Explanatory Notes
(in progress - some notes have not yet been completed)

red text = gloss of kennings (for definition & discussion, see Syd Allan's page on kennings )
blue text = commentary on a section

[1] The Spear-Danes are the Scyldings (Hrothgar's tribe)--central characters in Beowulf. They are variously referred to as Beorht-Dene (Bright-Danes), Éast-Dene (East-Danes), Gár-Dene (Spear-Danes), Hring-Dene (Ring-Danes), Norð-Dene (North-Danes), Súð-Dene (South-Danes), West Dene (West Danes), Scyldings (after their eponymous founder) and Ingwine (lit. 'friends of Ing [=OE. Frea / ON. Freyr ]') - the latter originally being the same as Tacitus's Ingvaeones (see n.1042 below).

[2] Usually translated 'have heard', but the verb form is that of the simple past, not the present perfect, and Blockley (14-5) points out that the periphrastic present perfect appears elsewhere in the poem, which suggests we should not be so ready to alter the definiteness of gefrunon to suit modern notions of how to address an audience at the beginning of a poem.

[4] Scyld is literally 'shield'; and Scef is lit. 'sheaf' (as in wheat). Scyld is well known in the Scandinavian tradition as Skjoldr , the ancestor of the Skjoldungar . He is, as in Beowulf, shrouded in mystery: he is sent by unknown persons from an unknown place and when his work is complete he returns thence. Saxo praises Skjoldr (latinised by him as Scioldus in his Gestorum Danum ) especially for his royal and warlike virtues and Saxo too records Scioldus (= Scyld ) as the founder/progenator of the Danes. It has been argued that Sceaf is a latter innovation introduced (not only into Beowulf, for Sceaf replaces Scyld in the chronicle of Ethelwerd--with Scyld's mysterious arrival attributed to him) through a misconstrual of the name Scyld Sceafing as 'Scyld, son as Sceaf' (as -ing is a normal patronymic suffix), whereas the original name meant 'Scyld with the sheaf'. The latter interpretation is quite plausible as this mythological ancestor might then stand for 'kingly protection and rule' (Scyld ="shield") and agricultural prosperity ( Shef ="sheaf of grain").

The story of Scyld's miraculous arrival is attributed to Sceaf in Æþelweard's Chronicle and also by William of Malmesbury. Æþelweard's Chronicon states: 'Ipse Scef cum uno dromone aduectus est in insula oceani que dicitur Scani, armis circundatus, eratque ualde recens puer, et ab incolis illius terræ ignotus. Attamen ab eis suscipitur, et ut familiarem diligenti animo eum custodierunt, et post in regem eligunt; de cuius ordinem trahit Aðulf rex.' ('And this Sceaf arrived with one light ship in the island of the ocean which is called Skáney, with arms all round him. He was a very young boy, and unknown to the people of that land, but he was received by them, and they guarded him with diligent attention as one who belonged to them, and elected him King. From his family King Æþelwulf derived his descent.' [trans. from Newton, p.73]).

William of Malmesbury in the 13th-century adds to this an explanation for the name Sceaf ('sheaf'): 'posito ad caput frumenti manipulo, dormiens, ideoque Sceaf nuncupatus' ('because a handful of corn was placed by his head while he slept, he was named Sceaf') in his De Gestis Regum Anglorum. North (pp. 189ff.) additionally suggests a connexion between the 'shield' (Scyld) and the 'sheaf' (Sceaf) in the 13th-c. Chronicon de Abingdon recording a boundary dispute between the abbot of Abingdon and the men of Oxfordshire over the ownership of a river meadow. The abbot turned to divine mercy as narrated: 'Quod dum servi Dei propensius actitarent, inspiratum est eis salubre consilium et (ut pium est credere) divinitus provisum. Die etenim statuto mane surgentes monachi sumpserunt scutum rotundum, cui imponebant manipulum frumenti, et super manipulum cereum circumspectæ quantitatis et grossitudinis. Quo accenso scutum cum manipulo et cereo, fluvio ecclesiam prætercurrenti committunt, paucis in navicula fratribus subsequentibus. Præcedebat itaque eos scutum et quasi digito demonstrans possessiones domui Abbendoniæ de jure adjacentes nunc huc, nunc illuc divertens; nunc in dextra nunc in sinistra parte fiducialiter eos præibat, usquedum veniret ad rivum prope pratum quod Beri vocatur, in quo cereus medium cursum Tamisiæ miraculose deserens se declinavit et circumdedit pratum inter Tamisiam et Gifteleia, quod hieme et multociens æstate ex redundtione Tamisiæ in modum insulæ aqua circumdatur' (I, 88-9) ('Which case while the servants of God were more readily busy in pleading, a healthful course of action was inspired in thme and (which it is pious to believe) divinely provided. Indeed on the day decided, rising in the morning, the monks obtained a round shield, in which they placed a sheaf of corn, and over the sheaf they placed a wax taper of considered quantity and size. When this has been lit, they commit the shield with the sheaf and taper to the river which runs by the church, with a few brothers following in a boat. Thus the shield preceded them, and as if with a finger pointing out the lawful possessions of the House of Abingdon which lay close by, turning one moment here, one moment there; one moment to the right-hand side, the other to the left, the shield went faithfully before them until it came to the bank near the meadow which is called Beri, in which the taper, wondrously deserting the middle course of the Thames, swerved aside and circled the meadow between the Thames and the Iffley, which owing to the flood of the Thames in winter and frequently in summer the water surrounds in the manner of an island' [translation from North, p.190]).

[6] the Eruli or Heruli were fierce and cruel tribe based in the Danish islands and terrorised Europe during the 3rd-5th centuries. See Wrenn, Sewell and Gannholm (?) for further discussion. Usually eorl is emended to eorl{as} and translated 'terrorised warriors'. Kiernan (1986) retains eorl and translates 'terrorised the local petty king/warlord'.

Wrenn writes: 'Kemble, followed by almost all editors, emends MS. eorl to eorl[as], but von Schaubert retains the MS. form....Grammatically, eorl is not convincing, either as nom. sing. with egsode intransitive, or as collective acc. with pl. sense, though either may be possible. But eorl[as] seems weak as an emendation form from the point of view of style and context. The process of scribal error, too, is not clear if [eorlas] is the original reading. The Eorl[e] of the text proposed here is based on a suggestion of Sewell (Times Lit. Suppl., Sept. 11, 1924), who, while accepting eorlas, would capitalize it and translate it as the Eruli (the same tribe as later Latin writers spell Heruli). The original home of the Eruli was in the Danish islands; they were notorious for ferocity and cruelty from the middle of the third century to that of the fifth century; and whoever first consolidated the Danish kingdom must in fact have subdued the Eruli. They were for long the terror of Europe, and to have "terrified" [egsode] them would have been a most notable feat. The stem erul of the Eruli seems to appear with a different weak vowel in Norse Runic inscriptions in the sing. form erilaR; and erul, with syncope of the u, would give a primitive [Old English] form erl which, with the normal breaking [of vowels], would give the historical O.E. eorl. The pl. of this, assuming the common -e ending found in such names as Seaxe, would be eorle. Now, a late scribe, seeing the form eorle (there being no capitalizing of proper names), might alter it mechanically to eorl , as it would look like a dat. sing. (which made no sense) of the familiar noun eorl -- since the old form Eorle for the long-forgotten Eruli would be unknown [in the 11th-c.]....Now assuming that the two emendations of eorl[as] and Eorl[e] are of equal plausibility from the point of view of reconstructing the process of scribal error, it seems preferrable to accept that which has an historical significance and fits well into the general context of the passage: and further, this latter emendation involves less addition to the MS. as it stands. Scyld Scefing not only subdued troops of enemy tribes, but even terrified the "Eruli", who were then the most feared tribe in the north.
For details of the forms of the name Eruli, see Schoenfeld.' (pg. 184, n.6)

For more on the Eruls/Heruli, see Troels Brandt's Heruli page


[18, 53] This is a different Beowulf from the eponymous hero of the poem. This is Béowulf Scyldinga or Béowulf the Dane ,presumably equivalent to Beow(a) or Béaw of the geneaologies:-- the Parker MS of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has Beaw as the son of Scyld. Kemble proposed the theory that the scribe, who knew that the poem concerned a hero named Beowulf, 'hypercorrected' Beow of his exemplar text to Beowulf in anticipation of the hero's entrance. Müllenhoff, following Kemble, proposes that the name Beaw or Beow is derived from the root *bhú (cf. OE. búan ) meaning to "grow, cultivate", &c. and he is thus identified with the god Ing and thus with Fréa (ON. Freyr ), the god of prosperity. Béow has also been said to mean "barley". In any event, it could be that Scyld, Shéaf and Béow were a sort of trinity of deities of protection and prosperity, later introduced into the Saxon and Scandinavian geneaologies just as was done with the God Woden/Odin. Whether the Beowulf-poet(s) knew of this rather shadowy divinity Beaw or the genealogical Béowa/Béaw is unclear. However, Kiernan's exhaustive study of the Beowulf MS argues for an extra-ordinary carefulness on the part of the two Beowulf scribes, the second scribe even checking the work of the first; this would seem to make it less likely that Beowulf Scyldinga is a scribal mistake. It may be that Béowulf supplanted Beowa in some traditions, due to the similarity of names, i.e. if Beowulf originated in an area with an abundance of lays about Béowulf but Beowa was comparatively unknown, the usurpment may have occurred quite early. In any event, the use of the Beowulf seems deliberate here though the reason is unclear. The hero of the poem does not make his entrance until l. 194 (as "Hygelac's thane") and is not mentioned by name until l. 343.

[26-52: The Ship-Burial] Scyld's Ship-Burial has been connected with the Sutton Hoo (Suffolk) ship-burial, discovered in 1938. As Newton notes 'At least one major discrepancy between [the description of Scyld's funeral] and the archaeological reality of Mound One [at Sutton Hoo] is immediately apparent: Scyld's funeral-ship appears to be allowed to drift out to sea, whereas the Sutton Hoo vessel was interred beneath a large mound. One might thus argue that the Beowulf description derives from an account of a sea-burial. Although it is not impossible that the Sutton Hoo ship could have sailed its ceremonial last voyage prior to reaching its final berth, the notion that a treasure-laden, royal funeral-ship like that described in Beowulf would ever have been allowed simply to drift off with the tide…is simply unrealistic…as the king's swaése gesíðas [dear companions] could be subsequently faced with the rather catstrophic anti-climax of discovering the vessel beached with the next tide…the reference to the voyage of the funeral ship can been to be more symbolic than literal. In purely artistic terms, as Scyld's legend concerns the deliverance of the Danes from suffering by a boat-borne saviour, it can be seen also to anticipate Beowulf's own arrival by sea similarly to liberate the Dane from affliction' (46-8). Furthermore, the Sutton Hoo burial signficant from the point of view of its connexion with Sweden [part of the geography of Beowulf]. Bruce-Mitford points out 'the sword (but not the scabbard or its bosses or the pyramids form the sword knot); the shield, the helmet [photo] and the loose 'ring' were probably all either made in Sweden itself, or by armourers fresh from Sweden working in Suffolk, exclusively in their traditional Swedish manner, and with Swedish dies, moulds and other equipment….[W]e also find that the great gold buckle [photo], not a Swedish piece but locally-made, is decorated in what seems to be unmistakably Swedish style; and the naturalistic subjects on the spectacular purse-lid [photo] , particularly the man between beasts [photo] , which is intimately related to the same scene as depicted on one of the Torslunda, Öland, dies for impressing foil sheets used in embellishing helmets, seem to indicate a Swedish Vendel-age native traditional figural art into the locally made Sutton Hoo reglia' (69). The date of burial [7th-century] is also remarkable from the standpoint of a Swedish connexion as 'at this early date, the custom of elaborately furnished boat-inhumation, which becomes widespread later in the Viking Age, is at present only recognized in two places in Europe, the Uppland province of Sweden and south-east Suffolk (the two boat-inhumations at Sutton Hoo and the one at Snape)' ( ibid. ). One of the most important conclusions that can be drawn from this is that 'the most plausible explanation of the hard fact of the Swedish connection seen at Sutton Hoo is that it is dynastic. The evident antiquity of some of the Swedish pieces at Sutton Hoo, especially the shield, suggests that the connection goes back into a period earlier than the burial. The most likely explanation seems to be that the dynasty of the Wuffingas [East-Anglian kings-BMS] was Swedish in its origins, and that probably Wehha, said to be the first of the family to rule over the Angels in Britain, was a Swede' ( ibid. 69, 71). For more discussion see esp. Newton, Stjerna and Bruce-Mitford.

It also should be noted here that the funeral of Scyld corresponds to the traditional themes/motifs of 'sea-faring' in Germanic epic, following the 'standard' ocean-voyage sequence: (1) hero and his men approach the ship; (2) the ship waits, moored; (3) the hero's comrades load the ship with treasures; (4) the ship departs, voyages and at last arrives; (5) the ship is moored again. Here the same pattern is followed, Scyld's funeral is 'remapped' as a sea-voyage, but with subtle changes which presumedly were noticed by the poem's audience (whether consciously or not). Most important of these changes is that here the last element is radically altered: rather than the ship bearing Scyld being moored at the end of its journey, it instead passed beyond the ken of either the Danish hall-councellors or the audience of poem. On the use of traditional 'oral-epic' themes in the poem's depiction of Scyld's funeral, see further Foley (1980) & Ramsey (1971).

[27] usually translated 'into the keeping of the Lord'. Frea is used both to designated the Christian god as well as the pre-Christian 'heathen' Saxon god Frea, Old Norse Freyr - lit. 'the first one', and often associated with the harvest and prosperity. Schneider takes wære (with a short vowel) as 'water' and translates '...into the water of Frea'.

[40] a bill is apparently a type of long, two-edged sword which became increasingly common both on the Continent and in Scandinavia from at least the 3rd century; particularly fine bills were achieved at the height of the migration period. See Bradey (1979) pp.91ff. for more discussion.

[49] gar-secg is literally 'spear-sedge'; sedge is a sharp-leafed reed which grows in wet, swampy areas - "ocean" is here named by reference to a plant which grows on the banks of large bodies of water.

[57] Half-Dane is Beowulf-Scyldings's/Beowa's son. 'Half-Danes' later appear in the poem (l. 1068) ruled over by Hnaef, apparently part of the Danish forces (or allied with them). Wrenn proposes that they may actually be Jutes in Danish service, hence their strange name.

[61] Heorogar, Hrothgar , Halga are Half-Dane's [see n. 57 above] sons. Heorogar (lit. 'Battle-Spear') is the eldest; Hrothgar (lit. 'Quick-Spear' [??] or 'Joy-Spear' [?!]) is the middle brother, one of the main characters of the poem, who has two sons Hrethric and Hrothmund ; Halga (lit. 'Hallowed' [??]) is the youngest, and father of Hrothulf .

This line follows an ancient Indo-European idiom, the last of three co-ordinate proper nouns is given an added epithet or other adjective (see also l.2435). Equivalents are found in Homer: 'Δο υ λιχιον τε Σαμη τε και 'υλη ε σσα Ζακυνθος' (Odyss. ix 24) and elsewhere in OE. and other Old Germanic languages.

[62] Though Yrsa has been traditionally tra ced to a borrowing from the Latin ursus 'bear', Malone (1959a), following a paper by Finnur Jónsson (see Malone ibid. for ref.), argues that Yrsa may be a derivative (with s -suffix) of the Icelandic woman's name Ýrr which may mean 'yew' (from the Proto-Germanic stem *íwa- ) though Malone favours a base úr- as represented in the Icelandic ýr 'aurochs' (oxen)--thus the proper name would have a long ý : Ýrsa , which would have a root meaning of 'female aurochs' (though, like most names, it would have come to simply be a name).

[62] Onela is a Swedish king, son of Ongentheow and younger brother of Óhthere .

[78] lit. hart, stag - the hart was a symbol of Germanic kingship, and we find the hart atop the royal sceptre/whetstone from the Sutton Hoo ship burial: [click here for image of the Sutton Hoo hart sceptre]

[84] i.e. between Hrothgar and Ingeld, foreshadowing the Danish-Heathobard feud - see also n. 2027ff. The word may also be a pun on (the MS form) áþum-swerian 'oath-swearers'.

[86] i.e. Grendel (see n.103 below)

[90ff.: the Scop's Song of Creation and the Beginning of the Evil Persecution of Heorot] Though the account of creation in Genesis 1 is often cited as the source, it would seem instead that the source is native Germanic (or a blend of native & Christian), cp. the account of Völuspá:

Gap var ginnunga, enn gras hvergi.
Áðr Burs synir biöðom um ypþo,
þeir er miðgarð, mæran scópo;
sól scein sunnan á salar steina,
þá var grund gróin grænum lauki. (3, 5-4, 8)
(="Earth was nowhere to be found, nor heaven. There was a huge chasm and grass nowhere, before the sons of Bur raised up lands. they shaped the middle-world. The sun shone from the south on the stones of earth, then green leeks grew on the ground".)

Taylor (1998a) also points out that--in both the Norse account of the building of Asgarð and in the scop's song in Beo. following the construction of Heorot--evil soon arrives. Thus Beo. ll.99-101 find in analogue in Völuspá (8, 1-8):

Teflðo í túni teitir voro,
var þeim vættergis vant ór gulli,
unz þriár qvómo þursa meyiar,
ámátcar mióc, ór iötunheimom.
(= "They played at tæfl [a chess-like board game] in the court, and were happy. They lacked no gold, until three came to them from the world of the giants, giant-maidens with terrifying power".)

Taylor (1998a:113) remarks: 'the conjunctions oð ðæt [OE, as in Beo. l. 100b, 'oð ðæt an ongan...'] and unz [ON, see above] are standard formulas in each poetic tradition to introduce a sudden change'.

[91] lit. 'the first propping' - see Schneider pg. 141ff.

[94] lit. 'victory-famous', or, perhaps, as Schneider (pp. 135ff.) suggests, in this context 'leaf-famous' is also an associated meaning (in connexion with creation), as sige is an old word for 'leaf'.

[102] Grendel is the evil fen-dwelling monster/spirit who is terrorising the Danes. Apparently, the rejoicing in Heorot (ll.86-90a) incites him to violence. Grendel's descent from Cain is narrated at ll.104b-114 (also see n.107 below).

The name Grendel is of obscure etymology. The name has variously been derived from grindan 'to grind' ('to destroy?'); or connected with Old Norse grindill 'storm' and perhaps Middle English gryndel 'angry'; or derived from grund 'bottom, ground', cp. Icelandic grandi 'a sandbank' and Low German dialectal grand 'coarse sand'.

Interestingly, the word grendel (grindle, etc.) appears in various Anglo-Saxon charters, in connexion with meres, lakes, bogs, etc.:

**AD 708 - Grant of land at Abbots Morton, near Alcester, co. Worcester, by Kenred, King of the Mercians, to Evesham (in MS Cotton Vesp. B. XXIV , fol. 32 (Evesham Cartulary) - see Birch, Cartularium Saxonicum , vol. I, 176 (no. 120)):
'AÉrest of grindeles pytt on wíðimære; of wíðimære on þæt réade slóh...of ðére díce on þene blace pól; of þám póle æfter long pidele in tó þám mersce; of þám mersce þ æft on grindeles pytt '
('First from Grindel's pit to the willow-mere; from the willow-mere to the red mire....from the ditch to the black pool, from the pool along the Piddle [brook] to the marsh, from the marsh back to Grindel's pit ')
['The valley of Piddle Brook is about a mile wide, with hills rising on each side till they reach a height of couple of hundred feet above the brook...In modern English a "pit" is an artificial hole which is generally dry : but the word is simply Latin puteus , "a well", and is used in this sense in the Gospel translations. Here it is a hole, and we may be sure that, with the willow-mere and the red slough on the one side, and the black pool and the marsh on the other, the hole was full of water' (Chambers - Intro, pg. 305)]

**AD 739 - Grant of land at Creedy, co. Devon, by Æthelheard, King of Wessex, to Bishop Forthhere (2 copies, 10th & 11th c. in the Crawford Collection in the Bodleian - see Birch, Cartularium Saxonicum , vol. III, 667 (no. 1331) and Napier & Stevenson, The Crawford Collection (Anecdota Oxoniensia) , 1895, pp. 1, 3, 50):
'...of doddan hrycge on grendeles pyt ; of grendeles pytte on ifigbearo...'
('...from Dodd's ridge to Grendel's pit ; from Grendel's pit to the ivy-grove...')
['The spot is near the junction of the rivers Exe and Creedy, with Dartmoor in the distance. The neighbourhood bears uncanny names, Caínes æcer [Cain's acre], egesan tréow [monstrous tree]. If, as has been suggested by Napier and Stevenson, a trace of this pit still survives in the name Pitt farm, the mere must have been in the uplands, about 600 feet above sea level' (Chambers - Intro, pg. 305)]

**AD 931 - Grant of land at Ham in Wiltshire by Athelstan to his thane Wulfgar (MS Cotton Ch. VIII , 16 - see Birch, Cartularium Saxonicum, 1887, vol. II, p. 363):
'...Ego Æðelstanus, rex Anglorum...quandam telluris particulam meo fideli ministro Wulfgaro...in loco quem solicolae æt Hamme vocitant tribuo....Praedicta siquidem tellus his terminis circumcincta clarescit... ðonne norð ofer dúne on méos-hlinc westeweardne; ðonne adúne on ðá yfre on béowan hammes hecgan , on brémeles sceagan éasteweardne; ðonne on ðá blácan graéfan; ðonne norð be ðém ondhéafdan tó ðaére scortan díc bútan ánan æcre; ðonne tó fugelmere tó ðán wege; ondlong weges tó ottes forda; ðonon tó wudumere; ðonne tó ðaére rúwan hecgan; ðæt on langan hangran; ðonne on grendles mere ; ðonon on dyrnan geat...'
([Latin preface left untranslated] 'from there north over the hill westwards to the mossy bank; then down to the escarpment to the fence of Beowa's place, then eastwards to the blackberry copse; then to the black cave; then north by the unploughed headland to the short ditch except for one acre; then to the bird-mere to the road; along the road to Otter's ford; thence to the wood-mere; then to the hedge of row [trees]; then to the long meadow; then to Grendel's mere ; then to the hidden gate...')
[not only does the word grendles appear here, but also béowan 'Beowa' - see n.18 above]

**ca. AD 957 - A list of boundaries near Battersea ( Westminster Abbey Charters, III - see Birch, Cart. Sax. III, 189 (no. 994)):
'Ðis synd ðá landgemaére tó Batriceseie. AÉrst at hégefre; fram hégefre to gætenesheale; fram gæteneshæle to gryndeles syllen ; fram gryndeles sylle to russemere; fram ryssemere to bælgenham...'
('This is the boundary of Battersea. First at the border of the hedge(??); from the border of the hedge(??) to the goats' nook; from the goats' nook to Grendel's bog ; from Grendel's bog to the rushy mere; from the rushy mere to Balham [co. Surrey]')

**AD 958 - Grant of land at Swinford, on the Stour, co. Stafford, by Kind Eadred to his thane Burhelm (14th-15th c. copy preserved at Wells Cathedral (Registr. Album , f. 289b) - see Birch, Cart. Sax. , III, 223 (no. 1023)):
'...ondlong díces in grendels-mere; of grendels-mere in stáncófan; of stáncófan ondlong dúne on stiran mere...'
('...along the ditch to Grendel's mere ; from Grendel's mere to the stone cove; from the stone cove along the hill to the sturgeon mere... ')

**AD 972 - Confirmation of lands to Pershore Abbey (Worcester) by King Edgar (MS Cotton Aug. II, 6 - see Birch, Cart. Sax. , III, 588 (no. 1282)):
'of Grindles bece swá þæt gemaére ligð....'
('from Grindle's beech as the boundary lies... ')

**AD 972 - Extract from an account of the descent of lands belonging to Westminster, quoting a grant of King Edgar ( British Museum Stowe Charter no. 32 - see Birch, Cart. Sax., III, 605 (no. 1290)):
'andlang hagan to grendeles gatan æfter kincges mearce innan brægentan...'
('along the hedge to Grendel's gate past the king's marker into Brainton(??)...')
['The property described is near Watling Street, between Edgware, Hendon, and the River Brent. It is a low-lying district almost surrounded by the hills of Hampstead, Highgate, Barnet, Mill Hill, Elstree, Bushey Heath and Harrow. The bottom of the basin thus formed must have been a swamp....The "gate" is likely to have been a channel connecting two meres--or it might have been a narrow piece of land between them--one of those enge ánpaðas [narrow paths] which Grendel and his mother had to tread. Anyway, there is nothing exceptional in this use of "gate" in connection with a water-spirit [i.e. Grendel - BMS]. Necker, on the Continent, also had his "gates". Thus there is a "Neckersgate Mill" near Brussels, and the name "Neckersgate" used also to be applied to a group of houses near by, surrounded by water [see Wauters, Histoire des Environs de Bruxelles , 1852, III, 646)' (Chambers - intro, pp. 306-7)]

Chambers additionally mentions that '[a]broad, the nearest parallel is to be found in Transsylvania, where there is a Grändels môr among the Saxons of the Senndorf district, near Bistritz [Bistritj]. The Saxons of Transsylvania are supposed to have emigrated from the neighbourhood of the lower Rhine and the Moselle, and there is a Grindelbach in Luxemburg which may possibly be connected with the marsh demon' (pg 308).
However, Lars Hemmingsen (pers. comm.) notes that when he visited Rumania to investigate a local informant told him that Greändels môr was so called because 'the moor used to be full of "Grändelbeer", that is, brambles'. However, Hemmingsen points out the existence of a Serbo-Crotian plague-demon named Krãtilj , who also figures in stories in which a hero tears off his arm.

Newton (1993:144) points out that: 'it may also be significant that Grendel's association with low-lying, watery places seems to be echoed in the cognate East Anglian dialect word grindle, 'drain' or 'ditch'. This word is preserved in the names of several Suffolk watercourses, such as the Grundles of Wattisfield and Stanton, or Grindle Lane, Sproughton'.

[107] The possible MS reading cames may be intended, as there exists a tradition, seemingly inherited from the Irish, that Cham (, or Ham, one of Noah's sons) inherited the curse of Cain (see Crawford) - the same conflation occurs in the prose Saturn & Solomon (in the Southwick Codex), que. no.35-6. In this tradition, Cham inherits the curse of Cain: 'And Cham was thus the first person that was cursed after the Deluge, and he was the heir of Cain after the Deluge, and from him sprang the Luchrupans, and Formorians [giants], and Goatheads, and every unshapely form in general that there is on men. And it is therefore that overthrow was brought on the descendants of Cham, and that their land was given to the sons of Israel in token of the same curse. And that is the origin of the Torothors, and they are not of the seed of Cain as the Gaels relate, for there lived not aught of his seed after the Deluge, for it was the purpose of the Deluge to drown the descendants of Cain, and all of the descendants of Seth were also drowned along with them, but Noah with his sons and with their four wives, as Moses, son of Amram, tells in Genesis of the Law' (from the Irish Sex Aetates Mundi; Hogan 7-8; Best & Bergin 5). Though in the biblical text itself, Cainan, Cham/Ham's son was the one actually cursed by Noah (Genesis IX.25: 'He said: Cursed be Chanaan, a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren'). See further, Mellinkoff (1981). There is also an Islamic tradition that some believed that the daughters-in-law of Noah were of the race of Cain (see al-Tabari I, 211-3).

The reading/emendation caines requires an unusual metrical pattern A1 with anacrusis, which with the caesura in position (i), is doubtful in Beowulf ; with the reading cames a common type C2 verse obtains(see Bliss §46-7) - thanks to Edwin Duncan for bringing this to my attention. However, Hutcheson points out that even if we accept the reading cames , the first syllable may still be long, as in Genesis A l.1637a 'swilce of cámes' (Hutcheson, 272n6).

The story connecting Cain to evil giants seems to derive from a tradition established by the apocryphal Book of Enoch and early Jewish and Christian interpretations of the Book of Genesis : 'That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they choose' (6:2); 'There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown' (6:4); 'And God saw that the wickeness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually' (6:5). In the apocryphal 'Noah fragments', this relationship is elaborated, including a cannibalistic element: 'And they [daughters of men] became pregnant, and they bare great giants, whose height was three thousands ells: Who consumed all the acquisitions of men. And when men could no longer sustain them, the giants turned against them and devoured mankind. And they began to sin against birds, and beasts, and reptiles, and fish, and to devour one another's flesh, and drink the blood' (I Enoch VII.2-6). And further, possibly connecting the giants with the biblical Flood: 'And behold they [angels] commit sin and transgress the law, and have united themselves with women and commit sin with them, and have married some of them, and have begot children by them. And they shall produce on the earth giants not according to the spirit, but according to the flesh, and there shall be a great punishment on the earth, and the earth shall be cleansed from all impurity' (I Enoch CVI.14-15). See further Mellinkoff (1979), Emerson (1906), Crawford (1928, 1929), Williams (1982).

However, giants (OE. eotenas ; ON. jötnar ) are also part of the Germanic tradition, as is their enmity towards humankind: see n. 1689-1700 below.

[108] i.e. Cain

[148] i.e. the king, Hrothgar

[163] helrunan - or perhaps 'hellish whisperers' (necromancers?): the word haliurunnae (magae mulieres) appears in Jordanes' Getica referring to apparently misshapen, Gothic witches, banished by Filimir and his army (Jordanes, cap. XXIV); in the early glosses derived from Aldhelm's works, the word helrunan appears as an alternative to wiccan (witches) in glossing p(h)itonissam .i. divinatricem (Napier no. 1, 1926) (in another early glossary, pithonissa is glossed as spiritus inferni (Lindsay p.188f.)); hellerune is also given as an alternative to haegtesse to gloss pythonissa in a tenth- or eleventh-century glossary (see N. Chadwick, p.174).

[168-9] this passage is difficult to interpret - usually it is translated, 'by no means could he approach the gift-throne, the precious thing, because of the Maker, nor know His love', or along those lines. The principal questions of such an interpretation are is he Grendel or Hrothgar and is the gif-stol Hrothgar's or God's? What does gretan mean? What is the sense of myne ? As Klaeber notes, the passage is awkward and more than one editor has suspected that, like 179-189 below, these two lines may be the result of an (inept) interpolation. Generally he is thought to refer to Grendel - Kock, for instance, translates, '[Grendel] could not partake in the festivities of the day, not step, like the others, before the precious throne to salute the Monarch (and receive his gifts); for he was prevented by the Creator, a stranger to Him', though some have taken the gif-stol to be God's. Tripp (1992) points out that taking he as Grendel along these lines is rather odd, for if God would allow Grendel to enter the hall in the first place, why would he have warded Grendel off from the throne in paticular? He, like Sievers, Holtzmann, Trautmann and others, takes he as referring to Hrothgar. Wrenn suggests that these lines have been transposed from their right place (though they are still an interpolation in his opinion) and belong between 110-111, with he referring to Cain and the gif-stol being God's. We follow the general interpretation of Robinson (1992[1994]) and Mitchell & Robinson.
I particular I follow Robinson's (1992[1994]:85) interpretation that '[here gretan has the same] specific sense [as in] Beowulf 347, 1646, 1816, and 2010, where it refers to a retainer approaching a king and thus appears to have the sense given in [Bosworth-Toller, suppl.], s.v. gretan, VI(4), "to address respectfully, salute a superior." Toller cites further examples of gretan with this meaning, including Hwilum to gebede feollon / sinhiwan somed, and sigedrihten / godne gretton... (Genesis 777-9). The compound gretinghus glossing [Latin] salutatorium suggests that the sense "saluting a superior" for greting....was firmly established....gifstol gretan [seems to mean] "pay respect to the throne" and...when Grendel declines to gifstol gretan, he is behaving in the same lawless way as when he refuses to fea þingian (156) and when sibbe ne wolde wið manna hwone mægenes Dena (154-5) just a few lines before' (pg. 85). I would add also that Beowulf (l.424b-5a) speaks of gehegan / ðing wið þyrse 'to settle the matter/affair with the troll', where ðing is also used in OE in a legal sense for 'lawsuit'. See further Estrich and Chanev.

[170] i.e. the king, Hrothgar

[179-189: The 'Idolatry' of the Danes] These lines are much debated. Even Tolkien, who emphasised the unity and cohesion of the poem, says, 'unless my ear and judgment are wholly at fault, they have a ring and measure unlike their context, and indeed unlike that of the poem as a whole' ('Monsters & the Critics', p288).
And of the 11 verse half-lines in Beo. which Bliss ('Metre of Beo.') classes as 'remainders', two occur in this passage: 183b wa bið þæm ðe sceal and 186b wel bið þæm þe mot, both sharing the same metrical structure (see also, Vickman, pg.46) -- though Momma ('Gnomic Formula') finds 18 other examples in the OE poetic corpus, but, interestingly, the same metrical structure is very common in Old English homiletic prose (Orchard (2003:153n112) cites as an example Blickling Homily V, l.104: Wa biþ þonne þæm mannum þe ne ongytaþ þisse worlde yrmþa...).

However, the passage forms a thematically appropriate conclusion to the preceding lines, and it is important in defining the situation which the Danes find themselves in after Grendel begins his persecution of Heorot: they are in utter desparation. Further, the references to their idol-worshipping and damning prayers to the 'Gastbona' are in sharp contrast to the actions of Beowulf when he arrives to succour these much-harried Danes. Beowulf's speeches often emphasise Heroic Action, and his deeds do not belie his words! Part of the criticism which the poem offers here seems to be at least as much to do with 'idle-ness' as 'idol-ness'; that is, the sin here is more Inaction than Idolatry.

More on this view follows below, but before that, one should understand that this is not necessarily the received view on this passage. Usually, this passage is analysed as a late interpolation (see above) and/or a clear indication that ultimately the poet has a basically Christian understanding of the world, and of the characters and actions in the poem. This latter interpretation, in a variety of forms, has been argued by many critics of the poem. I have not space nor inclination to cite & discuss all such instances; of all of these, I find the exposition of E.G. Stanley ('Hæthenra Hyht') the clearest, most powerfully argued and most consistent, though some aspects of his view I find distasteful and at odds with intent of the poem itself (as I understand it, of course).

Stanley opens his interpretation of this passage with the basic argument that 'the poet, deliberately....deals in ambiguities based on a twofold system of values, the one secular and the other monastic, which existed side by side in Anglo-Saxon times. By the standards of [Christian] asceticism the Germanic heroic ideals are ultimately insufficient. The poet depicts the ideal of secular Germanic society in such a way that it seems glorious, with the emphasis for the most part on the glory, but sometimes on the seeming' (pg. 136).
Following a number of insightful close-readings and examinations of other texts relevant to Beo., he concludes, the poet 'wishes to make us doubt the ideal [of heroic Germanic society] he has presented to us. His poetic art is poor in proclamations and assurances, but rich in dark hints and ambiguities. One thing, however, may be discerned clearly in Beowulf, that though a heathen may be virtuous, his life being without [Christian] faith is, in the strictest sense of the words, without hope. If at line 179 we ask ourselves, what is hæþenra hyht, we shall find the answer to in the three thousand lines that follow: they have no hope. That is why we reread the poem with sadness and compassion of an ideal that avails nothing' (pg.151).

I feel that this approach to the interpretation of the poem as a whole is very much at odds with the actual text of the poem, although in the context of this passage in particular, Stanley's argument is a strong one.
However, the analysis which I find closest to my own understanding of this passage (described briefly above, as being more a critique of 'Idle-ness' than of 'Idol-ness') is that of Anne Payne ('Danes' Prayers to the "Gastbona"', NM 80-1979), who focusses primarily on the purpose of this passage in the context of the poem, and less on the question of Heathen v. Christian import, as Payne herself says, rather than see this passage as a late interpolation or in some way as out of harmony with the rest of the poem, she 'propose[s] the possibility instead the poet was consciously drawing on the Christian-heathen dichotomy for a convenient metaphor to describe a state of mind which he found perpetually possible, perpetually destructive to his own society as well as to the heroic society he writes about' (pp.308-9). I do not necessarily think that the poet was actively drawing on a Christian-heathen opposition, but the language of the passage suggests that it is most likely ultimately derived from vernacular Christian poetry and/or rhetoric.

Regardless, the analysis Payne goes on to present is beautifully argued, and the best interpretation of these lines that I know (though it has its faults). Payne alerts us to the fact that '"heathen", as the Beowulf poet's metaphorical description of a state of mind, means not only "non-Christian", but also "dead", "confined", "uncreative". It refers to those who in the face of the spiritual space open to man do not avail themselves of their options, who do not in the face of symbolic and literal death maintain a belief in the dimensions of possibility, in the freedom to live, exert power, hear music, taste wine, fight for joy' ('Prayers', pg. 309).

'The poet uses "heathen" four more times in the poem, twice applying it to Grendel....twice to the dragon's hoard....in these cases too, "dead", "confined", "sterile" convey the sense of the passage better than "non-Christian". "Hæðen" was merely a convenient and suggestive term to describe the Danes' blindness to the confrontation with the possibility of a space, a potentiality for freedom, whose challenge the poet felt it was the chief duty of man to take up, no matter what ethical or religious code might hold sway in his society' ('Prayers', pg. 309).

'In choosing...to pray to the "gastbona" (a kind of divine abstraction of the negativeness of Grendel), [the Danes] destroy in themselves any vestige of remaining awareness of the spatial and temporal dimensions of the universe. Literally, they confine their bodies by praying in a specific place, the enclosure (whether stone circle, grove, or man-made building) of the heathen temple. All other prayers in the poem are made without dependence on the sacred place, in the secular moment of the court or under the sky' ('Prayers', pp.310-11).

I would add the comment here that there seems to be an ancient Anglo-Saxon (Germanic?) belief that good prayers should be uttered under the open sky, or, at least, that evil spells require a confined area (a 'temple'?) to be effective. This belief is apparent in Bede's Hist. Eccl., Book I, ch. xxv, in which is recounted the missionary Augustine's meeting with Ethelbert, king of Kent in 597A.D.: 'Some days after, the king [Ethelbert] came into the island, and sitting in the open air, ordered Augustine and his companions to be brought into his presence. For he had taken precaution that they should not come to him in any house, lest, according to an ancient superstition, if they practiced any magical arts, they might impose upon him, and so get the better of him.'

Payne concludes her analysis saying, 'The heathen temple passage, the only direct clue the poet gives us to the nature of his central concerns, provides us with one of the chief symbols of the poem. It is the enclosure in which men, at terrible moments of crisis, surrend their imaginations. It is the symbol of the narrowest limits of human ideas (hence the designation "heathen"); it is the symbol of the ruts which confine and channel the drive to discover creative alternatives. The temple offers the delusive protection of certainty, but for men only death is certain. Life's crises, if man is to defend and insist on his uniqueness, require continual confrontation: they require the creative energy of acts that attempt to counter the tedious and obedient filling out of patterns already established. The suggestion that men must fight and constantly examine the overpowering strength and potential destructiveness of what they dedicate themselves to....' ('Prayers', pp. 313-14).

[182] protector

[194] i.e. Beowulf (the protagonist, not Scylding's son). Hygelac's name has been interpreted as 'Thought-Lack', e.g. "Reckless", in contrast with his wife Hygd, 'Thought', (Kaske 1963), though OE -lac is not elsewhere attested as meaning 'lack' ('play' is a more typical meaning, so his name may actually mean "Mind-Play"). Moreover, Hygelac is the one character of the poem who can be historically identified with any certainty -- see n.1204 below for more on Hygelac .

[195] The Geats were first thought to be Jutes (ON. Iótar , Iútar ). Ettmüller, noticing the cognate relationship between Old Norse au and Old English éa claimed that the Geats are the Gautar (ON. Gautar ; Old Swedish Götar ) of southern Sweden. [click here for map] After some debate in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Geat-Gautar theory has generally come to be accepted. However, Leake proposes that Geat = Getae (Latin). These Getae were originally described by the Greeks and Romans as a tribe in Thrace, about whom little seems to be known. The Getae seemed to have mixed with the Sarmatians (who traditionally descend from Amazons) and in the 1st century BCE this mélange held a loose empire in the north of Europe. They were a threat to Rome, though eventually defeated. Later, when the Goths, Visigoths, &c. began to attack (Christian) Rome in late antiquity, they were often given the (inaccurate) name Getae , which became interchangeable with Goth and often Daci (Dane) too. Leake's argument rests on a heavy classical input in the creation of Beowulf , essentially that the poet(s) adopted the Getae from classical sources as the name Getae had become used as a name of the remote ancestors of Germanic people in general (in tradition, though not in reality). This may have had political motivation, in Leake's opinion, in finding a common source for the Danes and Saxons; if Beowulf were composed during or after the Viking occupation(s) of England.

[198] ship

[200] sea

[203] in the sense of 'not at all'

[208] ship

[218] ship

[225] another name for the Geats

[236] i.e. spear

[238] ship

[239] sea

[245] password

i.e. Heorot

[298] ship / 'Wedermark' is another name for Geatland

[303-4] The reference to boars on the cheek-guards of helmet is also found in the famous helm from Sutton Hoo [click here for picture]. [more to follow]

[312] i.e. the coast-guard they have been talking to

[322] chain-mail (armour)

[330] i.e. spears : wooden shafts with steel or iron tips

[341] i.e. the Geats

[343] The most likely etymology of Beowulf is 'bee-wulf', that is to say "bear", a 'wolf' (=hunter) of bees for their honey. Other possibilities [
Alexander A. Klimenko, personal communication] include a contraction of beorh-wulf ('mountain-wolf') or bel-wulf ('shining wolf', cp. ON. Baldr).

The poem actually tells us rather little of the background of our protagonist. We know the name of his father, Ecgþéow , but very little else, not even his ancestry for certain, though he may be a Swede, a Geat, or one of the Wæmundings (see Malone 1940) - though the two latter possibilities are unlikely as his name does not alliterate with that of Wæmundings (on W , e.g Wiglaf, Wihstan , &c.) or with that of the Geats (on H ), nor does Beowulf's name alliterate on W . Ecgþéow's name does alliterate with that of the Swedish kings (e.g. Ongenþeow ), but Beowulf's does not. Beowulf's name does not even alliterate with that of his father, which would be expected. We know Beowulf's mother is part of the Geatish royal family, but not her name. However, the Geats' names alliterate on H , which also does not harmonise with Beowulf's name, or the name of his father.
In the early Northumbrian Liber Vitae, a monk of Durham bears the name Biuuulf - correct Northumbrian for 'bee-wolf', see Chambers - intro (367).

[348] Wrenn (pg. 317) notes that the Wendles are properly the Vandals and says 'it seems extremely probable that the Vandals left pockets of settlement in Vendel (Swedish Uppland [[click here for map]) and Vendill (modern Vendsyssel) which is the northernmost region of Jutland…[the 'Wendles' are] more likely [to have come from] Vendel in Sweden, since the point of the passage is that [Wulfgar] was a foreign prince who served Hrothgar, not…because he had been exiled, but out of motives of high adventure [like Beowulf-BMS]'.

[371] protector

[374] to mean 'gave in marriage'


[406] roughly 'Hail to you', more literally 'Be you whole' to mean 'Be you in good health'. Wassail comes from this phrase (Wæs hal).

[412] Schneider pp 149ff. takes this to be 'the evening star' (Venus); i.e. Grendel only approaches the hall after the evening star has disappeared below the horizon - connecting this with the fact that the god Baéldæg , lit 'brightness-day', (Old Norse Baldr ) is represented by the morning star (which is actually also Venus) and Gármund, lit. 'spear-protector', (Old Norse Freyr ) is represented by the evening star. These two gods Schneider refers to as 'the Youthful Brotherly Gods' (the 'twin' youth deities are common to Indo-European religion) which offer help and protection in battle - thus when neither is visible in the sky (in the dark of night) then they are unable to offer protection (against Grendel in this case).

[421] water-demons

[425] The habitation of Grendel seems to conform with an established tradition for a thyrs, cp. the gnomic verse from BM MS Cotton Tiberius B I (in Minor Poems), l.42: Þyrs sceal on fenne gewunnian ana innan lande ('A thyrs shall dwell in the fens, alone in the land').

[437] Anglo-Saxon colour words do not correspond well to the modern senses - this is describing the colour, or better, the hue, of linden-wood.

[445] i.e. Grendel

[449-50] Because Grendel will have ate him.

[452] i.e. Beowulf's mail-coat

[453] Hrethel is Hygelac's father and Beowulf's maternal grandfather. He was King of the Geats until his death.

[454] Weland is the famous 'wonder-smith' of Germanic heroic legend. Weland is depicted on the famed Franks Casket [click here for photo]
[click here for more information on the Franks Casket]
[more to follow..]

[455] protector

[460] the name of Heatholaf's people / companions

[469] i.e. wergild - money paid to in recompense of a killing

[470] the sea

[471] i.e. Edgetheow , Beowulf's father

[488-9] i.e. tell of your exploits as the mood takes you

[498-605: The Taunting of Unferth] - to be added

[498] Unferth could mean something like 'discord' - un "not" + frið "peace". However, this would involve metathesis of r+ vowel in frið . It would seem an appropriate name for the character though, considering his taunting of Beowulf and his proported kin-slaying. However, the name is also written four times as Hunferð .

[497] Geats

[500] secret words of strife (??)

[504] For an extensive discussion of the meaning of 'gehedde', see Pope (1986).

[505-80: The Contest with Breca] This contest is usually read as being one of swimming. The phrase on/ymb sund which re-occurs several times in this and the follow fitt has generally been translated as 'in swimming' and thus the entire competition is read by those translators as a swimming competition, not a rowing competition. While sund can refer to swimming, its base meaning is '(ocean)-sound, sea, ocean, water'. Another peculiarity of the swimming-interpretation is that it reads reon not as 'rowing' but as 'swimming'. Again this is a possible translation (the base meaning seems to be 'traverse a body of water'), but not the primary one. Furthermore, the 'swimming'-translators are forced to translate on sund as 'in the sea' in l. 548 on sund reon (otherwise it would have the nonsensical interpretation 'in swimming swam'). Additionally, the reading of 'rowing' allows us to retain the MS reading wudu 'boat'(typically emended to w{a}du 'water',even by Kiernan et al.) at l. 580. Frank (1986) suggests that the language is deliberately ambiguous in some places between 'swimming' and 'rowing' with the insightful, if biting comment: 'In the case of "sund", the poet had Unferth use his skill with words to suggest the colloquial, prose meaning [of sund ] "swimming", while employing the term in its strictly poetic sense [ sea ]: the artless among his listeners might understand "in swimming" and "at swimming", but they would be wrong' (pg. 163). Frank suggests the the purpose of the ambiguous imagery is to demonstrate Unferth's skill as a thyle in skaldic-style flyting : 'Unferth's speech is dripping with irony, oblique and mocking, a rhetorical bow-wow designed "to stress and ridicule the vehement efforts in the sea of two young men frantically striving to make good a foolish boast" [Brodeur, The Art of Beowulf , pg. 146]. To lend dignity to th swimming of juveniles by presenting it as rowing would not have been in his best interests; but a description of adolescent exertion at the oars in terms suitable to poodles paddling furiously in a pond might have the necessary derisory cast' (pg. 161).

Earl (1979), Robinson (1974), Wentersdorf (1975), Frank (1986) discuss these details and the oddity of the swimming-interpretation of this passage in greater detail. I shall limit myself to adding only that Beowulf's battle with nicors (sea-monsters) seems likely to be an 'echo' of the tale of Thor fishing for the Mithgarth-Serpent (recounted, for instance, in the Hymiskviða , or, the Lay of Hymir, in the Elder Edda) - in which Thor rows out into the ocean and there struggles with the serpent.

[505] Blockley (34ff.) points out that there is no reason that this passage could not be a declarative, rather than an interrogative.

[506] a sound in this context is a large body of water (wider and greater than a strait) connecting two larger bodies of water, or forming a channel between the mainland and an island.

[518] in Raumar, in modern Romerike, north of modern Oslo (Norway).

[520] The Brondings are an unidentified tribe.

[564] a mece -- which I have 'translated' as maiche (a guess at what the modern English word would be if it had survived) -- is another type of long, doubled-edged sword as was popular during the migration period; how it differs from a bill is not entirely clear - see Brady (1979) p.91ff.

[565] on the shore : what the waves wash up is sand ; thus, 'on the sand', or 'on the shore'

[574] water-monsters

[576] sea-currents

[606] i.e. Hrothgar

[611] Wealtheow literally means 'foreign(/Gaulish?) servant'. But this is unlikely to be her real name. Malone (1959a) points out that 'Gaulish slave' is hardly a proper name for a high-born lady of Helmings and is misapplied by the poet(s) (who may know that, as a Wulfing, she needs a name alliterating on W ) from an epithet of Ýrsa (see n. 62 above).

[619] ides helminga, 'lady of the Helmings', cf. l.1170 ides scyldinga 'lady of the Scyldings'. Idesis a restricted term applied to certain women: in Beowulf it is also used of Hildeburh, (l.1074 geomuru ides, "mournful lady", l.1116 ides gnordode, 'the lady lamented'); in Old English ides is also used for Eve , and Sarah and her Egyptian handmaiden Hagar, in Genesis. It seems to be used to refer to noble women and women who possess some sort of magical powers (suggesting that noble woman possess some magic?). Outside of Old English, the cognate Old Saxon and Old High German itis are applied to Mary (mother of Christ), and idisi is used to refer to the spell-casting women of the Old High German 'First Merseburg Charm'. In Old Norse, the word appears as dís (pl. dísir), which Damico suggest are a 'valkyrie-reflex' (the Norse goddess Freyja is called Vana-dís, "ides/dís/goddess of the Vanir").
It is also used in a negative clause referring to Offa's queen: l.1943b-44, ne bið swylc cwenlic þeaw idese to efnanne þeah ðe hio ænlicu sy, "such queenly custom is not for an ides to perform, though she be matchless". Unexpectedly, it is also used of Grendel's mother --
see n.1261 below.

[619] The Helmings are the family Wealhtheow belongs to. Helm is the ruler of the Wulfingas in the poem Widsith (29), allowing identification of the Helmingas and Wulfingas - thus Wealhtheow belongs to the Wulfinga family. [more to follow]

[664] i.e. most glorious of kings,referring to Hrothgar (?) or God (?)

[687] pillow

[702-59: Grendel's attack on the sleeping warriors] - to be added

[702] bowmen, archers - here probably simply warriors

[707] i.e. Beowulf , or, alternately, Grendel , with the reading 'watching in angry envy' for 707b - see Tripp 1999b

[712] This is a good example of litotes (verbal irony via understatement) in the poem, i.e. to say that Grendel has come to take one man (obviously he actually has come for a feast of many).

[747] i.e. Beowulf -- this section seems filled with deliberate use of indeterminate he ; this passage is particularly noteworthy as Hé onféng hraþe (he quickly grasped) certainly sounds at first as though it refers to Grendel (who is, after all, grabbing things), but actually the passage turns at this point and one realises Beowulf is subject -- and he is grasping metaphorically ( Grendel's intentions), and then seizing Grendel's grasping arm literally: wið earm gesæt (clamped down on arm).

[768] bitter anguish (??) - the kenning (if it is one) is obscure; Kiernan et al. suggest 'sharing in ale', which would be more literal, the meaning of the passage would obviously be somewhat different.

Schneider suggests a reading with homophonous ealu (cg. Old Norse alu ), "health, good luck" - sometimes inscribed on talismans. See also Wrenn (pg. 257).

Hoops favours 'deprivation of ale'. Klaeber writes ' -scerwen, related to *scerwan 'grant', 'allot' ( bescerwan ='deprive') - 'dispensing of ale', or, in a pregnant sense, of 'bitter or faterful drink' might have come to be used as a figurative expression for 'distress''. However, Brodeur (chap 2 n8) notes, 'there is no evidence whatever that the simplex *scerwan meant 'grant' or 'allot'; the prefix be- (bescerwan ) does not negate the meaning of the simplex with which it is compounded. In Ps. Cott. 50, 98 the compound bescerwan means 'take away', 'deprive'; the simplex must have had the same meaning as the compound--to deprive. I do not agree that the author of Andreas understood meoduscerwen as 'plenty of (fateful) drink'; that interpretation stems from a false association of the word with biter beorþegu in line 1532; and it ignores the context in which the word occurs. The poet tells us that when the flood descended upon the Mermedonians, meoduscerwen wearð æfter symbeldæge --'deprivation of mead after a day of fasting'. Here is one of the typical contrasts so common in Old English poetry; the word meoduscerwan was chosen to contrast with symbeldæge .... ealuscerwan in Beowulf is used ironically; the Danes experience terror such as they would have felt at the deprivation of ale'. Irving (1966) reads ealuscerwen as 'pouring of ale', interpreting as a sort of "drinking party"; 'In Beowulf the tremendous din made by Grendel, first in struggling with Beowulf and later in roaring with pain and fright, seems to have reminded the poet of the ordinary or conventional occasion for such loud noise in a hall--a drinking party. He makes use of the opportunity to continue his ironic presentation of Grendel as a guest or caller at Heorot. The Danes then seem to be pictured, somewhat ironically, as hosts at the party' (Irving 1968: 108).

I take scerwan either to have the sense of 'allot' as Klaeber (for pace Brodeur, be- can denote 'privation', as in daélan 'to share, bestow' vs. be-daélan 'to deprive, strip from, bereave of')or being related somehow to scúr 'shower, storm' (though in this case be-scerwan would connotate 'to shower upon ', cp. scínan 'to shine', be-scínan 'to shine upon, illuminate').

[769] the 'keepers' of the hall - i.e. Beowulf and Grendel

[779] the hall is referred to here, not the men.

[794] i.e. their ancestral swords ; láfe is literally 'what is left behind'.

[800] i.e. to try to kill Grendel

[802] i.e. were not able to harm him

[803] forsworen here seems to mean something like 'rendered useless against him by use of magic'.

[809] from Holthausen, myrðe is taken to as the acc. of unrecorded * myrðo (affliction, destruction) ; Chambers interprets it as dat. or gen. of myrgð (mirth, joy), reading thus 'joy of his heart' or 'light-hearted' rather than 'murderous minded'.

[817] i.e. muscles - lit. 'bone-locks', i.e., "those things which hold bones together"

[819] i.e. dying

[835] Beowulf places Grendel's arm above the door either inside or outside (the latter is more likely) the door to the hall

[845] i.e. trails of blood

[849] This reading assumes that déog is the preterite singular indicative form of unattested *déagan "to hide", based on the Old High German past participle tougan "concealed" and Old High German tougali "secret", both cognate with OE déogol, dýgel "secret, hidden". Alternatively, *déagan [class 7] (or another reconstructed form *déogan [class 2]) might mean "to die", thus giving the reading "doomed to death as he was, he died" for this passage.

[855] Blanca (a latinate borrowing) originally meant "bright, shining creature" in OE, and then was used alone as a poetic term for a "white or bay horse", then generalised to "horse", regardless of colour.

[870] or sóðe gebunden could be "correctly linked in metre", i.e. properly alliterating.

[873] This is a very apt phrase, since the poet is interweaving the tales of Sigemund and Heremod with the current exploits of Beowulf. Leyerle in a fascinating article compares the technique of Beowulf to the interlace knotwork which appears on Saxon artefacts (like the great gold buckle from Sutton Hoo [click here for photo] ). Interlace is made when the bands are turned back on themselves into knots, which interrupt the linear flow of the bands. Leyerle compares this material technique to the so-called 'digressions' of Beowulf , arguing that they are crucial in the style of the poem. He finds the phrase wordum wrixlan appropriate for describing this technique of interweaving two or more strands of variation.

[874 - Sigemund the dragon-slayer] There seems to be a conflation of two originally separate lays in the Beowulf poet's treatment of 'Sigemund' (Old Norse) Sigmundr):

' (1) [see the Volsungasaga, chaps. 3-8] Sigmundr, we are told, is the eldest son of King Volsungr, a descendant of Óþinn. His twin sister Signý is married against her will to Siggeirr, king of Gautland. While on a visit at Siggeir's court, Volsungr and his men are treacherously slain (cp. the Finnsburg legend); his sons are taken prisoners and meet death one after another except Sigmundr, who escapes into the forest. Sigmundr and Signý brood revenge. Seeing that her sons by Siggeirr are lacking in valour and that only a true Volsung son will be able to help in the work of revenge, Sign&ycute;, impelled by a desperate resolve, disguises herself as a witch and visits her brother in the forest, and when her time comes, she gives birth to a son, who is named Sinfjotli. Ten years old, the boy at his mother's bidding joins Sigmundr (who does not know until the final catastrophe that Sinfjotli is his son) and is trained by him in deeds of strength and hardship. "In summer they fare far through the woods and kill men to gain booty" (ch. 8); living for a time as werewolves "they performed many famous deeds in the realm of King Siggeirr" (cp. Beow. 882f., faéhðe ond fyrena ['feuds & feats of arms'] 878 [ Helgakv. Hund. i 43: firinverkum (?)].) Finally Sigmundr and Sinfjotli accomplish the revenge by setting fire to Siggeir's hall.
... (2) Sigemund's dragon fight is peculiar to the Beowulf . It naturally suggests the far-famed dragon fight of [Sigemund's] still greater son, (Old Norse) Sigurðr, (Middle High German) Sigfrit, which kindled the imagination of the Scandinavians and was not forgotten by the Germans, and which in fact -- especially as part of [Richard Wagner's] great Nibelungen cycle -- has been celebrated in modern Germanic epic, drama, and music. As Sigemund is called wreccena wíde maérost / ofer werþéode ['the most widely-famed adverturer of all nations'] 897-8a, Sigurðr, in the seer's words, is to be 'the greatest man under the sun, and the highest-born of all kings' (Grípispá 7); and the slaying of the dragon brings no little renown to Sigemund (æfter déaðdæge dóm unlýl ['no little fame after his death-day'] 884) just as to his illustrious son ('this great deed will be remembered as long as the world stands,' Volsungasaga , ch. 19)....Noteworthy incidents of the Beowulf version are the dissolving of the dragon in its own heat (896) and the carrying away of the hoard in a boat (894).
It is widely held that the dragon fight belongs properly to Sigfrit and not to Sigemund, his father; yet there is no positive evidence to prove that the [Anglo-Saxon] poet was in error when he attributed that exploit to the latter. Sigurðr-Sigfrit may, in fact, have been unknown to him. It is, on the whole, probable that in his allusions to Sigemund as well as to Heremód he followed good old Danish tradition, and that at that time no connection had yet been established between the Sigemund (Wælsing) legends and those of Sigfrit and of the Burgundians....It may be added that Neckel fully vindicates Sigemund's dragon fight as in fact based on genuine old tradition, considering it even the prototype of various later dragon fights in old Germanic literature...The Beowulfian version, Neckel thinks, goes back to an originally Frankish lay--historically connected with the Burgundian king Sigimund...--which had been carried over to Gautland and which inevitably suffered certain changes incident to the new localization'
[adapted from Klaeber, 159-61 (n.875-900 Sigemund)]

[876] Volsungr in Old Norse, in OE Wael appears to be a 'back-formation' from Wælsing. Wael's son is Sigemund in the version of the story told by Hrothgar's poet.

[882] The genetive plural of eoten 'giant' and Éote 'Jute' is identical. However, despite Klaeber's identification of Heremod (see n. 900 below) with Lotherus , who was exiled among the Jutes, thematically 'giants' makes more sense here than 'Jutes', as the poet is singing this lay following on Beowulf's slaying of an eoten , i.e. Grendel, who is certainly a 'giant', not a 'Jute'.

[900] Heremod's name may mean 'warlike disposition' ( here 'war' + mód 'mood'). Heremod is not a well-understood character. He seems to have been the Danish king prior to Scyld , at least in the OE genealogies. Klaeber identifies Heremod with Lotherus of Saxo Grammaticus, mainly on the basis that Lotherus is Scioldus' ( Scyld's) son sin Saxo. The overall relevance of Heremod seems to be as an exemplar of a bad king; and thus in part Beowulf is being favourably contrasted with him. Hrothgar later mentions Heremod again (l.1709-22) - see below note [not added yet].

[901] i.e. giants. Some translators read eotenum (dative of eotenas 'giants') as a scribal error for Éotum (dative of Éote 'Jutes'). Aside from the observations made by Kiernan about the care with which the scribes proof-read the Beowulf MS, one should also note that thematically 'giants' makes more sense here than 'Jutes', as the poet is singing this lay following on Beowulf's slaying of an eoten , i.e. Grendel, who is certainly a 'giant', not a 'Jute'.

[912-914] Though one cannot say with absolute certainty to whom the pronouns refer; it makes the most sense to read '[ Beowulf ], the kinsman of Hygelac, became more esteemed by all; Wickedness undid [ Heremod ].

[938] Typically glossed rather dully as devils and demons. The names of these creatures, like many of such words in Beowulf , do not translate easily. OE Scucc survives in East Anglia as the name (Old) Shuck or Shock applied to a supernatural creature sometimes classified with 'Black Dogs' (see Brown)--of the 'Barguest' variety, of which Brown says '[it is] a shapeless monster struggling to present itself in a variety of images…a subconscious, partly chthonic entity' (189). Scinn has not survived in any dialect that I am aware of at present (though it would not be surprising to discover it); if it has/had, it would denote a creature called a 'Shine', which would be a sort of wraith or will-'o-wisp.

[961] What 'in his full gear' when applied to Grendel means exactly is unclear. Klaeber takes it as a stock phrase applied rather unthinkingly to a creature for whom it is inappropriate. I believe it may be another instance of the dry humour of the poem, Grendel having no real gear. Alternatively, it may just be something like 'in battle-form'.

[979] i.e. Unferth , who is not taunting Beowulf now….

[1001] i.e. death

[1011] i.e. Hrothgar

[1016] This is the first mention of Hrothulf, who is Hrothgar's nephew (his younger brother Halga's son) - see note on ll. 1017-8 below.

[1017-8] Fácenstafas are literally 'treacherous writing' or perhaps 'baleful runes' (cf. ON. feiknstafir ): a half-kenning (?) for treachery . These lines foreshadow a time of discord among the Scyldings, though no later treachery among the Scyldings is mentioned in our version of Beowulf. However, Saxo relates that Rolf ( Hroþulf ) killed Rørik ( Hreðric ). Hreðric is Hroðgar's eldest son, who should succeed him on the Scylding throne. Though in the Scandinavian tradition Hroþulf is the central hero of the saga named after him: Hrolf Kraki's Saga (in which Hroarr ( Hroðgar ) appears as the king of Northumberland, though Hrolf is still his nephew, son of his brother Helgi ( Halga )). In any event, Hroþulf certainly seems a sinister figure in Beowulf , as immediately he is introduced by the poet(s), the mention of future treachery--of fácenstafas --is made. For more discussion see Malone (1927) and Newton.

[1019] sword

[1031-2] sword - féla láf = 'survivor of the files', files play an important role in the crafting of a sword; scúrhard , lit. 'shower-hard', possibly a reference to quenching (a technique used to harden swords), but where the process is one in which liquid is poured onto the sword rather than the sword being submerged into a static liquid. See Davidson (esp. 133) for more discussion.

[1034] i.e. Hrothgar

[1043] i.e. Hrothgar - the Scyldings are also referred to as the Ingwína ('Ing's friends').

North suggests that Ing , or Ingui , is an Anglian hypostasis (or avatar perhaps) of the germanic god Nerthus mentioned by Tacitus. Though Tacitus states that Nerthus is a goddess, North (pg. 19ff.) suggests that Tacitus has conflated a paired god (Nerthus) and goddess (a germanic Terra Mater) in his Germania .
Tacitus says of the Angles:
'Nec quicquam notabile in singulis, nisi quod in commune Nerthum, id est Terram matrem , colunt eamque intervenire rebus hominum, invehi populis arbitrantur. Est in insula Oceani castum nemus, dicatumque in eo vehiculum, veste contectum; attingere uni sacerdoti concessum. Is adesse penetrali deam intellegit vectamque bubus feminis multa cum veneratione prosequitur. Laeti tunc dies, festa loca, quaecumque adventu hospitioque dignatur. Non bella ineunt, non arma sumunt; clausum omne ferrum; pax et quies tunc tantum nota, tunc tantum amata, donec idem sacerdos satiatam conversatione mortalium deam templo reddat. Mox vehiculum et vestes et, si credere velis, numen ipsum secreto lacu abluitur. Servi ministrant, quos statim idem lacus haurit. Arcanus hinc terror sanctaque ignorantia, quid sit illud, quod tantum perituri vident. ' [='Nothing is worth noting about any of them [the germanic Suebian tribes, which inclues the Anglii] individually but their common worship of Nerthus, i.e. Terra Mater ('earth the mother'). They believe she enters into the affairs of men as she is borne about the nations. On an island in the Ocean stands a chaste grove, in which a wagon, veiled with cloth, is dedicated; only the priest has leave to touch it. This man can tell when the goddess is present in her innermost shrine, and with many a show of reverence he escorts her as she is drawn along by female oxen. Happy then the days, festive the places she makes worthy with her arrival and her stay. They do not go to war, do not take up arms; all iron is locked up; then, and only then, are peace and quiet known and loved, until the same priest returns the goddess, who is satiated with her dealings with mortals, to her temple. Soon the wagon and vestments, and if you want to believe it, the deity itself are washed in a solitary lake. Slaves administer, whom the same lake swallows immediately afterwards. Hidden thus the terror, and sacred the ignorance, of what that thing may be that is only seen by those about to die.'] (ch. 40).

North says 'Nerthus has long been seen as the etymon of [the Norse] Njorðr, a male god and the father of Freyr and Freyja. Nerthus , unless it be a rare fourth-declension noun, has a masculine ending in both Latin and Germanic, as does its reflex Njorðr in Icelandic...I suggest that Nerthus was male, that Terra Mater was female and that Tacitus misunderstood his source' (pg. 20-1).
North also notes that Tacitus's Ingaeuones reveals the etymon of Ingvi- or Yngvi- , a prefix of the Norse god Freyr. The stem Ingu- also appears in the royal genealogies in The Historium Brittonum , Cotton Vespasian B. vi MS, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (A): 'Ingui, at the earliest stage of Anglo-Saxon history, was held to be the progenitor of all Anglian kings' (North, pg. 43).

With regard to Nerthus and the uehiculum in ch. 40 of Germania , Njorðr is known as vagna guð ('god of wagons') in a Scaldic kenning cited in the principal manuscript of Skáldskaparmál. Nerthus and Terra Mater can also be compared with Njorðr's son Freyr and a woman in a wagon in Gunnars þáttr helmings , a tale from the fourteenth-century Flateyjarbók .' (North, pg. 24).
In the Rune Poem, Ing (the name of the English rune for [ng]), also is closely associated with a waggon or wain:

Rune Poem, ll.67-70:
[Ing] wæs ærest mid Eastdenum
gesewen secgun, oþ he siððan est
ofer wæg gewat, wæn æfter ran;
þus Heardingas ðone hæle nemdun.

[Ing was first seen among men with the East Danes, until he then went east over the wave; the waggon ran after; thus the Heardings named the man.]

Thus Nerthus, Freyr and Ing/Ingui all are associated with a procession on a waggon, which seems to have been linked with fertility rites.

On the etymology of Ing/Ingui, North says '[There is a high] frequency of [Ing] cognates - Got Enguz , Frisian Inguz , Frankish and Frisian Ingo- , the Old English Ingui of Bernicia and Ing , Old Norse-Icelandic Ingvi, Yngvi and Ingunar- - in a wide Germanic area over more than a thousand years. With respect to Ing- , the oldest form,...the most plausible etymology is that *inguaz meant 'man' as opposed to 'woman', just as Tocharian A onk and B enkwe mean 'man' in reflexes of a more ancient form of Indo-European...As with this etymology of *inguaz , so male sex is the overriding meaning in the case of the Broddenbjærg fork tree. Glob identifies this tree-fork with Terra Mater's partner because of its bearded face and erect phallus [see below].' (pp. 29-30).

Of the male figure mentioned above, Glob says 'It may be that the robust image of a fertility god which came to light in 1880 in Broddenbjerg Fen, near Viborg, represents [a partner of the Earth Mother goddess]. Again the figure takes its form from the nature growth of the wood, but this form is distinctly male. The oak-fork from which it is fashioned has a side-branch jutting out at the bpoint of bifurcation, and cut and worked so as to take on the characteristic features of a phallus.' (pg. 127) [click here for photo of the Broddenbjerg god image] Glob also mentions a similar Earth Mother wooden figure: 'In the summer of 1961 Harald Andersen uncovered at Foerlev Nymolle three sacrificial sites in the bog below the northern slope of the hill...In one of these sites the stones were gathered up in a heap, and under this heap of stones lay a cloven oak branch 9 ft in length - the goddess herself. The branch in itself possessed natural "feminine" form - suggesting a slender body, rounded hips and long legs and only the most distinctive features had been added by working or carving it. The sex was shown by a strong incision where the fork began. The roundness of the hips was emphasized by cutting back the upper part of the legs at both sides. Head, arms and feet were all lacking, and it is perhaps just because of this that the female character of the figure is so apparent' (pg. 126). [click here for a photo of the Foerlev Nymolle goddess image]

'Up in western Norway and Trondelag at the end of the heathen period in Scandinavia, the ancient ideology of Njorðr and Skaði, or of the marriage between a male god and the earth, seems to have been reflected in the region of Hákon Jarl, a very late example of a Germanic "sacral king"…The evidence of twelfth-century prose…suggests that Hákon, to enjoy a physical union on his ancestor's behalf with his tutelary earth-goddess, looked for her local representatives in women of flesh and blood. After his victory against the Danes in Hjorungavágr, Hákon seems to have spent the last ten years of his reign enforcing a droit du seigneur on his subjects' wives and daughters; sailing round the inlets of western Norway, sending his slaves at each stop to fetch a woman from the local farm, "and no distinction was made or difference as to whose wife, whose sister or whose daughter these women might be" [ Ágrip af Nóregskonunga Sogum , ch. 12]…the Hákonardrápa of Hallfreðr vandræðaskáld (c. 985) suggests that these coercions took place with a basis in royal ideology, as Hákon's political enactment of a role analogous to that of Freyr in Skírnismál ["Lay of Skírnir", in which, for the health of the land and the harvest, Freyr sends his servant Skírnir to coerce Gerðr, a giantess, into sex with Freyr]. Though Hallfreðr and his colleagues gave Óðinn the ancestor's role that an earlier poet such as Þjóðólfr would have given Holgi or Ingvi-freyr, the four stanzas quoted below from Hákonardrápa emphasize the role of Hákon Jarl as a sacral king who renewed the life of local fields by inseminating the women whom he chose to represent them:

"Sannyrðum spenr sverða snarr þiggjandi viggjar
barrhaddaða byrjar biðkván und sik Þriðja.

Því hykk fleygjanda frakna (ferr jorð und menþverri
ítr) eina at láta Auðs systur mjok trauðan.

Ráð lukusk, at sá síðan snjallráðr konungs spjalli
átti einga dóttur Ónars, viði gróna.

Breiðleita gat bruði Báleygs at sér teygða
stefnir stoðvar Hrafna stála ríkismálum." ( Hákonardrápa 3-6)

[="With the vindicating words of swords [battle] the bold acceptor of the stallion of the following wind [Hákon] entices under him the barley-haired waiting wife of Third-One [Óðinn]. For this reason I think that the one who makes spear fly (splendid Earth moves down under the necklace-diminisher) is extremely reluctant to leave the sister of Wealth alone. The union was consummated so that afterwards the eloquent-in-counsel friend of a king took possession of Ónarr's forest-grown(/grown-up-in-the-backwoods) only daughter. The steerer of the harbour's steeds [Hákon Jarl] has had success in drawing to him the broad-featured bride [Norway] of Furnace-Eye [Óðinn] with the imperial words of steel [battle]"]

These lines appear to confirm several thirteenth-century references to the sexual coercions that were alleged to lead to Hákon's downfall. None the less, by giving mythological status to Hákon's seduction of other men's wives.., sisters.., and daughters.., Hallfreðr appears to elevate his ruler's habitual coercion of female subjects into an ideology of kingship. Hákon's prolific enactment of his marriage with Þorgerðr is essentially the same as the ideology of Skírnismál as this is represented in the activity of Freyr with Gerðr. In Hákonardrápa 3, Hallfreðr makes at least three allusions to the myth presented in Skírnismál :..Hákon Jarl can..be seen as luring the woman of 'barley' through his emissary on Freyr's "horse" with Freyr's "sword". Also, when Hákon seduces Norway as if she is Óðinn's " breið leita brúði" ("broad-featured bride")..Hallfreðr's vocabulary recalls the "bradan berewæstma" ("broad crops of the barley") whose growth an English farmer hopes to see in Æcerbot .' (pp. 261-4).

North also suggests that Edwin King of Deira may have had a similar practice in the late 6th century before his baptism: '[It may be] that [the missionary] Paulinus failed to marry the Anglian nation as a chaste virgin to Christ, because, through Æthelburh or her predecessor Cwenburh, and through any number of other women representatives of the Anglian regions, the northern Angles believed themselves to be married to [King] Edwin [already]' (p. 326).

See also S.A.A.'s Anglo-Saxon Heathenism page on Ingui .

[1056] i.e. Beowulf

[1063] i.e. Hrothgar - 'Half-Dane's battle-leader' would have been his position whilst his father ruled.

[1064] lyre or harp

[1065-1162: The Finn Episode] see the introduction to The Fight at Finnesburh for discussion

[1067] Finn is the king of the Frisians

[1068] Hnaef seems to be the king of a tribe related to/allied with the Danes.

[1070] Hildeburh is the daughter of Hoc (see n. 1075 below), sister of Hnaef (see n. 1068 above) and wife of Finn (see n. 1067 above)

[1071, 1087, 1140, 1144] The texts read eotenas which could be either giants or Jutes (or Frisians). The genitive plural of both eoten/eoteon (giant) and Eotan (Jutes) is identical ( eotena ). [The dative plural is not: eotenum (e.g. l. 1144) means 'giants'.] This has caused various critics to interpret episodes involving the 'eotenas' in many different ways. Some read 'giants', some 'Jutes', some 'Frisians' (Bugge and others have suggested that Jutes and Frisians were the same people). The reading of 'giants' is difficult for it is hard to imagine that Germanic 'giants' could have non-antagonistic relations with any human people. It seems likely that there is perhaps intentional ambiguity here between 'giants' and 'Jutes/Frisians'. Kaske (1967) argues that the reading here is 'giants', but in a figurative sense, referring to the Frisians. Stuhmiller makes the keen observation that after the Finn Episode, no form of eoten or eotan occurs in the poem, ambiguous or otherwise. This is striking because 'giants' certainly do not disappear from the poem at this point: Grendel's mother is yet to be encountered (she is never referred to as an eotan though), the Mere-Sword is described as enta aergeweorc and giganta geweorc (both using other words for 'giant'); the dragon's chamber and treasure is also enta geweorc (although the exact meaning of these latter two is unclear - see below). The poet's song of Finn occurs immediately Beowulf has slain Grendel, the eotan who has been tormenting the Danes, as Stuhmiller observes '[ eoten ] is never used again because it fulfills its intended function in the Finn Episode; its conspicuous absence from the remainder of the poem only serves to underscore the effect....[i]t is no coincidence that the unnamed scop [poet], who might be thought of as the voice of Heorot itself, sings of the rouble caused by the Eotan, who are formidable and bloodthirsty opponents, regardless of their exact racial identity. The message is clear: the Geats may have vanquished this particular eotena , but the Danes have eradicated whole hosts of them in the past' (11). This is to say that the 'Eotans' here are literally 'giants', but figuratively cruel, untrustworthy men; the poet(s)' presumed double-entendre is difficult to render in Modern English, thus I have left the term untranslated here. See also n. 882 above and see Kaske (1967) and Stuhmiller for indepth discussion.…. [more to follow]

[1075] i.e. Hildeburh

[1081] ironic euphemism for 'battle-field'

[1082] apparently the leader of the 'Half-Danes' after the slaying of Hnaef , though various critics have identified Hengest as a Jute, Frisian or Angle. This Hengest is perhaps identical to the (semi-)historical Hengest who conquered Kent. [more to follow]

[1088] i.e. Finn

[1106] icge is a rather obscure word - often translated as "bright" (referring to the gold) from the context; Schneider (pg. 28-9) suggests a scribal error for iege "eyes" - thus 'gold with eyes on it', referring to the circular stamped decorations often found on Saxon artefacts (though I think such symbols are more likely representative of the sun than eyes). Kiernan et al. suggest it means 'swords' (ie icge gold = 'swords, gold'). North (pp. 70ff.) suggests, following Ball, that MS icge should be emended to i{n}cge and translates as ' Ingui 's gold' (the interpretation followed here). See n.1043 above. [more to follow]

[1107-8] i.e. Hnaef

[1110-1] Another reference to the boar-figures placed atop helmets, as on the Benty Grange & Pioneer helms:

[click here for an image of the Benty Grange helm]

[click here for an image of the Pioneer helm]

[1115] i.e. his body, visualised as a vessel

[1116] Holthausen's emendation of the text to {éa}me on eaxle gives the sense 'beside their uncle', the reading then being 'beside their uncle [ Hnaef ]…she lamented in songs'. The MS text on eaxle 'on (his) shoulder' is not perfectly clear. Wrenn suggests the sense of 'shoulder' as 'over the corpse'; but it is reasonable to simply understand 'beside his shoulder' to mean 'next to him'.

[1121] wounds, gashe

[1136] i.e. Hengest

[1141] i.e. vengeance

[1142] Brady suggests that Hunlafing is the name of Hnaef's sword, not, as is often, 'son of Hunlaf' - see Brady (1979) pp.96ff; Holder, ten Brink & Gering take Hun to be a retainer and Lafing to be a sword, e.g. 'Hun placed in [Hnaef's] bosom Lafing, best of swords'.

However, as noted by Chamber (intro, 252n2) 'In the Skjoldnunga Saga [extant in a Latin abstract by Arngrim Jonsson, ed. Olrik, 1894], cap. IV, mention is made of a king of Denmark named Leifus who had six sons, three of whom are named Hunleifus, Oddleifus and Gunnleifus--corresponding exactly to OE Húnláf, Ordláf and Gúðláf' -- which strongly suggests that Hunlafing is a companion of Guthlaf & Ordlaf and not the name of a sword.

[1142] sword (possible the name of a particular sword)

[1147] i.e. the attack on the Danes

[1149] i.e. Hengest

[1153] i.e. archers, warriors

[1159] poet's

[1163] i.e. Hrothgar and Hrothulf ( Hrothgar's brother's son)

[1165] þyle may mean 'spokesman' or it may mean 'jester', it is unclear. [more to follow]

[1167] i.e. Hrothgar and Wealhtheow both trusted Unferth .

[1171-2] i.e. Hrothgar

[1177-8] i.e. Wealhtheow has heard that Hrothgar wishes to adopt Beowulf as his son.

[1179-89: Wealhtheow's counsel] Wealhtheow advises Hrothgar not to adopt Beowulf, but to remember his own kinsmen, specifically Hrothulf, who they both have aided in his youth. She says that she trusts Hrothulf to take care of her sons once Hrothgar dies, so that the rule of the kingdom may be passed on in time to her own sons. The irony of the situation (which the audience of Beowulf presumably knew) is that Hrothulf seizes the kingdom for himself, slaying Hrethric ( Hrothgar's eldest son).

[1181-2] when you die

[1191] Hrethric and Hrothmund are Hrothgar's two sons. Though we are not told so, in other traditions Hrethric is slain by Hrothulf. Interestingly, Hrothmund appears in the East Anglian royal genealogy - see Malone (1927) for extensive discussion of the different roles of Hrethric and Hrothulf in the various stories in which they appear; see also Newton for the implications of Hrothmund's appearance in this passage.

[1200] Hama is a hero in the Middle High German epics of the Theodoric cycle, sometimes as a follower of Theodoric (Dietrich ), sometimes of Ermanaric ( Ermenrich ). He is mentioned in Widsith along with Wudga as a keeper of treasure and a wise man ( Widsith ll.129-30). [in O.N. Heimir ; M.H.G. Heime ]

[1201] Brosing's necklace (O.N. Brísingar) is known from legends as the necklace made for the Goddess Freyja , which she later lost (?) through the wickedness of Loki (the 'trickster' God, and God of Fire) [see the Lay of Thrym in the Elder Edda]. Wrenn suggests a connexion between this and the Norwegian dialect word bris 'fire', perhaps the necklace was made by 'fire-dwarves'. Hollander (in the notes to the trans. of the Elder Edda ) says 'The Brísinga men ("the Shining Necklace") was a torque fashioned (according to the late Sorla þáttr ) by four dwarfs' (n.13 p.106).

[1203] Eormenric ( Ermanaric ) was the powerful king of the East Goths, who became in heroic poetry a treacherous tyrant (see Deor ll. 2 2-3; Widsith l. 9). He has the fair lady Swanhild trampled to death by horses and his son hanged at the instigation of his evil counsellor (see Widsith l. 124, 115); he murders his nephews, the Herelingas (Ger. Harlunge ) (see Widsith l.112). In the Middle High German Theodoric (e.g. the Dietrich von Bern legend) cycle he plays the villain and oppresses Theodoric (another king of the East Goths).
In the
Þídrekssaga (composed in Norway circa 1250CE from Low German sources) Heimir (OE Hama ) is forced to flee from Erminríkr (OE Eormenric ), and later enters a monastery, bringing w
ith him many costly things, as well as his armour and weapons. '…chose eternal benefit' also implies that Hama in the Beowulf version of this story may have become a good Christian.

[1204-1216, 2355f., 2502-2509, 2915-2920: Hygelac's raid on Frisia] These passages refer to Hygelac's ill-fated raid on Frisia. The basic events unfolded around 521AD, when Hygelac began to ravage Frankish territory. He led a fleet of ships to Frisia (west of the Zuider Zee) and sailed up the river Rhein to the district of the Frankish tribe of the Haetware (Attoarrii, or Chattuarii). Hygelac, loading his ships with the spoils, sends the main part of his fleet home, but he and a small band remain on shore (of either the Rhein or the North Sea), where he is overtaken by an army under the the command of Theodebert, son of the Frankish king Theoderic (the Merovingian). Here Hygelac and his retainers are slain, and his fleet is then pursued and routed.

The references in Beo. to this raid and their identity with historical accounts of a raid on Frankish territory was first made by Grundtvig (1815, 1817), who discovered that the Chlochilaicus of Gregory of Tours was the Hygelac of Beo. Hygelac's raid on Frisia is attested additionally by the Gesta Francorum and in the Liber Monstrorum :

** Gregory of Tours (d. 594), Gregorii episcopi Turonensis Historia Francorum ('History of the Franks'):
'His ita gestis, Dani cum rege suo nomine Chlochilaico evectu navale per mare Gallias appetunt. Egressique ad terras, pagum unum de regno Theudorici devastant atque captivant, oneratisque navibus tam de captivis quam de reliquis spoliis, reverti ad patriam cupiunt; sed rex eorum in litus resedebat donec naves alto mare conpraehenderent, ipse deinceps secuturus. Quod cum Theudorico nuntiatum fuisst, quod scilicet regio ejus fuerit ab extraneis devastata, Theudobertum, filium suum, in illis partibus cum valido exercitu et magno armorum apparatu direxit. Qui, interfecto rege, hostibus navali proelio superatis opprimit, omnemque rapinam terrae restituit.'
('After all of this had happened, the Danes, together with their king, whose name was Chlochilaichus, attacked the Frankish lands by sea in a ship-borne raid. Having gone up on shore, they laid waste one district of the kingdom of Theuderic [King of the Franks], and carried off captives; then, having loaded their ships with these captives as well as with the rest of their booty, they set out to return to their own land. But their king remained on shore while the ships were taking to the deep sea, for he was to follow in due course. Now when the news had been brought to Theudericus that a region belonging to him had actually been laid waste by foreigners, he sent his son Theudebertus to those parts with a strong army and a great store of arms. And he, having first killed the king, fell upon the enemy in a naval battle, overwhelmed them, and restored all the plunder to his own land' [trans. from Garmonsway et al.])

** Liber Historiae Francorum (often called Gesta Francorum ) (ca. 727):
'In illo tempore Dani cum rege suo nomine Chochilaico cum navale hoste per alto mare Gallias appetent, Theuderico paygo [i.e. pagum] Attoarios vel alios devastantes atque captivantes plenas naves de captivis alto mare intrantes rex eorum ad litus maris resedens. Quod cum Theuderico nuntiatum fuisset, Theudobertum filium suum cum magno exercitu in illis partibus dirigens. Qui consequens eos, pugnavit cum eis caede magna atque prostravit, regem eorum interficit, preda tullit, et in terra sua restituit.'
('In those days the Danes, together with their kign, whose name was Chochilaicus, attacked the Frankish lands over the deep sea with a ship-borne host. They laid waste a district belonging to Theuderic, that of the Atuarii or others, and carried off captives; then they went aboard their ships, which were full of captives, setting out for the deep sea, with their king remaining on the sea shore. When this news had been brought to Theudericus, he sent his son Theudobert to those parts with a large army. And he, pursuing them, fought against them and routed them with greater slaughter, killed their king, seized the booty, and restored it to his own land' [trans. from Garmonsway et al.])

** Liber Monstrorum (eighth century?):
'Et sunt [monstra] mirae magnitudinis : ut rex Huiglaucus qui imperavit Getis et a Francis occisus est. Quem equus a duodecimo anno portare non potuit. Cujus ossa in Reni fluminis insula, ubi in Oceanum prorumpit, reservata sunt et de longinquo venientibus pro miraculo ostenduntur.'
('Now there are also these monsters of amazing hugeness, namely, King Huiglaucus, who ruled the Getae and was slain by the Franks. Even when he was twelve years old, no horse could carry him. His bones are preserved on an island in the Rhine, where it flows into the sea, and are shown as a prodigy to people who come from afar' [trans. from Garmonsway et al.])

Except in Beo. and the Liber Monstrorum, Hygelac is referred to as a king of the Danes, rather than the Geats or Gautar. In Saxo Grammaticus and Sturluson as well, Hugletus/Hugleikr (Hygelac) is called a king of the Danes.

[1205] Swerting is either Hygelac's maternal grandfather or his maternal uncle.

[1209] i.e. Hygelac wears the necklace given to Beowulf by Wealhtheow

[1210] eorclanstán = this word is used both for the pearl and the topaz. Sievers traces it back ultimately to the Chaldean jarkán 'yellow gem'. Cognate with Goth. airknis (good, holy); O.N. iarknasteinn ; Old High German erchan 'noble, distinguished'. It seems to indicate a fabulous and exotic gem in any event.

[1210] the sea

[1212] that Hygelac's remains fell into possesion of the Franks (a Germanic tribe in northwestern Europe) is recorded historically Gregory of Tours' ( d. 594) History of the Franks III.3; Liber Monstrorum (8th century?) I.2; Gesta Francorum (c. 727) 19.

[1216] i.e. everyone cheers

[1248] i.e. a spear

[1261] here again ides is used for "lady" -- its use is unusual here, as otherwise it is used only of high-born, noble, virtuous women (such as Wealhtheow, see l.619 above), and Eve, Sarah and her Egyptian handmaiden in Genesis.
In Old Norse, the word appears as dís (pl. dísir), which Damico suggests are a 'valkyrie-reflex' (the Norse goddess Freyja is called Vana-dís, "ides/dís/goddess of the Vanir"). Damico thus argues that Grendel's mother, as an ides, may represent the more terrifying side of the valkyrie-female. The word is again used of Grendel's mother at l.1353 idese onlicnæs, 'in the likewise of an ides'.

[1262] Apparently demons are somewhat ambisexual, at least so far as grammatical gender is concerned, for the masculine article is used here.

[1263] 'he' here refers to Cain and his slaying of Abel - usually camp is emended to Cain, but camp ("strife") seems to make sense here and is therefore retained (see Kiernan (183) for further arguments for retaining camp. )

[1265] Either Cain, or alternatively, Grendel's mother, again with a masculine pronoun (see n. 1261).

[1272] i.e. Beowulf

[1276] i.e. Grendel

[1315] i.e. Hrothgar

[1316] i.e. Beowulf (?) - usually the MS. alfwalda ('ruler of elves'?) is emended to Alwalda ('the Almighty'). Tripp (1986) argues for retaining the MS. reading, as I do here. This epithet is connected, perhaps, with the mene which is (or, is like to,) the Brosingamene, which Beowulf now possesses -- see n.1201 above.

As to the meaning of alfwalda as an epithet for Beowulf, Tripp (1986) says that it should refer to Þorr, the opponent of elves, and thus by association to Beowulf (who is a sort of Þor-like hero (or Þorr-avatar?)), who fights monstrous beings (like Grendel).

Taylor (1998h:101) points out also that in 'the Old Norse Völundarkviða, Völund, the archetypal smith of the Germanic peoples, referred to in Beowulf as the maker of the hero's armor [l.452-4 - beaduscruda betst...Welandes geweorc], is called álfa vísi "leader of elves" and álfa líoði "prince of elves". In the cosmogonic Völuspá, Yngvi and Álfr are linked together in the dwarf-catalogue (16,1). In the mnemonic Grimnismál, 5, 3-4, it is said that Freyr, the god of fertility, rules over Álfheim "world of elves"'.

[1322] i.e. Hrothgar's

[1327] lit. ' rune -counsellor' or 'whisper-counsellor'

[1329] i.e. guarded our heads

[1359-69 : Beowulf and the Blickling Homilies ] Morris noted the similarity between these lines in Beowulf and a description of Hell in the Blickling Homilies (so called because they once resided in the library at Blickling Hall, Norfolk, once the residence of Sir John Falstaff, immortalised by Shakespeare), in the homily on the dedication of St. Michael's Church (Blickling Homily 16):

'Swa Sanctus Paulus wæs geseonde on norðanweardne þisne middangeard, þær ealle wætero niðergewítað, & he þær geseah ofer ðæm wætere sumne hárne stán; & wæron norð of ðæm stane awexene swiðe hrimige bearwas, & ðær wæron þystro-genipo, & under þæm stán wæs niccra eardung & wearga. & he geseah þæt on ðæm clife hangodan on ðæm ís gean bearwum manige swearte saula be heora handum gebundne; & þa fynd þara on nicra onlicnesses heora gripende wæron, swa swa gráedig wulf; & þæt wæter wæs sweart under þæm clife neoðan. & betuh þæm clife on ðæm wætre wæron swylce twelf míla, & ðonne ða twigo forburston þonne gewitan þa saula niðer þa þe on ðæm twigum hangodan, & him onfengon ða nicras. Ðis ðonne wæron ða saula þa ðe her on worlde mid únrihte gefyrenode wæron, & ðæs noldan geswican ær heora lifes ende. Ac uton nu biddan Sanctus Michael geornlice þæt he ure saula geláede on gefeán, þær hie motan blissian abuton ende on ecnesse. AMEN.'
(='As St. Paul was looking towards the northern regions of this middle-earth, from whence all waters pass down, he saw there above the water a hoary grey stone; and north of the stone some wood-groves had grown very rimy [frosty]. And there were dark mists, and under that stone was the dwelling place of nicors and warg-wolves. And he saw that on the cliff opposite the woods were hanging many dark souls with their hands bound; and fiends in the likeness of nicors were seizing them, like greedy wolves; and that water was black beneath the cliff. And between the cliff and the water there were about twelve miles, and when when the twigs broke then down went the souls who were hanging on the twigs, and the nicors seized them. These then were the souls who here in this world wickedly sinned, and would not cease from it before their life's end. But let us now bid St. Michael earnestly that he lead our souls into bliss, where they may rejoice without end in eternity. Amen.') [Blickling Homily XVI]

The scene in the Blickling Homily (given above) may derive from a conflation of the scene in Beo. and another passage in some of the Redactions of the apocryphal Vision of St. Paul (Visio Sancti Pauli), as Carleton Brown remarks:
'...[f]or in the Visio the souls of the sinners hang on fiery trees; in Beowulf there are icy trees without any sinners; while in the Blickling Homily, there are icy trees with souls of sinners hanging from them. In other words, the description in the Visio and in Beowulf are wholly independent except that trees occur in both--while the description in the [Blickling] Homily presents a fusion of elements in the other two' (C. Brown, 908).

[1370] deer - 'the hart with strong horns' of l. 1371

[1384] i.e. if you return alive

[1399] i.e. King Hrothgar

[1400] i.e. Beowulf

[1404] i.e. shield-bearers

[1426] i.e. death-dirge

[1431] sea

[1436] i.e. the creature, dying, will stop thrashing about in the water

[1447] body

[1456] a brond is apparently a type of short sword, designed for thrusting rather than for hewing - see Brady (1979) 93-94.

[1459] Unferth's sword is named Hrunting - hrunt seems to mean 'a long piece of wood'; it is later described as a hæftmece - which Wrenn and others interpret as 'a sword with a long handle', thus Hrunting would seem an appropriate name

atertanum fah is lit. 'gleaming with twigs of venom', which seems to be a kenning for 'shining with tiny serpents', neatly describing the appearance of a pattern-welded blade. [more to follow] See Davidson, Hatto, Brady (1979) and Jones for more discussion. [click here for a close-up photo of a pattern-welded blade] Another possibility is that 'venom-twigs' is a kenning for runes carved into the blade intended to imbue it with special offensive powers.

[1473] i.e. Beowulf


[1491] a 'wave-sword' appears to be another description of the appearance of a pattern-welded blade. [more to follow] See Davidson, Hatto, Brady (1979) and Jones for more discussion. [click here for a close-up photo of a pattern-welded blade]

[1508] i.e. Grendel's Mother

[1523] what a 'ring-weapon' refers to is not entirely clear. It may refer again to the appearance of the blade (pattern-welding); it may refer to a ring attached to the pommel; it may refer to other ornamentation of the hilt; &c., &c.

[1533] lit. 'wound/braided weapon', seemingly another kenning for a
pattern-welded blade. [more to follow] See Davidson, Hatto, Brady (1979) and Jones for more discussion. [click here for a close-up photo of a pattern-welded blade]

[1543] There is a possible play on words here. The expected form (and indeed editors often emend to this) is andlean 'requital'. handlean is something like 'hand-payment'. But the phrase seems to refer to the retaliation of Grendel's mother, which takes the form of an assault with her hands.

[1547] A seax (or sax ) generally refers to a short, one-edged sword or dagger. It can also refer to a long one-edged weapon, but examples of these are rare in England. The context also suggests that Grendel's dam's seax is of the dagger-variety. See Davidson, Brady (1979), Bone, Gale for further discussion.

[1550] i.e. ring-mail

[1555] i.e. ring-mail

[1565, 1566] what a 'ring-weapon' refers to is not entirely clear. It may refer again to the appearance of the blade (pattern-welding); it may refer to a ring attached to the pommel; it may refer to other ornamentation of the hilt; &c., &c.

[1569] vertebra (bones of her spine)

[1570] i.e. her body

[1586] i.e. Beowulf

[1595] i.e. 'salt-and-pepper hair' or 'hair streaked with grey/white'

[1601] i.e. Grendel's mother

[1604] i.e. Hrothgar

[1604] i.e. the Geats

[1607] the scene switches here from the Geats sitting by the lake back to Beowulf's struggle with Grendel's mother in the hall under the mere

[1608] splinters of hoar-frosty steely iron blade - see Brady (1979), esp. p.103

[1611] often interpreted as the Christian 'God the Father', but the context certainly does not demand it. In fact, the 'naturalistic' context (spring melting the ice of winter) rather suggests a pre-Christian 'Father'.

[1612] on the reading waélrápas the meaning is 'water-ropes', on the reading wælrápas , the meaning would be 'deadly fetters'

[1618] seemingly another kenning for a
pattern-welded blade. [more to follow] See Davidson, Hatto, Brady (1979) and Jones for more discussion. [click here for a close-up photo of a pattern-welded blade]

[1682] Köberl argues that this 'Lord of the Danes' is not identical with the latter mentioned woroldcyninga (i.e. Hrothgar [and Hrothulf ?]), but rather is an earlier lord of the Danes, specifically Heremod ; thus explaining what prompts Hrothgar to launch into his sermon on Heremod and also why, though the poem informs us that it is marked on the sword for whom it was made, we are not explicitly told. That is, because we are meant to understand that it was made for Heremod perhaps. Since Heremod is killed mid eotenum 'among the giants' (901), this might explain how the eotencyn 'giant-kind' (i.e. Grendel and his mother) come to have possession of the Mere-Sword. This is a rather attractive theory, for otherwise ond þá (1683) is a somewhat unusual conjunction, i.e. hit on aéht gehwearf after déofla hryre Denigea fréan….ond þá þás worold ofgeaf gromheort guma….on geweald gehwearf woroldcyninga þaém sélestan… 'after the fall of the devils [??] it came into possession of the lord of the Danes….and when the cruel-hearted creature [ Grendel ] left this world….it passed into the possession of the best of earthly kings [ Hrothgar (and Hrothulf ?)]. In other words, the conjunction implies serial events, not appositive recounting of the same events -- and if we read déofla as referring to Grendel and his mother they apparently die twice. This theory also offers a possibility of whom the runes refer to as well as an explanation of Hrothgar's topic following his examination of the sword. See also n.1689-1700 below.

[1688] Scedeland properly speaking is the southern part of Sweden, in the area of Skåne, though obviously the kingdom of the Danes is here referred to. Stjerna suggests, partially on the basis of this reference, that Heorot should perhaps be located in Skåne rather than Leire on Zealand. Accordingly, he also locates the heart of the Geatish/Gautish kingdom on Öland rather than West Götland. Clark Hall, in his introduction to Stjerna's collection of essays, is rather doubtful of these 'relocations', pointing out in particular that the geographical features of Öland do not match those described in the poem (rugged, indented coast-line with steep cliffs), but the coast of West Götland, on the other hand, does have these features. [click here for map]

[1689-1700: The Hilt of the Mere-Sword] The hilt of the sword seems to have a pictorial representation of the destruction of the giants. This is typically interpreted as the destruction of the race of Cain by the Flood (see n. 107 above) and certainly there appears to be an element of that Biblical interpretation here. However, a more direct reference might be found in the 'creation hymns' of the Edda (the first three quotes are from the Elder Edda):

Völuspá en skamma 5 : 'jötnar allir / frá Ymi Komnir' ("all etins ('giants') descend from Ymir")

Vafþrúðnismál 21 : 'Ór Ymis holdi / vas jörð of sköpud, / en ór beinum björg, / himinn ór hausi / ens hrímkalda jötuns, / en ór sveita sær' ("Of Ymir's flesh the earth was shaped, the barren hills of his bones; and of his skull the sky was shaped, of his blood the briny sea")

Völuspá 3-4 : 'Ar vas alda / þars Ymir byggði, /vasa sandr né sær, / né svalar unnir; / jörð fansk æva / né upphiminn; / gap vas Ginnunga, / en gras hvergi. / Áðr Bors synir / bjöðum of ypðu, / þeir es Miðgarð / mæran skópu; / sól skein sunnan / á salar steina; / þá vas grund gróin / grœnum lauki' ("In earliest times did Ymir live: was nor sea nor land nor salty waves, neither earth was there nor upper heaven, but a gaping nothing, and green things nowhere. Was the land then lifted aloft by Bur's sons [Óthin, Vili & Vé] who made Mithgarth, the matchless earth; shone from the south the sun on dry land, on the ground then grew the greensward soft")

The Younger Edda has a clearer reference to the deeds of Bur's son: ' Bor's sons killed the giant Ymir. And as he fell, so much blood flowed from his wounds that with it they drowned all the race of frost-giants, except that one escaped with his household. Giants call him Bergelmir' (Snorri, Gylfaginning, p.5-7, [emphasis mine]).

Though there is also a biblical tradition (though largely apocryphal) of survival of giants through a certain Og: 'And Noah only was left, and they that were with him in the ark, except Og, king of Bashan, who sat down on a piece of wood under the gutter of the ark. He swore to Noah and to his sons that he would be their servant forever. What did Noah do? He bored an aperture in the ark, and he put [through it] his food daily for him, and he also was left, as it is said, "For only Og, king of Bashan remained of the remnant of the giants"' (Eliezer, 167). Og was later slain by Moses:
'And they turned and went up by the way of Bashan: and Og the king of Bashan went out against them, he, and all his people, to the battle at Edrei. And the LORD said unto Moses, Fear him not: for I have delivered him into thy hand, and all his people, and his land; and thou shalt do to him as thou didst unto Sihon king of the Amorites, which dwelt at Heshbon. So they smote him, and his sons, and all his people, until there was none left him alive: and they possessed his land' (Numbers XXI.33-5). And: 'Then we turned, and went up the way to Bashan: and Og the king of Bashan came out against us, he and all his people, to battle at Edrei. And the LORD said unto me, Fear him not: for I will deliver him, and all his people, and his land, into thy hand; and thou shalt do unto him as thou didst unto Sihon king of the Amorites, which dwelt at Heshbon. So the LORD our God delivered into our hands Og also, the king of Bashan, and all his people: and we smote him until none was left to him remaining. And we took all his cities at that time, there was not a city which we took not from them, threescore cities, all the region of Argob, the kingdom of Og in Bashan' (Deuteronomy III.1-4) and 'For only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of giants; behold, his bedstead was a bedstead of iron; is it not in Rabbath of the children of Ammon? nine cubits was the length thereof, and four cubits the breadth of it, after the cubit of a man' (Deuteronomy III.11).

Schneider (1986:170-1) and Taylor (1998d) make similar arguments. Taylor remarks (pg.130): 'If [the hilt] refers to the flood in Genesis, then we have the curious situation of pagan giants making Christian texts in pagan runic script within an orally-composed poem...the text is everybit as close to Germanic myth as it is to Christian scripture'. And further, 'the Norse account accords perfectly with the text on the hilt of the sword, and that text is inscribed with runes, the hieratic graphs which Óðin;in steals from the giants, just as he steals from them the mead of poetry...Beowulf had won the hilt and its text in battle, having killed his opponent with the sword, and he presents this story of the war between giants and gods to the king whose words recall not only the giants of memory, but Óðin who made truth and law among the gods, and who, in contests with giants, learned the wisdom of those beings who could remember the beginnings of things, creation itself....the blood of Grendel, like the blood of Ymir, destroys, for it melts the sword blade just as God's sun melts the winter ice personified in the body of the Frost-giant. There is a homeopathic relationship between Beowulf and the giant sword: both release bonds of restraint and effect a re-ordering of unnatural disorder' (pg. 132).

However, both Schneider and Taylor only point out the Norse analogues. This leaves the analysis open to the criticism that there is much evidence that both the Norse and Old English texts exhibit Christian influence; so that, in effect, one could argue that the Norse creation myths are but retellings based on the Christian interpretation of Genesis. However, I show (Slade 2003) that we find very close analogues in the Hindu-Indian accounts of creation found in the hymns of the RgVeda (originating 1200B.C. or earlier), which also connect Creation, the slaying of Giants and Divine Floods. So, whether or not there is Christian influence on the Norse Eddic accounts, there is a clear ancient Indo-European mythos of Creation, monster-killing, Divine Flood, which is ultimately the basis for Norse accounts--and which is the clearest analogue to the account in Beowulf.

[1696] scennum is most likely the grip of the sword, as it seems to be cognate with Germ. *skanjo , MHG schene (membrane), and to ON skán (crust), as well as to Modern Eng. skin . These terms could well refer to the 'skin' or covering fitted over the tang - with a semantic slippage to refer to any covering, leather or metal. See Davidson (137-138) for more discussion. Wrenn interprets this word as meaning 'thin plate of metal let into the sword-hilt, cognate with Dutch scheen "iron band"' (283). In any event it seems to refer to some part of the handle, whether the grip or guard is unclear.

[1698-9] That is: 'for whom the sword had first been wrought' (see n. 1682 above)

[1700] 'twisted-hilt' may refer to some decoration of the hilt [more to follow] 'serpent-patterned' (or 'serpent-covered') may refer also to the hilt, or it may again be referring to the blade [more to follow]

[1713] unknown king of the Danes

[1719] Schneider suggests that wynnum should be translated by 'with branches', as wynn originally referred the budding of branches in April or May

[1722] heart

[1728-30] note here that God is compared to a 'ring-giver' king.

[1742] i.e. he has never experienced things being worse

[1772] i.e. fifty years

[1775-6] i.e. 'I had no enemies under the skies'.

[1794] i.e. 'salt-and-pepper hair' or 'hair streaked with grey/white', referring to Hrothgar

[1804-5] i.e. the crow caws at the sun-rise ('joy of the sky').

[1837] i.e. an army of spear-men

[1864] ocean

[1876] lit. 'blended-hairs', perhaps blonde streaked with grey.

[1876-83: Hrothgar's thoughts on Beowulf's Departure] 'In him were both thoughts....the second stronger', i.e. Hrothgar thinks of two alternatives, but expects the second to occur, which is the source of his grief. However, what his second thought is is not entirely clear:-- This passage is typically emended to
þæt híe seoððan <ná> geséon móston
'that they would never meet again'. However is not certain. Without the interpolation, we might understand his sorrow as springing from the thought that any future encounters they might have will be formal meetings, as representatives of two separate lands. Earlier (l. 1177-8) we learn that Hrothgar wished to adopt Beowulf as his heir, but was persuaded against it--this is Hrothgar's dyrne langað 'remote longing' (often translated as 'hidden longing'). I suspect it is the necessity that Beowulf return to the Geatish lands and not remain as Hrothgar's adopted son which is ultimately the source of Hrothgar's grief. In that case, whether we interpolate 'never' in or not, Hrothgar's grief is that Beowulf cannot become his son; therefore the unemended text is here preferred.

[1885] ship

[1898] i.e. shining armour

[1903] i.e. Beowulf

[1908] sail

[1910] ship

[1912] ship

[1927] shore

[1929] Hygd is Hygelac's queen.

[1934] This passage has long been vexing to editors. There seems to be a sudden shift from an account of Hygd, Hygelac's queen to a comparison of her with an altogether different woman, the wife of Offa. The digression is generally put down to a possible complimenting of the Mercian royal house, indirectly praising Offa of Mercia [r. 757-796] through a description of his eponymous ancestor Offa of the Angles . Whitelock sees this digression as a possible indication of a late 8th century provenance of the poem, i.e. that it was composed in or for Offa's court. Grein (1862) established the presence of 'Thryth' in this passage, based largely on a 13th-century Latin work by an anonymous monk at St. Albans called Vitæ Duorum Offarum , concerning both Offa I (of the Angles) and Offa II (of the Mercia) (see Chambers - Intro, for selections & translations of relevant texts). Here Offa of Mercia has a wife name Drida, resembling 'Thryth'. In the aforementioned story, Drida is stranded on the coast of Offa's kingdom. Offa becomes enthralled by her charms, but though Drida is treated kindly, she behaves in an insulting and violent manner towards the people around her.

However, we know, for instance from inscriptions on coins of the period, that Offa of Mercia had a wife whose name is indisputably Cynethryth. It is worth noting that if one places the origin of Beowulf prior to the end of the 8th century this passage makes little sense in this context, unless the Offa passage is a later interpolation. Some editors (e.g. Wrenn) have assumed a comparison between Hygd and a nameless wife of Offa I. Eliason argues that the entire passage refers to Hygd - i.e. that there is no 'Thryth', no other woman at all. He shows that it is conceivable that Hygd was married first to Offa I, and once widowed, she later wed Hygelac. Eliason's argument is appealing, though a marriage of Offa and Hygd is mentioned in no other source.

Schücking (followed by Chambers) reads mod þryðe {ne} wæ fremu folces cwen and translates 'she [Hygd], the splendid folk-queen, did not display the arrogance of Thryth'. Klaeber assumes a lacuna in which the evil queen is mentioned between maþmgestreona and mod , to avoid the 'abrupt transition'. Sedgefield suggests that the transition would not have seemed so abrupt for an audience who was already familiar with the characters. A strong argument against taking either modþryðo or þryðo as a proper name is found in Körner, who points out that we have two close analogues in the passage found in Guthlac l.1024 and Elene l.61 modsorge wæg , and Genesis l.2238 higeþryðe wæg . And he notes further that the latter passage is, in fact, used of an excited, violent woman.

[click here for an image of 'Drida (Thryth) arrives in the land of King Offa' from MS Cotton Nero D.I]

[click here for an image of 'Drida (Thryth) reproached for her evil deeds' from MS Cotton Nero D.I]

[1942] seemingly another kenning for a pattern-welded blade. [more to follow] See Davidson, Hatto, Brady (1979) and Jones for more discussion. [click here for a close-up photo of a pattern-welded blade]

[1947] i.e. 'Offa (or the woman's father) put a stop to her maliciousness'

[1947] this may refer to Offa, king of the Continental Angles (4th century ?) and ancestor of the historical Offa of Mercia, or it may refer to 'Thryth's/Hygd's father (see n. 1934 above).

[click here for an image of 'Aliel petitioning Warmundus to become king in place of Offa' from MS Cotton Nero D.I ]

[click here for an image of 'Offa miraculously restored' from MS Cotton Nero D.I ]

[1952] Offa, king of the Continental Angles (4th century ?) and ancestor of the historical Offa of Mercia.

[1963] This line is typically emended as Þonon {Éo}mor wóc (Then Eomor arose). This emendation is based on the rather weak evidence of the Mercian genealogies, which list the sequence Garmund - Offa - Angeltheow - Eomer. But Eomer does not seem to have transcended the simple enumeration of geneaologies (except here in Beowulf, if we accept the emendation). I follow Malone and Kiernan in retaining the MS form.

[1965] Garmund is Offa I's father. He is known as Waérmund in the Mercian genealogies.

[1968] sun

[1970] i.e. Hygelac

[1971] Ongentheow is the Swedish King and father of Ohthere and Onela (see l. 62). He is also mentioned in Widsith l.31.

[1980] i.e. Hygelac

[1984] i.e. Hygd

[1987] lit. 'one who shares the same dwelling'

[2022] 'Freawaru' is the name the Beowulf -poet(s) give to Hrothgar's daughter. However, Malone (1940a, 1959a) points out that the corresponding character in the Scandinavian 'Hrolfr-cycle' of epics is named Hrút, which is much more likely considering that this name alliterates with the other names of the Scylding royal line (see Flom and Woolf [esp. Woolf 1938] on Germanic traditions of name-giving and alliteration). Malone muses that the Beowulf -poet(s) may have disliked the name Hrút, as the two OE words which have the same phonological form as hrút 'dark-coloured' and hrútán 'to snore', neither of which is an appropriate name for a princess. However, Malone finds that Hrút goes back to the Germanic base *herut-, which gives Icelandic hrútr 'ram' on the one hand, and OE heorot 'hart' on the other. Thus Hrút would most likely actually mean 'doe' in OE. The fact that Hrothgar names his hall Heorot and his daughter Hrút seems likely to have some significance... 'Freawaru' is simply an epithet which actually means something like 'lord and master'.

[2027-79: The Heathobard-Danish Feud] The Heathobards have not been conclusively identified, however the OE poem Widsith also refers to them and their feud with the Danes, ll.49-50: [Hroðgar ond Hroþulf] Ingeldes ord forbigdan, / forheowan æt Heorote Heaðobeardna þrym ('[Hrothgar and Hrothulf] bend down Ingeld's spear, at Heorot cut the Heathobards to bits')
. Ingeld seems to have been a well-known epic character, as shown by the oft-cited letter from Alcuin to the Lindisfarne monks, admonishing them not to listen to 'heathen' songs, but rather the discourses of the Christian Fathers and the Scriptures; his letter includes the famous rhetorical question: Quid enim Hinieldus cum Christo? 'What has Ingeld got to do with Christ?'. This clearly indicates that there were lays sung about Ingeld--and judging from Beowulf and Widsith --probably lays concerning the bitter feud between the Danes and the Heathobards. The basic scenario seems to be that the Danes slew Froda, Ingeld's father. Later, Hrothgar, hoping to settle the feud between the two peoples, marries his daughter to Ingeld, Froda's son. But, Beowulf suggests that the Heathobards continue the feud despite this marriage. The foreshadowing of the continuance of this feud after the marriage of 'Freawaru' to Ingeld echoes the Lay of Finn recited earlier in the poem (ll. 1065-1162). See esp. Malone (1959b) for further discussion.

Klaeber gives this summary of Saxo's narrative concerning the Heatho-bards:
'Frotho, who succeeded to the Danish throne when he was in his twelfth year, overcame and subjugated the Saxon kings Swerting and Hanef. He proved an excellent king, strong in war, generous, virtuous, and mindful of honour. Meanwhile Swerting, anxious to free his land from the rule of the Danes, treacherously resolved to put Frotho to death, but the latter forestalled and slew him, though slain by him simultaneously. Frotho was succeeded by his son Ingellus, whose soul was perverted from honour. He forsook the examples of his forefathers, and utterly enthralled himself to the lures of wanton profligacy. He married the daughter of Swerting given him by her brothers, who desired to insure themselves aginst vengeance on the part of the Danish king. When Starcatherus, the old-time guardian of Frotho's son, heard that Ingellus was perversely minded, and instead of punishing his father's murderers, bestowed upon them kindness and friendship, he was vexed with stinging wrath at so dreadful a crime. He returned from his wanderings in foreign lands, where he had been fighting, and, clad in mean garments, betook himself to the royal hall and awaited the king. In the evening Ingellus took his meal with the sons of Swerting, and enjoyed a magnificent feast. The tables had been loaded with the profusest dishes. The stern guest, soon recognized by the king, violently spurned the queen's efforts to please him, and when he saw that the slayers of Frotho were in high favour with the king, he could not forbear from attacking Ingellus' character, but poured out the whole bitterness of his reproaches on his head, and thereupon added the sollowing song: "Thou, Ingellus, buried in sin, why dost thou tarry in the task of avenging thy father? Wilt thou think tranquility of the slaughter of thy righteous sire? -- Why dost thou, sluggard, think only of feasting? Is the avenging of thy slaughtered father a little thing to thee? -- I have come from Sweden, travelling over wide lands, thinking that I should be rewarded, if only I had the joy to find the son of my beloved Frotho. -- But I sought a brave man, and I have come to a glutton, a king who is the slave of his belly and vice. --Wherefore, when the honours of kings are sung, and poets relate the victories of captains, I hide my face for shame in my mantle, sick at heart. --I would crave no greater blessing, if I might see those guilty of thy murder, O Frotho, duly punished for such a crime." Now he prevailed so well by this reproach [clothed by Saxo in seventy Latin stanzas] that Ingellus, roused by the earnest admonition of his guardian, leapt up, drew his sword, and forthwith slew the sons of Swerting' (Klaeber, 202-203: n.2024b-69a).

[2028] Froda is the King of the Heathobards and the father of Ingeld, who is here referred to. [more to follow]

[2031] a double entendre here on the subject of failed marriages....

[2045] i.e. warrior with a spear of ash-wood

[2051] This passage is usually translated 'when Withergyld lay dead', taking wiðergyld as a proper noun. Indeed, the same name is found--though not for a Bardish man--in Widsith l. 124. Klaeber (p. 195, n. 2051 b ) notes that a common noun wiðergyld is not attested elsewhere in Old English. However, it is important to realise that the corpus of Old English is relatively small, and a number of words, esp. compounds, find their only occurrence in Beowulf.

[2059] i.e. the retainer of Hrothgar's daughter Hrút ( Freawaru ) who bears the spoils of the Heothabard-Danish war.

[2061] i.e. the killer

[2072] the sun (usually thus construed - but Schneider (pg. 149ff.) believes it to refer to the evening star (Venus) - see n. 412 above)

[2076] the Geatish man who Grendel devoured, unnamed until now. The name Handscio is lit. 'hand-shoe' ("glove").

[2085] This word, glof, like its modern English descendant, is everywhere else "glove". However, here, considering its following description, it must be translated as "sack" or "bag". The unique use of glof here for "sack" and the name of the slain Geat ('Handscio' = "glove": see n. 2079 above) is suggestive, but the connexion, if any, is unclear--unless it is that Handscio's name dooms him to be stuffed into Grendel's bag (except that he is not, in fact--Grendel eats him on the spot). Like the name of the slain Geat, this mention of Grendel's glof appears here for the first time in Beowulf's recounting. It is not mentioned at the time of the incident itself.

[2094] There is a possible play on words here. The expected form (and indeed editors often emend to this) is andlean 'requital'. handlean is something like 'hand-payment'. Here, Grendel's andlean 'repayment' takes the form of his hand. This passage parallels that of l. 1543.

[2096] i.e. Grendel

[2104] i.e. Hrothgar

[2108] i.e. Hrothgar

[2140] i.e. locked in hand-to-hand combat

[2161] Heorogar is Hrothgar's elder brother, who was king before him. See n. 61.

[2164] Heoroward is Heorogar's son, who-for some reason-did not inherit the crown after his father's death, being passed over in favour of Hrothgar.

[2164] i.e. Heoroward did not inherit Heorogar's heirloom, again for reasons not given in the text.

[2172] close-comrades

[2173] i.e. Beowulf

[2177] Robinson (1964) questions whether the phrase ðéodnes dohtor, "folk-king's daughter", applies to Wealhtheow, who gave the necklace to Beowulf, rather than to Hygd, to whom Beowulf gave the necklace--who we know to be a king's daughter. The importance of this seemingly innocuous ambiguity is in establishing Wealhtheow's position as a member of the royal family of the Wulfings (see n. 611, 619 above). However, Newton (pp.122-4) offers a convincing argument that the phrase applies to Wealhtheow.

i.e. having drunk mead with his companions, and thus having sworn oaths, for which task ceremonial drinking of mead or wine was often involved

[2198] The text says simply "seven thousand", leaving the quantified object unspecified. The most likely reading is the one given, 'seven thousand hides of land'. Klaeber (p. 197, n. 2195) points out that in the OE translation of Bede (240.2), the whole of North Mercia is estimated at the same size - so the land holding would be roughly the size of a large county. See Syd Allan's "Seven Thousand Somethings" Page for more discussion .

[2199] i.e. estate, domain

[2199] i.e. both Beowulf and Hygelac ruled together, though Hygelac retained a superior position (see ll. 2201-2).

[2201] i.e. Hygelac, who retains the senior and more powerful position in his joint-rule with Beowulf

[2205] Heardred is the son of Hygelac and Hygd, and becomes King of the Geats after Hygelac's death, assisted in government by Beowulf, until he is slain. [more to follow]

[2208] The Scylfings are the Swedish royal family (thus the Swedes). Their name seems to have originally meant "men of the [rocky] shelf".

[2209] i.e. Heardred - Hereric is probably brother to Hygd.

[2214-5] dragons dwelling as guardians of treasure in barrows is another traditional Germanic theme, cp. BM MS Cotton Tiberius B I (in Minor Poems), l.26f.: Draca sceal on hlæwe, frod, frætwum wlanc ('A dragon shall (dwell) in a barrow, old and wise, proud in treasure').

[2217] See Kiernan (2009) for discussion.

[2219] Trautmann (followed by Klaeber and others) proposes waége nam "took a drinking-cup" rather than gewríþenne "wrapped round" adopted here, following Kiernan et al.'s guess at the most likely word considering the traces on the MS, the estimated length of the word and the context.

[2220] Sedgefield proposes wræc 'avenged' for the lost word; Klaeber bemáð 'concealed' (with the addition of ne 'not' to the phrase). Both of these conjectures read he as referring to the dragon, rather than to the thief. Thus Sedgefield reads 'He [the dragon] avenged that [the theft] later'; Klaeber reads 'He [the dragon] did not conceal that [the fact of the theft] later'.

[2221] i.e. the dragon

[2223] i.e. the dragon

[2224-31: The Thief and the Dragon] This entire passage is rather obscure. Typically it is forced to make sense by rather arbitrarily changing wyrmhorda cræft to wyrmhord á{br}æ{c}, reading mid instead of næs; which renders the first few lines as 'Not at all with intent did he [the thief] break open the serpent-hoard of his own intent; he [thief] who sorely harmed him [the dragon], but for dire necessity…'.

Without forcing such a reading, it is unclear to whom the pronouns he and him refer; and even if the subject of 2224 is also the subject of 2225b. But a plausible interpretation might be 'He [the dragon] was not at all in control of the craft (of keeping a) serpent-hoard to his own liking [i.e. a thief broke in and stole things]; he [the thief] who sorely harmed him [the dragon], because of dire distress…'

Tripp has a thesis that the thief, the last survivor and the dragon are all one in the same: The last survivor turns into a dragon; there is no thief other the dragon himself, and he is stealing from Beowulf (who is the one angered, not the dragon). Thus Tripp restores waége instead of næs or mid (and 'restores' a final n to wyrmhorda- ) and reads 'Not at all did he manage well the craft of the worm-hoard, (nor) to his own liking, that one [the dragon] who sorely harmed him [Beowulf]; but on account of arrogance'. Further in l. 2226, he reads þreamedlum instead of þreanedlum and þéoden instead of þéof or þéow (slave). Furthermore, in the lacuna which Kiernan has argued to be a deliberate erasure of a dittographic sentence, he posits <atolic gewrixl wearð earm>sceapen<e> 'a horrible change happened to the wretched man' (p. 52, though he omits this interpolation from his text on p.368 without omitting 'a horrible change...' from the translation on p. 369). Thus Tripp translates for ll. 2226-31 '…but on account of arrogance, a king I know not which of the sons of men, hateful (places of) sword-swings fled, in need of a hall, and there inside desperately walled up, a man sin-busy (with treasure). Right off he found out that grief in that guest-hall, fierce terror stood, but for the wretch…..a terrible change overtook the wretch [i.e. he turned into a dragon-BMS], quickly dispatched, when him the horror seized'.

Tripp's account suggests that the 'thief', the 'last survivor' and the dragon are all one in the same, positing a transformation of man-into-dragon (as in the Volsunga saga story of Siegfried & Fafnir), cf. Smithers (1961).

Klaeber's account is that: '[a] slave, a fugitive from justice, stole a costly vessel from the dragon's hoard, and upon presenting it to his master--one of Beowulf's men--obtained his pardon, 2281ff. The vessel was then sent to Beowulf himself (2404f.). In the meantime the dragon had commenced his reign of terror. According to Lawrence, "A warrior [thegn] (not a slave), having committed a grievous crime, was forced to flee the court of which he was a member, in order to escape the vengeance of the man whom he had injured, or his kinsmen. He therefore plundered the dragon's hoard, so that he might get objects of value by means of which to compose the feud. The rings were apparently used as atonement for the crime, while the cup was given to the ruler [probably Beowulf] who arranged the settlement" But why should that person be called a "captive", as Lawrence translates haeft?' (Klaeber, 208 n.2223).

In my translation given here: 'And there within raged, a man haunted by guilt, immediately watched over, then against the stranger stood horror and terror. Yet, the wicked one was found out by calamity', the sense is rather obscure and one wonders whether the text itself has become corrupted here (the matter is complicated by the damage to the MS at this point). Is the man haunted by guilt, raging inside the barrow the thief? Or is it the dragon? Who is watching over what? And who is the wicked one (perhaps, to adopt Kiernan's translation, it is 'crime' rather than 'wicked one')? The entire episode with the dragon evidences an even greater lack of a serial narrative than other parts of the poem, and it is difficult to determine where these particular lines fit in the sequence of events. One possible interpretation here is '[the thief who had fled the hateful blows] raged inside the barrow, haunted by guilt [for what? a killing perhaps, for which he needs make wergild payment?]. He looked round the barrow, (and seeing the sleeping dragon) was transfixed [stood? was filled with?] with terror and horror. Yet the wicked one [the dragon] still met with calamity (as the thief overcame his momentary fear and stole treasure from him)'. Another possibility is ' [The man-turned-dragon] raged inside the barrow, haunted by guilt [for his transformation? for the death of his kinsmen?], then at once took up watching over the hoard. In the stranger [the thief] he inspired terror and horror (though he was asleep). Yet he still met with calamity (had treasure stolen)'. Both highly speculative, which is why the actual translation given is more literal, if opaque.

[2240-1] Sedgefield (followed by Klaeber), emending yldan to ylcan, reads 'expected the same fate'.

Tripp translates as '...hoped to postpone that much [ yldan ], that he for a little while longer (reading long as leng ) these treasures might enjoy'.

[2248-9] Tripp reads the MS text very differently, as Héahþrymm brúce nú, baéh ðone maéstan, eorla aéhte - translating 'The great power I now enjoy, the greatest crown, the precious-terror of earls'.

[2264] lyre, harp

[2272] dragon

[2276] usually restored as swíðe ondraédað 'greatly dread' - but see n. 2276 to the MS, in which Kiernan et al. argue that this is an impossible reading.

[2281] presumably the thief - though Tripp interprets this as 'one [i.e. Beowulf] was angered', adopting a passive interpretation.

[2282] Tripp interprets this as '(and) another courageously). Thus 2281-3 together he reads as '...until one (man) [Beowulf] got angry; (and) another [Wiglaf] courageously to his lord carried a plated cup'.

[2284] Tripp interprets this 'then' as 'it was then' rather than the simple serial connective 'then' in the translation given here.

[2289a] stonc is variously interpreted as from stincan 'to move quickly [along the stone]' (related to modern Swedish dialectal stinka 'move suddenly'); as an otherwise unknown sense of stincan 'to emit an odour' as 'to detect an odour, i.e. "sniff [along the stone]"' (that is, the dragon takes up the scent of the thief). Tripp interprets similarly to the translation given here as 'rose up like smoke [along the stone]'.

[2289b-90a] i.e. the dragon ; though Tripp interprets this as 'brave-hearted' and takes it to refer to Beowulf

[2290b-91] Tripp interprets this as 'he stepped forth with invisible craft with his dragon-head close', "dragon-head" Tripp seems to take to refer to some sort of helmet which confers invisibility, rather like the Tarnhelm of the Niebelungenlied.

[2292-2294a] This passage presumably refers to the thief, but I suspect this to be an ironic statement, i.e. 'provided that....', but the thief is not so provided.

[2294b] i.e. the dragon; though Tripp interprets this and some other instances of hordweard as referring to Beowulf, pointing out, reasonably enough, that kings are guardians of treasure as well as dragons.

[2312] i.e. Beowulf

[2336] i.e. the dragon

[2337] i.e. plotted revenge

[2338] shield

[2340] shield

[2342] The MS here reads þend daga . The usual emendment is {l}aén-daga (following Grundtvig) - 'loaned days', 'transitory days'. The emendment here follows Kiernan et. al (see also n. 2342 of MS text).

[2345] Seemingly purposefully ambiguious between Beowulf and the dragon - as they both have long guarded 'hoards', Beowulf for the good of his people, the dragon out of greed.

[2359] blood

[2361] sundnytte dréah is often translated as 'achieved a feature of swimming', taking sund as 'swimming'. As Robinson (1974-:93, n. 18) points out, 'in every other nominal compound with sund- attested in the poetic corpus ( sundbuend, sundgebland, sundhelm, sundhengest, sundplega, sundreced, sundwudu ) the first element means "sea" [or "water" or the like-BMS] and not "swimming". Further, in the other two Old English nominal compounds with nytt , the first element is in both cases a noun denoting the location of the act, not an abstract noun of means: cyricnytt [church-service], weoroldnytt [worldly use or profit]'. For further discussion see Wentersdorf (1971), Robinson (1974) and n. 550-580 above.

[2364] The Hetware (Lat. [H]uarii ) were a Frankish tribe on the Lower Rhine, closely associated with the West Frisians in the Merovingian empire.

[2368] Again, oferswam is generally translated as 'swam over' - but the basic OE sense of oferswimman is simply 'to cross over a body of water', the means not being specified. See Wentersdorf (1971), Robinson (1974), Earl (1979) for further discussion and see above n. 2361 and b. 550-580.

[2375] i.e. Beowulf

[2378-80a] Beowulf acts as Headred's Regent until Headred comes of age.

[2381] Ohthere is the son of the Swedish King Ongentheow. His sons are Eadgils and Eanmund - who are apparently exiled by their uncle King Onela for a failed attempt at rebellion. Headred , now King of the Geats, harbours them; for which act Onela invades Geatland and slays Headred, after which Beowulf ascends to the throne.

[2382] i.e Onela, king of the Swedes

[2385] i.e. to Headred

[2388] i.e. Onela, king of the Swedes

[2391] It is not clear which king is referred to here. Headred (in commemoration?), Onela (for allowing Beowulf to rule the Geats, if indeed Onela 'allowed' any such event) or Beowulf himself.

[2396] i.e. Eadgils

[2397] i.e. Onela, the Swedish king

[2406] presumably the 'treasure cup' previous mentioned as stolen from the dragon's hoard

[2410] i.e. the dragon's lair

[2413] i.e. tossing waves (a vivid metaphor)

[2431] i.e. to protect and to look after, cf. 'to have and to hold' of common wedding ceremony

[2436-72: The Slaying of Herebeald by his brother Haethcyn] Beowulf compares the accidental killing of Herebeald by his brother Haethcyn to a man who son has been hanged. The main term of comparison is the unavengability of the deaths, for wergeld or revenge was not possible in the case of a 'legal' execution. (See Harris, esp. 50ff., for discussion of an analogue in Egil's Saga ).

The story may find its origin in the tale of Baldr and Hod (as was first noted by Detter), in which the god Baldr is accidentally shot by his blind brother Hod, as told in the Gylfaginning of the Younger Edda: '...Baldr the Good dreamed great dreams boding peril to his life. And when he told the Æsir [the gods] the dreams they took counsel together and it was decided to request immunity for Baldr from all kinds of danger, and Frigg received solemn promises so that Baldr should not be harmed by fire and water, iron and all kinds of metal, stones, the earth, trees, diseases, the animals, the birds, poison, snakes. And when this was done and confirmed, then it became an entertainment for Baldr and the Æsir that he should stand up at assemblies and all the others should either shoot at him or strike at him or throw stones at him. But whatever they did he was unharmed, and they all thought this a great glory. But when Loki Laufeyiarson saw this he was not pleased that Baldr was unharmed.... [after Loki finds out that all of things, only the mistletoe has not sworn the oath not to harm Baldr, as it was considered too young]... Loki took the mistletoe and plucked it and went to the assembly. Hod was standing at the edge of the circle of people, for he was blind. Then Loki said to him: "Why are you not shooting at Baldr?" He replied: "Because I cannot see where Baldr is, and secondly because I have no weapon. Then said Loki: "Follow other people's example and do Baldr honour like other people. I will direct you to where he is standing. Shoot at him with this stick." Hod took the mistletoe and shot at Baldr at Loki's direction. The missile flew through him and he fell dead to the ground, and this was the unluckiest deed ever done among gods and men....But no one could take vengeance, it was a place of such sanctuary'.

Harris (56ff) also points that Odin stands in relation to Hrethel, as well as Herebeald/Baldr, Heathcyn/Hod. For more discussion see esp. Dronke (1968) and Harris.

Dumézil (Gods, ch. 3 -  'Drama of the World') points out the close thematic/symbolic resemblance between this myth of Baldr & Hod and the staging of the Sanskrit Mahabharata: '...these cosmic events [are] transparently preserved in the plot of the Indian epic, which reveals itself as parallel to the entirety of Scandinavian mythology' (pg. 62). Dumézil equates the blind Hoder with the blind king Dhrtarashtra, and Loki with the demonic Kauruva prince Duryodhana, and Baldr with the Pandava prince Yudhisthira -- the Mahabharata war is precipitated by a rigged dice-game between the Kauruvas and Panduvas. 'The scene of the fatal game in the two stories opens a long, dark period: the whole course of the present world in Scandinavia, in India only the time that Yudhisthira and his brothers are in exile. In India the time is reduced to a few years by the requirements of epic limits, but in the original myth it also must have been the final part of a cosmic age, since the one responsible, the demonic Duryodhana, is precisely the incarnation of the evil spirit of the present age. This period of waiting ends on both sides with the great battle where all the representatives of Evil and most of the representatives of Good are liquidated' (ibid., pp. 63-4).

[2439] i.e. his elder brother

[2452] i.e. death

[2454] i.e. heir

[2462] i.e. a man on account of his dead son

[2463] protector - i.e. Hrethel

[2466] because one son has killed another there can be neither vengeance nor wergild

[2467] i.e. Haethcyn

[2468] i.e. Hrethel had little love for Haethcyn after his accidental kiling of his brother Herebeald

[2478] lit. 'ruined hill', the hill in Geatland near where Ohthere and Onela renewed their attack on the Geats after the death of Hrethel, leading to the war in which Haethcyn is killed

[2486] i.e. King Ongentheow

[2487] lit. 'Boar', a Geatish warrior, who slays the Swedish king Ongentheow; Eofor is son of Wonred and brother of Wulf; rewarded for this act by Hygelac with handsome gifts, and given the hand of the King's only daughter.

[2488] i.e. King Ongentheow

[2489] i.e. 'mortally wounded'

[2491] i.e. Hygelac

[2495] the Gepidae, an East Germanic tribe related to the Goths. Wrenn reports (311): 'originally living near the Vistula delta, they moved in the third century into Hungary where their separate kingdom was ended by the Lombards in the sixth century. Here they are still thought of as a Baltic people'. Cf Widsith 60.

[2497] i.e. Beowulf is the best warrior available from any of the tribes

[2502] lit. 'Day-Raven' - a warrior slain by Beowulf in Hygelac attack on Frisia, likely the very man who slew Hygelac

[2503] i.e. Frisians

[2504-5] The 'breast-adorning ornament' is most likely the 'Brisinga-like' necklace originally given Beowulf by Wealhtheow, later given by him to Hygd, who seems to have given it to Hygelac.

[2506] most likely Daeghrefn, see n. 2502 above

[2509] body

[2524] usually emended to {o}reðes ond {a}ttres 'breath and poison'. Tripp suggests that 'a rough breathering on r and an ambiguous h point to further word play of a portmanteau kind on réðe / oreð, "fierce/breath", and hát / at(to)r, "hot/hate/poison", which as it seems provided the unconscious inspiration for the standard emendation in the first place. Editors frequently pick half a pun' (169). This is difficult to translate, obviously. See also Kiernan (1986) on (H)unferth.

[2529] i.e. Beowulf is finished with boasting and ready to combat the dragon

[2540] i.e. mail-shirt

[2565] ungléaw,
lit. 'unsharp, unkeen, imprudent'
is usually translated as "sharp", following Klaeber's suggestion of a dialectal intensifier an, on or emended to Bugge's un{s}l{á}w "not blunt". However, the outcome of the fight (i.e. the breaking of the sword) suggests that the transparent reading of "imprudent, unskilful" is correct. See Kiernan 206ff.

[2603] his name is lit. 'War-Remains'. A kinsman to Beowulf.

[2603] his name is lit. 'War-Stone'. Father of Wiglaf. Weohstan fought for King Onela of the Swedes against the Geats and also took part in the civil war of the Swedes, in which he slew Eanmund and was given Eanmund's weapons by Onela in reward.

[2604] Wiglaf is called 'man of the Scylfings' either because his father, Weohstan, was originally a Swede, or at least he fought for Onela, slaying his rebellious nephew Eanmund, who was supported by the Geats.

[2605] lit. 'Elf-Army', a kinsman of Wiglaf, mentioned here for no apparent reason. Woolf (English Studies 72, pp. 7ff.) and Collinder (p. x) think that AElfhere is Beowulf's true name and that 'Beowulf' is a nick-name he later acquired.

[2607] i.e. Beowulf

[2609] i.e. legal rights in the people's 'common land'

[2613] i.e. of Eanmund

[2620] i.e. though Weohstan slew Eanmund, son of Ohthere, Onela's brother.

[2621] i.e. Weohstan, Wiglaf's father

[2629] the phrase mægenes láf may also allude to a 'sword' (lit. 'heirloom' (láf)) 'of power', i.e. 'mighty inheritance' [='powerful sword'].

[2660] i.e. Beowulf and Wiglaf

[2661] usually emended to beadu-scrúd 'battle-shroud'; Kiernan et al. suggest that byrduscrúd is "birth-shroud" (which may mean "ancestral garb", i.e. perhaps clothing of a certain colour, or adorned with icons associated with a particular family). In any event, byrduscrúd is some sort of cloth garment worn over top of armour.

[2663] full helmet

[2681] this is the name of Beowulf's sword [more to be added]

[2688] i.e. tested in combat. Often emended to wund{r}um heard "wondrously hard" following Thorpe. Those who do not accept the emendation seem to think that the Germanic people believed that a sword gained in strength from blood and wounds. However, a more straight-forward explanation is that the phrase wundum heard 'wound-hardened' simply refers to weapons which have been used in combat, for a weapon with an inherent flaw would be most likely to fail when first put to vigorous use.

[2691] i.e. Beowulf has moved such that the dragon is able to reach his neck with his teeth.

[2700] i.e. the dragon

A seax (or sax ) generally refers to a short, one-edged sword or dagger. It can also refer to a long one-edged weapon, but examples of these are rare in England. The context also suggests that Beowulf's seax is dagger-sized since he can wear it on (in?) his byrnie. See Davidson, Brady (1979), Bone, Gale for further discussion of seaxas.

[2706] Frantzen compares the hapax-legomenon 'forwritan' to the 'writan' of l. 1690 (the writing on the hilt of the Mere-Sword), noting that both share a meaning of "to cut, to carve". Forwritan however means "to cut through" perhaps in the sense of "intepret", to "make meaning present" (Frantzen 344). Frantzen suggests that both acts of 'engraving', one past, one present, refer to origins and ends (as the writing on the Mere-Sword tells for (or by) whom it was first made). See further Franzten 342ff. Tripp also comments on the use of forwritan : '"forwrote", taken as "cut in two", not only in the sense of "cut" or "incise" for writing with runes, but also in the more immediate magical sense connected with a verb like forscrifan "to doom, bewitch", that is, "undo with magic writing" [see also beadurúne
'battle-runes' ("secret words of strife"??) l. 500 above-BMS]. Beowulf "cuts runes" with his "death knife" upon the worm, thus severing his life from his revenant body and, as we shall see, determining the prediction about the nation's future' (259-60).

[2724] This action seems to confirm the notion of a heregrimm as a full-helmet as Wiglaf removes it (so that Beowulf can breathe more easily?).

[2732] i.e. heir

[2736] swords

[2755] i.e. ring-mail

[2801-2] i.e. Wiglaf must look after the needs of the Geats now

[2804] referring to Beowulf's cremation

[2810] presumably the neck-ring Wealhtheow gave to Beowulf, which he subsequently gave to Hygd who apparently gave it to Hygelac, who lost it in Frisia. But Beowulf should be presumed to have recovered it (see ll. 2504-5 'In no way the precious ornaments to the Frisian king, breast-adorning, was he [Daeghrefn] able to bring' (because Beowulf slew him with his own hands and recovered Hygelac's treasures'). This mysterious, but important, necklace is here passed on to Wiglaf, at least under the most straightforward understanding of the events of the narrative.

[2816] lit. 'measure-shaft', Schneider connects this with the 'world-column' used to prop up the heavens by the Metod, the Germanic Measurer of Fate

[2823] i.e. Wiglaf

[2830] swords

[2845] i.e. Beowulf and the dragon

[2848] Tripp (257) points out a possible pun between tréow 'trust, pledge, troth' and tréow 'tree', as the cowardly retainers have been hiding in the trees.

[2856] i.e. no-one could

[2857] leader

[2878, 80, 81] Tripp (259) notes a possible word-play thread starting with gúðgewaédu 'battle-clothes' (l. 2872), lífwraðe lýtle 'too small life-covering' (l. 2880), even further to a possible pun on saémra 'weaker' and seamere 'tailor'.

[2858] i.e. bring a man back to life (turn him round on the path from life to death once God/Fate has decreed otherwise); usually translated as 'nor the Ruler's (will) reverse a bit ( wiht )' - here wiht may carry a double meaning between 'a man, a creature' and 'a bit' (see Tripp 258).

[2883] head

[2910] i.e. death-wake next to the head

[2911] i.e. Beowulf and the dragon

[2922] the king of the Franks ; Schücking emends to mere-wícingas 'sea-pirates, vikings'.

[2937] sinherge is usually rendered 'with a vast army'; Tripp (277-8 & personal communication) recommends 'at the huge (sacred) grove', taking herge as a variant of hearg, hearh 'temple, altar, santuary, idol; grove' (Clark Hall). Compare with The Wife's Lament (in the Exeter Book), l. 15 'het mec hlaford min / herheard niman' ("my lord commanded me be taken to the grove/sanctuary"). See also n. 2941-2 below.

[2941] gétan here could related to agétan 'to waste, destroy'; or a form of géotan 'to pour, shed, gush', here meaning 'to cause to shed blood', or 'to sacrifice', as I translate it; or it could be an otherwise unattested verb with the meaning 'to cut, to pierce', judging from the context (cf. Christ and Satan 508b-9a (in Minor Poems ): 'beornas sticodon, / garum on galdum' ["the warriors pierced, with spears on the gallows(cross)"].

[2941-2: The Sacrifice in the Forest] As North (142), Tripp (277) and others point out, the fact that the Geats are in a forest called 'Raven's Wood', and especially if we take sinherge as 'at the huge sacred grove', then this passage may well allude to sacrifices to Woden.

Cf. Hávamál 138-9: 'Veitk at ek hekk / vingameiði á / nætr allar níu, / geiri undaðr / ok gefinn Oðni, / sjalfr sjalfum mér. / (á þeim meiði, / es manngi veit, / hvers af rótum rinnr). / Víd hleifi mik sœldu / névíd hornigi; nýstak niðr, / namk upp rúnar, / œpandi nam, fellk aptr þaðan.' ("I knew that I hanged on the wind-tossed tree all of nights nine, wounded by spear, bespoken to Óthin, bespoken myself to myself, (upon that tree of which none telleth from what roots it doth rise). Neither horn they upheld nor handed me bread; I looked below me-- aloud I cried-- caught up the runes, caught them up wailing, thence to the ground fell again").

Óthin sacrifices himself in order to discover the runes and become possessed of secret wisdom; he does so by hanging himself on the World-Ash and piercing himself with his spear. This is why the world-tree is known as Yggdrasil , which is lit. 'Ygg's ("the terrible one's=Óthin's") Horse ("the gallows")'. Sacrifices to Woden may have taken a similar form.

[2966] lit. 'Wolf' - the brother of Eofor, and son of Wonred, a Geatish warrior who fights against King Ongentheow of the Swedes

[2974] i.e. he = Ongentheow; him = Wulf

[2978] i.e. Eofor (Wulf's brother)

[2982] i.e. a mortal-blow

[2983] i.e. Wulf

[2990] i.e. Hygelac, who pledges treasures to Wulf

[3005] possible a play on words, as ealdorléasn e means both 'lifeless' and 'without a lord'

[3007] rather opaque in this context; often emended to scild-wigan 'shield-warriors' following Hoops; however, it may well refer, as the audience would have known, to a time when Beowulf ruled over or protected or in some way had close relations with the Scyldings, which would only be natural considering his exploits at Heorot and Hrothgar's love for him.

[3053-75: The Curse on the Hoard] Usually understood as an ancient curse placed on the treasure. Tripp (293ff.), however, interprets it as a 'curse' or prohibition placed on the hoard by the (contemporary) Geats themselves, after Beowulf's death.

[3064] i.e. no man can know...

[3076-7] translated a number of ways: 'yet by no means too eagerly had he [Beowulf] before gazed upon its owner's [dragon's] treasure abounding in gold' (Wrenn); 'he [Beowulf] was not avaricious: he would have preferred the favour of the dragon' (Chambers); 'by no means had Beowulf with gold-greedy eyes before [his death] surveyed the owner's [the dragon's] inheritance more accurately' (Cosijn); 'no liberality at all had he [the 'man-dragon'] readily, (nor) kindness befitting a king, ever shown' (Tripp); 'he [Beowulf] would rather not have seen [the dragon's] treasure before [he died]' (Schücking); 'he had never looked more clearly upon gold ornaments [emending goldhwæte to goldæhte or goldfrætwe ], their owner's [i.e. the dragon's] delight'; 'not before had he (Beowulf) beheld more fully the gold-abounding grace of the Lord' (Chambers again); 'by no means more readily had he [Beowulf] observed the owner's [the dragon's] liberality, by no means soon had he observed the owner's bounty [i.e. Beowulf was no more aware of the fatal spell (the 'curse') than he was aware of the dragon's generosity]' (Malone 1930), and others.

[3086] i.e. Beowulf

[3102] while he could still enjoy the things of this world, i.e. while he was still alive

[3139ff: Beowulf's Funeral] Beowulf is placed upon a pyre and cremated, like Hnaef (l.1113ff. above). In the 10th-c. account of the Arab traveller, Ibn Fadlan, of the Rus (Swedish Vikings), the following account is given of a Viking funeral of chief man:

'...Then the people came up with tinder and other fire wood, each holding a piece of wood of which he had set fire to an end and which he put into the pile of wood beneath the ship [in which the dead man lay]. Thereupon the flames engulfed the wood, then the ship, the pavilion, the man, the girl, and everything in the ship. A powerful, fearful wind began to blow so that the flames became fiercer and more intense...
One of the Rus was at my side and I heard him speak to the interpreter, who was present. I asked the interpreter what he said. He answered, "He said, 'You Arabs are fools'." "Why?" I asked him. He said, "You take the people who are most dear to you and whom you honor most and you put them in the ground where insects and worms devour them. We burn him in a moment, so that he enters Paradise at once". Then he began to laugh uproariously. When I asked why he laughed, he said, "His lord, for lord of him, has sent the wind to bring him away in an hour". And actually an hour had not passed before the ship, the wood, the girl, and her master were nothing but cinders and ashes.' (Ibn Fadlan, S91-92; translated in Smyser 100-1)


[3152ff. - Prescience of Germanic Women] Note here that the dismal prophecies are repeated by a woman leading the funeral dirge: predicting a the future of killings & captivity for the Geats now that their lord is dead. That this augury/dirge of evil to come is assigned to a woman seems significant in light of Tacitus's description of the position of Germanic women: 'Inesse quin etiam sanctum aliquid et providum putant, nec aut consilia earum aspernantur aut responsa negligunt.' ["They [=the Germani] even believe that the [female] sex has a certain sanctity and prescience, and they do not despise their counsels, or make light of their answers."] (Germania VIII)

[3153] 'cruelly-bound', following a suggestion from Kiernan et al. (glossary), i.e. bunden-heard ('bound-hard'). 'Cruelly bound' may refer metaphorically to the woman's sorrow over Beowulf's death, or to her future captivity at the hands of foreign invaders (cp. ll.3020-1), or even to some sort of ritual sacrifice, as described in Ibn Fadlan's account (see Smyser).
Another possible reading of bundenheorde, and the standard interpretation, is: 'with hair bound up (as worn by an old woman??)'.


[3180-4 - Beowulf's Epitaph] The intention of the closing of the poem is much debated. The question largely turns on the last word of the poem, lofgeornost, 'most eager for fame', 'most desirious of honour', 'most eager for renown'. The two superlatives which precede--mildust, 'most generous', 'kindest', &c. and monðwærust, 'most gracious', 'gentlest', &c.--are clearly positive. E.G. Stanley ('Hæthenra Hyht', pg. 147) notes that the first two superlative terms are paralleled in a description of Christ, in the Blickling Homily for Palm Sunday (Blickling VI.79: Þis wæs geworden, forþon þæt se witedom wære gefylled þe ær gecweden wæs, Secggaþ Siones dohtrum þæt heora cining cymeþ, milde 7 monþwære, 7 biþ sittende ofor eoselan folan þæs nytenes.-emphasis added).

However, outside of Beo., the final word, lofgeorn(ost), occurs only in negative contexts, as in Æfric's Sermo de Memoria Sanctorum (in Ælfric's Lives of Saints W.W. Skeat, ed. EETS 82 (1885), pp.356-58--cited in Stanley, 'Hæthenra Hyht', pp.148-9): Se seofoða leahter is iactantia gecweden, þæt is ydel gylp on ængliscre spræce, þæt is ðonne se man bið lofgeorn and mid licetunge færð, and deð for gylpe gif he hwæt dælan wile; and bið þonne se hlisa his edlean ðære dæde, and his wite andbidað on ðære toweardan worulde (emphasis added).

In Old Norse, however, lofgjarn, the direct cognate of Old English lofgeorn, has an unambiguously positive sense, as in the eddic fragment Sigurðarkviða en meiri 2, a hymn praising Sigurthr's brave passing through encircling flames:

Sigurðarkviða en meiri (stanza 2)
Sigurðr Grana
sverði keyrði
eldr sloknaði
fyr öðlingi,
logi allr lægðisk
fyr lofgjörnum, bliku reiði,
es Reginn átti.
[= His [steed] Grani, Sigurth spurred on with sword, / the fire was quenched before the madly impatient man / the flames all abated before the warrior most eager for fame / --war-gear glittered-- which was given by Reginn]

Roberta Frank also points out other semantically-cognate Old Norse phrases, likewise used in a positive sense, such as 'tírargjarn "eager for glory" (159, 150, 82) occurs in the final stanza of Hallfrethr's praise poem on Óláfr Tryggvason, while fremðargjarn "eager for glory" (228, 216, 113) occurs in the final stanza of Sighvatr's Víkingarvísur in praise of Óláfr Haraldsson. The earliest example...is in the Ynglingatal, where a Swedish king -- Beowulf's Eadgils in fact -- is extolled as dáðgjarn 'eager for great deeds' (12, 11, 7)....in a similar way, the word oferhygd, which in OE usually means blamable pride or mortal sin, in ON designates a desirable quality (ofrhugi "a daring man"; ofrhugr "high courage")' (Frank, 'Skaldic Verse', pg.135 & pg.135n55).