Beowulf begins in Denmark, where it tells of the founding of the Danish royal line and the building of a great hall by King Hrothgar. The hall is repeatedly raided by a savage monster, Grendel, who seizes and eats the Danish warriors as they lie asleep after dinner, until from over the sea in southern Sweden comes a hero, Beowulf.
He lies in wait for the monster and in single combat so severely grips his hand that Grendel has to flee, leaving his entire arm, ripped out at the socket, in Beowulf’s hands. The wound is fatal, but Grendel’s mother tries to avenge him and Beowulf has to slay her at the bottom of a wild and lonely lake. Here Hrothgar’s queen, Wealhtheow, thanks Beowulf for killing Grendel:
To him she carried the cup, and asked in gracious words
if he would care to drink; and to him she presented
twisted gold with courtly ceremonial—
two armlets; a corselet and many rings,
and the most handsome collar in the world.
I have never heard that any hero had a jewel to equal that.
Applause echoed in the hall.
Wealhtheow spoke these words before the company:
“May you, Beowulf, beloved youth, enjoy
with all good fortune this necklace and corselet,
treasures of the people; may you always prosper;
win renown through courage, and be kind in your counsel
to these boys [her sons]; for that, I will reward you further.
You have ensured that men will always sing
your praises, even to the ends of the world,
as far as oceans still surround cliffs,
home of the winds. May you thrive, 0 prince, all your life.
I hope you will amass a shining hoard of treasure.
0 happy Beowulf, be gracious in dealing with my sons.
Here, each warrior is true to the others, gentle of mind,
loyal to his lord;the thanes are as one, the people all alert,
the warriors have drunk well. They will do as I ask.
Then Wealhtheow retired to her seat
beside her lord. That was the best of banquets.