[lines 1584b-1590 in section XXIII and 7th line from the bottom of folio 164v to first half of the last line of folio 164v on Kevin S. Kiernan's Electronic Beowulf CD]
Images of the original manuscript text of this section, and an mp3 file of Ben Slade reading it in Old English, are here.
In this part of the story Beowulf has just killed Grendel's mother and is searching around her cave, still very worked up from the fight. He comes across the lifeless body of Grendel and, recalling the terror which Grendel has wrought at Heorot (including one night when Grendel had eaten fifteen men in Hrothgar's hall and taken fifteen more men back to his cave) and despite the fact that Grendel is already dead, cuts off Grendel's head in his passion. The blood from Grendel's body melts the blade of Grendel's mother's giant sword so that only the sword-hilt remains.
The reason I like this passage so much is that it makes no sense for Beowulf to cut off Grendel's head -- except perhaps to have the head to take back to Heorot, but I doubt that this purpose would have been foremost in his mind: after all, he had just swum for almost a day down through the water, fought and killed Grendel's mother, weilded a giant sword and now had to swim back up to the surface carrying a giant sword-hilt. Beowulf is delirious with adrenaline and fatigue and anger and fear and all of this emotion is brought to bear in one swing of a sword so large that no other living man could have used it in battle.
Although the poem does not give details on how Beowulf was able to carry Hrunting, the giant sword hilt and Grendel's head all back up through the water to the surface, Gareth Hinds has decided in his comic book to have Beowulf carry Grendel's head by holding Grendel's hair in his teeth. This makes for a very dramatic image and really shows how Gareth has added value in his own telling of this story.
This passage reminds us that even a great man like Beowulf will sometimes act entirely out of passion. This sort of passion will be repeated more than fifty years later by Wiglaf in the fight with the dragon (there's an essay topic for you: compare the moment in which Beowulf cuts off Grendel's head to the moment in which Wiglaf decides to rush in to the flames or the moment when Wiglaf allows his hand to be burned so that he can stab the dragon lower down where it is more vulnerable).
At this moment Beowulf has just discovered Grendel's lifeless body lying in the cave.
Beowulf Cuts Off Grendel's Head -- Audio: beowulf-audio-1584b-1590b-benslade.mp3
29 seconds, 0.4Mb, Sampling Rate=22,050, 16bit -- lines 1584b-1590
Click to hear Ben Slade read about Beowulf Cutting Off Grendel's Head in Old English (or right click and "Save-As" to save to your hard drive)
Ben Slade's Beowulf page is at http://www.heorot.dk.
The furious champion had paid him such full payment for that, that he saw Grendel lying there, worn out by war, the soul out of him, so badly had the battle in Heorot hurt him. The carcase bounded some distance when it took the blow, the stout swing of the sword after its death, and Beowulf had cut the head off it.
He for that had requitted him his due meed, the fierce warrior, to that degree that he [now] saw Grendel, war-weary, lying lifeless on a couch, so much had the fight at Heorot, some time before, injured him. The corpse burst asunder, when he after death suffered a slashing stroke, a hard swinging sword-cut, and [Beowulf] then cut off his head.
--- now had the warrior forsooth paid full score, for there on the couch he beheld Grendel laying, and weary of war was he and there was no life in him, and he bore the great wound that he had got him in fight at Heorot. And the corpse leaped wide, dead as it was, as it caught the great down-swing of the sword; and his head came off at the blow.
--- He had paid him his dues, the furious warrior, for he saw Grendel, war-weary, lying lifeless on his resting place, as the battle erst had wounded him at Heorot. The body sprang far when after death it suffered a blow, a hard sword stroke, which cut off its head.
For this, Beowulf, fierce campaigner, paid him reward -- so efficaciously that on a bed he beheld the battle-weary Grendel lying lifeless, following the damage which the struggle at Heorot had done him. Wide open split his corpse as, after death, he suffered a blow, a hard swingeing sword-stroke -- and Beowulf cut off his head.
For that he gave him his pay, the fierce champion, insomuch that he saw Grendel lying war-weary in his resting place, lifeless, so had the battle at Heorot scathed him before. The corpse gaped wide when it felt his stroke after death, the hard sword-swing; and then he cut off the head.
This image of the original manuscript is of the last 8 lines of folio 164v (from the Electronic Beowulf CD by Kevin Kiernan). You can click the image to see a 1722x1052 pixel version (138k in size).
This is the section in the manuscript where the scene transcribed here appears.
I have inserted red lines to demarcate the beginning and ending of the section, with heavy blue vertical lines corresponding to the end of each line in the poem, and medium-weight yellow vertical lines corresponding to the end of the the first half-line on each line.
Images from the "Thorkelin Transcript A" transcript of Beowulf, perhaps made by James Matthews, a member of the British Museum staff, for Grímur Jónsson Thorkelin in 1787.
These images of "Thorkelin Transcript A" are of the last 2 lines of image a164rv (page 47) and the first 2 lines of image a164v-v (page 48) (from the Electronic Beowulf CD by Kevin Kiernan). You can click either images to see versions 990 pixels wide.
Image from the "Thorkelin Transcript B" transcript of Beowulf, made by Thorkelin himself, probably in 1789 or a bit later.
This image of "Thorkelin Transcript B" is of the last 8 lines of image b164v (from the Electronic Beowulf CD by Kevin Kiernan). You can click the image to see a version which is 925x448 pixels (75k in size).
In 1817 John Josias Conybeare, Rawlinson Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University from 1808-1812, and Professor of Poetry thereafter, was presented with G.J. Thorkelin's 1815 first edition of Beowulf by his brother, William.
This image is of Conybeare's notes on his Thorkelin edition of Beowulf, from image c164vr (from the Electronic Beowulf CD by Kevin Kiernan). You can click the image to see a version version which is 876x472 pixels (64k in size).
...Beowulf, relentless warrior, so far paid Grendel his dues for that, that he now saw him lying on his bed, battle-weary and lifeless, in such wise as the strife in Heorot had scathed him. The corse [sic] sprang far when it underwent a blow after death, a hard sword-stroke, and Beowulf cut off the head.
He, wrathful warrior, had given him his reward for that, so that he now saw Grendel lying in his resting-place, worn out with fighting, destitute of life, as he had been maimed erewhile in fight at Heorot. The body gaped wide when it met the blow, the lusty sword-stroke after death; and Beowulf cut off his head.
His object was the destruction of the miscreant himself. He found him, however (as might have been anticipated), already lifeless. Desirous of presenting Hrothgar with some memorial of his victory, he proceeded to sever the monster's head from his body, which was readily accomplished by a second blow of the Jutish weapon. The effusion of blood caused by this double slaughter soon copiously tinged the waters of the torrent;
Note here that Cox and Jones have Beowulf cutting off Grendel's mother's head where in the other translations he cuts of Grendel's head
But beneath the water was a great marvel. Beówulf cut off the sea-woman's head, but so hot and poisonous was her blood that the mighty sword which reeked therewith melted and burned away, all save the hilt. So it wasted like the ice when the sun loosens the frost-chain and unwinds the wave-ropes. Then Beówulf swam upwards with his heavy burden, the sea-woman's head and the sword-hilt, and having reached the shore he saw the lake dry up.
He had paid him his reward for that, the fierce champion, for there he saw Grendel, weary of war, lying at rest, lifeless with the wounds he had got in the battle at Heorot. The body bounded wide when it suffered the blow after death, the hard sword-swing; and thus he cut off his head.
He had paid him his recompense for that, the furious champion had; insomuch that he now beheld him at rest, weary of war, even Grendel he saw lying, bereft of life, so deadly for him had erst the conflict at Heorot been. The carcass gaped wide, when it after death received the blow, the hard sword-slash; then did he cut the head from off him.
--- but as he gazed Beowulf saw his former foe, Grendel, lying dead on a bed in some inner hall. He strode thither, and, seizing the corpse by the hideous coiled locks, shore off the head to carry to earth again. ---
--- The fell champion had paid him the reward due for this, to so good effect that he now saw Grendel lying on his couch wearied out from the fray, lifeless, so gravely had he been injured in battle at Heorot. The corpse burst wide open when, after death, he suffered the stroke of a hard sword-blow, as Beowulf cut off his head.
After the fight was over Beowulf looked round the cave, and behold, lying in a corner he observed the dead body of Grendel. He went up to it, and with a blow he separated the head from the body, for he wished to bear it to Hrothgar that he might look upon the head of his enemy.
He, the furious hero, avenged that upon him there where he saw Grendel lying, weary of war, reft of life, as erstwhile the battle at Heorot dispatched him. The body gaped wide, when after death it suffered a stroke, a hard battle-blow; and then he hewed off its head.
The fierce warrior had repaid him for that so that now he found Grendel lying in his resting-place, wearied by war, dead of his injuries at the fight in Heorot. The corpse burst wide open when it suffered a blow after death; Beowulf cut off its head with a hard stroke of the sword.
--- He looked through the great dwelling and saw Grendel lying life-less. With a strong blow Beowulf cut off the head of the monster, but the hot blood melted the sword and nothing was left but the hilt.
... He, fierce warrior, repaid him for that, insomuch that he saw Grendel lying at rest, war-weary, lifeless, maimed, as he was in the fight at Heorot. Far bounded the body when, after death, it suffered the stroke, the strong swing of the sword. And then he cut the head off.
he gave him therefore his reward, the fierce champion, in as much as he saw at rest the war-wearied Grendel lifeless lie, as war had before decided for him in Heorot; his carcase was widely torn, and since, after death, he suffered a blow, the hard swing of the sword and there he (i. e. B.) cut off his head.
--- And well he requited him, this furious champion, when he saw the war-weary Grendel lying in death, all void of his life as formerly in Hart the battle had scathed him. His body sprang apart when after his death he suffered a stroke, a hard battle-swing; and then he struck off his head.
--- The hero gazed about him.... He saw Grendel lying maimed and dead on his resting place, and in vengeance for the evil that monster had done, Beowulf smote his body so that it was split open. Then the head he struck off.
Gradually his eyes began to see into the thick dark that lay beyond the pool of what had once been Grendel's Mother. There was treasure there, but he did not want it. Only a huge sword caught his interest. It hung from a knob of rock. It was curved and terrible, far too heavy for mortal fighting, plainly the work of giants. He took it down with both hands, rested it between his knees, and ran his finger along its biting edge.
The sword made a sound like singing.
Deep in the underwater hall he heard another noise. A voice, as if in answer to the sword. A voice, but not forming words or syllables or any other kind of intelligible sound. It was a voice that spoke as ice speaks when it breaks on a winter tarn, or as men's bones speak when a killer cracks them. It was Grendel!
But Grendel was dead....
Grendel was dead, and it was his lifeless corpse, one arm torn out, that reared up quick in answer to the song of the sword and sprang at Beowulf now!
Beowulf did not hesitate.
He lifted the giant sword in two hands and swung it. The sword flashed. Beowulf slashed. Grendel's dead head was severed from the shoulders of his dead body.
--- So far the vengeful champion repaid him for it: he saw war-weary Grendel lying lifeless, as the ruining strife in Heorot had made him. The corpse sprang far when after death it took the blow, a mighty sword-stroke; Beowulf carved off the head.
I looked around and saw not far away the huge mained body of Grendel lying in miserable death, and the memory of all that he had done brought a burning anger into my heart. I remembered poor Hondscioh, and the head of Aeschere upon the bank of the mere, and the sight of Grendel lying there with his head still upon his shoulders was too much to bear. I moved to where he lay and heaved the mighty sword a second time, brought it down upon the monster's neck and cut it through.
Now Beowulf resolved to repay Grendel once and for all for the misery he had caused the Danes. And he wanted proof to show the Danes that the monster was dead.
The young hero raised the magic sword again above his head. He swung it and struck the neck of the dead monster. The body jumped with the force of the blow. The head was severed from the neck and rolled across the floor.
--- In his wanderings he came upon a bed, and on the bed was the body of the dead Grendel. With the tremendous sword he smote off the monster's head, and the blood gushed out and ran over the floor and between the door and the doorsill, so that the water beyond the door was stained a purplish red.
he paid him the reward of that,
the fierce fighter, in that he saw in repose
war-weary Grendel lying,
lifeless, as he had injured him earlier
in the conflict at Heorot --the corpse burst wide open,
when it after death suffered a blow,
a hard sword-stroke-- and then its head he cut off.
He had paid him his reward for that, the fierce champion, to the effect that he now saw Grendel lying on his couch, sated with war, lifeless, so much had he been injured earlier in the battle at Heorot. The corpse split open when, after death, it suffered a blow, a hard sword-stroke, and thus he cut off his head.
--- But he had already paid him the reward for this. Grendel was dead, and he now saw him lying lifeless, worn out with the strife and the fate that had met him at Heorot. So now nothing was left but to smite off his head with the giant's sword; the body rebounded from the hard blow of Beowulf's weapon.
...Now the fierce champion had bestowed a reward on the monster for those victories, for here was Grendel, lying still and lifeless from the wounds inflicted by Beowulf at Heorot. The hero took a mighty stroke, the dead body rebounded from the blow, and the head was severed.
But he had already paid him the reward for this. Grendel was dead, and he now saw him lying lifeless, worn out with the strife and the fate that had met him at Heorot. So now nothing was left but to smite off his head with the giant's sword; the body rebounded from the hard blow of beowulf's weapon.
...The fierce warrior had given him his reward, insomuch that he now saw Grendel lying lifeless in his resting-place, spent with his fight, so deadly had the combat been for him in Heorot. The body bounded far when it suffered a blow after death, a mighty sword-stroke. Thus he smote off the head.
Sharon Turner's 1805 version of the story ends around line 517, in the middle of Unferth's initial challenge to Beowulf. After line 517, all we get from the 1805 edition is this:
It would occupy too much room in the present volume to give a further account of this interesting poem, which well deserves to be submitted to the public, with a translation and with ample notes. There are forty-two sections of it in the Cotton MS., and it ends there imperfectly. It is perhaps the oldest poem of an epic form in the vernacular language of Europe which now exists.
Note that Sharon Turner makes no mention here of the fact that Grendel is already dead when Beowulf cuts off his head. It seems that he probably didn't completely understand the manuscript on this point. The text below comes immediately after the description of the fight with Grendel's mother in Sharon Turner's description of the story (without an intervening sentence about a brightening light, as appears in the other translations).
This success is followed by a victory over Grendel himself, whom he also destroys, and whose head he carries off and presents to Hrothgar.
The hero had settled that account, and now saw Grendel lying dead and mutilated, just as the fight as Heorot had left him. The corpse bounded up at the sword-stroke, and Beowulf severed its head as it lay lifeless.