Beowulf

The so-called Dark Ages, roughly spanning the time from the fall of Rome to the High Middle Ages, spawned this strange adventure tale, which supposedly took place in the early sixth century. Legendary hero Beowulf sailed to Denmark with a handful of warriors to combat Grendel, a monstrous ogre who had been eating members of King Hrothgar's court. When Grendel snuck into Hrothgar's hall during the dead of night to snack on a few more Danes, he was confronted by Beowulf, who managed to wrestle the monster and pull off his arm. Grendel retreated to his underwater lair, where he later died.

After being congratulated and rewarded by a grateful King Hrothgar and Queen Wealhtheow, Beowulf had to face the wrath of Grendel's mother. She was equally as fiendish as her son, and developed a similar taste for Danish warriors. After eating one of Beowulf's men, she fled to Grendel's cave hideout, only to be pursued by a vengeful Beowulf. After slaying her, Beowulf cut the head off both mother and son to present them as trophies to a grateful Hrothgar. With Denmark safe again, Beowulf and his remaining warriors set sail to their native Sweden.

The tale then advanced fifty years, when an elderly Beowulf had become king of his people, the Geats. A fierce, fire-breathing dragon had awoken after a 300-year slumber, and was making life unbearable in southern Sweden. King Beowulf took up his sword once more and went with his men to slay the monster. After a terrific battle, Beowulf was mortally wounded, the dragon was killed, and only the loyal warrior Wiglaf had not abandoned Beowulf and run away. The story ended with a description of the king's funeral.

The epic saga of Beowulf was finally written down, more or less in its present form, some time in the 10th century. It maintains many features of the typical pre-Christian adventure stories told by those living in the early Dark Ages, with references to funeral pyres and even an animal sacrifice. While later authors added elements of Christian theology to the story, Beowulf remains a tale illustrating man's willingness to undertake dangerous journeys for adventure and profit.