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Beowulf Cheat Sheet

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1. Weapons serve as the tools that the soldiers must use

> to do their job: killing beasts or men without getting

> killed. As a artist may be fond of his paintbrush, the

> soldiers greatly cherish their weapons. Often a weapon is

> valued for its pedigree. The author often interrupts action

> to delve into a weapon’s previous owners and its history.

> In the introduction, Burton Raffel states, “The important

> tools, in this poem, are weapons: proven swords and helmets

> are handed down from father to son, like the vital

> treasures they were. Swords have personalities, and names:

> ” (xi)

> Beowulf uses Hrothgar’s helmet and armor to protect

> him from serpents’ claws while he descends into the lake to

> meet Grendel’s mother. The helmet is said to “ block all

> battle swords, stop all blades from cutting at

> him”(1451-53) However, the monster bites holes in it.

> Grendels’ mother is frustrated by the almost impenetrable

> armor. She “tried to work her fingers through the tight

> ring-woven mail on his breast, but tore and scratched in

> vain.” (1503-05)

> Hrunting is the sword that Unferth lends Beowulf for

> the battle against Grendel’s mother. Hrunting is a lucky

> sword, “No one who’d worn it into battle, swung it in

> dangerous places, daring and brave, had ever been

> deserted-”(1459-1461) However, Hrunting is useless against

> Grendel’s mother, although no swords made by mortals would

> have pierced the monster’s skin. It takes a sword “hammered

> by giants, strong and blessed with their magic” (1557-1559)

> that Beowulf finds hanging on the wall to cut through the

> monster’s neck. The monster’s blood melts the sword but

> Beowulf brings the sword hilt to Hrothgar as a gift.

> In the battle against the dragon Beowulf uses a sword

> named Nagling. It first cracks against the tough dragon

> skin and then breaks to pieces against the dragon’s head.

> Once again, “his weapon had failed him, deserted him, now

> when he needed it most”. Although the iron shield is

> somewhat effective against the dragon’s scalding breath,

> throughout the poem Beowulf is little aided in battle by a

> weapon. The author suggests that “his hands were too

> strong, the hardest blade could not help him, the most

> wonderfully worked.” (2681-2684) Instead of swords or armor

> Beowulf is most aided by his strength, stamina, and

> courage.

> Wiglaf has better luck with weapons. Although his

> yellow wooden shield is quickly turned to ashes, his sword

> is successful. The author explores the sword’s pedigree in

> depth. It is described as “an ancient weapon that had once

> belonged to Onela’s Nephew, and that Wextan had won,” After

> Wiglaf’s sword sinks in the monster Beowulf uses his

> “battle sharp dagger” (2703) to split the dragon in half.

> Thus, the men have triumphed over beast yet again, a feat

> that could not have been accomplished without hammered iron

> and steel to puncture the enemy.

> Weapons are also used in the poem as opulent gifts, the

> equivalent of treasure. On Shild’s burial ship, at the

> beginning of the poem, mail, armor, and swords are heaped

> up next to the corpse. After Beowulf kills Grendel Hrothgar

> gives him a helmet, ancient sword, and coat of mail Shortly

> before Beowulf dies from his injuries acquired from the

> battle with the dragon he states, “I’d leave my armor to my

> son, now if god had given me an heir.” (2729-30) Instead

> Beowulf gives his armor to Wiglaf, “the last of all our

> far-flung family.” (2813) This slightly wistfull tone

> displays Beowulf’s feelings toward weapons, not as

> inanimate objects, but precious life-savings material best

> passed down from generation to generation. In this passage,

> as well as throughout Beowulf the use of weapons showcases

> their



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