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The Waning Sword: Conversion Imagery and Celestial Myth in 'Beowulf'
More info and resources at: https://doi.org/10.11647/obp.0190

15. The Sun in the Pike

© Edward Pettit, CC BY 4.0 https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0190.15

By now, I hope that from the substantial body of evidence gathered in Part II for the existence of analogous Old English and Norse myths about conflict between sun and moon over the possession of light—from more general Old Norse references to lunar giants and giantesses, and from passages from Beowulf and preceding texts in the Nowell Codex (to categorize just some of the evidence adduced so far)—it will appear likely that Grendel and his mother are closely associated with the moon, especially in its waning or dark state. Equally, it may appear probable that these monsters’ enemies, Hroðgar (by virtue of his relationship to Ing and lordship of Heorot) and Beowulf (as the effective champion of the ‘friends of Ing’), are closely associated with the sun. The giants’ association with the dark moon would give them strong reason to be angered by the brilliance of sunlight (manifest as, or within, bright human dwellings) and to want to steal, arrogate or devour it, like the moon-creature of Riddle 29 and the giant, implicitly lunar wolves of Old Norse mythology. If I interpret the symbolism of Beowulf correctly, sunlight stolen or arrogated by lunar giants is symbolized in this poem by the golden-hilted giant sword which shone like the sun upon decapitating its wrongful possessors in the mere.

This chapter presents further evidence to bolster this interpretation. It adduces traditions, preserved in Old Norse and very much later-recorded Finnish texts, that heavenly fire or the sun or a probably radiant sword was swallowed by a large predatory fish—sometimes specifically a whitefish or pike—from which it was later extracted when that fish was cut open.1 Such traditions, I go on to propose, may illuminate aspects of Grendel’s mother as brimwylf ‘sea-she-wolf’ and her heorogifre ‘sword-greedy’ possession of the giant sword.2 I start with the Finnish texts.

Three Golden Eggs, a Fallen Spark and a Pike

A Finnish folk-poem, Luominen IV ‘The Creation IV’, recorded in 1871, tells how an eagle once spotted a nesting-place—or so it thought—out at sea, where it laid three golden eggs.3 Thereupon the god Väinämöini (also known as Väinämöinen), feeling his knee burning, shook his knee, so that the eggs rolled into the water. Next tulipa hauki hankotellen / vejen koira konkotellen ‘a pike came prowling, a water-dog lumbering’ (103–4), which swallowed the eggs. The mother-eagle swooped down and, at the third attempt, succeeded in splitting open the pike’s guts. She looked at her eggs and declared that the white had become the sun, the yolk the moon and stars, the upper half (shell) the copper heavens, and the lower half the iron mother earth.4

Another Finnish folk-poem, known as Tuli ‘Fire’, of which there are many variants, records that the gods Ilmarinen (< ilma ‘air’, ‘sky’) and Väinämöinen struck a spark, which fell from the heavens down to earth and into a house, where it injured maidens and burnt a mother.5 The mother cast the spark into the sea, into the gloomy (mythical) Lake Alue. Three times on one summer’s night the lake’s waters raged as high as spruce trees, due to the ferocity of the spark’s flames. Next the spark was swallowed by a whitefish, which was swallowed by a grey pike, which was swallowed by a light lake-trout, which was swallowed by a red salmon. This salmon was netted by Väinämöinen, who, having donned iron mittens, split open each fish in turn, presumably using a knife or sword (though this poem mentions neither), until the spark came out. Finally, the spark was lulled in a silver sling on a misty headland.

Tyrfingr and the Pike

Chapter 10 of the Old Norse Heiðreks saga records that nine slaves of noble birth killed King Heiðrekr—a worshipper of Freyr, according to one version of his saga6—while he was in bed and made off with the sword Tyrfingr. The king’s son, Angantýr, vowed to avenge his father. One evening, Angantýr came to the sea beside the river Grafá. There he saw three men in a fishing-boat, one of whom caught a fish. That man requested that:

… annarr skyldi fá honum agnsaxit at hǫfða fiskinn; en sá kvezk eigi laust mega láta.

Hinn mælti, ‘Taktu sverðit undan hǫfðajǫlinni ok fá mér,’ en sá tók ok brá ok sneið hǫfuð af fiskinum, ok þá kvað hann vísu:

‘Þess galt hon gedda

fyrir Grafár ósi,

er Heiðrekr var veginn

undir Harvaða fjǫllum.’7

… another should get him the bait-knife to behead the fish; but that man said he could not spare it.

The (first) man said, ‘Take the sword from under the headboard and give it to me,’ and he took it and drew it and cut the head off the fish, and then recited a verse:

‘The pike has paid for it, before the mouth of the Grafá, when Heiðrekr had been slain beneath Harvaða fells [i.e., the Carpathians].’

That night, Angantýr slew the fishermen, now identified as three of the murderous slaves, and recovered Tyrfingr, which he had recognized as the sword used to behead the pike.

We noted earlier that previous episodes in the saga state that sun-like light shone from Tyrfingr whenever it was drawn. In the present episode, therefore, we may infer such radiance when Tyrfingr is removed from its place of hidden captivity and unsheathed. That its implicit shining immediately attends the beheading of a pike raises the possibility that this episode is a variant of the basic myth, preserved in the Finnish poems, that the sun was cut from such a fish, here perhaps with a solar sword.8 It appears noteworthy too that the watery settings in Tuli and Heiðreks saga are both deep-set: Lake Alue may well be ‘Low-Lying’ (< alava ‘low-lying’), and Grafá means ‘Sunken River’.9

Mistilteinn and the Pike

A pike also features in what seems a highly relevant episode of Hrómundar saga Gripssonar ‘The Saga of Hrómundr Gripsson’.10 This saga dates from the seventeenth century in its present form, but is based on late medieval poetry.11 This poetry in turn probably derives from a lost saga reportedly recited in Reykjahólar, Iceland, in 1119.12 Before coming to the pike-episode, however, I introduce Hrómundr and discuss an earlier episode in his saga as an analogue of Beowulf’s mere-episode.

Hrómundr Gripsson, Þráinn and Mistilteinn

Hrómundr Gripsson ‘Praise-Hand, son of Grip’—compare the fame of Beowulf’s mighty mundgripe ‘hand-grip’ (Beowulf 380, 753, 965, 1534)—was an augnafagr, hárbjartr ‘fair-eyed, bright-haired’ man, fearless, and mikill ok sterkr ‘big and strong’.13 In chapters 3 and 4 of his saga we read that, following the directions of an old Hebridean man called Máni ‘Moon’,14 who told of a burial-mound containing a sword and other treasures, Hrómundr and his companions sailed south to Normandy, to the haugr ‘burial-mound’ of a sorcerer-berserker called Þráinn ‘Longing One’ (þrá ‘to long’, ‘longing’) or ‘Stubborn One’ (þrár ‘stubborn’). Þráinn—who shares his name with a dwarf mentioned in Vǫluspá 12—was formerly a king of that land, and had gained all his treasure með göldrum ‘with/via incantations’; this detail surely indicates that he had stolen them.15 He was now an evil undead creature with talons for nails (compare Grendel).

Only Hrómundr dared climb down into the mound. Inside he saw a sword hanging on a pillar, which he took. He then challenged Þráinn, whom he called a hundr leiðr ‘loathsome dog’, to reclaim his sword. Þráinn left his cauldron and roaring fire (compare the firelight in Grendel’s lair) to wrestle with the intruder, the day having passed. Hrómundr discarded the sword (as Beowulf did Hrunting when fighting Grendel’s mother) and treysti afli sinu ‘trusted in his strength’ (as Beowulf strenge getruwode ‘trusted in his strength’, 1533). Their tussle was long and hard, and the monster’s claws tore at Hrómundr’s flesh (compare the grasping of Grendel’s mother). Þráinn tók … at tryllast ‘turned himself into a troll’ (compare Grendel and his mother as both humans and trollish giants), but at last, and after repeatedly accusing his opponent of being ragr ‘effeminate/sexually transgressive’, Hrómundr overthrew Þráinn, by which time var orðit mjök dimmt ‘it had become very dim’.16

Next Þráinn prophesied his own end: ‘aldri hefi ek ætlat, at þú, Mistilteinn, mitt góða sverð, mundir verða mér til meins’ ‘Never have I thought that you, Mistilteinn, my good sword, would do me harm’.17 Hrómundr then retrieved the sword and decapitated him. Before doing so he learnt that Þráinn had killed one hundred and forty-four men with the same weapon, including King Semingr of Sweden. Hrómundr then left, taking with him Mistilteinn, a ring and a necklace.18

Returning to the start of this series of events, we find that it was a male personification of the moon who directed Hrómundr to the sword Mistilteinn. How Máni came by this knowledge the saga does not say, but we may suspect that the text preserves a distorted memory of a myth in which the (Man in the) Moon, or an associate of his (Þráinn?), had stolen and hidden sunlight, symbolized, as in Beowulf, by a sword.

In this story, Mistilteinn seems to correspond to both Hrunting and the giant sword—an important point to which I return in Chapter 16. Mistilteinn belongs to the trollish, dog-like, quite possibly lunar Þráinn,19 who, given also his purported effeminacy or sexual transgressiveness, may correspond to both Grendel and Grendel’s mother—two giants with a lupine aspect—or simply to Grendel’s unnervingly masculine dam.20 But although Þráinn has used Mistilteinn in the past, he does not use it in this episode, rather as Grendel and his mother never wield the giant sword against Beowulf. Also, although Mistilteinn is not said to shine in this story, given the reference to darkness immediately before Hrómundr takes it, we may suspect that it once did, like the giant sword in Beowulf. Another distinctive similarity between these weapons is that Mistilteinn was reputedly too heavy to wield;21 later in the saga, an enemy tells Hrómundr that Mistilteinn er svá þungt vápn, at þú fær eigi valditMistilteinn is such a heavy weapon that you cannot wield it’,22 though Hrómundr proves otherwise by using it to cut his fiendish opponent’s head in two, damaging the blade in the process. Similarly, in Beowulf, the giant sword was too heavy for anyone other than Beowulf to use, and its blade was destroyed after beheading fiends.

Should a connection between the Þráinn-episode and Beowulf be questioned because the saga’s grave-mound differs from the Old English poem’s submerged hall, other parallels between these texts may be noted.

Later, in chapter 7 of the saga, during a battle in Sweden on Vænisís ‘Lake Vener’s ice’, a sorcerer called Váli, who had apparently created the ice, blés sverðit ór hendi honum ‘blew the sword [Mistilteinn] from his [Hrómundr’s] hand’. Mistilteinn fell through a hole in the ice (created for this purpose by Váli?) and sökk niðr til grunns ‘sank down to the bottom’.23 Hrómundr then threw Váli on to the ice svá at hálsbeinit brotnaði ‘so that the neckbone broke’, and lamented his sword’s loss: mitt góða sverð, Mistilteinn, fell í vatnit, ok þess fæ ek aldri bætr, at ek missti sverðit ‘my good sword, Mistilteinnn, fell in the water, and I shall never get compensation for the fact that I lost the sword’.24 Similarly, in Þorsteins saga Víkingssonar, Angrvaðill fell into water during the hero’s fight with Jökull ‘Icicle/Ice/Glacier’. These parallels raise the possibility that the giant sword reached the bottom of Grendel’s mere after a similarly violent dispossession, though I still favour a premeditated theft by Grendel using his bag. Also noteworthy is the parallel between Hrómundr’s dropping of Mistilteinn into the lake and the falling of the divine spark from the heavens into a lake in the Finnish poem Tuli.

Now we come to the pike-episode. According to chapter 8 of the saga, Mistilteinn was recovered from the stomach of eina geddu ‘a pike’ by a man called Hagall ‘Hail’ when he was out fishing.25 It therefore seems likely that, by then, the ice on Lake Vener had at least partly thawed following Váli’s death.26 If correct, this inference may call to mind the ice-melting metaphor in Beowulf, which immediately precedes the hero’s emergence from the mere with the giant sword’s hilt (1605–11).

We should note that also comparable to Beowulf is the emphasis on the hilt when Hagall returns Mistilteinn to Hrómundr: Hrómundr varð glaðr við ok kyssti á hjölt sverðsins ok umbunaði vel karli ‘Hrómundr was glad at that and kissed the hilt on the sword and rewarded the old man well’.27 Here the roles of old man and hero are reversed, however: in Beowulf it is the old king Hroðgar who, having been shown the sword-hilt, rewards Beowulf.

Grendel’s Mother as Pike

A sun-swallowing pike may well also lurk in the depths of Grendel’s mere. Beowulf twice describes Grendel’s mother as a brimwylf ‘sea-she-wolf’ during the hero’s adventure in the mere. The first time is when she bundles him into her lair:

Bær þa seo brimwylf,28  þa heo to botme com,

hringa þengel,  to hofe sinum. (1506–7)

Then the sea-she-wolf bore, when she came to the bottom, the prince of rings to her house.

Secondly, after Beowulf had beheaded Grendel, the men watching the waters in hope of Beowulf’s return saw blood in the water, from which many of them concluded þæt hine seo brimwylf abroten hæfde ‘that the sea-she-wolf had killed him’ (1599).

OE brimwylf is not found outside Beowulf. OED does, however, record ‘sea-wolf’ in Middle English.29 It is first attested in the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century as se wolf in the sense ‘a fabulous amphibious beast of prey’ (compare Grendel’s mother), and recurs in the late fourteenth century as Seewolf in the sense ‘a voracious sea-fish’. Similarly, the word ‘wolf’ has denoted voracious fish, including pike, since at least the mid-sixteenth century, on the model of Greek λύκος and Latin lupus: the OED’s first quotation, from 1555, reads ‘Woolues of the sea which sum thynke to bee those fysshes that wee caule pikes.’30 It will be recalled that the pike which swallows the golden eggs in Luominen IV is a ‘water-dog’.

We therefore have grounds for suspecting that the Beowulf-poet’s characterization of Grendel’s mother may include a predatory piscine aspect (recall too that the Faroese Grýla sometimes has a fish-stomach).31 She may even be characterized as specifically a pike,32 as this species does inhabit fen water. If she is imagined as a voracious fish, she may share this aspect of her nature with her son, who lived with her at the mere’s bottom (grund).33 For the name Grendel (outside the poem also Grindel and Gryndel) may relate to ‘Modern English grindle, grundel, German grundel, a fish haunting the bottom of the water.’34 And since she is peculiarly described as heorogifre ‘sword-greedy’ (1498), she may, given the Norse and Finnish stories adduced above, have been imagined in terms of a fish with an appetite for swords.

That an interpretation of Grendel’s mother in terms of a pike or another voracious fish or fish-like creature is tenable is shown by Beowulf’s earlier fight with sea-creatures, including whales (hronfixashron-fishes’ 540), during his swimming-match with Breca. There we heard that the merefixa mod ‘wrath of mere-fishes’ (549) was aroused, and that a fah feondscaða ‘hostile fiend-ravager’ (554), a mihtig meredeor ‘mighty mere-beast’ (558), grasped Beowulf and dragged him to the sea-bed, where he slew it hildebille ‘with a battle-bill’ (557).35 This episode foreshadows Grendel’s mother’s dragging of Beowulf away from a host of attacking sea-creatures in the waters of the mere and down into her lair, where he first struck her hildebille (1520), namely Hrunting, and then apparently released sunlight by beheading her with another hildebil (1666), the giant sword. Without a more specific description of the beast that dragged Beowulf to the sea-bed in the earlier episode, the listener is highly likely to attribute it an at least partly piscine nature.

Of course, whereas the pike of Hrómundar saga Gripssonar literally swallowed Mistilteinn, Grendel’s mother had not actually ingested a sword, at least according to the surface narrative: Beowulf brought Hrunting with him to the mere, and he saw the giant sword hanging on the wall of the monsters’ cave before beheading her. But the poet, I suggest, alludes to the myth of the sword-swallowing fish by describing Grendel’s mother as heorogifre only shortly earlier,36 and by recording that a sun-like light shone immediately after her decapitation. Earlier I attributed this light principally to the giant sword, but, given the poet’s characteristically ambiguous symbolism, this attribution is compatible with the secondary inference that the giant sword’s killing blow released sword-like sunbeams from her pike-body.37 We may recall the swallowing of the radiant sword Snarvendill by Vargeisa and implicitly Ýma in Hjálmþés saga, the gaping mouth of the gulf into which Grettir entered as ‘sword-endower’ in Grettis saga, and the various sun-swallowing creatures mentioned in earlier chapters.38

Grendel’s mother’s appetite for swords may contribute to the poet’s subtle evocation of Eastertide and its fusion with heathen myth. We noted earlier that the Paschal Candle—which may be one of the things symbolized by the giant sword—was lit by a candle in the mouth of a serpent. If the giant sword, a likely candle-sword, is ‘lit’ by the decapitation of Grendel’s mother, this could be because in the underlying myth her body contained the burning candle of the sun, which was exposed and released from her throat when she was beheaded.

If my additional association of the giant sword with the Cross is justified, it should also be noted that medieval tradition often imagined Christ on the Cross as God the Father’s baited fishing hook, which was swallowed by the Devil, imagined as a monstrous sea-creature.39 In the Old English poem Solomon and Saturn I, this idea may have inspired the animated Tir-rune’s () piercing of the Devil in his tongue and cheeks;40 and this rune, we noted earlier, was sometimes inscribed on swords.41 Later, an illustration in Herrad of Landsberg’s twelfth-century Hortus Deliciarum ‘Garden of Delights’ depicts the crucified Christ as bait entering the gaping mouth of Leviathan, a monster with a wolf-like head, a coiled, limbed and winged serpentine body, and a fish’s fins and tail.

As a ‘sea-she-wolf’ who, it is intimated, has swallowed sunlight, Grendel’s mother may find an altogether larger parallel in the wolf-headed snake of the Gosforth Cross. As we have seen, this monster probably combines Fenrir (or Skǫll and Hati) with the amphibious Miðgarðsormr—the latter also being a jǫtunn ‘giant’, rather as Grendel’s wolfish mother is presumably, like her son, an eoten.42 This link, in turn, points to potential kinship with many other monsters of world mythology. Full examination of these creatures and their deaths is beyond the scope of this study, but similarities to Grendel’s mother and her struggle with Beowulf are obvious. In my view, they underline the ancient foundations of aspects of Beowulf in nature-mythology. Five examples must suffice here:43

  1. The Babylonian dragon-lady Tiamat, a personification of the salty sea who is also sometimes depicted with a solar or lunar head. She is killed by Marduk ‘Son of the Sun/Storm’, who strikes her on the head with one weapon (compare Hrunting) and then, after seizing her hair, guts her like a fish with another (compare the giant sword).44
  2. Dānu, mother of the monstrous Indian snake Vtra ‘Obstacle’, which was slain by Indra with a resounding or sun-like mace.45
  3. The Greek gorgon Medusa ‘Guardian’, from whose neck sprang (in addition to the lightning-bearing Pegasus) the hero Chrysaor ‘Golden Sword’, son of the sea-god Poseidon, after Perseus (son of Zeus) beheaded her with a sword.46
  4. The Biblical Leviathan.47
  5. The Biblical dragon burst by Daniel.48

To return briefly to Svipdagsmál, an underlying, obscured myth about a fish being cut open by a solar sword to release the sun could also explain the implicit release by Svipdagr, son of Sólbjartr ‘Sun-Bright’, of the sun-bright Menglǫð from the dwarf-made confinement of Lýr ‘Pollack/Whitefish/Pike/Fish’—the strangely named stronghold which trembled on a weapon-point (like a fish about to be gutted?). This possibility, in turn, raises the question of whether Grendel’s mother’s home—her hall and the turbulent mere above it—might itself be implicitly identified with a violent fish, one that contained a solar sword.

The mere’s actions certainly complement those of Grendel’s mother, perhaps even to the extent of acting as if under her control or as an extension of her being.49 Thus, rather as she gefeng ‘seized’ (1501) Beowulf with her ‘terrible clutches’ and tried to pierce his mailcoat with her fingers, so the mere onfeng ‘received/took hold of’ Beowulf; and, inside her hall, Beowulf found that nænig wæter wihte ne sceþede ‘no water harmed him at all’ (1514) and hrinan ne mehte / færgripe flodes ‘the sudden grip of the flood could not touch him’ (1515–6). The mere’s waters may not have harmed Beowulf inside the hall, but it appears they had wanted to hurt him just as Grendel’s mother did. We may recall, too, the implicitly fish-like way in which, in Grettis saga, ‘the vaulted flight of stones gaped with spray-cold mouth at the sword-endower … the flight-stream struck hard from the front against my breast.’50

If there is indeed a degree of identity between Grendel’s mother and her hellish mere, this may confer a monstrously piscine nature on the latter, one that accords with Anglo-Saxon conceptions of the mouth of Hell. For medieval English tradition often imagined Hell as a beast with a gaping mouth,51 sometimes specifically a monstrous sea-creature—essentially the Leviathan mentioned above.

1 MIFL, motif A713.1 ‘Sun and moon from belly of a fish’. On aspects of Finnish and traditional Finnish literature in relation to Germanic languages and Germanic myth, including traditions contained in Beowulf, see, in addition to the work of Frog, Robinson, ‘Germanic *uargaz’; Tolley, ‘Beowulf’s Scyld Scefing Episode’; Tolley, Shamanism; J. Lindow, ‘Comparing Balto-Finnic and Nordic Mythologies’, in P. Hermann, S. A. Mitchell, J. P. Schjødt (ed.), Old Norse Mythology—Comparative Perspectives (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2017), 223–39. Beowulf came ashore on Finna land ‘in the land of Finns/Lapps’ (580) after slaying sea-monsters in the Breca-episode. For Finno-Baltic myths about the theft or obscuration and eventual return of the sun, see Dubois, ‘Mythic Sun’, 202–5. The basic idea has parallels around the world; see MIFL, motif A721.1 ‘Theft of sun’.

2 See also my thoughts below on the hall Lýr ‘Pollack/Whitefish/Pike/Fish’ in Svipdagsmál.

3 M. Kuusi, K. Bosley and M. Branch (ed. and trans.), Finnish Folk Poetry. Epic: An Anthology in Finnish and English (Helsinki, 1977), 89–92, with notes on 522–3. All quotations and translations from Finnish in this chapter are taken from this edition.

4 A variant of this poem, Luominen I (dated 1883) has a päivöilintu ‘sun-bird’, but no fish; Kuusi, Bosley and Branch, Finnish Folk Poetry, 83–4. In a third version, Luominen III (from 1893), the bird is a scaup duck which lays a single golden egg, the fish is again missing, and the white becomes the moon and the yolk the sun; ibid., 87–8.

5 Kuusi, Bosley and Branch, Finnish Folk Poetry, 99–101, with notes on 524–5 which observe close parallels with an Indian myth about how the sun was stolen and then released from a fish’s stomach.

6 Tolkien, Saga, 31.

7 Tolkien, Saga, 45.

8 There was possibly also a Norse myth that another object of heavenly fire, Þórr’s lightning-hammer, came from a fish. A runic inscription of disputed interpretation on an eleventh-century copper amulet from Öland, Sweden might record that Þórr’s hammer uR hafi kam ‘came from the sea’. Below the inscription is an illustration of a fish. See B. E. Nilsson, ‘The Runic “Fish-Amulet” from Öland: A Solution’, Mediaeval Scandinavia 9 (1976), 236–45, and MacLeod and Mees, Runic Amulets, 27–9, though their interpretations relate this detail to the return of Þórr’s hammer from the sea after striking the Miðgarðsormr.

9 Recall also that the radiant, moon-killing sword Angrvaðill was apparently recovered from Djúpamóða ‘Deep (Muddy) River’ (see Chapter 14). In Beowulf, a fyrgenstream ‘mountain-stream/river’ passes under foldan ‘under the ground’ near the mere in which the giant sword resides (1359–61).

10 FSN, II, 405–22.

11 For which, see Finnur Jónsson, Fernir forníslenskir rímnaflokkar, 17–42.

12 Pulsiano and Wolf, Medieval Scandinavia, 305.

13 FSN, II, 407. Hrómundr is an assimilated form of Hróðmundr, the Old Norse equivalent of OE Hroðmund, Hroðgar’s son in Beowulf.

14 Cf. Finnur Jónsson, Fernir forníslenskir rímnaflokkar, 24.

15 FSN, II, 411. Cf. the actions of the giants Mána and Skrimnir/Skrímnir, noted in Chapter 14.

16 FSN, II, 412.

17 FSN, II, 413.

18 Cf. the combination of mistletoe-connected sword and ring in the stories of Skírnir and Hotherus. Note also that two of Kolr’s three treasures were the sword Angrvaðill and a golden ring.

19 Note that Þráinn arose to fight Hrómundr when the day had passed; that by the time of his overthrow the light had grown very dim, a detail perhaps suggestive of the lunar wane; and that the race of dwarves, one of whom is his namesake, was associated with the moon.

20 Cf. also the man-like troll-woman Mána.

21 MIFL, motif F833.1.1 ‘Sword so heavy that only its owner can lift it’.

22 FSN, II, 416.

23 FSN, II, 418.

24 FSN, II, 418.

25 FSN, II, 418. ON geddapike-fish’ relates to gaddr ‘spike’. It appears in northern English dialect as ‘ged’.

26 Note, however, that the name Hagall ‘Hail’ introduces a new form of ice.

27 FSN, II, 418.

28 An emendation of the manuscript reading brimwyl.

29 See also MED s.v. se (n.(1)), 1b.

30 OED s.v. ‘wolf’ n. 3b. There were also ancient and medieval traditions about a ferocious fish called the lupus marinus ‘sea wolf’, for which see C. Jacquemard et al. (ed.), ‘Chapter 54: Lupus Marinus’, in Hortus Sanitatis: Livre IV, Les Poissons, https://www.unicaen.fr/puc/sources/depiscibus/consult/hortus_fr/FR.hs.4.54; J. L. Rosier, ‘The Uses of Association: Hands and Feasts in Beowulf’, PMLA 78 (1963), 8–14 at 13 n. 19. The lupus marinus is illustrated immediately above a pike in A Society of Gentlemen, A New and Complete Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, 2nd edn., 3 vols (London, 1763–4), III, pl. 163 fig. 3.

31 Note also a passage describing Hell’s inhabitants in an Irish version of the Visio Sancti Pauli: ‘There is an odious brown river, in which there are a thousand demonic beasts, like fish from the depths of the sea, which mercilessly swallow the souls of sinners like a wolf devours sheep’; Herbert and McNamara, Irish Biblical Apocrypha, 132. Additionally, a Middle English poem describes a fiery dragon as a schrympe ‘crustacean’ and likens the fiery-eyed, thieving, child-eating giant of Mont St. Michel to, among other creatures, a hunde-fisch ‘hound-fish’ (i.e., dogfish, shark) and a fluke ‘flounder’; see V. Krishna (ed.), The Alliterative Morte Arthure: A Critical Edition (New York, 1976), 61 (line 767), 70 (lines 1084, 1088); J. Finlayson, ‘Arthur and the Giant of St. Michael’s Mount’, 33 (1964), 112–20.

32 For a gold-rich dwarf, Andvari ‘Watcher’, who for a long time dwelt beneath a waterfall í geddu líki ‘in the form of a pike’, before being caught by Loki, see the prose introduction to the Eddic poem Reginsmál ‘Reginn’s Speech’; also PTP, 852–3.

33 Her home arguably also makes her a fenfiscfen-fish’, a word attested in an Old English medical text in association with sæfixas ‘sea-fishes’ that have heard flæsc ‘hard flesh’; see DOE s.v. fen-fisc. The horrific nature of her home presumably distinguishes her from the iar(?), this being the name of a star-like Anglo-Saxon rune, , which the Old English Rune Poem identifies as being eafixa ‘of the river-fishes’ and describes partaking of food on land and living joyfully in a beautiful home surrounded by water. A. K. Hostetter, ‘The Rune Poem’ (https://anglosaxonpoetry.camden.rutgers.edu/the-rune-poem) translates its name as ‘gar’, which would make it a pike or similar fish—a surprising identification in view of the iar’s amphibious nature! More likely, the iar is a beaver, as proposed by M. Osborn and S. Longland, ‘A Celtic Intruder in the Old English Rune Poem’, NM 81 (1980), 385–7.

34 Chambers, Beowulf, 309; the corresponding entry in OED—grindle3 ‘a name of the mud-fish’—is labelled ‘U.S.’ and receives a single citation from the late nineteenth century. Cf. E. G. Stanley, “‘A Very Land-fish, Languagelesse, a Monster”: Grendel and the Like in Old English’, in Olsen and Houwen, Monsters and the Monstrous, 79–92. Also note Skjaldvör’s son Haki ‘Hake(?)’ in Þorsteins þáttr uxafóts. Many potential connotations of the name Grendel are discussed in Anderson, Understanding Beowulf, 96–8.

35 Recall how the troll-women Forað took whale-form just before dying in Ketils saga hængs (see Chapter 13 n. 56). Note also Old Norse poetic descriptions of giants as ‘whales’, and the giant-names Hvalr ‘Whale’ and Vagnhǫfði ‘Killer-Whale’s Head’ (Uagnhoftus/Uagnophtus in GD) whose bearers were presumably at least partly cetaceous; see PTP, 709–10, 719–21. Significantly, too, the Old English poem The Whale describes its subject as a devilish fisca cynn ‘species of fish’ (1) that, rather like Grendel’s mother, draws men down to the grund ‘bottom (of the sea)’ (29), to a deaðsele ‘death-hall’ (30) in the mistglome ‘misty darkness’ (47) of Hell; see A. Squires (ed.), The Old English Physiologus (Durham, 1988).

36 KB, 395 deprecates this sense in favour of ‘fiercely ravenous’, the only meaning given in DOE. Later English tradition tells of another monstrous, mere-dwelling fish which jealously guards (but does not consume) an Anglo-Saxon sword. The Monster Fish of Bomere Pool, a Shropshire folk-tale, tells of a fish ‘bigger than any fish that ever swam’, who wears by his side a ‘wonderful sword’, which he twice drew to cut himself free from fishermen’s nets, which on the second occasion were made of iron. The sword formerly belonged to Wild Edric (originally Eadric silvaticus, an Anglo-Saxon leader of resistance to the Normans), but was ‘committed to the fish’s keeping’ when Edric vanished. The fish will yield the sword only when the rightful heir of Condover Hall comes to claim it. See C. S. Burne and G. F. Jackson, Shropshire Folk-Lore: A Sheaf of Gleanings (London, 1883), 79–82 (including a related tale); Briggs, Dictionary of British Folk-Tales, Part B, II, 272–3. Since silvaticus is Latin for ‘of the wood’, was Edric’s weapon a twig-sword?

37 If chapter 10 of Heiðreks saga preserves a variant memory of such a sun-freeing myth, it strengthens the perception that it was a solar sword which freed the captive sunlight. Also noteworthy in the same episode is the mention of the bait-knife with which the pike is not beheaded, followed by the use of the solar sword Tyrfingr with which it is. We may perhaps compare the failure of Hrunting—the smaller, less remarkable sword—to behead Grendel’s mother, followed by the giant sword’s success with its stroke.

38 In addition, note OED s.v. ‘sheat-fish’, earlier ‘sheath-fish’ (earliest citation 1589), a term for the monstrous wels catfish, the Old Norse term for which was quite possibly fengrani ‘moustached one of the fen’; PTP, 855. Was a sheath-fish once imagined to have swallowed a giant sword, and thereby to serve as its scabbard? Note, too, that a sword is itself often a ‘fish’ in Old Norse skaldic diction; Meissner, Kenningar, 154.

39 See Marchand, ‘Leviathan’, 330–3.

40 Anlezark, Old English Dialogues, 68–9 (l. 94); Marchand, ‘Leviathan’, 331, 336 n. 14.

41 See Chapter 14 n. 254.

42 See Chapter 10.

43 On these myths, and many related ones, see especially Fontenrose, Python.

44 G. A. Barton, ‘Tiamat’, JAOS 15 (1893), 1–27, https://doi.org/10.31826/9781463225278-001; T. Jacobsen, ‘The Battle between Marduk and Tiamat’, JAOS 88 (1968), 104–8; R. Grafman, ‘Bringing Tiamat to Earth’, Israel Exploration Journal 22 (1972), 47–9; M. F. Kaplan, ‘Another Slaying of Tiamat?’, Israel Exploration Journal 26 (1976), 174–7.

45 See Chapter 3.

46 According to Hesiod’s Theogony, Chrysaor was so-called because he held a golden sword; H. G. Evelyn-White (trans.), Hesiod, Homeric Hymns, Epic Cycle, Homerica, new and rev. edn. (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1936), 100–1. Elsewhere his name is an epithet of a divinity, usually Apollo; J. S. Clay, ‘The Generation of Monsters in Hesiod’, Classical Philology 88 (1993), 105–16 at 109, https://doi.org/10.1086/367346; D. Arnould, ‘Les noms des dieux dans la Théogonie d’Hésiode: étymologies et jeux de mots’, Revue des Études Grecques 122 (2009), 1–14 at 10, https://doi.org/10.3406/reg.2009.7940

47 Gershenson, Apollo, 90–3; M. K. Wakeman, God’s Battle with the Monster: A Study in Biblical Imagery (Leiden, 1973); Day, God’s Conflict with the Dragon.

48 F. Zimmermann, ‘Bel and the Dragon’, Vetus Testamentum 8 (1958), 438–40.

49 Recall my earlier comparison (Chapter 1 n. 18) of Grendel’s mother to seo hell, the female personification of Hell in the Old English Gospel of Nicodemus; see L. Bell, ‘“Hel our Queen”’.

50 See Chapter 8 above.

51 See Cross and Hill, Prose Solomon and Saturn, 134; P. Hofmann, ‘Infernal Imagery in Anglo-Saxon Charters’ (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of St. Andrews, 2008), 85.