Unferth is one of the warriors under Hrothgar’s rule. Unferth questioned Beowulf’s ability to defeat Grendel because once Beowulf failed in a swimming competition. Unferth was jealous of the hero’s strength, bravery, and the way the king accepted him. This feeling highlights the difference between these two characters. When Beowulf wins the battle, Unferth gives him Hrunting, apologizing for the lack of belief.
When Beowulf arrives in the land of the Danes, they receive him with admiration. Unferth is envious of such respect to a stranger and tells everyone how Beowulf lost a swimming match with Breca. He hints that such a person will never kill Grendel. But Beowulf tells his version of the story, settling the conflict.
Unferth intensifies the contrast between Beowulf and other people. The poem needed an antagonist who would pertain to the human world. So, the author introduced this supporting role to show the image of a lousy warrior. He is jealous and unfriendly. Beowulf proves he was wrong, which makes Unferth bring his excuses. Finally, he gives Beowulf his family sword, Hrunting, to fight Grendel’s mother.
Meanwhile, this offering is more than meets the eye. Unferth is alive and healthy, so it is unlikely that he has ever tried to kill Grendel. He is afraid to fight the monster and lends the family artifact to someone who deserves it more. Cowardice was one of the most despised traits of a warrior. Unferth was the example of a bad warrior, which was why he challenged Beowulf as the role model of a hero.