Heorot Hall, Mead-Halls
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
In the translation of Beowulf that we've used, King Hrothgar's mead-hall is called Heorot, which is its name in Old English. Translated into modern English, "Heorot" means "hart," which is a male deer or a stag. Hrothgar's lavish, wealthy hall – where his warriors gather to drink and feast and where he holds court – is named for this proud, majestic animal. Of course, deer aren't just any kind of animal – they're prey animals, hunted by men and other predators. Perhaps this is a little hint to us that Hrothgar's hall is destined to be attacked, again and again, by the local man-eating demon, Grendel.
Heorot, along with the unnamed mead-hall back in Geatland where King Hygelac holds sway, represents the brotherhood and unity of the warriors in the tribe. Each mead-hall becomes a symbol of power, a place for kings to display their gold, jewels, armor, wealth, and even their manpower – the number of "thanes," or followers, that they can boast. The mead-hall doubles as a location for feasts and as sleeping quarters for the warriors. Beowulf and his men go to Heorot first for a formal audience with Hrothgar, second for a feast and wild party, and third, at the end of the night, for a place to bed down with their armor and weapons right beside them, ready for action. Each mead-hall is a palace, a cafeteria, a bar, and a barracks all in one – a visible symbol of the intense life of formality, excess, and brutal warfare that medieval warriors led.