Beowulf and the Hunt
Sele hlīfadehēah ond horn-gēap; heaðo-wylma bād,lāðan līġes— ne wæs hit lenġe þā ġēnþæt se ecg-hete āþum-swēoranæfter wæl-nīðe wæcnan scolde. (Emphasis added).(Lines 81b–85)
The hall rose up, high and horn-gabled; it awaited battle surges, of hateful flame—it was not long after that the sword-hatred between father-in-law (i.e., Hrothgar) and son-in-law (i.e., Ingeld) would awaken after deadly slaughter.
Ðēah þe hǣð-stapa hundum geswenced,heorot hornum trum holt-wudu sēce,feorran geflȳmed, ǣr hē feorh seleð,aldor on ōfre, ǣr hē in wille,hafelan [beorgan];27 nis þæt hēoru stōw. (Lines 1368–72).(Emphasis added).
Though the heath-stepper, oppressed by hounds, the stag with its proud horns, should seek the forest-wood, put to flight from afar, would rather give up his life, his spirit on the shore, than venture in to (protect?) his head; that is not a pleasant place
[…] on grendeles pyt. of grendeles pytte on ifigbearo. of ifigbeara on hrucgan cumbes ford. of hrucgan cumbes forda on fearnburh. of fearnbyrig on earnes hricg. of earnes hrycge on wealdan cumbes ford. of wealdan cumbe on tettan burnan. of tettan burnan up on stream oð lyllan broc. of lyllan broce on middel hrycg. of middel hrycge on herepað ford. of herepað forda on cyrtlangeat. of cyrtlan gate on suran apuldre. of suran apuldran on grenan weg. of grenan wege on wulfpyt. of wulfpytte on stream oð þa laca tolycgaþ. […] þanon on deormere. of deormere on langan stan […] þanon on caines æcer. of caines æcere on wulfcumbes heafod […].[…] to Grendel’s pit, from Grendel’s pit to Ivy Grove, from Ivy Grove to the Woodcock’s Valley’s ford, from Woodcock’s Valley’s ford to Farnborough, from Farnborough to Eagle’s Ridge, from Eagle’s Ridge to the forest of Cumbesford, from Cumbe forest to Tett’s Stream, from Tett’s Stream up the stream until Lill’s Brook, from Lill’s Brook to Middle Ridge, from Middle Ridge to Herepath crossing, from Herepath crossing to Cyrtle’s Gate, from Cyrtle’s Gate to Sour Apple-Tree, from Sour Apple-Tree to Green Way, from Green Way to Wolf-Pit, from Wolf-Pit to the stream until it runs into the lake […] from there to Deer/Animal Mere, from Deer Mere to the Long Stone […] thence to Cain’s Acre, from Cain’s Acre to Wolf-Hollow’s Head […].
Ærest of grindeles pytt on wiði mære · of wiði mære on reade sloh · of þam sloh up on þa fearnige leage · of þere leage on wulfan dune · of þere dune on beran heafde · of beran heafde on wude crofte · of þam crofte on carca dic · of ðere dice on þene blace pol · of þam pole æfter long pidele into þam mersce · of þam mersce æft on grindeles pyttFirst from Grendel’s Pit to the Withy Mere, from Withy Mere to the Red Slough, from that slough up to the ferny wood, from the wood to the Wolf Hill, from the hill to the Bear’s Head, from the Bear’s Head to Wood Croft, from that croft to Carca Ditch, from that ditch to that Black Pool, from the pool along the Piddle into the marsh, from the marsh back to Grendel’s Pit.
Hīe dȳgel londwarigeað, wulf-hleoþu, windige næssas,frēcne fengelād, ðǣr fyrgen-strēamunder næssa genipu niþer gewīteð,flōd under foldan. (Lines 1357b–61a) (Emphasis added).
They occupy a mysterious land, wolf-slopes, windy cliffs, terrible treacherous fen-tracks, where the mountain stream flows downward under the darkness of cliffs, water under the earth.
Nē þæt se āglǣca yldan þōhte,ac hē gefēng hraðe forman sīðeslǣpendne rinc, slāt unwearnum,bāt bān-locan, blōd ēdrum dranc,syn-snǣdum swealh; sōna hǣfdeunlyfigendes eal gefeormod,fēt ond folman. (Lines 739–45a)
The awe-inspiring one did not think to delay, but quickly he seized at the first pass a sleeping warrior, cut into him without warning, bit the bone-locks, drank blood from the veins, sinful morsels; soon he completely devoured the feet and hands of the unliving one.
Sumum þæt gegongeð on geoguð-fēoreþæt se ende-stæf earfeð-mæcgumwēalic weorþeð. Sceal hine wulf etan,hār hǣð-stapa; hinsīþ þonnemōdor bimurneð. Ne bið swylc monnes geweald.(The Fortunes of Mortals, lines 10–14). (Emphasis added).
For some sufferers it happens that the endwoefully occurs during youth.The wolf, the hoary heath stalker,will devour him; his mother will then mournhis departure. Such is not under human control.
Wel mon sceal wine healdan on wega gehwylcum;oft mon fereð feor bi tūne, þær him wat frēond unwiotodne.Winelēas, won-sǣlig mon genimeð him wulfas tō gefēran,fela-fǣcne dēor. Ful oft hine se gefēra slīteð;gryre sceal for greggum, græf dēadum men;hungre hēofeð, nales þæt hēafe bewindeð,ne hūru wæl wēpeð wulf se grǣga,morþor-cwealm mæcga, ac hit ā māre wille. (Maxims I, lines 143–51)
One must be true to a friend on each path;one often travels far around a homestead, where he knows he has no certain friend.Friendless, the unhappy man takes wolves as companions,very treacherous animals. Very often that companion tears him;there must be terror on account of the grey one, a grave for the dead man;the grey wolf laments its hunger, not at all circles the grave with a dirge,indeed does not mourn over the slaughter,the murder of men, but it always wants more.
Þanon wōc felageōsceaft-gāsta; wæs þǣra Grendel sum,heoro-wearh hetelic, sē æt Heorote fandwæccendne wer wīges bīdan. (Lines 1265b–68) (Emphasis added).
Thence were born a great many misbegotten spirits; Grendel was one of those, hateful sword-wolf, who at Heorot/Stag discovered the sleeping man, awaiting battle.
Hafað se awyrgda wulf tōstenced,dēor dǣd-scua, dryhten, þīn ēowde,wīde tōwrecene þæt ðū, waldend, ǣrblōde gebōhtes, þæt se bealo-fullahȳneð heardlȳce, ond him on hæft nimeðofer ūsse nīoda lust. Forþon wē, nergend, þēbiddað geornlīce brēost-gehygdumþæt þu hrædlīce helpe gefremmewergum wreccan.(Advent Lyrics, lines 256–64a). (Emphasis added).
The cursed wolf, the fierce agent of darkness, has driven your flock apart, Lord, and scattered it far and wide. The evil being cruelly oppresses and takes captive, contrary to our desire and longing, that which you, the ruler, formerly bought with your blood. Therefore, saviour, we eagerly pray to you in our innermost thoughts that you may quickly help us weary exiles.
‘[…] Wēn’ ic þæt hē wille, gif hē wealdan mōt,in þǣm gūð-sele Gēatena lēodeetan unforhte, swā hē oft dydemægen-hrēð manna. Nā þū mīnne þearfthafalan hȳdan, ac hē mē habban wiledrēore fāhne, gif meċ dēað nimeðbyreð blōdiġ wæl, byrgean þenceð,eteð ān-genga unmurnlīce,mearcað mōr-hopu— nō ðū ymb mīnes ne þearftlīces feorme leng sorgian. […].’ (Lines 442–51)
[I expect that he wishes, if he is able, to eat without fear the prince of the Geats in that war-hall, as he often has done to the glorious host of men. You will have no need to hide my head (i.e., to bury me), but he will have me gored with blood, if death takes me, he carries the bloody corpse, intends to taste it, the solitary walker eats without remorse, inhabits the moor-slopes—you will have no need to grieve for long concerning (the whereabouts of) my body.]
Hē on mōde wearðforht on ferhðe; nō þȳ ǣr fram meahte.Hyge wæs him hin-fūs, wolde on heolster flēon,sēcan dēofla ġedrǣg(Lines 753b–56a). (Emphasis added).
In his mind he became afraid in spirit; he could not (go) from there. His intention was to get himself away in a hurry, he wished to flee to the darkness, to seek out the company of devils.
Dēað-fǣge dēog siððan drēama lēasin fen-freoðo feorh ālegde,hǣþene sāwle; þǣr him hel onfēng. (Lines 850–52). (Emphasis added).
He hid doomed to death, after deprived of joys he gave up his life in the fen-refuge, his heathen soul; hell received him there.
4. The Hunting of King Ongentheow and the Beasts of Battle
Þǣr wearð Ongenðīo ecgum sweorda,blonden-fexa on bid wrecen,þæt se þēod-cyning ðafian sceoldeEafores ānne dōm. Hyne yrringaWulf Wonrēding wǣpne gerǣhte, 2965þæt him for swenge swāt ǣdrum sprongforð under fexe. Næs hē forht swā ðēh,gomela Scilfing ac forgeald hraðewyrsan wrixle wæl-hlem þone,syððan ðēod-cyning þyder oncirde. 2970Ne meahte se snella sunu Wonrēdesealdum ceorle ondslyht giofan,ac hē him on hēafde helm ǣr gescer,þæt hē blōde fāh būgan sceolde,fēoll on foldan; næs hē fǣge þā ġīt, 2975ac hē hyne gewyrpte, þēah ðe him wund hrine.Lēt se hearda Higelāces þegnbrādne mēce, þā his brōðor læg,eald-sweord eotonisc entiscne helmbrecan ofer bord-weal; ðā gebēah cyning, 2980folces hyrde, wæs in feorh dropen.Ðā wǣron monige þe his mǣg wriðon,ricone ārǣrdon, ðā him gerȳmed wearð,þæt hīe wæl-stōwe wealdan mōston.Þenden rēafode rinc ōðerne, 2985nam on Ongenðīo īren-byrnan,heard swyrd hilted, ond his helm somod,hāres hyrste Higelāce bær.(Lines 2961–88). (Emphasis added).
There it came to pass that the grey-haired Ongentheow was brought to bay with the edges of swords, so that the people-king had to submit to the sole judgement of Eofor (Boar). Wulf son of Wonred angrily struck him, reached him with a weapon, so that because of the blow the blood sprang forth from his veins from underneath his hair. Even so, he (i.e., Ongentheow) was not afraid because of that, the old Scylfing, but he quickly gave back a worse exchange for that murderous blow, after the people-king turned back. Nor could the brave son on Wonred (i.e., Wulf) deliver a counterblow to the old warrior, but he (i.e., Ongentheow) first cut through his helmet into his head, so that he (i.e., Wulf) had to fall to the earth, bloodstained; he (i.e., Ongentheow) was not fated to die yet, but he recovered himself although the wound injured him. The fierce thane of Hygelac (i.e., Eofor) then let the broad blade, the gigantic ancient sword, break the giant’s helmet over the shield-wall, when his brother (i.e., Wulf) lay dead. Then the king (i.e., Ongentheow) bent down, shepherd of the people, he was struck to his life. Then there were many who bandaged his kin, quickly raised him up, when room was made for them, so that they were allowed to hold sway over the slaughter-place. Then one warrior plundered another, he took from Ongentheow the mail coat, fierce hilted sword, and his helmet all together, bore the ornaments of the grey-haired one to Hygelac.
ac se wonna hrefnfūs ofer fǣgum fela reordian,earne secgan hū him æt ǣte spēow,þenden hē wið wulf wæl rēafode. (Lines 3024b–27)
but the dark raven, eager over the doomed, often inquires, asks of the eagle how it went for him at the feast, when along with the wolf he plundered the slain.
Conflicts of Interest
For example, Bede records in his Ecclesiastical History I.12 that the Britons were left without food following the Roman withdrawal, “except for such relief as hunting brought” (“excepto uenandi solacio”; Colgrave and Mynors 1979, pp. 44–45).
Keynes and Lapidge (1983, p. 75); Stevenson (1904, p. 20): “In onmi venatoria arte industrius venator incessabiliter laborat non in vanum; nam incomparabilis omnibus peritia et felicitate in ilia arte, sicut et in ceteris omnibus Dei donis, fuit”. Asser lists hunting as the foremost skill appropriate to a nobleman (Vita Alfredi, 75; Keynes and Lapidge 1983, p. 90), and twice refers to Alfred engaging in hunts once he assumed the throne (Vita Alfredi, 74, 76; Keynes and Lapidge 1983, pp. 89, 91). In the Prose Preface to the Old English Pastoral Care, “Alfred” uses hunting imagery to describe how the scholars of his day have lost the “track” (OE “spor”) of wisdom left by their ancestors (Keynes and Lapidge 1983, p. 125). Similarly, the narrator of the preface to the Alfredian translation of St Augustine’s Soliloquies describes how every man, once he has built a hamlet on leased land from his lord, delights to engage in hunting, fowling, and fishing (Keynes and Lapidge 1983, p. 139). The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry for 885 (=884) records that the Carolingian ruler, Carloman II, was slain by a boar while out hunting (see also, Vita Alfredi, 68; Keynes and Lapidge 1983, p. 87).
For the identification of Heorot with the stag, see Orchard (2003), p. 156. On animal names in Beowulf, see Orchard (2003), p. 172. See also Herben (1935). The study of animals in medieval literature has become a major subject in recent decades. See, for example, Mann (2009); and Bintley and Williams (2019).
In Scandinavian sources, the Scylding/Skjoldung hall is referred to as “Lejre”. Stephen J. Herben Jr. notes that an eighteenth-century map records two place names, Stor Hiort and Lille Hiorte, in the vicinity of Lejre (Herben 1935, p. 943). See further, Niles and Osborn (2007). For possible the connections with Hartlepool (Old English “Heruteu”), see Harris (2014). Widsith is usually thought to be among the earliest Old English poems, and it is probably antecedent to Beowulf: see Neidorf (2013b); and Neidorf (2019). For arguments for a later post-Alfredian date of composition for Widsith, see Niles (1999); and Weiskott (2015). On the probable dating of Beowulf to the seventh or eighth century, see the essays in Neidorf (2014). Regardless of the date of Widsith, however, the appearance of the name, Heorot, in both poems, suggests that it was the traditional name of the Scylding court in England.
The use of antlers for making inkwells is alluded to in Exeter Book Riddles 88 and 93 (ASPR numbering), both of which are usually solved as “blæc-horn” (“ink-horn”); in Orchard (2021), these riddles are numbered 84 and 89. For text and translation, see Orchard (2021, pp. 408–11, 414–15). The majority of the Exeter Riddles probably date from the eighth century (see Neidorf 2013a, p. 39). Tim Flight (2016) has recently analysed the account of an aristocratic deer hunt led by King Edmund (r. 924–46) in the late-tenth century, Vita S. Dunstani. Della Hooke comments on the hunting of of deer for venison long before the Norman Conquest and highlights presence of deer-related terms in Pre-Conquest English place-names (Hooke 2015, pp. 267–71).
On the influence of hagiography on the poem, see Rauer (2000). The hart appears frequently in the prophetic books of the Old Testament, and most famously in Psalm 42.1, “As the hart panteth after the fountains of water; so my soul panteth after thee, O God” (the Douay-Rheims translation of the Vulgate). In later medieval bestiaries and art, the stag often appears as a symbol of Christ, which is a tradition that can be traced back to Isidore’s statement that stags are “antagonistic to serpents” (Etymologies, XII.i.18; Barney et al. 2009, p. 248). See Sill (1996, p. 21); Payne (1990, pp. 38–9); and Badke (2022): http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast162.htm (accessed 2 March 2022). In the tenth-century Old English prose version of the Life of St Eustace, the pagan lord, Placidas, is out leading a deer hunt when, separated from the majority of the group, he is confronted by a great stag (“ormæte heort”, Kramer et al. 2020, p. 58). After pursuing the stag into a wood with a small group, Placidas becomes separated from his men. Eventually, he catches up with the stag, who is standing on a high rock, and he sees, “betweox þæs heortes hornum” (“between the horns of the stag”), a gleaming crucifix. The Old English, Life of Eustace, is based on a Latin version of the Greek original.
Scholars have suggested that the name, Heorot, stems from the attachment of antlers, or even horns, to the gables (Rollason 2012, p. 448; Sykes 2010, p. 177; Blair 2018, p. 106). Blair argues that Beowulf’s Heorot is a literary counterpart to the “great hall complexes” of seventh-century England, such as the Northumbrian royal palace at Yeavering (Blair 2018, pp. 137–38).
The cause of the fire at Heorot is a feud with the Heathobards: Beowulf predicts that a fight will break out at the marriage of Hrothgar’s daughter, Freawaru, and the Heathobard prince, Ingeld (lines 2020–69a). In Widsith, Hrothgar and his nephew, Hrothulf, defend Heorot against attack by a Heathobard force that is led by the same Ingeld.
During the ensuing fight between Beowulf and Grendel, the narrator twice uses the personal pronoun, he, to refer to the hall, as it struggles to withstand the battering it receives from the titanic struggle of these two fierce adversaries (772b, 773b).
Greenfield (1967, p. 150) notes two further instances of the formula: Cotton Gnomes, lines 36b–37a: “Duru sceal on healle/rūm recedes mūþ” (“The door must be in the hall, the spacious building’s mouth”); and Genesis A, lines 1363–64a: “Him on hoh belēac heofron-rices weard/mere-hūses muþ” (“At his” (i.e., Noah’s) “heels, the guardian of the heaven-kingdom locked the mouth of the sea-house” (i.e., the Ark)).
On the motif of deer hunting in the poem, see Faraci (1998). Scholars have noted analogues in the Aeneid, VI. 239ff. (Klaeber 1911), and a thirteenth-century hunting manual (Rigg 1982). Others have connected this passage with pagan fertility cults (Nicholson 1986), or have read it as a Christian allegory (Robertson 1951, pp. 33–34). Anlezark (2007) places it within the classical Avernian tradition and compares a related passage in the Old English poem, Solomon and Saturn II.
The metrical rules indicate that the scribe has skipped a word after “hafelan”. The verb, “beorgan” (“to protect”), is supplied by most editors, including (Fulk et al. 2008). For a recent and persuasive argument in favour of an emendment instead to “hafele”, which produces the reading, “with its head raised”, see Porck (2020). The fifteenth-century hunting manual, The Master of Game, describes how the stag will enter into a lake or marsh to try and throw pursuing hounds off its scent (Baillie-Grohman and Baillie-Grohman 1909, p. 33).
On Grendel as a symbol of a royal usurper and as a portent of threats to the Scylding dynasty, see Leneghan (2020a, pp. 162–76). In the opening lines of the poem, God recognizes the “fyren-ðearfe” (“terrible need”) that the Danes had endured during a long period without kings (14b–16a). On the fear of lordlessness as a central theme in the poem, see (Stanley 2005).
Noting the correspondence in the names between the animal and the royal hall, Sarah Lynn Higley reads this passage as a “counter-image” of the conventional motif that is known as the “Hero on the Beach” (on which, see Crowne 1960), in which the stag “appears to present a complex visual metaphor for the passivity and entrapment present in Hrothgar’s kingdom” (Higley 1986, p. 344). On Hrothgar’s inertia, see also Porck (2019, pp. 188–97); and Leneghan (2020a, pp. 50–67).
In their study of the interaction between wolves and white-tailed deer in contemporary North America, Mech, Smith, and MacNulty observe “a constant tension between the two species, with each trying to survive by outdoing the other” (Mech et al. 2015, p. 13).
See, for example, Orchard (2003, p. 156); and Marvin (2006, p. 19). For a linguistic survey of the wolf terms in the poem, see Wiersma (1961, pp. 41–53, 474–75). For a useful survey of wolves in Old English literature, see now Flight (2021, pp. 62–88). On the importance of wolves in the Volsung legend, which is alluded to in Beowulf in lines 875–900, see Vowell (forthcoming).
A rare example of a positive depiction of a wolf in pre-Conquest England is found in Ælfric’s late tenth-century, Life of St Edmund. After the saint’s martyrdom, a wolf plays against type by miracously protecting his dismembered head in a forest (Clayton and Mullins 2019, pp. 196–97). See Faulkner (2012). For the more typical negative association of the wolf in the same text, see below, n. 65. Another guardian wolf appears in the twelfth-century, Gesta Herewardi ch. XXIX, in which the hero and his men are guided through a storm at night by a tame wolf that they mistake for a dog.
Most scholars accept that Genesis A was composed around the same time as Beowulf, which was in the seventh or eighth century (e.g., Fulk 1992, pp. 348–51; and Neidorf 2013a, p. 39); Maldon dates from the late tenth or early eleventh century, even though the poet appears to borrow directly from Beowulf (see Atherton 2021, pp. 128–38).
In Ælfric’s, Colloquy, the shepherd says that he guards his sheep with dogs in hot and cold weather, “þe læs wulfas forsweglen hig” (“lest wolves should eat them”) (Garmonsway 1978, p. 22). Once caught and killed, wolves were valued more for their (foul-smelling) fur than for their meat.
S 50, 255, 276, 446, 582, 600, 970, 1036. All charters are cited by Sawyer number (S) from the Electronic Sawyer corpus (www.esawyer.org.uk), which is based on Sawyer (1968). The results were sourced from the Dictionary of Old English Web Corpus (Healey et al. 2009), which was accessed on 29 December 2021. Cf. The Master of Game VII: “Also men take them (i.e., wolves) within pits and with needles and with haussepieds or with venomous powders that men give them in flesh, and in many other manners” (Baillie-Grohman and Baillie-Grohman 1909, p. 61).
Cf. “grendles bece” (“beech”) (S 786); “gryndeles syllen” (“bog”) (S 645); “grendeles gatan” (“gate”) (S 1451); “grendel” (S 669); and “grendles mere” (S 416, 579). The poet twice relates the Grendelkin’s descent from the misbegotten line of Cain (lines 102–14 and 1261b–65). The charter might therefore suggest that the Grendelkin were already associated with Cain prior to the composition of the poem. Alternatively—and I would suggest, more probably—the collocations of these place names might reflect the popularity of Beowulf, which perhaps inspired its audience to name the features in their own landscape after the people and places mentioned in the poem. A similar process seems to lie behind the naming of a neolithic burial chamber in Oxfordshire as “Welandes smiððan” (“Wayland’s Smithy”), which is recorded in a charter of King Eadred to Ælfeah, 955 (S 564), after the legendary Germanic smith who is mentioned in Beowulf (line 455a), as well as in several other Old English texts. For possible connections between the name, Grendel, and the East Anglian word, grindle, which means, “drain”, or “ditch”, see Newton (1992, p. 144). Kaske notes the possible connections between the name, Grendel, and the Old English verb, grindan (“to grind”), and the noun, grund (“the bottom of a lake”), and connects the name’s unusual -el ending with the names of the fallen angels, or “watchers” (e.g., Rameel, Kkabiel, Tamiel, Ramiel, Danel, and Ezeqeel) who, according the Book of Enoch, had intercourse with the daughters of Cain, which brought forth a race of cannibalistic giants (Kaske 1971, p. 426).
In a recent study of the extra (i.e., nonstructural) alliteration in Old English verse, Mark Griffith notes: “Word-initial gr- opens many words in Old English in the related semantic areas of grimness, grief, anger and violence”, and suggests that the Beowulf poet used gr-clusters, such as grim ond grǣdig, as “a vehicle for the characterisation of the monstrous” (Griffith 2018, pp. 97–99).
Compare the description of wolves in The Master of Game: “And there be some (wolves) that hunt at the hart […]. There are some that eat children and men and eat no other flesh from the time that they be acherned (blooded) by men’s flesh […]. They are called wer-wolves, for men should beware of them […]. And man’s flesh is so savoury and so pleasant that when they have taken to man’s flesh they will never eat the flesh of other beasts, though they should die of hunger. For many men have seen them leave the sheep they have taken and eat the shepherd. […] For he knoweth well and woteth well that he doth evil, and therefore men ascrieth (cry at) and hunteth and slayeth him. And yet for all that he may not leave his evil nature.” (Baillie-Grohman and Baillie-Grohman 1909, pp. 59–60, 63).
This verb also appears in the context of eating, fens, a watery environment, and wolves in the enigmatic Exeter Book poem, Wulf and Eadwacer, lines 2a, 8a.
For recent commentary on these poems, see Niles (2019, pp. 93–106). In this discussion, Niles treats The Wanderer as a wisdom poem. See further Shippey (1994). One recent study found 489 human victims of wolf attacks in North America between 2002 and 2020 (Frey 2021). The majority of these victims were attacked by rabid wolves, but 67 were the result of predatory attacks, of whom 9 were killed. Accounts of wolves killing humans continue to inspire fear and are regularly reported in newspapers and online. See, for example, “Villagers Kill Wolf Attacking Humans” (Anon 2021), The Times of India, 29 October 2021: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/villagers-kill-wolf-attacking-humans/articleshow/87346428.cms, accessed on 12 February 2022. The recent reintroduction of wolves to parts of Europe has attracted controversy, with farmers complaining about the losses of livestock and raising concerns about attacks on humans. See, for example, Hedgecoe (2021).
Niles (2019) treats all of the Exeter Book poems as roughly contemporary with their tenth-century manuscript, but most scholars have dated them to the early Anglo-Saxon period: Neidorf (2013a), for example, places Maxims I close to Beowulf, as part of the “archaic corpus” (i.e., prior to the ninth century), on lexical grounds; see also Cronan (2004). Fulk would assign The Wanderer a date later than Beowulf on metrical grounds (Fulk 1992, pp. 12–13, 166–67). For a study of Old English catalogue poems, see Howe (1985). See also Stanley (1956, pp. 445–47); and Stanley (2015).
Brian O’Camb has compared this passage with Isidore’s description of the wolf that is cited above (O’Camb 2016).
Grendel refuses to accept a truce (“sibbe”, line 154b) or financial recompense (“fēa þingian”, line 159b) for his feud with the Danes (“fǣhðe”, line 153a). He is, therefore, quite literally an outlaw, who rejects the legal customs of society. William Chaney (1962) suggests that Grendel’s inability to approach to the “gif-stōl” (lines 168–69) reflects the ancient custom whereby a criminal and murderer was denied access to royal asylum. For a survey of the interpretations of the gif-stōl crux, see Leneghan (2020a, pp. 162–76). For connections between Grendel and later English outlaws, such as Robin Hood, see Cotten-Spreckelmeyer (2011); Harlan-Haughey (2016).
Some scholars argue the poet believed that some “good pagans”, such as Scyld and Beowulf, could be saved (e.g., Cox 1971), while others have rejected this possibility on the grounds of its incompatibility with the position of many of the Church Fathers (e.g., Stanley 1963). For an overview of the debate, see Fulk et al. (2008, pp. lxix–lxx).
The interpretation of the Old English, wearh, in this context, as “wolf”, was first suggested by Grein (1861–1864). Klaeber ([1911–12] 1997, p. 24) finds the proposal unlikely, but see Wiersma (1961, p. 54). In his study, Wulf and Eadwacer, Stanley also casts doubt on the association of wolves with outlaws in Old English (Stanley 1992), but the evidence of the wisdom poems cited in this article, as well as the Advent Lyrics and Beowulf itself, would suggest otherwise.
MS 1506a reads “brimwyl” (“surging water”?), but most editors emend it to “brimwylf”.
DOE Corpus, (Healey et al. 2009); gloss numbers, 0104 (B138), and 0108 (B145). Bellona is also glossed as “wælcyrge” (“valkyrie”) (DOE Corpus, (Healey et al. 2009); gloss numbers, 0731  and 1847). For connections between Grendel’s mother and the figure of the Valkyrie, see Chadwick (1959, p. 177; and Damico (1984, p. 46). The connection between the Bellona gloss and Grendel’s mother is noted by Purser (2013, p. 115, n. 54), although he does not discuss the implications of the “beluae, bestiae maris” gloss. Grendel’s mother is also described as a “mere-wīf mihtig” (a “mighty sea-woman”, line 1519b).
Commenting on these lines, Fulk, Bjork, and Niles note: “If the gryre that she inspires is less, the danger that Grendel’s mother presents is nonetheless greater, for the fight with her is more difficult for Bēowulf than the fight with Grendel” (Fulk et al. 2008, p. 197).
I am grateful to Irina Rau for sharing her unpublished research on this topic with me, and for discussing the connections between Grendel and wolves.
In Beowulf, Hrothgar associates Grendel with “scuccum ond scinnum” (“demons and evil spirits”, line 939a). See further, Pascual (2014). Newton further suggests that the wolf may have been a royal symbol for the Wuffingas, the East Anglian ruling dynasty who claimed among their ancestors one, Hrothmund, a name that corresponds with one of the two sons of Hrothgar and Wealhtheow who is named in Beowulf (Newton 1992, pp. 106–8).
The Second-Family Bestiary records that the she-wolf, “if she needs to seek her prey at night, like a tame dog she goes back and forth at the sheepfold. And lest the dogs by chance smell the odor oh her breath and wake the shepherds, she walks against the wind. And if a branch or anything sounds beneath her footstep, she punishes the foot with an emphatic bite. Her eyes shine in the dark like lanterns.” (Clark 2006, p. 143).
Demonic epithets are frequently applied to Grendel, for example “fēond mancynnes” (the “enemy of mankind”, line 164b), “Godes andsaca” (“God’s adversary”, line 1682b), and “eald-gewinna” (“ancient enemy”, line 1773a). On Grendel’s demonic nature more generally, see Andrew (1981); and Johnson (2001). As Klaeber notes, Grendel’s mother is also described in demonic terms, such as “wæl-gǣst wǣfre” (“wandering slaughter guest”, line 1331a) and “æfter deofla hryre” (“after the fall of devils”, line 1680a) (Klaeber [1911–12] 1997, p. 64).
On the early date of the Advent Lyrics, see Rankin (1985); Fulk (1992, pp. 396–99). In his, Life of St Edmund, Ælfric describes how, after invading East Anglia in 865, the Viking chieftain, Hinguar, “færlice swa swa wulf on lande bestalcode” (“swiftly stalked the land like a wolf”), killing men, women, and children (Clayton and Mullins 2019, pp. 188–89). Writing around the same time, Wulfstan warns that the shepherds of the people (i.e., bishops and priests) must be wary, lest the “wodfræca werewulf” (“ravening werewolf”) (i.e., the devil) should too quickly tear at or bite the godly flock: Homily 16b (Bethurum 1957, p. 31).
On the possible connections between the OE, “wearg” (Bosworth and Toller 1898, p. 1177; s. v. “wearg”: “evil”, “vile”, “malignant”, “accursed”), and the ON, “vargr” (“wolf”), see above.
The same epithet, “wergan gāstes”, is used by Hrothgar in his advice to Beowulf (line 1747b) to refer to demons.
The parallel is noted by Klaeber ([1911–12] 1997, p. 22), who links this phrase to the biblical, “umbra mortis” (Mt. 4.16, Lc 1.79 etc.)). In his speech to the Danish coastguard, Beowulf similarly refers to Grendel as a “dēogol dæd-hata” (“secret doer of hateful deeds”, line 275a), who performs “hȳnðu ond hrā-fyl” (“humiliation and slaughter”, line 277a) in Heorot. For a list of all the Old English poetic compounds, see now Orchard (2020).
For further references to the Grendelkin’s wolflike method of snatching their prey and taking them home to eat them, see lines 120–25, 1292–95, 2085b–92, and 2127b–28.
In Virgil’s Aeneid, XI, 809–15, the fleeing figure of Arruns is compared to a wolf that has killed a shepherd or a bullock and that hides itself in the mountains and woods. On the complex and extensive symbolic use the wolf as both a ravenous predator and a nurturing protector in Virgil, as well as on numerous references to lycanthropy, see Fratantuono (2018). There is no strong evidence to indicate that the Beowulf poet was familiar with the writings of Virgil, although a number of scholars have raised the possibility. For a detailed study of the Virgilian parallels, see Haber (1931).
“Fuglum” is supplied by most editors to fulfil the alliteration of the line, Cf. line 2448a, “hrefne tō hroððe” (“to the delight of the raven”).
Earlier in the same speech, the Messenger relates how, following Hygelac’s own death in Frisia, his young son, King Heardred, was pursued and killed by Ongentheow’s son, Onela, as punishment for harbouring the exiled sons of Ohthere (lines 2379b–86).
The term, blonden-feax, is also used three times to describe the old and grey-haired Hrothgar, at lines 1594a, 1791a, and 1873a. Hrothgar is also described as “gamol-feax” (1608a).
“þone hafelan ond þā hilt somod” (“that head and the hilt together”, line 1614); “from þǣm holm-clife hafelan bǣron” (“they carried the head from the sea-cliff”, line 1635); “þā wæs be feaxe on flet boren/Grendles hēafod” (“then Grendel’s head was brought into the hall by the hair”, lines 1647–48a); “Ðā wæs gylden hilt gamelum rince,/hārum hild-fruman on hand gyfen” (“Then the golden hilt was given to the old ruler, into the hands of the gray war-chief”, lines 1677–78).
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Leneghan, F. Beowulf and the Hunt. Humanities 2022, 11, 36. https://doi.org/10.3390/h11020036
Leneghan F. Beowulf and the Hunt. Humanities. 2022; 11(2):36. https://doi.org/10.3390/h11020036Chicago/Turabian Style
Leneghan, Francis. 2022. "Beowulf and the Hunt" Humanities 11, no. 2: 36. https://doi.org/10.3390/h11020036