The Heremod Digressions in Beowulf: A Reassessment

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The present article reassesses the legend of Heremod and its relevance to Beowulf. It argues on the basis of analogues preserved in Saxo Grammaticus’s Gesta Danorum that the legend of Heremod was principally concerned not with the theme of avaricious hoarding, but with themes of popular sentiment, regime change, and the relationship between a king and his most illustrious subjects. Understood as such, the legend of Heremod can be seen to resonate with the political situation at the Danish court in Beowulf in ways that have not yet been fully appreciated in the poem’s critical literature. The Heremod digressions, it is argued, prompt reflection on the predicaments both of Beowulf, whom the Danish people proclaim worthy of kingship, and of Hrothgar, who must decide what to do about Beowulf’s popularity.