Printer Friendly

Grendel's glof: Beowulf line 2085 reconsidered.

While reporting on his fight with Grendel to Hygelac's court (2069b-2100), Beowulf interrupts the building suspense of his narrative at the very moment when Grendel is grasping for him with an eager hand to describe what appears to be a dragon-skin glove hanging at Grendel's side:
        Glof hangode
   sid ond syllic, searobendum faest;
   sio waes ordoncum eall gegyrwed
   deofles craeftum ond dracan fellum.
   (2085b-88) (1)

[A glove hung, broad and strange, fastened with cunningly wrought clasps; it was cleverly adorned with the devil's crafts and a dragon's skins.]

The reason for the sudden appearance of this odd detail so late in the poem has prompted divergent, though almost exclusively brief, critical discussion. (2) Despite the variety of interpretations, most readings accept E. D. Laborde's assertion that "a large glove was a characteristic property of trolls" to explain its origins. (3) Specifically, Laborde states that Grendel's glove represents an established folk motif "probably inherited from the glove episode of Thor and the giant Skrymir as told by the Edda." In order to confirm that a glove was indeed the "special mark of a troll," he broadens the discussion to include a later example from Scandinavian folklore.(4) judging from the frequency with which editors, (5) critics, (6) and translators (7) have cited Laborde's folk-motif theory to help explain away the sudden appearance of Grendel's glove, it would seem that a kind of consensus has been reached on this once troubling issue.

In the first section of this article, I challenge this consensus by investigating Laborde's specific claims as well as the secondary scholarship that helped to establish his authority on the relationship between Grendel's glove and those gloves of Old Norse legend. There is, I conclude, surprisingly little support for the notion that the Beowulf-poet had Laborde's folk motif in mind or that such a motif even exists. Without a convincing source or motif to help explain the glove's presence, I recommend that the glove is more likely a literary invention of the poet himself. In the second section, therefore, I examine the glove passage within the contexts of the poet's fascination with poetic variation, his predilection for dramatic effect achieved through figurative language and fragmentation of detail, and, above all, the narrative circumstances within which these effects are sought. Bearing these factors in mind, I suggest that the Beowulf-poet's invention of Grendel's glove can be better appreciated as a feature of what James L. Rosier describes as the poet's "composition by association." (8) The repeated emphasis on hand imagery in Beowulf's retelling of the Grendel fight thus opens the possibility that the poet's choice of the term glof may not be employed as an out of place reference to a physical artifact, but as a figurative description of Grendel's hanging belly, now swollen with the recently ingested Hondscioh, whose name also conveniently means "glove." Taken in conjunction with the details Beowulf provides, this metaphorical interpretation of Grendel's "glove" likewise provides a possible, though certainly more speculative, answer to Grendel's invulnerability to weapons.


In early editions and translations of Beowulf, the term glof was rendered and understood literally as "glove." (9) Though the term was easily translated, it was remarked upon as an oddity, prompting Benjamin Thorpe's rather apt observation that "this about Grendel's glove is not very intelligible." (10) Commentary on the glof tended to arise almost exclusively in conjunction with debate concerning the term hondscio at line 2076. On one side were critics who, like N.F.S. Grundtvig, understood hondscio as the name of Beowulf's companion. This theory was popular, but opponents of Grundtvig's interpretation were quick to point out the reference to Grendel's glof as an indication that the poet was focusing in on the glove and not the man. (11) The latter position, became so dominant in fact that Grundtvig would eventually complain that they "vil de dog heller drommer om Graendels Vante, end lade Stakkelen, som Graendel slugde, hedde Handske" (12) [would rather dream about Grendel's glove than allow the poor creature whom Grendel swallowed to be called "Glove"]. That the glof passage might have greater significance to our understanding of the poem was first suggested in 1886 by Walter W. Skeat in an attempt to reinforce his theory that Grendel was a bear. (13) According to Skeat, both hondscio and glof must refer to the "shaggy paw" of Grendel's arm. The standard translation of glof hangode (2085b) as "a glove hung" is, in his words, "a statement which tells us nothing, and sounds almost absurd; at any rate, it has no meaning." The phrase must then be rendered idiomatically to mean "His glove, i.e. his paw, hung suspended." Thus, Skeat argues that in lines 2084-88 Beowulf offers his audience "a most graphic description of the attitude of Grendel, as with outstretched paw he approached his victim, groping for him in the darkness." Though his interpretation failed to gain any widespread acceptance, (14) Skeat was at least successful in calling attention to the interpretive potential of this difficult passage.

Only two years after the publication of Skeat's article, Bernhard ten Brink included in his Beowulf-Untersuchungen a detailed response to Skeat's handling of Grendel's glof in which he introduces the now popular notion that the glove is a kind of game bag. (15) His note is worth pausing over, as his assessment of Skeat illustrates the contextual difficulties one must consider when attempting a new reading of the glof passage. He first calls attention to the discrepancy between the images suggested by the verbs grapode (2085a), whether one translates it "grasped" or "groped," and hangode (2085b). Whereas Skeat envisions an outstretched hand groping about for Beowulf, (16) ten Brink points out "bedeutet hangode nicht ungefar das gerade Gegenteil von 'war ausgestreckt?'" (17) [does not hangode mean the exact opposite of 'was outstretched?']. Equally troubling for ten Brink is Skeat's description of Grendel's "wonderful paw, with its shaggy covering and its strong claws." (18) If Grendel is a bear, then his paw may indeed be shaggy, but nowhere in the poem does such a description find support. On the contrary, as ten Brink notes, Skeat seems to forget that Beowulf himself provides a quite vivid description of the glofs appearance in lines 2085b-88, where he reveals that the glove was bound with clasps and made of dragon's skin. Likewise, if the glof is turned into Grendel's hand or paw, ten Brink points out, lines 2089-90, where Beowulf explains that Grendel intended to put him inside his "glove," begin to lose their meaning. Beowulf's description of the glof, especially the phrase "He mec paer on innan," (2089) prompts a number of questions from ten Brink, indicating that ten Brink too shares Thorpe's frustration with conventional wisdom on the meaning of glof With this in mind, ten Brink ventures an interpretation of his own:

Man steckt doch nicht das ergriffene in die Hand, womit man es ergreift, sondern etwa in einen Sack. Und an einen Sack, eine Tasche, die Grendel um die Hufte hangt, ist naturlich zu denken. (19)

[Of course, one does not stick what has been seized into the hand with which one seized it, but rather into a sack. And it is natural to think that Grendel hangs a sack, a pouch, at his hip.]

Certainly, when considering the contexts of the passage, ten Brink's conclusion that the glof refers to a sack or a pouch makes sense.

Within a few decades, ten Brink's sack theory had permeated the textual apparatus of nearly every major edition as the standard explanation for the strange glove's function. (20) His authority on the function of the glof was then solidified for modern audiences in the first edition of Klaeber's Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg (1922), where Klaeber recommends ten Brink's interpretation rather emphatically, stating, "Gl f, 'glove' appears here in the unique sense of 'bag.'" (21) From this moment forward, whenever Grendel's glof was translated as "glove" it was done so with the added understanding that it was likely a kind of magical mitten or game-bag with expansive powers capable of holding large numbers of men. With the physical presence of the glove at Grendel's side firmly established, critical interest in the passage began to shift towards explaining its origins and meaning.

The renewed interest in the sources and analogues of Beowulf that had begun picking up pace around the start of the twentieth century opened up the second stage that would eventually give rise to Laborde's folk-motif solution and its immediate acceptance. (22) In 1910, Friedrich Panzer stimulated discussion further when he explored the parallels in the Grendel story and the folk motif known as "the Bear's Son Tale." (23) Only a year later, Klaeber published his study on epic tradition and the Virgilian origins of Beowulf. (24) While critics busily sought after and debated the possible links between elements of the Beowulf-narrative and the folk traditions of Germanic cultures exterior to the British Isles, special significance fell on the saga literature of Iceland, Grettis saga and Hrolfs saga kraka in particular. Folkloric studies such as these had a broad appeal for scholars seeking solutions to some of the poem's more inexplicable cruxes. As Laborde himself explains, his interest in Grendel's glove was inspired by "the connexion which has recently been established between the main theme of the Grendel Fight and folk-lore originals" which he claims help to explain "the significance, not before understood, of Grendel's curious glove." (25) The links he attempts to establish between the glove passage and legends of Old Norse giants are indeed convenient, but the ubiquity of references to Laborde as an authority on the glove question is misleading in that the recommended analogues have not yet been questioned or investigated thoroughly. Up to now, critics of Laborde's theory have recognized the difficulty primarily in terms of the sheer number of centuries separating the Beowulf-poet from the Skrymir story as it appears in the Edda. As John D. Niles notes, such "claims about literary debts run up against the difficulty of knowing whether the Eddic myths were known to the Anglo-Saxons." (26) While it is possible that the Beowulf-poet was familiar with an earlier oral version of the Skrymir episode, this detail is unknowable and, more importantly, so too are the particular details of the version he might have known. At the very least, this is shaky ground upon which to base a link between Grendel's and Skrymir's gloves. The obvious temporal, geographic, and linguistic distances separating the glove featured in Beowulf from the one in Snorri's Edda are indeed thorny, but a more critical distinction remains to be made between the nature and purpose each glove plays within its respective narrative.

In Snorri's version, the glove is a quotidian garment introduced to serve an essentially comical purpose. As the story goes, Thor and his companions are seeking shelter one night during their journey to the fortress of Utgarda-loki when they stumble upon a large hall in the woods. The hall is described as follows:

Varu dyrr a enda ok jafnbreidar skalanum. Par leitudu peir ser nattbols. En of midja nott vard landskjalpti mikill, gekk jordin undir peim skykkjum ok skalf husit. Pa stod Porr upp ok het a lagsmenn sina ok leitudusk fyrir ok fundu afhus til hoegri handar i midjum skalanum ok gengu pannig. (27)

[There was a door at one end as wide as the hall. There they sought night quarters for themselves. But in the middle of the night there was a great earthquake, the earth went rocking beneath them and the house shook. Then Thor stood up and called to his companions. They searched about and found a side chamber on the right, at the middle of the hall, and they went in there.]

When Thor emerges at sunrise, he finds the giant Skrymir snoring nearby. Much to Thor's embarrassment, the hall is soon revealed to be Skrymir's glove. (28) The doorway as wide as the hall itself is recognized as the mouth of Skrymir's glove and the chamber in which they sought shelter its thumb. (29) The glove is indeed impressive for its size, but the significance of its relationship to Skrymir is less remarkable since there is no indication that it is in any way special or that it might be used for any other purpose than protecting or warming his hand. On the contrary, the marvel of Skrymir's glove is that a common accoutrement like a glove might be mistaken by the great Thor for a vast hall. Indeed, as I show below, in nearly every occurrence where a giant or troll encounters humans in the folktales of Scandinavia, few though they may be, the items found with them are almost always used to emphasize the impressive size of the creature and little more.

Like Skrymir's, Grendel's glove is certainly useful as a marker of his size. (30) It is described by Beowulf as being "sid ond syllic" (2086a), and proponents of ten Brink's "glove as game-bag" theory often point to Grendel's first attack on Heorot (120b-25) as evidence of the potential for the glove's immense capacity. (31) But its function in the Beowulf narrative is radically different from that of Skrymir's, attested by Beowulf's suggestion that Grendel did not intend to leave the hall idelhende, "empty-handed" (2081). As he explains following his description of the glove's physical attributes:
   He mec paer on innan unsynnigne,
   dior daedfruma gedon wolde
   manigra sumne ...


[He, the fierce doer of deeds wanted to put me there inside, guiltless, one of many.]

If indeed the glove's primary function is for the abduction of human prey, it serves a much more nefarious purpose than the simple warming of his hand. In this episode, at least, Grendel's glove has no such conventional purpose to compare it to Skrymir's. Grendel's glove is actually more remarkable, both for its devil's craft and its dragon's skin texture as well as for its disgusting function as a sort of cannibal's game-bag.

Given this monster's predilection for human flesh, Grendel's glove carries with it the added threat of death by ingestion. Seth Lerer has noted Beowulf's concern with being eaten in his assessment of Grendel's glove. In his estimation, the glove should be understood as a "work of personal artifice" which "stands for the gross processes of digestion that lie at the center of both the Grendel and Thor stories." (32) Lerer's interpretation of Grendel's glove is appropriate, but in his efforts to strengthen the connection between the two stories, I believe he overemphasizes the latent threat to Thor and his companions in Snorri's Edda. Despite his insistence to the contrary, there is no such physical or digestive threat implied for Thor and his companions in the Skrymir episode. Once the true nature of the hall is revealed, Skrymir picks up the glove, presumably to put it back on, and then sits down to eat the food he has brought in his nestbaggi, "food bag." (33) The role of the glove is complete before the subject of food is ever broached, and finally serves only as an opportunity for the comical and marvelous humiliation of Thor. Were there any threat of ingestion in this episode, as Lerer claims, it would rest with the food bag and not the glove, yet there is no such threat implicit in Skrymir's use of the bag. When Skrymir and Thor finish their respective breakfasts, the two agree to travel together for a time. The implicit threat throughout this episode is not one of ingestion, but of the size, strength, and power of Skrymir over that of Thor. In that regard, the giants of all folk tales and legends are linked, but this is hardly grounds upon which to so indelibly join the story of Skrymir to Grendel in the mind of the Beowulf-poet.

When placed within their specific narrative contexts, the gloves of Skrymir and Grendel have rather little in common. Skrymir's glove is conventional and functional, an incidental garment in no way special to the giant. Grendel's glove is wholly unconventional, serving a unique and sinister purpose, one more akin to the common motif of the monster kidnapping victims and placing them in bags. The two gloves, like the two episodes, are simply too dissimilar to suggest, as Laborde does, that the one might be the source of the other. The association is further weakened by the fact that nowhere else in either the Edda or in the annals of Norse mythology is a glove ever distinguished as being any more a special property of giants than are the myriad of other large items encountered among giants and trolls. Skrymir's glove is, in fact, a rare find in the survey of items found on or around the giants of northern mythology and folklore. Perhaps it is for this reason alone that the association persists regardless of its obvious inadequacy.

Laborde's second recommended analogue, known simply as "The Troll's Glove," (34) suffers similar problems to those encountered in the association with the Skrymir episode, though on a surface level this example may be somewhat more appropriate than the first. In brief, "The Troll's Glove" is a Danish folktale about a troll that travels every evening from his mountain down through a farmyard and on to a river where he fetches water. One morning the farmer finds a glove "so large that the thumb could hold a barrel of rye" left in the troll's wet tracks. (35) The farmer brings this large glove home only to be harassed later that night when the troll arrives to reclaim his glove. "The Troll's Glove" is undoubtedly the better of the two examples offered by Laborde, though the more interesting parallels to be explored here are not necessarily related to the glove. For example, the troll's home can be found by following the wet tracks he leaves after fetching water from the nearby river. Equally intriguing is the troll's late night visit to the farmer's home and his threat to kill two of the farmer's horses if the glove is not returned. As far as the glove itself is concerned, however, the parallels are few. We do, at least, have a large, wrathful troll who visits a building at night and a glove. But the function of this glove is quite innocent and no more remarkable than any other troll garment or tool that might be found, suggesting once again that the glove itself is not a special "characteristic property of trolls" so much as a convenient and familiar item that provides an opportunity for the storyteller to highlight the creature's size. Much as it was in the Skrymir story, this glove is meant to be worn and not used for transporting either goods or men. More to the point, "The Troll's Glove" story must significantly post-date Beowulf as there are no such parallels or analogues to the story in the literature of medieval Scandinavia.

The relative weakness of these two analogues would not be problematic, I think, if there were more evidence to support Laborde's assertion that large gloves were in fact "the characteristic property of trolls" in chronologically relevant texts. Ultimately, however, his statement turns out to be misleading, for it implies that there are more than a few instances in which trolls and/or giants appear with large gloves in the literature and tales of the medieval North, where trolls and giants appear with some regularity. Even in those oft cited analogues to the Grendel story, including Grettis saga, Ketils saga haengs, or Hrolfs saga kraki, the trolls are never described as carrying either a bag or a glove. (36) The most relevant is probably the troll-hag of Grettis saga, who attacks Grettir carrying a large trough in one hand and a cleaver in the other. (37) In Ketils saga haengs, however, are examples far more typical of the troll motif tradition in Old Norse literature. In one episode, Ketil encounters stores of salted man-flesh in the empty home of the giant Surt. When Surt returns home to find his man-flesh spoiled, Ketil attacks and chops off his head. (38) In another episode, Ketil awakens to the sound of a large troll trying to steal "a great burden" from the boathouse. His reward is Ketil's axe planted firmly in his shoulder. (39) In neither case does the troll have either a glove or a bag with him. Elsewhere in Old Norse literature, trolls are likewise often depicted carrying heavy objects, often boulders or large animals, explicitly in their arms, thus emphasizing their enormous strength. This would parallel, in my view, the poet's depiction of Grendel as a monster who both devours his victims on site and carries more yet home with him.

Support for Laborde's insistence that his two cited examples are representative is further frustrated by investigation of his original source, Thorpe's Northern Mythology. Thorpe himself can be seen introducing the association between Laborde's examples in a footnote appended to "The Troll's Glove," where he states: "The idea of the gigantic glove is evidently derived from that of Skrymir, in the story of Thor and Utgarda-Loki." (40) Laborde seems to have used Thorpe's suggested parallel between these two stories to help provide the folkloric origin he sought for Grendel's own glove. While the links between "The Troll's Glove" and the Skrymir episode are obvious, Laborde's interpretation of these two examples as evidence of a troll's-glove motif that pre-dated the composition of Beowulf is less convincing. Counter to Laborde's discussion, "The Troll's Glove" and the Skrymir story are, in fact, the only two instances where a glove is "introduced into a troll-story" in all of Thorpe's collection. (41)

It is possible, of course, that in preparing his note Laborde may have referred to other collections of folktales in addition to Thorpe's without citation. There is, for example, a more appropriate reference to a troll with a pair of gloves overlooked by Laborde in the Skaldskaparmal, but even this example does not suggest the sought after motif. (42) In this episode, Thor is travelling to meet the giant Geirrod, who has arranged with Loki to trick Thor into coming without his hammer, his belt of strength, and his steel gloves. On his way, Thor stops to visit the giantess Grid and learns of Geirrod's plot against him. She lends Thor her own belt of strength, a staff, and a pair of steel gloves. While Grid clearly has steel gloves here, the motif at play has less to do with a giant's gloves than with Thor's own missing gloves. The occasional reference to trolls who have gloves can also be found in a folklore collection that would have been available to Laborde. In William Craigie's 1896 follow up to Thorpe's collection, for example, there are two occasions featuring a troll with a glove. (43) The story "Dyre Vaa and the Troll at Totek" features the rather large thumb of a troll's glove, and "The Giant's Glove" tells how a giant used his glove to carry sand. The latter is an exceedingly rare example of a glove being used to carry something. There is one more such parallel found in the Russian folk tales about the giant Svyatogor, who occasionally stuffs a human in his pocket. (44) Worth noting, however, is the fact that there is once again no threat of ingestion in any of these stories and it is unlikely that any of these stories predate the composition of Beowulf.

The troll's-glove motif is also conspicuously absent from all consulted folk-motif indices. In Inger M. Boberg's Motif-Index of Early Icelandic Literature, for example, gloves are not referenced among the common possessions of giants or among references to their clothing. (45) Lotte Motz compares the motifs associated with giants in the Edda to those in later folk tales and likewise makes no mention of gloves among the common attributes of giants. (46) Broadening out still further, Stith Thompson's Motif-Index of Folk Literature does list gloves in the index, but a survey of the associated tales makes no special case for a specific folkloric link between giants and gloves. (47) The index's listing for trolls and giants likewise makes no special case for the relevance of gloves to non-humans.

There are undoubtedly more examples to be found, but, based on the specific terms described by Laborde, I find little evidence that gloves were ever "a characteristic property of trolls" as so many editions of Beowulf suggest. Trolls and giants very rarely appear with gloves, and when they do appear together, the gloves serve only a practical function for the wearer that does not compare favorably to the glove in Beowulf. As suggested above, the giants' gloves of folklore, like other items found on giants, almost always serve to highlight both the size and marvelous otherness of the giant as well as their inherent physical and perhaps even cultural links to those very humans in whom they inspire such awe. The giants and trolls of these stories often look like us, dress like us, and even use the same tools as we do. Grendel's glove, if a glove at all, is not used as a glove, but rather as a kind of bag, as suggested by ten Brink, into which he throws his human victims. It is threatening, cunningly wrought, and remarkable enough to prompt Beowulf to interrupt his account of his battle with Grendel. At the very least, even if the collected evidence suggests that Laborde's troll's-glove motif might have existed, the applicable analogues appear to be significantly later than Beowulf and therefore just as likely to have been influenced by Grendel's glove itself or, as Thorpe suggests, by Snorri's popular thirteenth-century version of the Skrymir episode. Whichever way one chooses to interpret the evidence, the recommended association of trolls with gloves, specifically concerning the significance of the Skrymir episode for understanding Grendel's glove, is noticeably misleading, if not a complete misrepresentation of the evidence. There is simply no extant example of a glove so wonderfully wrought and terrible as the one supposedly hanging from Grendel's hip. With this in mind, it is now necessary to put aside Laborde's recommended motif in order to reconsider the glof passage on its own terms.


The first thing to note is the characteristic wordplay on hands associated with Grendel and his mother throughout the poem. On the subject of hands in Beowulf, James Rosier points out that "there are sixty-six specific references to the hand," nearly half of which appear in four distinct clusters, each having something to do with either Grendel or his mother. (48) Initially, the poet's use of "hand-words" and "hand-compounds" is quite literal, describing the incredible hands of both Grendel and Beowulf, but, as Rosier puts it, in the second and third retellings of the battle "the poet's use becomes most concentrated with new analogies and associations." This shift away from literal "hands" begins in Hrothgar's lament over the death of AEschere, where Hrothgar describes the fallen AEschere synecdochically as an actual hand (1343b-44): "nu seo hand liged / se pe eow welhwylcra wilna dohte" [now the hand lies dead, which was good to you all at every desire]. The figurative "hand" that is AEschere here stands in poetic contrast to the literal hand of Grendel. As Rosier notes, "the contrast of the death giving and gift-giving hands provides the unity of this little passage." (49)

References to hands in Beowulf's report to Hygelac's court, which makes up Rosier's fourth cluster, include: hondraes (2073); Hondscio (2076); idelhende (2081); grapode gearofolm (2085a); glof (2085b); and hand (2099). (50) Rosier clearly understands the literal significance of the term glof at line 2085b as a characteristic of the poet's fondness for wordplay, but because he accepts the presence of an actual glove here, an assumption reinforced by his stated acceptance of Laborde's folk motif, he unfortunately misses the potential for yet another associative game in the glof passage. (51)

Following Rosier, most critics view the naming of Hondscioh as a clever pun that anticipates the description of the glove, but Seth Lerer is the first to recognize the poetic potential in Beowulf's report to Hygelac. (52) As noted above, Lerer reads the passage literally, taking the glof to be "a work of personal artifice." (53) He maintains that it is the product of Laborde's troll's-glove motif, but interprets its appearance figuratively as a reworking of "an older myth about heroic escape from the belly of the beast--a belly playfully defined as the enormous glove." (54) While I do not necessarily agree with Lerer's literal reading of the passage and its links to the Skrymir story, some of the insights he provides into the composition and narrative function of the glove passage are quite valuable. In particular, I am drawn to his argument that Beowulf's report speaks to epic conventions of the heroic return as a social performance. As Lerer himself puts it, "Beowulf appears to fit the model of the returning romance hero who, in turning past action into present words, offers a display of verbal prowess to be judged and rewarded." (55) When viewed as a performance, the rhetorical flourishes and verbal ambiguities employed by Beowulf become all the more significant to our understanding of this passage and its place within the poem. Lerer correctly underscores the poet's emphasis on themes of interpretation in the speech and he makes much of Beowulfs attempts to reinterpret his own story according to the expectations of his audience. In his view, Beowulf's wordplay reveals an effort to keep the mood of the performance light and entertaining so as not to frighten his audience. In order to achieve this effect and to display his prowess, Lerer concludes that Beowulf exploits the techniques of riddling as he answers questions about the slain Geatish warrior and what Grendel did with the bodies of his victims. That Beowulfs speech, specifically his description of the glove, is reminiscent of the riddles found in the Exeter Book may be Lerer's most important contribution to the problem of the glove. I would, however, like to qualify this slightly by proposing an alternate solution to the riddle based on a contrary interpretation of the tone and meaning of the passage.

In the first place, I see no reason to assume that the pun on Hondscioh's name must anticipate the glove rather than the other way around. It is also possible, of course, that neither term is meant to be taken literally. However one chooses to read the passage, I find it hard to believe that the tone of the speech is meant to be entertaining in the sense of a joke or humorous anecdote to lighten the mood of the hall. The details provided and the manner in which Beowulf relates his story are designed from the beginning, I think, to translate to his audience the sense of horror he felt when meeting the monster face to face. Beowulf's emphasis on Grendel's consumption of Hondscioh and his description of the final resting place of the monster's other victims works to build up tension in the narrative. The manner of the telling and the concentrated repetition of hand imagery in the report thus anticipate and accentuate Beowulf's heroic defeat of the monster. At its core, this is a narrative of righteous vengeance in which Beowulf recounts the successful conclusion of not only the Danes' feud with Grendel, but also of the Geats' own feud incurred when one of their own was violently and unjustly consumed.

Like Lerer, I believe the ambiguities in the glof passage underscore the poet's interest in "interpretation as a form of power in the poem," (56) but I am not convinced that it is Beowulf's anticipation of the Geatish audience's reaction that dominates this interest. Rather, I would like to suggest that the poet's emphasis on the act of interpretation here, as elsewhere in the poem, is meant to draw attention to the many facets of storytelling provided by a variety of perspectives. In this case, we encounter the familiar episode of the Grendel fight, now in its third incarnation. This is the first time, however, that we are offered the hero's own perspective on the battle, a perspective that brings with it new and relevant information that enhances our understanding of the story. This is not surprising, given that the fragmentation of specific details for individual episodes is one of the defining characteristics of the Beowulf-poet's mode of composition. Throughout the poem, we frequently find the details and meanings of previous episodes being manipulated, enhanced, and complicated by the introduction of a new perspective. Nowhere is this effect more cunningly achieved than in Beowulf's report.

As Lerer suggests, the glove passage itself may be understood as a kind of clever riddle employed by Beowulf to enhance the dramatic effect of his tale as he performs. Once again, how we choose to read the tone and meaning of this passage is determined by our interpretation of this riddle. As such, the description must be unpacked in much the same way as one of the Exeter Book riddles. Attention to detail is therefore vital to solving this riddle correctly. I believe the association between the glove and the belly recommended by Lerer has merit, but, rather than a work of personal artifice inspired by a folkmotif, a theory upon which I hope to have cast some doubt, I read the term glof here figuratively as a continuation of clever word play on hands describing the monster's swollen bag of a belly as a pun for a kind of "glove." His mouth, then, becomes the gaping mouth of the glove, and his belly the body into which he greedily stuffs his victims with his own hand. This interpretation helps to recall and reinforce the horrific image of Hondscioh's murder. It likewise anticipates the potential threat that belly poses for Beowulf as he lies back awaiting Grendel's grasp. As noted earlier, the fact that the poet employs the terminology of "hands" here no doubt also alludes to the well-known outcome of Beowulf's fight with Grendel. To understand the glof as Grendel's belly, though, one must begin by examining the broader contexts of Beowulf's account to Hygelac's court of the moments preceding his fight with Grendel, taking into account both the devouring of Hondscioh and the subsequent description of the glof which follows. This figurative interpretation of the glof passage can then be used to resolve some of the problems relating to earlier descriptions of Grendel, not the least of which is his apparent immunity to weapons.

The first step in unpacking this riddle is to examine the contexts within which the poet places the description of the glof As Beowulf describes the scene:
                  Syddan heofenes gim
   glad ofer grundas, gaest yrre cwom,
   eatol aefengrom user neosan,
   daer we gesunde sael weardodon.
   paer waes Hondscio hild onsaege,
   feorhbealu faegum; he firmest laeg,
   gyrded cempa; him Grendel weard,
   maerum magupegne to mudbonan,
   leofes mannes lice all forswealg.


[After heaven's gem had glided over the earth, the angry demon came, terrible, the evening-grim one sought us out where we, unharmed, guarded the hall. The fighting there was fatal for Hondscioh, a deadly evil for the doomed man. He lay foremost (closest to the door), the armored warrior. Grendel became to Hondscioh, that renowned young thane, a mouth-bane (devourer). He swallowed the entire body of that beloved man.]

In Beowulf's account of the battle, the audience is immediately confronted with the devouring of Hondscioh, a character who had remained anonymous up to this point. The naming of Hondscioh by Beowulf here makes sense because he is addressing an audience presumably familiar with the men constituting the band of warriors that accompanied the hero to Denmark. By naming the warrior, referring to him as "leof mann" and "maere magupegn," the poet, and Beowulf himself, no doubt seeks an emotional response from the audience. We are surely meant to react with horror, as we were in response to the initial account. (57) That sense of horror is present still in Beowulf's retelling, but its quality is different. The name and all its associations with identity, individuality, and personal history are exposed here to help blend horror with a sense of sympathy and grief not present before.

In the lines immediately following, the audience is meant to dwell on that feeling, to keep Hondscioh and his fate in mind, as Grendel no doubt intends a similar end for Beowulf:
   No dy aer ut da gen idelhende
   bona blodigtod, bealewa gemyndig,
   of dam goldsele gongan wolde;
   ac he maegnes rof min costode,
   grapode gearofolm.


[Yet the bloody-toothed murderer, still mindful of slaughter, would not yet go from that gold-hall idle-handed. Instead he, stout of strength, made a trial of me. The eager hand groped.]

At this moment, Beowulf is reclining in bed, having just watched Grendel devour a close companion. (58) When Grendel approaches and gropes about for his next victim, Beowulf is at eye level with Grendel's freshly distended belly, swelling in reptilian fashion with the body of poor Hondscioh. The sense of terror such an image inspires is truly gruesome, but all the more effective for Beowulf's purpose as he describes the stomach and the grim threat it poses:
   He mec paer on innan unsynnigne,
   dior daedfruma gedon wolde
   manigra sumne ...


[He, the fierce doer of deeds, wanted to put me there inside, guiltless, one of many.]

The effect of this building tension then comes to its climax when Beowulf at last replaces the horror of cannibalistic ingestion with heroic triumph, exclaiming, "hyt ne mihte swa, / syddan ic on yrre upprihte astod" (2091b-92) [It would not be so after I stood upright in anger]. (59)

The success of this moment is certainly not founded upon the understanding of the glof as Grendel's belly, but when interpreted in this way the details of the passage become more significant. The clever depiction of the belly in this riddling fashion enhances the mood of Beowulf's retelling, providing an appropriately frightening account of his experience while at the same time establishing his own rhetorical prowess. More importantly, however, if the answer to the glove riddle is indeed Grendel's belly it may also provide further detail on the physical aspect of the monster and his invulnerability to weapons. In order for this interpretation to work, one must account for the specific details provided in the description.

According to Beowulf, the "glove" that he sees is "sid ond syllic" [broad and strange], "searobendum faest" [fixed with cunningly wrought clasps], and "ordoncum eall gegyrwed deofles craeftum ond dracan fellum" [skillfully adorned with the devil's craft and dragon's skin]. The first of these elements, "sid ond syllic," relays two important pieces of information. Beowulf remarks on the impressive size of Grendel's belly, reminding his audience of Hondscioh's grisly resting place. At the same time, he also calls attention to its "strange," perhaps "marvelous" appearance. He goes on then to explain how the stomach is "searobendum fast," which I translate as "fastened with cunningly wrought clasps." As I read the passage, there are two possible solutions. The first is that Grendel wears something like a coat of mail over his skin which is then held closed by these cunning clasps or cinched by the belt. The second, and my preference, is that Beowulf is describing the strange looking skin on the monster looming over him. I will explore both of these possibilities in some detail below.

Whatever the function of the clasps, the picture of the glof becomes clearer when Beowulf describes it as "ordoncum eall gegyrwed." In previous translations of this passage, "searobendum faest" and "ordoncum eall gegyrwed" have always been rendered as parallel descriptions of the same thing. I propose instead that Beowulf is elaborating further on the strange appearance of the stomach he sees before him. This view is supported by an alternative reading of the poet's use of the term gegyrwed here. The Dictionary of Old English offers a number of interesting possibilities for the verb gyrwan that are worth considering for this passage, including (1) to prepare; (2) to dress, clothe, (5) to adorn, ornament; and (7) to make. (60) Editorial opinion usually privileges the sense of "to make" or "adorn" in line 2087, thus rendering the phrase either: "it had been made all with craft," (61) or "it was all embroidered with evil skill." (62) Indeed, the Beowulf-poet often employs forms of gyrwan in the sense of "made" or "adorned" in association with treasures. (63) While this interpretation certainly makes sense, definition (2), "to dress," is worth investigating for the glove passage because forms of gyrwan also appear in reference to the equipping of armor. The best example of this usage occurs when the poet describes Beowulf preparing himself to enter Grendel's mere (1441b-42): "Gyrede hine Beowulf / eorlgewaedum" [Beowulf equipped himself with armor]. As in the glof passage, the poet pauses to describe the armor. His description employs strikingly similar terminology:
   scolde herebyrne hondum gebroden,
   sid ond searofah, sund cunnian.

   (1443-44, emphasis mine)

[The battle-byrnie, woven by hand, large and cunningly decorated, had to make a trial of the water.]

While the use of gyrwan here is certainly less ambiguous than in the glof passage, I am intrigued by the possibilities offered by definition (2), "to dress, clothe." With this in mind, I take the phrase "ordoncum eal gegyrwed" to mean something along the lines of "the glove (belly) was cleverly dressed" in the sense of "armored with." Rather than a glove, Beowulf may in fact be offering his best description of the texture of Grendel's stomach. Whether this refers to a literal shirt of mail or a poetic imagining of the texture of the monster's skin remains to be seen.

This interpretation of the glof as an armored belly is further supported by the poet's use of the term ordoncum (2087a). Ordoncum appears only once more in the poem, again during a description of armor and again featuring a searo-compound:
   Beowulf madelode--on him byrne scan,
   searonet seowed smipes orpancum.


[Beowulf spoke--on him a byrnie shone, an ingeniously wrought net sewn by the skill of smiths.]

Considering the poet's fondness for certain words or phrases to describe coats of mail, it seems quite plausible, I think, that the glof or Grendel's stomach, is "skillfully equipped" or "armored" in some way. The theory that "searobendum faest" refers to either Grendel's belt or to clasps on a shirt then corresponds nicely. The fact that the byrnie is made from "dracan fellum" (dragon's skin) and imbued with dark magical properties from "deofles craeftum" (devil's craft) make this detail all the more fantastic.

The additional detail of the dragon's skin does, however, introduce an interesting possibility for the second explanation of the description offered above. It seems quite possible that Beowulf may have begun the description with a metaphorical interpretation of the skin that likens it to a byrnie or armor, but then shifts at the conclusion of his illustration to a literal report of what he saw. In this sense, the reader is finally given a clear picture of Grendel's actual skin, which appears scaly and so like armor that it might accurately be described as armor.

Whether skin or byrnie, though I favor the former, the first two accounts of the Grendel fight (710-836 and 957-90) provide some possible clues suggesting something more than mere magic may account for Grendel's invulnerability to weapons. When the poet describes the melee that took place around Grendel and Beowulf, it is revealed that swords had no effect on the monster:
        paer genehost braegd
    eorl Beowulfes ealde lafe,
    wolde freadrihtnes feorh ealgian,
    maeres peodnes, daer hie meahton swa.
    Hie paet ne wiston, pa hie gewin drugon,
    heardhicgende hildemecgas,
    ond on healfa gehwone heawan pohton,
    sawle secan: pone synscadan
    aenig ofer earpan irenna cyst,
    gudbilla nan gretan nolde;
    ac he sigewaepnum forsworen haefde,
    ecga gehwylcre.


[There many an earl of Beowulf drew his sword, an old heirloom, desiring to protect the life of his lord, that renowned prince, however they might. They did not know when they fought, those brave-minded warriors, and when they thought to hew him on every side, to attack his very soul, that not even the choicest of irons in this world, war-swords, would touch that miscreant, for he had forsworn battle-weapons, every sword's edge.]

As Laborde points out, it is unclear who exactly the poet intends when he reports that "he sigewaepnum forsworen haefde," since neither Beowulf nor Grendel use weapons in this battle. (64) Whatever the case, this passage does work nicely in conjunction with the "glove-as-belly" theory in the sense that whether Grendel wears a byrnie or has the skin of a serpent, he would have been defended against the blows of Beowulfs companions.

The next reference to Grendel's invulnerability occurs during Beowulf's first retelling of the fight, where he describes the battle to Hrothgar. Beowulf pauses to offer the following lament:
        Upe ic swipor,
   paet du hine selfne geseon moste,
   feond on fraetewum fylwerigne.


[I wish very much that you might have seen him yourself, the fiend in his trappings, killed.]

I have rendered "on fraetewum" here as "in his trappings." But what exactly does Beowulf mean by this? (65) The term fraetewe is traditionally translated as "ornaments" or "trappings." If Grendel does indeed carry a marvelous, dragon-skin glove or a bag, then fraetwum may best be understood in the former sense. If Grendel wears a coat of mail or some other physical protection, then "trappings" or "decorated armor" would be preferable. In his note for line 962, Klaeber remarked upon this briefly, "'in his trappings,' or 'in full gear'; a rather forced expression as applied to a fighter who uses only his own physical equipment." Klaeber's statement is clarified in Bjork, Fulk, and Niles's edition, where they write: "onfrcetewum is generally assumed to mean 'in his trappings' or 'in full gear,' even though this stereotyped expression is not particularly apposite to a fighter who is unarmed." (66) If my reading of the passage is correct, that Grendel wears either a byrnie or has armor-like skin, then the expression concerning Grendel's trappings may not be so out of place. That Grendel may have worn armor is, to my knowledge, recognized only in Bosworth and Toller's definition for fraetwe, where the following translation is provided for line 962: "On fraetewum in his garnishments, viz. armour." Taken in this way, a seemingly minor detail about Grendel's trappings then becomes a significant clue in both the riddle of Grendel's apparent immunity from weapons and the meaning behind Beowulf's description of Grendel's mysterious glof.

The issue is complicated, however, as Laborde notes, by the description of Grendel's severed hand:
        foran aeghwylc waes,
   steda naegla gehwylc style gelicost,
   haepenes hand-sporu, hilderinces,
   egl' unheoru, AEghwylc gecwaed
   paet him heardra nan hrinan wolde
   iren aergod, paet daes ahlaecan
   blodge beadufolme onberan wolde.


[At the front of each (finger), the place of each nail, was most like steel, the hand-claws of the heathen warrior were horrible spikes. Everyone said that no hard thing would harm him, the best iron would not weaken the bloody battle-hand of that monster.]

Here the hand is described in vivid detail with the poet noting the strength not only of the steel-like claws, but also perhaps of the impenetrability of the skin itself when he says "paet him heardra nan hrinan wolde." One might argue that the "him" of this sentence is too ambiguous to suggest a firm association with the toughness of Grendel's skin. Anticipating this, Laborde recommends one more example where further evidence can be found to support the idea that thick skin may actually run in Grendel's family. (67) In the account of Beowulf's battle with Grendel's mother (1518-69) the poet notes that, despite the hero's best efforts to cleave her skull, his battle sword "bitan nolde" [would not bite]. At this stage, the sword fails when it comes into direct contact with the skin on her head and it is not until Beowulf finds the "eald-sweord eotenisc" that he is able to afflict her in any way. The specificity of this description helps to support the conclusion that Grendel himself possesses a similarly thick protective exterior. It is not insignificant, I think, that the sword, like the monsters themselves are so rooted in the fantastic myths of the past. Both Grendel and his mother are fiends descended from Cain. As the poet relates at the start of the epic, they are of the race of monsters who survived the flood by virtue of that distinction. That they should bear the skin of scale-armored serpents seems all the more horrific and thus all the more appropriate for the purposes of the poet's narrative. When taken in conjunction with Laborde's oft ignored claim that it was "Grendel's toughness of skin which protected him against weapons," (68) the theory concerning the riddle of Grendel's glove begins to appear somewhat more convincing than at first glance.

That the revelation of Grendel's skin should be so fragmented is not surprising since fragmentation of detail is another feature of the Beowulf-poet's style. Though underappreciated, such fragmentation and delay is evident throughout Beowulf as a means by which the poet frequently enhances the drama of the moment, further nuancing his narrative. Consider, for example, the delayed explanation of Beowulf's reasons for coming to Hrothgar's aid. The revelation of Ecgtheow's feud (456-72) and the oaths sworn to Hrothgar serve to complicate not only the nature of Beowulf's relationship to the Danish court, but also the audience's feelings towards the hero. The significance of Wealhtheow's neck ring (1193-1231) is also delayed and can only be fully realized once its history has been unraveled more thoroughly in the latter half of the poem. (69) Likewise, the symbolic relevance of Wiglaf's armor must be pieced together from the fragmented history of the feuds between the Geats and the Swedes. The poet reports that the armor was given to Wiglaf by his father, Weohstan, who had stripped it from Eanmund, the slain heir to the Swedish throne and brother of Sweden's current king at the end of the poem, Eadgils. If this detail is taken in conjunction with Beowulf's thoughts on the inherent dangers of such heirlooms during his speech about Freawaru's marriage to Froda, the Heathobard (2020-69), the armor becomes more than a mere heirloom, it is a dark symbol of the Swedish threat and Geatish destruction looming over the poem's closing passages.

In a similar vein, the glof of Grendel, once recognized as a feature of the poet's fondness for poetic association and verbal wordplay, emerges as yet another impressive example of the sophistication of structural and narrative unity in Beowulf. By relaying the description of the glof at the very moment Grendel reaches out to seize Beowulf, the poet ties together the ingestion of Hondscioh with the imminent threat Grendel poses as a devourer of men, thus evoking a fresh and profound emotional response from the audience in the retelling of an already familiar story. The name Hondscioh and the use of the term glof in this passage also fits into a pattern of wordplay employed to indirectly comfort the audience with a concealed reference to the positive outcome of the battle for Beowulf. Furthermore, careful analysis of the specific terminology used to describe the glof suggests that the monster either wore a magical byrnie or had armor-like skin to protect him from the swords of his enemies. That the information is delayed until Beowulf's description of the "glove" is yet another example of the kind of fragmentation of significant detail that helps to complicate and redefine our understanding of so many scenes in the poem.

The inclusion of the glof in Beowulf's account of the Grendel fight thus reveals its greater significance for the poem as a whole. Not only does it help to explain a number of previously unresolved descriptions of the monster, but, when considered within the parameters of the Beowulf-poet's various modes of composition, the glove passage only helps reinforce the genius of his craft.

University of Connecticut


I would like to thank Frederick M. Biggs, Joshua R. Eyler, John E Sexton, and the anonymous readers of PQ for their helpful suggestions and comments that have so improved this essay.

(1) R. D. Fulk, Robert E. Bjork, and John D. Niles, eds., Klaeber's Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg (U. of Toronto Press, 2008). All subsequent quotations from Beowulf are from this edition. Translations are my own unless otherwise indicated.

(2) Bernhard ten Brink, Beowulf--Untersuchungen, Quellen und Forschungen 62 (Strassburg, 1888): 123-4, n. 1, sees the late addition of the glove as further evidence of multiple authors; R.W. Chambers, Beowulf: An Introduction, 3rd ed. (Cambridge U. Press, 1963), 120, suggests that the introduction of the glove is meant to avoid monotony; John D. Niles, Beowulf: The Poem and Its Tradition (Harvard U. Press, 1983), 173, views the glove as an "incidental adornment" designed to enhance the drama of the moment; Adrien Bonjour, "The Technique of Parallel Description in Beowulf," RES n.s. 2 (1951): 9, argues that Beowulf's description of the glove might retrospectively emphasize his composure, a sentiment expanded in Geoffrey Russom's "A Germanic Concept of Nobility in the Gifts of Men and Beowulf," Speculum 53 (1978): 8; and, more recently, Frederick M. Biggs, "Hondscioh and Aeschere in Beowulf," Neophilologus 87 (2003): 645, proposes that the glove is introduced at this point in the narrative to highlight the "fictional nature of monsters."

(3) E.D. Laborde, "Grendel's Glove and His Immunity from Weapons," Modern Language Review 18 (1923): 202.

(4) Laborde, 202. The story referenced is "The Troll's Glove," cited from Benjamin Thorpe, ed., Northern Mythology, 3 vols. (London, 1851), 2:149.

(5) Laborde's folk motif theory is referenced by Frederick Klaeber, ed., Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg, 3rd ed. (Lexington, MA: Heath, 1950), 195 n2085; C. L. Wrenn, ed., Beowulf with the Finnsburg Fragment, (London: Harrup, 1953), 218 n2085-88; Elliot Van Kirk Dobbie, ed., Beowulf and Judith (Columbia U. Press, 1953): 225; Bruce Mitchell and Fred C. Robinson, eds., Beowulf: An Edition with Relevant Shorter Texts (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), 119; and Fulk, Bjork, and Niles, Klaeber's Beowulf, 233 n2085b.

(6) See, e.g., James Rosier, "The Uses of Association: Hands and Feasts in Beowulf," PMLA 78 (1963): 11, where he suggests that the appearance of the glove is "not hard to account for since we know that in Norse story it is common for trolls to possess immense gloves." See also, John R. Byers, Jr., "On the Decorating of Heorot," PMLA 80 (1965): 299; Earl R. Anderson, "Grendel's Glof (Beowulf 2085b-88) and Various Latin Analogues," Medievalia 8 (1982): 2; Seth Lerer, "Grendel's Glof," ELH 61 (1994): 721-51; and Andy Orchard, A Critical Companion to Beowulf (Cambridge: Brewer, 2003), 121-23.

(7) See, for example, Daniel Donoghue, ed., and Seamus Heaney, trans., Beowulf." A Verse Translation, Norton Critical Edition (New York: Norton, 2002), 53: "This is the only mention of Grendel's 'pouch' (Old English glof). Its significance is unknown, although it has associations with trolls in Germanic mythology"; and Roy Liuzza's Beowulf." A New Verse Translation (Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2000), 116: "It is not clear what this is; apparently a pouch of some kind. It is characteristic of a troll in Norse legend."

(8) Rosier, "Uses of Association," 12.

(9) Ludwig Ettmuller, for example, defines glof as "chirotheka" in his Beowulf." Heldengedicht des achten Jahrhunderts (Zurich, 1840), 150; Moritz Heyne offers the following clarification, "(an Grendel) hieng ein Handschuh," in the glossary to his Beowulf." Mit ausfurlichem Glossar (Paderborn, 1888), 198.

(10 Benjamin Thorpe, ed., The Anglo-Saxon Poems of Beowulf, the Scop or Gleeman's Tale, and the Fight at Finnesburg (London, 1875), 140 n4177.

(11) On this debate, Thorpe announces "I once thought with Grundtvig that hand-scio was the name of the warrior slain by Grendel ... but both the context and this mention of the glove are adverse to this interpretation," 140, n. 4177. Elsewhere, Thorpe equates the glof (2085) with both the hondscioh (2086) and the hondsporu (986). The latter, hondsporu, he suggests, is a "blunder of the scribe for hond-sceo," 66, n1976. This view has not garnered much support.

(12) N. E S. Grundtvig, ed., Beowulfes beorh eller Bjovulfs-drapen, det old-angelske helte digt, paa grund-sproget (Copenhagen, 1861), 162.

(13) Walter W. Skeat, "On the Signification of the Monster Grendel in the Poem of Beowulf, with a Discussion of lines 2076-2100," Journal of Philology 15 (1886): 120-31. The proceeding series of quotations are drawn from 126-28.

(14) At this time, I have found no significant critical support for Skeat's theory. One possible exception is E G. Thomas in "'Beowulf' 11. 1604-5, 2085-91," Modern Language Review 17 (1922): 64, who interprets the passage as follows: "It seems clear that glofmeans nothing more than the monster's hand." Despite the obvious echoes, Thomas makes no reference to Skeat's earlier article.

(15) Ten Brink, Beowulf, 123-24 nl.

(16) Skeat, "On the Signification of the Monster Grendel," 128.

(17) Ten Brink, Beowulf, 124 n1.

(18) Skeat, "On the Signification of the Monster Grendel," 125.

(19) Ten Brink, Beowulf, 123 n1.

(20) For an excellent survey of editions published during these years, see the forward to Orchard's Critical Companion, 1-3.

(21) Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg, ed. Fr. Klaeber, (Boston: Heath, 1922), 195. His handling of the issue here is surprisingly succinct and conclusive when compared with his revised note for the third edition. The later revision of Klaeber's note also speaks to the importance of E. D. Laborde's article on the glof which was published the year after Klaeber's 1922 edition.

(22) A valuable overview can be found in T. A. Shippey and Andreas Haarder's Beowulf: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge, 1998), 1-74; Theodore M. Andersson's "Sources and Analogues," A Beowulf Handbook, ed. Robert E. Bjork and John D. Niles (Lincoln: U. of Nebraska Press, 1997), 125-48; and Orchard, Critical Companion, 98-129. Over the previous century debate on the relevance of Beowulf analogues has indeed been quite productive, though more recently the links between thirteenth-century Icelandic sagas and Anglo-Saxon texts have been viewed with more skepticism than in Laborde's day. Expression of this skepticism can be found in Magnus Fjalldal's The Long Arm of Coincidence: The Frustrated Connection between "Beowulf" and "Grettis saga" (U. of Toronto Press, 1998).

(23) Friedrich Panzer, Studien zur germanischen Sagengeschichte, I: Beowulf (Munich: Beck, 1910). For a summary of this article with a translation of select passages, see Shippey, Beowulf, 65-66 and 517-24.

(24) Klaeber, "Aeneis und Beowulf," Archiv 126 (1911): 40-8, 339-59. See also Klaeber's "Beowulfiana," Anglia 50 (1926): 107-22 and 195-244.

(25) Laborde, "Grendel's Glove," 201.

(26) John D. Niles, "Myth and History," Beowulf Handbook, 221.

(27) Quoted from Snorri Sturluson, Edda: Prologue and Gylfaginning, ed. Anthony Faulkes (Oxford U. Press, 1982), 37, lines 34-9. The translation is my own.

(28) This fact is referenced by Loki to taunt Thor during their flyting in Lokasenna 60 and 62, see Gustav Neckel's edition, Die Lieder des Codex Regius nebst verwandten Denkmalern I: Text, rev. Hans Kuhn, 4th ed. (Heidelberg: C. Winter 1962-8), 108-9.

(29) The description of the hanzki, with its vast central hall and single chamber off to the side suggests that this is a mitten.

(30) The following assessment of Grendel's glove assumes that the poet intends the term glof to be taken literally. This is not, of course, how I read the passage, but I do acknowledge the possibility for such a reading.

(31) Though the poet does not mention the glove in this passage, it is widely assumed to be present during the scene:
        (Wiht unhaelo,
   grim on graedig, gearo sona waes,
   reoc ond repe, ond on raeste genam
   pritig pegna; panon eft gewat
   hude hremig to ham faran,
   mid paere waelfylle wica neosan.


([The evil creature, grim and greedy, was ready at once, savage and fierce, and he seized from their sleep thirty thegns; afterwards he departed from there exulting in his spoil to go back to homeward with that battle-fill, to seek his dwelling.]

(The number of men taken from the hall is often thought to be thirty, but the poet elaborates on this scene briefly at lines 1581-84, revealing that Grendel actually devours fifteen men in the hall and carries off the remaining fifteen. I see no reason to assume that the glove must be present here since Grendel, like the other trolls of northern folklore, is quite capable of carrying these men under his arms.

(32) Lerer, "Grendel's Glof," 734-35.

(33) Snorri, Edda, 38, line 14.

(34) Thorpe, Northern Mythology, 2:149.

(35) Thorpe, Northern Mythology, 2:149. It is important to note that the metaphor employed here does not indicate that this was the use to which the troll might put the glove, but that it is simply a convenient and exciting way of describing the size of the glove.

(36) See note 22 above.

(37) See chap. 65 of Gudni Jonsson, ed., Grettis saga Asmundarsonar (Reykjavik: Hid islenzka fornritafelag, 1936, repr. 1956).

(38) See chap. 2 of Ketils saga haengs in Gudni Jonsson and Bjarni Vilhjalmsson, eds., Fornaldarsogur Nordurlanda (Reykjavik: Bokautgafan Forni, 1944).

(39) Chap. 2 of Ketils saga haengs.

(40) Thorpe, Northern Mythology, 2:149.

(41) Laborde, "Grendel's Glove," 202.

(42) See chap. 18 of the Skaldskaparmal in Finnur Jonsson, ed., Edda Snorra Sturlusonar (Copenhagen: G.E.C. Gad, 1900), 89.

(43) William A. Craigie, ed. and trans., Scandinavian Folk-lore: Illustrations of the Traditional Beliefs of the Northern Peoples (London, 1896), 66-67 and 90-91 respectively.

(44) For more on Svyatogor, see Nora K. Chadwick, "The Russian Giant Svyatogor and the Norse Utgartha-Loki," Folklore 75 (1964): 243-59.

(45) Inger M. Boberg, Motif-Index of Early Icelandic Literature (Copenhagen: Munksgaard 1966). See both F531.4--"Gigantic Possessions of Giants" and F531.4.7--"Giant's Clothes."

(46) Lotte Motz, "Giants in Folklore and Mythology: A New Approach," Folklore 93 (1982): 70-84. For more on Icelandic troll motifs, see Martin Puhvel, "The Mighty She-Trolls of Icelandic Saga and Folktale," Folklore 98 (1987): 175-79.

(47) Stith Thompson, Motif-Index of Folk Literature, 6 vols. (Bloomington: Indiana U. Press, 1855-58).

(48) Rosier, "Uses of Association," 10. A useful list of the variety of hand references in Beowulf is provided by Biggs in "Hondscioh and AEschere," 643-44.

(49) Rosier, "Uses of Association," 11.

(50) Rosier, "Uses of Association," 11, notes that hondraes and idelhende are compounds original to the poem.

(51) On the subject of the glove, Rosier, "Uses of Association," 11, writes that it is "not hard to account for since we know that in Norse story it is common for trolls to possess immense gloves."

(52) Seth Lerer, Literacy and Power in Anglo-Saxon Literature (Lincoln: U. of Nebraska Press, 1991), 183-94. He develops a more focused discussion of the glove passage and its association with the Skrymir episode in "Grendel's Glove."

(53) Lerer, "Grendel's Glove," 734; see also, Literacy and Power, 185.

(54) Lerer, "Grendel's Glove," 725.

(55) Lerer, Literacy and Power, 183.

(56) Lerer, Literacy and Power, 183.

(57) In the first account of the attack, the emphasis is on the gruesome details alone:
   (Ne paet se aglaeca yldan pohte,
   ac he gefeng hrade forman siege
   slaependne rinc, slat unwearnum
   bat banlocan, blod edrum dranc,
   synsnaedum swealh; sona haefde
   unlyfigendes  eal gefeormod,
   fet ond folma.


([Nor did the monster think to delay that, but at the first moment he seized a sleeping warrior, greedily tore at him, bit the bone-joints, drank blood in streams, swallowed him in chunks. In that instant, he had eaten up the whole body of the dead man, feet and hands.]

(58) Some have questioned Beowulf's claims of affection for Hondscioh. For a brief review of this tradition, see Biggs, "Hondscioh and AEschere," 643.

(59) This is not the calm and cool Beowulf described by Bonjour, "Technique of Parallel Description," 9. Rather, it is quite the contrary, since Beowulf represents himself as a most righteous and angry avenger of Danish woes.

(60) Antonette diPaolo Healey, ed., The Dictionary of Old English: G (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2008).

(61) Nicholas Howe, ed., and E. Talbot Donaldson, trans., Beowulf." A Prose Translation (New York: Norton, 2002), 36.

(62) Liuzza, Beowulf, 117.

(63) Gyrwan appears in lines 553, 994, 1028, 1441, 1472, 2087, and 2192.

(64) Laborde, "Grendel's Glove," 203.

(65) The following is an expanded form of my earlier reading of the connection between "on fraetwum" and the glove, noted in Biggs, "Hondscioh and AEschere," 651, n38; also referenced in Fulk, Bjork and Niles, Klaeber's Beowulf, 174, n962. At the time, I was convinced that Grendel was armed in some fashion, but I now lean more heavily on the possibility that Grendel's tough skin itself is being described in terms of armor.

(66) Fulk, Bjork and Niles, Klaeber's Beowulf, 174, n962.

(67) Laborde, "Grendel's Glove," 203.

(68) Laborde, "Grendel's Glove," 204.

(69) For a more detailed discussion of the neck ring and its significance in the poem, see Frederick M. Biggs, "The Politics of Succession in Beowulf and Anglo-Saxon England," Speculum 80 (2005): 737-39. That the neck ring might have an even greater significance in the initial passage is suggested by the possibility recommended by Biggs that the golden neck ring Beowulf gives to Wiglaf (2809-12) is the same one given to him by Wealhtheow.
COPYRIGHT 2008 University of Iowa
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Pfrenger, Andrew M.
Publication:Philological Quarterly
Date:Jun 22, 2008
Previous Article:The Discontented Cavalier: The Work of Sir John Suckling in Its Social, Religious, Political, and Literary Contexts.
Next Article:"Dum ludis floribus": language and text in the medieval English lyric.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters