Bēow (*Bue)

Old English Modern English
Name Bēow *Bue
Pronunciation /be:ow/ /buː/
Etymology From Proto-Germanic *bewwą “barley”. Cognate with Old Frisian be, Old Saxon beo, and Old Norse bygg1Geir T. Zoëga, A Concise Dictionary of Old Icelandic (2004) pg. 80 (whence Modern English big “barley, especially six-rowed barley”).
Note He is frequently named alternatively Bēowa and Bedwig, but these have no basis in extant texts.2Bedwig appears in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and various other texts as the son of Sceaf, but none of these replace Scyld/Scield down the line, let alone Bēow. Abbreviated genealogies do not even mention him.

His name is simply “barley”, with no additional grammatical features.

Bēow may be a god of barley specifically or agriculture generically, which either way has him associated with alcohol, as is frequently the norm.

In the Anglo-Saxon royal genealogies, he is frequently listed in a euhemerised fashion as the father or grandfather of Gēat, who in turn was listed as an ancestor of Wōden. In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, he is the grandfather of Gēat and the son of Scyldwa “shield”, whose own ancestor six generations back is Scēaf “sheaf”. This is abbreviated in the Latin translation of the Chronicle by Æþelwēard, resulting in Beo, whose father is Scyld3Scield in the standardised West Saxon.  and whose grandfather is Scef.4Scēaf in the standardised West Saxon.

In Bēowulf, he is named Bēowulf instead, which is not to be confused with the hero of the story, whose father is Scyld and whose grandfather is Scēf.5Bēowulf, lines 18–25. On line 18 it is said that Bēowulf’s blæd wīde sprang “fame spread far”. Curiously, this may be a play on words, as blæd means “leaf” or the broad side of certain tools, such as an oar or spade, and is the precursor to our bladeBlǣd, however, does mean “success”, among other things.

There may be a connection to the John Barleycorn in English folksongs, wherein John Barleycorn is the personification of barley and the alcoholic drinks made from such. In the songs he suffers various attacks, death, and indignities that match up with reaping and malting.6John Barleycorn“, Wikipedia 7Stephen Pollington, The Elder Gods: The Otherworld of Early England (2011) pg. 222  His blood is described as having “reviving effects”.8Kathleen Herbert, Looking for the Lost Gods of England (1995) pg. 15 In one broadside ballad in 1725, he is described thus:9A Huy and Cry After Sir John Barlycorn

By many Acts of Our Sederunts,
Have found, That Sir JOHN BARLEYCORN
Was for the good of Mankind born,
And therefore, that the Commonwealth
Should drink his Blood to nourish Health
And that no free Leidge may be mocked,
Who has a Penney in his Pocket;
His Tutor-Datives call’d the Brewers,
Without Respect to Saints or Whores,
Shall distribute thro’ every Inn
His Blood, to be a Medicine

He may be related to Norse Byggvir10Stephen Pollington, The Elder Gods: The Otherworld of Early England (2011) pg. 219. Ignore the incorrect etymology for the Old Norse word that states the name to mean “barley-man”., who is mentioned in Lokasenna as a servant of Freyr and husband of Beyla.11Lokasenna, introduction and stanzas 43–46 Byggvir’s name is plainly related to bygg “barley”.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Geir T. Zoëga, A Concise Dictionary of Old Icelandic (2004) pg. 80
2. Bedwig appears in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and various other texts as the son of Sceaf, but none of these replace Scyld/Scield down the line, let alone Bēow. Abbreviated genealogies do not even mention him.
3. Scield in the standardised West Saxon.
4. Scēaf in the standardised West Saxon.
5. Bēowulf, lines 18–25.
6. John Barleycorn“, Wikipedia
7. Stephen Pollington, The Elder Gods: The Otherworld of Early England (2011) pg. 222
8. Kathleen Herbert, Looking for the Lost Gods of England (1995) pg. 15
9. A Huy and Cry After Sir John Barlycorn
10. Stephen Pollington, The Elder Gods: The Otherworld of Early England (2011) pg. 219. Ignore the incorrect etymology for the Old Norse word that states the name to mean “barley-man”.
11. Lokasenna, introduction and stanzas 43–46