Scyld Scefing A mythical figure, Scyld was the founder of the tribe of the Scyldings long before Beowulf's story begins. His ship funeral early in the poem is a significant ritual.
Hrothgar The aging king of the Danes welcomes Beowulf's assistance in facing the menace of Grendel. His sermon to Beowulf before the Geat champion's departure is thematically important; his great mead-hall, Heorot, symbolizes the kingdom's success, civilization, and joy.
Wealhtheow Hrothgar's queen welcomes Beowulf and is the embodiment of charm and hospitality.
Unferth One of Hrothgar's top retainers, Unferth insults Beowulf after dipping too deeply into the mead bowl at the first banquet. He later lends Beowulf a sword for a crucial battle.
Geats (Weder-Folk or Weders)
Beowulf A mighty warrior and noble individual, the poem's hero, with the strength of 30 in his hand-grip, comes to the aid of Hrothgar's Danes. Later Beowulf is king of the Geats.
Wiglaf The only thane to stand with Beowulf against the dragon, he is the Geats' future king and a symbol of loyalty within the social/political structure of the comitatus.
Hygelac King of the Geats and uncle to Beowulf, his death in battle (c. 520) is recorded historically, unlike most of the events in the poem.
Hygd Hygelac's queen is a perfect hostess in the style of Wealhtheow and exemplifies propriety in royalty. Beowulf is loyal to her and her young son, Heardred, when Hygelac dies.
Heardred Despite Beowulf's support, the young king, son of Hygelac and Hygd, is killed in a feud. Beowulf then becomes king of the Geats.
Grendel A descendant of the biblical Cain, the enormous ogre despises mankind's joy. He menaces Hrothgar and the Danes for 12 years before facing Beowulf in battle.
Grendel's mother Although not as powerful as her son, she is a formidable foe. She and her son live in a cave beneath a swampy lake (or mere) where she battles Beowulf.
Dragon Guarding a treasure-trove in Geatland, he is angered when a fugitive steals a single gold-plated flagon. His raids throughout the countryside lead to a battle with Beowulf, the king's last.
Two Men, Three Swords, and a Great Mead-Hall
Breca A royal member of the Brondings, he and Beowulf engaged in a swimming contest against each other as adolescents, which Unferth claims Beowulf lost.
Weland The legendary, magical blacksmith who made Beowulf's armor.
Hrunting Beowulf receives the ancient sword from Unferth and uses it, albeit unsuccessfully, against Grendel's mother.
Naegling Beowulf's own mighty sword is ineffective in the fight with the fiery dragon.
Magical Giant Sword Beowulf miraculously finds this wonderful weapon in the underwater cave and uses it to kill Grendel's mother. It melts down to the hilt after Beowulf uses it to decapitate Grendel's corpse. Beowulf presents the hilt to Hrothgar along with Grendel's head.
Heorot Hrothgar's mead-hall is more like a palace, symbolizing his and the Scyldings' success. Grendel sees it as a symbol of mankind's joy and delights in raiding and capturing it nightly.