulf engage in fierce combat.
At first, Grendel's mother appears to prevail, and Hrunting proves incapable of hurting the woman; she throws Beowulf to the ground and, sitting astride him, tries to kill him with a short sword, but Beowulf is saved by his armour. Beowulf spots another sword, hanging on the wall and apparently made for giants, and cuts her head off with it. Travelling further into Grendel's mother's lair, Beowulf discovers Grendel's corpse and severs his head with the sword, whose blade melts because of the "hot blood". Only the hilt remains. Beowulf swims back up to the rim of the pond where his men wait.
Carrying the hilt of the sword and Grendel's head, he presents them to Hrothgar upon his return to Heorot. The events prompt a long reflection by the king, sometimes referred to as "Hrothgar's sermon", in which he urges Beowulf to be wary of pride and to reward his thegns. Beowulf returns home and eventually becomes king of his own people.
When the dragon sees that the cup has been stolen, it leaves its cave in a rage, burning everything in sight. Beowulf and his warriors come to fight the dragon, but Beowulf tells his men that he will fight the dragon alone and that they should wait on the barrow. Beowulf descends to do battle with the dragon, but finds himself outmatched.
His men, upon seeing this and fearing for their lives, retreat into the woods. One of his men, Wiglaf, however, in great distress at Beowulf's plight, comes to his aid. The two slay the dragon, but Beowulf is mortally wounded. After Beowulf dies, Wiglaf remains by his side, grief-stricken. When the rest of the men finally return, Wiglaf bitterly admonishes them, blaming their cowardice for Beowulf's death.
Beowulf: The Anglo-Saxons’ action hero
Afterward, Beowulf is ritually burned on a great pyre in Geatland while his people wail and mourn him, fearing that without him, the Geats are defenceless against attacks from surrounding tribes. Afterwards, a barrow, visible from the sea, is built in his memory Beowulf lines — The dating of Beowulf has attracted considerable scholarly attention and opinion differs as to whether it was first written in the 8th century or whether the composition of the poem was nearly contemporary with its eleventh century manuscript and whether a proto-version of the poem possibly a version of the Bear's Son Tale was orally transmitted before being transcribed in its present form.
Albert Lord felt strongly that the manuscript represents the transcription of a performance, though likely taken at more than one sitting. Tolkien believed that the poem retains too genuine a memory of Anglo-Saxon paganism to have been composed more than a few generations after the completion of the Christianisation of England around AD ,  and Tolkien's conviction that the poem dates to the 8th century has been defended by Tom Shippey , Leonard Neidorf, Rafael J.
Pascual, and R. Fulk, among others. The claim to an early 11th-century date depends in part on scholars who argue that, rather than the transcription of a tale from the oral tradition by an earlier literate monk, Beowulf reflects an original interpretation of an earlier version of the story by the manuscript's two scribes.
On the other hand, some scholars argue that linguistic, palaeographical, metrical, and onomastic considerations align to support a date of composition in the first half of the eighth century;     in particular, the poem's regular observation of etymological length distinctions Max Kaluza's law has been thought to demonstrate a date of composition in the first half of the eighth century. Hutcheson, for instance, does not believe Kaluza's Law can be used to date the poem, while claiming that "the weight of all the evidence Fulk presents in his book [b] tells strongly in favour of an eighth-century date.
Beowulf survives in a single manuscript dated on palaeographical grounds to the late 10th or early 11th century. The poem is known only from a single manuscript, which is estimated to date from close to AD , in which it appears with other works. The Beowulf manuscript is known as the Nowell Codex, gaining its name from 16th-century scholar Laurence Nowell. XV" because it was one of Sir Robert Bruce Cotton 's holdings in the Cotton library in the middle of the 17th century. Many private antiquarians and book collectors, such as Sir Robert Cotton, used their own library classification systems.
XV" translates as: the 15th book from the left on shelf A the top shelf of the bookcase with the bust of Roman Emperor Vitellius standing on top of it, in Cotton's collection.
The earliest extant reference to the first foliation of the Nowell Codex was made sometime between and by Franciscus Junius the younger. Smith's catalogue appeared in , and Wanley's in In the letter to Wanley, Hickes responds to an apparent charge against Smith, made by Wanley, that Smith had failed to mention the Beowulf script when cataloguing Cotton MS. Vitellius A.
Hickes replies to Wanley "I can find nothing yet of Beowulph. It suffered damage in the Cotton Library fire at Ashburnham House in Since then, parts of the manuscript have crumbled along with many of the letters.
Rebinding efforts, though saving the manuscript from much degeneration, have nonetheless covered up other letters of the poem, causing further loss. Kevin Kiernan, in preparing his electronic edition of the manuscript, used fibre-optic backlighting and ultraviolet lighting to reveal letters in the manuscript lost from binding, erasure, or ink blotting.
The Beowulf manuscript was transcribed from an original by two scribes, one of whom wrote the prose at the beginning of the manuscript and the first lines before breaking off in mid sentence. The first scribe made a point of carefully regularizing the spelling of the original document by using the common West Saxon language and by avoiding any archaic or dialectical features. The second scribe, who wrote the remainder, with a difference in handwriting noticeable after line , seems to have written more vigorously and with less interest.
As a result, the second scribe's script retains more archaic dialectic features which allow modern scholars to ascribe the poem a cultural context. In the way that it is currently bound, the Beowulf manuscript is followed by the Old English poem Judith. Judith was written by the same scribe that completed Beowulf as evidenced through similar writing style. Worm-holes found in the last leaves of the Beowulf manuscript that aren't present in the Judith manuscript suggest that at one point Beowulf ended the volume.
The rubbed appearance of some leaves also suggest that the manuscript stood on a shelf unbound, as is known to have been the case with other Old English manuscripts. The question of whether Beowulf was passed down through oral tradition prior to its present manuscript form has been the subject of much debate, and involves more than simply the issue of its composition.
Rather, given the implications of the theory of oral-formulaic composition and oral tradition, the question concerns how the poem is to be understood, and what sorts of interpretations are legitimate.
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Scholarly discussion about Beowulf in the context of the oral tradition was extremely active throughout the s and s. The debate might be framed starkly as follows: on the one hand, we can hypothesise a poem put together from various tales concerning the hero the Grendel episode, the Grendel's mother story, and the fire drake narrative. These fragments would have been told for many years in tradition, and learned by apprenticeship from one generation of illiterate poets to the next.
The poem is composed orally and extemporaneously, and the archive of tradition on which it draws is oral, pagan, Germanic, heroic, and tribal. On the other hand, one might posit a poem which is composed by a literate scribe, who acquired literacy by way of learning Latin and absorbing Latinate culture and ways of thinking , probably a monk and therefore profoundly Christian in outlook.
On this view, the pagan references would be a sort of decorative archaising. However, scholars such as D. Crowne have proposed the idea that the poem was passed down from reciter to reciter under the theory of oral-formulaic composition , which hypothesises that epic poems were at least to some extent improvised by whoever was reciting them, and only much later written down.
In his landmark work, The Singer of Tales , Albert Lord refers to the work of Francis Peabody Magoun and others, saying "the documentation is complete, thorough, and accurate. This exhaustive analysis is in itself sufficient to prove that Beowulf was composed orally. Examination of Beowulf and other Old English literature for evidence of oral-formulaic composition has met with mixed response.
While "themes" inherited narrative subunits for representing familiar classes of event, such as the "arming the hero",  or the particularly well-studied "hero on the beach" theme  do exist across Anglo-Saxon and other Germanic works, some scholars conclude that Anglo-Saxon poetry is a mix of oral-formulaic and literate patterns, arguing that the poems both were composed on a word-by-word basis and followed larger formulae and patterns.
Larry Benson argued that the interpretation of Beowulf as an entirely formulaic work diminishes the ability of the reader to analyse the poem in a unified manner, and with due attention to the poet's creativity. Instead, he proposed that other pieces of Germanic literature contain "kernels of tradition" from which Beowulf borrows and expands upon. John Miles Foley wrote, referring to the Beowulf debate,  that while comparative work was both necessary and valid, it must be conducted with a view to the particularities of a given tradition; Foley argued with a view to developments of oral traditional theory that do not assume, or depend upon, ultimately unverifiable assumptions about composition, and instead delineate a more fluid continuum of traditionality and textuality.
Finally, in the view of Ursula Schaefer, the question of whether the poem was "oral" or "literate" becomes something of a red herring. Schaefer's concept of "vocality" offers neither a compromise nor a synthesis of the views which see the poem as on the one hand Germanic, pagan, and oral and on the other Latin-derived, Christian, and literate, but, as stated by Monika Otter: " He made one himself, and had another done by a professional copyist who knew no Anglo-Saxon.
Since that time, however, the manuscript has crumbled further, making these transcripts a prized witness to the text. While the recovery of at least letters can be attributed to them, their accuracy has been called into question, [c] and the extent to which the manuscript was actually more readable in Thorkelin's time is uncertain. A great number of translations and adaptations are available, in poetry and prose.