In Geatland (part of modern-day Sweden), the mighty King Hygelac hears about Grendel and decides to help the Danes. He enlists the best men he can find, and they set sail for Denmark. There are fourteen well-armed warriors on the boat, and an as yet unnamed leader.
When they land in Denmark after a smooth voyage and disembark, the coastal lookout man of the Shieldings spots them and challenges them. Never before has he seen a group of armed men disembark so openly, without even asking permission. He comments on the noble appearance of the leader and then asks who they are, where they come from, and why.
The leader of the warriors replies that they are from Geatland and owe their allegiance to King Hygelac. He identifies himself as the son of a famed warrior named Ecgtheow, and then asks for directions to their leader. He says they have come to help Hrothgar in his battle against Grendel. He says he can show Hrothgar a way to defeat his enemy.
The coast-guard believes the man's words are genuine, and offers to guide the warriors to the king. He orders some of his men to guard the visitors' ship.
The men march to Heorot, which is dazzling in its splendor. When they arrive, the coast-guard offers them a blessing and bids farewell.
The heavily armed men enter the hall, stacking their shields against the wall. They sit on benches and place their spears in the receptacles provided.
Hrothgar's herald questions them. He is impressed by their appearance. The leader responds first with his name. He is Beowulf. He asks permission to see Hrothgar in person and report on the reason for his visit. The warrior Wulfgar agrees to convey the message to Hrothgar.
Wulfgar speaks to Hrothgar, and advises the king to grant Beowulf's request. Wulgar thinks the warriors are noble and worthy of respect, especially Beowulf.
Hrothgar replies that he knew Beowulf when he was a young boy. He has heard great tales of his prowess, and he hopes that Beowulf will defend them from Grendel. Hrothgar promises rich rewards if Beowulf succeeds.
Wulgar conveys this message, and invites Beowulf to enter and meet Hrothgar.
Beowulf greets Hrothgar and explains why he has come. He gives a history of his prowess in battle and says he will take on Grendel in single combat. He also announces that since he has heard that Grendel uses no weapons, he too will use none. It will be a hand-to-hand fight, and fate will decide the outcome.
Hrothgar recalls a time when he had helped to end a feud between Ecgtheow, Beowulf's father, and another warrior lord. Ecgtheow gratefully acknowledged the assistance and pledged allegiance to Hrothgar.
Hrothgar goes on to tell of how many other warriors have tried and failed to defeat Grendel. He invites Beowulf to join their feast. A bench is fetched and all the Geats sit together. There is plenty of mead available, and a minstrel sings.
Then Unferth, who is envious of Beowulf, upsets the cordial atmosphere. He speaks up about a swimming contest that Beowulf once engaged in with Breca. Unferth claims that Breca won. He adds that Beowulf has no chance of defeating Grendel.
Beowulf replies, giving a very different account of the epic contest, which went on for five nights. The two swimmers became separated. In rough seas Beowulf killed nine sea monsters. He was exhausted but came ashore safely on the coast of Finland. Beowulf then tells Unferth that he cannot remember any comparable fight that Unferth was in. Neither he nor Breca had much of a reputation for bravery. Beowulf tells Unferth that he will go to hell because he killed his own kinsman. Grendel knows that he is never in danger from one such as Unferth. But, Beowulf says, it will be different when Grendel encounters him, Beowulf.
The banquet continues and everyone is in good spirits. Wealhtheow, Hrothgar's gracious wife, enters. She offers drinks to everyone, welcomes Beowulf, and thanks God that someone has arrived who will deliver them from their sufferings. Beowulf promises her that he will fulfill the purpose for which he came, a promise that Wealhtheow is pleased to hear.
The banquet resumes happily. When it is time for Hrothgar to retire to bed, he wishes Beowulf good luck and gives him command of the hall, knowing that Grendel will strike again that night.
Beowulf removes his armor and lays down his sword, which he gives to his attendant with instructions to guard it. Before he lies down to rest he boasts of his strength and fighting ability, and says he will face Grendel unarmed.
The Geat warriors lie down to rest. They do not expect to see their homeland again because they know how formidable a foe Grendel is. But the narrator says that God will give them victory through the strength of one man.
This section gives many clues about the nature of the Danish society depicted in the poem. It is a warrior society. Prowess in battle is how a man makes a name for himself. This secures his status in his community and brings desired fame to himself and his king (note how in line 435 Beowulf says that his decision to fight Grendel unarmed will add to the fame of his king).
The frequent detailed descriptions of armor and weapons convey the importance of war in this society, in which each clan must be prepared at all times to defend itself against its neighbors. There is a history of feuds in the region. A glimpse of this can be seen in Hrothgar's story (lines 459-472) about when he helped end a feud between Ecgtheow, Beowulf's father, and another warrior lord. Many other feuds will be mentioned in the course of the poem.
The warriors owe their allegiance to their king, a warrior-lord who has also proved himself in battle. The king has obligations to protect and reward his subjects. The ideal king is as generous as he is brave. This is why Hrothgar is not only famed in battle (line 608), he is also described as "giver of rings" (line 353), meaning gold rings. The society is bound together by this two-way concept of loyalty, of a king to his warriors and the warriors to the king.
This section also shows the co-existence of pagan and Christian material. Beowulf seems to express both. In line 441, he says that whoever wins the battle between him and Grendel will be due to the just judgment of God. Although this is not a specific Christian reference, it does suggest monotheism rather than allegiance to pagan gods. But then in line 455, Beowulf says, "Fate goes ever as fate must," which sounds more like a pre-Christian worldview, where the destiny of men is controlled by a mysterious, unknowable force, not the almighty, loving God of Christianity. Both these concepts recur throughout the poem.