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protagonist of the epic; Geatish hero who fights the monster Grendel, Grendel's mother, and a fire-breathing dragon; personifies all of the best values of the heroic culture

King Hrothgar

king of the Danes; enjoys military success and prosperity until Grendel terrorizes his realm; father figure to Beowulf and a model for the kind of king that Beowulf becomes


demon descended from Cain; preys on Hrothgar's warriors in the king's mead-hall

Grendel's mother

unnamed swamp-hag; seeks vengeance for son's death (human aspect)

The dragon

ancient, powerful serpent; guards a horde of treasure in a hidden mound

Shield Sheafson

legendary Danish king from whom Hrothgar is descended; inaugurates a long line of Danish rulers and embodies the Danish tribe's highest values of heroism and leadership


Hrothgar's wife; "peace weaver" queen of the Danes


Danish warrior jealous of Beowulf; unable or unwilling to fight Grendel, thus proving himself inferior to Beowulf


Hrothgar's trusted adviser


Beowulf's uncle, king of the Geats, and husband of Hygd


young kinsman and retainer of Beowulf; helps fight against the dragon while all of the other warriors run away; adheres to the heroic code, proving himself a suitable successor to Beowulf


Beowulf's father, Hygelac's brother-in-law, and Hrothgar's friend; lives on through the noble reputation that he made for himself during his life and in his dutiful son's remembrances


Beowulf's childhood friend, whom he defeated in a swimming match


figure from Norse mythology, famous for slaying a dragon; foreshadows Beowulf's encounter with the dragon

King Heremod

evil king of legend; contrasts greatly with Beowulf

Queen Modthryth

wicked queen of legend; punishes anyone who looks at her the wrong way


Hrothgar's warriors


Unferth's sword Beowulf used to fight Grendel's mother


the sword Beowulf used to fight the dragon


the mead-hall built by the Danish King Hrothgar, to house his men, and show off his victories and fame


homeland of Beowulf


Land of the Danes; ruled by Hrothgar

Beowulf's barrow

tower built after Beowulf's death where his ashes are buried


collar or necklace that Wealhtheow gives Beowulf as symbol of the bond of loyalty between her people and Beowulf


ideal of fealty, brotherhood, community

fame, renown

desire to be much talked of, both during one's life and after death; the desire for immortality through one's name, one's works, one's deeds

vanity of pride

emerging counter-ideal associated with Christianity; re-evaluation of virtue no longer as strength and valor but instead as moral awareness


fate, the strong sense of doom; replaced or complemented by Christian belief that all things happen for a reason according to God


"man-price"; a legally fixed compensation for murdering someone; token of a civilized person; stops endless blood-feuding


a kind of metaphor, not unlike the Homeric epithet; compound of two nouns, used as a poetic substitute for a common word


ironic negative statement or understatement

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