The news of the trouble in Denmark eventually reaches the land of the Geats. The king of this land, Hygelac, has a thane named Beowulf, who announces that he is willing to help Denmark. His elders encourage him, even though they don’t really want him to go. Beowulf picks fourteen other men, all good warriors, to travel with him. Beowulf’s party “flew on the water fast,” riding the waves to Denmark in their ship. Once they reach the shore, they depart the ship with their armor and weapons clinking. A coast watchman stops their progress, demanding to know who these warriors are and if they are friend or foe. Beowulf announces himself as the thane of Hygelac and the son of Ecgtheow, a man known for winning battles. He asks the coastguard to show him the way to Hrothgar’s castle, so that he may give him wise counsel. The coastguard deems Beowulf worthy, and takes him to the road that leads to Heorot.
Beowulf and his thanes march up the road. When they reach Hrothgar’s castle, they meet the thane Wulfgar. Beowulf introduces himself, and Wulfgar takes the information to Hrothgar. Hrothgar is pleasedhe remembers Ecgtheow, and he has heard that Beowulf is very strong. He also believes that “the Measurer/ Maker of us all has urged him here.” Wulfgar allows the Geats to meet Hrothgar.
Once at Hrothgar’s throne, Beowulf introduces himself as a hero who can crush water sprites, among other things. Therefore he is equipped to defeat Grendel, if Wyrd (or Fate) will have it so. Hrothgar welcomes Beowulf as the son of Ecgtheow, the man whom Hrothgar had helped in settling a feud with the Wylfingas long ago. When Hrothgar did that, he was a young man and a new king. Now Grendel ravages his countrybut then is not the time to dwell upon such things. Instead, the Geats must join the Danes for a feast. Thus the benches are dragged out, the mead flows, and the minstrel sings.
During the feast, Hrothgar’s thane Unferth tries to discredit Beowulf. He accuses Beowulf of losing a swimming contest with Breca. Beowulf disagreeshe not only defeated Breca, he also fought off heaps of sea-monsters, thanks to both God and Wyrd. What heroic deeds have Breca, or even Unferth, done? Unferth even killed his brothers, and he hasn’t done anything to stop Grendel. Upon hearing Unferth shamed by Beowulf, the whole company laughs.
Soon afterwards, the queen Wealhtheow enters the room, bearing a mead-cup. She offers it first to Hrothgar, then to the rest of the company. Finally she offers it to Beowulf. When he takes it, he says, “I’ll give you [Grendel’s] life blood/or finish my days/ here in Heorot.” His words touch Wealhtheow.
Eventually the party winds down, and Hrothgar is ready for bed. Before leaving Beowulf, Hrothgar wishes him luck and promises him all the gold he has if he can defeat Grendel. Beowulf says he will leave it to God. While his friends worry about whether they will see their homeland again, Beowulf lies down.
We receive the first bit of character development of Beowulf in this part of the poem. We learn that he is beloved of his people, a faithful thane of Hygelac, and a prince in his own right (through his father Ecgtheow). He is respectful to everyone he encounters, from the lowly coast guard to King Hrothgar. Later, he even shows his respect for women in his gentle words to Wealhtheow. The rumor mill has told the Danish court that he is actually a good, strong warrior. Finally, Beowulf does believe in religion. He follows both the ancient Germanic practices and the Christian practices, as we see in his ability to leave it entirely in the hands of God and Wyrd (the Anglo-Saxon word for “fate”). In short, he seems like just the man for the job, and Hrothgar realizes it.
Of course, Beowulf still has to prove himself to the company of the Danes. Enter Unferth, the maker of discord. Unferth’s job is to test the actual valor of the warrior and his ability to fend off a verbal attack. Beowulf not only answers the challenge (yes, he did win the contest), he also shows the extent of his bravery (he defeated the sea monsters) and discredits Unferth’s truthtelling (Unferth is nothing but a drunk murderer who can’t act). With his graceful and complete defense, Beowulf proves himself to be the consummate warrior, able to fight with words and swords equally well.
The boasting match between Unferth and Beowulf is the first in a series of told and retold stories within the poem. Throughout the poem, stories are told several times, with different details appearing with each retelling. This repetition of stories is very important. It reveals the oral nature of the culturepeople learn most legends and histories of their land through these stories. It makes the people learn morals by examples of people who did good or ill. Finally, the stories work as tools for foreshadowing, especially within the larger narrative. As we will learn, Beowulf’s ability to swim for long distances and long periods will become very important in his defeat of Grendel’s mother.
The characters also provide foreshadowing for each other in the poem. Hrothgar and Wulfgar have a very close relationshipWulfgar serves Hrothgar faithfully, while Hrothgar relies on Wulfgar for sound judgement. Later this will resemble the relationship between king Beowulf and his faithful thane Wiglaf. One can also compare the relationship between Beowulf as the young warrior and Hrothgar as the young-warrior-turned-old-powerless-king. Hrothgar almost certainly indicates Beowulf’s fate at the same agepowerless, needing to rely on other thanes to help him.