What was the function and nature of a mead-hall in the Heroic Age of Beowulf? Was it more than a tavern for the dispensing and consumption of alcoholic beverages, and occasionally precious gifts? Yes, much more.
Remaining true to the Anglo-Saxon culture’s affinity for mead (ale/beer/wine), the characters of Beowulf partake frequently of the strong beverage. And the mead hall was their home away from home, with more entertainments than just fermented beverages: “gold and treasure at huge feasts … the words of the poet, the sounds of the harp.” Needless to say, with “the world’s greatest mead-hall … Hrothgar’s people lived in joy.” “after a mead party the Danes … knew no sorrows.” When Grendel “moved into the [mead] hall,” that was an indescribably torturesome pain for everyone: “Hrothgar was broken … the Danes forgot God … [they were] in great distress … they wept and seethed.” When the hero and his men arrived they immediately “came toward the hall … then sat down on benches … pouring sweet drink.” They came “to cleanse Heorot [the mead hall],” to stop the “humiliations in Heorot” where men are “over their ale-cups.” Beowulf predicts: “When I get done with him, anyone who wishes may happily go into the mead hall.” Unferth, in his battle rune at Hrothgar’s feet, was insulting to the hero because Unferth was “drunk on mead.” When Queen Wealhtheow entertained the Geats, she first bid the king “joy in his mead drinking,” then “went around to each … sharing the precious cup.” When the hero began fighting the monster, “many a mead bench … went flying.” The next day the queen “walked among the mead seats,” and everyone “drank many a mead cup.” References to this subject ...
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...tory for lodging and a meeting place for paying debts and forging alliances. It was, in a word, a joyful and useful place.
Arnold, Ralph. “Royal Halls – The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial.” In Donaldson Translation, edited by Joseph F. Tuso. New York, W.W.Norton and Co.: 1975
Chickering, Howell D.. Beowulf A dual-Language Edition. New York: Anchor Books, 1977.
Cramp, Rosemary. “Beowulf and Archaeology.” In TheBeowulf Poet, edited by Donald K. Fry. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.
Hill, John M.. “Social Milieu.” In A Beowulf Handbook, edited by Robert Bjork and John D. Niles. Lincoln, Nebraska: Uiversity of Nebraska Press, 1997.
Shippey, T.A.. “The World of the Poem.” In Beowulf – Modern Critical Interpretations, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
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