Familial and Marital Relationships in Beowulf
Two Works Cited To the reader of Old English Beowulf the familial and marital relationships are not so very obvious, especially when one is concentrating all of one’s mental energies on translating the thousand-year-old vocabulary of the poem. The following essay is intended to clarify those relationships while proceeding sequentially through the poem.
First of all, Scyld Scefing, historic king of the Danes (Scyldings), had a son Beow(ulf) to occupy the throne: “Then in the strongholds [Beow] the Scylding was king of all Denmark, beloved by his people” (53-55). Then [Beow] “had a son in his turn, Healfdene the great, who, while he lived, aged, war-fierce, ruled lordly Scyldings” (56-58). Healfdene’s progeny were numerous: “From Healfdene are numbered four children in all; from the leader of armies they woke to the world, Heorogar, Hrothgar, and Halga the good; it is told that [Yrse was Onela's] queen”(59-62). Heorogar fathered Heoroweard; Halga fathered Hrothulf who lived with Hrothgar (“the mighty minded ones, Hrothgar and Hrothulf” (1016-17). Implied in this and in the following lines is the hint that Hrothulf will slay Hrothgar’s oldest son, Hrethic, and take the throne: “Wealhtheow came forth, glistening in gold, to greet the good pair, uncle and nephew[Hrothulf]; their peace was still firm, each true to the other” (1162-5) (Chickering 280). Hrothgar’s other two children were Hrothmund and Freawaru (“I heard the men give her the name Freawaru when she passed to those heroes the gem-studded cup” (2022-23).
The hero Beowulf, upon arriving in Denmark with his band of Geats, states his geneology: “My own father was well known abroa...
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... grown up in King Hrethel’s household along with the king’s own sons: “In no way was I, a man of his stronghold, more hateful to him than his own sons, Herebeald, Haethcyn, or Hygelac my lord” (2432-34). Haethcyn accidentally killed “his brother [Herebeald]… with an arrow from his bow” (2437-38), causing the father’s death through grief.
Perhaps this essay will elucidate some vague familial and marital realtionships for the new student of Beowulf, who is grappling with somany trranslation problems from the Old English that he may find it difficult to discern all the intricate relationships.
Chickering, Howell D.. Beowulf A dual-Language Edition. New York: Anchor Books, 1977.
Wilbur, Richard. “Beowulf.” In TheBeowulf Poet, edited by Donald K. Fry. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.