Grendel's mother

Grendel's mother (Old English: Grendles mōðor) is one of three antagonists in the anonymous Old English poem Beowulf (c. 700–1000 AD). The other antagonists are Grendel and the dragon, all aligned in opposition to the hero Beowulf. She is introduced in lines 1258b to 1259a as: "Grendles modor/ides, aglæcwif".

Grendel's mother, who is never given a name in the text, is the subject of ongoing controversy among medieval scholars. This is due to the ambiguity of a few words in Old English which appear in the original Beowulf manuscript. While there is consensus over the word "modor" (mother), the phrase "ides, aglæcwif" is the subject of scholarly debate.

Stories of Beowulf water witch trying to stab beowulf
An illustration of Grendel's mother by J.R. Skelton from Stories of Beowulf (1908) described as a "water witch" trying to stab Beowulf.


The poem, Beowulf, is contained in the Nowell Codex. As noted in lines 106–114 and lines 1260–1267 of Beowulf, monsters (which include Grendel's mother and Grendel) are descendants of Cain. After Grendel is killed, Grendel's mother attacks Heorot in revenge. Beowulf then ventures into her cave under a lake, and engages in fierce combat with Grendel's mother. She nearly kills him until he sees an ancient sword, with which he kills her, and beheads the dead Grendel. Beowulf then returns to the surface and to his men at the "ninth hour" (l. 1600, "nōn", about 3 pm).[1]

Function in and structure of the poem

The first page of the Beowulf manuscript.

Some scholars have argued that the female characters in Beowulf fulfill certain established roles such as hostess (Wealhþeow and Hygd) and peace-weaver (Freawaru and Hildeburh). Grendel's mother and Modthryth (before her marriage to Offa), who challenge these roles, represent "monster-women".[2]

Jane Chance argues in "The Structural Unity of Beowulf: The Problem of Grendel's Mother"[3] that there are two standard interpretations of the poem: one view which suggests a two-part structure (i.e., the poem is divided between Beowulf's battles with Grendel and with the dragon) and the other, a three-part structure (this interpretation argues that Beowulf's battle with Grendel's mother is structurally separate from his battle with Grendel). Chance stated that, "this view of the structure as two-part has generally prevailed since its inception in J. R. R. Tolkien's Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics in Proceedings of the British Academy 22 (1936)."[3] In contrast, she argued that the three-part structure has become "increasingly popular".[3] She later developed this argument in Woman as Hero in Old English Literature.[4]

Debates on Grendel's mother

There is ongoing debate among medieval scholars concerning the ambiguity of a few words in Old English (related to Grendel's mother) which appear in the original Beowulf manuscript. Because these terms are ambiguous, scholars disagree over aspects of her nature and appearance. Indeed, because her exact appearance is never directly described in Old English by the original Beowulf poet, part of the debate revolves around what is known, namely her descent from the biblical Cain (who was the first murderer, according to the Abrahamic religions). For some scholars, this descent links her and Grendel to the monsters and giants of the Cain tradition,[5] while others such as Kevin Kiernan in Grendel's Heroic Mother[6] argue that there is "plenty of evidence for defending Grendel's mother as a heroic figure" [7] as she "accepted and adhered to the heroic ethic of the blood-feud, the main difference between Grendel's feckless feud with the noise at Heorot and his mother's purposeful one exacting retribution for the death of her son. In heroic terms, her vengeance for the death of her kinsman Grendel."[8]

This lack of consensus has led to the production of a few seminal texts by scholars over the past few decades. One important focus of these articles and books concerns the numerous, and at times opposing, translations of especially the Old English compound "ides aglæcwif" (1259a).

Monster or demon

Until the late 1970s, all scholarship on Grendel's mother and translations of the phrase "aglæc-wif" were influenced by the edition of noted Beowulf scholar Frederick Klaeber. His edition, Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg, has been considered a standard in Beowulf scholarship since its first publication in 1922.[9] According to Klaeber's glossary, "aglæc-wif" translates as: "wretch, or monster of a woman". Klaeber's glossary also defines "aglæca/æglæca" as "monster, demon, fiend" when referring to Grendel or Grendel's mother and as "warrior, hero" when referring to the character Beowulf.[10]

Klaeber has influenced many translations of Beowulf. Notable interpretations of "aglæc-wif" which follow Klaeber include "monstrous hell-bride" (Heaney),[11] "monster-woman" (Chickering) [12] "woman, monster-wife" (Donaldson),[13] "Ugly troll-lady" (Trask) [14] and "monstrous hag" (Kennedy).[15]

Doreen M.E. Gillam's 1961 essay, "The Use of the Term 'Æglæca' in Beowulf at Lines 893 and 2592," explores Klaeber's dual use of the term "aglæca/æglæca" for the heroes Sigemund and Beowulf as well as for Grendel and Grendel's mother.[16] She argues that "aglæca/æglæca" is used in works besides Beowulf to reference both "devils and human beings". She further argues that this term is used to imply "supernatural," "unnatural" or even "inhuman" characteristics, as well as hostility towards other creatures.[17] Gillam suggests: "Beowulf, the champion of men against monsters, is almost inhuman himself. [Aglæca/æglæca] epitomises, in one word, the altogether exceptional nature of the dragon fight. Beowulf, the champion of good, the 'monster' amongst men, challenges the traditional incarnation of evil, the Dragon: æglæca meets æglæcan."[18]

Ides/dis (lady)

A sculpture of a valkyrie on a horse by Stephan Sinding (1908)
The Gefion Fountain in Copenhagen, Denmark by Anders Bundgård, 1908.
Freya by Penrose
Freyja, depicted in a painting by J. Penrose.

The Old English ides, Old High German itis and Old Norse dís are cognates that all mean "lady,"[19] and idisi appears as the name of the Valkyries in the only surviving pagan source in Old High German, the Merseburg Incantations.[20] More generally, in Norse mythology, the Dísir ('ladies') are fate goddesses who can be both benevolent and antagonistic towards mortal people.

Consequently, many have pointed out that dís is probably the original term for the valkyries (lit. "choosers of the slain"), which in turn would be a kenning for dís.[21]

A few scholars have drawn from the work of Eric Stanley[22][23] by exploring the term ides as "lady" when discussing Grendel's mother, such as Temple ("Grendel's Lady-Mother," 1986)[24] and Taylor[25] (who argues in his 1994 essay that the term Ides indicates that "Grendel's mother is a woman of inherently noble status.")[26] In addition, others have suggested that Grendel's mother may be associated with the Norse figures of the valkyries and of the goddess Gefion who may be an extension of Frigg and Freyja. Freyja, the daughter of the sea god Njörðr, was both a fertility goddess and a goddess of war, battle, death, seiðr, prophecy and was also sometimes associated with the valkyries and disir.

Nora Kershaw Chadwick (1959)[27] and later Helen Damico in two works (Beowulf's Wealhtheow and the Valkyrie Tradition[28] and "The Valkyrie Reflex in Old English Literature")[29] argue that Grendel's mother may refer to the myth of the valkyries. Damico states:

in both their benevolent and malevolent aspects, the valkyries are related to a generic group of half-mortal, half-supernatural beings called idisi in Old High German, ides in Old English, and dis in Old Norse, plural, disir. Both groups are closely allied in aspect and function: they are armed, powerful, priestly [...] The Beowulf poet follows the tradition of depicting the valkyrie-figure as a deadly battle demon in his characterization of Grendel's Mother. As Chadwick has argued, Grendel's Mother, that wælgæst wæfre 'roaming slaughter-spirit' epitomizes the earlier concept of the valkyrie.[30]

Damico later argues in Beowulf's Wealhtheow and the Valkyrie Tradition that Wealtheow and Grendel's mother represent different aspects of the valkyries.

Frank Battaglia also draws on the term "ides" by pairing it with "dis".[31] He notes that the "dis" were "female guardian spirit[s]" with "power over the dead and choosing who would die. In this capacity [they] might be feared."[32] Battaglia thus suggests that Grendel's mother is the Early Germanic goddess Gefion (whom he states was also a form of Nerthus and Freyja).[33] He also argues that: "in scaldic poetry the word dis means goddess [...] Freyia herself is called Vanadis, that is, dis of the Vanir, the Scandinavian chthonic, fertility deities."[34] Battaglia then notes that Gefion is referenced five times in the poem: l.49 (géafon on gársecg – "Gefion on the waves"), l.362 (ofer geofenes begang – "over Gefion's realm"), l.515 (geofon ýþum – "Gefion welled up in waves"), l.1394 (né on gyfenes grund – "Ground of Gefion"), and l.1690 (gifen géotende – "Gefion gushing"). In addition, he indicates that "in Old English poetry, geofon is a word for ocean which has been seen since Jakob Grimm (1968, 198) as related to the name Gefion of the Danish Earth Goddess ... power to divide land and sea is shown by representations of Gefion in Norse literature."[35]

Aglæcwif (warrior)

Contemporary scholars have suggested that the use of the term "aglæcwif" indicates that Grendel's mother is a woman warrior. In 1979, Beowulf scholars Kuhn and Stanley argued against Klaeber's reading of Grendel's mother. In Old English Aglaeca-Middle Irish Olach[36] Sherman Kuhn questioned Klaeber's translations of both "aglæc-wif" and of "aglæca / æglæca" when referring to Grendel and Grendel's mother, stating that there are

five disputed instances of áglæca [three of which are in Beowulf] 649, 1269, 1512 ... In the first ... the referent can be either Beowulf or Grendel. If the poet and his audience felt the word to have two meanings, 'monster', and 'hero', the ambiguity would be troublesome; but if by áglæca they understood a 'fighter', the ambiguity would be of little consequence, for battle was destined for both Beowulf and Grendel and both were fierce fighters.[37]

Thus Kuhn suggested aglæca should be defined as "a fighter, valiant warrior, dangerous opponent, one who struggles fiercely". [38] He supported his argument by also stating that, "if there were one clear instance of áglæca referring to an unwarlike monster, a peaceful demon, or the like, this definition would fall apart."[39] Kuhn concluded that

Grendel's mother was an 'aglæc-wif', 'a female warrior' [...] there is no more reason to introduce the idea of monstrosity or of misery here than there is in line 1519 where she is called merewif, defined simply as 'water-woman', 'woman of the mere'.[38]

Eric Stanley added to the debate by critiquing both Klaeber and Gillam:

Grendel is described as an æglæca, a word which we do not understand. One scholar [Gillam] has, in fact, made investigation of this word a model for the methodology of establishing meaning. The attempt is of interest, but in the end we always come back to the fact that, as Klaeber's glossary shows, the word is used by the poet not only to describe Grendel as here, and later in the poem to describe the dragon, and the monsters of the mere as they attack Beowulf, but also Beowulf himself; and at one point the two enemies, Beowulf and the dragon, are described together using the plural æglæcean. As we assemble the many uses including compounds [...] it becomes clear that it is not pejorative in force. We must not follow Klaeber's distinction of 'wretch, monster, demon, fiend' for Beowulf's enemies, and 'warrior, hero' for Beowulf himself; and we must not abuse Grendel's mother when she is called aglæcwif by translating the word as Klaeber does, 'wretch,' or 'monster, of a woman.' We must never forget that she is called there ides aglæcwif (1259) and ides, 'lady,' is not a term of abuse [...] the poet does not speak of his monsters abusively.[40]

Other scholars have offered varying opinions on this topic. Christine Alfano also questioned standard translations related to Grendel's mother.[41] She states that she found a "noticeable disparity between the Grendel's mother originally created by the Beowulf poet and the one that occupies contemporary Beowulf translations. Instead of being what Sherman Kuhn calls a 'female warrior', the modern Grendel's mother is a monster. This assumption informs almost all areas of Beowulf scholarship, although there is little evidence for this characterization in the original Anglo-Saxon work."[42] Melinda Menzer offered a different approach,[43] suggesting that "aglæcwif denotes a woman, a human female, who is also aglæca."[44]

Dictionary of Old English

The Dictionary of Old English, University of Toronto, made the following updates in 1994:

  • āglāc-wíf (noun) is translated as female warrior, fearsome woman.
  • āglæca (adj.) is translated as formidable, awe-inspiring
  • āglæca (noun) is translated as awesome opponent, ferocious fighter[45]

The 1994 DOE translations were supported by George Jack in his 1997 glossary of Beowulf and Bruce Mitchell in his 1998 glossary of Beowulf.[46][47]

Depictions in film, literature, and popular culture

Grendel's mother has been adapted in a number of different media, including film, literature, and graphic novels.


  1. ^ Jack, George. Beowulf: A Student Edition, p. 123
  2. ^ Porter, Dorothy (Summer–Autumn 2001). "The Social Centrality of Women in Beowulf: A New Context". The Heroic Age: A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe (5). Retrieved 2006-08-09.
  3. ^ a b c Nitzsche, Jane Chance (1980). "The Structural Unity of Beowulf: The Problem of Grendel's Mother." Texas Studies in Literature and Language 22(3): 287–303. JSTOR 40754612
  4. ^ Nitzsche, Jane Chance. Woman as Hero in Old English Literature. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1986.
  5. ^ Williams, David. Cain and Beowulf: A Study in Secular Allegory. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982
  6. ^ Kiernan, Kevin S. "Grendel's Heroic Mother." In Geardagum: Essays on Old English Language and Literature 6 (1984): 13–33.
  7. ^ Kiernan, Kevin S. "Grendel's Heroic Mother." In Geardagum: Essays on Old English Language and Literature 6 (1984): 31.
  8. ^ Kiernan, Kevin S. "Grendel's Heroic Mother." In Geardagum: Essays on Old English Language and Literature 6 (1984): 24–5.
  9. ^ Bloomfield, Josephine. Benevolent Authoritarianism in Klaeber's Beowulf: An Editorial Translation of Kingship. "Modern Language Quarterly 60:2, June 1999
  10. ^ Klaeber, Frederick. Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg. Third ed. Boston: Heath, 1950.
  11. ^ Heaney, Seamus Beowulf: A New Verse Translation. New York: Norton, 2001.
  12. ^ Chickering, Howell D. Beowulf. Garden City: Anchor, 1989.
  13. ^ Donaldson, E. Talbot, and Nicholas Howe. Beowulf : A Prose Translation : Backgrounds and Contexts, Criticism. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 2002.
  14. ^ Trask, Richard M. Beowulf and Judith : Two Heroes. Lanham: UP of America, 1998.
  15. ^ Kennedy, Charles W., and tr. Beowulf, the Oldest English Epic. New York: Oxford UP, 1940.
  16. ^ Gillam, Doreen M. "The Use of the Term 'Aeglaeca' in Beowulf at Lines 893 and 2592." Studia Germanica Gandensia 3 (1961): 145–69.
  17. ^ Gillam, Doreen M. "The Use of the Term 'Aeglaeca' in Beowulf at Lines 893 and 2592." Studia Germanica Gandensia 3 (1961).
  18. ^ Gillam, Doreen M. "The Use of the Term 'Aeglaeca' in Beowulf at Lines 893 and 2592." Studia Germanica Gandensia 3 (1961):169.
  19. ^ The article Dis in Nordisk familjebok (1907).
  20. ^ Calvin, Thomas. An Anthology of German Literature, D. C. Heath & co. ASIN: B0008BTK3E,B00089RS3K. P5.
  21. ^ Including: Ström, Folke (1954) Diser, nornor, valkyrjor: Fruktberhetskult och sakralt kungadöme i Norden; Näsström, and Britt-Mari (1995) Freyja: The Great Goddess of the North.
  22. ^ Stanley, Eric. "Did Beowulf Commit 'Feaxfeng' against Grendel's Mother" Notes and Queries 23 (1976): 339–40. doi:10.1093/nq/23-8-339.
  23. ^ Stanley, Eric. "Two Old English Poetic Phrases Insufficiently Understood for Literary Criticism: Þing Gehegan and Senoþ Gehegan." Old English Poetry: Essays on Style. Ed. Daniel G. Calder. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979. 67–90.
  24. ^ Temple, Mary Kay. "Beowulf 1258–1266: Grendel's Lady Mother." English Language Notes 23.3 (March 1986): 10–15.
  25. ^ Taylor, Keith. "Beowulf 1259a: The Inherent Nobility of Grendel's Mother." English Language Notes 31.3 (March 1994): 13–25.
  26. ^ Taylor, Keith. "Beowulf 1259a: The Inherent Nobility of Grendel's Mother." English Language Notes 31.3 (March 1994): 18
  27. ^ Chadwick, Nora K. "The Monsters and Beowulf." The Anglo-Saxons: Studies in Some Aspects of Their History. Ed. Peter ed Clemoes. London: Bowes & Bowes, 1959. 171–203.
  28. ^ Damico, Helen. Beowulf's Wealhtheow and the Valkyrie Tradition. Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984
  29. ^ Damico, Helen. "The Valkyrie Reflex in Old English Literature." In New Readings on Women in Old English Literature. Eds. Helen Damico and Alexandra Hennessey Olsen. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990. 176–89
  30. ^ Damico, Helen. "The Valkyrie Reflex in Old English Literature." In New Readings on Women in Old English Literature, Eds. Helen Damico and Alexandra Hennessey Olsen. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990: 176, 178.
  31. ^ Battaglia, Frank. "The Germanic Earth Goddess in Beowulf." Mankind Quarterly 31.4 (Summer 1991): 415–46.
  32. ^ Battaglia, Frank. "The Germanic Earth Goddess in Beowulf" in Mankind Quarterly, page 433. Summer 1991
  33. ^ Battaglia, Frank. "The Germanic Earth Goddess in Beowulf" in Mankind Quarterly, page 415–17. Summer 1991
  34. ^ Battaglia, Frank. "The Germanic Earth Goddess in Beowulf" in Mankind Quarterly, page 436. Summer 1991
  35. ^ Battaglia, Frank. "The Germanic Earth Goddess in Beowulf" in The Mankind Quarterly, page 416. Summer 1991
  36. ^ Kuhn, Sherman M. "Old English Aglaeca-Middle Irish Olach." In Linguistic Method: Essays in Honor of Herbert Penzl. Eds. Irmengard Rauch and Gerald F. Carr. The Hague, New York: Mouton Publishers, 1979. 213–30.
  37. ^ Kuhn, S. (1979). "Old English Aglæca-Middle Irish Olach." Linguistic Method: Essays in Honor of Herbert Penzl, pp. 216–217. Mouton Publishers.
  38. ^ a b Kuhn, S. (1979). "Old English Aglæca-Middle Irish Olach." Linguistic Method: Essays in Honor of Herbert Penzl, p. 218. Mouton Publishers
  39. ^ Kuhn, S. (1979). "Old English Aglæca-Middle Irish Olach." Linguistic Method: Essays in Honor of Herbert Penzl, p. 227. Mouton Publishers.
  40. ^ Stanley, E.G. (1979). "Two Old English Poetic Phrases Insufficiently Understood for Literary Criticism : Þing Gehegan and Senoþ Gehegan." Old English Poetry: Essays on Style, pp. 75–76. University of California Press.
  41. ^ Alfano, Christine. (1992). "The Issue of Feminine Monstrosity: A Re-evaluation of Grendel's Mother." Comitatus, 23: 1–16.
  42. ^ Alfano, Christine. (1992). "The Issue of Feminine Monstrosity: A Re-evaluation of Grendel's Mother." Comitatus, 23: 1–12.
  43. ^ Menzer, Melinda J. (September 1996). "Aglaecwif (Beowulf 1259a): Implications for -Wif Compounds, Grendel's Mother, and Other Aglaecan." English language notes 34.1: 1–6.
  44. ^ Menzer, Melinda J. (September 1996). "Aglaecwif (Beowulf 1259a): Implications for -Wif Compounds, Grendel's Mother, and Other Aglaecan." English language notes 34.1: 2
  45. ^ Cameron, Angus, et al. (1986 / 1994). "Aglac-Wif to Aglaeca." Dictionary of Old English. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies. (Published for the Dictionary of Old English Project Centre for Medieval Studies University of Toronto.)
  46. ^ Jack, G. (1997). Beowulf : A Student Edition. New York: Oxford University Press
  47. ^ Mitchell, Bruce, et al. (1998). Beowulf: An Edition with Relevant Shorter Texts. Oxford, UK: Malden Ma.

Beowulf (; Old English: Bēowulf [ˈbeːowulf]) is an Old English epic poem consisting of 3,182 alliterative lines. It is one of the most important works of Old English literature. The date of composition is a matter of contention among scholars; the only certain dating pertains to the manuscript, which was produced between 975 and 1025. The author was an anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet, referred to by scholars as the "Beowulf poet".The story is set in Scandinavia. Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, comes to the aid of Hrothgar, the king of the Danes, whose mead hall in Heorot has been under attack by a monster known as Grendel. After Beowulf slays him, Grendel's mother attacks the hall and is then also defeated. Victorious, Beowulf goes home to Geatland (Götaland in modern Sweden) and later becomes king of the Geats. After a period of fifty years has passed, Beowulf defeats a dragon, but is mortally wounded in the battle. After his death, his attendants cremate his body and erect a tower on a headland in his memory.

The full story survives in the manuscript known as the Nowell Codex. It has no title in the original manuscript, but has become known by the name of the story's protagonist. In 1731, the manuscript was badly damaged by a fire that swept through Ashburnham House in London that had a collection of medieval manuscripts assembled by Sir Robert Bruce Cotton. The Nowell Codex is housed in the British Library.

Beowulf (1999 film)

Beowulf is a 1999 American science fantasy-action film loosely based on the Old English epic poem Beowulf. The film was directed by Graham Baker and written by Mark Leahy and David Chappe, and comes from the same producer as Mortal Kombat, which also starred Lambert.

Unlike most film adaptations of the poem, this version is a science-fiction/fantasy film that, according to one film critic, "takes place in a post-apocalyptic, techno-feudal future that owes more to Mad Max than Beowulf." While the film remains fairly true to the story of the original poem, other plot elements deviate from the original poem (Hrothgar has an affair with Grendel's mother, and they have a child together, Grendel; Hrothgar's wife commits suicide).

Beowulf (2007 film)

Beowulf is a 2007 British-American 3D computer-animated fantasy adventure film directed by Robert Zemeckis, written by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary and based on the Old English epic poem of the same name. Starring the voices of Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Robin Wright, Brendan Gleeson, John Malkovich, Crispin Glover, Alison Lohman and Angelina Jolie, the film features human characters animated using live action motion capture animation, which was previously used in The Polar Express (2004) and Monster House (2006).

The film was released theatrically in the United Kingdom and United States on November 16, 2007 by Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures to mixed-to-positive reviews from critics. It was a box office disappointment, having earned just $196.4 million on a $150 million budget. After deducting theater's share of the gross, it lost over $50 million.

Descendants of Cain

Descendants of Cain:

according to Genesis:







in Beowulf: Grendel, Grendel's mother


In Norse mythology, Gefjon (alternatively spelled Gefion or Gefjun) is a goddess associated with ploughing, the Danish island of Zealand, the legendary Swedish king Gylfi, the legendary Danish king Skjöldr, foreknowledge, and virginity. Gefjon is attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources; the Prose Edda and Heimskringla, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson; in the works of skalds; and appears as a gloss for various Greco-Roman goddesses in some Old Norse translations of Latin works.

The Prose Edda and Heimskringla both report that Gefjon plowed away what is now lake Mälaren, Sweden, and with this land formed the island of Zealand, Denmark. In addition, the Prose Edda describes that not only is Gefjon a virgin herself, but that all who die a virgin become her attendants. Heimskringla records that Gefjon married the legendary Danish king Skjöldr and that the two dwelled in Lejre, Denmark.

Scholars have proposed theories about the etymology the name of the goddess, connections to fertility and ploughing practices, the implications of the references made to her as a virgin, five potential mentions of the goddess in the Old English poem Beowulf, and potential connections between Gefjon and Grendel's Mother and/or the goddesses Freyja and Frigg.


Grendel is a character in the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf (AD 700–1000), which is found in the Nowell Codex. This manuscript is so-called because its first known owner was the antiquary Laurence Nowell, whose name can be found written on the first leaf with the date 1563. Grendel is one of the poem's three antagonists (along with Grendel's mother and the dragon), all aligned in opposition against the protagonist Beowulf. Grendel is feared by all in Heorot but Beowulf. Grendel is described as "a creature of darkness, exiled from happiness and accursed of God, the destroyer and devourer of our human kind". He is usually depicted as a monster or a giant, although his status as a monster, giant, or other form of supernatural being is not clearly described in the poem and thus remains the subject of scholarly debate. There are numerous different interpretations and re-imaginings of the character of Grendel and his role in the story of Beowulf.

In John Gardner's book Grendel (1971), Grendel has more human qualities and the book is narrated from his perspective.

Helen Damico

Helen Damico is a scholar of Old English and Old English literature. She received her Ph.D. from New York University in 1980, and is a professor emerita at the University of New Mexico, where she began teaching in 1981 and founded the Institute for Medieval Studies. The author of Beowulf's Wealhtheow and the Valkyrie Tradition, Damico has made important contributions to the study of women in Old English and Old Norse literature, and her work on Wealhþeow is frequently cited. She saw representations of the valkyrie in both Wealhþeow and Grendel's Mother Damico sees in the Old English poem Beowulf (c. 700–1000 AD).


Heorot or Herot (Old English 'hart, stag') is a mead-hall and major point of focus in the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf. The hall, located in Denmark, serves as a seat of rule for King Hrothgar, a legendary Danish king. After the monster Grendel slaughters the inhabitants of the hall, the Geatish hero Beowulf defends the royal hall before subsequently defeating him. Later Grendel's mother attacks the inhabitants of the hall, and she too is subsequently defeated by Beowulf. The hall is generally held to correspond to the great hall of Lejre in Denmark found in North Germanic texts. A location of the same name receives mention in the Old English poem Widsith.


Hrunting was a sword given to Beowulf by Unferth in the ancient Old English epic poem Beowulf. Beowulf used it in battle against Grendel's Mother.

Beowulf is described receiving the sword in lines 1455-1458:

However, although the sword possessed great power and was claimed to have never failed anyone who used it, when Beowulf descended to the bottom of the lake to fight Grendel's mother, the sword proved ineffective. As the "fabulous powers of that heirloom failed," Beowulf was forced to discard it.


Queen Hygd, introduced in line 1925 of the poem Beowulf, is the wife of King Hygelac of Geatland. She is the daughter of Hæreth2.

After Beowulf defeats Grendel and Grendel's mother, he and his men returned to their native country, where they are received by Hygelac and Hygd. Hygd is beautiful, wise, courteous, and attentive. She pours mead in the drinking horns of the warriors thus fulfilling (in the same vein as Wealhþeow, the queen of Denmark) the important role of hostess and cup-bearer in the poem. The poet juxtaposes this virtue with the vice of Queen Modþryð (who appears in line 1932).

Beowulf gives her three horses and a magnificent torc (the Brosing, i.e. Brisingamen, the necklace of the goddess Freyja) that he received from Wealhþeow.

Hygd shows her wisdom and love for the Geatish people when her husband falls in the raid in Frisia against the Franks. Instead of securing the throne for her own offspring, she offers it to Beowulf as she considers her son Heardred to be too inexperienced to defend Geatland against the Swedes. Beowulf, however, talks in favour of young Heardred and convinces her to proclaim him King of the Geats instead.

Unfortunately, two Swedish princes, Eadgils and Eanmund, arrive and ask for protection as their uncle Onela had usurped the Swedish throne. Heardred graciously offers them his protection, which leads to a Swedish invasion in which Heardred is slain. The Swedish warrior Weohstan kills Eanmund, and Beowulf can no longer refuse Hygd's offer of kingship.

List of Beowulf characters

This is a list of Beowulf characters. Beowulf is an Old English heroic epic poem. Its creation dates to between the 8th and the 11th centuries, the only surviving manuscript dating to circa 1010. At 3183 lines, it is notable for its length. It has reached national epic status in England (although its setting is Scandinavia, not the British Isles). There are a great many characters in Beowulf ranging from historical people such as Hygelac to purely mythological dragons.

List of artistic depictions of Grendel

This list of artistic depictions of Grendel refers to the figure of Grendel. He is one of three antagonists (along with Grendel's mother and the dragon) in the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf (c. 700–1000 AD).

Grendel has been adapted in a number of different media including film, literature, and graphic/illustrated novels or comic books.

List of artistic depictions of Grendel's mother

This list of artistic depictions of Grendel's mother (Old English: Grendles modor) refers to the figure of Grendel's mother. She is one of three antagonists (along with Grendel and the dragon) in the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf (c. 700 – 1000 AD); she is never given a name in the text.

Grendel's mother has been adapted in a number of different media, including: film, music, television, literature, graphic novels, and comic books.

Mary Dockray-Miller

Mary Dockray-Miller (born 1965) is an American scholar of Anglo-Saxon England, best known for her work on gender in the Anglo-Saxon period. She has published on female saints, on Beowulf, and on religious women. She teaches at Lesley University, where she is professor of English.

Dockray-Miller is the author of Motherhood and Mothering in Anglo-Saxon England (St. Martin's Press, 2000), which utilized postmodern gender theory (the work of Judith Butler, Luce Irigaray, and others) to reinvestigate historical elements, such as double houses and Anglo-Saxon religious women, and literature, including Beowulf. At the time, it was "the first and only monograph on motherhood to appear in Anglo-Saxon studies". The book received a fair amount of attention from reviewers, though opinions were mixed, one reviewer stating that "her historical analyses, however, are unsatisfying and problematic" and that Dockray-Miller too easily conflates patriarchy with heroic society. On the other hand, a reviewer in Speculum praised the book as "well argued and an important contribution to women's studies and Anglo-Saxon scholarship". One reviewer pointed out flaws and strengths: "Yet such problematic moments [renaming Grendel's Mother "the seawulf", and excluding Elene and Mary from her discussion of mothers] are offset by the books more sustained strengths: an exciting and original topic whose exploration raises awareness of motherhood in an early culture, and a persuasive thesis that is supported by fascinating historical analysis." Her chapter on mothers in Beowulf was considered "intriguing and persuasive" by one reviewer, but with the caveat that the conclusion on the politics of motherhood was "sketchy".Her most recent monograph is Saints Edith and Æthelthryth: Princesses, Miracle Workers, and their Late Medieval Audience (Brepols, 2009). She has published numerous journal articles is a contributor to the Historical Dictionary of Women's Education in the United States (Greenwood, 1998).

The dragon (Beowulf)

The final act of the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf includes Beowulf's fight with a dragon, the third monster he encounters in the epic. On his return from Heorot, where he killed Grendel and Grendel's mother, Beowulf becomes king of the Geats and rules peacefully for fifty years until a slave awakens and angers a dragon by stealing a jewelled cup from its lair. When the angry dragon mercilessly burns the Geats' homes and lands, Beowulf decides to fight and kill the monster personally. He and his thanes climb to the dragon's lair where, upon seeing the beast, the thanes flee in terror, leaving only Wiglaf to battle at Beowulf's side. When the dragon wounds Beowulf fatally, Wiglaf slays it.

This depiction indicates the growing importance and stabilization of the modern concept of the dragon within European mythology. Beowulf is the first piece of English literature to present a dragonslayer. Although many motifs common to the Beowulf dragon existed in the Scandinavian and Germanic literature, the Beowulf poet was the first to combine features and present a distinctive fire-breathing dragon. The Beowulf dragon was later copied in literature with similar themes such as J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit (1937), one of the forerunners of modern high fantasy.

The dragon fight, occurring at the end of the poem, is foreshadowed in earlier scenes. The dragon fight symbolizes Beowulf's stand against evil and destruction, and, as the hero, he knows that failure will bring destruction to his people after many years of peace. The dragon himself acts as a mock "gold-king"; one who sees attacking Beowulf's kingdom as suitable retribution for the theft of just a single cup. The scene is structured in thirds, ending with the deaths of the dragon and Beowulf.


In the Old English epic poem Beowulf, Unferth or Hunferth is a thegn (a retainer, servant) of the Danish lord Hrothgar. His name appears four times in the poem (always spelled Hunferð), at lines 499, 530, 1165, and 1488, as well as in line 980 by the appellation "the son of Eclafes". The name Unferth does not appear in any Old English manuscript outside of the Nowell Codex, which contains Beowulf, and the meaning of the name is disputed. Several scholarly theories about Unferth have been proposed. Unferth is also the name of a character in the modern novel Grendel by John Gardner, based upon the Beowulf epic.


Wealhþēow (pronounced [ˈwæɑ̯lxθeːo̯w]; also rendered Wealhtheow or Wealthow; Old English: Ƿealhþēoƿ) is a queen of the Danes in the Old English poem, Beowulf, first introduced in line 612.


In the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf, Æschere is Hrothgar's most trusted advisor who is killed by Grendel's mother in her attack on Heorot after Grendel's death. His name is composed of the Germanic elements Æsc, meaning 'ash', and here, meaning 'army'. King Hrothgar describes Æschere as 'min runwita ond min rædbora' (1325), which implies that he knows mysteries or enigmas and also has a duty to explain those mysteries aloud to a community. But by killing and decapitating Æschere, Grendel's mother highlights an anxiety within the poem about things that defy human interpretation. Beowulf and his Geatish warriors find Æschere's severed head at the entrance to Grendel's mother's lair.

Scholars and
See also


This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.