The poem begins with Hrothgar (King of the Danes) having a joyous time in his kingdom’s hall Herot. Grendal (the great monster) attacks Herot at night, killing about thirty of Hrothgars soldiers. Beowulf, the Epic hero, arrives to aid Hrothgar after hearing the tales of Grendal for the last 12 years. Hrothgar, when he was young, helped Beowulf’s father (the king of the Geats) and now Beowulf feels that it is his duty to repay Hrothgar by helping him get rid of Grendal. Beowulf is said to be not only very strong, but brave and of nobility (chosen by god to be an heir to the throne). Beowulf gives Hrothgar an oral resume of his battles, and asks for the opportunity to defend Hrothgar’s throne and kingdom against the creature. Since Grendal uses no weapon, Beowulf asks to face the monster alone in hand-to-hand combat. The grateful Hrothgar invites Beowulf to a feast in his honor in Herot, while Hrothgar decides whether he will accept his invitation, or in other words accept this man that everyone has heard great tales about – for the job of ridding Grendal from Hrothgar’s kingdom.
During the dinner; Hrothgar’s right hand man, Unferth, accues Beowulf of boasting. Unferth claims that Beowulf’s story of the great swimming race was false. He says that Beowulf was actually defeated, rather than coming out on top with glory and fan fare, as Beowulf has said. Beowulf responds with a tale within a tale, which foreshadows his bravery and greatness with Grendal. Beowulf recalls how he slew 9 sea monsters and swam to safety. He not only won the race, but helped out the sailors by killing all of these great sea serpents. In addition to that, Beowulf calls Unferth a drunken jealous man who has done nothing in his life worth note, and a man who killed his own brothers. Once Hrothgar sees Beowulf put Unferth in his place, and hears the tale of the swim challenge, he gladly accepts Beowulf’s offer.
That night; Grendal heads toward Herot where, unknown to him, Beowulf and the Geats lie in wait. Grendal breaks down the door and devours one of the Geats. Next he grabs Beowulf and, in a symbolic battle of good and evil, Beowulf mortally wounds Grendal by ripping his arm off and hanging it on the rafters of Herot. Grendal drags himself off and sinks into the murky waters of his lair (hell). All rejoice at Beowulf’s victory, and freedom from the monster. This happiness is short lived because Grendal’s mother comes back to avenge her son, killing Hrothgars best friend and taking Grendal’s arm back. Hrothgar again calls upon Beowulf for help.
Armed with the sword Hrunting, Beowulf in full armor dives to the bottom of the firey, burning lake where Grendal’s mother lives. She attacks him but can not penetrate his chain-mail. Beowulf discovers that his sword is useless against her, and he continues the fight with his bare hands. Finally, he finds a magic sword “hammered by giants,” and kills Grendal’s mother in one fatal blow. Bathed in the light of immortality (because he went into the underworld and beat the “devil”) Beowulf finds Grendal’s body and decapitates it. He swims to the surface and everyone rejoices
Flash forward 50 years! Because of all the treasure and the great power that Beowulf received and demonstrated with Grendal, he was crowned king of the Geats. Fifty years into his reign someone stole a gold cup from a dragon, causing the dragon to lay waste to all the land. Beowulf takes it upon himself to kill it. He takes his 11 best men and goes to the dragon’s lair. In the battle with the dragon, Beowulf’s sword enters the dragon and breaks, pissing the great beast off. A true Anglo-Saxon hero, Beowulf accepts his fate without complaint while all of his men run off, except Wiglaf. Wiglaf remains and remembers his duties to his king, and berates the others who ran. After Wiglaf and Beowulf kill the dragon, Wiglaf brings the entire dragon’s treasure to Beowulf. Beowulf says that he is willing to give his life so that his people will have all of this treasure. Beowulf dies and elects Wiglaf King of the Geats. Beowulf’s ashes are placed in a tower by the sea, and all mourn his loss and praise his great deeds. His greatness is so known 1200 years later, we still talk about him.