[[caption-width-right:250:[[LuckilyMyShieldWillProtectMe Luckily his shield protects him.]][[note]]Illustration by J. R. Skelton (1908)[[/note]]]]

->''Hwæt. We Gardena in geardagum,\\
þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,\\
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.\\
LO, praise of the prowess of [[RoyalBlood people-kings]]\\
of spear-armed Danes, in days long sped,\\
[[FamedInStory we have heard]], and what honor the [[BlueBlood athelings]] won!''
-->--Opening lines of ''Beowulf'', in Old English and modern-ish English, respectively.

''Beowulf'' is the oldest surviving work of fiction in the English language -- so old, in fact, that [[UsefulNotes/HistoryOfEnglish the language it's written in is barely recognizable as English]] (no, really, [[http://web.archive.org/web/20130919103818/http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y13cES7MMd8 listen to it]]). It recounts two stories from the life of its eponymous [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geats Geatish]] hero: how, as a young man, he visited Denmark and slew the monster Grendel, then faced the wrath of Grendel's even more monstrous mother; and how, toward the end of his life back in Geatland, he was the only man who dared fight a rampaging dragon.

Oh, and did we mention that it's a [[NarrativePoem poem]]?

''Beowulf'' is probably the most famous of all Old English literature, and is a staple of university English programs. It is usually read in translation, as it is not only written in a very old form of English, it makes heavy use of a poetic register that is quite different from prose. No one knows precisely when it was written, much less where the story originated. Certain lines of the text involve a clearly Christian narrator commenting on the pre-Christian Paganism of the characters, therefore the text is believed to have been the work of a monk recalling a much older story. The only known manuscript contains two distinct styles of writing, indicating more than one scribe was involved in the transcription. This manuscript was also damaged in a fire in 1731, so certain lines of text are obliterated and their contents purely left to conjecture.

In 1936, a lecture by Creator/JRRTolkien, "''Beowulf'': the Monsters and the Critics" had a lasting influence on ''Beowulf'' research. Lewis E. Nicholson said that the article Tolkien wrote about ''Beowulf'' is "widely recognized as a turning point in Beowulfian criticism", noting that Tolkien established the primacy of the poetic nature of the work as opposed to the purely linguistic elements. At the time, the consensus of scholarship considered ''Beowulf'' [[SciFiGhetto childish because they considered battles with monsters rather than realistic tribal warfare to be not worthy of study]]; needless to say the Creator of Middle Earth was having none of that. Tolkien argued that the author of ''Beowulf'' was addressing human destiny in general, not as limited by particular tribal politics, and therefore the monsters were essential to the poem. Where ''Beowulf'' does deal with specific tribal struggles, as at Finnsburg, Tolkien argued firmly against reading in fantastic elements. In the essay, Tolkien also revealed how highly he regarded ''Beowulf'': "''Beowulf'' is among my most valued sources," and this influence can be seen in ''Literature/TheLordOfTheRings''.[[note]]Two examples of the influence of ''Beowulf'' on ''The Lord of the Rings'': the word ''þeoden'', pronounced "[[Characters/TheLordOfTheRings theoden]]", is used several times. And line 2345 appears to have given Tolkien his title: ''Oferhogaode ða hringa fengel,'' is usually translated as "Yet the prince of the rings was too proud".[[/note]]

The story has been adapted many times. Some of the adaptations have been quite offbeat: they include John Gardner's novel ''Literature/{{Grendel}}'', from the [[AlternateCharacterInterpretation point of view of the monster]]; Creator/MichaelCrichton's novel ''Eaters of the Dead'' (filmed as ''Film/The13thWarrior''), which [[{{Demythtification}} purported to tell the historical events that inspired]] the Grendel plot; and [[Film/Beowulf1999 the 1999 sci-fi film]] starring Creator/ChristopherLambert. The 2005 film ''Beowulf & Grendel'' was comparatively faithful. The [=YouTube=] video, ''[[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKp5kTUFl1k Beowulf, The Storybook Version]]'', is relatively faithful, but very silly. DC Comics adapted the tale in the 1970s/1980s. A more recent offbeat version was a stage play "Brother Wolf" which transposed the story to the early 20th Century appalachian mountains. Beowulf is the itinerant preacher Brother Wolf, and Grendel is a demon haunting a small mountain town.

Most (but not all) of the ''Beowulf'' references on this wiki are to the 2007 film ''WesternAnimation/{{Beowulf|2007}}'', written by Creator/RogerAvary and Creator/NeilGaiman, directed by Creator/RobertZemeckis, and starring Creator/RayWinstone. The screenplay for this has [[ExternalRetcon similarly unusual]] diversions from the original story, to say the least. It seems ''Beowulf'' has a knack for inspiring artists to put their own spin on the material. This could perhaps be owing to the somewhat [[BlueAndOrangeMorality alien]] [[ValuesDissonance worldview]] in which the piece was written.
!!The epic provides examples of:
* AddedAlliterativeAppeal: The poem is written in alliterative verse, like most Germanic poetry.
* TheAtoner: Unferth insults and belittles Beowulf while drunk the night before he fights Grendel, but, once the monster is slain, he apologizes and tries to make up for it by giving him his [[AncestralWeapon family magic sword]] to fight the monster's mother with. It proves [[AvertedTrope completely useless]], since she's immune to weapons made by human hands, but it's the thought that counts.
* AuthorFilibuster: Did you know that a proper ruler should always be benevolent, open-minded, and willing to honour his people who honour him in return? No? Don't worry, the poem will make sure you don't forget it.
* AuthorityEqualsAsskicking: Beowulf, of course.
* AvengingTheVillain: Grendel's mother is (somewhat understandably) furious when she discovers that her son had been slain and seeks to avenge him by continuing where he left off and later trying to kill his killer.
* AwesomeMcCoolname: The hero's name is a kenning for "{{bear|sAreBadNews}}". Its literal meaning is "bee-wolf" -- [[StockAnimalDiet the animal that acts like a wolf toward bees]].
* BadassBoast: Unferth, one of Hrothgar's men, calls Beowulf a loser for losing a swimming contest. Beowulf responds that he got ambushed and had to stay on the sea floor ruining the shit of nine monsters (he took part in ''a swimming contest'' equipped with [[SelfImposedChallenge mail armor and a sword]]), and tells the drunk he's going to hell.
* BadassGrandpa: Beowulf is one of these during the third and last part of the story.
* BecauseDestinySaysSo: The most important word in the poem is ''wyrd'', which means fate. Beowulf relies less on his SuperStrength and more on the favour of fate before his battle with Grendel.
* BigWhat: The first word in the poem, and an interesting example of how meanings of words can shift. The opening "Hwæt" literally translates into modern English as "What". At this time in English the word "what" was generally used in [[http://corplinguistics.wordpress.com/2012/03/11/hwaet-old-english/ an exclamatory sense]], as an attention grabber, and in this case is usually understood as a shouted exclamation. When ''Beowulf'' is translated into modern English the first word is usually rendered as "Lo!" or "Hark!" or "Listen!". (Seamus Heaney opens his popular translation with a more restrained "So".) This use of "what" is commonly regarded as obsolete but [[http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=4021 still pops up on occasion]].
* {{BFS}}: The sword of the giants, which Beowulf finds in the cave of Grendel's mother.
* BookEnds: As has been noted many a time before, the story begins with a funeral [[ForegoneConclusion and it will end with one.]]
* BuyThemOff: ''Wergeld'', or "man price" is a custom of the time that if a man killed another man he could essentially [[BlueAndOrangeMorality buy exemption from the deceased family]], [[ValuesDissonance which was widely acceptable at the time]]. [[SmallReferencePools Such practices are quite common in non-Western cultures,]] [[ValuesResonance and they were paid to prevent generational feuding within a legal framework]].
** It's [[NotSoDifferent still practiced]] (sort of) even in Western cultures; it's just called the ''tort of wrongful death''.
* CelibateHero: Beowulf never marries in the 50 years he rules.
* CoolOldGuy: Hrothgar.
* CoolSword: {{Subverted}} -- they may be quenched in blood rather than water and be like poison to normal humans, but they aren't usually much use, because Beowulf tends to break them because of his strength. Grendel's Mother is totally immune to human-crafted weapons of any kind, too.
* DeathSeeker: Beowulf's decision to have one last fight before he dies.
* DeadpanSnarker: Beowulf himself.
-->'''Beowulf:''' Well, friend Unferth, you had your say about Breca and me. But it was mostly beer that was doing the talking.
* DecapitationPresentation: After defeating Grendel's mother in her lair Beowulf decapitates Grendel's corpse and carries the head back to Heorot.
* TheDescendantsOfCain: The monster Grendel and his mother are said to be descended from Cain, alongside "ogres and elves and evil phantoms" as well as "giants".
* DeusExMachina: The Giant's sword that kills Grendel's mother was only mentioned moments before Beowulf takes it and kills her with it. She couldn't be harmed by weapons made by man, but she conveniently kept a sword crafted by Giants (which would be able to harm her) above the door.
* DiscOneFinalBoss: Grendel
* DisproportionateRetribution: Grendel killed a bunch of people because their loud celebrations annoyed him.
* DragonHoard: The dragon is attracted by gold and makes his home on a treasure hidden in a barrow because that is how dragons roll. There is also a reference to another dragon hoard won by the dragonslayer Sigemund [sic] by killing a dragon in a cave.
* DueToTheDead: An important motif in the story, especially Beowulf's funeral at the end. He's buried with the gold he rescues from the dragon because the Geats feel he deserves no less.
* EstablishingCharacterMoment: We first learn just who Beowulf is when we learn that as a boy, he participated in a swimming contest across the sea. In armour. Which he only lost because he was too busy beating up sea monsters.
* EvenBadMenLoveTheirMamas: Grendel basically lives in his mother's basement.
* TheExile: Beowulf's father Ecgtheow once lived at Hrothgar's court as an exile. This is why Hrothgar regards Beowulf as an old friend, and one of Beowulf's motives for assisting him.
* FamedInStory: "The most eager for fame."
* {{Flashback}}: Used on occasion, such as when the story of how the dragon got his treasure is told or how Beowulf became king is explained.
* FolkHero: To the Geats of the story.
* {{Foreshadowing}}: The story opens with a funeral, and ends with a funeral. Beowulf tells a story of having to fight monsters underwater, and then has to fight monsters underwater. The story of Sigemund fighting the dragon is sung, and Beowulf dies fighting a dragon.
* AFriendInNeed: Wiglaf is the only one of the troop who helps Beowulf in his fight with the dragon. The two are depicted as closer than he is with the others (they're [[ThickerThanWater relatives]]).
* GodSaveUsFromTheQueen: Modthryth, who had any man who looked her in the eye tortured to death. She became better after marrying her husband Offa.
* GoldMakesEverythingShiny: Gold rings, gold cups and [[BlingOfWar gold-plated swords, armour and shields]] are repeatedly and fondly described.
* TheGoodKing:
** Scyld is one. 11th line of the poem:
--> "þæt wæs gōd cyning!" ("That was a good king!")
** The exact same thing is said of Beowulf 2,379 lines later.
* GoodOldFisticuffs: Beowulf decides to fight Grendel unarmed, because Grendel does not use a weapon either, and Beowulf wants to [[BadassBoast beat him in a fair fight]]. The fight culminates in Beowulf ''ripping Grendel's arm off''.
* HaveAGayOldTime: There are a few phrases in the Old English poem that look like they can almost pass for Modern English. One such phrase is from line 811: "he wæs fag wið God". Realizing that that ð is used in Old English to spell th, the line seems like it says, "He [Grendel] was a fag with God". However, "fag" in Old English means "enemy" and has nothing to do with the modern word, so the line actually means "He was an enemy of God".
* TheHeroDies: Beowulf is mortally wounded fighting the dragon.
* HeroicFantasy: UrExample in English literature.
* HeroicRROD: Beowulf exerts himself far too much in his fight with the dragon, by which time he's an old man and can't handle it anymore. This leads to his death.
* HowlOfSorrow: Grendel lets out a terrifying scream when he realizes that he is beaten.
* HumanoidAbomination: Grendel and his mother are described as the descendants of Cain, but are no longer human.
* ICallItVera: NamedWeapons are a common theme in the story, eg. Beowulf's sword Nægling (lit. ''nail-ling'').
* ItWasAGift: Both the king and queen give Beowulf rings after his victory. It's worth mentioning that this was a common practice at the time, with the king being referred to multiple times as the "ring-giver".
* IWillTearYourArmsOff: Beowulf during his fight with Grendel.
* LastOfHisKind: The "Lay of the Last Survivor" (lines 224766) is a flashback to how the last remaining descendant of a forgotten people walls up the riches of his extinct race in a barrow. This is the treasure that will later be occupied by the dragon.
* LazyDragon: The dragon is described as having been sleeping on its hoard within its lair, only awakening when a thief snuck inside and stole a goblet from its treasure.
* LockAndLoadMontage: The extensive description of Beowulf donning his armor in a ritualistic fashion may be among the earliest examples of the trope.
%%* TheLowMiddleAges
* MadeASlave: Hinted at in the queen's BackStory, because her name means "foreign slave".
* MamaBear: Grendel's mother is ''not'' pleased when she finds that her son has been slain by Beowulf.
* [[TenMoviePlots Monster in the House]], depending on whose perspective you take. Beowulf the Geat (one of the baddest of the BigDamnHeroes) comes over to fight the monster Grendel that has been ravaging the Danes' house for 12 years, i.e. he comes over and they've got a monster in their house.
* MeaningfulFuneral: Beow's funeral at the beginning echoes Beowulf's at the end, which in turn signifies the end of the Geats' hegemony and the rise of the Swedes.
* MeaningfulName: Just about everyone, which was standard for the Anglo-Saxons. Eg. Unferth (an intitially villainous character) means something like "un-peace" or "no soul", Ecgtheow means "edge-servant" (ie. someone skilled with a sword), and so on.
* TheMentor: Hrothgar, who becomes something of a [[ParentalSubstitute father figure]] to Beowulf.
* MidSeasonUpgrade: Beowulf receives the Naegling after the TimeSkip.
* MutualKill: The dragon and Beowulf, who die killing each other.
%%* NarrativePoem
* NiceDayDeadlyNight: The titular hero's first enemy is Grendel, a monster that attacks each night before slinking away come morning.
* NoNameGiven: Grendel is the only antagonist given a name, despite being the least powerful of the three.
* NoTitle: The original manuscript has no title. "Beowulf" is merely the name given to it by scholars.
* OfferedTheCrown: Beowulf is offered the crown by Hygelac's widow, who is trying to pass over her own son, Heardred. Beowulf refuses, and does not become king until Heardred is killed in combat.
* OlderAndWiser: Beowulf in the third act.
* OlderIsBetter: Many of the weapons, helmets, armours, standards and cups mentioned are prized heirlooms and passed around and down generations for a long time. It is suggested they were forged by [[{{Precursors}} Giants]].
* OldRetainer: Wiglaf is the only warrior to remain with Beowulf during his fight with the dragon; the rest are cowards and flee.
* OurDragonsAreDifferent: While the dragon conforms to the fairly conventional image of a cave-dwelling, fire-breathing, gold-hoarding, winged reptile, it has also a rather unique characteristic in that it is a ''nocturnal'' creature. It also has a venomous bite.
* PoliticallyCorrectHistory: Beowulf and Hrothgar invoke God, even though 6th century Scandinavia was untouched by Christianity. The chronicler writing the story seems indecisive as to whether or not he should retroject his own Christian religious practices onto the characters or to depict them as moving back and forth between Christian and pagan practices.
* PostHumousCharacter: Scyld Scefing (meaning "Shield Sheafing") starts the story dead. He is essentially the Beowulf of the previous generation.
%%* ProudWarriorRaceGuy: ''Everyone''.
* RagsToRoyalty: As the queen's name mean "foreign slave", it's implied she was a free woman overseas before being captured and married to the king.
* RatedMForManly: Beowulf ''is'' this trope.
** Beowulf tells a story early on in which he kills nine sea monsters with only his sword while ''underwater''.
** Again on the "Beowulf's lungs are the size of train cars" theme, he swims to the bottom of a pool which is so deep it takes him ''almost a whole day'' to get to the bottom. His friends are apparently used to this, as they only start to get worried after many hours have passed.
* TheReasonYouSuckSpeech: Wiglaf gives one to the troops [[DirtyCoward who fled from the dragon]] rather than help their king.
* ReptilesAreAbhorrent: When the lake that Grendel's mother lives in is described, we know it's a bad place because it's described as being infested with all kinds of reptiles, including, but not limited to, sea dragons, serpents, and wild beasts.
* RoyalsWhoActuallyDoSomething: Of course, kings in that era [[AsskickingEqualsAuthority became kings by proving themselves in combat]]. Hrothgar is capable, but can't do anything, because ... he's not a hero. ([[YouCantFightFate No, seriously.]]) Of course, there is also Beowulf himself, once the rest of the king's line is dead in inter-tribal feuding and he takes the throne himself.
* ShoutOut: A minstrel in the poem compares Beowulf to [[Myth/NorseMythology the dragonslayer "Sigemund"]]. And it's [[{{Foreshadowing}} fitting]], as Beowulf will eventually face a dragon himself.
* SpellMyNameWithAnS: Various characters have had their names translated in several different ways across different translations. For example, the king of Geatland is most commonly named "Hygelac", but at least one translation uses "Higlac". Then there's Hrothgar's great-grandfather, who has been variously called "Scyld", "Shild", or "Shield". Beowulf's father's name has been translated as "Ecgtheow" and "Edgetho". Not even the eponymous hero himself is immune - while "Beowulf" is universally accepted as the translation, some passages in the original poem spell it as "Biowulf". The reason for this lies in that Anglo-Saxon, like most ancient languages, had no set spelling conventions. Authors wrote what they heard, and the latter part of the manuscript was copied by a second author at some point. It's entirely possible he spoke a different dialect than the original author.
* SortingAlgorithmOfEvil: Each of the three monsters (Grendel, Grendel's Mother, and the dragon) is more formidable than the one before it.
* SuperNotDrowningSkills: Beowulf can hold his breath underwater for a full day when diving down a lake, and fight off no less than nine monsters on the sea bottom. The latter is done during a swimming contest in full armor that takes about a week to complete.
* SuperStrength: Beowulf has the strength of 30 men in just the grip of one hand. He is able to wrestle Grendel to a stand-still before ripping his arm off. Toward the end, it is said that Beowulf constantly breaks his swords -- he could never find one sturdy enough to long withstand the force with which he could swing them.
* TimeSkip: With amazing brevity: "He ruled well / for fifty winters"
* {{Too Dumb To Live}}/SchmuckBait: All the would-be Grendel slayers who show up before Beowulf, plus the men who come with him, think it's an excellent idea to get drunk and party at Heorot knowing full well the monster attacks at night when everyone is drunk and asleep. Beowulf stays with them, knowing damn well this is the perfect way to lure Grendel in.
* TropeCodifier: Both for the English language itself, and for the heroic fantasy literature that centuries later drew inspiration from it.
* UnexpectedSuccessor: Beowulf himself. As a man of honor, he refuses to usurp the throne from his increasingly blunder-prone relatives, and ultimately becomes king only once everyone in the line before him has been killed off in inter-tribal warfare.
* VikingFuneral: The funeral of King Scyld Scefing of Denmark. This is quite possibly the TropeMaker, even though Scyld's funeral boat is not set on fire.
* TheWisePrince: Hrothgar, and later Beowulf.
* WorldOfBadass: Although Beowulf manages to stand out anyway.
* WorldsStrongestMan: Beowulf is introduced this way.
* WreckedWeapon: Twice in the story, Beowulf's sword falters when he needs it most, and the narrator notes this is a perennial problem for him, since his SuperStrength causes them to snap. It leads to his death the second time.
* YouCantFightFate: Death will get you one day, and the only thing you can do in the meanwhile is be as good and great a man as you can.
* YouthIsWastedOnTheDumb: A key part of Beowulf's CharacterDevelopment is discovering how rash he was as a younger man and how he makes a much better king now that he's older. When he goes out to fight the dragon, it is to save his people from "[[InSeriesNickname the sky-plague]]" as much as it is to have one last glorious adventure.