So, at the moment I am currently working on a paper that I will be delivering next month at Borderlines XX in Trinity College Dublin, dealing with Grendel (NOT GRENDEL'S MOTHER WHAAAT) and his gigantism. For this I am just going to talk about the word eoten, and will continue on with this topic in further blog posts (in like a year based on the rate I'm going).
|Grendel by J.R Skelton|
When people think about Grendel (as they often do), the images that come to mind are much like J.R Skelton's ape-like hula skirt Grendel shown above, or the Grendel of Zemeckis's 2007 work, which tends to remind me of some sort of whingy snot-covered ent from LOTR - ugh. Basically, Grendel is fugly, and generally sort of huge, and one of the terms which supposedly proves this, is eoten.
Eoten itself is generally translated as "giant" or "troll", or something along those lines, when it comes to its reference to Grendel and also often in its appearance in the list of creatures who sprang from Cain - just sprang out of him. When reading a translation of the poem, which to be honest most people do, this is grand. But then you realise the Jutes who appear in the Hildeburh Fragment...well, they might not even be Jutes! They may be Frisians. Shit, they may even be god-damn GIANTS. The appearance of the word eoten in the Hildeburh Fragment has thus caused much debate - firstly cause, well, what the hell are the Jutes doing here, we thought this was a feud between the Danes and the Frisians? What. Secondly...well, if eoten means Jutes...how can it also mean giants? Did the Jutes spring from Cain? IS GRENDEL A JUTE (it seems like today is a regular all-caps day)?
|Zemeckis's giant snot-monster|
A few theories seem to stand out for this eoten problem:
- R.W. Chambers is of the opinion that the scribe was just some dipshit who wrote down the wrong word - he meant to say eotnum, not eoten, the fool. So basically, in Chambers' mind, the Jutes are at the Battle of Finnsburg
- R. E. Kaske says that the Jutes are not ever mentioned in this piece and the word eoten is actually just an insult for the Frisians - not one that means Jutes, but one that means "giant". Kaske refers to jotnaheiti, "giant-terms" being used in Old Norse as insults for ordinary men.
- David Williams says that the word eoten is used as a reference to Cain and his murder of Abel, and that he is likening them to Finn and Hnæf - presumably he sees the eotenas as figures associated with Cain - possibly the giants of Genesis, the Nephilim.
- Signe M. Carlson, then, argues that eoten means neither Jute nor giant, but means "blood-thirsty one", a theory which I quite like!
Carlson argues that eoten is related to etan, "to eat" (which it also is in Proto-Indo-European), and so, rather than referring to height, is actually just a term referring to blood-lust. Grendel is blood thirsty, and so, you could say, are the Frisians; they kill the shit out of the Danes.
|Arthur Rackham's Giants and Freyja|
It may also be useful to look to Norse mythology and the jotunn, or jotnar, the giant-race prevalent in many myths. In general these lads are pretty hostile towards the gods, but it must be noted that this isn't always the case - some of them are related to the Gods, some are described as beautiful (Skaði), and importantly, some of them aren't tall. It may even be argued that the name jotunn is also related to Proto-Indo-European *etan, and refers rather to gluttony or blood-thirstiness as opposed to gigantism.
Lastly, we also the eoten appear in relation to the sword Beowulf uses to kill Grendel's mammy - okay, sure you may say Beowulf is a strong lad, he can pick up any sword he wants. But...Wiglaf and Eofor also have eotenisc swords, and they are never said to have superhuman strength as Beowulf is...unless there are shitloads of lads with superhuman strength running around Denmark, but this I doubt. If the swords are pretty easy for someone (granted, a warrior) to pick up, surely the eotenas must not have been of huge stature and strength either? Yes? No?
Anyhow, those are my thoughts on the word eoten. I always find I start off strong with these posts and then gradually everything just goes so downhill the more fed up I get. Hopefully sometime in the next year I will write about þyrs and Grendel's connection with the Nephilim and whether these also make him unnaturally large. Gōd-sped.