Did Grendel live on the island of Møn - some of the mystery in Beowulf solved?

Aug 2011
The article below is a translation of a text in Swedish, published earlier this spring on the historical forum skalman.se (Skalman.nu Forum • Visa tråd - Bodde Grendel på Mön?). Some new text has been added to this English version. The author has tried to translate in such a accurate way as possible, but please note that English is not his native language. Some will find this text highly speculative, but the author nevertheless thinks he´s on the right track regarding the orgins of Grendel (and Beowulf).

Anyone who is interested in Old Norse literature, ancient myths and the area between old tales and history is probably familiar with the story of Beowulf, the hero of the Anglo-Saxon poem of the same name from the early Middle Ages.

Several characters and persons in the Beowulf poem are mentioned in other sources, such as Snorre Sturlasson's Ynglingasaga and Saxo Grammaticus Gesta Danorum. With the help of Frankish chronicles it has been possible to date an episode in the story to the 510's (Hugleik's raid to Frisia). The events are thus located in the Scandinavian area, also probably in the Migration Period around 500 AD. Since few other written records exist from this period in the Nordic countries, the content of the story has interested many researchers in archeology, history and literature. Beowulf is the longest text of the old Anglo-Saxon language. There is therefore a quite extensive English literature research regarding content, interpretation and dating. Apparently, the poem was originally preserved by oral tradition, and first later written down, but somewhat changed. Various translations are available both online and in bookstores.

One of the more colourful characters in the story except Beowulf himself is without doubt the troll Grendel, whose ravages are the reason why the hero travels to Denmark. It has been naturally assumed that Grendel is only a fictional character, in line with all the other trolls and giants from the fairytales of Scandinavia, England and Ireland. His monstrous appearance and behaviour is not very human. But there are other opinions, which instead suggests that he more resembles a wild warrior, a berserk and evildoer. The attribute of a monster may have been added later for dramatic reasons.

The rest of this article discusses the origins of Grendel. Is there possibly any historical reality behind the story? This review is only meant to serve as ideas for further studies on the subject. Used source material is found at the end of the article.

Summary of the Beowulf poem

In Beowulf the story deals most about the hero's exploits primarily in present Denmark and Götaland (Geatland), with side stories in Norway and Svealand. As Beowulf himself is closely related to the Geatish king Hugleik, he is directly involved in both peaceful as warlike relations with neighboring kingdoms. Of the former category is the initial journey to the Danish King Hrothgar and the battle against the monster Grendel. The expedition can be partly explained by the fact that his father Ecgtheow previously received asylum and aid in Denmark, why the trip can be seen as a repaiment, a kind of personal diplomatic mission.

After having killed both Grendel and his equally fearsome mother, Beowulf returns to Geatland laden with precious things as payment for the heroic deeds, including a large collar. The story now leaves Denmark completely and describes instead king Hugleiks failed Viking raid to Frankish territory, where the king is killed, but Beowulf survives and returns home with the grim news. (This incident is mentioned in Frankish annals and is said to have occurred around the year 515). A dark shadow now falls over Geatland, as the disintegrating kingdom is threatened by an increasingly aggressive Svealand. Earlier fighting between these kingdoms is described in detail, resulting in the death of two kings. Despite poor odds, Beowulf manage to keep the independence of Geatland during his lifetime, first as an adviser and later as king, through tactical alliances and won battles. Only after he himself has died in battle against a fire-breathing dragon, the poem returns to the dark prophecy of Geatland.

The Beowulf poem describes a clan society in the Iron Age where war romanticism rules in the upper classes, where honor is important, cowardness is shameful and where wrongdoings are rarely forgotten. Family ties are important. Personal courage in battle and bold decisions are rewarded highly, but fate is ever present. Recurring descriptions of weapon equipments indicate how much this was valued in society at that time. Alliances within and between kingdoms are built with the help of personal contacts and distribution of gifts, but can be quickly demolished.

Besides the description of the warrior based society, the poem writers have succeeded to describe nature in the Nordic environment in a rather suggestive way. Windy headlands, windswept cliffs, misty swamps, dark forests, bubbling springs and deep seas gives life to the story. People find security in their houses and halls and among each other, but the few dwellings is sparsely located and surrounded by backwoods with threatening beasts and other dangerous creatures. The Anglo-Saxon poets really wanted to captivate their audience with tales from a pagan and wild fairytale land, where even the heroes finally fell.

That the impact has been great all the way into our time, is proved by Hollywood films produced on the subject, including The 13th Warrior and Beowulf. In these films the same dark atmosphere is dominant.

Description of Grendel in Beowulf
First half of the Beowulf poem describes Grendel, his ravages of the Danes kingdom, his fight with Beowulf and his death (lines 87-1635 with breaks). The story also includes a companion figure, Grendel's mother, who after his death takes on the role of avenger, before she is killed in a final battle by Beowulf.

The reason for Grendel's ravages in Hrothgars kingdom is hinted early in the story. Construction of the mead hall Heorot, and the subsequent feast in this, aroused his anger and envy. Heorot is assumed to be located in the Dane's fabled headquarters Lejre in Själland (Zealand). At night he goes there and kills 30 warriors, not with weapons but with pure strength. The destruction continues until Heorot is finally abandoned. During twelve winters the Danes have to endure this, before Beowulf shows up on stage and puts an end to it all. A single victim in the battle is mentioned by name: Æskhere, one of Hrothgars main fighters, who is killed by Grendel's mother.

In most of the story, Grendel is described as a direct beastly creature, an offspring of the biblical brother murderer Cain. This is a Christian influence on the character, which could not have been there from the beginning. The character is not human but inhuman, a classic monster. The same type of description can count for Grendel's mother. As Beowulf defeats Grendel, he tears off his his arm without weapons, which then as a trophy is hung in the hall, a hardly human claw.

If it had not been for some special verses in Beowulf, maybe one could have been satisfied, and taken that part of the story for what it seems, a pure fairytale with heroes who fight monsters. Not like other parts of the poem, where semi-historical characters come into sight. In lines 1345-1355 one can read:

"…land-dwellers, my people, hall-counsellors have heard tell that they saw two such massive marchers of no-man's land haunting the moors, alien spirits; one of them was, as they most certainly were able to discern, of the likeness of a woman; the other one wretchedly shaped in the form of a man trod in the tracks of an exile, except he was larger than any other man; in days of yore him 'Grendel' named the earth-dwellers..."

Here, there suddenly appears a somewhat different picture of Grendel and his mother, the picture of almost normal people, but savage and taller than ordinary human. It is mentioned clearly that the name Grendel is local people's own name on the evildoer.

What the name Grendel really means is unclear, but it's not any personal name. There have bee suggestions like "Destroyer", "Storm", "Anger", "Bottom" or even "Sand bank" or "Coarse gravel", all this based on similar words in either Old English, Old Norse or Icelandic. How the three latter words can fit the character is difficult to understand. It seems that the true meaning of the name is still not completely understood.

To further approach the truth of who Grendel really was, we should look for other sources that can describe the same events as in Beowulf. We can then go on to read parts of Thidrikssaga.

This story was compiled sometime during the Middle Ages in the Norwegian-Icelandic area, but is largely based on collected hero poems from Germany. The saga is a mixture of old oral traditions, describing events that was originally taken place on the continent during the 300-500's, ie during the Roman Empire collapse, when the Germanic kingdoms on the continent were at their peak. People and events from different centuries are mixed rather freely, so that the Gothic king Ermanarik (300's), the Hunnic king Attila (400's) and Theodoric (early 500's) directly comes in contact with each other. The main character is Theodoric the Great (Didrik af Bern), king of the Gothic kingdom, headquartered in the Italian town of Verona 493-526. Around him and his heroic deeds much of the story is centered around.

A number of supporting characters of various kinds are involved in the events, some of which may belong to pure fairytale, while others must be considered semi-historical figures during this era. Among the latter are a number of knights and heroes that help Didrik in his war business in foreign countries. Most of the events are taking place in the Germanic kingdoms on the continent, but a few side stories reaches further north. One of these is the story of Bitterwulf and his son Ditlev Danske (Ditlev the Dane). They lead us into the same geographical area and time period as Beowulf, ie Denmark in the 500's.

Bitterwulf is described in the saga as jarl (Earl) and the greatest fighter who was in Denmark at that time. He lived at Thumbathorp in the province of Skåne (Scania), which must refer to the present Östra Tommarp (Eastern Tommarp) in the southeastern part of the province, in the Middle Ages one major trading center. When Bitterwulf during wintertime (probably Christmas) travels to a series of banquets in Scania and Zealand, both his wife Oda and his son Ditlev accompanies him. After a visit to Villands härad in northeastern Scania, father and son rides alone further over the already frozen Öresund to attend yet another feast in Southern Denmark. It is here that Thidrikssaga's own "Grendel" shows up.

Already before Bitterwulf and his son enters the story, it is told explanatory of an evil and greedy character, a robber named Ingram. He is stationed in Falsterskov (Falster Forest), a border area between Denmark and Saxony. Here Ingram waits with his band, where they rob and slay passing people. On one occasion, they kill 60 lightly armed merchants, on their way up through Denmark. Among the robbers is also one person named Heime, one of Didrik af Bern's previously excommunicated knights.

When Bitterwulf and Ditlev passes Falsterskov they are attacked by Ingram and his band. But it does not end as planned, because Bitterwulf cuts down Ingram instead. The rest of the robbers are also killed in the battle. The only survivor is Heime, who after a fight with both Bitterwulf and Ditlev, escapes. After this the heroes takes the robber's loot and returns back home with fame.

There are several similarities between Grendel and Ingram, and therefore it is not impossible that both stories have a common origin, originally based on oral tradition. Both characters are criminals and border walkers who kills people. In Beowulf the number killed is 30, in Didrikssaga 60. The hero names Beowulf and Bitterwulf is also strikingly similar, probably it is originally the same person, if we belive in some sort of historical background.

The geographical name Falsterskov should also be commented on. There is no doubt that the story refers to the the southern Danish island of Falster, where the robbers are active. In older times the land road probably went from the continent to Denmark over this island and further north towards Zealand. As a border region with dark woods, maybe the loyalty of the population was low towards the kingdoms in Denmark or northern Germany. Thidrikssaga mentions that Ingram also did damage in Saxony, which sounds like pirate raids by boat.

Moving geographical focus of the events from Heorot on Zealand to Falster is a problem if you do not assume that the robber Ingram started his misdeeds there, or that Heorot in reality was further south. But for now, we put these questions aside. Instead we can look further for other sources in southern Denmark, where we can find traces of the character Grendel. And we do not need to look far, but take a short easterly step from Falster over to Møn, the small island with many legends.

Local stories from Møn
Møn is an island rich in antiquities. Dolmens, Bronze Age mounds and stone circles are evidence of a cultural landscape thousands of years old. Especially impressive are the dolmes from the Neolithic age, some of them are Denmark's largest. Nature is also quite unique, especially the high chalk cliffs on Møns Klint, whose counterpart only can be found on Rügen.

There are plenty of surviving stories and fairytale characters linked to Møn's antiquities. Most famous is Klintekongen (the Klint King/”the Mountain King”) or Jætten Opsal (the Giant Opsal), who is located at Møns Klint and protects the island from danger. But another figure is more important in our discussion of Grendel: Jætten Grøn (the Giant Green), resident primarily on western Møn. He seems to have made a big impression in the public mind, as there are many stories left. Grøn is unfortunately a more dubious character than Klintekongen, but in some instances still sometimes referred to as king.

The personal name (if it is one) seems to always start with the word Grøn but with numerous variations. Some of the names are difficult to translate to English. Here is the Danish spelling:

  • Grøn Jæger
  • Grøn jein
  • Grøn jægen
  • Grøn jætte
  • Grøn-Jette
  • Kong Grøn
  • Grøn Jægling
  • Grøn lieg
  • Grøn digling
Grøn is as told earlier located to his domain in western Møn, where his tomb is described as being the impressive dolmen Grønsalen (”Green Hall”), a monument from the Stone Age. In the folk story, he has not only given his name to this, but also to the wood Grønved and Grønsund, which is the strait between the Møn and Falster. By his side is his wife called Fane. Interestingly, Fane did not originally come from Møn but from Falster. There as a female warrior she once met Grøn in battle but they reconciled, after which they became husband and wife. Grøn had as a fighter and robber often malicious business on Falster, where he ravaged, slew and looted. In Østerskov on Falster there are burial mounds after seven fallen enemies, the story tells. If Grøn and Fane instead felt persecuted, they could hide in an underground chamber on Møn, named Hjortehøj or Jordhøj (Hart mound or Earth mound), even today an existing Stone Age grave.

But everything has an end, and Grøn meets his match in the saga, a character named Huno. The stakes in the fight is said to have been a gold chain that stretched around Møn and that protected the island from enemies. But Grøn loses the fight somewhere on the island and Huno cuts off his head and wins the gold chain. Grøn can then be seen riding around headless in ghost ride along with a lot of dogs during Christmas time.

There is nothing certain to suggest that Grøn would be specifically linked to the 500's. But a source mentions that he along with other local chieftains on Møn acted at the same time as Rørik and Helge. The latter was Hrothgars brother.

Following this description, we can summarize the similarities between the three stories of Grøn on Møn, Ingram the robber in Thidrikssaga and the troll Grendel in Beowulf:

The name
Grøn Jægling, Grønjein and Grøn digling are so similar to Grendel that a common origin can be sensed. Ingram falls outside this, but may have been the original personal name, and the others some sort title, nickname etc. The western part of Møn was formerly known as Grønø (Green Island) and it is possible that Grøn got his name from it and not vice versa (the Giant from Grønø). Note that the Grøn names and Grendel specifically were names of the local people in the the stories.

Geographical area

Grøn and Ingram are active in the same area, on Falster. Since Grendel haunts Heorot, he is tied to Zealand and the hall in Lejre, but no specific location is clearly stated in the Beowulf poem. Maybe Heorot at Lejre is confused with Grøns hiding place Hjortehøj or Jordhøj on Møn?

The three characters are either robbers, fighters or killers. The number of beaten enemies varies between 60, 30 or 7. Only Grendel is described as a partly non-human figure.

Both Grøn and Grendel have a female companion, either wife or mother. She is also a fighter and does not hesitate in Grendel's case, to avenge him. Didrikssaga does not mention any woman, only companions.

Grendel dies of a severed arm, but his head is cut off later. Both Ingram and Grøn is killed through split or head cut off.

The name of the slayers Beowulf and Bitterwulf are very similar. Grøn's slayer is called Huno in the stories, which may have been a nickname or the name of the people to where the slayer belonged. Beowulf did certainly not belong to the Huns, but perhaps the Heruli, one tribe in some way connected to the Huns on the continent. This Germanic people is known to have visited both Denmark and Sweden in the 500's, according to Roman sources.

Other evidence

Beowulf mentions that Grendel's mother in revenge slew Aeskhere, one of King Hrothgars closest men. And what do we find on western Møn, but Asgershøj (Asgers mound). Also the story of the neck ring/gold chain that was paid to Beowulf/Huno after Grendel/Grøn was killed shows similarities.

Nature description in Beowulf and the landscape on Møn
As a final part of these clues that link Grendel to Møn, we should re-read a few lines in Beowulf, which describes the landscape that the monster and his mother dwell and hide in (lines 1357-1366):

"They possess unknown land, wolfcliffs, windy crags, a dangerous fen-path, where the mountain stream falls down under the darkness of the rocks, a flood under the earth. That is not a mile hence where the mere stands; over it hang rime-covered groves; the wood firm- rooted overshadows the water. There each night a baleful wonder may be seen, a fire on the flood"

Following this spooky description of the landscape, we continue with the passage on Beowulf's and followers last march against Grendel's mother in the above magic lake (lines 1403-1411):

"The tracks were widely seen along the forest paths, the course over the fields. Away over the moor she went … Then the son of princes strode over the high rocky cliffs, the narrow paths, the straitened tracks, the unknown road, the steep crags…"

Personally, it is quite clear, that what is told here in the poem is no description of a fairytale land. It is a very realistic description of the landscape and nature on Møns klint! The actual environment outlined is:

Larger wetlands/moors up on or just below Klinteskoven (the Klint or Mountain forest). In 500 AD they were probably widespread, difficult to pass, and perhaps with only a narrow path through. Today they are more or less drained.

High coastal cliffs with dramatic shapes, where the narrow paths winding through breathtaking at the edge (”wolfcliffs”, ”windy crags”). The cliffs reach at least 100 m in some places.

Waterfall which throws itself out over the cliff (”mountain stream falls down under the darkness of the rocks”). Such a waterfall can still be found at Møns klint today and is called Maglevandsfaldet.

The lake with the dead Grendel, where his mother is hiding (”That is not a mile hence where the mere stands… the wood firm- rooted overshadows the water”). This mystical water is still located on Møns klint, not far from the cliffs at the edge of the forest Klinteskoven. The trees are leaning over the water's edge, just like what is told in the story. The small lake is today called Hunosø (Huno's lake) ... and if you wonder, the name of course refers to Grøn's own slayer, Huno. Apparently, he was also somehow linked to the lake. Why? At the western shore are the remains of a fortification system, a kind of small ancient fort with ramparts, perhaps a haven in troubled times? Who lived there?

Perhaps they had fires burning beside the lake, the eerie glow spreading over the water in the dark:

"there one may every night a horrible marvel see: fire on the water…"

But the burning water has probably a different explanation. In some lakes welling methane gas may get ignited spontaneously, giving rise to small flickering flames where the gas bubbles up. In folklore such flames are called Will-o'-the-Wisp etc. When Beowulf came to the magic lake the water was also bubbling and bad smelling with red colour, which perhaps was welling and smelly hydrogen sulfide. In some stories, the site was regarded as sacred. Perhaps according to ancient tradition offerings were made here, which may explain why Æskhere's head was found on the beach.

Møns Klint still has a sort of special feeling, with high cliffs, dark forests and mystical lakes with unknown depths. I addition to Hunosø, there are also the similar Aborresø and Store Geddesø. At Timmesøbjerg far into the woods and close to the cliff is another old hill-fort, with remains all the way back to the Bronze Age.

Even special animals are incorporated in is this part of the poem, but with a strongly dramatized description. In the magic lake there swim strange "sea dragons", which is clearly nothing more than innocent newts, probably crested newt (Triturus cristatus). These are actually quite similar to small dragons when they swim in the water, but hardly a threat to a armoured warrior. The same applies to ordinary snakes and lizards sunbathing along the beaches. Interestingly, in this part of Denmark the Aesculapian snake (Zamenis longissimus) survived into modern times, a snake that can reach a length of two meters. The last specimens were seen on Själland in the late 1800's. Possibly, one could imagine that theses snakes have inspired dramatization in Beowulf, or the tales of ”lindwurms” on Møn.

Archaeological traces
Unlike earlier and later periods, there have been few finds from the Migration Period on Møn. Data exists from the hillfort at Hunosø, after a minor excavation of the National Museum in 1911. The site consists of a round hill about 20 meters in diameter and about 2 m in height. Burnt clay, bricks and oak timber reveal findings from the Middle Ages rather than Migration Period. This does not exclude previous remains or temporary settlements in the same place, only further excavation could confirm if this is the case. It would be interesting to investigate Hunosøs bottom, if there is reason to believe the speculation about the sacrifice rituals.

Graves dated to the Migration Period are few on Møn. The most interesting in this context was found in 1903 just north of Elmelunde and is available at the National Museum. Data on the details:

  • The grave lay under a large stone slab out on a field
  • The grave was dug up by the landowner himself, but the ancient monument manager took care of the finds
  • The grave was in SW-NE direction
  • Only remnants of the skull and femur were found in the tomb
  • Subsequent analysis revealed a person who was about 167 cm long, probably a man
  • The sword was in poor condition
  • Shield buckle has counterparts in other wealthy weapon graves from the Germanic Iron Age, including Bornholm, Gotland and Mälar valley
  • The stamped pattern on the rivets correlates with Torgårdsgraven in Sør-Trøndelag in Norway
  • A dog of great Danish race were included in the grave
  • The grave was dated to the years 550-600
Comments: Hardly a tall person even at that time. Apparently not a female warrior, but perhaps it's hard to tell from the meager skeletal remains? Probably this was not Grøn, but maybe someone weaker successor?

In addition to the above example, mostly poorer grave finds have been found on Møn from the Late Germanic Iron Age. You get the impression that the island was an outpost, clearly poorer than the central districts of for example Zealand. Given its exposed location some distance out to sea, Møn had probably often been the victim of looting raids. Perhaps this influenced society and forced the small population to survive through own looting on the neighboring islands. Investigations on landscape development through pollen analysis shows that forested areas are spreading during the Germanic Iron Age, which could indicate decrease in population.

We can recall some of the lines in Beowulf on where Grendel lives, which perhaps at the same time illustrates how neighbouring and richer islands really pictured Møn at that time:

…he who held the moors, fen and desolate strong-hold…

The above review suggests a common origin for the tales of Grendel, Ingram and Giant Grøn. The dramatic descriptions of Grendel as a monster has probably been added later, along with other exaggerated elements of the story. If we ignore these in the Beowulf poem and compare with other stories we can sense real historical events:

Under a gradually increasing influence from the growing power in Zealand during the 400-500's several smaller kingdoms disappeares as independent. On Møn, there remains a certain autonomy, depending on a local chieftain's personal qualities. Perhaps this person was the greatest warrior of his time, both in terms of size, strength and aggressiveness? Successful warfare combined with plundering raids into the neighboring islands gives a bad reputation. Open battle with the king's warriors is avoided, but surprise night attacks together with voracious large dogs spread terror. In that way Ingram/Grøn/Grendel gradually transforms into a man-eating troll and demon of the poets in the king's mead hall.

Among Grøn's companions there could probably have been female warriors, either because of tradition, or lack of males. And maybe one of these was related to the chief himself? Female warriors must have sounded strange and frightening in the Christian poet's ears.

The end comes when the Danes greatest warrior Beowulf slays the warrior from Møn in single combat, and afterwards even his female companion. She has, after a last act of revenge, been traced to a last hideout at Møns Klint. Perhaps Beowulf really swam out to a hiding place in the magic lake and ended the story? And maybe he brought Grendel's head back on the return journey? And perhaps there are remaining remnants of Grendel somewhere on the island?


Beowulf. Engelsk translation by R K Gordon. Dover Thrift Editions, 1992.

Beowulf in original text with English translation and explanations. Internet version downloaded 2011-08-10: Beowulf on Steorarume (Beowulf in Cyberspace) - Opening Page

Didrikssaga (Thidrekssaga). In Swedish. Internet version downlodaded 2011-08-10: http://www.nordlund.lu.se/Fornsvenska/Fsv Folder/01_Bitar/B.P6.A-DidA.html

Projekt Møn. In Danish. (Historical/archaeological review on Møn). Internet version downlodaded 2011-08-10: http://www.itu.dk/people/hrafn/moen.pdf

Sagn og myter i Fanefjord sogn. (Fairy tales and Myths in Fanefjord sogn). In Danish. Ed. Jonna Kjær-Nilsen, 2005. Internet version downlodaded 2011-08-10: Lokalhistorier

Wikipedia on Beowulf. Internet version downlodaded 2011-08-10: [ame="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beowulf"]Beowulf - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia[/ame]

Wikipedia on Grendel. Internet version downlodaded 2011-08-10: [ame="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grendel"]Grendel - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia[/ame]

Wikipedia on Theodoric. Internet version downlodaded 2011-08-10: [ame="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legends_about_Theodoric_the_Great"]Legends about Theodoric the Great - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia[/ame]
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Ad Honoris
Jan 2010
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First of all thanks for that fascinating work.

What the name Grendel really means is unclear, but it's not any personal name. There have bee suggestions like "Destroyer", "Storm", "Anger", "Bottom" or even "Sand bank" or "Coarse gravel", all this based on similar words in either Old English, Old Norse or Icelandic. How the three latter words can fit the character is difficult to understand. It seems that the true meaning of the name is still not completely understood.

To further approach the truth of who Grendel really was, we should look for other sources that can describe the same events as in Beowulf. We can then go on to read parts of Thidrikssaga.
The word Grendel sounds familiar to me, as I speak Dutch. It means "latch" in Dutch.

I found an etymology for the name Grendel on this site
Grendel « Taaldacht
linking the name to the Dutch word.
It is unfortunately for you, but fortunately for me in Dutch. The text is by Olivier van Renswoude. I'll try to paraphrase and translate the relevant part.

The traditional explanations are that Grendel comes from "Old English grindan ‘to grind’, Old-Norse grindill ‘storm’, Middle English gryndel ‘angry’, Old-English grund ‘grond’ and Old-Norse grandi ‘sandbank’"

The author explains two other possible etymologies:
-The continuation of the Old Germanic word *grandilaz, possibly a nomen agentis with an Old Germanic root as seen in Old Norse granda ‘to damage’
and Old-Norse grand 'damage'. that would make Grendel 'the Damager'.

-From the root of the Old Germanic word *grendō. Old-Norse grind 'fence (of trellis work)' stems from that form. Other derivates are Old Germanic *grendilaz and Old English grindel and Dutch grendel, meaning 'latch'.
That would make Grendel not only the Grinder or the Damager, but also the 'sealer' or 'encloser'.

If this were the case, there's an astonishing parallel with Loki of the Norse mythology. Loki's name is often connected with Oldgermanic *lukan 'closer' or 'locker'. Loki is seen as the one who 'finishes up' after Ragnarök, the Old Norse apocalypse. Perhaps it is even broader than that, and is Loki the constant "encloser" Loki is after all the father of Jörmungandr, the primeval serpent that envelops Middle Earth.
Last edited:
Aug 2011
In my own language "grind" means gate. "Gränd" means alley and "grund" shallow water/shoal. As the Beowulf poem was written down centuries after the events had taken place, it sounds resonable to believe that "Grendel" through oral corruption was not the original word. Maybe it was something like Gren-dogling or similar, which later became Grendel. As suggested in the article.
Aug 2011
Suggestions for the historical background on Beowulf himself and characters around him (sources are found in the original text above):

Beowulf/Bitterwulf/Bodvar Bjarke can possibly be sought as a historical person in the royal line among the Heruli who arrived in Scandinavia around 510, efter their defeat against the Langobards in modern Austria. According to the Byzantine writer Prokopios, the remaning Heruli travelled through the country of the Danes and settled amongst or besides the Geats.

In line with this, Beowulf arrived seven years old to the Geatish king Hrethel, after his father Ecgtheow (Eytjof) in a typical herulian way had killed Hadolaf in a neighbouring tribe, and therafter had to flee to the Danes. Was Eytjof possibly a relative to the herulian king Rodulf, the king who earlier had been killed in the war against the Langobards, and therefore had given the ulv-name to the son? Maybe a cousin or similar?

The arriving Heruli naturally created tension in Scandinavia, which led to battles between Geats and Swedes around 515, where the Heruli probably took part on both sides. Beowulf himself was too young at that time. After the new Geatish king Hugleik had won the war (which have given him a somewhat odd position as a Swedish king in the Ynglingasaga king line) the focus is turned outwards, against the land of the Franks, which is raided by boat. But before that Beowulf had made himself a name by killing Grendel and making contacts with the Danes, among them the future king Rolf Krake.

One can wonder why Hugleik, together with the returning Beowulf and with him maybe recruited Danish warriors, attacked Frankish territory. Did they have som quarrel with each other? The answer to that question maybe could be the letter who the Gothic king Teodoric the Great sent to the Thüringi, Heruli and Varini around the year 510. The letter suggested joint actions against the expansive Franks. Even if the letter was sent the the continental Heruli before their defeat, the message maybe travelled north and inspired the expedition. Maybe the Geats felt especially related to the Goths on the continent? When Hugleik had his back free, the matter was raised by the Heruli. After Hugleik’s defeat on Frankish soil, Beowulf ”swam” back home, maybe somewhat wiser.

Heardred now became king of the Geats, supported by Beowulf. It is therefore difficult to understand the lack of defence for the young king, during the attack from the Swedish king Onela/Ale around 530. Why? The only explanation is that Beowulf already had gone into service beside the new Danish king Rolf Krake, and therefore had left Geatland. The revenge came afterwards when Beowulf together with the future Swedish king Eadgils arranged a campaign and killed Onela/Ale on the ice of lake Vänern around 535.

At the same time we have the other possible date for Grendel, which can be supplemented by other stories. Bitterwulf/Bodvar is located in Denmark, in the first case in Thumbathorp in Scania (maybe the herulian? place ”Jarlastadhum” nearby). Bitterwulf now has a son, Ditlev the Dane, who is mocked by his parents because of his lazy and hardly for his position correct lifestyle. Only when Bitterwulf is going to a banquet he improves and take a bath. The same original story but somewhat different is told when Bodvar Bjarke discovers Hött behind the bone heap in the hall of Rolf Krake, and then gives him a bath. Ditlev/Hött becomes a man when he in the first case helps Bitterwulf to kill Ingram/Grendel, in the second case to wrestle with the berserkers.

Ditlev leaves ca 545 with the embassy of the remaining continental Heruli. (Datius in Prokopios’ story, together with his younger brother Aordos. The latter is not mentioned in other sources that I know of). The adventures of Ditlev/Datius/Hött continues until the end comes in battle against Byzantian forces around 550.

Left in Denmark is the father Beowulf/Bitterwulf/Bodvar Bjarke, and the year is 550-560, when the thief steals the goblet from the dragon. This is in line with the treasure of Rolf Krake’s cousin Hjartvard, which is withheld during three years. When Hjartvard attacks Lejre instead of paying his tax, Rolf and his twelve fighters are killed, among them Beowulf/Bitterwulf/Bodvar Bjarke, who maybe is buried nearby. Therefore Beowulf’s grave perhaps is located in Denmark instead of Sweden. In the poem Beowulf didn’t have a heir, which was true, because his two sons had died in battle on the continent before him.

Remaining is Viglaf/Vögg, ready for revenge on the dragon/Hjartvard. Maybe he was the last remaining Herulian aetheling in Scandinavia?
Aug 2011
Regarding an alternative to Grendel's dwelling/hiding place, one can for example read the following lines from the previously referenced collection of stories and folklore from Møn (my own translation from Danish to English):

"King Grøn, is buried, as we have heard by some, at Hårbølle Mark or att Jettenshøj Wood in Frenderup. The latter was blown up in 1774 and used for building at Marienborg, and by time the whole mound was devastated. Probably it is one of the lost mounds at Vængemarken which is called "Grønjægen".

And together with the mound the original story has also disappeared.
So when Mrs. John. Olsen in 1926 questioned people about it, only the 84-year-old Kr. Dahl in Raby Lille gave some answer:

"On one of Marienborg's lands there lived in old days a man called Grønjein. He lived in a earth hole or a earth cave, which was built up of stones inside and was for that time beautifully equipped. An the reason for him living like this was that no stranger who arrived at the island, should discover his home, because he was constantly in conflict with the Vends. But where he was hiding no one knew, because the cave was covered with grass turf, so not many could find it.

Where he went he was always followed by two very large dogs. And one night when he had been in fight with the Vends, the dogs were missing. After he had arrived at home, the dogs came crawling back, and he saw them dead at the gate of the cave, in the light of a torch. And after that he dared not to go outside after dark. He was married and his wife was called Fane..."

If you want to believe in the possible truth of this story, and while thinking of Beowulf's description of trolls dwelling in the same type of hole, one can perhaps get a picture of how the hero finally found Grendel's mother and how the battle was fought. Thus, in a well decorated ground lair somewhere in the western part of Møn. This can be seen as an alternative to my previous suggestions regarding Hunosø on eastern part of Møn.

Jordehøj is previously mentioned as a hideout, but the location can be discussed as this could hardly be used as a dwelling. The skeletons of initially buried Stone Age people remained in the grave until the excavation. Perhaps there has been some other and more recent earth cave near this mound, which still could await discovery?
Aug 2011
Speculation on the location of Beowulf's burial site, according to the discussion in post 5 above:

I have assumed that Beowulf belonged to the Heruli tribe and that he was the same character who was named Bitterwulf in Thidreksaga. In this saga he was placed in southeastern part of Skåne county at Thumbathorp, which probably belonged to Danish territory in the 500s. The location could refer to the nearby village Järrestad, which was some sort of predecessor to Thumbathorp (now Östra Tommarp). In older times the village was called “Jarllastattha”, which could refer to the title Jarl, which in turn could relate to the tribename Heruli/Eruli. Large houses has been excavated at Järrestad, revealing a central place in the Iron age, a chieftains headquarter, with beginnings in the late 500s. Older archaeological findings in the villages nearby have shown a long development as a central region.

If we assume that Beowulf could be placed in this area during his later years, as a warrior in Danish service, one could also speculate if he was buried nearby. The Beowulf poem gives us names as Earnaness (Eagles peninsula) or Hronesness (Whale peninsula) as his burial place, and these have been thought to be located by the coast somewhere in south Sweden. There is no places near Järrestad with these names that I know of, but a Bronze age burial mound called Örnshög (Eagles mound) exist by the coast.

More interesting is a now looted Iron age grave field called Tornabacken (Thorn hill) near the village of Hörup 16 km SW of Järrestad. Translation of an old text (originally published in The National Heritage Board´s database for archaeological sites and monuments):

“…According to a drawing by Hilfeling (1790s), there should on the south side of Tornabacken, have been a grave field consisting of one 1 mound, and 3 (possibly 6) erected stones (fallen). Between some of the stones the same source states that a treasure was found in 1779. The treasure consisted of a large gold chain with attached amulet, several Byzantine coins (Leo, Nepos, Zenon and Anastasius) and some more small gold pieces. The items should have been scattered among burned bone and ash. The to the chain attached amulet that was adorned with a raised face and around some letters, was melted down by a goldsmith in Ystad town. Seven of the coins were redeemed by Hilfeling. 1987 nothing could be seen at the place. Remains of graves could be found underground, why the area should be monitored”.

The information reveals that the gold chain, amulet with letter/runes, and gold coins up to emperor Anastasius (491-518) is in line with other findings from this time and area. It should be emphasized that Anastasius was in close contact with the continental Heruli, who were operating along the borders of the Roman empire. If he was the last link in the treasure, it indicates that the buried person possibly was included in the group of Heruli that left Roman area and traveled north around 510, just as indicated in the story by Prokopios (see post 5). It may have been Beowulf, or one of his upper class relatives. Maybe his father Ecgtheow, who is mentioned in the poem as living among the Danes. Shame that no picture of the amulet and letters remains! Perhaps further investigations could reveal more from the grave field.

Link (in Swedish):

Riksantikvarieämbetet - Fornsök

Link to English information on the website:

About Fornsok - Riksantikvarieämbetet

There is a very impressing stone ship called “Ales stenar” (Ale’s stones) by the nearby coast, at Kåseberga village. This is Sweden’s largest of its kind (67 meters long) but is by tradition connected to the somewhat later king Ale. But this location is very similar to the description of Beowulf’s burial mound in the poem, a high point overlooking the sea.

Ales stenar - Riksantikvarieämbetet
Aug 2011
Having seen the film "Beowulf and Grendel" from 2005, I think it's by far the best by several done on the story. Although the Icelandic landscape perhaps is not very like the original, it's anyway very suited for the dark atmosphere in the poem. And Gerard Butler is great! Must get the real DVD-version. Meantime
seven parts on You Tube:

[ame=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUirP332B4Q&feature=related]Beowulf & Grendel Part 1 - YouTube[/ame]