Beowulf got ready,
donned his war-gear, indifferent to death;
his mighty, hand-forged, fine-webbed mail
would soon meet with the menace underwater.
It would keep the bone-cage of his body safe:
. . .
[His helmet] was of beaten gold,
princely headgear hooped and hasped
by a weapon-smith who had worked wonders. . . .
These lines describe Beowulf’s preparation
for his battle with Grendel’s mother. The treatment of weaponry
and armor is of great importance to the Beowulf poet.
We see, here and elsewhere, that armor has a double history, much
like a warrior does: a history of its making, which corresponds
to the family lineage of an individual, and a history of performance,
which corresponds to reputation. These lines seem to imply that
the success of a weapon in battle is related to the skill with which
it was crafted. The poet pays a great deal of attention, in general,
to the craftsmanship that goes into physical objects and feats of
This passage is also characteristic in its exposition
of the idea of fate. The poet’s narration, though always in the
past tense, often looks ahead to what will happen either in the
immediate future—in the next few lines of the poem, even—or in the
long term. The poet tells us, for example, that Beowulf’s armor
“would keep the bone-cage of his body safe.” Though this tendency
violates the reader’s expectation that a narrator won’t give away
what will happen next, the poem is composed with a different set
of literary expectations in mind. According to the warrior culture
in which the poem is set, part of the meaning of fate is that future
events are already contained in the present. To the Beowulf poet,
then, it would seem foolish and pointless to try to counteract fate’s
powerful presence. Rather, he accepts it and includes it in his