Beowulf (bay-eh-woolf), the nephew and thane of King Hygelac of the Geats. A warrior who proves his superhuman strength and endurance in his struggle with the monster Grendel, he exemplifies the ideal lord and vassal, rewarding his own men generously and accomplishing glorious deeds to honor his king, while he fulfills all the forms of courtesy at Hrothgar’s court.
Hrothgar (HROHTH-gahr), the aging lord of the Danes, a good and generous ruler deeply distressed by Grendel’s ravaging visits to Heorot, his great hall. He adopts his savior, Beowulf, as his son and parts with him tearfully in a moving scene; he knows that he will not see the young warrior again.
Wealhtheow (WEE-ahl-thay-oh), his queen, a gracious, dignified hostess to the visiting Geats. She, too, grows fond of Beowulf and commends the welfare of her young sons into his hands.
Unferth (EWN-fahrth), Hrothgar’s adviser, typical of the wicked counselors of folklore. Envious of Beowulf and heated with wine, he taunts the Geat with his failure to defeat Breca in a youthful swimming match. He is won over by Beowulf’s victory against Grendel and lends the hero his sword, Hrunting, for the undersea battle against Grendel’s mother.
Grendel (GREHN-duhl), one of the monstrous descendants of Cain, condemned to wander alone in the wastelands of the world. Given pain by the light and merriment in Hrothgar’s hall, he visits it and regularly carries off warriors to devour until he is mortally maimed in a struggle with Beowulf.
Grendel’s Mother, another monster. She invades Heorot to avenge her dead son and is herself killed by Beowulf after a long and difficult combat in her underwater cave.
Hygelac (HE-guh-lahk), Beowulf’s lord, the wise ruler of the Geats. He is killed while leading a raid in the Rhineland.
Hygd (hihj), his young, accomplished, and intelligent queen. She offers the throne of her young son to Beowulf after Hygelac’s death.
Hrothmund (HROHTH-mewnd) and
Hrethric (HRAYTH-reek), the sons of Hrothgar and Wealhtheow.
Hrothulf (HROHTH-oolf), Hrothgar’s nephew and ward. Although Wealhtheow professes trust in his care of her children, there are hints of his subsequent treachery to them.
Freawaru (FRAY-ah-wah-rew), Hrothgar’s daughter, about to be betrothed to Ingeld of the Heathobards as a political pawn. Beowulf prophesies that only unhappiness will arise from this alliance.
Wiglaf (WEEG-lahf), the last of Beowulf’s kinsmen and his heir. He alone helps the old hero in his last fight against a ravaging dragon, and he later berates his companions for their cowardice.
Heardred (HEH-ahrd-rayd), Hygelac’s son, who succeeds his father as king of the Geats. Beowulf serves as his regent until the boy reaches maturity and replaces him after Heardred is killed in battle with the Swedes.
Ongentheow (OHN-yuhn-thee-oh), the Swedish king, slain by the Geats at the battle of Ravenswood.
Eanmund (AY-ahn-moond), and
Eadgils (AY-ahd-gihls), members of the Swedish royal family.
Wulfgar (WOOLF-gahr), Hrothgar’s messenger, famous for wisdom and courtesy.
Hrethel (HRAYTH-uhl), Hygelac’s father, who trained his grandson Beowulf.
Haethcynn (HATH-kihn) and
Herebeald (HEHR-uh-bay-ahld), his sons, who brought tragedy to their father through Herebeald’s accidental killing of Haethcynn.
Eofor (AY-uh-fohr), a warrior of the Geats, the slayer of Ongentheow.
Aeschere (EHSH-hehr-uh), Hrothgar’s thane, a victim of Grendel and his mother.
Scyld (sheeld) and
Beowulf, legendary Danish kings.
Breca (BREHK-uh), a prince of the Brondings, Beowulf’s companion in a swimming marathon.
Daeghraefn (DAY-rayf-uhn), a Frankish warrior whom Beowulf crushes in his powerful grip.
Finn, the Frisian ruler in a minstrel’s legend.
Hildeburh (HIHL-duh-bewr), his queen.
Sigemund (SIHG-eh-mewnd) and
Fitela (FIHT-uh-luh), the legendary Volsungs, uncle and nephew, whose valor is compared to Beowulf’s.
Heremod (HEHR-uh-mohd), the minstrel’s example of an evil, oppressive ruler.
Offa (OHF-fuh), the king of the Angles, another figure from an illustrative legend.