That Is Red With The Blood Of Strangers Whereat I Serve' And If
Source: Myths And Legends Of All Nations.
Orestes ask by what means I am alive, thou shalt say that Artemis put
a hind in my stead, and that the priest, thinking that he smote me
with the knife, slew the beast, and that the goddess brought me to
Then said Pylades, "My oath is easy to keep. Orestes, take thou this
tablet from thy sister."
Then Orestes embraced his sister, crying--for she turned from him, not
knowing what she should think--"O my sister, turn not from me; for I
am thy brother whom thou didst not think to see."
And when she yet doubted, he told her of certain things by which she
might know him to be Orestes--how that she had woven a tapestry
wherein was set forth the strife between Atreus and Thyestes
concerning the golden lamb; and that she had given a lock of her hair
at Aulis to be a memorial of her; and that there was laid in her
chamber at Argos the ancient spear of Pelops, her father's grandsire,
with which he slew Oenomaues and won Hippodamia to be his wife.
And when she heard this, she knew that he was indeed Orestes, whom,
being an infant and the latest born of his mother, she had in time
past held in her arms. But when the two had talked together for a
space, rejoicing over each other and telling the things that had
befallen them, Pylades said, "Greetings of friends after long parting
are well; but we must needs consider how best we shall escape from
this land of the barbarians."
But Iphigenia answered, "Yet nothing shall hinder me from knowing how
fareth my sister Electra."
"She is married," said Orestes, "to this Pylades, whom thou seest."
"And of what country is he and who is his father?"
"His father is Strophius the Phocian; and he is a kinsman, for his
mother was the daughter of Atreus and a friend also such as none other
is to me."
Then Orestes set forth to his sister the cause of his coming to the
land of the Taurians. And he said, "Now help me in this, my sister,
that we may bear away the image of the goddess; for so doing I shall
be quit of my madness, and thou wilt be brought to thy native country
and the house of thy father shall prosper. But if we do it not, then
shall we perish altogether."
And Iphigenia doubted much how this thing might be done. But at the
last she said, "I have a device whereby I shall compass the matter. I
will say that thou art come hither, having murdered thy mother, and
that thou canst not be offered for a sacrifice till thou art purified
with the water of the sea. Also that thou hast touched the image, and
that this also must be purified in like manner. And the image I myself
will bear to the sea; for, indeed, I only may touch it with my hands.
And of this Pylades also I will say that he is polluted in like manner
with thee. So shall we three win our way to the ship. And that this be
ready it will be thy care to provide."
And when she had so said, she prayed to Artemis: "Great goddess, that
didst bring me safe in days past from Aulis, bring me now also, and
these that are with me, safe to the land of Greece, so that men may
count thy brother Apollo to be a true prophet. Nor shouldst thou be
unwilling to depart from this barbarous land and to dwell in the fair
city of Athens."
After this came King Thoas, inquiring whether they had offered the
strangers for sacrifice and had duly burnt their bodies with fire. To
him Iphigenia made answer, "These were unclean sacrifices that thou
broughtest to me, O King."
"How didst thou learn this?"
"The image of the goddess turned upon her place of her own accord and
covered also her face with her hands."
"What wickedness, then, had these strangers wrought?"
"They slew their mother and had been banished therefor from the land
"O monstrous! Such deeds we barbarians never do. And now what dost
"We must purify these strangers before we offer them for a sacrifice."
"With water from the river, or in the sea?"
"In the sea. The sea cleanseth away all that is evil among men."
"Well, thou hast it here, by the very walls of the temple."
"Aye, but I must seek a place apart from men."
"So be it; go where thou wilt; I would not look on things forbidden."
"The image also must be purified."
"Surely, if the pollution from these murderers of their mother hath
touched it. This is well thought of in thee."
Then she instructed the king that he should bring the strangers out of
the temple, having first bound them and veiled their heads. Also that
certain of his guards should go with her, but that all the people of
the city should be straitly commanded to stay within doors, that so
they might not be defiled; and that he himself should abide in the
temple and purify it with fire, covering his head with his garments
when the strangers should pass by. "And be not troubled," she said,
"if I seem to be long doing these things."
"Take what time thou wilt," he said, "so that thou do all things in
So certain of the king's guards brought the two young men from out of
the temple, and Iphigenia led them towards the place where the ship
of Orestes lay at anchor. But when they were come near to the shore,
she bade them halt nor come over-near, for that she had that to do in
which they must have no part. And she took the chain wherewith the
young men were bound in her hands and set up a strange song as of one
that sought enchantments. And after that the guards sat where she bade
them for a long time, they began to fear lest the strangers should
have slain the priestess and so fled. Yet they moved not, fearing to
see that which was forbidden. But at the last with one consent they
rose up. And when they were come to the sea, they saw the ship trimmed
to set forth, and fifty sailors on the benches having oars in their
hands ready for rowing; and the two young men were standing unbound
upon the shore near to the stern. And other sailors were dragging the
ship by the cable to the shore that the young men might embark. Then
the guards laid hold of the rudder and sought to take it from its
place, crying, "Who are ye that carry away priestesses and the images
of our gods?" Then Orestes said, "I am Orestes, and I carry away my
sister." But the guards laid hold of Iphigenia; and when the sailors
saw this they leapt from the ship; and neither the one nor the other
had swords in their hands, but they fought with their fists and their
feet also. And as the sailors were strong and skilful, the king's men
were driven back sorely bruised and wounded. And when they fled to a
bank that was hard by and cast stones at the ship, the archers
standing on the stern shot at them with arrows. Then--for his sister
feared to come farther--Orestes leapt into the sea and raised her upon
his shoulder and so lifted her into the ship, and the image of the
goddess with her. And Pylades cried, "Lay hold of your oars, ye
sailors, and smite the sea, for we have that for the which we came to
this land." So the sailors rowed with all their might; and while the
ship was in the harbor it went well with them, but when it was come
to the open sea a great wave took it, for a violent wind blew against
it and drove it backwards to the shore.
And one of the guards when he saw this ran to King Thoas and told him,
and the king made haste and sent messengers mounted upon horses, to
call the men of the land that they might do battle with Orestes and
his comrade. But while he was yet sending them, there appeared in the
air above his head the goddess Athene, who spake, saying, "Cease, King
Thoas, from pursuing this man and his companions; for he hath come
hither on this errand by the command of Apollo; and I have persuaded
Poseidon that he make the sea smooth for him to depart."
And King Thoas answered, "It shall be as thou wilt, O goddess; and
though Orestes hath borne away his sister and the image, I dismiss my
anger, for who can fight against the gods?"
So Orestes departed and came to his own country and dwelt in peace,
being set free from his madness, according to the word of Apollo.
TTITLE THE SACK OF TROY
For ten years King Agamemnon and the men of Greece laid siege to Troy.
But though sentence had gone forth against the city, yet the day of
its fall tarried, because certain of the gods loved it well and
defended it, as Apollo and Mars, the god of war, and Father Jupiter
himself. Wherefore Minerva put it into the heart of Epeius, Lord of
the Isles, that he should make a cunning device wherewith to take the
city. Now the device was this: he made a great horse of wood, feigning
it to be a peace-offering to Minerva, that the Greeks might have a
safe return to their homes. In the belly of this there hid themselves
certain of the bravest of the chiefs, as Menelaues, and Ulysses, and
Thoas the AEtolian, and Machaon the great physician, and Pyrrhus, son
of Achilles (but Achilles himself was dead, slain by Paris, Apollo
helping, even as he was about to take the city), and others also, and
with them Epeius himself. But the rest of the people made as if they
had departed to their homes; only they went not further than Tenedos,
which was an island near to the coast.
Great joy was there in Troy when it was noised abroad that the men of
Greece had departed. The gates were opened, and the people went forth
to see the plain and the camp. And one said to another as they went,
"Here they set the battle in array, and there were the tents of the
fierce Achilles, and there lay the ships." And some stood and marveled
at the great peace-offering to Minerva, even the horse of wood. And
Thymoetes, who was one of the elders of the city, was the first who
advised that it should be brought within the walls and set in the
citadel. Now whether he gave this counsel out of a false heart or
because the gods would have it so, no man knows. But Capys, and others
with him, said that it should be drowned in water or burned with fire,
or that men should pierce it and see whether there were aught within.
And the people were divided, some crying one thing and some another.
Then came forward the priest Laocooen, and a great company with him,
crying, "What madness is this? Think ye that the men of Greece are
indeed departed or that there is any profit in their gifts? Surely
there are armed men in this mighty horse; or haply they have made it
that they may look down upon our walls. Touch it not, for as for these
men of Greece, I fear them, even though they bring gifts in their
And as he spake he cast his great spear at the horse, so that it
sounded again. But the gods would not that Troy should be saved.
Meanwhile there came certain shepherds dragging with them one whose
hands were bound behind his back. He had come forth to them, they
said, of his own accord when they were in the field. And first the
young men gathered about him mocking him, but when he cried aloud,
"What place is left for me, for the Greeks suffer me not to live and
the men of Troy cry for vengeance upon me?" they rather pitied him,
and bade him speak and say whence he came and what he had to tell.
Then the man spake, turning to King Priam: "I will speak the truth,
whatever befall me. My name is Sinon and I deny not that I am a Greek.
Haply thou hast heard the name of Palamedes, whom the Greeks slew, but
now, being dead, lament; and the cause was that because he counseled
peace, men falsely accused him of treason. Now, of this Palamedes I
was a poor kinsman and followed him to Troy. And when he was dead,
through the false witness of Ulysses, I lived in great grief and
trouble, nor could I hold my peace, but sware that if ever I came back
to Argos I would avenge me of him that had done this deed. Then did
Ulysses seek occasion against me, whispering evil things, nor rested
till at the last, Calchas the soothsayer helping him--but what profit
it that I should tell these things? For doubtless ye hold one Greek to
be even as another. Wherefore slay me and doubtless ye will do a
pleasure to Ulysses and the sons of Atreus."
Then they bade him tell on, and he said:
"Often would the Greeks have fled to their homes, being weary of the
war, but still the stormy sea hindered them. And when this horse that
ye see had been built, most of all did the dreadful thunder roll from
the one end of the heaven to the other. Then the Greeks sent one who
should inquire of Apollo; and Apollo answered them thus: 'Men of
Greece, even as ye appeased the winds with blood when ye came to Troy,
so must ye appease them with blood now that ye would go from thence.'
Then did men tremble to think on whom the doom should fall, and
Ulysses, with much clamor, drew forth Calchas the soothsayer into the
midst, and bade him say who it was that the gods would have as a
sacrifice. Then did many forbode evil for me. Ten days did the
soothsayer keep silence, saying that he would not give any man to
death. But then, for in truth the two had planned the matter
beforehand, he spake, appointing me to die. And to this thing they all
agreed, each being glad to turn to another that which he feared for
himself. But when the day was come and all things were ready, the
salted meal for the sacrifice and the garlands, lo! I burst my bonds
and fled and hid myself in the sedges of a pool, waiting till they
should have set sail, if haply that might be. But never shall I see
country or father or children again. For doubtless on these will they
take vengeance for my flight. Only do thou, O King, have pity on me,
who have suffered many things, not having harmed any man."
And King Priam had pity on him, and bade them loose his bonds, saying,
"Whoever thou art, forget now thy country. Henceforth thou art one of
us. But tell me true: why made they this huge horse? Who contrived it?
What seek they by it--to please the gods or to further their siege?"
Then said Sinon, and as he spake he stretched his hands to the sky, "I
call you to witness, ye everlasting fires of heaven, that with good
right I now break my oath of fealty and reveal the secrets of my
countrymen. Listen then, O King. All our hope has ever been in the
help of Minerva. But from the day when Diomed and Ulysses dared,
having bloody hands, to snatch her image from her holy place in Troy,
her face was turned from us. Well do I remember how the eyes of the
image, well-nigh before they had set it in the camp, blazed with
wrath, and how the salt sweat stood upon its limbs, aye, and how it
thrice leapt from the ground, shaking shield and spear. Then Calchas
told us that we must cross the seas again and seek at home fresh omens
for our war. And this, indeed, they are doing even now, and will
return anon. Also the soothsayer said, 'Meanwhile ye must make the
likeness of a horse, to be a peace-offering to Minerva. And take heed
that ye make it huge of bulk, so that the men of Troy may not receive
it into their gates, nor bring it within their walls and get safety
for themselves thereby. For if,' he said, 'the men of Troy harm this
image at all, they shall surely perish; but if they bring it into
their city, then shall Asia lay siege hereafter to the city of Pelops,
and our children shall suffer the doom which we would fain have
brought on Troy.'"
These words wrought much on the men of Troy, and as they pondered on
them, lo! the gods sent another marvel to deceive them. For while
Laocooen, the priest of Neptune, was slaying a bull at the altar of his
god, there came two serpents across the sea from Tenedos, whose heads
and necks, whereon were thick manes of hair, were high above the
waves, and many scaly coils trailed behind in the waters. And when
they reached the land they still sped forward. Their eyes were red as
blood and blazed with fire and their forked tongues hissed loud for
rage. Then all the men of Troy grew pale with fear and fled away, but
these turned not aside this way or that, seeking Laocooen where he
stood. And first they wrapped themselves about his little sons, one
serpent about each, and began to devour them. And when the father
would have given help to his children, having a sword in his hand,
they seized upon himself and bound him fast with their folds. Twice
they compassed him about his body, and twice about his neck, lifting
their heads far above him. And all the while he strove to tear them
away with his hands, his priest's garlands dripping with blood. Nor
did he cease to cry horribly aloud, even as a bull bellows when after
an ill stroke of the axe it flees from the altar. But when their work
was done, the two glided to the citadel of Minerva and hid themselves
beneath the feet and the shield of the goddess. And men said one to
another, "Lo! the priest Laocooen has been judged according to his
deeds; for he cast his spear against this holy thing, and now the gods
have slain him." Then all cried out together that the horse of wood
must be drawn to the citadel. Whereupon they opened the Scaean Gate and
pulled down the wall that was thereby, and put rollers under the feet
of the horse and joined ropes thereto. So in much joy they drew it
into the city, youths and maidens singing about it the while and
laying their hands to the ropes with great gladness. And yet there
wanted no signs and tokens of evil to come. Four times it halted on
the threshold of the gate, and men might have heard a clashing of arms
within. Cassandra also opened her mouth, prophesying evil; but no man
heeded her, for that was ever the doom upon her, not to be believed,
though speaking truth. So the men of Troy drew the horse into the
city. And that night they kept a feast to all the gods with great joy
not knowing that the last day of the great city had come.
But when night was now fully come and the men of Troy lay asleep, lo!
from the ship of King Agamemnon there rose up a flame for a signal to
the Greeks; and these straightway manned their ships and made across
the sea from Tenedos, there being a great calm and the moon also
giving them light. Sinon likewise opened a secret door that was in the
great horse and the chiefs issued forth therefrom and opened the gates
of the city, slaying those that kept watch.
Meanwhile there came a vision to AEneas, who now, Hector being dead,
was the chief hope and stay of the men of Troy. It was Hector's self
that he seemed to see, but not such as he had seen him coming back
rejoicing with the arms of Achilles or setting fire to the ships, but
even as he lay after that Achilles dragged him at his chariot wheels,
covered with dust, and blood, his feet swollen and pierced through
with thongs. To him said AEneas, not knowing what he said, "Why hast
thou tarried so long? Much have we suffered waiting for thee! And what
grief hath marked thy face, and whence these wounds?"
But to this the spirit answered nothing, but said, groaning the while,
"Fly, son of Venus, fly and save thee from these flames. The enemy is
in the walls and Troy hath utterly perished. If any hand could have
saved our city, this hand had done so. Thou art now the hope of Troy.
Take then her gods and flee with them for company, seeking the city
that thou shalt one day build across the sea."
And now the alarm of battle came nearer and nearer, and AEneas, waking
from sleep, climbed upon the roof and looked on the city. As a
shepherd stands and sees a fierce flame sweeping before the south wind
over the corn-fields or a flood rushing down from the mountains, so he
stood. And as he looked, the great palace of Deiphobus sank down in
the fire and the house of Ucalegon that was hard by, blazed forth,
till the sea by Sigeuem shone with the light. Then, scarce knowing what
he sought, he girded on his armor, thinking perchance that he might
yet win some place of vantage or at the least might avenge himself on
the enemy or find honor in his death. But as he passed from out of his
house there met him Panthus, the priest of Apollo that was on the
citadel, who cried to him, "O AEneas, the glory is departed from Troy
and the Greeks have the mastery in the city; for armed men are coming
forth from the great horse of wood and thousands also swarm in at the
gates, which Sinon hath treacherously opened." And as he spake others
came up under the light of the moon, as Hypanis and Dymas and young
Coroebus, who had but newly come to Troy, seeking Cassandra to be
his wife. To whom AEneas spake: "If ye are minded, my brethren, to
follow me to the death, come on. For how things fare this night ye
see. The gods who were the stay of this city have departed from it;
nor is aught remaining to which we may bring succor. Yet can we die as
brave men in battle. And haply he that counts his life to be lost may
yet save it." Then, even as ravening wolves hasten through the mist
seeking for prey, so they went through the city, doing dreadful deeds.
And for a while the men of Greece fled before them.
First of all there met them Androgeos with a great company following
him, who, thinking them to be friends, said, "Haste, comrades; why are
ye so late? We are spoiling this city of Troy and ye are but newly
come from the ships." But forthwith, for they answered him not as he
had looked for, he knew that he had fallen among enemies. Then even as
one who treads upon a snake unawares among thorns and flies from it
when it rises angrily against him with swelling neck, so Androgeos
would have fled. But the men of Troy rushed on and, seeing that they
knew all the place and that great fear was upon the Greeks, slew many
men. Then said Coroebus, "We have good luck in this matter, my
friends. Come now, let us change our shields and put upon us the armor
of these Greeks. For whether we deal with our enemy by craft or by
force, who will ask?" Then he took to himself the helmet and shield of
Androgeos and also girded the sword upon him. In like manner did the
others, and thus, going disguised among the Greeks, slew many, so that
some again fled to the ships and some were fain to climb into the
horse of wood. But lo! men came dragging by the hair from the temple
of Minerva the virgin Cassandra, whom when Coroebus beheld, and how
she lifted up her eyes to heaven (but as for her hands, they were
bound with iron), he endured not the sight, but threw himself upon
those that dragged her, the others following him. Then did a grievous
mischance befall them, for the men of Troy that stood upon the roof of
the temple cast spears against them, judging them to be enemies. The
Greeks also, being wroth that the virgin should be taken from them,
fought the more fiercely, and many who had before been put to flight
in the city came against them and prevailed, being indeed many against
few. Then first of all fell Coroebus, being slain by Peneleus the
Boeotian, and Rhipeus also, the most righteous of all the sons of
Troy. But the gods dealt not with him after his righteousness. Hypanis
also was slain and Dymas, and Panthus escaped not for all that more
than other men he feared the gods and was also the priest of Apollo.
Then was AEneas severed from the rest, having with him two only,
Iphitus and Pelias, Iphitus being an old man and Pelias sorely wounded
by Ulysses. And these, hearing a great shouting, hastened to the
palace of King Priam, where the battle was fiercer than in any place
beside. For some of the Greeks were seeking to climb the walls, laying
ladders thereto, whereon they stood, holding forth their shields with
their left hands and with their right grasping the roofs. And the men
of Troy, on the other hand, being in the last extremity, tore down the
battlements and the gilded beams wherewith the men of old had adorned
the palace. Then AEneas, knowing of a secret door whereby the unhappy
Andromache in past days had been wont to enter, bringing her son
Astyanax to his grandfather, climbed on to the roof and joined himself
to those that fought therefrom. Now upon this roof there was a tower,
whence all Troy could be seen and the camp of the Greeks and the
ships. This the men of Troy loosened from its foundations with bars of
iron, and thrust it over, so that it fell upon the enemy, slaying many
of them. But not the less did others press forward, casting the while
stones and javelins and all that came to their hands.
Meanwhile others sought to break down the gates of the palace,
Pyrrhus, son of Achilles, being foremost among them, clad in shining
armor of bronze. Like to a serpent was he, which sleeps indeed during
the winter, but in the spring comes forth into the light, full-fed on
evil herbs, and, having cast his skin and renewed his youth, lifts his
head into the light of the sun and hisses with forked tongue. And with
Pyrrhus were tall Periphas, and Automedon, who had been armor-bearer
to his father Achilles, and following them the youth of Scyros, which
was the kingdom of his grandfather Lycomedes. With a great battle-axe
he hewed through the doors, breaking down also the door-posts, though
they were plated with bronze, making, as it were, a great window,
through which a man might see the palace within, the hall of King
Priam and of the kings who had reigned aforetime in Troy. But when
they that were within perceived it, there arose a great cry of women
wailing aloud and clinging to the doors and kissing them. But ever
Pyrrhus pressed on, fierce and strong as ever was his father Achilles,
nor could aught stand against him, either the doors or they that
guarded them. Then, as a river bursts its banks and overflows the
plain, so did the sons of Greece rush into the palace.
But old Priam, when he saw the enemy in his hall, girded on him his
armor, which now by reason of old age he had long laid aside, and took
a spear in his hand and would have gone against the adversary, only
Queen Hecuba called to him from where she sat. For she and her
daughters had fled to the great altar of the household gods and sat
crowded about it like unto doves that are driven by a storm. Now the
altar stood in an open court that was in the midst of the palace, with
a great bay-tree above it. So when she saw Priam, how he had girded
himself with armor as a youth, she cried to him and said, "What hath
bewitched thee, that thou girdest thyself with armor? It is not the
sword that shall help us this day; no, not though my own Hector were
here, but rather the gods and their altars. Come hither to us, for
here thou wilt be safe, or at the least wilt die with us."
So she made the old man sit down in the midst. But lo! there came
flying through the palace, Polites, his son, wounded to death by the
spear of Pyrrhus, and Pyrrhus close behind him. And he, even as he
came into the sight of his father and his mother, fell dead upon the
ground. But when King Priam saw it he contained not himself, but cried
aloud, "Now may the gods, if there be any justice in heaven,
recompense thee for this wickedness, seeing that thou hast not spared
to slay the son before his father's eyes. Great Achilles, whom thou
falsely callest thy sire, did not thus to Priam, though he was an
enemy, but reverenced right and truth and gave the body of Hector for
burial and sent me back to my city."
And as he spake the old man cast a spear, but aimless and without
force, which pierced not even the boss of the shield. Then said the
son of Achilles, "Go thou and tell my father of his unworthy son and
all these evils deeds. And that thou mayest tell him die!" And as he
spake he caught in his left hand the old man's white hair and dragged
him, slipping the while in the blood of his own son, to the altar, and
then, lifting his sword high for a blow, drove it to the hilt in the
old man's side. So King Priam, who had ruled mightily over many
peoples and countries in the land of Asia, was slain that night,
having first seen Troy burning about him and his citadel laid even
with the ground. So was his carcass cast out upon the earth, headless
and without a name.
TTITLE BEOWULF AND GRENDEL
Long ago there ruled over the Danes a king called Hrothgar. He gained
success and glory in war, so that his loyal kinsmen willingly obeyed
him, and everything prospered in his land.
One day it came into his mind that he would build a princely
banquet-hall, where he might entertain both the young and old of his
kingdom; and he had the work widely made known to many a tribe over
the earth, so that they might bring rich gifts to beautify the hall.
In course of time the banquet-house was built and towered aloft, high
and battlemented. Then Hrothgar gave it the name of Heorot, and called
his guests to the banquet, and gave them gifts of rings and other
treasures; and afterwards every day the joyous sound of revelry rang
loud in the hall, with the music of the harp and the clear notes of
But it was not long before the pleasure of the king's men was broken,
for a wicked demon began to work mischief against them. This cruel
spirit was called Grendel, and he dwelt on the moors and among the
fens. One night he came to Heorot when the noble guests lay at rest
after the feast, and seizing thirty thanes as they slept, set off on
his homeward journey, exulting in his booty.
At break of day his deed was known to all men, and great was the grief
among the thanes. The good King Hrothgar also sat in sorrow, suffering
heavy distress for the death of his warriors.
Not long afterwards Grendel again appeared, and wrought a yet worse
deed of murder. After that the warriors no longer dared to sleep at
Heorot, but sought out secret resting-places, leaving the great house
A long time passed. For the space of twelve winters Grendel waged a
perpetual feud against Hrothgar and his people; the livelong night he
roamed over the misty moors, visiting Heorot, and destroying both the
tried warriors and the young men whenever he was able. Hrothgar was
broken-hearted, and many were the councils held in secret to
deliberate what it were best to do against these fearful terrors; but
nothing availed to stop the fiend's ravages.
Now the tale of Grendel's deeds went forth into many lands; and
amongst those who heard of it were the Geats, whose king was Higelac.
Chief of his thanes was a noble and powerful warrior named Beowulf,
who resolved to go to the help of the Danes. He bade his men make
ready a good sea-boat, that he might go across the wild swan's path to
seek out Hrothgar and aid him; and his people encouraged him to go on
that dangerous errand even though he was dear to them.
So Beowulf chose fourteen of his keenest warriors, and sailed away
over the waves in his well-equipped vessel, till he came within sight
of the cliffs and mountains of Hrothgar's kingdom. The Danish warder,
who kept guard over the coast, saw them as they were making their ship
fast and carrying their bright weapons on shore. So he mounted his
horse and rode to meet them, bearing in his hand his staff of office;
and he questioned them closely as to whence they came and what their
Then Beowulf explained their errand, and the warder, when he had heard
it, bade them pass onwards, bearing their weapons, and gave orders
that their ship should be safely guarded.
Soon they came within sight of the fair palace Heorot, and the warder
showed them the way to Hrothgar's court, and then bade them farewell,
and returned to keep watch upon the coast.
Then the bold thanes marched forward to Heorot, their armor and their
weapons glittering as they went. Entering the hall, they set their
shields and bucklers against the walls, placed their spears upright in
a sheaf together, and sat down on the benches, weary with their
Then a proud liegeman of Hrothgar's stepped forward and asked:
"Whence bring ye your shields, your gray war-shirts and frowning
helmets, and this sheaf of spears? Never saw I men of more valiant
"We are Higelac's boon companions," answered Beowulf. "Beowulf is my
name, and I desire to declare my errand to the great prince, thy lord,
if he will grant us leave to approach him."
So Wulfgar, another of Hrothgar's chieftains, went out to the king
where he sat with the assembly of his earls and told him of the
arrival of the strangers, and Hrothgar received the news with joy, for
he had known Beowulf when he was a boy, and had heard of his fame as a
warrior. Therefore he bade Wulfgar bring him to his presence, and soon
Beowulf stood before him and cried:
"Hail to thee, Hrothgar! I have heard the tale of Grendel, and my
people, who know my strength and prowess, have counseled me to seek
thee out. For I have wrought great deeds in the past, and now I shall
do battle against this monster. Men say that so thick is his tawny
hide that no weapon can injure him. I therefore disdain to carry sword
or shield into the combat, but will fight with the strength of my arm
only, and either I will conquer the fiend or he will bear away my dead
body to the moor. Send to Higelac, if I fall in the fight, my
beautiful breastplate. I have no fear of death, for Destiny must ever
Then Hrothgar told Beowulf of the great sorrow caused to him by
Grendel's terrible deeds, and of the failure of all the attempts that
had been made by the warriors to overcome him; and afterwards he bade
him sit down with his followers to partake of a meal.
So a bench was cleared for the Geats, and a thane waited upon them,
and all the noble warriors gathered together, and a great feast was
held once more in Heorot with song and revelry. Waltheow, Hrothgar's
queen, came forth also, and handed the wine-cup to each of the thanes,
pledging the king in joyful mood and thanking Beowulf for his offer of
At last all the company arose to go to rest; and Hrothgar entrusted
the guardianship of Heorot to Beowulf with cheering words, and so bade
him good night. Then all left the hall, save only a watch appointed by
Hrothgar, and Beowulf himself with his followers, who laid themselves
down to rest.
No long time passed before Grendel came prowling from his home on the
moors under the misty slopes. Full of his evil purpose, he burst with
fury into the hall and strode forward raging, a hideous, fiery light
gleaming from his eyes. In the hall lay the warriors asleep, and
Grendel laughed in his heart as he gazed at them, thinking to feast
upon them all. Quickly he seized a sleeping warrior and devoured him;
then, stepping forward, he reached out his hand towards Beowulf as he
lay at rest.
But the hero was ready for him, and seized his arm in a deadly grip
such as Grendel had never felt before. Terror arose in the monster's
heart, and his mind was bent on flight; but he could not get away.
Then Beowulf stood upright and grappled with him firmly, and the two
rocked to and fro in the struggle, knocking over benches and shaking
the hall with the violence of their fight. Suddenly a new and terrible
cry arose, the cry of Grendel in fear and pain, for never once did
Beowulf relax his hold upon him. Then many of Beowulf's earls drew
their swords and rushed to aid their master; but no blade could pierce
him and nothing but Beowulf's mighty strength could prevail.
At last the monster's arm was torn off at the shoulder, and sick unto
death, he fled to the fens, there to end his joyless life. Then
Beowulf rejoiced at his night's work, wherein he had freed Heorot
forever from the fiend's ravages.
Now on the morrow the warriors flocked to the hall; and when they
heard what had taken place, they went out and followed Grendel's
tracks to a mere upon the moors, into which he had plunged and given
up his life. Then, sure of his death, they returned rejoicing to
Heorot, talking of Beowulf's glorious deed; and there they found the
king and queen and a great company of people awaiting them.
And now there was great rejoicing and happiness. Fair and gracious
were the thanks that Hrothgar gave to Beowulf, and great was the feast
prepared in Heorot. Cloths embroidered with gold were hung along the
walls and the hall was decked in every possible way.
When all were seated at the feast, Hrothgar bade the attendants bring
forth his gifts to Beowulf as a reward of victory. He gave him an
embroidered banner, a helmet and breastplate, and a valuable sword,
all adorned with gold and richly ornamented. Also he gave orders to
the servants to bring into the court eight horses, on one of which was
a curiously adorned and very precious saddle, which the king was wont
to use himself when he rode to practice the sword-game. These also he
gave to Beowulf, thus like a true man requiting his valiant deeds with
horses and other precious gifts. He bestowed treasures also on each of
Beowulf's followers and gave orders that a price should be paid in
gold for the man whom the wicked Grendel had slain.
After this there arose within the hall the din of voices and the
sound of song; the instruments also were brought out and Hrothgar's
minstrel sang a ballad for the delight of the warriors. Waltheow too
came forth, bearing in her train presents for Beowulf--a cup, two
armlets, raiment and rings, and the largest and richest collar that
could be found in all the world.
Now when evening came Hrothgar departed to his rest, and the warriors
cleared the hall and lay down to sleep once more, with their shields
and armor beside them as was their custom. But Beowulf was not with
them, for another resting-place had been assigned to him that night,
for all thought that there was now no longer any danger to be feared.
But in this they were mistaken, as they soon learnt to their cost. For
no sooner were they all asleep than Grendel's mother, a monstrous
witch who dwelt at the bottom of a cold mere, came to Heorot to avenge
her son and burst into the hall. The thanes started up in terror,
hastily grasping their swords; but she seized upon Asher, the most
beloved of Hrothgar's warriors, who still lay sleeping, and bore him
off with her to the fens, carrying also with her Grendel's arm, which
lay at one end of the hall.
Then there arose an uproar and the sound of mourning in Heorot. In
fierce and gloomy mood Hrothgar summoned Beowulf and told him the
ghastly tale, begging him, if he dared, to go forth to seek out the
monster and destroy it.
Full of courage, Beowulf answered with cheerful words, promising that
Grendel's mother should not escape him; and soon he was riding forth
fully equipped on his quest, accompanied by Hrothgar and many a good
warrior. They were able to follow the witch's tracks right through the
forest glades and across the gloomy moor, till they came to a spot
where some mountain trees bent over a hoar rock, beneath which lay a
dreary and troubled lake; and there beside the water's edge lay the
head of Asher, and they knew that the witch must be at the bottom of
Full of grief, the warriors sat down, while Beowulf arrayed himself in
his cunningly fashioned coat of mail and his richly ornamented helmet.
Then he turned to Hrothgar and spoke a last word to him.
"If the fight go against me, great chieftain, be thou a guardian to my
thanes, my kinsmen and my trusty comrades; and send thou to Higelac
those treasures that thou gavest me, that he may know thy kindness to
me. Now will I earn glory for myself, or death shall take me away."
So saying, he plunged into the gloomy lake, at the bottom of which was
Grendel's mother. Very soon she perceived his approach, and rushing
forth, grappled with him and dragged him down to her den, where many
horrible sea-beasts joined in the fight against him. This den was so
fashioned that the water could not enter it, and it was lit by the
light of a fire that shone brightly in the midst of it.
And now Beowulf drew his sword and thrust at his terrible foe; but the
weapon could not injure her, and he was forced to fling it away and
trust in the powerful grip of his arms as he had done with Grendel.
Seizing the witch, he shook her till she sank down on the ground; but
she quickly rose again and requited him with a terrible hand-clutch,
which caused Beowulf to stagger and then fall. Throwing herself upon
him, she seized a dagger to strike him; but he wrenched himself free
and once more stood upright.
Then he suddenly perceived an ancient sword hanging upon the wall of
the den, and seized it as a last resource. Fierce and savage, but
well-nigh hopeless, he struck the monster heavily upon the neck with
it. Then, to his joy, the blade pierced right through her body and she
sank down dying.
At that moment the flames of the fire leapt up, throwing a
brilliant light over the den; and there against the wall Beowulf
beheld the dead body of Grendel lying on a couch. With one swinging
blow of the powerful sword he struck off his head as a trophy to carry
But now a strange thing happened, for the blade of the sword began to
melt away even as ice melts, and soon nothing was left of it save the
hilt. Carrying this and Grendel's head, Beowulf now left the den and
swam upwards to the surface of the lake.
There the thanes met him with great rejoicings, and some quickly
helped him to undo his armor, while others prepared to carry the great
head of Grendel back to Heorot. It took four men to carry it, and
ghastly, though wonderful, was the sight of it.
And now once more the warriors assembled in Heorot, and Beowulf
recounted to Hrothgar the full tale of his adventure and presented to
him the hilt of the wonderful sword. Again the king thanked him from
the depth of his heart for his valiant deeds; and as before a fair
feast was prepared and the warriors made merry till night came and
they repaired to rest, certain this time of their safety.
Now on the morrow Beowulf and his nobles made ready to depart to their
own land; and when they were fully equipped they went to bid farewell
to Hrothgar. Then Beowulf spoke, saying:
"Now are we voyagers eager to return to our lord Higelac. We have been
right well and heartily entertained, O king, and if there is aught
further that I can ever do for thee, then I shall be ready for thy
service. If ever I hear that thy neighbors are again persecuting thee,
I will bring a thousand thanes to thy aid; and I know that Higelac
will uphold me in this."
"Dear are thy words to me, O Beowulf," Hrothgar made answer, "and
great is thy wisdom. If Fate should take away the life of Higelac, the
Geats could have no better king than thou; and hereafter there shall
never more be feuds between the Danes and the Geats, for thou by thy
great deeds hast made a lasting bond of friendship between them."
Then Hrothgar gave more gifts to Beowulf and bade him seek his beloved
people and afterwards come back again to visit him, for so dearly had
he grown to love him that he longed to see him again.
So the two embraced and bade each other farewell with great affection,
and then at last Beowulf went down to where his ship rode at anchor
and sailed away with his followers to his own country, taking with him
the many gifts that Hrothgar had made to him. And coming to Higelac's
court, he told him of his adventures, and having shown him the
treasure, gave it all up to him, so loyal and true was he. But Higelac
in return gave Beowulf a goodly sword and seven thousand pieces of
gold and a manor-house, also a princely seat for him to dwell in.
There Beowulf lived in peace, and not for many years was he called to
BEOWULF AND THE FIRE-DRAGON
After his return to the land of the Geats, Beowulf served Higelac
faithfully till the day of the king's death, which befell in an
expedition that he made to Friesland. Beowulf was with him on that
disastrous journey, and only with difficulty did he escape with his
life. But when he returned as a poor solitary fugitive to his people,
Hygd, Higelac's wife, offered him the kingdom and the king's
treasures, for she feared that her young son Heardred was not strong
enough to hold the throne of his fathers against invading foes.
Beowulf, however, would not accept the kingdom, but rather chose to
uphold Heardred among the people, giving him friendly counsel and
serving him faithfully and honorably.
But before very long Heardred was killed in battle, and then at last
Beowulf consented to become king of the Geats.
For fifty years he ruled well and wisely and his people prospered. But
at last trouble came in the ravages of a terrible dragon, and once
more Beowulf was called forth to a terrific combat.
For three hundred years this dragon had kept watch over a hoard of
treasure on a mountain by the seashore in the country of the Geats.
The treasure had been hidden in a cave under the mountain by a band of
sea-robbers; and when the last of them was dead the dragon took
possession of the cave and of the treasure and kept fierce watch over
But one day a poor man came to the spot while the dragon was fast
asleep and carried off part of the treasure to his master.
When the dragon awoke he soon discovered the man's footprints, and on
examining the cave he found that part of the gold and splendid jewels
had disappeared. In wrathful and savage mood he sought all round the
mountain for the robber, but could find no one.
So when evening came he went forth eager for revenge, and throwing out
flashes of fire in every direction, he began to set fire to all the
land. Beowulf's own princely manor-house was burnt down and terrible
destruction was wrought on every hand, till day broke and the
fire-dragon returned to his den.
Great was Beowulf's grief at this dire misfortune, and eager was his
desire for vengeance. He scorned to seek the foe with a great host
behind him, nor did he dread the combat in any way, for he called to
mind his many feats of war, and especially his fight with Grendel.
So he quickly had fashioned a mighty battle-shield, made entirely of
iron, for he knew that the wooden one that he was wont to use would
be burnt up by the flames of the fire-dragon. Then he chose out eleven
of his earls, and together they set out for the mountain, led thither
by the man who had stolen the treasure.
When they came to the mouth of the cave Beowulf bade farewell to his
companions, for he was resolved to fight single-handed against the
"Many a fight have I fought in my youth," he said, "and now once more
will I, the guardian of my people, seek the combat. I would not bear
any sword or other weapon against the dragon if I thought that I could
grapple with him as I did with the monster Grendel. But I fear that I
shall not be able to approach so close to this foe, for he will send
forth hot, raging fire and venomous breath. Yet am I resolute in mood,
fearless and resolved not to yield one foot's-breadth to the monster.
"Tarry ye here on the hill, my warriors, and watch which of us two
will survive the deadly combat, for this is no enterprise for you. I
only can attempt it, because such great strength has been given to me.
Therefore I will do battle alone and will either slay the dragon and
win the treasure for my people or fall in the fight, as destiny shall
When he had spoken thus Beowulf strode forward to the fight, armed
with his iron shield, his sword and his dagger. A stone arch spanned
the mouth of the cave, and on one side a boiling stream, hot as though
with raging fires, rushed forth. Undaunted by it, Beowulf uttered a
shout to summon the dragon to the fight. Immediately a burning breath
from the monster came out of the rock, the earth rumbled and then the
dragon rushed forth to meet his fate.
Standing with his huge shield held well before him, Beowulf received
the attack and struck from beneath his shield at the monster's side.
But his blade failed him and turned aside, and the blow but served to
enrage the dragon, so that he darted forth such blasting rays of
deadly fire that Beowulf was well nigh overwhelmed and the fight went
hard with him.
Now his eleven chosen comrades could see the combat from where they
stood; and one of them, Beowulf's kinsman Wiglaf, was moved to great
sorrow at the sight of his lord's distress. At last he could bear it
no longer, but grasped his wooden shield and his sword and cried to
the other thanes:
"Remember how we promised our lord in the banquet-hall, when he gave
us our helmets and swords and battle-gear, that we would one day repay
him for his gifts. Now is the day come that our liege lord has need of
the strength of good warriors. We must go help him, even though he
thought to accomplish this mighty work alone, for we can never return
to our homes if we have not slain the enemy and saved our king's life.
Rather than live when he is dead, I will perish with him in this
Then he rushed through the noisome smoke to his lord's side, crying:
"Dear Beowulf, take courage. Remember thy boast that thy valor shall
never fail thee in thy lifetime, and defend thyself now with all thy
might, and I will help thee."
But the other warriors were afraid to follow him, so that Beowulf and
Wiglaf stood alone to face the dragon.
As soon as the monster advanced upon them, Wiglaf's wooden shield was
burnt away by the flames, so that he was forced to take refuge behind
Beowulf's iron shield; and this time when Beowulf struck with his
sword, it was shivered to pieces. Then the dragon flung himself upon
him and caught him up in his arms, crushing him till he lay senseless
and covered with wounds.
But now Wiglaf showed his valor and strength, and smote the monster
with such mighty blows that at last the fire coming forth from him
began to abate somewhat. Then Beowulf came once more to his senses,
and drawing his deadly knife, struck with it from beneath; and at last
the force of the blows from the two noble kinsmen felled the fierce
fire-dragon and he sank down dead beside them.
But Beowulf's wounds were very great, and he knew that the joys of
life were ended for him and that death was very near. So while Wiglaf
with wonderful tenderness unfastened his helmet for him and refreshed
him with water, he spoke, saying:
"Though I am sick with mortal wounds, there is yet some comfort
remaining for me. For I have governed my people for fifty winters and
kept them safe from invading foes; yet have not sought out quarrels
nor led my kinsmen to dire slaughter when there was no need. Therefore
the Ruler of all men will not blame me when my life departs from my
"And now go thou quickly, dear Wiglaf, to spy out the treasure within
the cave, so that I may see what wealth I have won for my people
before I die."
So Wiglaf went into the cave and there he saw many precious jewels,
old vessels, helmets, gold armlets and other treasures, which excelled
in beauty and number any that mankind has ever known. Moreover, high
above the treasure flapped a marvelous gilded standard, from which
came a ray of light which lit up all the cave.
Then Wiglaf seized as much as he could carry of the precious spoils,
and taking the standard also, hastened back to his lord, dreading lest
he should find him already dead.
Beowulf was very near his life's end, but when Wiglaf had again
revived him with water, he had strength to speak once more.
"Glad am I," he said, "that I have been able before my death to gain
so much for my people. But now I may no longer abide here. Bid the
gallant warriors burn my body on the headland here which juts into the
sea, and afterwards raise a huge mound on the same spot, that the
sailors who drive their vessels over the misty floods may call it
Then the dauntless prince undid the golden collar from his neck and
gave it to Wiglaf with his helmet and coat of mail, saying:
"Thou art the last of all our race, for Fate has swept away all my
kindred save thee to their doom, and now I also must join them," and
with these words the aged king fell back dead.
Now as Wiglaf sat by his lord, grieving sorely at his death, the other
ten thanes who had shown themselves to be faithless and cowardly
approached with shame to his side. Then Wiglaf turned to them, crying
"Truly our liege lord flung away utterly in vain the battle-gear that
he gave ye. Little could he boast of his comrades when the hour of
need came. I myself was able to give him some succor in the fight, but
ye should have stood by him also to defend him. But now the giving of
treasure shall cease for ye and ye will be shamed and will lose your
land-right when the nobles learn of your inglorious deed. Death is
better for every earl than ignominious life."
After this Wiglaf summoned the other earls and told them of all that
had happened and of the mound that Beowulf wished them to build. Then
they gathered together at the mouth of the cave and gazed with tears
upon their lifeless lord and looked with awe upon the huge dragon as
it lay stiff in death beside its conqueror. Afterwards, led by Wiglaf,
seven chosen earls entered the cave and brought forth all the
treasure, while others busied themselves in preparing the funeral
When all was ready and the huge pile of wood had been hung with
helmets, war-shields and bright coats of mail, as befitted the funeral
pyre of a noble warrior, the earls brought their beloved lord's body
to the spot and laid it on the wood. Then they kindled the fire and
stood by mourning and uttering sorrowful chants, while the smoke rose
up and the fire roared and the body was consumed away. Afterwards they
built a mound on the hill, making it high and broad so that it could
be seen from very far away. Ten days they spent in building it; and
because they desired to pay the highest of honors to Beowulf, they
buried in it the whole of the treasure that the dragon had guarded,
for no price was too heavy to pay as a token of their love for their
lord. So the treasure even now remains in the earth, as useless as it
When at last the mound was completed, the noble warriors gathered
together and rode around it, lamenting their king and singing the
praise of his valor and mighty deeds.
Thus mourned the people of the Geats for the fall of Beowulf, who of
all kings in the world was the mildest and kindest, the most gracious
to his people, and the most eager to win their praise.
TTITLE THE GOOD KING ARTHUR
Probably every one knows the story of the great King Arthur who, the
legends say, ruled in Britain so many, many years ago and gathered
about him in his famous Round Table, knights of splendid courage,
tried and proven. So well loved was the story of Arthur in other
countries as well as in England that it was among the very first works
ever printed in Europe, and it was still welcomed centuries later when
Next: The Great English Poet Alfred Tennyson Told It In His Idylls Of The
Previous: Thou Seest Her In Me But Interrupt Me Not 'i Bid Thee Fetch Me