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by Unknown

Beowulf Mortality Quotes

How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Line). We used Seamus Heaney's Beowulf: A New Verse Translation, published in 2000 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

Quote #1

Shield was still thriving when his time came
and he crossed over into the Lord's keeping.
His warrior band did what he bade them
when he laid down the law among the Danes:
they shouldered him out to the sea's flood,
the chief they revered who had long ruled them.
A ring-whorled prow rode in the harbour,
ice-clad, outbound, a craft for a prince.
They stretched their beloved lord in his boat,
laid out by the mast, amidships,
the great ring-giver. Far-fetched treasures
were piled upon him, and precious gear. (26-37)

Beowulf begins with death – with the description of the lavish burial-at-sea of the Danish king, Shield Sheafson. This is the first funeral scene in the epic, but it certainly won't be the last. It lets us know right away that how a man dies (preferably when he is "still thriving") and how he is buried (preferably with a huge load of "precious gear") reflects on who he was when he was alive.

Quote #2

Whichever one death fells
must deem it a just judgement by God. (440-441)

The poet of Beowulf constantly emphasizes that death comes to everyone at whatever moment God decrees; there is nothing mortal man can do to avoid this eventual fate.

Quote #3

None of them expected he would ever see
his homeland again or get back
to his native place and the people who reared him.
They knew too well the way it was before,
how often the Danes had fallen prey
to death in the mead-hall. (691-696)

Beowulf doesn't enter into his battle with Grendel expecting to triumph over the demon. Instead, he is able to fight Grendel with courage because he's already accepted that he will probably die in the attempt. This morbid outlook frees him from fear. After all, if you accept the worst possible outcome, there's nothing left to make you afraid.

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