The article presents an analysis of an inscription on the sword hilt described in Beowulf 1687-98a. This inscription represents the only reference to writing in the entire poem and has consequently received much scholarly attention. In this paper, Seiler claims that the sword hilt inscription should be examined as a piece of writing used in a situation of “vocality”, a term that characterizes a society which makes use of writing as a whole, but where access to literacy is mediated only by a small minority of experts. In this view, Hrothgar can be identified as the reader of the inscription. A comparison with two other runic texts serves to highlight the function of the sword hilt inscription: unlike the rune-stick occurring in a parallel part of Grettis saga, the Beowulf inscription is not a fully functioning means of communication. Rather it serves as a support for Beowulf’s oral account of his adventure and, like the South Germanic inscription on the Pforzen buckle, it establishes a connection to a legendary past, which serves as a kind of prophecy fulfilled by the present.