Vocabulary in Beowulf

Prelude of the Founder of the Danish House 2
"outbound..."   (Prelude of the Founder of the Danish House)

The use of this word in the context of Scyld's burial at sea contains an extra connotation that the ship isn't just moving away from the shore, but that it is carrying the deceased leader towards an unknown destination for his afterlife.

"mead-benches..."   (Prelude of the Founder of the Danish House)

These mead-benches came from mead-halls, which were fortresses and gathering places for medieval Norse and Germanic tribes. Members of society gathered there in safety under the king's protection so that they could feast, share stories, and receive gifts. It is also notable that Valhalla and Folkvang, two divine mead-halls from Scandinavian mythology, are the places where dead souls go in the afterlife. The mead-hall is the center of society, making any attack on the hall, therefore, an assault upon the fabric of society itself.

"wight..."   (Chapter II)

While this word simply means a living being or creature, very often it is associated with evil or malice in tales of fantasy and fiction. The fact that it is associated with Grendel adds to this connotation.

"a boon..."   (Chapter VI)

This term typically has connotations of something as pleasant or advantageous. When Beowulf asks Hrothgar for a boon, he implies that his killing of Grendel will greatly benefit himself and Hrothgar, because Hrothgar's people will be saved and Beowulf's reputation as a fighter will be greatly enhanced.

"the dangerous main..."   (Chapter VIII)

Unferth challenges Beowulf with a story he heard about a swimming contest between Beowulf and Breca. He accuses Beowulf of competing and swimming into the deep main (the ocean) simply for vanity rather than honorable reasons.

"The jewel-giver was then joyous..."   (Chapter IX)

Jewel-giver is another kenning used for kings at the time, similar to ring-giver. The poet indicates that Hrothgar is pleased with Beowulf's resolve to help his people, and the atmosphere in the mead-hall turns festive.

"hell received his heathen soul there..."   (Chapter XIII)

While we know that Grendel was evil and doomed to Hell regardless, the poet uses the word heathen here to illustrate the early Christian belief that anyone not baptized goes to Hell, a subtle reminder to the audience that even pagans who led good lives had no chance of entering Heaven.

"sorrowful in heart for their ring-giver..."   (Chapter XX)

Hrothgar's speech illustrates two fundamental issues that result from the killing of Aeschere. First, a blood-feud now exists between Hrothgar's people and Grendel's mother, and the only appropriate end for this blood-feud is the death of Grendel's mother. Second, even though Aeschere's men genuinely lament their leader's death, they have also lost a principal source of their wealth with the death of their ring-giver.

"cuirass..."   (Chapter XXI)

This is the part of Beowulf's armor that protects his torso and heart. Originally made of layers of cloth and leather (cuir), by Beowulf's time, it would have been made of a thin layer of metal. As part of his equipment, it adds to Beowulf's fearlessness by offering protection of his vital organs.

"a steep barrow of stone..."   (Chapter XXIX-XXXI)

The dragon's den is located within a barrow: a tomb or vault usually buried beneath a small hill or mound. The placement of the dragon suggests that these tombs contained riches, and perhaps the dragon serves as a warning to potential tomb-robbers.

"But Nægling was splintered; Beowulf's blade..."   (Chapter XXXVI)

While in this prose version Naegling is described as a glaive (a spear with a knife or dagger-sized blade attached to its point), Naegling is more often described as Beowulf's sword--possibly the sword of Hrethel that Hygelac gave to him.

"It burned the shield to the boss..."   (Chapter XXXVI)

The poet reminds us that only Beowulf had the necessary protection against dragon-fire. Wiglaf's shield is wooden, and the dragon fire quickly burns it down to the metal hub that the handle is attached to.

"Scylding..."   (Chapter XXXVI)

The poet uses scylding as a metonym for Swedish since the Scyldings were the ruling clan in Sweden at the time. The poet tells the audience how Wiglaf's father, Weohstan--a Swede of the Wægmunding clan--joined the Geats and swore loyalty to Beowulf.

"the tip of a word broke through..."   (Chapter XXXVIII)

The poet uses this phrase to indicate how weak Beowulf is and how he barely manages to speak. The impression is that Beowulf's commanding voice has softened as he prepares to give his final words.

"Merowings..."   (Chapter XL)

The name of a tribe of the Franks that eventually came to found the Merovingian dynasty of Frankish kings that began to rule in the early fifth century. Clovis, a Merovingian king who came to power around AD 486, united the Frankish tribes and made them subject to his leadership through conquest. He also converted to Catholicism and worked to establish it as the primary religion within his lands.

"Frank..."   (Chapter XL)

This is the name given to an aggregation of tribes that once inhabited the region of the Roman province of Gaul, an area containing roughly the modern nations of France, Belgium, and parts of western Germany. Much of what we know of the Franks comes from The History of the Franks, written by Gregory of Tours, the Bishop of Tours, who lived between AD 538 and 594.

"most belovéd of his men; kindest to his kin, and the most eager..."   (Chapter XLIII)

His people mostly honor Beowulf not for his military skills but for his kindness and courtesy. His eagerness for praise, in this quote, means that he wanted to do the right thing for his people, so they think well of him and act accordingly.