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Grendel's Approach to Heorot and Traditional Structure

The ritual gesture for formulaic analysis customarily includes either an exhaustive analysis of the entire text or an apology for the chosen sampling and a claim that the sample to be analyzed is representative of the whole. Since, however, we seek not to reduce the complexity of traditional diction in Beowulf to any one model or to "prove" its orality, but rather to discover the kinds of traditional structures that underlie the poem and give it meaning, we shall be content with looking closely at a sample of about thirty lines: the famous tripartite passage involving Grendel's approach to Heorot (702b-30a).[13] Yet at the same time, we shall not be content merely to find some evidence of half-line systems, or of any other single type or form of phraseological structure; instead we shall attempt to uncover whatever sort of structure seems to be operative in each verse and line.

First I present the passage in the original Anglo-Saxon, followed by a quite literal translation into modern English:[14]

Com on wanre niht
scriðan sceadugenga. Sceotend swæfon,
pa pæt hornreced healdan scoldon,
ealle buton anum. pæt wæs yldum cup,              705
pæt hie ne moste, pa Metod nolde,
se s[c]ynscapa under sceadu bregdan;—
ac he wæccende wrapum on andan
bad bolgenmod beadwa gepinges.

Da com of more under misthleopum               710
Grendel gongan, Godes yrre bær;
mynte se manscaða manna cynnes
sumne besyrwan in sele pam hean.
Wod under wolcnum to pæs pe he winreced,
goldsele gumena gearwost wisse               715
fættum fahne. Ne wæs pæet forma sioð,
pæet he Hropgares ham gesohte;
næfre he on aldordagum ær ne sipoðan
heardran hæle, healoðegnas fand!


Com pa to recede rinc sioðian              720
dreamum bedæled. Duru sona onarn
fyrbendum fæst, sypðan he hire folmum (æthr)an;
onbræed pa bealohydig, ða (he ge)bolgen wæs,
recedes mupan. Rape æfter pon
on fagne flor feond treddode,              725
eode yrremod; him of eagum stod
ligge gelicost leoht unfæger.
Geseah he in recede rinca manige,
swefan sibbegedriht samod ætgædere,
magorinca heap.              730

In the dark night
the shadow-goer came stalking. The warriors slept,
those whose duty it was to guard the horned building,
all but one. It was known to men that,              705
if the Ruler did not wish it, the injurer
could not draw them into the shadows;—
but [Beowulf], awake and fiercely angry,
awaited the battle's result, enraged in heart.

Then, out of the moor, under the misty cliffs              710
came Grendel, he bore the wrath of God;
the wicked ravager intended to trap
one of the men in that high hall.
He advanced under the clouds until he could most readily see
the wine-building, the gold-hall of men              715
adorned with plates. Nor was that the first time
that he sought Hrothgar's home;
 [but] never in earlier days, either before or since,
did he find stronger hero[es], hall-thanes!

Then to the building the warrior came journeying,              720
the one bereft of joys. The door, held fast by fire-forged bonds,
immediately sprang open after he touched it with his hands;
then the baleful-minded one swung open that building's mouth,
when he was enraged. Following this, the fiend
quickly trod over the decorated floor,              725
went along angry in spirit: from his eyes
there stood out a horrible light, most like fire.
In the budding he saw many a warrior,
the band of kinsmen sleeping all together,
a troop of young warriors.              730

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