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Notes on Characters from Beowulf

Gareth Hinds
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Beowulf Major Characters

Abel: From the Old Testament, he is the brother of Cain, also killed by Cain, progenitor of mankind and humanity (goodness).

Beowulf: Mythical son of Edgetho, Higlac’s nephew and follower/bound warrior. Later king of the Geats, he was born A.D. 495, traveled to Denmark to rid Hrothgar’s Herot of Grendel in 515, and later accompanied Higlac on an expedition against the Franks and Frisians in 521. He became king of the Geats in 533, and reigned until his death. Hrothgar, the King of the Danes, befriended Beowulf’s father, which explains Beowulf’s journey to aid Hrothgar in ridding Denmark of the monster Grendel.

Beo: A Danish king, son of Shild and Healfdane’s father.

Cain: From the Old Testament, 'the progenitor of all evil spirits', brother to Abel, whom he killed against the will of God, and thus was cast out of humanity and earth forever.

Edgetho: Beowulf’s father, who was a renowned warrior and married to Beowulf’s mother, Hrethel’s only daughter.

Efor: A Geat warrior who kills the Swedish king named Ongentho, and is given Higlac’s daughter as a reward.

Esher: Danish nobleman in the councils of King Hrothgar and his trusted friend. Grendel’s mother kills him.

Finn: A Frisian king who married Hnaf’s sister.

Freaw: A Danish princess, Hrothgar’s daughter who is given in marriage to Ingeld, a Hathobard prince, in the prospect of settling the feud between the two peoples.

Grendel: A man-eating monster who terrorizes the Danish people, until he is later killed by the warrior Beowulf. Grendel lives, with his monstrous mother, at the bottom of a foul lake, which a variety of other monsters inhabit. He is descended from Cain ('the progenitor of all evil spirits'). The root of his name is perhaps related to the Old Norse grindill, meaning 'storm,' and grenja, 'to bellow,' and to other words which mean 'ground, (bottom) of a body of water,' and 'grinder (destroyer).'

Halga: A Danish prince, third son of Healfdane, a younger brother to King Hrothgar and a father to Hrothulf.

Hathcyn: A king of the Geats, Hrethel’s second son, who takes the throne after accidentally killing his older brother, Herbald. He is eventually killed by Ongentho, king of the Swedes, in a war in which Ongentho is killed by a second band of Geats, led by Higlac.

Hathlaf: A Wulfing warrior killed by Edgetho. His death causes a feud, which is only settled after Edgetho has been exiled, and Hrothgar has interceded with gold.

Healfdane: Danish king, son of Beo and father to Hergar, Hrothgar, Halga and Yrs.

Herbald: A prince of the Geats and Hrethel’s oldest son.

Herdred: A king of the Geats, son of Higlac and later killed by Onela of the Swedes.

Hergar: A Danish king, Healfdane’s oldest son and Hrothgar’s older brother and predecessor. He is father to Herwald and reigned only briefly.

Hermod: An archetypal king of Denmark, who only holds minor historical importance. He combined renowned military intelligence with the lowliest character imaginable.

Higd: Wife of Higlac, daughter of Hareth. Her name means 'thoughtful' or 'prudent'. Her mother is unmentioned, and unimportant in this period, as women were specifically and only mentioned for their fathers and husbands, or when used as peace-gifts between feuding tribes.

Higlac: A king of the Geats, son of Hrethel and younger brother to Herbald and Hathcyn. Higlac is both feudal lord to Beowulf, and his uncle.

Hnaf: A Danish king who was killed by Finn. Finn married his sister.

Hrethel: A king of the Geats, father of Higlac and grandfather of Beowulf.

Hrethric: The older of Hrothgar’s two sons.

Hrothgar: A Danish king who was the second son of Healfdane. He built Herot, the great hall in Denmark and was terrorized by Grendel’s violent massacres upon his people, until Beowulf’s arrival and murder of Grendel. A major character, Hrothgar is portrayed as 'wise, brave, yet troubled' at the end of his life, mainly because of Grendel and Grendel’s mother, in addition to memories of his famed past, and issues dealing with who will succeed the throne after his death.

Hrothmund: Younger of Hrothgar’s two sons.

Hrothulf: Son of Halga, nephew of Hrothgar. He kills Hrothgar’s first son and legal heir, Hrethric, and assumes the throne after Hrothgar’s death.

Ingeld: A prince of the Hathobards, son of Froda. He married Freaw, a Danish princess.

Offa: A king of the Angles, the faction which stayed on the European continent and did not emigrate to Angle-land (England). He is the husband of Thrith.

Onela: A king of the Swedes and the youngest son of Ongentho. He is married to the Danish king's (Healfdane’s) daughter and assumes the Swedish throne after the death of his older brother. He later invaded Geatland after his two nephews fled to join Herdred, the king of the Geats. Onela then killed the oldest nephew but the younger lived. Later, Beowulf ruled the Geats, and invaded Sweden with Onela’s younger nephew, who then killed Onela and ruled Sweden.

Ongentho: A king of the Swedes, a famous warrior and father of Onela. He killed Hathcyn and was later killed by a group of Geats led by Higlac.

Shild: A king of the Danes, father to Beo, grandfather to Healfdane and great-grandfather to Hrothgar. A mythological character with parallel personages in Scandinavian mythology (such as Skjoldr related to religious and argricultural cycles).

Thrith: Wife of Offa, king of the Angles. She was a 'haughty, violent young woman' who was 'tamed and gentled' by her stronger husband upon marriage. No further explanation is given for this or her origin.

Unferth: A courtier of Hrothgar, renowned warrior and linguistically talented Dane. Son to Ecglaf, he lends his sword, Hrunting, to Beowulf for his battle with Grendel’s mother.

Wayland: A celebrated mythic smith recounted in many Germanic poems of the period. As Raffel states directly, 'to ascribe a sword or a mail shirt to his gifted hammer was to evoke an automatic association of wonderful workmanship and, in most cases, also of wonderful men and deeds.'

Welthow: Queen to Hrothgar and mother to his sons, Hrethric and Hrothmund. She is remembered in the poem for her diplomatic yet fated speeches given at pivotal moments in the story.

Wiglaf: A Geat warrior who is also somehow related to Beowulf. Son of Wexstan, he is thought to be partially Swedish. He travels with Beowulf when he fights the dragon, and is the only one of Beowulf’s band who comes to his aid during the battle. He becomes king presumably after Beowulf’s death.

Yrs: Healfdane’s daughter. Raffel uses her name in his translation, although it is not actually provided due to gaps present in the text. He believes that the character is most accurately and historically identified as Yrs.

Hengest: A warrior, a Dane, chief lieutenant to Hnaf and eventually, his successor.

Siegmund: Vel’s son, and father and uncle to Fitla. He seems to have married his sister.

Wexstan: Father of Wiglaf and somehow related to Beowulf.

Wulf: A warrior, a Geat and brother to Efor.

Wulfgar: A herald of Hrothgar. No explanation related to lineage is given save the reference that he is a 'prince born to the Swedes'.

Brecca: Chief of a tribe of unknown location or origin, who was a companion and friend of Beowulf. Son of Bonstan.

Grendel’s Mother: The mother of Grendel, the monster, progeny of the cursed line of Cain. Living in the underground lair of fire, she avenges her son’s murder by Hrothgar’s best advisor, and is eventually murdered by Beowulf.

Dragon: A dragon who lived hundreds of years inside a castle guarding ancient treasure until disturbed by a fleeing slave. It’s wrath caused it to ravage Geatland, burning up entire villages with its fiery breath. It is finally killed in a battle with King Beowulf, in which both he and the dragon perish.

Minor Characters

Emer: Offa’s son.

Ermlaf: A nobleman, a Dane and Esher’s younger brother.

Fitla: Siegmund’s son and nephew. Siegmund seems to have married his sister.

Froda: Chief of the Hathobards, father to Ingeld.

Garmund: father to Offa.

Hama: A personage in the cycle of tales relating to Ermric. What relation or role he might have had to Beowulf's tale is unclear.

Hareth: Father to Higd, respected and wealthy.

Hemming: A kinsman of Offa.

Hengest: A warrior, a Dane, chief lieutenant to Hnaf and eventually, his successor.

Herward: Son of Hergar.

Hondshew: A warrior, a Geat, and a companion to Beowulf during his voyage to Denmark and King Hrothgar’s court. He is killed and eaten by Grendel when Beowulf and the Geats stay in Herot to wait for Grendel’s attack.

Siegmund: Vel’s son, and father and uncle to Fitla. He seems to have married his sister.

Swerting: Grandfather of Higlac.

Vels: Father to Siegmund. His name is derived from 'Volsung' of the Norse saga.

Wexstan: Father of Wiglaf and somehow related to Beowulf.

Wulf: A warrior, a Geat and brother to Efor.

Wulfgar: A herald of Hrothgar. No explanation related to lineage is given save the reference that he is a 'prince born to the Swedes'.

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