Beowulf: Endnotes

{0a} Not, of course, Beowulf the Great, hero of the epic.

{0b} Kenning for king or chieftain of a comitatus: he breaks off
gold from the spiral rings -- often worn on the arm -- and so
rewards his followers.

{1a} That is, "The Hart," or "Stag," so called from decorations in
the gables that resembled the antlers of a deer. This hall has been
carefully described in a pamphlet by Heyne. The building was
rectangular, with opposite doors -- mainly west and east -- and a
hearth in the middle of th single room. A row of pillars down each
side, at some distance from the walls, made a space which was raised
a little above the main floor, and was furnished with two rows of
seats. On one side, usually south, was the high-seat midway between
the doors. Opposite this, on the other raised space, was another
seat of honor. At the banquet soon to be described, Hrothgar sat in
the south or chief high-seat, and Beowulf opposite to him. The scene
for a flying (see below, v.499) was thus very effectively set.
Planks on trestles -- the "board" of later English literature --
formed the tables just in front of the long rows of seats, and were
taken away after banquets, when the retainers were ready to stretch
themselves out for sleep on the benches.

{1b} Fire was the usual end of these halls. See v. 781 below. One
thinks of the splendid scene at the end of the Nibelungen, of the
Nialssaga, of Saxo's story of Amlethus, and many a less famous

{1c} It is to be supposed that all hearers of this poem knew how
Hrothgar's hall was burnt, -- perhaps in the unsuccessful attack
made on him by his son-in-law Ingeld.

{1d} A skilled minstrel. The Danes are heathens, as one is told
presently; but this lay of beginnings is taken from Genesis.

{1e} A disturber of the border, one who sallies from his haunt in
the fen and roams over the country near by. This probably pagan
nuisance is now furnished with biblical credentials as a fiend or
devil in good standing, so that all Christian Englishmen might read
about him. "Grendel" may mean one who grinds and crushes.

{1f} Cain's.

{1g} Giants.

{2a} The smaller buildings within the main enclosure but separate
from the hall.

{2b} Grendel.

{2c} "Sorcerers-of-hell."

{2d} Hrothgar, who is the "Scyldings'-friend" of 170.

{2e} That is, in formal or prescribed phrase.

{3a} Ship.

{3b} That is, since Beowulf selected his ship and led his men to the

{3c} One of the auxiliary names of the Geats.

{3d} Or: Not thus openly ever came warriors hither; yet...

{4a} Hrothgar.

{4b} Beowulf's helmet has several boar-images on it; he is the "man
of war"; and the boar-helmet guards him as typical representative of
the marching party as a whole. The boar was sacred to Freyr, who was
the favorite god of the Germanic tribes about the North Sea and the
Baltic. Rude representations of warriors show the boar on the helmet
quite as large as the helmet itself.

{5a} Either merely paved, the strata via of the Romans, or else
thought of as a sort of mosaic, an extravagant touch like the
reckless waste of gold on the walls and roofs of a hall.

{6a} The nicor, says Bugge, is a hippopotamus; a walrus, says Ten
Brink. But that water-goblin who covers the space from Old Nick of
jest to the Neckan and Nix of poetry and tale, is all one needs, and
Nicor is a good name for him.

{6b} His own people, the Geats.

{6c} That is, cover it as with a face-cloth. "There will be no need
of funeral rites."

{6d} Personification of Battle.

{6e} The Germanic Vulcan.

{6f} This mighty power, whom the Christian poet can still revere,
has here the general force of "Destiny."

{7a} There is no irrelevance here. Hrothgar sees in Beowulf's
mission a heritage of duty, a return of the good offices which the
Danish king rendered to Beowulf's father in time of dire need.

{7b} Money, for wergild, or man-price.

{7c} Ecgtheow, Beowulf's sire.

{8a} "Began the fight."

{8b} Breca.

{9a} Murder.

{10a} Beowulf, -- the "one."

{11a} That is, he was a "lost soul," doomed to hell.

{12a} Kenning for Beowulf.

{13a} "Guarded the treasure."

{13b} Sc. Heremod.

{13c} The singer has sung his lays, and the epic resumes its story.
The time-relations are not altogether good in this long passage
which describes the rejoicings of "the day after"; but the present
shift from the riders on the road to the folk at the hall is not
very violent, and is of a piece with the general style.

{14a} Unferth, Beowulf's sometime opponent in the flyting.

{15a} There is no horrible inconsistency here such as the critics
strive and cry about. In spite of the ruin that Grendel and Beowulf
had made within the hall, the framework and roof held firm, and
swift repairs made the interior habitable. Tapestries were hung on
the walls, and willing hands prepared the banquet.

{15b} From its formal use in other places, this phrase, to take cup
in hall, or "on the floor," would seem to mean that Beowulf stood up
to receive his gifts, drink to the donor, and say thanks.

{15c} Kenning for sword.

{15d} Hrothgar. He is also the "refuge of the friends of Ing,"
below. Ing belongs to myth.

{15e} Horses are frequently led or ridden into the hall where folk
sit at banquet: so in Chaucer's Squire's tale, in the ballad of
King Estmere, and in the romances.

{16a} Man-price, wergild.

{16b} Beowulf's.

{16c} Hrothgar.

{16d} There is no need to assume a gap in the Ms. As before about
Sigemund and Heremod, so now, though at greater length, about Finn
and his feud, a lay is chanted or recited; and the epic poet,
counting on his readers' familiarity with the story, -- a fragment
of it still exists, -- simply gives the headings.

{16e} The exact story to which this episode refers in summary is not
to be determined, but the following account of it is reasonable and
has good support among scholars. Finn, a Frisian chieftain, who
nevertheless has a "castle" outside the Frisian border, marries
Hildeburh, a Danish princess; and her brother, Hnaef, with many
other Danes, pays Finn a visit. Relations between the two peoples
have been strained before. Something starts the old feud anew; and
the visitors are attacked in their quarters. Hnaef is killed; so is
a son of Hildeburh. Many fall on both sides. Peace is patched up; a
stately funeral is held; and the surviving visitors become in a way
vassals or liegemen of Finn, going back with him to Frisia. So
matters rest a while. Hengest is now leader of the Danes; but he is
set upon revenge for his former lord, Hnaef. Probably he is killed
in feud; but his clansmen, Guthlaf and Oslaf, gather at their home a
force of sturdy Danes, come back to Frisia, storm Finn's stronghold,
kill him, and carry back their kinswoman Hildeburh.

{16f} The "enemies" must be the Frisians.

{16g} Battlefield. -- Hengest is the "prince's thane," companion of
Hnaef. "Folcwald's son" is Finn.

{16h} That is, Finn would govern in all honor the few Danish
warriors who were left, provided, of course, that none of them tried
to renew the quarrel or avenge Hnaef their fallen lord. If, again,
one of Finn's Frisians began a quarrel, he should die by the sword.

{16i} Hnaef.

{16j} The high place chosen for the funeral: see description of
Beowulf's funeral-pile at the end of the poem.

{16k} Wounds.

{17a} That is, these two Danes, escaping home, had told the story of
the attack on Hnaef, the slaying of Hengest, and all the Danish
woes. Collecting a force, they return to Frisia and kill Finn in his

{17b} Nephew to Hrothgar, with whom he subsequently quarrels, and
elder cousin to the two young sons of Hrothgar and Wealhtheow, --
their natural guardian in the event of the king's death. There is
something finely feminine in this speech of Wealhtheow's, apart from
its somewhat irregular and irrelevant sequence of topics. Both she
and her lord probably distrust Hrothulf; but she bids the king to be
of good cheer, and, turning to the suspect, heaps affectionate
assurances on his probity. "My own Hrothulf" will surely not forget
these favors and benefits of the past, but will repay them to the
orphaned boy.

{19a} They had laid their arms on the benches near where they slept.

{20a} He surmises presently where she is.

{20b} The connection is not difficult. The words of mourning, of
acute grief, are said; and according to Germanic sequence of
thought, inexorable here, the next and only topic is revenge. But is
it possible? Hrothgar leads up to his appeal and promise with a
skillful and often effective description of the horrors which
surround the monster's home and await the attempt of an avenging

{21a} Hrothgar is probably meant.

{21b} Meeting place.

{22a} Kenning for "sword." Hrunting is bewitched, laid under a spell
of uselessness, along with all other swords.

{22b} This brown of swords, evidently meaning burnished, bright,
continues to be a favorite adjective in the popular ballads.

{23a} After the killing of the monster and Grendel's decapitation.

{23b} Hrothgar.

{23c} The blade slowly dissolves in blood-stained drops like

{23d} Spear.

{24a} That is, "whoever has as wide authority as I have and can
remember so far back so many instances of heroism, may well say, as
I say, that no better hero ever lived than Beowulf."

{25a} That is, he is now undefended by conscience from the
temptations (shafts) of the devil.

{25b} Kenning for the sun. -- This is a strange role for the raven.
He is the warrior's bird of battle, exults in slaughter and carnage;
his joy here is a compliment to the sunrise.

{26a} That is, he might or might not see Beowulf again. Old as he
was, the latter chance was likely; but he clung to the former,
hoping to see his young friend again "and exchange brave words in
the hall."

{27a} With the speed of the boat.

{27b} Queen to Hygelac. She is praised by contrast with the
antitype, Thryth, just as Beowulf was praised by contrast with

{27c} Kenning for "wife."

{28a} Beowulf gives his uncle the king not mere gossip of his
journey, but a statesmanlike forecast of the outcome of certain
policies at the Danish court. Talk of interpolation here is absurd.
As both Beowulf and Hygelac know, -- and the folk for whom the
Beowulf was put together also knew, -- Froda was king of the
Heathobards (probably the Langobards, once near neighbors of Angle
and Saxon tribes on the continent), and had fallen in fight with the
Danes. Hrothgar will set aside this feud by giving his daughter as
"peace-weaver" and wife to the young king Ingeld, son of the slain
Froda. But Beowulf, on general principles and from his observation
of the particular case, foretells trouble. Note:

{28b} Play of shields, battle. A Danish warrior cuts down Froda in
the fight, and takes his sword and armor, leaving them to a son.
This son is selected to accompany his mistress, the young princess
Freawaru, to her new home when she is Ingeld's queen. Heedlessly he
wears the sword of Froda in hall. An old warrior points it out to
Ingeld, and eggs him on to vengeance. At his instigation the Dane is
killed; but the murderer, afraid of results, and knowing the land,
escapes. So the old feud must break out again.

{28c} That is, their disastrous battle and the slaying of their

{28d} The sword.

{28e} Beowulf returns to his forecast. Things might well go somewhat
as follows, he says; sketches a little tragic story; and with this
prophecy by illustration returns to the tale of his adventure.

{28f} Not an actual glove, but a sort of bag.

{29a} Hygelac.

{29b} This is generally assumed to mean hides, though the text
simply says "seven thousand." A hide in England meant about 120
acres, though "the size of the acre varied."

{29c} On the historical raid into Frankish territory between 512 and
520 A.D. The subsequent course of events, as gathered from hints of
this epic, is partly told in Scandinavian legend.

{29d} The chronology of this epic, as scholars have worked it out,
would make Beowulf well over ninety years of age when he fights the
dragon. But the fifty years of his reign need not be taken as
historical fact.

{29e} The text is here hopelessly illegible, and only the general
drift of the meaning can be rescued. For one thing, we have the old
myth of a dragon who guards hidden treasure. But with this runs the
story of some noble, last of his race, who hides all his wealth
within this barrow and there chants his farewell to life's glories.
After his death the dragon takes possession of the hoard and watches
over it. A condemned or banished man, desperate, hides in the
barrow, discovers the treasure, and while the dragon sleeps, makes
off with a golden beaker or the like, and carries it for
propitiation to his master. The dragon discovers the loss and exacts
fearful penalty from the people round about.

{31a} Literally "loan-days," days loaned to man.

{31b} Chattuarii, a tribe that dwelt along the Rhine, and took part
in repelling the raid of (Hygelac) Chocilaicus.

{31c} Onla, son of Ongentheow, who pursues his two nephews Eanmund
and Eadgils to Heardred's court, where they have taken refuge after
their unsuccessful rebellion. In the fighting Heardred is killed.

{32a} That is, Beowulf supports Eadgils against Onela, who is slain
by Eadgils in revenge for the "care-paths" of exile into which Onela
forced him.

{32b} That is, the king could claim no wergild, or man-price, from
one son for the killing of the other.

{32c} Usual euphemism for death.

{32d} Sc. in the grave.

{33a} Eofor for Wulf. -- The immediate provocation for Eofor in
killing "the hoary Scylfing," Ongentheow, is that the latter has
just struck Wulf down; but the king, Haethcyn, is also avenged by
the blow. See the detailed description below.

{33b} Hygelac.

{33c} Shield.

{33d} The hollow passage.

{34a} That is, although Eanmund was brother's son to Onela, the
slaying of the former by Weohstan is not felt as cause of feud, and
is rewarded by gift of the slain man's weapons.

{34b} Both Wiglaf and the sword did their duty. -- The following is
one of the classic passages for illustrating the comitatus as the
most conspicuous Germanic institution, and its underlying sense of
duty, based partly on the idea of loyalty and partly on the
practical basis of benefits received and repaid.

{34c} Sc. "than to bide safely here," -- a common figure of
incomplete comparison.

{34d} Wiglaf's wooden shield.

{34e} Gering would translate "kinsman of the nail," as both are made
of iron.

{35a} That is, swords.

{36a} Where Beowulf lay.

{37a} What had been left or made by the hammer; well-forged.

{37b} Trying to revive him.

{38a} Nothing.

{38b} Dead.

{38c} Death-watch, guard of honor, "lyke-wake."

{38d} A name for the Franks.

{38e} Ongentheow.

{38f} Haethcyn.

{39a} The line may mean: till Hrethelings stormed on the hedged
shields, -- i.e. the shield-wall or hedge of defensive war --
Hrethelings, of course, are Geats.

{39b} Eofor, brother to Wulf Wonreding.

{39c} Sc. "value in" hides and the weight of the gold.

{39d} Not at all.

{39e} Laid on it when it was put in the barrow. This spell, or in
our days the "curse," either prevented discovery or brought dire
ills on the finder and taker.

{40a} Probably the fugitive is meant who discovered the hoard. Ten
Brink and Gering assume that the dragon is meant. "Hid" may well
mean here "took while in hiding."

{40b} That is "one and a few others." But Beowulf seems to be

{40c} Ten Brink points out the strongly heathen character of this
part of the epic. Beowulf's end came, so the old tradition ran, from
his unwitting interference with spell-bound treasure.

{40d} A hard saying, variously interpreted. In any case, it is the
somewhat clumsy effort of the Christian poet to tone down the
heathenism of his material by an edifying observation.

{41a} Nothing is said of Beowulf's wife in the poem, but Bugge
surmises that Beowulf finally accepted Hygd's offer of kingdom and
hoard, and, as was usual, took her into the bargain.