Beowulf and his men return to the magnificent hall of King Hygelac and to Queen Hygd, who is beautiful and wise, though very young. The narrator tells the story of the legendary Queen Modthryth, who “perpetrated terrible wrongs” against her subjects, torturing and even killing many innocent people who she imagined were offending her. Modthryth’s behavior improved, we are told, once she was married to the great king of the Angles, Offa.
Beowulf and his men approach the hall, where the Geats, who have heard that their hero has returned, are preparing for his arrival. Hygelac extends a formal greeting while Hygd pours mead for the warriors. Hygelac asks Beowulf how he fared in the land of Hrothgar, recalling that he had known that Beowulf’s task would be a fearsome one and that he had advised Beowulf not to face such a dangerous foe.
Beowulf begins his tale by describing the courteous treatment that he received from Hrothgar and Wealhtheow. He then prophesies an unhappy outcome to the peace-weaving engagement of Freawaru, Hrothgar’s daughter, to Ingeld the Heathobard. He predicts that the sight of the ancestral possessions of each worn by the kin of the other (the result of many years of warring and plundering) will cause memories of the deep and lengthy feud between the Danes and the Heathobards to surface, so that they will not be able to keep themselves from continuing to fight.
Beowulf then tells the story of his encounter with Grendel. He particularly emphasizes the monster’s ferocity and the rewards that he received from Hrothgar. He relates the battle with Grendel’s mother as well. He then presents his king with a large part of the treasure given to him by Hrothgar, including suits of armor and four of the great horses. He gives Hygd a priceless necklace—the torque given him by Wealhtheow—and three horses. Beowulf is praised throughout Geatland for his valorous deeds and courteousness. Hygelac gives him a great deal of treasure and land of his own to rule.
In time, Hygelac is killed in battle with the Shylfings, and the kingdom falls to Beowulf. For fifty years he rules the Geats, becoming a great and wise king.
This transitional section returns Beowulf to his homeland and introduces us briefly to his king and queen, Hygelac and Hygd. Like Wealhtheow in Denmark, Hygd is presented as a positive example of proper behavior in women—she is gracious in bearing and manner, attentive to the men around her, and loyal to her husband and lord. In order to highlight these positive qualities, the poet positions the legendarily wicked Queen Modthryth as Hygd’s foil (a character whose traits contrast with and thereby accentuate those of another character). Beowulf is set in a highly male-dominated world—perhaps one even more male-dominated than that of Homer’s Iliad—governed by violence, honor, and doom. In this culture, women are seen as marriageable objects, links between warring tribes to achieve peace (Wealhtheow is referred to as “peace-pledge between nations” ).
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