During the Middle Ages, tribes or communities would gather together in what they called a mead-hall. A mead-hall is a large dining hall where warriors and others would participate in drinking and eating and the telling of stories. Heorot is mentioned in the epic poem Beowulf
as mead-halls are in Anglo-Saxon history and can easily be compared to the dining halls of today.
, Heorot is illustrated as a grand hall built by the Danish King Hrothgar for his village. Everyone drinks and socializes in Heorot as part of a daily ritual. Heorot, in Beowulf
, literally means the “Hall of Hart,” a hart being a male deer. In the poem, the author writes, “The men did not dally; they strode inland in a group until they were able to discern the timbered hall, splendid and ornamented with gold[;] The building in which that powerful man held court was the foremost of halls under heaven; Its radiance shone over many lands,” showing how magnificent the royal hall is and the respect it is given (pp. 306-311). Grendel, a fierce antagonist, attacks the great hall, Heorot, causing Beowulf to search for him. Grendel is feared by all but Beowulf, so it becomes Beowulf’s duty to defend Heorot. Beowulf slays Grendel and saves Heorot from being attacked by Grendel again.
The mead-hall was a masculine place that allowed warriors to boast or pledge to undertake challenges. The mead-halls were rather large with great wooden beams and were cherished by all. Often built and occupied by Viking and pagan tribes, the mead-hall also functioned as a seat of government and acted as a shelter for the king’s thanes. They were often found to be built around the mid-sixth century. The halls were around 50 meters long, capable of holding Beowulf’s gift of eight horses awarded to him by Hrothgar.
Today, a mead-hall might be considered a dining hall or a bar where people come to socialize after work or on the weekends. Here at Pace, the cafeteria would be our own version of the mead-hall. Heorot was not just used as a mead-hall but as a place where people simply relaxed and had conversations. Like Heorot, the lounge rooms in the dorm allow us to unwind, and without time off, people would break.
Heorot was introduced by the poet of Beowulf
as a large mead-hall where the thanes resided. Since 2004, three mead-halls have been discovered and excavated in Lejre, Denmark. Today, we still have many uses for mead-halls even though they may be referred to as bars, restaurants, or lounges.
Liuzza, Roy. Beowulf: A New Verse Translation. Peterborough, Ont. Broadview Press, 1999.