Naming problem: Modthryth, Thryth or Fremu?
The reason for the usage of both Thryth and the compound name Modthryth is that the latter name is an emendation by Klaeber . Mod appears just before Þryð on line 1932 of the poem, where she is introduced, and scholars are divided as to whether mod is part of her name, or a separate word.
The queen of the eighth-century Mercian king Offa in the thirteenth-century Vitae duorum Offarum, which portrays both this Offa and his fifth-century namesake, is called Quendrida, a somewhat flawed Latin rendering of Cynethryth, the actual name of Offa's wife. The author, moreover, etymologised the word as consisting of the words quen 'queen' and the personal name Drida: Quendrida, id est regina Drida. This parallel has sometimes been taken as a further argument that the Offa of Beowulf had a queen called Thryth and that the passage was intended as a veiled reference to the eighth-century queen.
More recently, R.D. Fulk has challenged the long-held view that the queen was named either Modthryth or Thryth, pointing out difficulties with the ending -o, its implications for the overall syntax, and the weaknesses of the Drida argument. Instead, he revives the suggestion made by Ernst A. Kock in 1920 that fremu is not an adjective modifying folces cwen "the people's princess" and meaning "excellent" (which would be inappropriate at this stage of the narrative), but her actual name. On the basis of such parallels as higeþryðe wæg "bore arrogance" (Old English Genesis A line 2240b), he likewise treats Mod þryðo as a common noun, although this necessitates an emendation of the ending -o to -a.
From wicked princess to virtuous queen
The relevant passage immediately follows, almost interrupts, a favourable description of Hygelac's queen Hygd. First, the portrayal focuses on the princess's character in her early days before her marriage to Offa. She is a powerful and vengeful woman who punishes any man beneath her station who dares to look her directly in the eye:
She changes her ways after being married to Offa, becoming a gracious hostess and gaining fame for her good deeds and devotion to her husband:
The poet juxtaposes the vice of the queen with the virtues of Hygd (introduced a few lines prior in l. 1926), not only condemning Modthryth's behavior but reinforcing the idea that it is the role of a queen to be a freoðuwebbe or peace-weaver (lines 1940-1944).
- Beowulf: Hygd, Wealhþeow, Freawaru, Hildeburh
- Beowulf: Grendel's mother
- Eadburh, daughter of King Offa of Mercia and wife to King Beorhtric of Wessex
- Robert D. Fulk, "The Name of Offa's Queen: Beowulf 1931–2."
- The capitalisation is an editorial decision rather than a feature of the manuscript
- Beowulf, ed. and tr. Michael Swanton, Beowulf. 2nd ed. New York, 1997. Swanton's prose translation is re-arranged as verse-lines above.
- Eliason, Norman E. "The 'Thryth-Offa Digression' in Beowulf." In Franciplegius: medieval and linguistic studies in honor of Francis Peabody Magoun, ed. by Jr. J.B. Bessinger and R.P. Creed. New York: New York University Press, 1965.
- Fulk, Robert D. "The Name of Offa's Queen: Beowulf 1931–2." Anglia: Zeitschrift für englische Philologie 122.4 (2004): 614–39.
- Hashimoto, Shuichi. "On Norman E. Eliason's 'The "Thryth-Offa Episode" in Beowulf." Sophia English Studies [Japan] 7 (1982): 1-10.
- Jordan, Jessica. "Women Refusing the Gaze: Theorizing Thryth's "Unqueenly Custom" in Beowulf and The Bride's Revenge in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, Volume I." The Heroic Age: A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe, heroicage.org, Issue 9. October, 2006.
- Moore, Bruce. "The 'Thryth-Offa Digression' in Beowulf." Neophilologus 64 (1980): 127-33.
- Porter, Dorothy (Summer/Autumn 2001). "The Social Centrality of Women in Beowulf: A New Context". The Heroic Age: A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe, heroicage.org, Issue 5.
- Shippey, Tom (Summer/Autumn 2001). "Wicked Queens and Cousin Strategies in Beowulf and Elsewhere". The Heroic Age: A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe, heroicage.org, Issue 5.