History for the Rest of Us

Beowulf and Grendel

Beowulf and Grendel

Oct 27, 2012

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 the singers. 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 empty. 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...

English Legends – The Sword in the Stone

English Legends – The Sword in the Stone

Oct 19, 2012

Now Arthur the prince had all this time been nourished in Sir Ector’s house as his own son, and was fair and tall and comely, being of the age of fifteen years, great in strength, gentle in manner, and accomplished in all exercises proper for the training of a knight. But as yet he knew not of his father; for Merlin had so dealt, that none save Uther and himself knew aught about him. Wherefore it befell, that many of the knights and barons who heard King Uther speak before his death, and call his son Arthur his successor, were in great amazement; and some doubted, and others were displeased. Anon the chief lords and princes set forth each to his own land, and, raising armed men and multitudes of followers, determined every one to gain the crown for himself; for they said in their hearts, “If there be any such a son at all as he of whom this wizard forced the king to speak, who are we that a beardless boy should have rule over us?” So the land stood long in great peril, for every lord and baron sought but his own advantage; and the Saxons, growing ever more adventurous, wasted and overran the towns and villages in every part. Then Merlin went to Brice, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and advised him to require all the earls and barons of the realm and all knights and gentlemen-at-arms to come to him at London, before Christmas, under pain of cursing, that they might learn the will of Heaven who should be king. This, therefore, the archbishop did, and upon Christmas Eve were met together in London all the greatest princes, lords, and barons; and long before day they prayed in St. Paul’s Church, and the archbishop besought Heaven for a sign who should be lawful king of all the realm. And as they prayed, there was seen in the churchyard, set straight before the doorways of the church, a huge square stone having a naked sword stuck in the midst of it. And on the sword was written in letters of gold, “Whoso pulleth out the sword from this stone is born...