Beowulf is considered to be the first Old English epic. The Angles brought the story to England in the form of short songs about the hero. It was re-written in its present form probably by a monk in the eight century. It was he who imparted a few Christian applications to a pagan story. The extant text is written in the West Saxon dialect. At the close of the eighteenth century, this poem was found in a manuscript written about A.D. 1000.
It has been pointed out that the poem is in its basis a Scandinavian saga. The poem is Scandinavian in its setting. But no Scandinavian words and phrases have been found here. The presented picture of social life in Beowulf is essentially primitive. The scenes and people are Scandinavian, but the one great vital figure is that of Beowulf. He stands before us as the early English ideal of virile courage and nobility.What Achilles is to the Greek, Romulus to the Roman, Charlemagne to the French, Beowulf is to the Englishman. Beowulf’s goodness of heart and unselfish devotion to others are important characteristics of his character.
Beowulf recounts the great deeds and death of Beowulf. Its story is full of episodes and digressions. It narrates the heroic adventures and exploits of the protagonist, Beowulf.
Beowulf is a mighty warrior of royal Swedish blood. He has not only fought with man but has defied the fiercest storms that have swept over the seas, and grappled with the awful sea monsters that inhabit their depths.
The story tells us that Beowulf comes to help the venerable Danish king Hrothgar. In fact, the kingdom of king Hrothgar has been ravaged by a dreadful monster. The name of that monster was Grendel. Beowulf meets this monster face to face. After a terrible fight Beowulf wounds him to death. The monster’s mother was more fearsome than he. She inhabits the floods. Beowulf searched and killed her.
After killing monster’s mother, Beowulf feasted with Hrothgar and returned to his native land. He became the king of Geatas. He was a great and successful ruler. After a prosperous reign of about fifty years, he slew a firedrake that robbed and ravaged his country. In the fight Beowulf died of the dragon’s fiery breath. The poem closes with the description of his burial.