Legendary Giant Hominid of Northern Europe, as portrayed in the oldest narrative epic poem in English or Teutonic literature, Beowulf. The text in its known form dates from a copy made around a.d. 1000, but it represents a tradition that dates from a much earlier time.
Etymology: Old English, "grinder" or "destroyer."
Variant names: Eoten, Feond, Thyrs. Physical description: Large. Gorilla-like. Covered with hair.
Behavior: Nocturnal. Eats humans. Able to change shape. Habitat: Marshes.
Significant sighting: The sixth-century Scandinavian hero Beowulf traveled from Geatland in southern Sweden to aid the Danish king Hroth-gar, whose great hall, Heorot (possibly located on the site of modern Lejre near Copenhagen in Denmark), was under attack by the giant Grendel. Beowulf killed both Grendel and its mother in two separate battles. Possible explanations:
(1) Folk memory of Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) or other early hominids who coexisted with Europeans in ancient or medieval times.
(2) Folk tradition of Scandinavian corpse-eating ghosts (Draugr).
Sources: Seamus Heaney, ed., Beowulf: A New Verse Translation (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2000); Nicolas K. Kiessling, "Grendel: A New Aspect," Modern Philology 65 (1968): 191-201; Christie Ward, The Walking Dead: Draugr and Aptrgangr in Old Norse Literature, 1996, http://www.vikinganswerlady.org/ghosts. htm.
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