Essay Comparing Beowulf and The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki

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Beowulf and The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki

There are so many similarities between the hero of the poem Beowulf and The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, an Iceland saga representing 1000 years of oral traditions prior to the 1300’s when it was written, that these similarities cannot be attributed solely to coincidence.

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature states that the hero of the poem, Beowulf himself, may be the same person as Bodvar Biarki, the chief of Hrolfr Kraki’s knights (v1, ch3, s3, n13). George Clark in “The Hero and the Theme” mentions: “The form of Beowulf taken as a whole suggests both the ‘Bear’s Son’ folktale type (especially as we find it in Scandinavia) and the ‘combat myth’. . . .” (286). In The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, Bodvar is the grandson of a king (Hring); in Beowulf the hero is the grandson of a king (Hrethel). Bodvar’s father has been expelled from his country, Gautland; Beowulf’s father Ecgtheow has been expelled from Geatland. Bodvar’s father is dead; Beowulf’s father is dead (Hrothgar says,”his father, now dead, was named Ecgtheow”) (373). Bodvar as a boy was so strong that he was not permitted to take part in the king’s games past the age of twelve because he injured too many of his opponents; Beowulf as a young man was so strong that “he was the strongest of all living men” (196). Bodvar was huge; Beowulf was “noble and huge” (198). Bodvar was more noble than the people around him; Beowulf refused to accept the kingship from Queen Hygd upon Hygelac’s death, risked his life various times for the benefit of others, put his own welfare last instead of first, and distributed his wealth generously when it was warranted. “Though Beowulf is careful to collect his winnings, ...

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...en and the gentlest, the kindest to his people” (3181).

The Iceland saga, The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, written in the 1300’s, represents about 1000 years of oral traditions. The remarkable similarities between this saga’s main character and Beowulf’s main character are just too astounding to dismiss as mere coincidences.


Chickering, Howell D.. Beowulf A dual-Language Edition. New York: Anchor Books, 1977.

Clark, Gorge. “The Hero and the Theme.” In A Beowulf Handbook, edited by Robert Bjork and John D. Niles. Lincoln, Nebraska: Uiversity of Nebraska Press, 1997.

The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, translated by Jesse L. Byock. New York: Penguin Books, 1998.

Ward & Trent, et al. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1907–21; New York:, 2000

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