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Essay Comparing Beowulf and The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki

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.


An Analysis of the Epic Poem, Beowulf – Poetic Devices in Beowulf

Poetic Devices in Beowulf

There are a small variety of poetic devices employed in the composition of the poem Beowulf, and they are repeated numerous times.

The Old English poetry of Beowulf is distinguished primarily by its heavy use of allliteration, or the repetition of the initial sounds of words. In the original manuscript version of the poem, alliteration is employed in almost every line (or two half-lines); in modern translations of the poem this is not so. In lines 4 and 5 of the poem we find:

Oft Scyld Scefing sceapena preatum

monegum maegpum meodo-setla ofteah

The repetition of the “s” sound in line 4 and of the “m” sound in line 5 illustrate alliteration, and this occurs throughout the poem, providing to the listener what the rhyme of modern-day poetry provides – an aesthetic sense of rightness or pleasure. The Old English poet would “tie” the two half-lines together by their stressed alliteration (Chickering 4). Each line of poetry ideally contains four principal stresses, two on each side of a strong medial caesura, or pause. “At least one of the two stressed swords in the first half-line, and usually both of them, begin with the same sound as the first stressed word of the second half-line” (Donaldson 67). Such stressed alliterative binding together created hundreds of pairs that are used over and over, such as halig/heofon holy/heaven, dryhten/dugud lord/troop, fyren/feond sin/enemy. The pairs need not be complementary, but rather can be contrastive, like eadig/earm happy/wretched and wearm/winter warm/winter. These dictional contrasts provide the listener additional pleasure by surprising his expectations. The al…

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… overflowing grief

for Herebeald (2444-64)

The poetic devices used in this classic poem are not great in variety, but indeed considerable in their repetition.


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

Donaldson, E. Talbot. “Old English Prosody and Caedmon’s Hymn.” Beowulf: The Donaldson Translation, edited by Joseph F. Tuso. New York, W.W.Norton and Co.: 1975.

Magoun, Frances P. “Oral-Formulaic Character of Anglo-Saxon Narrative Poetry.” In TheBeowulf Poet, edited by Donald K. Fry. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.

Tharaud, Barry. “Anglo-Saxon Language and Traditions in Beowulf.” In Readings on Beowulf, edited by Stephen P. Thompson. San Diego: Greenhaven Press,1998.

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