As men reckon time, it was all ready with speed, the greatest of hall-buildings. Hrothgar the king, who wielded power with words, named the hall Hereot. He fulfilled his pledge, dealt out precious rings, treasures at the feast.
The Prologue of Beowulf deals with Hrothgar’s ancestors, and the story itself opens with Hrothgar as king of the Danes. He behaves as a powerful king should, building a massive hall and handing out treasures to his followers. Hospitality and distribution of bounty were duties that traditional warrior kings owed their followers in return for their allegiance.
Because of this horror, the son of Healfdene seethed with sorrow, nor might the wise hero put aside woe. The struggle was too strong, hateful and long-lasting, which had come upon the people, dire wrack and ruin—the greatest of night-evils.
The poet is describing how the attacks of the monster Grendel have affected Hrothgar, the son of Healfdene. Though he is a wise hero, Hrothgar is no longer a strong enough warrior to protect his people from evil. At this low point of his reign, Hrothgar is losing his ability to rule.
I then paid to settle the feud for your father. I sent to the Wylfings over welling waters ancient treasures, and Ecgtheow swore oaths to me.
Hrothgar is addressing Beowulf in a welcoming speech and responding to Beowulf’s offer of aid in the struggle against Grendel. The king reminds Beowulf of a favor he once did for Beowulf’s father. Reminding Beowulf of his father’s oath helps Hrothgar save face as he accepts the young hero’s help. The excerpt also shows that Hrothgar abides by an ancient warrior code that includes swearing oaths of allegiance.
Now I tell you, Beowulf, The best of men, I wish you for my son With heart-felt love—to hold from now on in new bond of kinship. Nor will you lack any of the worldly goods that I have power to give.
Hrothgar is speaking to Beowulf after the hero has killed Grendel and Grendel’s mother. Hrothgar rewards Beowulf with the bond of kinship as well as with treasure. By entering into kinship with Beowulf, Hrothgar is behaving as was expected of a heroic warrior king. He is extending his power and protection not only to Beowulf but to Beowulf’s family and kingdom.
Do not foster pride, glorious warrior! The great fame of your might lasts but a little while. Then soon enough will sickness or the sword deprive you of strength— or the grasp of flames, or the surging flood, or the slashing blade, or the flight of a spear, or horrid old age.
Hrothgar has already lavished praise and treasure on the hero and claimed him as a son. Now Hrothgar reminds Beowulf that even great fame is only temporary because it depends on strength. Hrothgar then lists ways in which strength can be lost. The list is an obvious reference to his own condition.
Then the king of noble lineage, the lord of the Scyldings, kissed the best of thanes, Beowulf the Geat, and clasped his neck, while tears dropped down from the hoary-haired ruler. Old and very wise, he might expect one of two things, but especially one— that after this day they would not see one another as brave men meeting together.
In one of the poem’s most emotional scenes, the poet describes Hrothgar’s feelings as he bids farewell to Beowulf. Hrothgar is wise enough to know that he will probably die before he can see Beowulf again. However noble his lineage, Hrothgar now rules only because Beowulf’s heroism has saved the kingdom. In this moment, Hrothgar still thinks of himself as Beowulf’s brave equal.
While sailing over the waves, the gifts of Hrothgar would often be praised. For he was a prince in every way blameless, until conquering old age, as with many others, stole from him the joys of strength.
The poet describes how Beowulf and his band of warriors remember Hrothgar. They are sailing home with the rewards given by Hrothgar to Beowulf, a hoard of riches large enough to fill a ship. The treasure is evidence that Hrothgar followed the heroic code and fulfilled his promises. The warriors remember him as a good ruler who was conquered only because age had deprived him of strength.