Neophilologus DOI 10.1007/s11061-010-9217-1

‘‘Eldum Unnyt’’: Treasure Spaces in Beowulf
Cameron Hunt McNabb

Ó Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Abstract Treasure spaces in Beowulf serve as structural and thematic touchstones for Beowulf’s fights with the Grendelkin and the dragon, and the locations of these fights—the mere, the barrow, and Heorot—are linked within the poem by their shared tomb-like structure and precious internal content. These three central locations are framed by two other treasure spaces in the poem—Scyld’s ship burial and Beowulf’s burial—at the beginning and end respectively, which also mirror the fight locations in structure and contents. Examined together, the parallels between these five enclosures create striking connections between their occupants: the Grendelkin, the dragon, Hrothgar, Scyld, and ultimately Beowulf. These parallels also attest thematically to the poem’s overarching discussion on the transitory nature of material wealth, creating a network of associations between the spaces and their inhabitants. This framework complicates the veneration of the human heroes and demonstrates that the accumulation of earthly goods is ultimately as useless to a hero as to a monster. Keywords Beowulf Á Treasure Á Mere Á Barrow Á Heorot Á Ship ne mæg þære sawle þe biþ synna ful gold to geoce for godes egsan, þonne he hit ær hydeð þenden he her leofað. (100–2) [The gold a man amasses while still alive on earth is no use at all to his soul, full of sins, in the face of God’s wrath.]1

From ‘‘The Seafarer’’ (Krapp et al. 1936). Translation by Michael Alexander (1991, 55).

C. H. McNabb (&) University of South Florida, 4202 E. Fowler Ave., CPR107, Tampa, FL 33620, USA e-mail:


C. H. McNabb

Treasure has long been a central cultural icon, from the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow to Jack Sparrow’s piece of eight. The Anglo-Saxons were no different. Treasure spaces in Beowulf serve as...