Beowulf and the Dragon: Parallels and Analogues 0859915921, 9780859915922

The vivid depiction of a dragon-fight in the Old English poem 'Beowulf' and its relationship with other litera

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Beowulf and the Dragon: Parallels and Analogues
 0859915921, 9780859915922

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Table of contents :
Acknowledgements vii
Abbreviations ix
Introduction: Source Study and 'Beowulf' 1
I. 'Beowulf' and Early Medieval Dragon-Fights
1. The Analogues of 'Beowulf' 9
2. The Dragon Episode 24
3. Dragon-Fights in Hagiography and Other Literature 52
II. The Literary History of Dragon-Fights: Case Studies
4. Dragon-Fights in Anglo-Saxon England: Samson and Michael 89
5. Post-Conquest Traditions: Siward and Others 125
Implications 134
III. Appendices
A. Texts and Translations 144
B. Saints and Destructive Dragons: Chronology and Bibliography 174
C. Scandinavian Dragon-Fights: Chronology and Bibliography 194
Bibliography 199
Index 223

Citation preview

Beowulf and the Dragon Parallels and Analogues

The vivid depiction of a dragon-fight in the Old English poem Beowulf and its relationship with other literary encounters between heroes and dragons have been the subject of much scholarly debate; yet this is the first comprehensive study of the dragon-fight in both secular and hagiographical literature. In a series of five detailed studies the author discusses fully the analogues and possible sources of Beowulf s famous last battle, drawing on hagiographical, historical, liturgical, heroic and other narrative material to explore the prominence of these episodes within the literary milieu of the Beowulf-poet and his audience. She assembles an extensive corpus of fights between saints and dragons, and demonstrates their striking resemblance to Beowulf’s actions. A com­ parison with Scandinavian material is followed by case studies which examine the dragon-fights of St Samson and the archangel St Michael. The analogues discussed are presented with facing translations and detailed bibliographies. CHRISTINE R a u e r is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow and Junior Research Fellow at Corpus Christi College, Oxford.

B eow ulf and the Dragon Parallels and Analogues



© Christine Rauer 2000 All Rights Reserved Except as permitted under current legislation no part of this work may be photocopied, stored in a retrieval system, published, performed in public, adapted, broadcast, transmitted, recorded or reproduced in any form or by any means, without the prior permission of the copyright owner First published 2000 D. S. Brewer, Cambridge ISBN 0 85991 592 1

D. S. Brewer is an imprint of Boydell & Brewer Ltd PO Box 9, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 3DF, UK and of Boydell & Brewer Inc. PO Box 41026, Rochester, NY 14604-4126, USA website: A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library o f Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Rauer, Christine, 1969Beowulf and the dragon : parallels and analogues / Christine Rauer, p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-85991-592-1 (acid-free paper) 1. Beowulf. 2. Dragons in literature. 3. Epic poetry, English (Old) - History and criticism. 4. Literature, Comparative - Themes, motives. 5. Heroes in literature. I. Title PR1587.D7 R38 2000 829\3-dc21 00-035451

This publication is printed on acid-free paper Printed in Great Britain by St Edmundsbury Press Ltd, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Contents Acknowledgements




Introduction: Source Study and Beowulf


I. Beowulf and Early Medieval Dragon-Fights


The Analogues of Beowulf



The IdmqgwB&m&e



Dragon-Fights in Hagiography and Other Literature


II. The L iterary History of Dragon-Fights: Case Studies


Dragon-Fights in Anglo-Saxon England: Samson and Michael


Post-Conquest Traditions: Siward and Others


89 125 134

III. Appendices


Texts and Translations



Saints and Destructive Dragons: Chronology and Bibliography



Scandinavian Dragon-Fights: Chronology and Bibliography






Acknowledgements In the preparation of my doctoral thesis as well as during its rewriting for publication I was fortunate to receive help from many sources. I would like to thank my former supervisor, Dr Andy Orchard, and my examiners, Pro­ fessor Malcolm Godden and Professor Michael Lapidge, for their kind encouragement; Professor Joyce Hill, Professor Gordon Whatley, Dr Matthew Townend and Antony Brett also provided much support especially in recent years and months, for which I am extremely grateful. Professor Gwenael Le Due, the Revd Professor Richard Pfaff, Professor Michael Winterbottom, Professor Robert Bjork and Professor Maria Elena Ruggerini are to be thanked for making unpublished work accessible, and suggestions made by Professor Dorothy Bray and Professor John Niles also proved very helpful. I would like to express my warmest thanks to Muriel Thomas and her family for their hospitality which made my trip to Paris in 1996 so fruitful and enjoyable; other major and minor problems were solved for me by Dr Daniel Anlezark, Dr Victoria Avery, Dr Alison Cooley, Dr Helmut Held, Dr Ursula Held, Dr Rohini Jayatilaka, Dr Richard Johnson, Dr Sean Miller, Erika Mölter, Dr Helen Moore, Hérold Pettiau, Magnus Pym, Dr Katharine Scarfe Beckett, Dr Christoph Späti and especially the countless enthusiasts in Cam­ bridge, Oxford and elsewhere who expressed such enormous interest in my research topic - many thanks to them all. Finally, Susanna, Ben, Simon, Sabine, and Kurt all helped by being brilliant and inspiring. I would like to acknowledge my gratitude for the backing which I received from several institutions, in particular Emmanuel College, Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, Oxford, the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic at Cambridge, the Faculty of English at Oxford, and also the British Academy, whose Postdoctoral Fellowship award made the publication of this study possible. For permission to reproduce a number of text passages in Appendix A I am indebted to the following publishers: K. G. Saur Verlag (Munich and Leipzig) in the case of Ovid, Metamorphoses, ed. W. S. Anderson, 8th edn (Leipzig: Teubner, 1998) and Statius, Thebais, ed. A Klotz, rev. edn T. C. Klinnert (Leipzig: Teubner, 1973); Penguin Books for permission to cite a passage from M. M. Innes, trans., The Metamorphoses o f Ovid (Harmondsworth, 1955), pp. 75-6; Fordham University Press (New York) in the case of J. E. Cross, ‘An Unpublished Story of Michael the Archangel and its Connections’, in Magister Regis: Studies in Honor o f Robert Earl Kaske, ed. A. Groos (New York, 1986), pp. 23-35; Oxford University Press for permis­ sion to cite from U. Dronke, ed. and trans., Vgluspá, The Poetic Edda, 2 vols vii

Acknowledgements (Oxford, 1969-97), and Boydell & Brewer for permission to cite from P. Fisher and H. E. Davidson, trans., Saxo Grammaticus: The History o f the Danes, 2 vols (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1979) and from parts of the edition and translation of Tristrams saga ok ísöndar by P. Jorgensen, Norse Romance, ed. M. E. Kalinke, 3 vols (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1999), I, 28-226. Corpus Christi College, Oxford Corpus Christi Day, 1999

C. R.


Abbreviations AASS AB AdB BAV BCLL

Beowulf BHL

Bibi. mun. Biographie

BL BN BSS CPL DACL Encyclopaedia Geschichte ICL Inventairt

Bollandists, ed., Acta Sanctorum, 71 vols (Antwerp etc., 1643-1931) Analecta Bollandiana Annales de Bretagne Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana M. Lapidge and R. Sharpe, A Bibliography o f Celtic-Latin Literature 400-1200, Royal Irish Academy, Dictionary of Medieval Latin from Celtic Sources, Ancillary Publications 1 (Dublin, 1985) F. Klaeber, ed., Beowulf and The Fight at Finnsburg, 3rd edn, 2nd rev. impr. (Boston, MA, 1950) Bollandists, Bibliotheca hagiographica latina antiquae et mediae aetatis, Subsidia Hagiographica 6, 2 vols (Brussels, 1898-1901); Supplément, Subsidia Hagiographica 12 (Brussels, 1911); H. Fros, Novum Supplementum, Subsidia Hagiographica 70 (Brussels, 1986) Bibliothéque municipale W. Berschin, Biographie und Epochenstil im lateinischen Mittelalter, Quellen und Untersuchungen zur lateinischen Philologie des Mittelalters 8-10, 3 vols (Stuttgart, 1986-91) British Library Bibliothéque Nationale Bibliotheca Sanctorum, ed. F. Caraffa, 13 vols (Vatican, 1961-70) E. Dekkers and E. Gaar, Clavis patrum latinorum, 3rd edn (Turnhout, 1995) Dictionnaire d ’archéologie chrétienne et de Uturgie, eds F. Cabrol and H. Leclerq, 15 vols (Paris, 1903-53) Lapidge, M. et a l, eds, The Blackwell Encyclopaedia o f Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford, 1999) M. Manitius, Geschichte der lateinischen Literatur des Mittelalters, 3 vols (Munich, 1911-31) D. Schaller and E. Könsgen, Initia carminum latinorum saeculo undecimo antiquiorum (Göttingen, 1977) F. Duine, Inventaire liturgique de Vhagiographie bretonne, La Bretagne et les pays celtiques 16 (Paris, 1922) IX

Abbreviations L LdM ‘List’



Poetic Works Sanctuarium Scandinavia Sources Vita I Vita II

Latin Lexikon des Mittelalters, ed. L. Lutz (Munich, 1977-99) H. Gneuss, ‘A Preliminary List of Manuscripts Written or Owned in England up to 1100’, Anglo-Saxon England 9 (1981), 1-60 F. Duine, Mémento des sources hagiographiques de Vhistoire de Bretagne (Rennes, 1918) Monumenta Germaniae Historica Auctores Antiquissimi Scriptores Rerum Merovingicarum Middle Irish Old English Old Norse J.-P. Migne, ed., Patrologiae cursus completus (Patrologia Latina), 217 vols (Paris, 1844-55), Index, 4 vols (Paris, 1864) A. Cameron and R. Frank, eds, A Plan fo r the Dictionary o f Old English, Toronto Old English Series 2 (Toronto, 1973) M. Lapidge and J. Rosier, trans., Aldhelm: The Poetic Works (Cambridge, 1985) B. Mombritius, ed., Sanctuarium sive vitae sanctorum, 2nd edn, 2 vols (Paris, 1910) P. Pulsiano et al., eds, Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia (New York, 1993) J. F. Kenney, The Sources fo r the Early History o f Ireland (Ecclesiastical): An Introduction (New York, 1929) Vita IS. Samsonis, ed. and trans. P. Flobert, La vie ancienne de Saint Samson de Dol (Paris, 1997) Vita IIS. Samsonis, ed. F. Plaine, ‘Vita antiqua Sancti Samsonis Dolensis episcopi’, Analecta Bollandiana 6 (1887), 77-150


Introduction Source Study and Beowulf ANY questions remain open concerning the composition of AngloSaxon literature. The date and place of composition and the authorship of many Old English and Anglo-Latin texts have not been determined con­ clusively, and in many cases even speculation has proved difficult. The ques­ tions as to what literary sources were known to Anglo-Saxon authors and exactly how such source material might have been employed have also con­ tinued to pose problems to commentators, although enquiries into the working methods of Anglo-Saxon authors and their literary sources have been part of Anglo-Saxon scholarship since its very beginning. Traditionally, questions regarding the authorship, date and sources of Anglo-Saxon litera­ ture have often been addressed in conjunction, frequently with exclusive focus on individual texts or at least closely related groups of texts;1 indeed, it is remarkable how much information particularly on textual sources has traditionally appeared in editorial introductions, compiled by the editors of the given texts themselves.2 And it is easy to see why the study of literary sources should have become an established part of textual editing, given the assumption that an editor’s specialist knowledge should ideally also extend to the general literary milieu of the edited text. The more systematic identification of the sources of Anglo-Saxon litera­ ture as an entire corpus, by contrast, has only more recently become an aca­ demic objective. First attempts to compile a more comprehensive register of literary sources of Anglo-Saxon literature were undertaken by Jack Ogilvy in the form of two much-criticized monographs, Books Known to Anglo-Latin Writers from Aldhelm to Alcuin, 670-804 (1936) and Books Known to the English, 597-1066 (1967). Ogilvy himself revised this work in the form of


1 In the absence of a specialized bibliography o f source studies, the standard reference work is still the general compilation by Greenfield and Robinson, A Bibliography of Publications on Old English Literature, to be replaced by the two database projects referred to below. 2 See also Scragg, ‘Source Study*, pp. 41-2; some o f the most exemplary early source studies of Anglo-Saxon texts have appeared in editions; see, for example, Rudolf Ehwald’s edition of Aldhelm’s collected works, or Herzfeld’s Old English Martyrology. An outstanding example is also the introduction to Beowulf analogues in Klaeber’s edition of the text, still one o f the best available.


Introduction: Source study and Beowulf extensive published addenda;3 yet a substantial amount of corrections also came from critical reviewers, who concurred with Ogilvy in his desire for a reliable reference tool of Anglo-Saxon literary sources, but who would nevertheless have favoured a collaborative approach involving the support of specialists.4 The objectives expressed in Ogilvy’s preliminary undertakings were sub­ sequently adopted by two sourcing projects launched in the 1980s, Sources o f Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture (,SASLC, based in the United States) and the British computer-assisted Fontes Anglo-Saxonici: A Register o f Written Sources Used by Authors in Anglo-Saxon England (hereafter Fontes AngloSaxonici;). These were able to address precisely the shortcomings of Ogilvy’s project and are now in the process of superseding his earlier registers with more systematic large-scale surveys of the written sources used by AngloSaxon authors.5 In spite of some important differences, the two projects nevertheless also share a number of objectives. These could be seen in the compilation of two easily accessible registers of all established literary sources used by Anglo-Saxon authors, that is to say, a collection of informa­ tion which would previously have been distributed over large numbers of separate publications and specialist literature. Other electronic tools in data­ base format, such as the CETEDOC Library of Christian Latin texts or the Patrologia Latina database, have arguably transformed Anglo-Saxon source study in recent years.6 One would therefore assume that the collaborative efforts from the international body of specialists belonging to SASLC and Fontes Anglo-Saxonici will eventually be of similar benefit to the larger com­ munity of Anglo-Saxon scholars and the future development of systematic source study, a relatively new discipline.7 3 Ogilvy’s Books Known to Anglo-Latin Writers and Books Known to the English are supplemented by his ‘Books Known to the English, AD. 597-1066: Addenda et Corrigenda’. 4 See the (untitled) reviews by Laistner, Raby, Bloomfield, Gneuss and Wallach, listed under the reviewers’ names in the bibliography below. 5 A concise introduction can now be found in Scragg, ‘Source Study’, esp. pp. 52-6. Earlier publications on these projects include Scragg, ‘An Introduction to Fontes Anglo-Saxonici’ and ‘The Hunt for Sources’; Jackson, ‘Fontes Anglo-Saxonici, 1993-97’; Hill, ‘Sources o f Anglo-Saxon Literature’ (Fontes) and Biggs, Hill and Szarmach, eds, Sources of Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture: A Trial Version, pp. xv-xxix (SASLC)', progress reports are published regularly in the Old English Newsletter; see, for instance, Clemoes et a i, ‘Fontes Anglo-Saxonici: First Progress Report’. 6 Scragg, ‘Source Study’, pp. 5 1 -2 or, for more extensive surveys, Hill, ‘CETEDOC and the Transformation o f Anglo-Saxon Studies’ and Baker, ‘Old English and Computing: A Guided Tour’. 7 Introductions to this discipline with references to further literature can be found in Scragg, ‘Source Study’ and its appended bibliography on pp. 217-18 and O’Brien O’Keeffe, ‘Source, Method, Theory, Practice’. Further theoretical discussion also takes place in Waterhouse, 'Wœter æddre asprang : How Cuthbert’s Miracle Pours Cold Water on Source Study’; Chase, ‘Source Study as a Trick with Mirrors’ and especially Hill, ‘Literary History and Old English Poetry: The Case of Christ /, II, IIP.


introduction: Source Study and Beowulf But serious doubts have been cast on the objectives and methodologies of these more recent developments. In a critique published during the early stages of modern source study (1990), Allen Frantzen highlighted specific shortcomings of the two sourcing projects;8 others have since joined him in this criticism.9 According to Frantzen, the two projects are to be criticized for their confused rationale and ill-defined terminology (in his view even extend­ ing to key terms such as ‘source’ and ‘text’) and the undue emphasis which the projects are apparently attributing to the Latin and literary element in Anglo-Saxon culture, with simultaneous neglect of orality and vernacular literature. The further purpose of the projects’ findings was also questioned, since these, it was suggested, were unlikely to contribute much of value to the more theoretical issues which critics such as Frantzen would like to see promoted. More fundamentally, a reprehensible ‘desire for origins’ was described to underlie the modern interest in source study and the more recent enquiries into the working methods of Anglo-Saxon authors.10 This type of criticism has received a response above all in a Northcote Toller Memorial Lecture delivered by Katherine O’Brien O ’Keeffe in Manchester (1993) which was able to deal with the more theoretical aspects of intertextual relationships.11 Yet more could be added in reply and may here serve as a theoretical introduction to the following discussion which will also be concerned with the study of sources. I would like to suggest that the criticism which has in recent years been directed at projects such as Fontes Anglo-Saxonici and SASLC (both of which have ironically gone to consider­ able lengths to avoid precisely the problems which are now attributed to them) would be far more constructive if it could be applied to an area of source study which is excluded from the recent systematic surveys, namely the study of literary analogues.12 One suspects that the current advances in modern source study may eventually lead to a growing divide between ‘source study’ (or the study of the sourceable parts of Anglo-Saxon litera­ ture) and what could be called ‘analogue study’, that is, the more speculative study of texts whose sources are more difficult to establish or may even be unidentifiable. Old English poetry, for instance, has been associated with vast numbers of analogues, signalled in a multitude of very disparate publica­ tions. The study of these analogues has never been streamlined into collabor­ ative research projects, a state of affairs which has left matters of terminology, limitations and long-term objectives to individual preferences. 8 Frantzen, Desire for Origins, pp. 83-95. 9 Similar sentiments are also expressed in Lees, ‘Working with Patristic Sources’, pp. 158-62. See also the brief remarks by Frantzen and Venegoni, T h e Desire for Origins: An Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon Studies’, p. 150 and Irvine, ‘Medieval Texuality and the Archaeology of Textual Culture’, p. 278, n. 16. 10 On this latter point in particular, see Frantzen, Desire for Origins, pp, 92-3. 11 O ’Brien O’Keeffe, ‘Source, Method, Theory, Practice’, but see also Jackson, Fontes Anglo-Saxonici, 1993-97’, esp. pp. 33-5. 12 For more detailed definitions of the terms ‘source’ and ‘analogue’, see Chapter 1 below.


Introduction: Source study and Beowulf The question arises as to whether the recent developments in the more systematic types of source study would not also have implications for the study of literary analogues. The following discussion is concerned with the analogues and possible sources of a particular section of Beowulf\ the so-called dragon episode (11. 2200-3182) - material for which no literary sources have been estab­ lished consensually but which is surrounded by large numbers of analogues which resemble the dragon episode to a major or minor extent. The method­ ological aim here will be to pay particular attention to matters of terminol­ ogy, limitations and objectives, the obvious pitfalls of source study. In more specific terms, the following discussion will seek to examine previously sug­ gested analogues of the dragon- episode in Beowulf whilst also aiming to fill a long-standing gap: the numerous dragon-fights of medieval hagiography have as yet not been systematically examined in the same context as Beowulf and this study aims to redress the balance with an extensive analysis of this material. The larger structure of this discussion is threefold, consisting of literary analysis, examination of the literary-historical context and finally the presen­ tation of the material under discussion. Part I ('Beowulf and Early Medieval Dragon-Fights’, Chapters 1-3) is concerned with the literary analysis and comparison of the dragon episode in Beowulf and two areas where one might suspect particularly interesting analogues for this part of the poem: the late medieval secular (Germanic) tradition, and a hitherto more neglected corpus of early medieval hagiographical dragon-fights which, as I hope to demon­ strate, might be able to shed new light on the literary milieu of Beowulf Part II (T h e Literary History of Dragon-Fights: Case Studies’, Chapters 4 and 5) concentrates on aspects concerning the dissemination of the texts discussed, examining the question as to how hagiographical and secular dragon-fight narratives in oral and literary formats might have interacted par­ ticularly in Anglo-Saxon England and the north-western continental area. Part III consists of a reference section, presenting texts and translations, cata­ logues and chronologies of primary material, as well as a secondary bibliography. More specifically, the contents of individual chapters can be summarized as follows. It will first be necessary to investigate the general area of intertextual relationships and to outline the problems inherent in the study of Beowulf analogues. Chapter 1 will also present relevant definitions and a brief survey of previously suggested Beowulf analogues, addressing the question as to why none of the numerous analogues previously adduced can consensensually be proven to have influenced the composition of Beowulf Chapter 2 will provide a general introduction to the dragon episode, examin­ ing the scenario which has traditionally been proposed for its composition, that is, the idea that the poet may have followed a syncretic method, com­ bining identifiable secular material with a further, unidentified (folkloric?) tradition. Chapter 3 examines the general possibility of hagiographical 4

Introduction: Source Study and Beowulf influence on the dragon episode (as previously argued by other commenta­ tors), introducing a very distinctive hagiographical commonplace which describes a fight between a saint and a dragon. This chapter includes a detailed analysis of some sixty examples of the hagiographical topos in ques­ tion and some fifty examples of secular Scandinavian dragon-fights which are then compared in detail with the imagery of Beowulf, On the basis of this analysis I would like to argue that the hagiographical paradigm under dis­ cussion (in oral or literary formats) probably influenced the composition of the dragon-fight in Beowulf in conjunction with other, secular, material. Chapters 4 and 5 therefore address the question as to how the hagiographical material in question might have been transmitted to Anglo-Saxon England, and how it may then have been assimilated by pre- and post-Conquest authors. In Chapter 4, two case studies focus on the traditions of the sixth-century Celtic bishop St Samson and the archangel St Michael, and it will be necessary to assess whether the parallels between Beowulf and the texts examined can be ascribed to some form of textual relationship. The plausibility of the suggested scenario of composition, finally, is further examined in Chapter 5 which, in another case study, concentrates on a text which may be derived from the same characteristic combination of literary influences as Beowulf namely the Vita S. Waldevi. In a concluding section, I would like to summarize my argument and address the implications arising from what has been argued. Three Appendices present supporting reference material in a variety of formats: Appendix A provides relevant texts and translations from insular, continental and Scandinavian traditions and from the modem, medieval, late antique and classical periods, aiming to present a more balanced selection of dragon-fight analogues than can be found in previously published antholo­ gies. This appendix includes extracts from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Statius’s Thebaid, the Vita II S, Samsonis, the Homiliary o f Saint-Pére, Vgluspá, the Gesta Danorum of Saxo Grammaticus, the Vita S. Waldevi, Tristrams saga ok ísöndar, Hrólfs saga kraka and a modern Danish folktale. Appendix B contains a chronological conspectus as well as a bibliographical catalogue of the particular type of early medieval hagiographical dragon-fight on which this study is based; Appendix C provides a similar bibliographical catalogue and later medieval chronology for the corresponding secular (Scandinavian) material. For the sake of convenience, hagiographical passages will be referred to by sigla throughout this study; further bibliographical information on these sigla can be found in Appendix B. Similarly, Scandinavian material will be cited by title only; the specific passages implied in such references are listed in Appendix C. All translations are mine unless otherwise indi­ cated; full publication details of all works cited, primary and secondary, appear in the bibliography which concludes this study.


Part I

Beowulf and Early M edieval D ragon-Fights

1 The Analogues o f Beowulf

HE definition of intertextual relationships has only rarely been addressed by students of Beowulf\ and no agreed explicit definitions of the key terms 'analogue’, 'source’ and ‘parallel’ have as yet been established. For the term ‘parallel’, moreover, an agreed definition might never be reached, as was demonstrated recently by one of the ongoing sourcing projects. Required to provide definitions for different types of intertextual parallels, the •SASLC-editors found themselves obliged to ‘concede that defining such parallels is a matter of intuitive judgment and that the range of potential ambiguity and subjectivity is wide’.1According to this view, the definition of the term ‘parallel’ necessarily involves a certain subjective element, in­ asmuch as a ‘parallel’ seems to be a similarity between two texts as perceived by a subjective reader.2 An ‘analogue’ could consequently perhaps best be defined as a text which contains a preferably large number of such parallels. The subjective nature of this terminology evidently leaves room for further interpretation, but, in the light of the remarks above, the given definitions may nevertheless provide a starting point for the following discussion; modi­ fications will appear in due course. The definition of another term presents still greater problems. What exactly constitutes a ‘source’ and what is the relationship between a ‘source’ and an ‘analogue’? Most students of literary sources would probably agree that this term can be applied to a text which has demonstrably influenced the composition of another, and that the identification of a source therefore depends on evidence which can demonstrate influence of one text on another. Such evidence can perhaps be said to exist, one might suggest, if all three of the following basic requirements are fulfilled:



Thematic or (preferably) verbal parallels must be apparent between a ‘target text’3 and a suspected source text. In addition, these paral­ lels should be so striking that to interpret them as fortuitous would

1 Biggs, Hill and Szarmach, eds, Sources of Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture: A Trial Version, p. xvi. 2 The terms ‘echo’ and ‘similarity* are here treated as synonyms o f ‘parallel*. 3 The derivative text, the text to be sourced. The phrase was coined in O’Brien O ’Keeffe, ‘Source, Method, Theory, Practice’, p. 58.


Beowulf and Early Medieval Dragon-Fights

(ii) (iii)

‘outrage probability’.4 Ideally, the observed parallels should be unique to the two given texts. The suspected source text must demonstrably predate the target text. There must be a plausible literary and historical context for the hypothetical influence between the two given texts.

Taking this train of thought to its logical conclusion, one could say that in those cases where not all of these three criteria for the positive identification of a ‘source’ are fulfilled, the term ‘analogue’ would have to be applied instead. Schematically, the differences between an identified analogue and an identified direct source outlined here could therefore be summarized as follows: An Analogue

A Direct Source

presents parallels with the target text’s phraseology and/or imagery

presents distinctive parallels with the target text’s phraseology and/or imagery

cannot be shown to predate the target text; is characterized by a late or undetermined date of composition

demonstrably predates the target text

cannot be shown to have circulated in the same historical and literary context as the target text; is characterized by a different or undetermined historical and literary background

demonstrably circulated in the same historical and literary context as the target text

In short, then, the given definitions of ‘source’ and ‘analogue’ are clearly related and seem to differ only in degree, in the sense that a source could be understood as an analogue with certain additional characteristics, in particu­ lar with more objective characteristics, such as the chronological order in which the two given texts were composed. It is obvious that the identification of a source is in this case likely to present greater problems than the identifi­ cation of an analogue, and it is therefore to be expected that texts whose com­ position is surrounded by relative obscurity can be linked with a large number of analogues, but with only a disproportionately small number of demonstrable sources. Such a disproportion between the suggested sources and analogues can certainly be observed in the case of Beowulf, where (as will be shown) no 4 The phrase is Kaske’s, quoted in Biggs, Hill and Szarmach, eds, Sources o f Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture: A Trial Version, p. xvi.


The Analogues of Beowulf sources have consensually been established, whereas a vast range of ana­ logues has been linked to the poem.5 For this discussion, the following seven groups of Beowulf analogues can be distinguished:6 (i) (ii) (iii) (iv) (v) (vi) (vii)

Germanic analogues for the monster-fights Celtic analogues for the monster-fights other analogues for the monster-fights classical analogues for phraseological and thematic elements Christian analogues for phraseological and thematic elements other analogues for phraseological and thematic elements analogues for historical and legendary elements

In what follows, I would like to provide brief evaluations of each of these groups, highlighting the wide range of literary genres among Beowulf ana­ logues; but it will also become evident that, irrespective of their literary genres, many analogues present the same problematic relationship with Beowulf Germanic analogues fo r the monster-fights Parallels for the protagonist’s three major monster-fights (against two human monsters and a dragon) can be found, above a ll in analogues of Germanic vernacular origin.7 This first large group o f Beowulf analogues is represented mainly by Old Norse saga material which in manv cases follows the same narrative plot, namely that of the story of The Two Trolls.8 Following earlier suggestions, Friedrich Panzer established in his early and influential Studien zur germanischen Sagengeschichte (1910) that the larger narrative structure of the earlier parts of Beowulf (roughly 11. 64-1924, describing Beowulf’s 5 A comprehensive bibliography, chronological conspectus and discussion o f the large corpus o f Beowulf analogues can now be found in Andersson, ‘Sources and Analogues*; briefer surveys and bibliographical details are given in Schubei, Probleme der Beowulf-Forschung, pp. 59-64 and regularly in ‘The Year’s Work in English Studies’ in the Old English Newsletter. Discussions o f individual analogues can be found by con­ sulting the entries for ‘analogue’ and ‘source’ in three bibliographies: Fry, Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburh\ Short, Beowulf Scholarship: An Annotated Bibliography and Hasenfratz, Beowulf Scholarship: An Annotated Bibliography, 1979-1990 , supple­ mented by the on-line update of the last work. 6 For a different approach, see Andersson, ‘Sources and Analogues’, pp. 129-46. 7 The most important collections o f Germanic Beowulf analogues are Garmonsway, Simpson and Davidson, trans., Beowulf and its Analogues (which is almost entirely restricted to Scandinavian material)4, Chambers, Beowulf: An introduction, esp. pp. 254-69; Panzer, Studien, I, 313-86, Klaeber, ed., Beowulf pp. clxxx-clxxxiii, and now Mitchell, Robinson and Webster, eds, Beowulf pp. 195-232. Andersson, ‘Sources and Analogues’, pp. 129-34 provides a convenient introduction to Germanic analogues. 8 An important recent study o f Two-Troll material, not only in connection with Beowulf is Stitt, Beowulf and the Bear's Son; but see also Jorgensen, ‘The Two Troll Variant of the Bear’s Son Folktale’; Pizarro, ‘Transformations o f the Bear’s Son Tale’; Rosenberg, Folklore and Literature, pp, 41 -6 and ‘Reconstructed Folktales as Literary Sources’ and the summarizing remarks by von See, ‘Germanische Sage: Ein Forschungsbericht’.


Beowulf and Early Medieval Dragon-Fights first two monster-fights) appears to be identical with that of a widespread folk­ tale now entitled The Two Trolls, sometimes also referred to as The Bear’s Son or The Three Stolen Princesses. This type of narrative describes how a hero seeks out the habitation of two related monsters (often of gigantic stature and different sexes), ultimately killing both of them.9 Panzer was able to dem­ onstrate that the narrative paradigm of The Two Trolls seems to underlie not only Beowulf and certain modem folktales, but also a number of medieval Scandinavian sagas, notably the Volsung legend, Grettis saga Ásmundarsonar, Hrólfs saga kraka and Samsons saga fagra, which have for this reason been regarded as analogues of Beowulf Numerous other Germanic examples of this paradigm have been traced since the publication of Panzer’s seminal study; and comparisons between these texts continue to occupy folktale researchers and students of medieval Germanic literature alike.10 In the present context it is important to note that most of the Germanic analogues in question are of late medieval date and tend to present parallels above all for the first two monster-fights of Beowulf; only a relatively small number of eddic and other analogues for the concluding dragon-fight have also been signalled.11 Moreover, it would seem that the narrative parallels found in this Germanic material are only rarely accompanied by phraseo­ logical parallels (or ‘verbal’ parallels, to use a synonymous term); most prominent, perhaps, among the rare verbal similarities presented by this group of analogues is a term which the author of the fourteenth-century Icelan­ dic Grettis saga applies to the hero’s weapon in the Sandhaugar episode (ON heptisax ‘short sword with a ?plain handle’), which is, like its parallel in Beowulf (OE hœftmece, ‘?hilted sword’, 1. 1457a), a hapax legomenon. The precise meaning of the two terms and the significance of this parallel are, however, still disputed.12 Celtic analogues fo r the monster-fights A second group of analogues for the monster-fights comprises a number of texts from the Celtic (vernacular or Latin) tradition.13 This Celtic body of 9 Panzer, Studien, devotes one volume to Beowulf and a second to the VQlsung legend. The folktales are listed as no. 301 (The Three Stolen Princesses) and no. 650 (Strong John) in Aame, The Types of the Folk-Tale. The early history o f this enquiry is reviewed in Shippey and Haarder, eds and trans., Beowulf: The Critical Heritage, pp. 65-6. 10 See (to list only some o f the more recent contributions) Jorgensen, ‘Additional Icelandic Analogues to Beowulf Harris, T h e Deaths o f Grettir and Grendel’; Opland, 4A Beowulf-Analogue in Njáls saga*; Orchard, Pride and Prodigies, pp. 140-68; Fjalldal, The Long Arm of Coincidence and Scowcroft, ‘The Irish Analogues*. 11 See further below, Chapter 2. 12 The parallel has now been discussed again in Fjalldal, The Long Arm of Coincidence; but see also Chambers, Beowulf: An Introduction, pp. 49-50, 4 68-9 and 472-5 and Orchard, Pride and Prodigies, pp. 140-68. 13 The argument for Celtic influence on Beowulf has been reviewed in greatest detail by Scowcroft, T he Irish Analogues’; Puhvel, Beowulf and Celtic Tradition, esp. pp. 1-13;


The Analogues of Beowulf Beowulf analogues provides further, mainly Irish and Scottish, versions of a tale known as The Hand and the Child which greatly resembles the Germanic Two-Troll story, and, in the eyes of some commentators, presents even closer parallels with Beowulf than the Scandinavian material. Although the relation­ ship between Beowulf and its Celtic analogues remains disputed, most scholars seem to have accepted at least the general possibility of Celtic influence on the composition of Beowulf14 Apart from echoing the narrative patterns of Beowulf’s first two monsterfights, Celtic analogues also supply interesting parallels for a number of otherwise rarely attested minor motifs, most of them restricted to the first hält of the poem. These include, for instance, the mysterious light in the monsters’ underwater cave (11. 1570-1572a), the melting of Beowulf’s sword following the beheading of the monsters (11. 1605b—1617) and the underwater setting of the second monster-fight. In contrast with the Germanic narrative analogues, some examples of this Celtic corpus of analogues are of early medieval date, including, for instance, the eighth-century Irish Tain Bo Fraich. Other analogues fo r the monster-fights Two-Troll material is not only attested in Germanic or Celtic traditions. Folkloric literature from all parts of the world has been discussed in con­ nection with Beowulf and could be seen to form another group of Beowulf analogues. This rather heterogeneous corpus (‘a small grab bag of exotica’)15 comprises, among others, the folklore of Africa, Armenia, Burma, China, Finland, India, Japan, Mexico, Polynesia and Russia; the relevant texts are, however, more often of modern than medieval date and, like the two previous groups of analogues, relate mainly to Beowulf’s first two monster-fights.16

Dumville, 'Beowulf and the Celtic World’ and more recently also in Wright, The Irish Tradition in Old English Literature, pp. 3 0 -1 ,1 1 7 -2 1 and 132-5. See now also the sum­ maries in Andersson, ‘Sources and Analogues’, pp. 134-8; Encyclopaedia, pp. 87-8 and the literature cited there. Also relevant are the studies by Puhvel, ‘A Scottish Analogue to the Grendel Story’; Orchard, Pride and Prodigies, pp. 68-75 and 112; Carney, Studies in Irish Literature and History, pp. 77-128; Panzer, Studien, I, 386-9 and the more general remarks by Schubei, Probleme der Beowulf-Forschung, p. 58; Stanley, In the Foreground: Beowulf, p. 63 and Robinson, ‘History, Religion, Culture’, p. 47. 14 See Dumville, ‘Beowulf and the Celtic World’, p. 120; Puhvel, Beowulf and Celtic Tradition, pp. 86-138, Panzer, Studien, I, 386-9; Reichl, ‘Zur Frage des irischen Einflusses’ and Scowcroft, ‘The Irish Analogues’. 15 Andersson, ‘Sources and Analogues’, p. 129. 16 See Andersson, ‘Sources and Analogues’, p. 129, which includes bibliographical infor­ mation, and also the more exotic entries listed under ‘analogue’ and ‘source’ in Short, Beowulf Scholarship: An Annotated Bibliography and Hasenfratz, Beowulf Scholarship:

An Annotated Bibliography, 1979-1990.


Beowulf and Early Medieval Dragon-Fights Classical analogues fo r phraseological and thematic elements A fourth and in the present context more relevant group of Beowulf ana­ logues comprises Latin and Greek classical literature, such as Ovid’s Meta­ morphoses, Statius’s Thebaid and the Homeric epics, but most notably Vergil’s Aeneid which has been linked with Beowulf sm ct the earliest days of Beowulf scholarship.17 These and other classical texts have been shown to present echoes for both phraseological and minor narrative elements of Beowulf which are, moreover, not restricted to any particular part of the Old English poem. Classical parallels for the larger narrative pattern of Beowulf (in the form of ancient Greek Two-Troll material) were originally signalled by Panzer, but have otherwise failed to receive much attention.18 Christian analogues fo r phraseological and thematic elements Mainly since the publication of Friedrich Klaeber’s influential study of the Christian elements in Beowulf large numbers of phraseological and thematic parallels have been observed in Christian religious texts (to choose a deliber­ ately unspecific phrase), and these could be seen to represent a further group of Beowulf analogues.19 The texts in question are insular or continental in origin and come from a wide variety of literary genres which includes bibli­ cal, apocryphal, patristic, hagiographical and homiletic literature, composed in Latin or the Germanic and Celtic vernacular languages. Christian elements have been observed in all sections of Beowulf but are most unambiguously identified in those parts of the poem which explicitly deal with biblical (Old Testament) material, namely the passages referring to the stories of Cain, his race and the Flood, all of which are contained in the first two-thirds o f the poem (11. 102-114, 1258b—1268 and 1688b—1693). It should be noted that

17 Early observations were made by Thorkelin, see Klaeber, Aeneis und B eow u lf, p. 40, which also remains the most detailed and authoritative discussion o f Vergilian influence on Beowulf. Haber, A Comparative Study largely repeats the parallels pointed out by Klaeber; but see also Brandi, 'Beowulf-Epos und Aeneis'; Klaeber, ed., Beowulf p. cxviii and Andersson, Early Epic Scenery, pp. 145-59. The possibility o f influence from Ovid and Statius is discussed below, see Chapter 2. For parallels with the Homeric tradition, cf. Lord, 'Beowulf and Odysseus*. Surveys of classical Beowulf analogues are given in Schubei, Probleme der Beowulf Forschung, pp. 5 8-60 and most recently in Andersson, ‘Sources and Analogues’, pp. 138-42. 18 Panzer, Studien, I, 226-31. 19 Among the most important and extensive reviews of the Christian elements in Beowulf are Klaeber, ‘The Christian Elements’ and Goldsmith, The Mode and Meaning; helpful summaries can be found in Andersson, ‘Sources and Analogues’, pp. 142-3 ( ‘Scriptural and Patristic Echoes’) and pp. 143-6 ( ‘Old English Sources and Analogues’) and Schubei, Probleme der Beowulf-Forschung, p. 59. Apocryphal Beowulf analogues are discussed in Orchard, Pride and Prodigies, pp. 58-85; Mellinkoff, ‘Cain’s Monstrous Progeny in Beowulf. Part I, Noachic Tradition’ and ‘Cain’s Monstrous Progeny in Beowulf: Part II, Post-Diluvian Survival’, and Kaske, 'Beowulf and the Book o f Enoch’. For Christian analogues specifically in insular literature, see the following notes.


The Analogues of Beowulf many texts of this group are characterized by a Celtic origin or transmission, including, for instance, the apocryphal Book o f Enoch which experienced transmission from Brittany to Anglo-Saxon England, the Irish Sex Aetates Mundi and the Hiberno-Latin Reference Bible.20 This group of Christian ana­ logues also comprises a number of Old English poetic and homiletic texts; and these represent what many commentators would perhaps regard as the most interesting analogues suggested so far. Thus, links with Beowulf have been signalled in the Old English poetic Andreas, Exodus and Genesis A 21 and many scholars, beginning with Richard Morris, have pointed towards a number of phraseological and thematic similarities between the description of Grendel’s mere in Beowulf {11. 1357b-1366a, 1411 and 1414—1417a) and a passage in the Old English Bückling Homily XVI, both of which ultimately seem to be derived from an unidentified vernacular version of the Visio S. Pauli (another analogue of this group with a clear Celtic connection).22 It is, however, important to note that the precise relationship between Beowulf and even these texts has not been established conclusively. Other analogues fo r phraseological and thematic elements Texts belonging to more secular genres have likewise been shown to present phraseological and thematic echoes. Roberta Frank has compared Beowulf with Old Norse skaldic diction dating from the late ninth century or later;23 the shared elements (often used by the Beowulf-pozt with what seems to be a characteristic twist) include phraseological ‘Scandinavianisms’,24 such as OE missan (Beowulf 1. 2439a; cf. ON missa, ‘to miss, not hit’), and phrases like OE lofgeorn (‘eager for praise’, 1. 3182b) and the collocation mæl is ( ...) (‘it is time to ( . . . ) ’, 1. 316a), both of which have eddic parallels. Other similari­ ties observed by Frank include more large-scale thematic parallels and certain narrative clichés such as the attention paid to royal protocol and the hero’s encounter with a coastguard. Several commentators have compared Beowulf with a number of insular and continental teratological texts, such as the Latin and Old English versions of the Letter of Alexander to Aristotle and the Wonders o f the East

20 Orchard, Pride and Prodigies, pp. 64-79. 21 See Klaeber, ed., Beowulf pp. cx-cxiii (a section entitled ‘Relation to other Old English Poems’) and Andersson, ‘Sources and Analogues’, pp. 143-6. See further, for instance, Brodeur, ‘A Study of Diction and Style’; Schabram, ‘Andreas 303A und 360B -362B ’ and ‘Andreas und B eow ulf , and Peters, ‘The Relationship of the Old English Andreas to B eow u lf . 22 Wright, The Irish Tradition in Old English Literature, pp. 106-74, esp. pp. 132-6. This analogue (first signalled in Morris, ed., The Bückling Homilies, pp. vi-vii) is discussed in greater detail below, Chapter 4, where further literature is cited. 23 Frank, ‘Skaldic Verse’, esp. pp. 131-7. 24 The phrase is Frank’s, ‘Skaldic Verse’, pp. 131-3. But see Andersson, ‘Sources and Analogues’, p. 130 for a different view.


Beowulf and Early Medieval Dragon-Fights preserved in the Beowulf-manuscript, for which see below) and the seventhor eighth-century Liber monstrorum, a teratological catalogue of presumptive insular origin, highlighting a number of thematic similarities, notably in the description of monsters.25 Analogues fo r historical and legendary elements Many details of the poem’s historical and legendary background (that is to say the events and characters which the Beowulf-poet assigns to the Danish, Swedish and Geatish courts of the fifth and sixth centuries) are attested else­ where in texts dealing with Germanic legend.26 The often rather allusive historical and legendary information given in Beowulf includes, for instance, the story of Hroðulf/Hrólfr and the internecine strife at the Danish court, Hygelac’s raiding of the Frankish Hetware and Scyld’s genealogical back­ ground, material which has parallels in early and late medieval texts of insular, continental or Scandinavian origin and widely different literary genres. Among these are the eighth-century Liber Historiae Francorum (which echoes some of the tribal information given in Beowulf), other histor­ ical texts, such as the West Saxon royal genealogies and William of Malmesbury’s twelfth-century Gesta regum Anglorum, which provide infor­ mation concerning the legendary figures of Beow, Scyld, and Sceaf, and the seventh- or eighth-century Liber monstrorum, which counts Hygelac among its monsters. Texts like these could be seen to form another important group of analogues, but provide in general no extended parallels for the monsterfights, in particular not for the dragon-fight. An interesting exception in this respect is the group of stories surrounding the legendary hero BQðvarr Bjarki, which combines a royal Danish setting with fights against animals and a (dragon-like?) monster.27 It is important to distinguish more general patterns in this heterogeneous material, and the following three observations could perhaps be made. First, 25 See Lapidge, ‘Beowulf Aldhelm, the Liber Monstrorum and W essex’, and Whitbread, ‘The Liber Monstrorum and B eow ulf , pp. 465-9, but also the more cautious remarks by Orchard, Pride and Prodigies, esp. pp. 26-7, 4 5 -7 and 110-11 and Tolkien, the Monsters, and the Critics’, p. 76. 26 The most important single collection can be found in Analogues; historical and legend­ ary material is also collected in Klaeber, ed., Beowulf pp. 254-69 and Chambers, Beowulf: An Introduction; for an overview see Bjork and Obermeier, ‘Date, Provenance, Author, Audiences’, pp. 18-21. Genealogical parallels are discussed in, for instance, Sisam, ‘Anglo-Saxon Royal Genealogies’; Lapidge, ‘Beowulf Aldhelm, the Liber Monstrorum and W essex’, pp. 304-8 and Murray, ‘Beowulf the Danish Invasions, and Royal Genealogy’. For other parallels with Germanic legend, see also Frank, ‘Skaldic Verse’; Newton, The Origins of Beowulf Jacobs, ‘Anglo-Danish Relations, Poetic Archaism and the Date of B eow ulf ; Goffart, ‘Hetware and Hugas' and Meaney, ‘Scyld Scefing’. 27 See, for instance, Chambers, Beowulf: An Introduction, pp. 54-61.


The Analogues of Beowulf the parallels which can be supplied for the hero’s first two monster-fights would seem to be more numerous than those for the last, the dragon-fight. Secondly, the majority of analogues signalled so far present merely narrative (but not more distinctive verbal) parallels with Beowulf Finally, a great pro­ portion of the observed parallels are preserved in late medieval texts (which is, however, not surprising, given the high proportion of Scandinavian ana­ logues). In what follows it will be demonstrated that particularly the latter two points have caused problems in the identification of the sources of Beowulf to the extent that, at the present state of research, no proven sources can be said to be universally acknowledged - indeed, the most recent survey of this area by Theodore Andersson can refer to no sources whatsoever, despite its title.28 That this scepticism in the identification of the sources of Beowulf should be justified becomes clear if the relevant analogues are tested against the checklist of basic requirements for textual sources outlined earlier, the criteria of antecedence, parallel phraseology and imagery and a conducive literary and historical context, which are now to be discussed in turn. Antecedence The most objective requirement for evidence of direct influence, that stipu­ lating antecedence of a suspected source text, has caused particular problems in Beowulf scholarship, as the date of composition of Beowulf remains uncer­ tain.29 There is at present little consensus on the validity of linguistic dating criteria, although lexical and metrical constraints have been held to suggest a date of composition later than the mid-seventh century.30 On historical grounds it could be argued that the poem (in its transmitted form) cannot 28 Andersson, ‘Sources and Analogues’. See also Andersson’s introductory remark, p. 125: ‘Despite the voluminous literature on these matters, almost everything is in doubt’. 29 Convenient surveys of the long-standing dating controversy o f Beowulf are given in Wetzel, ‘Die Datierung des B eow ulf ; Bjork and Obermeier, ‘Date, Provenance, Author, Audiences’ and the summaries by Chase, ‘Opinions on the Date o f Beowulf 1815-1980’, and Stanley, ‘The Date o f B eow ulf , in Chase, ed., The Dating of Beowulf which also contains some o f the most important arguments (with suggested dates of composition ranging from s. viii to s. x i!). For further general comments, cf. Klaeber, ed., Beowulf pp. cvii and clv-clvii; Dumville, ‘Beowulf and the Celtic World’ and Stanley, In the Foreground: Beowulf p. 67. Arguments for particular periods and origins are made in, for instance, Kiernan, Beowulf and the Beowulf Manuscripts Lapidge, Beowulf Aldhelm, the Liber Monstrorum and W essex’; Newton, The Origins o f Beowulf Schücking, ‘Wann entstand der BeowulfV and Poussa, ‘The Date of Beowulf Reconsidered ’. 30 See Amos, Linguistic Meansy pp. 1-12 for previous views on the reliability of linguistic dating criteria; more recently the question was addressed by Fulk, A History of Old English Metery esp. pp. 389-90; see also Encyclopaedias pp. 137-8; Klaeber, ed., Beowulf pp. cviii-cx; Newton, The Origins of Beowulf pp. 10-17; Bately, ‘Linguistic Evidence’, and the summary by Bjork and Obermeier, ‘Date, Provenance, Author, Audi­ ences’, pp. 25-8.


Beowulf and Early Medieval Dragon-Fights have been composed before the early sixth century.31 At the other end of the scale, palaeographical evidence provides a terminus ante quem of c.10'16.32 The resulting period of possible composition of 500 years can perhaps be reduced to a period of probable composition of 200 years, since (in Fred Robinson’s words) ‘all but a few partisans of extremely early or extremely late dating would in any event accept the limits AD 750 to 950 for the time of B eow ulf s composition’.33 Even so, it is obvious that in the present context the given termini are extremely unhelpful, since a period of possible compo­ sition which spans 200 or even 500 years scarcely pinpoints possible source material. For the present discussion of Beowulf and its analogues it is there­ fore important to conclude that no text composed during the early medieval period designated above can with absolute certainty be identified as anteced­ ent to Beowulf and cannot be proven to have served as a source, in the sense defined above. The uncertainty surrounding the relative chronology of Beowulf and its analogues has proved particularly obstructive in discussions of the more interesting Old English analogues, such as Bückling Homily XVI and Andreas, which are, moreover, themselves of uncertain date.34 The large corpus of Scandinavian analogues (and thus also most examples of the Two-Troll paradigm, which seem to represent the best extensive narrative parallels for the first two monster-fights) is transmitted in texts of late medi­ eval date, and this material (in its preserved form) must on this criterion also be ruled out as possible sources, although the texts involved nevertheless seem to present a tantalizing, unidentified link with Beowulf Classical Beowulf analogues such as Vergil’s Aeneid or the Metamorphoses of Ovid which decidedly predate the Old English poem, on the other hand, lack parallels for the larger narrative pattern of Beowulf such as the distinctive sequence of events surrounding the first two monster-fights; for obvious

31 The absolute limit of the early sixth century is dictated by two datable events. Hygelac’s death (described at 11. 1205b—1214a, 2354b-2372 and 2913b-2919a) is thought to have occurred c.516 at the earliest, see Chambers, Beowulf: An introduction, pp. 2 -4 and 381-7. Onela’s death (cf. 1. 2396b) has been dated to 535; see Chambers, Beowulf: An Introduction, pp. xl and cviii and Newton, The Origins of Beowulf pp. 27-30. 32 The absolute terminus ante quem is provided by the Zteøwz///-manuscript itself, very probably copied before 1016; see Dumville, T h e Beowulf-Manuscript’ and ‘Beowulf Come Lately’, p. 63: ‘It is in the highest degree unlikely that the Beowulf-manuscript was written later than the death o f Æthelred the Unready (1016) or earlier than the mid-point of his reign (which fell in A. D. 997).’ References to the date of the Beowulf-manuscript in the present discussion should also be understood to imply these limits. See, however, Kiernan, ‘The Legacy of W iglaf’, p. 218, n. 66, who rejects Dumville’s argument. For further details of the Beowulf-manuscript, see below, Chapter 2. 33 Robinson, ‘History, Religion, Culture’, p. 41. 34 See the remarks by Collins, ‘Bückling Homily XVI’, pp. 67 -9 and Brooks, ed., Andreas, p. xviiii.


The Analogues of Beowulf reasons, these pre-medieval analogues also fail to present parallels for the historical and legendary Germanic background and the Christian elements. Parallel phraseology and imagery As long as the relative chronology of Beowulf and the majority of its ana­ logues remains problematic, greater importance will necessarily be attributed to what was identified above as a further requirement for proven source material, namely the cogency of the parallels observed, which, it appeared, must not ‘outrage probability*. However, it was demonstrated earlier that the quality of a particular parallel between Beowulf and a given com­ parandum often appears to be a matter of ‘intuitive judgement’ and it is evident that Beowulf scholars are unlikely to agree on what would or would not ‘outrage probability’. Indeed, it was precisely the rashness with which some earlier commentators identified Beowulfietn echoes in other texts which led Raymond Chambers to cite a famous Shakespearean caveat concerning the facile identification of ubiquitous parallels: ‘There is a river in Macedon and there is also moreover a river at Monmouth, and there is salmons in both.’35 The pitfalls of this discipline were evidently identified at an early stage in Beowulf scholarship. Verbal parallels between two texts (which are arguably less likely to be coincidental than thematic parallels) tend to be considered more cogent evi­ dence for direct influence, but as the above outline of Beowulf analogues has shown, such phraseological parallels have only rarely been observed with respect to Beowulf In short, it could be said that the parallels which have been observed between Beowulf and its analogues largely tend to be of a nar­ rative type, are frequently observable in more than one analogue and appear to be too subjective a criterion to constitute proof of direct influence. It is also relevant to note that commentators have not always aimed to dem­ onstrate the uniqueness of a given similarity between Beowulf and one particu­ lar analogue. To do so, it would be necessary to survey all possible origins of direct influence, and, as was demonstrated earlier, these possible origins are unusually diverse in the case of Beowulf and include insular, Scandinavian and continental material, in Latin and the vernacular languages, all of which should ideally be examined in conjunction - a more wide-ranging procedure which has not become the rule yet in Beowulf studies. As a consequence, commenta­ tors seem to have found it difficult to follow the otherwise accepted notion that it would be desirable not only to consider possible scenarios for the com­ position of the text, but also to rule out less likely ones.36 35 Chambers, Beowulf: An Introduction, p. 96. 36 See the frequently cited observation by Whitelock, The Audience of Beowulf p. 28: ‘it is not enough to show, however convincingly, that the poem fits into a certain historical context, unless one can also show that no other historical context exists into which it could equally well be fitted’.


Beowulf and Early Medieval Dragon-Fights Literary and historical context The last of the requirements specified above, which stipulates a plausible literary and historical context for borrowing, is equally problematic. Attempts have been made to allocate the composition of Beowulf to specific Anglo-Saxon historical figures, royal courts or religious houses, or king­ doms, regions and periods.37 But even the more successful discussions in this area have confirmed that, no matter how cautious and well-informed such arguments might be, proof is likely to remain elusive; the Beowulf-poet’s precise literary and historical milieu (although an interesting object of specu­ lation) inevitably remains unknown and with any certainty can only be defined in the broadest possible terms: it is clear that this poet was a Chris­ tian, composing within the cited chronological period, and that this author is likely to have had access to a variety of secular narrative material (of Germanic and possibly also Celtic origin) and also to Christian religious texts (of insular or continental origin). Possible links with the more interesting Old English analogues (especially Andreas and Bückling Homily XVI) merely indicate that the Beowulf-poet might have been in contact with hagiographical, homiletic and apocryphal material - a literary environment which could have been supplied by many religious houses (or other centres of liter­ ary culture?) in Anglo-Saxon England and which has done little to determine the place and date of composition of Beowulf In view of the difficulties outlined here, then, it is hardly surprising that such a profusion of analogues should have been signalled by Beowulf schol­ ars and that none of these analogues have universally been acknowledged to qualify further as sources, since the relevant texts fail to present the coinci­ dence of the three crucial requirements for proof of direct influence discussed here: demonstrable antecedence, a shared literary and historical context, and parallel phraseology or imagery cogent enough to make an argument for direct influence plausible. Moreover, the terminology employed in discus­ sions of Beowulf has often made it difficult to understand what precise rela­ tionship between Beowulf and a particular comparandum is suggested, and whether a closer relationship, such as direct influence (that is, a source rela­ tionship), is really implied in a particular argument. Friedrich Klaeber’s dis­ cussions of biblical and Vergilian influence are a case in point here, where, in spite of the author’s general confidence and a very plausible case, both the terms ‘source’ and ‘analogue’ are significantly rare in Klaeber’s argumenta­ tion, probably in view of the ubiquity of biblical and Vergilian borrowings in early medieval texts which makes it very difficult to prove the direct or

37 Most successful in this area, perhaps, is Sam Newton’s detailed case for the pre-Viking kingdom of East Anglia as a possible historical background for the composition of Beowulf The Origins of Beowulf and the Pre-Viking Kingdom o f East Anglia to cite its full title. For other hypotheses, see the survey in Bjork and Obermeier, ‘Date, Provenance, Author, Audiences’, pp. 28-34.


The Analogues of Beowulf indirect nature of such influence.38 Interlinguistic verbal parallels between Old English and Latin texts are for obvious reasons also difficult to assess,39 and it is therefore not surprising that not even the two most plausible types of influence, biblical and Vergilian borrowings, can with any certainty be observed in Beowulf Indeed, the unsoureeability of Beowulf seems to have become such a scholarly cliché by now, that one cannot help wondering whether in forth­ coming publications even a genuine source might by current pessimistic con­ sensus simply be overlooked. Another question is whether this has happened already. Walter Goffart, for instance, once argued that the Liber Historiae Francorum (LHF, according to Goffart completed in 727) should be regarded as the ‘source’ of the Beowulf poet’s references to the Hetware (11. 2363 and 2916). Goffart’s concluding statement is worth citing in full for the sake of its exemplary clarity: When the Beowulf poet speaks about the Hetware and adopts both of the other departures of the LHF from Gregory of Tours, he reveals that the LHF was his source. The more definite terminus a quo for the poem that this finding provides tends to confirm rather than to undermine the cur­ rently orthodox date of composition. Hardly anyone should be upset to learn that Beowulf was probably written no earlier than the latter half of the eighth century.40 Yet subsequent commentaries (curiously including Eric Stanley’s concluding remarks in the same volume and the contributions on this topic in the recent Beowulf Handbook, 1997) make no attempt to engage with this (quite startling?) identification,41 and, in print, nobody seems to have gone so far as to accept the implied terminus post quern for the composition of Beowulf as an absolutely definite limit - it could hardly be said that the terminus 727 has become a household term in Beowulf studies. It is evident that the prevailing pessimism in this matter and the enormous secondary literature relating to Beowulf both make it extremely difficult to distinguish more convincing cases from what should be rejected. This is also exemplified in another interesting argument for a source rela­ tionship made by Friedrich Wild, who suggested that Ovid’s Metamorphoses may have been used as a source (‘Quelle’) for certain elements of the dragon episode.42 Although by no means implausible, Wild’s suggestions generally

38 Klaeber, Aeneis und Beowulf and ‘The Christian Elements’. 39 See Andersson, ‘Sources and Analogues’, p. 125: ‘although Virgilian parallels are attractive, they command no consensus’. 40 Goffart, ‘Hetware and Hugos', esp. p. 100. 41 Stanley, ‘The Date o f Beowulf and Andersson, ‘Sources and Analogues’; see also the impassive remarks in Bjork and Obermeier, ‘Date, Provenance, Author, Audiences’, p. 21. For a reaction, see Dumville, 'Beowulf and the Celtic World’, p. 136, esp. n. 129. For the moment, I am inclined to accept Goffart’s identification. 42 Wild, ‘Drachen im B eow u lf , pp. 42-3; cf. also pp. 27-37.


Beowulf and Early Medieval Dragon-Fights seem to have gone unnoticed and are completely absent from the most recent assessment of Beowulf analogues by Theodore Andersson.43 The fact that some extremely fanciful arguments alleging direct relationships between Beowulf and ‘sources’ (particularly of Latinate origin) have been put forward has also contributed to the modern scepticism in this area.44 It is clear why one would be tempted to promote analogues to the status of sources - it is evidently more satisfying to establish a text as a source (especially one which also provides a terminus post quem for the composition of a difficult, undated poem), than to add yet another analogue to vast amounts of similar material. In the course of this discussion, it has by now become clear that the identi­ fication of the sources of Beowulf closely linked to the problematic dating of the poem: the definite identification of a source could provide limits for the composition of the poem; conversely, a secure dating would help to pin­ point sources and to rule out less relevant later material. Regrettably, the uncertainty regarding the Beowulf-poet’s source material is therefore likely to persist until the poem can be dated or localized within a more clearly defined historical and literary context. It is very difficult to make meaningful predictions as to whether or not such a development is likely.45 One might in any case suggest that some progress could be made with a more systematic evaluation of previously suggested Beowulf analogues - a primary biblio­ graphy of proposed Beowulf analogues (perhaps most usefully presented in electronic format), for instance, still remains to be compiled.46 It is not the aim of this discussion to overemphasize the peculiarity of Beowulf and that of its unexplained composition - much of what has been said here regarding the problematic nature of the analogues and possible sources of Beowulf also applies to many other Old English texts (particularly poetry), whose sources remain to a similar extent undetermined. The purpose here is simply to highlight a number of specific difficulties inherent in dis­ cussions of the sources of Beowulf since these difficulties will also have to be taken into account in the following parts of this investigation when ana­ logues for the dragon episode will be introduced and evaluated. While it has been the aim here to illustrate why no sources have been established conclusively for Beowulf it must also be stressed that absolute proof of source status is not necessarily required, not even in the context of the sourcing projects discussed above, Fontes Anglo-Saxonici and Sources o f Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture. The aim is to establish a greater or lesser 43 Andersson, ‘Sources and Analogues*; the most notable omission from Andersson’s survey, however, seems to be the case o f Bückling Homily XVI and the Visio S. Pauli. 44 See, for instance, Cook, 'Beowulf 1422’ and ‘Aldhelm and the Source o f Beowulf 2523*. For commentary, see Andersson, ‘Sources and Analogues*, p. 141 and Lapidge, ‘Beowulf Aldhelm, the Liber Monstrorum and W essex’, p. 283. 45 Cf. Andersson, ‘Sources and Analogues’, pp. 146-8 and his assessment o f ‘Future Directions’ which forecasts that ‘future focus is more likely to narrow than broaden*. 46 As opposed to the bibliographical survey in Andersson, ‘Sources and Analogues’, which is oriented towards secondary literature.


The Analogues of Beowulf likelihood for direct influence, a result which is often sufficient in itself to provide valuable clues concerning the possible composition of a given text. Accordingly, a ‘possible source’ could be defined as an analogue which approaches the status of a proven source by virtue of two characteristics: possible antecedence in relation to a target text and a possible shared histori­ cal and literary background. Among the possible sources of Beowulf one could then count those analogues which demonstrably predate at least the copying of the Æeøww//-manuscript (if not the unknown date of composition) and which can at the same time be traced to Anglo-Saxon England (if not to the unknown place of composition). It is therefore possible to sum up this chapter with the conclusion that, although at the present state of research the sources of Beowulf cannot be determined conclusively, certain analogues can be regarded as of greater interest than others, as they can be shown to predate the Zteoww/f-manuscript, and can at the same time be linked to Anglo-Saxon England. The analogues which are introduced below are characterized by precisely these two points of interest. They seem to be unusual also in that they relate to the concluding third of the poem, whose compositional origins, as the next chapter will show, would seem to differ in some respects from those of the rest of the poem.


2 The Dragon Episode

HIS chapter aims to illustrate the fact that comparatively few of the analogues suggested so far supply parallels for the dragon episode in Beowulf (11. 2200-3182),1 and that for this and other reasons which will become apparent, this episode is most usefully treated in isolation from the rest of the poem.2 Since this chapter will make detailed reference to individ­ ual motifs from the dragon episode, it may be convenient to open the dis­ cussion with a brief synopsis. This will be followed by an outline of the most important characteristics of the dragon episode (as far as these are relevant) and a survey of the analogues which have so far been linked to this part of the poem.


After the death of Hygelac and of his son Heardred, Beowulf has ruled over the Geats for fifty years. Then it happens that the rich hoard (the early history of which is narrated in part) of a dragon is robbed by a fugitive slave, and the enraged monster in revenge lays waste the country by his fire. The veteran warrior-king, still young in spirit, resolves to meet the enemy single-handed. He has á strong iron shield ma^e for this purpose and, accompanied by eleven men, sets out for the cave of the dragon. Filled with forebodings of his end, he in a long speech reviews the days of his youth, especially the events at the Geat court and the feud with the Swedes, and bids farewell to his comrades. He calls the dragon out of the barrow and attacks him stoutly with his sword, but finds himself overwhelmed by deadly flames. His terrified companions flee to the wood, all save Wiglaf, who, mindful of the obligations of loyalty and gratitude, hastens to the assistance of his kinsman. Together they contend against the dreadful foe. Wiglaf deals him a decisive blow in the lower parts, and Beowulf cuts him 1 The term ‘dragon episode’ is here used to refer to B eow ulf s dragon-fight only (11. 2 2003182) and not to the Sigemund digression (11. 884b-897) which also describes a fight with a dragon. 2 Among the numerous publications on the dragon episode, useful introductions can be found particularly in Sisam, ‘Beowulf’s Fight with the Dragon’; Wild, ‘Drachen im B eow u lf ; Lawrence, ‘The Dragon and his Lair’; Klaeber, ed., Beowulf pp. xxi-xxiii and T h e Christian Elements’, pp. 64-8; Goldsmith, The Mode and Meaning, pp. 124-45; Sorrell, ‘The Approach to the Dragon-Fight’; Jones, Kings, Beasts and Heroes, pp. 3-26; Ruggerini, ‘L’eroe germanico contro avversari mostruosi’; Lawrence, Beowulf and the Epic Tradition, pp. 204-43 and Bonjour, ‘Monsters Crouching and Critics Rampant’.


The Dragon Episode in two. But the king himself has received a fatal wound. Wiglaf tends to his dying lord, and at his bidding brings part of the precious hoard out of the cave. Beowulf gives thanks for having won the treasure for his people; he orders that a mound be built for him on the headland, and, after bequeath­ ing his battle-gear to his faithful kinsman, he passes away. Wiglaf, full of sorrow and anger, rebukes the cowardly companions and sends a messen­ ger to announce the king’s death. The envoy foretells the disaster that will follow this catastrophe, recalling at length past wars with Franks and Swedes. The Geat warriors repair to the scene of the fight - the ancient curse laid on the gold having been grievously fulfilled - and at Wiglaf s command carry out the remaining treasure, push the dragon into the sea, and bear the king’s body to the headland. A funeral pyre is built. The hero is placed upon it and given over to the flames amid the lamentations of his people. Then they erect over the remains a royal mound in which they hide the dearly bought dragon’s hoard. Twelve noble warriors ride round the barrow, lamenting their lord and praising his deeds and kingly virtues.34 This episode in Beowulf {11. 2200-3182) constitutes roughly the last third of the poem, extending over some one thousand lines. It occupies twenty folios (182r-201v) of the only extant manuscript of Beowulf (London, BL, Cotton Vitellius A.xv, fols 132r-201v) and was copied entirely by the second of two scribes responsible for the text of Beowulf.4 The Ztec>WM//-manuscript consists of two originally separate codices apparently bound together in early modem times; Beowulf represents the penultimate item in the second of the two codices, the so-called Nowell Codex (fols 94r-209v), where it is preceded by The Passion o f St Christopher (fols 94r-98r), The Wonders o f the East (fols 98v-106v), The Letter o f Alexander to Aristotle (fols 107r-131v) (all prose texts), and where it is followed by the poetic Judith (fols 202r-209v). It has been argued that Judith, now the last text in the codex, owes its present position to a modern rearrangement of the items.5 If this is the case, Beowulf 3 The synopsis is that given by Klaeber, ed., Beowulf pp. xi-xii. A list o f the textual cruces and the various emendations which have been made to the dragon episode can be found in Kelly’s two-part article, ‘The Formative Stages o f Beowulf Scholarship’; none of these should affect the following argument, however. All quotations from the poem are taken from Klaeber’s edition (omitting diacritical marks). 4 The most detailed recent descriptions and discussions o f the Beowulf-manuscript (listed as no. 399 in Gneuss, ‘List’) are Kiernan, Beowulf and the Beowulf Manuscript and T h e Eleventh-Century Origin o f B eow ulf ; Boyle, ‘The Nowell Codex’; Dumville, ‘Beowulf Come Lately* and ‘The Beowulf-Manuscript’; Newton, The Origins o f Beowulf pp. 1-9 and Orchard, Pride and Prodigies , pp. 1-27; but see also Rose, ‘A Look Back’; Ker, Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Anglo-Saxon, pp. 28 1 -2 and Sisam, Studies in the History of Old English Literature, pp. 61-96. The foliation used here is that introduced in 1884 and followed by Boyle, ‘The Nowell Codex’; see also the helpful conversion table for the various foliations in Newton, The Origins of Beowulf p. 1 n. 2. Chase’s note on this topic in The Dating of Beowulf p. 22 is misleading. 5 See Ker, Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Anglo-Saxon, p. 282; Lucas, ‘The Place o f Judith in the j9eovvw//-Manuscript’; Griffith, ed., Judith, pp. 2 -3 and Orchard, Pride and Prodigies , pp. 3-4.


Beowulf and Early Medieval Dragon-Fights may at one point have formed the end of the Nowell Codex, and as the con­ cluding part of Beowulf\ the dragon episode may therefore once have repre­ sented the last episode in the codex. Following Kenneth Sisam, Andy Orchard has recently suggested that all five items in the Nowell Codex show a pervasive concern with monstrosity, and has argued for the possibility that the texts contained in the Nowell Codex could have been compiled specifically to suit this overriding teratological theme.6 Orchard has furthermore pointed out that the items of the Nowell Codex also seem to be more loosely linked by a wider range of recurrent minor motifs, which would again seem to suggest a certain amount of premeditation on the compiler’s part.7 It is tempting to speculate on whether such an implied scheme might also have involved a thematic escala­ tion for the codex as a whole (which may thus have culminated in the dragon episode at its very end),8 and whether Beowulf might have been given its par­ ticular final position in a collection of teratological texts specifically so that the dragon episode, as the ‘ultimate’ monster-fight, would form the end of a sequence. Of more immediate interest here is the final position of the dragon episode within Beowulf Lwhere it undeniably represents a thematic escalation, and in many ways echoes and develops motifs and terminology found in the earlier parts of the poem.9 These echoes and developments include in particular the growing degrees of inertia and disloyalty on the part of Beowulf’s compan­ ions who are asleep at Heorot (11. 703b-705a) and anticipate defeat during Beowulf’s second fight (11. 1603b-1605a); the Danish retainers leave the scene of the second fight (11. 1591-1602a), while finally even the Geats themselves desert during the dragon-fight (11. 2596-2599a). Further examples of this thematic escalation can be seen in the increasingly complicated if ineffectual preparations for the fights (respectively, without weapons, 11.683b685a; with swords, 11. 1441b-1464; and with swords and a metal shield, 11. 2518b-2524a and 2337-234la), and the two attempts to dissuade Beowulf from undertaking his fight, made by Hygelac before the Danish adventures (11. 1992b-1997a) and by Wiglaf before the dragon-fight (11. 3079-3083). It could also be pointed out that all three monsters are described as attacking at

6 Sisam, Studies in the History of Old English Literature, pp. 65-7 and 96; Orchard, Pride and Prodigies , pp. 3 -4 and Newton, The Origins of Beowulf p. 5. 7 See Orchard, Pride and Prodigies , pp. 18 and 26-7. 8 Orchard, Pride and Prodigies, p. 139, for instance, highlights the implicit irony in th e ' transition from the end o f the Old English Letter of Alexander to Aristotle to the opening lines o f Beowulf 9 Detailed comparisons between Beowulf’s three monster-fights can be found, for instance, in Orchard, Pride and Prodigies, pp. 30-3 and 143; Wild, ‘Drachen im B eow u lf , pp. 30-1, n. 114 and pp. 4 1 -2 , and Klaeber, ed., Beowulf pp. li-lii. For more general discussion, see Sisam, ‘Beowulf’s Fight with the Dragon’, pp. 133 and 136; Jones, Kings, Beasts and Heroes, pp. 3-26; Ruggerini, ‘L’eroe germanico contro av versari mostruosi’, and Chadwick, T h e Monsters and Beowulf.


The Dragon Episode night (11. 702b-703a, 1279-1280a and 221 Ob—2211), all are eventually killed (11. 1584b-1588a, 1567b-1568a and 2705) and in all cases a monster’s death is followed by a looming catastrophe of national proportions (in the form of Grendel’s mother, internecine strife at the Danish court and further wars with the Swedes and the Eranks). It is furthermore clear, as Andy Orchard has pointed out, that ‘Beowulf steadily shifts from a primarily defensive role to an aggressive one, motivated to varying degrees in each of his battles by thoughts of glory, vengeance and treasure.’101Aside from such implicit con­ nections with the rest of the poem, the poet also makes several explicit links between Beowulf’s last fight and his earlier Danish adventures in the hero’s reminiscing remarks (11. 2351b-2354a and 1. 2521b). There can be no doubt, in short, that the dragon episode is in many ways thematically linked to the earlier parts of the poem for which it clearly serves as a culminating resolu­ tion; it is therefore clear that the author of the dragon episode (in its trans­ mitted form) must have been intent on creating links with the earlier parts of the poem on which the concluding episode seems to be partly modelled. To this extent, it could even he argued that the earlier parts of the poem represent one possible source of the dragon episode. For the sake of the present argument, however, it is also important to high­ light the idiosyncratic character of the dragon episode in relation to earlier parts of the poem. That the dragon episode is in more than one respect a clearly marked distinct unit within Beowulf is evident, for instance, from the fact that the poet seems to have been at pains to separate this section some­ what from the rest of the poem by means of a narrative break. This narrative break occurs in the form of an infamous transitional passage (11. 1963-2211) which links the dragon episode to the previous two thirds of the poem, and which serves to conclude the hero’s previous adventures and also to intro­ duce the following events." The passage narrates how Beowulf returns to his native Geatland (11. 1963-1976), where the dragon episode is to take place; he gives his own account of his achievements in Denmark (in direct speech, 11. 2000-2031 and 2069b-2151), generously distributing gifts and souvenirs (11. 2152-2176 and 2190-2196a). The narration then accelerates consider­ ably, with merely a brief and oblique reference to the subsequent death of the ruling Geatish king Hygelac (1. 2201b, to be taken up again at a later stage of the poem, 11. 2354b-2359a and 2913b-2919a) and a rather perfunctory description of Beowulf’s prompt and curiously passive investiture to the Geatish throne. The kingdom, says the narrator, ‘came into Beowulf’s hands’ (syððan Beowulfe brade rice / on hand gehwearf, 11. 2207a-2208a). The fol­ lowing three lines (11.2208b-2210a) bridge an enormous gap of fifty years of Beowulf’s reign, and line 2210b finally introduces the formulaic turn for the worse (oð ðœt, ‘until’) where the dragon begins its rule over the Geatish 10 Orchard, Pride and Prodigies, p. 29. 11 The passage has received much comment; see, for instance, Robinson, 'Beowulf, pp. 146-7 and the literature cited in Shippey, ‘Structure and Unity’.


Beowulf and Early Medieval Dragon-Fights kingdom and its inhabitants (11. 2210b—2211). At this point the narration regains its former pace, and most of the following dragon episode, one thou­ sand lines or so, is again concerned with the events of a single day. As a result of this transitional passage, Beowulf has substantially gained in status and has finally experienced the change in his fortunes (edwenden, ‘reversal’, 1. 2188b) which had already been announced earlier. He has shed the negative image which seems to have been attached to him since his incon­ spicuous youth (evoked only a few lines earlier, 11. 2183b-2188a), and has, by virtue of his Danish adventures, vindicated himself at the Geatish court as an outstanding warrior and diplomat. In a truly meteoric rise, he then even gains royal status. The overall impression gained from this transitional passage is that, having concluded his Danish adventures, the poet is concerned to manoeuvre the poem’s protagonist as quickly as possible into the next monster-fight, for which it is necessary to bridge enormous geographical and chronological gaps, to dispose of two kings (Hygelac and Heardred) and to create a third (Beowulf), to let the hero age into an old man and to demote him again with the arrival of the dragon, all within the space of a few lines. The question arises as to whether the narrative abruptness of this transitional passage (which seems so odd to modern literary taste) could have been a specifically desired effect, or was rather enforced by the circumstances of the poem’s composition. Before this can be addressed, it is necessary to point to a narrative disrup­ tion of a different type. The two scribes responsible for the copying of the Nowell Codex also seem to have treated the dragon episode as a separate entity: the curious narrative transition described above roughly coincides with several codicological peculiarities which confer further special status to the dragon episode. Folio 182, which contains 11. 2207b-2228 of the poem and thus part of the transitional passage and the opening of the dragon episode, forms the first leaf of a new quire; the dragon episode therefore rep­ resents a codicologically self-contained unit, namely in the shape of quires 12 and 13, which it fills completely.12 Leonard Boyle has even suggested that the exemplar from which the surviving text of Beowulf was copied (Boyle’s ‘copy-codex’) might have presented a very similar make-up and would thus also have preserved the dragon episode in the same self-contained couple of quires.13 Furthermore, folio 182r (which contains the opening of the dragon episode) is in a particularly poor condition, as is folio 20lv (11. 3150b—3182) which concludes the dragon episode and the poem. The sad state of the opening and closing folios of the dragon episode has been explained with the 12 See the table in Boyle, T h e Nowell Codex’, p. 24, where the dragon episode represents Unit II, and further Newton, The Origins of Beowulf, pp. 4 and 8 and Kieman, ‘The Eleventh-Century Origin o f B eow ulf , p. 287. 13 See Boyle, ‘The Nowell Codex’, pp. 26 and 29; the dragon episode would have occu­ pied quires 8 and 9 in Boyle’s postulated copy-codex. Boyle has furthermore speculated that the copy-codex might have been the original version o f the poem; Sisam, Studies in the History of Old English Literature, p. 94, was of the view that the copy-codex was no older than the mid-tenth century. 28

The Dragon Episode hypothesis that the two quires which preserve the dragon episode were at one point stored separately from the rest of the poem, at which stage the two now damaged folios 182 and 201 would have formed the covers of this unit and would thus have been exposed to greater hazards than the surrounding folios.14 The apparent separate treatment of the dragon episode has been ascribed to a hypothetical scenario in which the scribes had agreed to divide the copying of the poem into two assignments; the second of these planned assignments was apparently represented by the dragon episode, which was completed first and then seems to have been kept separately from the rest of the poem, the copying of which was still continuing.15 That the planned tran­ sition between these two hypothetical assignments (fol. 182r) also coincides with a narrative break (the transitional passage and the divide between the hero’s Danish and Geatish adventures) has generally been interpreted as coincidence and might merely have been a matter of convenience and practi­ cal considerations. In other words, the fact that the dragon episode was treated as a codicological sub-unit might or might not be linked to the fact that it also represents a narrative sub-unit. An alternative scenario was, however, suggested by Kevin Kiernan, who explained the poor condition of folio 182r not as accidental, but as the result of an unfinished attempt on the part of scribe B (whom Kiernan identifies as the author) to compose and then revise a link which would fuse two origi­ nally independent parts of the poem composed by himself. According to Kiernan, the Nowell Codex consequently represents the original copy (or rather a working draft) of the poem.16 Some elements of this argument had already been anticipated by others: the abrupt and perfunctory narration of the transitional passage which has traditionally played a pivotal role in dis­ cussions of the poem’s aesthetics was at an early stage of Beowulf scholar­ ship interpreted as the result of a clumsy attempt to fuse two originally separate and pre-existing poems (‘Liedertheorie’).17 Kiernan’s argument and the concomitant late date of composition have proved controversial, both on 14 Newton, The Origins o f Beowulf p. 8, describes fol. 182r as ‘blotched and faded, as if affected by water. It also appears as if a restoration of the text has been attempted before the vellum was entirely dry*; for the damage to the folio, see Zupitza’s facsimile edition and the colour flyleaf in Kiernan, Beowulf and the Beowulf Manuscript. See further Boyle, ‘The Nowell Codex’, pp. 24 and 31-2; Ker, Catalogue o f Manuscripts Con­ taining Anglo-Saxon, p. 282; Kiernan, Beowulf and the Beowulf Manuscript, pp. 149-67 and Kiernan, ‘The Eleventh Century Origin o f B eow ulf, p. 287, n. 24. 15 See Boyle, ‘The Nowell Codex*, esp. pp. 25, 27 and 31 and Newton, The Origins o f Beowulf, p. 8. Due to a further (hypothetical) complication, the actual change o f hands occurs at 1. 1939. 16 See Kiernan, ‘The Eleventh-Century Origin of B eow ulf , esp. pp. 12 and 249-57, which represents a condensed version o f his Beowulf and the Beowulf Manuscript, further summaries o f Kiernan’s argument can be found in Shippey, ‘Structure and Unity’, p. 179 and Newton, The Origins of Beowulf, pp. 7 -9. 17 For summaries, cf. Klaeber, ed., Beowulf, pp. li-liii and now especially Shippey, ‘Struc­ ture and Unity’.


Beowulf and Early Medieval Dragon-Fights codicological and palaeographical grounds;18 but on a more general level one could in any case agree with Kiernan and the proponents of the Liedertheorie that Beowulf remains in more than one sense a ‘composite poem’,19 linked by the transitional passage described above. What has caused disagreement, however, is the question as to what exactly may have been combined in this composite structure: two parts of a poem by the same author linked by himself in a working draft (according to Kiernan)? Or two different poems composed by different authors and combined by a later redactor (Liedertheorie) or, what is perhaps most plausible, two originally separate sets of subject matter, and therefore perhaps also two different sets of source material employed by the same author. This last possibility, although implicit in many discussions of the poem’s structure, has not received much detailed attention so far, but would indeed account for the many idiosyncracies of the dragon episode in comparison with the rest of the poem (to be discussed below). It must be asked, therefore, whether the two blocks of subject matter, that is to say, the two monster-fights in Denmark on the one hand and the dragon-fight in Geatland on the other, were already united in the poem’s sources. There seems to be nothing implausible about the notion that the poet drew on a source which already described a sequence of monster-fights in different locations: some of the most eminent literary monster-slayers of bib­ lical, classical and medieval literature, such as Hercules, Alexander the Great, Grettir, Þórr and Cadmus, all undertake several fights against mon­ sters or dangerous animals, often in separate locations; James Carney, for instance, adduced Táin Bó Fraich which describes a sequence of fights against a water-monster and a serpent and also the hagiography of St Samson, who fights in turn against a lion, an unkempt pagan witch and several dragons;20 Margaret Goldsmith pointed to the hagiography of St Anthony which similarly describes more than one encounter with monsters or danger­ ous animals.21 The sequence of Beowulf’s three monster-fights could there­ fore also be aligned with examples of this ancient paradigm o f fhe serial (pagan or Christian) monster-killer.22 The notion that literary heroes are often forced through more than one monster-fight is, of course, also exemplified in the Two-Troll story itself which is thought to underlie the earlier parts of Beowulf and which, as Friedrich Panzer has pointed out, in some variants 18 See the responses from Fulk, ‘Dating Beowulf to the Viking Age*; Amos, ‘An Eleventh-Century BeowulfV; Newton, The Origins of Beowulf pp. 7-9; Dumville, ‘Beowulf Come Lately’; Gerritsen, ‘Have with you to Lexington!’ and Boyle, ‘The Nowell Codex’; the criticism and relevant literature is summed up in Bjork and Obermeier, ‘Date, Provenance, Author, Audiences’, p. 24. 19 Kiernan, ‘The Eleventh-Century Origin o f B eow ulf , p. 298. 20 See Carney, Studies in Irish Literature and History, pp. 76-128 and also Brown, ‘The Firedrake in B eow ulf , pp. 443-4. The tradition of St Samson is discussed below, Chapter 4. 21 Goldsmith, The Mode and Meaning, pp. 259-61. 22 A systematic discussion o f this paradigm can be found in Orchard, Pride and Prodigies .


The Dragon Episode also describes different types of monsters.23 Some of the hagiographical material presented below likewise centres on heroes whose expertise is tested in several encounters with monsters or animals - the repetition evidently reflecting the author’s determination to exploit a popular theme more than once. But in spite of the numerous examples of this paradigm, it must never­ theless also be pointed out that no surviving Beowulf analogue seems to present precisely the same distinctive sequence of two monster-fights set in Denmark, fought in the hero’s younger days, and a dragon-fight in Geatland, involving an old and dying hero. Additionally, the fact that the figure of Beowulf seems to be a new and fictitious addition to the otherwise familiar historical and legendary background suggests in any case a syncretic mode of composition. The question as to whether or not the overall sequence of the three monster-fights was already present in the poet’s source material there­ fore remains open, and both possibilities would seem to be equally plausible. Moreover, nothing would seem to argue against the notion that additional sources might have been used for only one particular part of the poem, and it will be argued below that the idiosyncratic character of the dragon episode could also be ascribed to such a scenario. The sequence of events which make up the dragon episode can be sub­ divided into three major groups of events respectively occurring before, during or after the fight: (i)


The events which precede the dragon-fight include the complex history of the treasure hoarded by the dragon - its disposal in the cave by its former owner (the so-called Last Survivor), his death, the dragon’s subsequent take-over, the theft of a cup, the dragon’s furious reaction and the devastation of Geatland triggered by this theft - flashbacks to a raid on Frisia (which resulted in the death of Hygelac and Beowulf s subsequent rule) and previous Swedish wars. The events associated with the dragon-fight itself could be said to include the immediate preparations for the fight and the events at the cave, culminating in the dragon-fight proper, which could be defined as 11. 2554-2705 (that is to say the direct confrontation between Beowulf and the dragon, beginning with the dragon’s rec­ ognition of Beowulf’s presence and ending with its death). This fight undoubtedly forms the thematic centre of the larger dragon episode: the dragon dies roughly halfway through the dragon episode (1. 2705), Beowulf after two-thirds (11. 2819b-2820). As has often been pointed out, the fight is further subdivided into ‘three rounds, clearly marked off by narratorial enumeration of each phase of attack, as the dragon surges forward a second time (oðre side, line 2670) and a third (þriddan side, line 2688)’.24

23 Panzer, Studien, I, 146-50. 24 Orchard, Pride and Prodigies, p. 29.


Beowulf and Early Medieval Dragon-Fights (iii)

The events which follow the dragon-fight, that is to say, the events following the death of the dragon, include the death of Beowulf, the announcement of his death, movements between various locations, the removal and transfer of the treasure and the dead hero, and, finally, Beowulf’s funeral; these events are interlaced by anticipa­ tions of further Swedish wars and flashbacks to the events preced­ ing and during the fight.

If it was observed above that no known analogues seem to present the par­ ticularly distinctive sequence of three monster-fights of Beowulf\ it is now important to stress that, furthermore, there also seem to be no analogues which would combine substantial parallels for all three groups of events even within the dragon episode. It is particularly the digressive references to the historical events surrounding the dragon-fight (the Swedish wars and Hygelac’s raid), Beowulf’s funeral and the history and role of the treasure which seem to have their own, separate analogues which do not at the same time also present parallels for the dragon-fight; the hagiographical ana­ logues which will be introduced below similarly fail to echo historical details, funeral imagery and the complex history of the treasure hoarded by the dragon. From this, one might (with a great deal of caution) infer that it may have been the Beowulf-poet who combined these three groups of imagery, drawing on different groups of sources even within the dragon episode. The appearance and habits of the Beowulf dragon are described in quite some detail by the narrator and have already been summarized and dis­ cussed by several commentators.25 One characteristic which needs to be reiterated here is the fact that the dragon is clearly intended to be under­ stood as a monster of serpentine shape, as witnessed by the most frequently used term for the Beowutf dragon, OE wyrm (‘worm’, ‘dragon’, used eighteen times during the dragon episode), in conjunction with OE draca (‘dragon’, used eleven times to refer to the same animal);26 the monstrosity

25 See the largely overlapping descriptions by, for instance, Wild, ‘Drachen im Beowulf ’, p. 22; Sisam, ‘Beowulf’s Fight with the Dragon’, pp. 133-4; Klaeber, ‘The Christian Elements’, pp. 64-5; Lawrence, ‘The Dragon and his Lair’, pp. 549-50 and Beowulf and the Epic Tradition , pp. 207-8; Sorrell, ‘The Approach to the Dragon-Fight’, p. 59; Davidson, ‘The Hill o f the Dragon’, p. 179 and Evans, ‘A Semiotic o f the Old English Dragon’, pp. 9 7-8 and ‘The Dragon’, p. 42. 26 Occurrences of wyrm in the dragon episode o f Beowulf (including examples in oblique cases): 11. 2287a, 2307a, 2316a, 2343b, 2348a, 2400a, 2519a, 2567b, 2629b, 2669b, 2705b, 2745b, 2759b, 2771b, 2827a, 2902b, 3039a and 3132a. Examples o f draca: 11. 2211b, 2290b, 2402b, 2549b and 3131b; ligdraca/legdraca: 11. 2333a and 3040b; fyrdraca: 1. 2689a; eorðdraca : 11. 2712a and 2825a; niðdraca : 1. 2273a. Old English ser­ pentine terminology is listed in Jente, Die mythologischen Ausdrücke, pp. 132-6 and Whitman, ‘The Old English Animal Names’, pp. 389-93.


The Dragon Episode of this serpent is apparent from its length which is specified as fifty feet (11. 3042-3043a).27 Further aspects of the dragon’s characterization which require commentary here concern its behaviour. It has perhaps not been emphasized sufficiently by other commentators that a clear hierarchy is apparent in the dragon’s attributes. It is striking that the poet uses in particular four main attributes which appear repeatedly and consistently throughout the episode. These four most frequently mentioned traits are, in order of prominence: (i| 7 Imagery of fire, heat and burning, which occurs in almost every ref­ erence to the dragon.28 It could even be said that for much of the time, Beowulf’s fight against the dragon is mainly one against fire and heat. This association of a dragon with fire is well-attested in other texts, but is not usually given the same prominence as in Beowulf.29 Two rare examples which seem to approximate the Beowulf-poet’s literary ambition with respect to this point can be found in Statius’s Thebaid and Flodoard’s De Christi triumphis apud Italiam, significantly both poetic texts.30

27 Serpentine terms and other epithets o f the dragon are further discussed in Wild, ‘Drachen im Beowulf ’, pp. 10-13 and 22; Clemoes, Interactions o f Thought and Language, pp. 217-18; Sisam, ‘B eow u lfs Fight with the Dragon’, p. 134; Lapidge, ‘Beowulf Aldhelm, the Liber Monstrorum and W essex’, p. 282, n. 41; Goldsmith, The Mode and Meaning, p. 125 and Lee, The Guest-Hall o f Eden, p. 217. See also Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde, VI, 131-2 and Lecouteux, ‘Der Drache’, pp. 15-19. I have not seen Wiersma, ‘A Linguistic Analysis of Words Referring to Monsters in Beowulf. 28 Fire-related imagery in the dragon episode: byrnende (1. 2272a); fyre befangen (1. 2274a); hat (1. 2296a); lige forgyldan (1. 2305b); mid bcele for, / fyre gefysed (11. 2308b-2309a); giedum spiwan (1. 2312b); hofu bæman (1. 2313a); bryneleoma (1. 2313b); Hæfde landwara lige befangen, / bæle ond bronde (11. 2321-2322); þæt his sylfes ham, / bolda selest brynewylmum mealt (11. 2325b-2326); ligdraca (1. 2333a); Hæfde (. . .) leoda fæsten, / ( . . . ) giedum forgrunden (11. 2333-2335a); lige (1. 2341a); heaðufyres hates (1. 2522); dracan lege (1. 2549b); hat (1. 2558a); byrnende (1. 2569a); wearp wælfyre (1. 2582a); hildeleoman (1. 2583a); fyre befangen (1. 2595a); hat (1. 26056); hyt (1. 2649b); gledegesa (1. 2650a); gled (1. 2652b); fyrwylmum (1. 2671a); ligyðum (1. 2672b); giedum (1. 2677a); jyrdraca (1. 2689a); hat (1. 2691a); þæt ðæt fyr ongon / swedrian (11. 2701b-2702a); ligegesan wæg / hatne ( . . . ) , hioroweallende (11. 2780a-2781); fyr unswiðor/ weoll ofgewitte (11. 2881b-2882a); legdraca (1. 3040b); giedum beswæled (1. 3041b). 29 Fire imagery in association with dragons is at the centre of an interesting study by Brown, T h e Firedrake in B eow ulf , but see also Panzer, Studien, 1 ,297; Goldsmith, The Mode and Meaning, pp. 128 and 136; Ruggerini, ‘L’eroe germanico contro avversari mostruosi’, p. 213, n. 19 and Wild, ‘Drachen im B eow ulf , p. 24. 30 For the text and translation o f Statius’s passage (to be discussed in greater detail below), see Appendix A. For the details o f Flodoard’s passage Le2, see Appendix B.


Beowulf and Early Medieval Dragon-Fights (ii)



Imagery relating to the hoarding and guarding of treasure and gold.31 The association of dragons with imagery of this kind is also attested in other traditions, but seems to be particularly prevalent in Germanic and classical sources.32 Imagery relating to the dragon's nocturnal nature.33 The Beowulfpoet seems to imply not only that the dragon is habitually active during the night and at dusk and dawn, but also (and more remark­ ably) that it is normally asleep during the day. Sleeping dragons occur in some late medieval Old Norse material, but seem to be extremely unusual in other traditions, where dragons are sometimes even characterized as notoriously sleepless and vigilant.34 Imagery relating to an interest in searching and finding, general inquisitiveness.35 This feature - as a curious counterpart to the passivity of the hoarding - again seems to be extremely unusual outside Beowulf

These four recurring main characteristics - fire, the compulsive hoarding of treasure, the dragon’s nocturnal nature and its inquisitiveness - are, further­ more, noteworthy m terms of their quite extraordinary involvement with the rest of the plot of the dragon episode and even with other parts of the poem. Thus, the dragon’s fire is linked with (i) the heat of a stream which meets Beowulf as he arrives at the cave (11. 2542-2547a), (ii) Beowulf s precaution (the metal shield), a motif which serves to emphasize the escalating severity of the monster-fights and the hero’s apprehension (11. 2337-234la), (iii) the necessity for Wiglaf and Beowulf to fight under the same shield (11. 2672b-2677a), (iv) Beowulf’s problems during the fight and perhaps also (v) one reason why Wiglaf attacks the dragon from below (11. 2697-2702a). 31 hord beweotode (1. 2212b); gold / warad (11. 2276b-2277a); Hordweard (1. 2293b); Hordweard (1. 2302b); beorges hyrde (1. 2304b); hordwelan heolde lange (1. 2344); Weard (1. 2413b); goldmaðmas heold (1. 2414b); beorges weard (1. 2524b); hordweard (1. 2554b); beorges weard (1. 2580b); hordweard (1. 2593a); ðara maðma mundbora (1. 2779); Beahhordum leng / ( . . . ) wealdan ne moste (negation, 11. 2826b-2827); maðmcehta wlonc (negation, 1. 2833b); weard (1. 2841b); Weard (1. 3060); biorges weard (1. 3066b); goldweard (1. 3081b );frætwa hyrde (1. 3133b). 32 See Jente, Die mythologischen Ausdrücke, p. 135; Wild, ‘Drachen im Beowulf ’, p. 23; Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde, VI, 133-6; Grimm, Teutonic Mythol­ ogy, III, 978-80 and Goldsmith, The Mode and Meaning, p. 126. 33 deorcum nihtum (1. 221 la); uhtsceada (1. 2271a); nihtesfleogeð (1. 2273b); od ðæt œfen cwom (1. 2303b); ær dœges hwile (1. 2320b); uhtflogan (1. 2760a); middelnihtum (11. 2782a and 2833a); nihtes hwilum (1. 3044a). Sleep imagery: slœpende (1. 2218a); onwoc (1. 2287a); on sweofote (1. 2295a); swefed sare wund (metaphor, 1. 2746a); wœccende (1. 2841a). 34 Goldsmith, The Mode and Meaning, p. 126; see the discussion below, Chapter 3. 35 Hordwynne fond (1. 2270b); biorgas seceð (1. 2272b); he gesecean sceall / (ho)r(d) (11. 2275b-2276a); onfand feondes fotlast (11. 2288b-2289a); sohte / georne æfter grunde, wolde guman findan (11. 2293b-2294); sincfœt sohte (1. 2300a); onfand (the dragon ‘found out’, 1. 2300b); sæcce to seceanne (1. 2562a); geseceð (1. 2515b).


The Dragon Episode The dragon’s obsessive hoarding is linked to (i) the theft of a goblet (11. 2280b-2283a) as sufficient motivation for the dragon’s fury and the sub­ sequent devastation of the country and perhaps also to (ii) allusions to other ungenerous and hoarding figures in the poem, such as Heremod (11. 1719b— 1720a). The dragon’s nocturnal nature (i) explains why there should be a time when the dragon is approachable at all, namely in its sleep, (ii) leads to an explanatory remark precisely to this effect on the part of the narrator (11. 2291-2293a), (iii) helps to illustrate the escalation of the dragon’s anger, namely at the moment when it is forced to delay its revenge until the evening, stressing the dragon’s impatience (11. 2302b-2309a), (iv) is also indicative of the dragon’s tactics, which exploit the vulnerability of the Geats during the night and (v) provides a further link with Beowulf’s first two monster-fights and Hroðgar’s sermon, where sleep-related imagery is particularly promi­ nent. Finally, the characterization of the dragon as searching and inquisitive explains (i) why the dragon initially found the treasure (11. 2270b-2276a), (ii) how it learned about the theft, namely by sniffing and tracing the thief’s foot­ print (11. 2288-2289a and 2293b-2295) and (iii) how it later found the Geats. It is clear, therefore, that the four attributes highlighted here do not func­ tion as randomly ornamental elements, more or less disposable in the description of the dragon, but are rather intricately involved with the rest of the plot of the dragon episode and to some extent with the entire poem. That this tight integration of the dragon’s habits into the plot is not quite self-explanatory will become clear below in the discussion of other, secular and hagiographical dragon-fights, where less complex patterns tend to apply and where the attributes of a dragon really seem to be just that:36 more or less interchangeable and self-contained elements which usually have no implica­ tions for the rest of a given narrative. What seems unusual in the dragon episode in Beowulf,\ therefore, is not only a number of unconventional ele­ ments in the dragon’s characterization (notably its peculiar sleep pattern and its inquisitiveness), but also the unconventional emphasis given to more traditional imagery (including fire and the hoarding of treasure) and its extraordinary integration into what is essentially a very complicated plot. From this, one would perhaps again suspect a considerable amount of plan­ ning and individual development on the poet’s part; it might furthermore be speculated that the four principal characteristics of the dragon (and therefore perhaps also further motifs in the dragon episode) are unlikely to have been lifted en bfoe (mm a Hteraiy source, and that the poet rather seems to display a considerable and perhaps characteristic independence from available source material. The fact that no sources for the poem have so far been identified evidehtly also supports the notion of a very idiosyncratic method of composition. An important implication for the present discussion is,

36 See Chapter 3 below.


Beowulf and Early Medieval Dragon-Fights therefore, the possibility that the poet’s source material (if still extant) might diverge considerably from the target text which now survives as Beowulf. , Also extraordinary is the length of the dragon episode (983 lines), which, with or without its digressions, seems to be the longest account of a dragon-fight in medieval and classical literature. Obvious factors which con­ tribute to its length are the frequent digressions, the stylized nature of the direct speeches, the fact that the physical fight is itself very protracted and stylized, and the complex prehistory of the treasure. But one might speculate that these contributing factors themselves could also partly be due to a con­ siderable adaptation of source material, which may conceivably have involved the expansion of less complex material, or the combination of more than one source. Further important observations regarding the dragon episode which are relevant in this context were made by Friedrich Klaeber, who highlighted, for instance, the contrast between the specified historical background (the royal Geatish setting) of the dragon episode, and the fictional and curiously detached figure of Beowulf, who, without being part of the historically attested ruling dynasty, lives and dies without apparently influencing the his­ torical events of his time, which seem to occur *as if [Beowulf] did not exist at all’.37 Also conspicuous is the lack of historical detail in comparison with the first two monster-fights: the dragon episode thus describes an unnamed royal court (in contrast with the Danish Heorot), the unattested Geatish king Beowulf (in contrast with Hroðgar and Hygelac, documented elsewhere hi Germanic legend), and an unnamed dragon (ia contrast with the named Grendel). A further idiosyncratic feature of the dragon episode highlighted by Klaeber is the prominence of direct speech in this part of the poem,38 which includes Beowulf’s speeches before the dragon-fight (11. 2426-2509, 25112515 and 2518b-2537), W iglafs speeches (11. 2864-2891, 3077-3109 and 3114b—3119), Beowulf’s dying speeches (11. 2729-2751, 2794-2808 and 2813-2816) and the messenger’s speech, one of the longest single speeches in the poem (11. 2900-3027). Klaeber observed that *as the poem continues, the speeches increase in length and deliberation. The natural form of dia­ logue is in the last part completely superseded by addresses without answer, some of them being virtually speeches in form only.’39 Indeed, the speeches which appear in the dragon episode really all seem to be solemn declarations of a very stylized kind, with strong emphasis on moral instruction. Most curious of all in this respect is perhaps W iglafs lecture which interrupts the fight (11. 2633-2668) and merely serves to underline his own probity in

37 See Klaeber, T h e Christian Elements’, p. 65, where he paraphrases Miillenhoff. 38 Klaeber, ed., Beowulf pp. lv-lvi; also cf. p. lvi, n. 3. 39 Klaeber, ed., Beowulf p. lvi.


The Dragon Episode comparison with the cowardice of the other retainers - one wonders what the dragon and Beowulf are supposed to be doing during this speech.40 The prominence of Christian elements in the dragon episode has proved difficult to assess. Klaeber was tempted to observe that this part of the poem would seem to present fewer explicit Christian references than other parts, but attributed this apparent lack to the extensive space given to the historical digressions and the tragic outcome of the fight (which, in Klaeber’s view, provided less occasion to refer to spiritual matters) and the absence of a lengthy moralizing speech like Hroðgar’s sermon.41 That the figure of the self-sacrificing Beowulf in some ways recalls the passion of Christ himself has often been suggested;42 but more specifically with regard to the relation­ ship between Beowulf and his retainers, several scholars were reminded of the events in The Garderrof Gethsemane.4* In the synoptic gospels (Matthew XXVI.36-46, Mark XIV.32-42 and Luke XXII.39-46), this biblical scene describes how Christ - having left most of his disciples behind - enters the garden in order to pray, taking Peter, James and John with him. He then instructs the three men to keep watch as he himself proceeds to pray on his own. However, the men fall asleep and are duly criticized by their dis­ appointed master; the same events are then repeated twice more. Apart from the obvious and, in my view, striking parallels in sleep imagery between the biblical narrative and several parts of Beowulf\ Klaeber also highlighted ‘the expression of gloomy forebodings’ (11. 2419b-2424) and ‘the injunction to the companions’ as parallels with the dragon episode in Beowulf and observed that ‘W iglafs heroic assistance is matched by the ápioreía of Peter’, and that ‘the disloyalty of the ten cowardly followers of Beowulf, who flee for their lives, is not unlike the defection of the disciples of Christ’.4445 A further peculiarity of the dragon episode which has attracted the atten­ tion of several commentators is the hero’s motivation for the fight, which provides not one but two reasons for the elimination of the dragon and which seems curiously redundant. Beowulf arguably fights his last fight not only in order to win the dragon’s treasure, but also to take revenge for the devasta­ tion of his kingdom and to prevent its complete ■annihilation^ Many commentators have interpreted, this overlap of two motivating factors as

40 See Klaeber, ed., Beowulf p. 218 and Sisam, ‘Beowulf’s Fight with the Dragon’, p. 137. 41 Klaeber, T h e Christian Elements’, pp. 4 5 -6 and Irving, ‘Christian and Pagan Ele­ ments’, pp. 185-6 and ‘The Nature of Christianity’. 42 See, for instance, Klaeber, ‘The Christian Elements’, pp. 65 -6 and Mitchell, ‘Until the Dragon Comes’ and the literature cited there. 43 See Klaeber, ed., Beowulf pp. 212, 217 and li, n. 2 and ‘The Christian Elements’, p. 67; Hoops, Kommentar, p. 276 and Jones, 'Beowulf2 5 9 6-99’. 44 Klaeber, ed., Beowulf pp. 212 and 217. 45 Further details of this catastrophic devastation are discussed in Chapter 3 below. Cf. Klaeber, ed., Beowulf p. 211 and ‘The Christian Elements’, p. 66; Sorrell, ‘The Approach to the Dragon-Fight’, p. 76 and Evans, ‘A Semiotic o f the Old English Dragon’, pp. 199-201.


Beowulf and Early Medieval Dragon-Fights suggesting that the poet may have been merging two conflicting traditions in his source material. Thus, Axel Olrik and, more influentially, Friedrich Panzer suspected a conflation of conflicting source material behind this overlap, and attempted to reconstruct two (hypothetical) early medieval types of dragon-fight narratives, in the first of which a hero seeks to win a treasure hoarded by a peaceful dragon (‘Sigurdtypus’).46 As implied by Panzer’s term, examples of this type of behaviour are attested in the VQlsung legend, but further examples are also to be found in many other Scandinavian legends describing dragon-fights.47 This first type of story was believed to have been fused by the Beowulf-poet with a second, and more problematic, hypothetical type named ‘Thortypus’ by Panzer. This ‘Þórr-type’ narrative purportedly described a hero who ‘intervenes on behalf of oppressed mankind’ suffering under a destructive dragon.48 This theory of a syncretizing composition would arguably explain the overlapping motivations of Beowulf, and was indeed endorsed by Friedrich Klaeber and Raymond Chambers.49 But it must also be remembered that it has proved extremely difficult to find medieval examples of this postulated corpus of ‘Þórr-type’ stories other than the story of Þórr itself - the very term seems to be something of a misnomer, since none of the surviving medieval texts which deal with the dragon-fight of the Germanic god Þórr (such as the tenth- or eleventh-century VQluspá, or Gylfaginning and Skáldskaparmál, both part of Snorri Sturluson’s Edda, composed c. 1220) really describe an oppressed populace rescued by a self­ less hero. The same is true even for some of the forty modem folktales listed by Panzer in evidence for the existence of such a medieval ‘Þórr-type’ of dragon-fight.50 In the following discussion, I would like to demonstrate that the numerous dragon-fights of the hagiographical tradition (to be introduced below), whose early medieval popularity is extremely well documented, do indeed present heroes who act on behalf on an oppressed people and could therefore be identified precisely with Panzer’s elusive ‘Þórr-type’ which is supposed to have interacted with ‘Sigurðr-type’ material in the composition of the dragon episode in Beowulf Another aspect of the dragon episode which has been at the centre of

46 See Panzer, Studien, I, 293-6, who draws on Olrik, Danmarks heltedigting, 305-15. For commentary, see also Klaeber, ed., Beowulf pp. xxii-xxiii and Chambers, Beowulf: An Introduction, p. 96. 47 Examples of Sigurðr’s dragon-fight are listed in Appendix C below (Type I). 48 Panzer, Studien, I, 293-6, esp. 294; texts describing Þórr’s fights are listed in Appendix C (Type V) below; for discussion, see Meulengracht Sørensen, ‘Thor’s Fishing Expedition’. 49 Klaeber, ed., Beowulf pp. xxi-xxiii; Chambers, Beowulf: An Introduction, p. 96. 50 Panzer, Studien, I, 294-6. See, for instance, Panzer’s narratives 17 and 18, which describe how a destructive dragon is swept away by a flood, to be killed by a local pop­ ulation; the stories are printed in Krainz, Mythen und Sagen aus dem steirischen Hochlande, pp. 168-72. Panzer’s folktale evidence on this topic deserves to be re-examined.


The Dragon Episode several studies seems to involve an inconsistency, this time in the description of the dragon’s lair, which ambiguously seems to waver between a natural cave and an artificial mound or grave-mound (megalithic or Anglo-Saxon?), in Beowulf complete with grave goods, but apparently without a body.51 A particular crux in this respect is the hot ‘stream’ {stream, burne, 11. 2545 and 2546) which seems to be issuing from this structure and which could denote either streaming fire, air or water - in the case of water one would presum­ ably be dealing with a natural cave.52 The implication again may be that con­ flicting source material might have been fused, a notion which is not implausible, given that the motifs of the cave-dwelling dragon and the grave-dwelling dragon are both attested in early medieval literature.53 Closely connected with this controversy is another contentious hypothesis, expounded by George Smithers and in greater detail by Raymond Tripp, that the dragon in Beowulf is described to have been a man originallyx who, only after his death (and surrounded by grave goods) was then mysteriously trans­ formed into a dragon. Similarprocesses are occasionally described In medi eval Scandinavian literature. Much of Tripp’s argument is based on his radically altered text of the dragon episode which has received an exception­ ally hostile response from other commentators, and it would probably be fair to say that Tripp’s argument remains unsubstantiated by the transmitted 51 The most detailed investigation o f this question takes place in Lawrence, ‘The Dragon and his Lair’, pp. 569-83, esp. p. 574, who identifies the structure as a megalithic passage grave; see further Klaeber, ed., Beowulf p. vii (which depicts such a grave) and p. 215. Davidson, T h e Hill o f the Dragon* argues for an Anglo-Saxon burial mound. Also cf. the discussions in Sisam, ‘Beowulf’s Fight with the Dragon*, pp. 131—2; Wild, ‘Drachen im B eow ulf , pp. 31-2; Sorrell, ‘The Approach to the Dragon-Fight*, pp. 79-80; Ruggerini, ‘L’eroe germanico contro avversari mostruosi*, p. 203; Law­ rence, Beowulf and the Epic Tradition, pp. 208-12; Lee, The Guest-Hall o f Eden, pp. 215-16; Hoops, Kommentar, pp. 2 4 4 ,2 5 0 ,2 7 2 and 287 and Beowulfstudien, p. 120; Stjerna, Essays, pp. 139-40 and most recently Hills, *Beowulf m d Archaeology’, p. 301. 52 See the studies cited in the previous note. Griffiths, Meet the Dragon , p. 36 attributes to Lawrence the suggestion that the dragon is relieving itself; but this seems to be a mis­ understanding, see Lawrence, Beowulf and the Epic Tradition, p. 208. 53 A dragon is said to inhabit a grave in, for instance, Venandus Fortunatus, Vita S. Marcelli (BHL 5248), ed. Krusch, p. 53: ad consumendum eius cadaver coepit serpens inmanissimus frequentare ( ‘the most enormous dragon kept coming back to the dead body in order to feed on it*); viderunt ingentem beluam de tumulo sinuosis anfractibus exeuntem ( ‘they saw the huge animal leave the tomb in sinuous coils’). For cave-dwellers, see Chapter 3 below. 54 The most extensive discussion o f the transformation theory is that by Tripp, ed. and trans., More about the Fight with the Dragon ; but see also Smithers, ‘The Making o f B eow ulf ; Jensen, Beowulf and the Swedish Dragon ; Lawrence, ‘The Dragon and his Lair*, pp. 558-69; Chadwick, ‘The Monsters and B eow ulf ; Davidson, ‘The Hill o f the Dragon’, p. 181; Jones, Kings, Beasts and Heroes, p. 19, n. 1; Orchard, Pride and Prodigies, p. 169, n. 4 and Goldsmith, The Mode and Meaning, pp. 94 and 129. What is surely the locus classicus o f the transformation o f a man into a serpent, the story o f Cadmus (Ovid, Metamorphoses, III.95-8 and IV.574-603; see Griffiths, Meet the Dragon , p. 10) seems to have been overlooked by the proponents of this theory.


Beowulf and Early Medieval Dragon-Fights text.55 But one could nevertheless agree with Tripp that the events prior to the theft of the cup do indeed leave a very disjointed and convoluted impression: these include the disposal of the treasure by the unnamed and mysterious ‘last survivor', his solitary death, the somewhat surprising emergence of a treasure-seeking dragon at the cave, and the equally unexpected appearance of a lost fugitive, who stumbles on the treasure and the dragon some 300 years later (11. 2267-2282a). In this case too, a hypothesis which involves the fusion of several types of perhaps inharmonious source material (including or excluding an account of a transformation) would offer a relatively plausible explanation. Finally, it is obvious that the dragon episode also distinguishes itself from the rest of the poem in a more general aesthetic sense, which would again suggest the possibility that the poet might here have drawn on source material not used for the earlier parts of the poem. Commentators have often stressed the importance of the dragon episode for the structural balance of the poem which, In Tolkien's words, Ais a contrasted description of two moments in a great fife, rising and setting: an elaboration of the ancient and intensely moving contrast between youth and age, First achievement and final death’.‘56 To this extent it is the dragon episode which makes Beowulf complete and could indeed define the poem’s literary genre as a dirge.57 The unique atmosphere of this climactic part of the poem was memorably described by William Lawrence as ‘despite some damaged and illegible passages, of great poetic beauty, with a dignity and brooding atmosphere of impending fate which are quite its own’.58 What may contribute to this ‘brooding atmo­ sphere’ is the moral situation into which the protagonist has now been manoeuvred. A number of difficult moral questions arise in this part of the poem which have been formulated by John Niles as the following: (i) (ii) (iii) (iv)

Is Beowulf’s decision to fight the dragon imprudent? Should the hero have accepted help? Does the hero act for his own glory, out of pride? Is the hero defeated, and does he die in vain?59

In this context it is important to ask what other paradigms of heroic behav­ iour in the face of similar threats might have been known to the audience and the poet of Beowulf. Which other accounts of dragon-fights circulating in Anglo-Saxon England might have informed the moral judgement of the audience and the poet? In the light of similar accounts, would Beowulf’s 55 Tripp’s argument has been reviewed by Schabram, Calder, Bremmer and Ushigaki (details are listed under the reviewers’ names in the bibliography below); see also the salutary remarks by Bjork, ‘Digressions and Episodes’, p. 210 and Stanley, In the Fore­ ground: Beowulf pp. 39-40. 56 Tolkien, ‘Beowulf The Monsters and the Critics’, p. 271. 57 Tolkien, 4Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics’, p. 275. 58 Lawrence, ‘The Dragon and his Lair’, p. 547. 59 Cited verbatim from Niles, Beowulf: The Poem and its Tradition, pp. 238-47.


The Dragon Episode behaviour appear as comparatively moral or immoral? In order to address these questions and those posed by John Niles, it is necessary to examine the analogues which have so far been suggested for the dragon episode. Much of what was observed above regarding the general nature of Beowulf analogues also applies to the analogues of the dragon episode. The texts which one might perhaps regard as the most interesting analogues come in this case from Germanic (Scandinavian) and classical literature, but biblical, patristic, hagiographical and teratological literature has also been shown to present similarities.60 As is the case with other Beowulf analogues, no texts have consensually been designated as sources, since their relationship with the dragon episode in Beowulf is generally not regarded as one of direct influence, as they do not present the crucial coincidence of antecedence, shared literary and historical context and cogent parallel imagery or phraseol­ ogy. A brief introduction to some of the most interesting and frequently dis­ cussed analogues for the dragon-fight may serve to illustrate this problem. Sigurðr Several versions of the Germanic VQlsung legend, surviving most notably in Old Norse and Middle High German texts and Beowulf itself, narrate how the legendary hero SigurÖr (or, in Beowulf\ 11. 884b-897, his father Sigemund) seeks out and kills the dragon Fáfnir, who, originally o f human shape, eventually transformed himself into a dragon and began to hoard the treasure for which he is eventually challenged by the hero.61 Motifs of this legend which are notable in connection with the dragon episode in Beowulf include the stabbing of Fáfnir from below, echoed, perhaps, in Beowulf\ 11. 26972702, and the particular attention which is paid to the hero’s preparations for the fight (for which one might cite as a parallel the preparation of a metal

60 See the studies by Goldsmith, The Mode and Meaning, pp. 130-45; Lapidge, ‘Beowulf Aldhelm, the Liber Monstrorum and Wessex*; Sorrell, T h e Approach to the Dragon-Fight’, pp. 60-3 and Carney, Studies in Irish Literature and History, pp. 114-28. Biblical and patristic dragon imagery has been compared with Beowulf in Goldsmith, The Mode and Meaning, pp. 142-3; Stanley, ‘Beowulf’, pp. 107-8 and Brown, T h e Fi redrake in Beowulf. The eighth-century Táin.Bó Fraich was adduced as a Beowulf-analogue by Carney, Studies in Irish Literature and History, pp. 114-28. Lapidge, ‘Beowulf Aldhelm, the Liber Monstrorum and W essex’, pp. 2 96-8 and Whitbread, T h e Liber Monstrorum and B eow ulf , pp. 465-9 point out parallels in teratological texts; but see also the more sceptical remarks by Orchard, Pride and Prodigies, p. 110. Further literature on secular Germanic and hagiographical analogues is cited below. 61 Versions o f the VQlsung legend are listed in Gillespie, A Catalogue of Persons Named in German Heroic Literature (700-1600 J, pp. 118-26. For bibliographical details of passages referring to the dragon-fight, see the preliminary list in Appendix C (Type la). See further King, ‘Siegfried’s Fight with the Dragon’; Dliwel, ‘On the Sigurd Represen­ tations’; Scandinavia, pp. 707-11 and Ploss, Siegfried - Sigurd, der Drachenkämpfer.


Beowulf and Early Medieval Dragon-Fights shield In Beowulf‘ 11. 2337-2341).62 The stories attached to the VQlsungs do not, however, provide parallels for the presence of companions during the fight and the old age of the hero which feature so prominently in Beowulf on the contrary, that the VQlsung hero fights as a young man and alone is stated in many cases; the latter idea also appears in Beowulf (ne wees him Fitela midy ‘Fitela was not with him \ 1. 889b). The more extensive accounts of the VQlsung dragon-fight, such as those found in Fáfnismál (Poetic Edda) and VQlsunga saga, date from the thir­ teenth century, although the subject matter itself can be presumed to be of an earlier date:63 in skaldic verse the dragon-fight of the VQlsungs is attested from the second half of the tenth century,64 and the account of Sigemund’s dragon- fight in Beowulf itself (11. 884b-897) demonstrates that the VQlsungs were associated with a dragon-fight even in Anglo-Saxon England. Depic­ tions of the VQlsung dragon-fight in tenth- and eleventh-century sculpture from both Scandinavia and the British Isles (particularly the Isle of Man and the north of England) similarly confirm the notion that the VQlsung legend per se predates its most extensive surviving literary manifestations.65 Frotho In his thirteenth-century chronicle of Danish history, the Gesta Danorumy Saxo Grammaticus (d. 1216) narrates how the legendary Danish hero Frotho 62 The imagery of the VQlsung dragon-fight is analyzed in Neckel, ‘Sigmunds Drachenkampf and Talbot, ‘Sigemund the Dragon-Slayer’. For briefer accounts and discussions, see also Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde, VI, 131-7 and Orchard, Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legendy pp. 143-6. Comparisons with Beowulf take place in Klaeber, ed., Beowulf pp. 159-61; Wild, ‘Drachen im B eow ulf, pp. 19-22; Ruggerini, ‘L’eroe germanico contro avversari mostruosi’, pp. 233-8; Lionarons, The Medieval Dragon and ‘Beowulf: Myth and Monsters’ and (by the same author under a different name) Tally, ‘The Dragon’s Progress’; Breeze, ‘Beowulf 875-9 0 2 ’ and Sorrell, ‘The Approach to the Dragon-Fighf, pp. 70-2. 63 For the dates of composition of this Germanic material (including versions of the VQlsung legend), cf. Appendix C below. See further Frank, ‘Skaldic Verse’, pp. 130-1; Ploss, Siegfried - Sigurd, der Drachenkämpfer, p, 93; Griffith, ‘Some Difficulties’, p. 23, especially n. 37; Wilson, The Lost Literature, pp. 18-19 and Scandinavia, p. 520. The fact that Sigemund (and not his son) is the dragon-fighting hero in Beowulf has sometimes been taken as evidence for a particularly early date of Beowulf See, however, Frank, ‘Skaldic Verse’, p. 130, who rejects such a conclusion. 64 Frank, ‘Skaldic Verse’, pp. 130-1: ‘No Norse skald alludes to that hero’s dragon-fight ( . . . ) before the last half o f the tenth century and in most cases not until the early eleventh.’ 65 For the VQlsung legend in northern European art in general, see Margeson, ‘The VQlsung Legend in Medieval Art’; Byock, ‘Sigurðr Fáfnisbani: An Eddie Hero Carved on Norwegian Stave Churches’ and Ploss, Siegfried - Sigurd, der Drachenkämpfer, pp. 5 6 -6 5 ,7 9 -9 8 and 113. Insular treatments of the legend in particular are discussed in Lang, ‘Sigurd and Weland in Pre-Conquest Carving from Northern England’; Hicks, Animals in Early Medieval Art, pp. 215—17; Dliwel, ‘On the Sigurd Representations’ and the cited study by Margeson, pp. 185-91.


The Dragon Episode seeks out and kills a poisonous dragon, thereby winning the treasure which the dragon had been hoarding in a mountain situated on an island.66 The dragon is again killed from below, and in this analogue too the hero procures special equipment before the fight, namely a shield of cowhides as protection against the dragon's poison. The dragon-fight of Frotho involves no compan­ ions at the scene of the fight and the hero is again characterized as a young man. Saxo’s Gesta Danorum, probably completed 1208 x 1223, is clearly based on Scandinavian historical sources as well as on classical and medieval Latin models, although the sources of Frotho’s dragon-fight in this text remain to be determined.67 Whether a prototype of Frotho’s dragon-fight was also known in Anglo-Saxon England is unclear, but Frotho can in any case be identified with a corresponding Anglo-Saxon figure, the somewhat mysteri­ ous Beow who is also mentioned in Beowulf,\ 11. 18-19, and who holds the same position in Anglo-Saxon genealogies as Frotho does in the correspond­ ing Scandinavian material.68 There seems to be no evidence, however, that the Anglo-Saxon Beow was associated with a dragon-fight. A phraseological parallel between Frotho’s dragon-fight and Beowulf was signalled by Eduard Sievers, who interpreted a phrase applied to Frotho’s dragon, montis possessor (‘the keeper of the mountain’, Gesta Danorum, IL2) as a parallel to the Beowulf-poet’s beorges hyrde (‘the guardian of the mountain’, 1. 2304b), and furthermore as evidence for a connnection between the two traditions.69 In view of the common nature of mountain imagery in accounts of dragonfights which has been established since Siever’s argument (see further below), this parallel might have lost some of its edge; nevertheless, Saxo’s account remains an interesting comparandum. The Gesta Danorum describes a further, extremely similar dragon-fight, namely that of Friðleifr (Fridlevus) who also wins treasure by killing a poisonous dragon.70 Again, the fight takes place on an island and the dragon 66 See Appendix C (Type Ic) for bibliographical details and Appendix A for text and trans­ lation; for discussion, see in particular Sievers, 'Beowulf und Saxo’, pp. 180-8 and Chambers, Beowulf: An Introduction, esp. pp. 88, 9 1 -7 and 296; the relevant passages are printed with translations at pp. 129-37. Saxo’s account is also discussed in Whitelock, The Audience of Beowulf pp. 69-70; Neckel, ‘Sigmunds Drachenkampf; Klaeber, ed., Beowulf pp. xxi-xxiii; Panzer, Studien, I, 293; Sorrell, ‘The Approach to the Dragon-Fight’, pp. 68-9; Sisam, ‘Beowulf’s Fight with the Dragon’, p. 139 and Wild, ‘Drachen im B eow ulf , p. 40, n. 149. 67 For the date o f composition of the Gesta Danorum, see Friis-Jensen, Saxo Grammaticus as Latin Poet, p. 11, which also represents the most extensive study of the text’s Latin and vernacular sources; see also Guðnason, T h e Icelandic Sources o f Saxo Grammati­ cus’ and Scandinavia, pp. 566-9. 68 The word Beowulf in 1. 18a is commonly held to be a scribal error for Beow ; cf. Klaeber, ed., Beowulf pp. xxiii-xxvii and 125 and Chambers, Beowulf: An Introduction, pp. 89-97. 69 Sievers, ‘Beowulf und Saxo’, p. 188 and Chapter 3 below for further, similar, material. 70 See the literature cited for Frotho’s dragon-fight and Appendix C (Type Ic).


Beowulf and Early Medieval Dragon-Fights is killed from below, and it is again a hero young in age who fight alone. What has been said about the date of Frotho’s applies to this story: the transmitted account can be dated thirteenth century, and there seems to be no evidence that Friðleifr was known in Anglo-Saxon England.

conducts the account also to the early the story of

Ragnarr Several Scandinavian versions of the Ragnarr legend have been adduced as analogues for the dragon episode in Beowulf Here, the young hero Ragnarr kills a dangerous dragon which keeps the house of the Geatish king Herrauðr and his daughter Þóra occupied, hoarding a treasure. Again the hero organizes special precautionary measures before the fight (here protective clothing); the Geatish setting also aligns this tradition with the dragon episode in Beowulf The hero again has no companions and is characterized as a young man (killed, however, by serpents at a later point in his life). Ragnarr’s dragon-fight is attested in a number of Scandinavian texts, also including Saxo’s Gesta Danorum which dates from the early years of the thirteenth century, although the subject-matter involved might again be con­ siderably older. There is some evidence that certain elements of the Ragnarr legend were known in medieval England; but no evidence for English knowl­ edge of Ragnarr’s dragon-fight seems to survive from the Anglo-Saxon period.7172 Porr Several Scandinavian mythological texts, including Vgluspá, discussed as a Beowulf analogue by Ursula Dronke, describe how the Germanic god Þórr conducts a series of fights against the World Serpent in order to prevent the destruction of the universe.73 Vgluspá (datable to the tenth or eleventh century and thought to be based on older sources) and two accounts by the thirteenth-century Icelander Snorri Sturluson, Gylfaginning and Skáldskaparmály describe the death of Þórr following his last fight: Þórr is fatally wounded by the poisonous serpent, takes nine steps away from his adversary, 71 Relevant versions of the Ragnarr legend are listed in Appendix C (Type lb) below. See further McTurk, Studies in Ragnars saga and Scandinavia, pp. 519-29 for the origin o f the legend and for further literature. The dragon-fight is discussed in Sorrell, T h e Approach to the Dragon-Fight’, pp. 68-9. 72 Wilson, The Lost Literature, pp. 35-7. 73 For texts describing Þórr’s serpent-fights, see Appendix C (Type V) and Appendix A for the extract from Vgluspá and especially also Meulengracht Sørensen, ‘Thor’s Fishing Expedition’. For further discussion and comparison with Beowulf see Dronke, ‘Beowulf and RagnarQk’; Panzer, Studien, I, 293^4- and 304; Wild, ‘Drachen im B eow ulf , pp. 13-14; Cerquand, ‘Taranis et Thor’; Klaeber, ed., Beowulf p. xxii and the entries in Scandinavia , pp. 672-3 and Orchard, Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend, pp. 161-3.


The Dragon Episode collapses and finally dies. The scene recalls the end of Beowulf s dragonfight, where the fatally poisoned hero similarly moves away from the dragon, has to sit down (11. 271 lb-2717a) and dies.74 Whether the Scandinavian tradi­ tion of Þórr’s fatal wounding following his dragon-fight was also current in Anglo-Saxon England (in Anglo-Saxon or Scandinavian circles) remains unclear, again for lack of literary evidence. It is certain in any case, however, that the Scandinavian Þórr has a cognate counterpart in the Anglo-Saxon deity Þunor; in the absence of relevant evidence, however, it would again seem difficult to determine whether similar traditions were attached to this figure.75 Cadmus Particularly interesting on account of its pre-medieval date is the account of Cadmus’s dragon-fight described in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (III.28-103), composed in the early years of the first century and examined as a Beowulf analogue by Friedrich Wild.76 In some eighty hexameters the story narrates how Cadmus’s frightened companions are attacked by a ferocious poisonous dragon near a cave; Cadmus intervenes, and, after a lengthy struggle, the dragon (sacred to Ares/Mars) is finally killed and pinned to an oak. Friedrich Wild has argued for direct influence from the Metamorphoses on the Sigemund episode in Beowulf where Sigemund’s dragon is finally pinned to the cave wall (11. 890-892a); similarly the Beowulf-poet’s stanboga in the dragon episode (‘arch of stones’, 1. 2545a) has been seen to echo the Ovidian lapidum arcus (.Metamorphoses, III.30); both phrases are applied to the cave of the respective dragons.77 The imagery of this analogue too seems to be of greater interest than the verbal similarities which have been pointed out, but there is in any case nothing implausible about Wild’s general argument; influence from the Metamorphoses has also been detected in the poetry of Aldhelm and a range of other Anglo-Saxon authors.78 Manuscript evidence for the circulation of the work remains scarce, however, and not only in Anglo-Saxon England: no complete manuscripts of the Metamorphoses

74 See Appendix C (Type V) for details. 75 On the tradition of Þórr and his counterpart in Anglo-Saxon literature (not including his dragon-fight), see North, Heathen Gods, pp. 232-41 where further literature is cited. 76 Wild, ‘Drachen im Beow ulf , esp. pp. 27-37. For the text and translation o f this episode, see Appendix A below. 77 Wild, ‘Drachen im Beowulf , pp. 31-3. The context is et specus in medio virgis ac

vimine densus / efficiens humilem lapidum conpagibus arcum, / uberibus fecundus aquis (Metamorphoses, 11.29-31, ed. Anderson). Lapidum could alternatively be interpreted as qualifying not arcum but conpagibus ( ‘forming a low arch with walls o f stones’) which would make the parallel with the Old English phrase less obvious. See also Börner, P. Ovidius Naso, Metamorphosen: Kommentar, 1,456 and generally 454—75. 78 Orchard, The Poetic Art of Aldhelm, pp. 145-9. Further insights into the use o f Ovid’s poetry in Anglo-Saxon England can be expected from the two ongoing sourcing projects.


Beowulf and Early Medieval Dragon-Fights survive from before the second half of the eleventh century. In the present context it is interesting to note that the earliest surviving (incomplete) manu­ script of the Metamorphoses (Bern, Burgerbibliothek, 363, s. ixc\ written on the continent in an insular hand), also preserves part of Cadmus’s dragon-fight (Metamorphoses, III.1-56).79 The possibility that early medi­ eval authors might be indebted to this model is further strengthened by the fact that the Ovidian account is also known to have influenced further classi­ cal descriptions of dragon-fights by Silius Italicus and Statius.80 Hippomedon and Capaneus Ovid’s account was used by Statius as a source for another dragon-fight which has also been discussed as a Beowulf analogue.81 The account is con­ tained in the first-century hexametrical Thebaid, and describes how the two Argive leaders Hippomedon and Capaneus (accompanied by others) fight and eventually kill the Nemean dragon sacred to Jupiter.82 Parallels with Beowulf include the number of combatants (two men), their cooperation during the fight (as one fails with a stone, the other dispatches the dragon with a spear), the apparent exoneration of the dragon (which only acciden­ tally kills the infant Opheltes), and in particular the role played by this episode in the larger work, which also includes a theme of dynastic concerns and a sense of doom: about Capaneus too it has been said that he ‘rids the world of a monster - but it brings him no laus\ certainly a suggestive comment also in the context of Beowulf’s dragon-fight.83 The parallels in imagery are of particular interest in view of the fact that evidence for knowl­ edge of the Thebaid in Anglo-Saxon England is remarkably good. Statian echoes have been detected in the writings of a wide range of Anglo-Saxon authors, including Aldhelm’s poetic De virginitate and Aediluulf’s De abbatibus;84 Alcuin refers to the writings of Statius as being available in con­ temporary York, and Leofric makes a similar statement concerning Exeter in 79 See Reynolds, ed., Texts and Transmission, pp. 276-82 and Orchard, The Poetic Art of Aldhelm , p. 146. On Bern, Burgerbibliothek 363, see also Munari, Catalogue, no. 37. 80 For the former, see Silius Italicus, Punica, ed. Delz, VI. 140-293, and the commentary in Basset, ‘Regulus and the Serpent’. This text is not discussed in greater detail here on account o f its almost complete absence (?) from early medieval literary culture; see Reynolds, ed., Texts and Transmission, pp. 389-91. 81 Schrader, ‘Beowulf’s Obsequies’; Griffiths, Meet the Dragon , p. 5. 82 For the text and translation o f this passage, see Appendix A below. The account is dis­ cussed in Vessey, Statius and the Thebaid, pp. 187-9 and, by the same author, ‘Flavian Epic’, pp. 572-9. 83 Vessey, Statius and the Thebaid, p. 188. 84 See Lapidge, ‘Aediluulf and the School o f York’, p. 389 and Orchard, The Poetic Art o f Aldhelm , pp. 150-2 and p. 229 for echoes in Aldhelm and other authors, and the summary of the medieval tradition in Reynolds, ed., Texts and Transmission, pp. 394-6. As with Ovid, an updated picture o f Anglo-Saxon use o f Statius can be expected from the ongoing sourcing projects.


The Dragon Episode his booklist (1069 x 1072).85 Similarly, manuscript evidence exists in the form of three Anglo-Saxon manuscripts containing all or parts of the Thebaid, BL Royal 15.C X (s.xc\ Canterbury?); Worcester Cathedral Library, Q. 8 (Worcester, s. x/xi) and Cambridge, St John’s College 87 (Dover Priory, s. xi) which also testify to the distribution of this author in Anglo-Saxon England.86 It is evident that several of the analogues discussed here, namely the stories of Sigurðr, Frotho, Friðleifr and Ragnarr (as transmitted in late medieval texts), can certainly not have been available to an Anglo-Saxon poet, and cannot therefore be regarded as possible sources of Beowulf. The possibility of influence from oral or literary prototypes of these stories nevertheless remains in all cases. All of these analogues are of non-English origin and setting, and whereas the availability of the two classical accounts in Anglo-Saxon England can be confirmed, it is understandable that no detailed scenarios have been presented which would explain how the other analogues (or prototypes of these analogues) might have come to the attention of the Beowulf poet. None of these analogues are cast in Old English verse, the same linguistic format as Beowulf a fact which evidently impedes the identi­ fication of phraseological parallels. It would furthermore be fair to say that Old English literature is unlikely to present new extensive parallels for the dragon-fight in Beowulf and the search for comparable material is necessarily concentrated on other languages and cultures. By implication, future comparisons between the dragon episode and its analogues are likely to be based on parallels in imagery (or on rare and problematic interlinguistic verbal parallels) and are therefore also likely to remain inconclusive. Raymond Chambers’s pessimistic judgement is thus likely to remain accurate: ‘Indeed, of the innumerable dragon-stories extant, there is probably not one which we can declare to be really identical with that of Beowulf.’87 This evidently raises the question whether, in the absence of surviving source material, anything would suggest that the poet may have been influ­ enced by literary sources which are no longer extant (lost literature), or by oral material. That a great deal of Anglo-Saxon literature must have been lost has often been stressed,88 and the present discussion has demonstrated that it is not inconceivable that prototypes of the stories of Ragnarr, Frotho or Þórr 85 Alcuin, The Bishops, Kings, and Saints o f York, ed. Godman, 1. 1554; see also pp. lxxii and 152; for Leofric, see Lapidge, ‘Surviving Booklists’, pp. 48 and 69. 86 The manuscripts are cited from Orchard, The Poetic Art, p. 150; see also Bishop, English Caroline Minuscule, pp. xxv and 18. For a more negative picture o f the avail­ ability of Statius’s works in Anglo-Saxon England, see Niles, Beowulf: The Poem and its Tradition, p. 74. 87 Chambers, Beowulf: An Introduction, p. 97. 88 See, for instance, Wilson, The Lost Literature, esp. pp. 23 and 2 34-6 and Gneuss, ‘Englands Bibliotheken im Mittelalter’, esp. pp. 119-21.


Beowulf and Early Medieval Dragon-Fights (for example) were circulating in oral or literary formats in Anglo-Saxon England. Even better is the evidence for knowledge of the VQlsung legend in Anglo-Saxon England. It is evident that in composing an earlier part of the poem, the Sigemund episode (11. 884b-897), the poet must have drawn on material from the VQlsung legend, and that the poet either used a literary text now lost, or oral or iconographic versions, or must have developed his source considerably.89 The latter possibility has been considered by a number of commentators, most recently by Mark Griffith, who suspects in the poet a deliberate effort to produce an alienating and enigmatic effect in the Sigemund episode.90 Similar observations concerning the poet’s apparent technique in dealing with Germanic legendary material have also been made by Roberta Frank, who compared skaldic traditions with possible parallels in Beowulf: ‘These conventions are sometimes used as literary borrowings, as familiar quota­ tions from a set text that the poet can then cap - Waste Land style - with a new and pointed ending.’91 What is clear, in short, is that the Beowulf-poet used VQlsung material as a source for the Sigemund episode. What remains unclear, by contrast, is the exact nature of this VQlsung material and the extent to which it was further adapted by the poet. It is furthermore uncertain to what extent the VQlsung legend also served as a model for the poem’s second dragon episode, Beowulf’s own dragon-fight. The two episodes describing Beowulf’s and Sigemund’s dragon-fights share certain details of imagery and phraseology, especially if, as Mark Griffith pointed out, Wiglaf and not Beowulf is compared with Sigemund.92 In both cases the dragon hoards a treasure in a cave (and does so under harne stan, ‘under the grey rock’, 11. 887b and 2744b), some of which is plundered by the hero after the fight. This correlation between the two dragon stories in Beowulf could be taken to indicate that further (unidentified) motifs in Beowulf’s dragon-fight might be derived from the VQlsung legend. If so, the VQlsung legend should be seen as one possible source of Beowulf’s dragon-fight. At the present state of research, questions regarding this (lost?) material would seem un­ answerable, but one could nevertheless summarize that the Beowulf-poet was familiar with VQlsung material (oral, literary or iconographic; insular, Scandinavian or continental) probably unknown to Beowulf scholarship; it is furthermore clear that the poet used this material in the composition of his own Sigemund episode, and that there is a possibility that the poet also 89 For a recent detailed discussion o f the Sigemund episode, see Griffith, ‘Some Diffi­ culties’, esp. pp. 32-4 and the literature cited there, but see also Neckel, ‘Sigmunds Drachenkampf; Ploss, Siegfried - Sigurd, der Drachenkämpfer, Klaeber, ed., Beowulf, pp. xxiii and 159-61; Wild, ‘Drachen im B eow ulf , pp. 19-22; Goldsmith, The Mode and Meaning, pp. 129 and 138-40; Bonjour, The Digressions in B eow u lf , pp. 4 6 -8 and Frank, ‘Skaldic Verse’, pp. 130-3. 90 Griffith, ‘Some Difficulties’, esp. pp. 15 and 40-1. 91 Frank, ‘Skaldic Verse’, p. 131. 92 Griffith, ‘Some Difficulties’, p. 33 and Klaeber, ed., Beowulf, p. xxiii.


The Dragon Episode modelled the account of Beowulf s dragon-fight at least partially on this material, either through more straightforward borrowing, or (what is perhaps more likely), by making more or less extensive ‘Waste Land-style’ alter­ ations to available sources. Frustrating though it may be, a lost (and irrecov­ erable?) version of the VQlsung legend is in any case the most important possible source for the dragon episode known to modern scholars and any other material with similar claims must inevitably compete with the possibil­ ity of influence from oral, literary or iconographic versions of the VQlsung tradition. In the absence of identifiable literary sources it is tempting to ascribe the presence of inexplicable motifs in the dragon episode to oral influence. The early development of the VQlsung tradition and, as became evident above, also the legends of other dragon-slayers clearly admit such a possibility. But other oral traditions have also been considered as sources for the dragon episode in Beowulf\ Gustav Neckel, for instance, suggested that VQlsung material could have interacted with an Anglo-Saxon ‘folktale of a flying, fiery dragon which devastates the land’.93 As evidence for such a folkloric tradition in Anglo-Saxon England, some commentators have cited a number of vernacular texts which seem to refer to contemporary beliefs concerning dragons, all of which, are, however, extremely restricted in their formats and quite generally very opaque. Thus, flying dragons, allegedly seen in Northumberland, appear in the entry for the year 793 in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (DE), where they are interpreted as portents and are closely associ­ ated with the Viking invasions: Her wæron reðe forebecna cumene ofer Norðanhymbra land. 7 þæt fole earmlice bregdon; þæt wæron ormete lig ræseas, 7 wæron geseowene fyrene dracan on þam lyfte fleogende. þam taenum sona fyligde mycel hunger.94 It has been pointed out that dragons may at an early stage have adopted meta­ phorical associations with (equally portentous) meteors,95 a link which may 93 Neckel, ‘Sigmunds Drachenkampf, p. 225; see also, with reference to early Beowulf scholarship, Stanley, In the Foreground: Beowulf p. 29: ‘Dragons, they surely are the fauna of folk-tale, at least to Germanic scholars’. 94 ‘In this year terrible portents appeared over Northumbria, and miserably frightend the inhabitants: these were exceptional flashes of lightning and fiery dragons were seen flying in the air. A great famine soon followed these signs’, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (E) ed. Plummer, Two o f the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles Parallel pp. 55 and 57; the trans­ lation is that given by Garmonsway, trans., The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, pp. 55 and 57. For the relevant entry in the D-version, see Cubbin, ed., The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: M SD , p. 17. 95 The possibility that dragons were intended to be understood as meteors is considered in Brown, ‘The Firedrake in Beowulf ’, pp. 4 4 7-54 and Handwörterbuch des deutschen Aberglaubens, II, 380-4. For commentary, see Wild, ‘Drachen im Beowulf’, p, 24; Lawrence, ‘The Dragon and his Lair’, p. 550; Davidson, ‘The Hill o f the Dragon’, p. 182; Goldsmith, The Mode and Meaning, pp. 19 and ?28.


Beowulf and Early Medieval Dragon-Fights be able to explain the cited reference in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, but perhaps also the equally cryptic opening of The Battle o f Finnsburh (11. 3-4): N e ð is ne dagað eastan, ne her draca ne fleo g eð , ne her ð isse healle hornas ne byrnað.96

References which seem to point less ambiguously towards a folkloric tradi­ tion can be found in two gnomic passages, the first of which is contained in Beowulf itself (11. 2272-2277a): se ð e byrnende biorgas seceð , nacod niðdraca, nihtes fleo g eð fyre befangen; hyne foldbuend (sw ið e ondræ )da(ð). H e g esecean sceall (ho)r(d on) hrusan, þær he hæðen gold w arað wintrum frod.97

This reference closely echoes the gnomic Maxims //, which also links the dragon (or dragons?) to a barrow (or hill?) and treasure-hoarding: Draca sceal on hlœwe, / frod, frcetwum wlanc.98 The gnomic context of these refer­ ences which implies habitual (and not anecdotal) behaviour, seems to align the dragon with more mundane natural phenomena, and it cannot be ruled out that folkloric traditions concerning fiery, flying or cave-dwelling, treasurehoarding dragons were indeed current among some Anglo-Saxons. The fact that dragons or snakes also feature in Germanic legend and mythology (including the myth of Þórr described above, or the account of Woden’s con­ frontation with a snake contained in the Old English Nine Herbs Charm) further supports that idea of a possible folkloric tradition.99 Other evidence which might provide clues concerning folkloric traditions, such as placename material, has, however, proved more difficult to quantify,100 and it is 96 ‘It is not the dawn in the east, nor is the dragon flying here, nor are the gables o f this hall on fire’, The Battle of Finnsburh, ed. Klaeber, Beowulf pp. 245-6; also cf. pp. 211 and 250; Wild, ‘Drachen im Beowulf , p. 24; Davidson, ‘The Hill o f the Dragon’, p. 182 and Goldsmith, The Mode and Meaning, p. 128. 97 ‘It, which, burning, seeks mounds (or mountains?), / the naked hate-dragon, it flies at night / surrounded by fire; the people / fear it much. It seeks / treasure in the ground; there it hoards / heathen gold, old in years.’ 98 ‘The dragon lives in a barrow (or hill?), / old and proud o f (its) treasure*, Maxims //, 11. 26b-27a, ed. Dobbie, The Anglo-Saxon Minor Poems, pp. 55-7. For commentary, see also Chadwick, ‘The Monsters and B eow ulf , p. 175; Wild, ‘Drachen im B eow u lf , p. 23; Ruggerini, ‘L’eroe germanico contro avversari mostruosi’, p. 221; Lawrence, ‘The Dragon and his Lair’, p. 550 and Goldsmith, The Mode and Meaning, p. 128. 99 On the Nine Herbs Charm, see North, Heathen Gods , pp. 85-8 and Ruggerini, ‘St Michael and the Dragon’. 100 For place-names containing dragon or snake imagery, see Whitelock, The Audience of Beowulf pp. 7 3-4 and Gelling, Signpost to the Past, pp. 141-2. Suggestions concerning folkloric traditions are made by Meaney in Encyclopaedia, p. 352; Niles, Beowulf: The Poem and its Tradition, pp. 23-6 and the extensive surveys by Simpson, British Dragons and ‘Fifty British Dragon Tales’ which also contain discussion of post-Conquest material.


The Dragon Episode evident enough that other media in which folklore traditionally manifests itself (oral traditions and Christian and pagan Germanic superstitions) belong to some of the most ephemeral types of literature. Moreover, much other Anglo-Saxon dragon imagery, such as that con­ tained in Aldhelm’s hagiographical treatise De virginitate (to be discussed below), betrays no sign of influence from the types of hypothetical folklore discussed so far, but seems to be entirely in line with what can be presumed to be the author’s non-English hagiographical sources: Aldhelm’s dragons are associated neither with fire, nor with flying, nor with the hoarding of treasure, in barrows or elsewhere.101 If there really existed a belief in flying, fire-spitting, treasure-hoarding dragons in the Anglo-Saxon popular imagina­ tion, therefore, its influence was evidently not pervasive in all literary genres, and might at best have co-existed with other (and equally ‘native’) beliefs which remain to be studied in greater detail. Hagiographical folklore, for instance, which represents an important aspect of Christian superstition, has never received much attention in this respect, and it will be suggested in the next chapter that Neckel’s hypothetical Anglo-Saxon dragon folklore (for whose existence no cogent literary evidence has so far been produced) could, like Panzer’s elusive corpus of ‘Þórr-type’ stories be identified with a hagiographical tradition which was demonstrably circulating in Anglo-Saxon England, but which has so far been neglected by students of Beowulf.01

01 Lapidge and Herren, trans., Aldhelm: The Prose Works, pp. 176-8 and Lapidge, ‘Beowulf Aldhelm, the Liber Monstrorum and W essex’, pp. 280-1. For further dis­ cussion, see Chapter 3 below.


3 Dragon-Fights in Hagiography and Other Literature


EFERENCES to dragons appear frequently in those types of literature which were used as source material by medieval authors. In biblical and patristic texts, the dragon features as one of the commonest Christian symbols of evil, functioning as a formidable and monstrous adversary of God, man and beast alike.1Similar negative connotations are also attached to some of the numerous serpentine monsters of classical literature, where they are associated with material greed and an astonishing physical monstrosity against which classical heroes can measure their strength.12 That dragon imagery is also a common element in medieval saints’ cults has often been noted, and the hagiography or iconography of more than fifty early and late medieval saints of the western church is known to be associ­ ated with imagery of this type in one form or another. No comprehensive surveys have as yet been undertaken, but preliminary lists of dragon-fighting saints can in any case be found in the traditional compendia of hagiographical imagery, such as Charles Cahier’s Caractéristiques des saints dans ra rt populaire (1867), or Giovanni Bagatta’s Admiranda orbis christiani 1 Entries for dragon-imagery can be found in the standard reference works relating to Christianity, in particular DACL, IV, 1537-40; LdM , III, 1339-46; Lexikon flir Theologie und Kirche, III, 537-40 and Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum, IV, 226-50, all o f which cite further literature on biblical and patristic material. Essential reading in particular is Day, God's Conflict; useful material can also be found in Wakeman, God's Battle with the Monster, Steffen, Drachenkampf, esp. pp. 73-162 and two studies by Beowulf scholars, Brown, ‘The Firedrake in Beowulf and Goldsmith, The Mode and Meaning, pp. 142-3. 2 For dragons in classical literature, see above all Thesaurus linguae latinae, V, 2060-5; Enciclopedia Virgiliana, IV, 798-801 and the literature cited there; Mayer, ‘Über die Verwandtschaft heidnischer und christlicher Drachentödter’; Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, V, 1633-4; Okken, ‘Zur Stammesgeschichte des europäischen Märchendrachen' and the digest in Evans, T h e Dragon', pp. 32-8. The study o f dragon imagery in ancient Indoeuropean myth has become its own separate industry; for literature, see in particular Fontenrose, Python: A Study o f Delphic Myth; Smith, The Evolution of the Dragon; Brunner-Traut, ‘Altägypten - Ursprungsland des mittelalterlich-europäischen Drachen'; Watkins, How to Kill a Dragon; Siecke, Drachenkämpfe: Untersuchungen zur indogermanischen Sagenkunde and Evans, ‘A Semiotic of the Old English Dragon’, p. 52 n. 7 for further literature.


Dragon-Fights in Hagiography and Other Literature (1700); other works of reference, motif-indices and dictionaries of saints' attributes also provide relevant material.3 Due to their restricted format, the existing surveys generally provide no more than mere lists of saints’ names, noting associations with dragon imagery, without, however, making attempts to specify the nature of these associations (early or late medieval? modem? literary or monographic?); bibliographical references (if provided at all) are often dated. The lists overlap to a great extent and are understandably incom­ plete. Hippolyte Delehaye’s assessment therefore still applies: 'Lists have been made of saints who overcame a dragon, but they all need to be made more complete before one could hope to exhaust the subject in some degree.’4 Moreover, relatively little research has been undertaken with this extensive material and only a small number of more detailed studies have focused exclusively on this larger corpus of hagiographical dragon-fights;5 even fewer studies have examined individual traditions in their hagiographical context.6 Nevertheless, the surveys undertaken so far have in any case estab­ lished that hagiographical dragon imagery typically appears in the form of a miracle account which describes the defeat of a harmful dragon by a saint, and it is also clear that these miracles constitute (in their various subtypes) one of the most frequent and widespread clichés of western hagiography. ^ The traditional enmity between saints and dragons is clearly based on biblical precedents, such as Christ’s exhortations to his disciples to subjugate

3 Cahier, Caractéristiques des saints, I, 315-22 and II, 746-52 and Bagatta, Admiranda orbis christiani, I, 447-65. Lists o f dragon-fighting saints can also be found in Aufhauser, Das Drachenwunder des heiligen Georg, p. 239, n. 1; Brewer, A Dictionary o f Miracles, pp. 110-17; Günter, Psychologie der Legende, pp. 69-73; Lexikon der christlichen Ikonographie, I, 516-24 and VIII (Index), p. 15; Husenbeth, Emblems o f Saints, pp. 274-5; Toldo, ‘Leben und Wunder der Heiligen im Mittelalter: XVII. Tiere’; Handwörterbuch des deutschen Aberglaubens, II, 372-3; AASS, Oct. X, 88-9; Simpson, British Dragons, p. 24 and the works of reference cited in note 1 above. 4 Delehaye, The Legends of the Saints, pp. 21-2. 5 For some commentary, see Günter, Die christliche Legende, p. 117; Loomis, White Magic, pp. 63-5 and 178-80; Jameson, Sacred and Legendary Art, pp. 76-7; Salverte, Des sciences occultes, pp. 458-92 and Lecouteux, Les monstres dans la littérature allemande, II, 196-8. Particularly important are a number o f studies on the hagiographical dragon imagery of Brittany; see Le Duc, ‘Dragons, monstres, diables et démons dans l’hagiographie bretonne’; Merdrignac, Les vies des saints bretons, pp. 9 5 -8 and Raison du Cleuziou and Couffon, ‘Le dragon dans fart et l’hagiographie en Bretagne’. Henken, The Welsh Saints: A Study in Patterned Lives, pp. 9 1 -4 and 157 provides an index o f dragon-fights in Welsh hagiography. 6 The dragon miracle of St George and its early transmission in Latin and Greek texts was investigated by Aufhauser, Das Drachenwunder, the vita o f St Marcellus by Venantius Fortunatus (BHL 5248) was at the centre of a famous study by Le Goff, ‘Culture ecclésiastique et culture folklorique’, and a thorough analysis o f the early legend o f Pope Silvester I (d. 335) and his Roman dragon-fight has recently been provided by Pohlkamp, ‘Tradition und Topographie’; see also, by the same author, the entry in LdM, VII, 1905-8 and the literature cited there.


Beowulf and Early Medieval Dragon-Fights serpentine creatures (Luke X.19, Mark XVI. 18) or the reference to St Michael’s future and final disposal of the Dragon (Apocalypse XII.7); never­ theless, no prototype describing the liberation o f a people or a piece of land from a dragon can be found in the gospels,7 and the earliest examples thus seem to appear in hagiographical and apocryphal traditions.8 Several systems exist for the classification of biblical and hagiographical miracles;9 in accor­ dance with these, the miracle with which I am concerned here is perhaps most adequately described as an exorcism, that is to say, a ritual expulsion of a harmful, demonic animal from a piece of land. It will, however, become clear that certain characteristics of healing miracles and rescue miracles are also apparent.10 Following conventional terminology, it is furthermore not inappropriate to refer to the confrontations between saints and dragons dis­ cussed here as dragon-‘fights’, although, as will emerge, physical force only rarely plays a role in such encounters. Given the extent of the hagiographical material in question, the first task here must be the isolation of examples relevant to a discussion of Beowulf and its possible sources. Appendix B below presents a catalogue of sixty-three specifically selected accounts of fights between saints and dragons (hereafter referred to with the help of sigla). I would argue (i) that these accounts, as selected, form a relatively homogeneous group and (ii) that this group of nar­ ratives is of particular relevance in the context of Beowulf and its analogues, and will hence provide the evidence on which this investigation is based. My criteria in the selection of these examples are linked to the imagery, date and literary provenance of the texts concerned, and these selection criteria will now be discussed in turn. Imagery It is first necessary here to demonstrate that the hagiographical material assembled for this study presents a sufficient number of parallels in compari­ son with the dragon episode in Beowulf As explained above, the Beowulf7 Theissen, The Miracle Stories of the Early Christian Tradition, p. 89, points out that exorcisms of land are quite generally absent from the gospels. 8 See the chronological list in Appendix B. 9 The various approaches are outlined in Theissen, The Miracle Stories o f the Early Christian Tradition, pp. 81-5 and van der Loos, The Miracles of Jesus, pp. 117-33. Analyses of New Testament miracles can be found in Bultmann, The History o f the Synoptic Tradition, pp. 218-31 and Pereis, Die Wunderüberlieferung der Synoptiker, pp. 30-58. On the nature of the miraculous in general, see LdM, VI, 6569; Burkill, ‘The Notion of Miracle’ and Finucane, Miracles and Pilgrims, pp. 17-24. 10 The classification of the miracle discussed here hinges mainly on the question as to whether dragons are to be understood primarily as animals or demons. For the character­ istics of exorcisms, see Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, pp. 23 1 -2 and, particularly in hagiography, the three excellent studies by Dinzelbacher, ‘Der Kampf der Heiligen mit den Dämonen’; Fremer, ‘Wunder und Magie’, esp. pp. 39-80 and Lotter, ‘Methodisches zur Gewinnung historischer Erkenntnisse’, esp. pp. 333-40.


Dragon-Fights in Hagiography and Other Literature dragon is described as monstrous and serpentine, and, as was noted above, the Old English terms for ‘serpent’ and ‘dragon’ seem to be used synony­ mously by the Beowulf poet. The hagiographical material assembled here is likewise restricted to examples which describe fights specifically with ser­ pentine monsters, presenting the Latin term draco ( ‘dragon’) or its vernacu­ lar equivalent, or other serpentine terminology (L serpens, anguis\ ‘serpent’, ‘snake’) in connection with monstrous characteristics.11 Texts which describe fights between saints and non-serpentine monsters are excluded from the present discussion. The corpus of examples under examination here furthermore presents a very distinctive sequence of motifs, which, as some commentators have already pointed out, has an interesting parallel in Beowulf concerning the dragon’s destructive activities in the local area before the fight. Seeking to locate hagiographical examples for comparison with Beowulf Margaret Goldsmith, for example, concentrated on dragon-fighting saints whose hagiographical traditions were, according to her argument, circulating in Anglo-Saxon England.12 The object of her examination were the dragonfights described in a life of St Germanus ‘The Scot’ (Vita S. Ge,.naniy BHL 3452, G e l),13 in a life of St Julian, bishop of Le Mans (Vita S. Juliani, BHL 4544) and in two versions of Aldhelm’s De virginitate, an Anglo-Latin catalogue of virgins datable to 675 x 709/10, which narrates the dragonfights of Pope Silvester I, the hermit saint Hilarion and the virgin martyr Victoria (Hi2, Hi3, Si2, Si3, Vi2, Vi3). In her examination of these accounts,

11 The term draco (or its vernacular equivalent) only is used to refer to the dragon in passages D m l, Dm2, G g l, G il, Gi2, J a l, M il, M i2, M i3, M tl, M t2, N a l, P h i, Ph2, S il, Si4, Si5, V il. The term serpens only is used in A n l, C a l, C ll, S a l, Sa2, Sa3, Sa4, Sa5, Sa6, Sa9, SalO, S a il , V g l. The following passages present a combination o f dif­ ferent serpentine terms, always used synonymously to refer to the same animal(s): A r l, A r2 (serpens, monstrum), E u l (monstrum, bellua, serpens), G e l (draco, anguis, serpens, monstrum), Gg2 (draco, monstrum), H il (draco, boa), Hi2 (gypsa, chelydrus), Hi3 (draco, boa, gypsa, basiliscus, bestia), L e i (serpens, basiliscus, regulus), Le2 (serpens, basiliscus), M a l (serpens, draco), M a2 (naeddre, draco), M e i (serpens, monstrum), M g l (vermes, boa), M g2 (vermes, serpentes, boa), M o l (serpens, anguis), P a l (serpens, bestia, draco), P v l (draco, serpens), P el (serpentes, monstrum, belua, vipera), Pe2 (serpentes, monstrum, bestia), Sa7 (serpens, monstrum), Sa8 (serpens, monstrum, draco, reptile), Si2 (draco, natrixl, belua, bestia), Si3 (draco, bestia), S y l (serpens, basiliscus), T e i (vipera, bestia, draco, monstrum, serpens), T u i (draco, monstrum, vermis), V el (draco, monstrum), Vi2 (draco, belua, gypsa, chelydrus, coluber, serpens, natrix), Vi3 (draco, basiliscus, chelydrus, gypsa, bestia, belua). 12 Goldsmith, The Mode and Meaning, pp. 130-45. 13 Goldsmith misinterpreted a reference to St Germanus o f Auxerre (BHL 3453-64) in Ogilvy, Books Known to Anglo-Latin Writers, p. 31, as relating to St Germanus ‘The Scot’ (BHL 3452), and therefore assumed that the hagiography o f this latter saint was known in Anglo-Saxon England. St Germanus ‘The Scot’ is associated with dragons in continental hagiographical traditions, but there seems to be no evidence that this associ­ ation or his hagiography were known in Anglo-Saxon England. For his dragon-fight (G el), see Appendix B below.


Beowulf and Early Medieval Dragon-Fights Goldsmith sought to make a distinction between various types of dragons, the first of which comprised ‘monstrous beasts who terrorize a neighbour­ hood and are physically slain or made captive’;14 imagery of this type could, according to Goldsmith, indeed be found in the hagiography of Hilarion, Victoria and Germanus (Hi2, Hi3, Vi2, Vi3, G el). Goldsmith observed that ‘Beowulf’s great adversary is obviously a creature of [this] first kind’,15 drawing attention for the first time to an important similarity between certain hagiographical dragon-fights and the dragon episode in Beowulf: both Beowulf and certain hagiographical narratives portray what Goldsmith very aptly described as dragons which ‘terrorize a neighbourhood’, causing harm of sometimes catastrophic proportions, inflicted by a destructive dragon not on its opponents during the fight, but on an often much larger population of a given area at an earlier stage of the narrative. Goldsmith also assessed the possibility of a direct link between the specific textual passages under dis­ cussion and Beowulf noting that ‘the general resemblances I have indicated between the De virginitate and Beowulf suggest that they share a climate of thought, and perhaps not more than that’, but Goldsmith significantly also insisted that ‘the prevalence of saints’ lives in the poet’s putative milieu is important and the dragons in them should not be disregarded’.1617 The parallel observed by Goldsmith was subsequently discussed in greater detail by Michael Lapidge in his argument for Wessex as a possible origin of Beowulf which also included an examination of the dragon-fights described in Aldhelm’s De virginitate.11 In Lapidge’s argument, the dragon’s initial terrorization or even destruction of a piece of land and its population was again highlighted as an important parallel between the hagiographical tradi­ tion and the dragon episode in Beowulf Reaching the conclusion that there was no detectable evidence for a direct link between Aldhelm’s dragons and that of Beowulf Lapidge nevertheless also stressed that there seems to be one essential point of similarity between the dragons in Aldhelm and Beowulf s adversary, namely the roles they assume. In each case the dragon is conceived as an enemy of an entire people. Thus whatever the physical appearance of the dragon in Beowulf it is conceived as a mighty adversary afflicting the Geats; it is their national enemy (ðeodsceaða, 2278). It persecutes and humiliates the entire people: wæs ðæs wyrmes wig wide gesyne nearofages nið nean ond feorran, hu se guðsceaða Geata leode hatode ond hynde (2316-19).

14 Goldsmith, The Mode and Meaning, p. 133. 15 Goldsmith, The Mode and Meaning, p. 134. 16 Goldsmith, The Mode and Meaning, pp. 136 and 132. 17 Lapidge, ‘Beowulf Aldhelm, the Liber Monstrorum and W essex’, pp. 278-82.


Dragon-Fights in Hagiography and Other Literature The dragon is drawn in these terms for a simple poetic purpose: to provide a mighty adversary, one that threatens even national disaster, for the hero, God’s champion and saviour of the people. The dragons in Aldhelm have a similar function: they are adversaries of terrible size and ferocity which persecute an entire (...) populace and which exist above all to be routed by the virgins of Christ.18 More recently, Aldhelm’s dragons were examined again by Paul Sorrell who concurred with Goldsmith and Lapidge that no direct link could be detected between the dragon-fights of Aldhelm’s De virginitate and Beowulf\ repeat­ ing the conclusion that the ‘picture of a dragon that lays waste to a settled countryside and a hero who confronts it in order to save his people’ in Beowulf might well reflect influence from an unidentified hagiographical tradition.19 A certain consensus has been reached, in other words, on a general resemblance between the dragon episode in Beowulf and the dragon-fights depicted in a number of hagiographical texts (including Aldhelm’s De virginitate and a Vita S. Germani), although no single hagiographical tradition has so far been identified which would present detectable evidence for direct influence. With the help of the more extensive corpus of hagiographical dragon-fights presented here it is now possible to demonstrate that the ‘essential point of similarity’ occurs not only in the small number of dragon-fights discussed by Goldsmith, Lapidge and Sorrell (which have yielded no evidence for direct influence), but rather represents a distinctive stock-motif in hagiographical episodes of a particular type. The' sixty-three episodes listed in Appendix B all contain precisely the same hagiographical cliché: a serpentine monster that ‘terrorizes the neighbour­ hood’ or ‘persecutes and humiliates an entire people’, that is to say, a dragon whose initial terrorism affects a larger party beside the small group involved in the eventual fight.20 That Goldsmith, Lapidge and Sorrell should have been justified in designating this specific detail as particularly pivotal will become clear below, when it will be shown that this type of imagery seems to be extremely rare in dragon-fights outside the hagiographical genre, for instance in the Scandinavian secular tradition. The criteria employed in the selection of dragon-fights for this study can thus be summarized again as follows: The hagiographical accounts listed all describe creatures which display (i) serpentine characteristics (ii) monstrous characteristics (iii) destructive behaviour towards a third party It is important to stress that many other hagiographical accounts of dragonfights exist which do not present this specific constellation of elements, and 18 Lapidge, *Beowulf Aldhelm, the Liber Monstrorum and W essex’, p. 281. 19 Sorrell, T h e Approach to the Dragon-Fight’, p. 77, see also p. 67, n. 67. 20 To illustrate the importance of this image, Appendix B cites all relevant references to this particular detail in full.


Beowulf and Early Medieval Dragon-Fights which are therefore excluded from the investigation here. Among these are, for instance, one of the most famous hagiographical dragon-fights of the early Middle Ages, namely that of the fifth-century bishop of Paris St Marcellus, described by Venantius Fortunatus in his Vita 5. Marcelli (BHL 5248).21 Similarly excluded are the most extensive accounts of dragon-fights in Anglo-Saxon literature outside Beowulf\ namely those in the Old English lives of St Margaret.22 It is not that these excluded examples would not merit analysis or could not have influenced the composition of Beowulf - this excluded material simply fails to present the cited detail first identified by Goldsmith, which, I hope, will make it possible to demonstrate more clearly the possibility of hagiographical influence on Beowulf A detailed analysis of the hagiographical narratives in question, which will be able to provide an impression of the entire sequence of events described, is to be presented below. Dates o f composition That the corpus of hagiographical dragon-fights assembled here might well include texts which are contemporary with the composition of Beowulf becomes clear if the early date of the material in question is considered. If the relatively late date of many Beowulf analogues has often proved problematic in the search for possible sources, it is important to note that many of the hagiographical examples compiled for this discussion predate the copying of the Beowulf-manuscript, as can be demonstrated with the help of a chrono­ logical conspectus.23 Among the earliest hagiographical texts which present dragon-fights of the type described are (to name only a few examples) Jerome’s Vita S. Hilarionis (c.390, H il), Aldhelm’s De virginitate (675 x 709/10, Hi2, Hi3, Si2, Si3, Vi2, Vi3), the sixth-century Historia apostolica whose author is known as Pseudo-Abdias (A nl, P hi), and the anonymous Vita I S. Samsonis (Sal, Sa2, Sa3), one of the earliest Breton saints’ lives, and it is interesting to note that these earlier examples are also clearly among the most influential texts discussed here. It must be stressed that the dating of this hagiographical material is not without its problems, since precise dates of composition can be established in only a few cases, and many of the cited approximate dates are necessarily subject to further revision. Moreover, it is evident enough that the cited dates refer exclusively to the composition of surviving literary material, since the

21 Venantius Fortunatus, Vita S. Marcelli, ed. Krusch; the dragon-fight is described at pp. 53-4; for discussion see LeGoff, ‘Culture ecclésiastique et culture folklorique’ and Sorrell, T he Approach to the Dragon-Fight’. 22 For the dragon-fights o f St Margaret in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, cf. Clayton and Magennis, eds, The Old English Lives of St Margaret, which edits three vernacular and two Latin texts {BHL 5303 and 5304). 23 See Appendix B.


Dragon-Fights in Hagiography and Other Literature possible existence of oral or lost literary traditions would for the {. purpose be too difficult to quantify and to date. Whereas the cited dates be treated with caution therefore, it is nevertheless important to note a great proportion of the hagiographical corpus under examination collectively predates the latest possible date of composition of Beowulf, The cited hagiographical passages thus range from the fourth to the sixteenth centuries in their dates of composition, but the floruits of the dragon-fighting saints are significantly more concentrated. With the exception of Pope Leo IV (cf 855; L ei, Le2), no saint listed in Appendix B lived (or is supposed to have lived) later than the seventh century. It will become clear below that the narra­ tives under discussion are in the majority of cases set during periods of conver­ sion, describing pre-Christian populations, and that this pagan setting seems to be an essential part of these accounts. This explains why dragon-fights of the type listed here are primarily attributed to the missionary saints of the early church. The clerical status of the saints concerned is, on the other hand, extremely diverse, and the dragon-fighting saints listed include bishops, priests, hermits, popes and two female virgin martyrs.24 Further material beyond what is assembled here could undoubtedly still be traced;25 the limits imposed here owe more to practical considerations than to a lack of further relevant material - the aim was to demonstrate that the narrative under discussion constitutes a perennial hagiographical common­ place, occurring in Anglo-Saxon literary culture as well as in contemporary contiguous traditions, such as other insular or north-western continental literature.26 Literary and historical background The narratives under discussion come from a wide range of periods and hagiographical sub-genres, including poetry and prose, vitae, passiones, miracula, chronicles, epitomes, more original as well as derivative texts and translations, and influential as well as relatively obscure literature. The emphasis in the selection of material was on Latin texts (of which sixty-one have been traced). One Old English and one Old Irish example (Ma2, Mi3 respectively) are in any case included, and further vernacular examples would certainly also have fitted the pattern. In cases where the same dragon-fight of a particular saint is narrated in more than one text (often in derivative versions), I have nevertheless included all traceable examples in 24 See Appendix B. 25 I am grateful, for instance, to Jonathan Evans for referring me to two further examples from Scandinavian hagiography, which, however, came too late to be included here, 26 It was necessary to exclude those cases for which only modem, but no medieval literary material could be traced, even if the existence of such a medieval tradition could be suspected, as, for instance, in the case o f St Jaoua (St Jovinus); cf. Loomis, White Magic, p. 64; Le Grand, Les vies des sains de la Bretagne Armorique, pp. 52-5; BSSf VI, 1074-5 and AASS March II, 139-41.


Beowulf and Early Medieval Dragon-Fights this survey, even in cases of overlap or verbatim repetition, since such more perennial traditions clearly help to highlight the long-standing medieval interest in the topos discussed here. The question as to how far the traditions under discussion are themselves derived from one another is difficult to address in the present context and would merit a more specialized study; in view of the stereotypical nature of the accounts discussed here, however, it would seem extremely likely that the vast majority of the texts in question are related, although perhaps not in all cases directly. A further point of interest relates to the geographical origin and trans­ mission of the hagiographical material assembled here. It became apparent above that it has previously proved difficult to trace analogues for the dragon episode to Anglo-Saxon England. The hagiographical corpus on which this investigation is based includes several texts which either originated in Anglo-Saxon England or at least experienced an English transmission. Some of the hagiographical dragon-fights with such an English connection (such as those described in Aldhelm’s De virginitate (Hi2, Hi3, Si2, Si3, Vi2, Vi3)) have already been analysed in connection with Beowulf by Goldsmith and other commentators, but other interesting examples remain for examination, among them a relatively little-known hagiographical tradition of the archan­ gel St Michael (M il, Mi2, Mi3).27 None of the dragon-fighting saints dis­ cussed here are native English saints, although it will be shown that many were clearly culted in Anglo-Saxon England. It will also become evident that even texts without a demonstrable Anglo-Saxon origin or transmission may prove of interest in the present context. It is well-known that in the north-western part of the continent (an area covering primarily modern Brittany and Normandy), hagiographical dragon-fights became something of a speciality,28 and many centres of liter­ ary culture in this area can indeed be linked with accounts discussed here, either as places of composition or as the areas of activity of particular saints or dragons; these include (to name only a few examples), Le Mans (Pvl), Angers (M el), Ruis (Gil), Saint-Pol-de-Leon (Pal), Treguier (Tul), Saint-Malo (M ai, Ma2), Dol (S a l-S a il), Mont Saint-Michel (Mi2), the Channel Islands (M ol) and Bayeux (Vgl). But a cluster of Italian texts (Lei, Sil, Si5, Syl, V il) and a number of traditions with Cornish or Welsh connec­ tions (C al, P el, Pe2, T el) are also noteworthy and testify to a predilection for this topos elsewhere.29 It will be argued below that texts particularly of the north-western con­ tinental and insular origin could have been transmitted into the surroundings

27 See Chapter 4. 28 See Cahier, Caractéristiques des saints, I, 315-22 and II, 746-52; Le Due, ‘Dragons, monstres, diables et démons dans l’hagiographie bretonne’; Merdrignac, Les vies des saints bretonsk pp. 9 5 -8 and Raison du Cleuziou and Couffon, ‘Le dragon dans Part et l’hagiographie en Bretagne’. 29 For details, see the individual entries in Appendix B.


Dragon-Fights in Hagiography and Other Literature of the Beowulf-poet, as broadly defined above. It would be unhelpful to generalize on the circulation of hagiographical texts, and only case-by-case examination can really establish which of the continental hagiographical texts discussed here might possibly present a link with Anglo-Saxon England. One such case of a continental tradition, namely that of the Celtic St Samson and two of his Breton vitae (Sal, Sa2, Sa3, Sa4, Sa5, Sa6), seems particularly promising in this respect and will be discussed in a case study below.30 Such a detailed treatment is of course not possible for all sixty-three examples on which my study is based, and the following analysis will there­ fore attempt to convey a general impression of the type of narrative to which all examples belong. The narratives essentially describe how a saint miracu­ lously kills or banishes a violent dragon which has been causing serious harm in one way or another to a given area of land, or its population, or both. In order to present an analysis (or catalogue raisonne) of the hagiographical dragon-fights listed in Appendix B, I have subdivided this narrative into a typical sequence of events which will briefly be described in turn; each description is followed by a list of all passages (abbreviated with the help of sigla) from Appendix B which present the given detail, either implied or stated expressis verbis. A question mark indicates that a particular detail might or might not be implied; citations are provided where these are particu­ larly relevant.

Analysis (i) The arrival o f the saint from elsewhere The miracle typically begins with the arrival of the itinerant saint in a given area. The inhabitants of this area are being threatened by a hostile dragon. In the majority of cases the saint is therefore not part of the community for whose sake the subsequent dragon-fight takes place. Examples in which the saint is an outsider: Anl?, Arl, Ar2, Cll, Dml,

Dm2, Eul, Gel, Ggl, Gg2, Gil, Gi2, Hil, Mai, Ma2, Mel, Mgl, Mg2, M il, Mi2, Mi3, Mtl, Mt2?, Nal, Pal, Phi, Ph2, Sal, Sa2, Sa4, Sa5, Sa7, Sa8, SalO, S a ll, Tel, Vel, Vil, Vi2, Vi3. (ii) The instruction o f the saint concerning the dragon The suffering population (or a smaller group, or representatives, such as an official or other articulate spokesperson) subsequently inform the saint about the dragon and the specific problem apparent in the area. This can happen in

30 See Chapter 4.


Beowulf and Early Medieval Dragon-Fights various ways. In some cases, one or more petitioners approach the saint in order to explain the situation. Some saints make their own enquiries or become aware of the consequences of the dragon’s actions; other examples simply state less specifically that the saint gains information concerning the dragon in one way or another. Examples (selection only): A nl (