If you’ve read Homer’s Odyssey, you have a
head start on this motif. That’s because in Beowulf, just like in the
Odyssey, there are stories everywhere. Just when
the story of Beowulf’s battles is getting
some momentum … someone has to go tell another story. Aw, man! But you know the saying, you snooze, you lose?
Yeah, you really do in this poem. That’s because the stories in Beowulf serve
two purposes. First, they enable the narrator to include
material outside the scope of the poem. You know, like stories about different ancestors
that either help explain Beowulf’s character, or clarify the heroic code. Think of them
as the bonus material on a DVD. And second, believe it or not, the stories
actually keep the poem moving. Let me repeat that. The stories in this poem
actually keep the poem moving. Rather than really making you snooze by going chronologically
through Beowulf’s life, the poem jumps from battle to battle. The history that’s important
to the action is included only as needed—in stories that increase our faith in Beowulf
and perhaps even get us a little excited about his next heroic deed.