On Wiglaf’s Weapons (Pt. 2) [ll.2620-2630] (Old English)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Two Possibilities for “mid Geatum”
Medieval Shorthand?
A Curious Word
Closing

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Abstract

The story of Weohstan and the arms winds down here, and things move back to Wiglaf, as he is on the verge of breaking from the host to go help Beowulf.

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Translation

“He kept those adornments for many half-years,
sword and mail shirt, until his son could
perform heroic deeds as his late father did;
then he gave to him among the Geats war garbs
in countless number, when he departed from life,
old and on his way forth. Then was the first time
for the young warrior, to himself advance into
the battle onslaught with his noble lord. His spirit
did not melt away then, nor did his kinsman’s
heirloom fail in the conflict; this the serpent
discovered, after they had come together.”
(Beowulf ll.2620-2630)

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Recordings

Old English:

Modern English:

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Two Possibilities for “mid Geatum”

Just as with so many other sets of equipment in Beowulf, Wiglaf’s arms were passed onto him by his father. However, the poet/scribe also sees fit to add that these things were passed onto Wiglaf when father and son were “among the Geats,” (“mid Geatum” (l.2623)).

Since Weohstan had previously been in exile (as the poem made plain when describing his slaying of Eanmunde), this added detail is rather significant for one reason or another.

On the one hand, this detail suggests the importance of community. Possibly, even, this small prepositional phrase implies an underlying belief of the poet’s/scribe’s that communal memory is better than individual memory. At the least, with the constant references to friendship, kin ties, and the sound of the raucous joy of groups in halls, a community is regarded as being better than being alone.

On the other hand, it might just be another detail. Something to add to the colour of the story and not really a thread that’s woven around or with something else in the poem as so many things are.

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Medieval Shorthand?

Actually, It’s easy to wonder then if the phrase “among the Geats” is shorthand for a more detailed setting. But the marker of community might just be setting enough for the sort of transitional act that passing on war garb is in Anglo-Saxon culture.

For there was a firm belief among the Anglo-Saxons that a person’s belongings carried a part of his or her essence even after he or she died. So, passing these things on is as much a passing on of the physical objects as it is of the memory held within them, the things they used to make their mark on the world.

To pass these weapons, these memories, on, within the structures of a community, to make it an event within that community and thus set it into that community’s memory, would ensure that it definitely becomes entrenched there. It becomes as much a community act as a family act.

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A Curious Word

The other highlight of the passage is the original Old English verb used on line 2628: “gemealt.”

According to the Clark Hall & Merritt dictionary of Old English, the verb can be translated as “to consume by fire,” “melt,” “burn up,” “dissolve,” or “digest.” Since it’s referring to Wiglaf’s spirit, it seems most appropriate to go with melt. That way the words invoke an image of the young warrior envisioning his attack on the dragon and the aid that he’ll give his lord and having this vision stand firm rather than melting away (like a Jello mold in the heat of the sun).

{Possibly how Wiglaf imagines himself fighting the dragon. Image from Lady, That’s My Skull}

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Closing

That’s all for this week, but check back next for Isidore’s continuing look at horses, and for Wiglaf’s stirring speech to his fellow thanes.

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