Grendel is overjoyed because a new group of humans has arrived by boat. He sensed their arrival in his cave and went to go see them come ashore. They got off the boat, decked out in armor, and met one of Hrothgar’s guards. Grendel particularly noticed the strangers’ leader, a huge, strong man (who is never named but can be inferred to be Beowulf). The leader told the guard that they were the Geats and had come as friends to Hrothgar. Grendel was entranced by Beowulf’s muscles and was simultaneously frightened and excited by him. The Geats went to Hrothgar’s meadhall.
A new human rival gives Grendel a newfound sense of excitement. Once again he has someone he can test himself against, define himself against, now that his rivalry with Hrothgar has lost its excitement.
Back in his cave, Grendel wonders if he is afraid of the Geats. In any case, he is excited by their arrival. He reflects on the unexplainable actions of humans: once, he saw a man with a family cheat on his wife for no reason. Grendel is pained by his boredom, which the Geats might dispel. He thinks that all order is only theoretical and unreal.
Grendel’s boredom and isolation irritate him so much that he is glad for the excitement of the Geats, even if they also scare him. He continues to believe in the worldview of meaninglessness promoted by the dragon.
Grendel decides to go to the meadhall, reflecting on the facts that he alone exists and his mother does not truly love him for himself but only as something that is hers. He considers that he could delay his raids until the Geats leave and continues to debate what he should do even as he approaches Hart. When he arrives, he peers through the crack in the meadhall’s wall.
Grendel continues to mull over his ideas and theories about the world. He seems to have some presentiment about the danger posed by the Geats, but is driven by his desire for a human antagonist.
Grendel sees that Hrothgar’s Danes are embarrassed and frustrated that foreigners have come to save them. It offends their sense of honor. Ork in particular looks frustrated, as the Geats, and not the gods, have come to their rescue. Grendel thinks that he will kill the strangers for Hrothgar’s honor, because he sees that while Hrothgar is also upset, the king knows he needs the Geats’ help to defeat Grendel.
Though the Geats have come to help the Danes, in doing so they both expose the Danes’ inability to live up to their own heroic ideals and frustrate Ork’s expectations of divine aid. Though Hrothgar is Grendel's enemy, the long conflict seems almost like friendship to Grendel. It is the only real human contact he has, even if it is antagonistic. And so Grendel has an instinct to help Hrothgar now that these other outsiders have arrived.
Unferth rises and asks Beowulf if he is the one who supposedly swam for seven nights in the middle of the winter in a contest with another man because of a boast. Unferth says that Beowulf lost the contest and predicts that he will be defeated by Grendel. Hrothgar’s men laugh. Beowulf responds that he actually won the swimming contest, in which he swam through a storm and killed sea-monsters. He alludes to Unferth’s killing his brother, saying he’ll go to Hell for the deed. Hrothgar calls for Wealtheow, who enters and eases the tension in the hall.
Unferth, who has lost faith in ideas of heroism, mocks Beowulf, but Beowulf appears to be a real hero, and astonishes the Danes (and Grendel) with his confidence and exploits.
Grendel watches Beowulf and is transfixed by the warrior’s mouth as he speaks and by his muscular shoulders. He has a momentary vision of himself hanging by the roots of an oak tree over an abyss. But Grendel reasons that he has no reason to fear the strangers. He watches as Unferth leaves the hall, clearly upset, and continues to spy on Beowulf, more and more frightened of him and yet more and more excited to encounter him.
Grendel’s vision reminds him of his mortality and the insignificance of his life in the face of the huge abyss of eternity. Because Beowulf scares him, he is excited by the prospect of a fight with him. Grendel wants to feel something other than boredom, and Beowulf gives him that.
The Geats wait in the hall for Grendel as the new shaper sings. Grendel reflects that all beings obey the mechanics of time. Grendel and Beowulf both await their encounter, as other men go to sleep. Grendel says, “it is time.”
Grendel sees time as pushing him and Beowulf toward each other. Though he believes in the meaninglessness of eternity, he also sees it as wanting him and Beowulf to meet—two contradictory ides. In some ways, Grendel is acting here like the bull in chapter 2—mindlessly following time.