The Original Beowulf
Pictured below: The original Beowulf manuscript, housed in the British Museum, is believed to be written in the
tenth century. The epic poem, with author is unknown, is thought to have been orally composed in the eighth century.
So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by
and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns.
There was Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes,
a wrecker of mead-benches, rampaging among foes.
This terror of the hall-troops had come far.
A founding to start with,
he would flourish later on
as his powers waxed and his worth was proved.
In the end each clan on the outlying coasts
beyond the whale-road had to yield to him
and begin to pay tribute. That was one good king.
Afterwards a boy-child was born to Shield,
a cub in the yard, a comfort sent
by God to that nation. He knew what they had tholed,
the long times and troubles they’d come through
without a leader;
*Translation from Heaney, Seamus. Beowulf: A New Verse Translation. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000.
Character Key (with Old English pronunciations)
Scyld (shild): Sails mysteriously from the sea as a child. Later, as a warrior, captures mead-halls of enemies. Becomes king and founds the Danish line. Buried at sea. Is the great-grandfather of Hrothgar.
Hrothgar (roth-gar) [also called son of Healfdene]: Great-grandson of Scyld. King of the Danes when Grendel attacks. Builds the hall Heorot.
Hart (hay-oh-rot) [also called Heorot]: Grand mead-hall built by Hrothgar. Named for the stag to symbolize kinship.
Grendel (gren-dell): Somewhat human, yet regarded as a monster. Comes from the wilderness and is upset by the sounds of the mead-hall Heorot. Bears God’s curse on the descendents of Cain. Attacks mead-hall at night.
Hygelac (hee-lack): King of the Geats; also Beowulf's uncle. Sends his men to help the Danes. Rewards Beowulf greatly after hearing his successes.
Beowulf (bay-ah-wolf): Nephew and warrior of king Hygelac. Later becomes King of the Geats. Hero of the epic poem. Battles Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and a dragon.
Wulfgar (wolf-gar): King Hrothgar's warrior. Greets Beowulf and the other Geats to the land of the Danes.
Unferth (oon-fairth) [also called son of Ecglaf]: The peacebreaker; a thane of Hrothgar's. Taunts Beowulf about losing a swimming contest with Breca (brek-aye), Beowulf’s childhood friend. Later gives Beowulf a sword.
Wealhtheow (way-ick-thay-ow): Danish queen; Hrothgar's wife and the mother of his two sons. Name means "treasure bearer." Presents necklaces and mead-cups at feast.
Grendel's mother: Mother, likely a sea nymph-like monster, of the man-monster Grendel. Seeks vengeance for the death of her son.
Aeschere (ash-her-aye): An important official to Hrothgar. Killed by Grendel’s mother.
Hrunting (hruin-ting): Unferth’s sword given to Beowulf to kill Grendel’s mother. Is unable to cut her, however.
The Dragon: Third monster that Beowulf must defeat. After a Geat slave steals from his treasure, the dragon goes on a rampage.
Wiglaf (vig-laf): Beowulf's kinsman; the only thane who stays with Beowulf during the dragon battle.
Geatish Royal Family Tree Danish Royal Family Tree
Beowulf Vocabulary Words
(that you need to understand in order to comprehend the poem)
The Danish Court
Danes (l. 2)
mead-hall (l. 4)
scop [“shop”] (l. 60)
Cain (l. 65)
bowers (l. 101)
The Coming of Beowulf
thane (l. 131)
Geats [“yowts”] (l. 131)
stalwart (l. 142)
mail (l. 160)
Beowulf’s Welcome at Hrothgar’s Court
byrny / byrnies (l. 240)
boon (l. 277)
Unferth Taunts Beowulf
combers (l. 418)
cumber (l. 437)
nicors (l. 443)
harried (l. 460)
Beowolf Slays Grendel
ravager (l. 535)
sinews (l. 631)
The Joy of the Danes
mere (l. 667)
helm (l. 746)
The Troll-Wife Avenges Grendel
bolsters (l. 798)
hag (l. 814)
fen (l. 828)
portent (l. 876)
lair (l. 924)
bereft (l. 1065)
Beowulf Slays the Troll-Wife
hilt (l. 1095)
Beowulf Returns to Heorot
stripling (l. 1146)
The Parting of Beowulf and Hrothgar
sage (l. 1271)
Beowulf Returns to Geatland
bulwark (l. 1337)
The Fire-Dragon and the Treasure
heath (l. 1376)
flagon (l. 1380)
pilferer (l. 1382)
beaker (l. 1387)
sallied (l. 1411)
Beowulf and Wiglaf Slay the Dragon
twain (l. 1501)
smote (l. 1544)
succoring (l. 1555)
buckler (l. 1569)
pyre (l. 1722)
laggards (l. 1726)
craven (l. 1728)
besmirched (l. 1761)
The Messenger Foretells the Doom of the Geats
bier (l. 1825)
barb (l. 1837)
hied (l. 1840)
bale (l. 1860)
dirge (l. 1888)