Beowulf & Old English Influences 

  last update: September 16, 2003   about | contact   
[ her ]
[ them ]
merry & pippin
[ more ]

Plenty of people have written bigger and better things about Tolkien's inspirations from Norse myth, Anglo-Saxon culture, Finnish and Welsh languages, and Beowulf. I'm not going to try to one-up them, but here are a few translations and definitions:

NOTE: In cases where a definition or translation couldn't be found, I quoted the OE text of 'Beowulf' directly.

Beowulf Influences:

    The Mark - from MERCIA or MYRCE, the central kingdom of the Anglo-Saxons

    Edoras- from EODERAS, line 1037: "in under eoderas; para anum stod"

    Meduseld - from MEAD-HALL, line 3065, Beowulf's own hall

    Ents - from ENTA, "giants," line 2717: "enta aergeweorc"

    Ents - also from EOTENAS, line 112: "ogres"

    Orcs - from ORCNEAS, line 112: "evil phantoms"

    Orthanc - "skill, ingenuity"

    Beorn - from BEORN, line 1299, "warrior"

    Hama - from HAMA, line 1198, a great treasure-hoarder who "snatched the Brosings' neck-chain and bore it away"

    Elf - from YLFE, line 112: "elves"

    Middle-earth - from MIDDAN-GEARD, line 75: "middle-earth" or "wide earth"

Names from Beowulf:

    Eorl - from EORL, line 573: "undaunted courage"

    Freawine - from FREA-WINE, line 2357: "people's friend and lord"

    Brego - from BREGO, line 609: "prince"

    Theoden - from ÞEODEN, line 1871: "high-born" (referring to Hrothgar)

    Eomer - from EOMER, line 1960: "from him there sprang Eomer, Garmund's grandson, kindman of Hemming, his warriors' mainstay and mater of the field"

    Goldwine - from GOLD-WINE, line 1171: "open-handed" or "generous" (as in he who gives out gold)

    Frea - from FREA, line 2285: "master"

The big deal here is that the language and culture of Rohan is a strange blend of both Old Norse and Old English. The Anglo-Saxons spoke Old English, which 'Beowulf' was originally written in, but the story of Beowulf is about Vikings, who spoke Old Norse.

As a result, both cultures (Anglo-Saxon and Viking) are represented and reflected upon. This is how Tolkien built Rohan and its people--by side-stepping his role as "fictionalist" and adopting a more suitable and more culturally believable role as "historian."

So if someone asks you, the people of Rohan are parallel to the language of 'Beowulf'--they are neither Anglo-Saxon nor Viking, but a mutually-commentative blend of both.

Of course, the one for-sure thing in all of this is that Rohan is NOT Celtic! :-)

November 2001: translations gleaned from Seamus Heaney's 2000 edition of Beowulf