A Glossary for Beowulf Beginners Refer back to these notes while you’re reading to help clarify the meaning of unfamiliar terms!
Avenge To avenge is to take revenge for someone else. Ex. To avenge a friend who has been killed would be to kill his killer.
Barrow A barrow is a large mound of earth with a grave inside for burying a person and his belongings. It often looks like a small hill. Many Anglo Saxon objects have been found by digging into some of these “hills.”
Blood-feud A blood-feud is a feud started by an act of bloodshed when somebody is killed. Because of this killing, two groups or tribes are at war as more and more killings take place in revenge for those who died.
Boast A boast was a kind of promise a warrior made in front of other people. When a brave action was boasted and everyone heard it, the warrior had to do it. If he succeeded, or died trying, his would be talked about and praised. If he did not, he would not be respected any more.
Fame Fame was very important to warrior tribes and it was the way you were remembered and spoken of, the way your story was told. You could win fame by brave deeds in battle or by being a wise adviser, for making good decisions or bringing about peace. You could also win ill-fame for leaving your friends in battle, being a bad lord, or murdering your relatives.
Feud A feud is a state of hatred and killing between two groups of people. It is a war by one family or tribe against another. Feuds are very difficult to stop because too many people on each side want revenge for their loved ones who have died.
Funeral Pyre A funeral pyre is a huge pile of wood for burning a body at a funeral. The ancestors of the Anglo Saxons believed the soul left the body when it was burnt, not at the moment when the person died. Sometimes a person’s armour and other treasures would be burnt with them.
Hides In Anglo-Saxon times, land was measured in hides. One hide of land was supposed to be enough to meet the needs of one family – for them to live on, grow crops, and graze animals.
Hrunting The swords in Anglo-Saxon stories often have names. A sword often lasted longer than the life of its owner and was handed down from father to son. A sword that had been successful many times seemed to have magical powers to protect its owner and destroy his enemies. An Anglo- Saxon warrior depended on his sword to save his life and kill his enemies. Hrunting is the name of Beowulf’s sword.
Mailshirts Anglo Saxon warriors wore mailcoats to protect their bodies from spears, arrows, and swords. They were made of hundreds of tiny metal rings linked tightly together so that the sharp points of weapons could not easily find a way through.
Mead-hall The word ‘mead-hall’ means a place for drinking‘mead.’ Mead is a drink made from honey. The Anglo-Saxons liked to drink mead, wine, and beer. The mead-hall was a building where everyone could meet.
Mere Ninth HouR of the Day A mere is another word for lake or pool. The Anglo-Saxons counted the hours of the day beginning at 6 o’clock in the morning. So the ninth hour is 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
Olden Days of the Giants This is a story from the Bible, which says that once a race of Giants lived on the earth. They were at war with God. The people grew wicked, so God sent a great flood to punish and destroy all of the wickedness. Grendel and his mother are supposed to be related to this race of Giants who once ruled the earth.
Wergild Wergild, or “man payment,” was the practice of paying a slain man’s family to atone for the deed and to prevent them from taking revenge against the manslayer. Wergild is mentioned in Beowulf. Before the events in the poem, Hrothgar paid a wergild to Beowulf’s father. Hence, Beowulf feels compelled to help Hrothgar in his time of need.