Andersson, Theodore M. The Thief in Beowulf.

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  • Author: Andersson, Theodore M.
  • Title: The Thief in Beowulf
  • Published in: Speculum 59, 3
  • Year: 1984
  • Pages: 493-508
  • E-text: JSTOR
  • Reference: Andersson, Theodore M. "The Thief in Beowulf." Speculum 59, 3 (1984): 493-508.

  • Key words:



In this article Andersson explores the role played by the character of the thief in Beowulf. He argues that the episode in which the thief appears is of great importance and that it has been neglected. At first he specifies that there is a word missing in the text of the poem but that the initial Þ remains. Andersson argues that the missing word must be þeof ("thief") and not þegn nor þeow as others have argued. He clarifies his statement by evaluating the status of thieves in Germanic cultures searching in law codes, since there is not much information in Anglo-Saxon law about the status of thieves. Andersson compares this with Grágás where there is a difference between robbery and theft, in that theft was understood through the concept of ergi because it was done in secrecy. To understand why that difference was important he relies on the traditions preserved in the sagas, including Egils saga, Grettis saga, Laxdæla saga, Njáls saga and others he finds that the axiology around the accusation of theft included sexual deviation, cowardice behavior and/or witchcraft with a possible xenophobic defamation. However, he ends the article by clarifying that in Beowulf there are no connotations with witchcraft or sexual defamation, and the “wretchedness” of the theft is also presented in the poem with some sympathy.


Texta vantar

See also


Egils saga

Chapter 46: Vér höfum stolið fé bónda svo að hann veit ekki til: "What is significant in the passage is that the verb ræna 'to rob', used up to this point to describe the open activity of plundering, is suddenly replaced by the verb stela 'to steal', implying a shameful activity that compromises the perpetrator. There is clearly a fundamental difference in Egill's mind between an open seizure and a clandestine theft of which the owner is un-aware. A more forthright approach to larceny is required to assuage Egill's conscience." (p. 498)

Njáls saga

Chapter 48: Illa er þá ef eg er þjófsnautur: "Indeed, the almost legendary patience of Gunnarr of Hlíðarendi in Njáls saga is finally broken when he discovers that his wife Hallgerðr has engineered a theft (by using the slave Melkófr) and therefore put him in the position of being a Þjófsnautr 'thief's companion'" (p. 504-505)


  • Written by: Nicolas Jaramillo
  • Icelandic/English translation:
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