Wiglaf looks back in Anger [ll.2864-2876] (Old English)

Venting Frustrations
Invocations as Self-Summonings

{What Wiglaf may’ve looked like, with sword drawn and shield ready – here, as in his speech, his own spirit is his armour. Image found on The Wall Machine.}

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Wiglaf lays into the thanes, but calms when he speaks more specifically of Beowulf.

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“‘Lo! That it may be said, by he who will speak truth,
that the liege lord, he who gave you that treasure,
that military gear, that you there stand in,
when he at ale-bench oft gave
to sitters in the hall helms and byrnies,
the prince over his retainers, the strongest that he could
find either far or near, all that he may
as well have furiously tossed away, that war gear
that he from battle won.
Not at all did that folk-king have cause to boast
of comrades in arms; yet god allowed him, the
victorious ruler, so that he himself could drive forward
with his sword alone, when he had need for courage.'”
(Beowulf ll.2864-2876)

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Old English:

Modern English:

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Venting Frustrations

The first thing that you most likely noted when reading this week’s translation is that the first sentence is both long and syntactically awkward.

In an effort to keep the dialogue as accurate as possible, I tried to keep this opening in the same order in which it appeared in my version of the original text. What this opening sentence boils down to is the idea that Beowulf wasted his generous gifts on the thanes that ran away.

But the way in which Wiglaf expresses this, with a series of subordinate clauses, underscores his anger. However, it’s not necessarily that he’s shouting these lines, he could just as easily be letting the words slide from between clenched teeth as he stands over Beowulf’s body.

Using such a tangle of words makes Wiglaf’s anger clear not only in that it gives his words the sense that they’re tumbling out in a torrent of emotion, but also because it’s a way to verbally represent the clashing emotions that Wiglaf feels in the moment. After all, he currently stands close to the dear lord he has just lost while those whom he considers little better than social leeches are crowding near.

Since the following sentences see Wiglaf delve more into Beowulf and move away from directly addressing the thanes, they become much clearer.

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Invocations as Self-Summonings

Nonetheless, his rage is not lost as Wiglaf moves on to talk of Beowulf. Although we have nothing more than words on a page to run with, it’s not difficult to imagine any scop worth his salt giving a slightly sarcastic ring to “Not at all did that folk-king have cause/To boast of comrades in arms” (“Nealles folccyning fyrdgesteallum/gylpan þorfte” ll.2873-74). And, just as with anyone speaking from the heart, or while in a passion, Wiglaf says some curious things in this last sentence of this week’s excerpt.

The reference to god may seem old hat by now, but what’s curious about it is the immediate shift from it to what Beowulf could pull from himself because of his recourse to god.

On the one hand Wiglaf is saying, god helped him when you guys didn’t, but on the other he’s also saying that god helped him to see what he had all along and to use it when he found himself in his great need.

Although as faint as sections of the Noel codex itself (the manuscript in which Beowulf was found), there’s a slight mysticism that can be found in these words of Wiglaf’s, as he seems to be expressing the idea that a person’s true self can be found only in god and that this true self can help them to accomplish supernatural deeds.

In turn Wiglaf’s implication suggests that the thanes are not just cowards, but also ungodly – a curious thing of which to accuse warriors, but it must be remembered that if nothing else, Beowulf always made reference to god in his stories of his own feats, and though the only feat of Wiglaf’s that we know of is his helping with the dragon, it seems that he is now doing the same.

However, as we’ll see next week, Wiglaf’s emphasis on himself may foreshadow more than his valiant leadership of the Geats.

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Tomorrow, at A Glass Darkly be sure to read all about the good and the bad in the b-horror movie The Convent as the fourth and final part of my Shocktober set of movie reviews!

And you can find the next part of Beowulf here.

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1 thought on “Wiglaf looks back in Anger [ll.2864-2876] (Old English)

  1. Pingback: On God and Wiglaf’s Re-Naming [ll.2852b-2863] (Old English) | A Blogger's Beowulf

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