The Geats in Beowulf Video

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  • 0:00 The Geats of Beowulf/Geatland
  • 0:43 What was a Geat
  • 1:31 Famous Geats in Beowulf
  • 2:31 The Actions of the Geats
  • 3:45 The War with Sweden
  • 4:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dori Starnes

Dori has taught college and high school English courses, and has Masters degrees in both literature and education.

In the epic poem 'Beowulf,' the Geats are the tribe of the hero, Beowulf. They are considered the biggest, the bravest, and the best of men. This lesson will focus on the Geats, both in history and as characters in the poem.

The Geats of Beowulf

In the epic poem Beowulf there are several groups of people mentioned, but the Geats stand above the rest as the most beautiful, the bravest, the boldest, and the most loyal. In this lesson, we'll talk about the Geats, their homeland, their famous figures, their history, and their legendary deeds.

Geatland

The land of the Geats is in southern Sweden. Currently one of three collective provinces of Sweden, Geatland, or Götland, is home to the majority of the population of Sweden. It was not until sometime in the Middle Ages that Götland was considered part of Sweden. Before that, it was an independent country and the home of the epic hero, Beowulf.

What Was a Geat?

Unfortunately, much of the information about the Geats has been lost to history. We do know that they were a tribe of Scandinavians, most likely of Ostrogoth descent, and that they had dealings with the Swedes, the tribes of Germany, and the Danes in Denmark. Most likely, they also were in contact with the Angles and the Saxons in Britain, and even people to the east, in Poland and beyond.

The Geats were a unified, sea-faring people. They followed the Anglo-Saxon value system and the Heroic Code, as can be seen in their actions in Beowulf. In terms of physical looks, the Geats were most likely tall and fair. Beowulf is described as beautiful and shining by the Danes in the poem, and both the Germanic tribes and the Scandinavians were known for being big in stature and blond or red-haired.

Famous Geats in Beowulf

Although the Geats are the main characters in the epic, very few of them are named, and even fewer are given any sort of personality. Only three Geats stand out in this poem: Hygelac, Beowulf, and Wiglaf.

Hygelac is the king of the Geats at the start of the epic. He's shown through his actions to be a good, generous king. And unlike many of the characters in Beowulf, Hygelac was an actual, historical king of Götland in the sixth century. Hygelac's death in 516 CE gives us a time frame for the events in the story.

Beowulf is the hero of the epic. He rules Geatland for fifty years after Hygelac's death. Though Beowulf brought the Geats a time of peace and prosperity, it would crumble shortly after his death.

Wiglaf is most likely the last king of the Geats. He bravely defends Beowulf and helps him fight the dragon. His loyalty earns him the throne after Beowulf dies. But by the end of the poem, the end of the Geats and their very way of life is at hand, which is alluded to in Beowulf's eulogy.

The Actions of the Geats

Beowulf's men are shown in the first two thirds of the story as the best and boldest of men. They went to a foreign land to try to save Denmark from the monster, Grendel. During the battle in Heorot, the Danes cowered and hid while the Geats leapt up and tried to help Beowulf slay the monster.

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