Wending through the Ravenswood (ll.2922-2935) [Old English]

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Picking at the Messenger’s Words
Biblical Arrogance
Closing

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{Wiglaf shown landing the distracting blow, or Beowulf landing the fatal one – that’s just how much of a team this duo is. Image found on Weird Worm.}

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Abstract

The messenger goes on to recount why the Swedes will also turn against the Geats once word of Beowulf’s death reaches them.

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Translation

Nor do I expect the Swedes to hold us as kin
or remain peaceful; for it was widely known
that Ongeontheow slew Haethcyn,
son of Hrethel, in the strife at Ravenswood,
when for arrogance the Geats first
sought to strike the Scylfings.
Old and terrible, Ohthere’s wise father
gave the return assault,
destroyed the sea king, kept his bride,
deprived his aged wife of gold,
the mother of Onela and Ohthere;
then he followed the mortal foe,
until they showed themselves
in great leaderless hardship in the Ravenswood.
(Beowulf ll.2922-2935)

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Recordings

Old English:

Modern English:

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Picking at the Messenger’s Words

This passage is as complex as any path through a place called the Ravenswood might be. The Anglo-Saxon basics are here (a feud, raiding for treasure’s sake, protecting peace weavers), but the way that they’re delivered likely leaves something to be desired for most modern readers.

Particularly, the jump from the statement that the Swedes will not be the Geats’ greatest allies to the retelling of the Geats arrogantly raiding Swedish lands is not entirely clear.

There is a connection between the two, sure, but it definitely casts the Swedes in a much more negative light than the Geats. I mean, obviously any such unprovoked attack is likely to start some bitter feelings, but just as much as the Swedes hate the Geats for it, the Geats should hate the Swedes – their king was lost there, after all.

However, maybe the way that the messenger tells the story, calling the Geats arrogant and putting the Swedes in the place of the villains, is a call back to the story of Haethcyn and Herebeald. The story of fratricide leading to Haethcyn’s becoming king upon Hrethel’s death, itself brought on by Herebeald’s death.

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Biblical Arrogance

If we follow this string a little further, we can speculate that the Geats’ arrogance wasn’t to be found in fighting a greater force than themselves – but rather that the Geats were arrogant in trying to force judgment on Haethcyn (a man that none could judge nor feud with because of the nature of fratricide).

For if the Swedes were a greater force than what the Geats could muster, and though it sounds like it must have been a harsh fate for those Ongeontheow met in the Ravenswood, it’s possible that they raided Swedish lands simply to get Haethcyn, the one guilty of fratricide, killed.

If such is the case, then maybe this act itself is also a reference to the story of king David and Bathsheba, in which he sends her husband, Uriah, to the front line so that she becomes a widow and therefore available. This biblical story is definitely one of arrogance, yet, Christ is considered to be of David’s lineage, and so relating a doomed race to such a story suggests that there is hope yet for the Geats, in some small and distant way.

Following this line of thinking, and working with the hypothesis that Beowulf was written down in the 10th/11th centuries, then maybe it was popular enough to write down around this time because it reflected a large group of Anglo-Saxon society’s hopefulness in the face of great odds.

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Closing

That’s it for Tongues in Jars until the New Year. Watch for the next Beowulf entry on January 3!

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Questionable Memories (ll.2910-2921) [Old English]

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Battles and Anglo-Saxon War Codes
Behind the Scenes?
Closing

{Was the right side on the black or the red horse? Image found on jehsmith.com.}

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Abstract

The messenger foretells of trouble with the Franks and Frisians.

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Translation

&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp”Now our people may
expect war-time, once the king’s fall
becomes widely and openly known
among Franks and Frisians. The fury of the Franks
was hard rattled, after Hygelac sailed from afar
in a war fleet to Frisian lands, there
Hetware harried him on the field, zealously came out
against him with overpowering might so that the
corsleted warrior was made to give way,
he fell amongst foot soldiers; not at all did that
lord give treasures to his troop. Ever since then
the Merovingians have shown us no mercy.”
(Beowulf ll.2910b-2921)

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Recordings

Old English:

Modern English:

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Battles and Anglo-Saxon War Codes

For a passage that tells of events which aren’t directly connected to Beowulf’s story, there’s a lot going on here. For the messenger tells of the battle in which Hygelac fell, and the grudge that the Merovingians (the pre-Pepin the Short Franks) hold against the Geats for their raid on their land. But this isn’t the first we’ve heard of a battle like this.

We heard Beowulf himself describe another one earlier, when he’s talking to the thanes before they go up to the dragon’s hoard and describes how he killed Dayraven on the field and swam back to Geatland with 30 suits of armour. What’s curious about both of these battles is that they both involve the death of the Geats’ lord. In the battle the messenger tells of, Hygelac dies, and in the battle Beowulf tells of, Hrethel and Haethcyn (however strange the chronology) fall.

Part of the Anglo-Saxon code of battle was to fight on after the death of your lord, and if any Geatish lord died here, then Beowulf should have fought until they won or he met a similar fate.

Instead Beowulf *swam* back to Geatland, suggesting that the Geats were not victorious, even though he may have brought treasures back with him. Plus, as a raid, how could it be successful save for the gaining of the raided land? Or were the Geats more like the reavers of A Song of Ice and Fire, attacking for loot and then returning to their homes?

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Behind the Scenes?

But throughout the whole poem we don’t hear anything of Beowulf’s cowardice. Certainly, there’s no place for it in a piece that’s all about the grand deeds of one man.

Historically, since the Merovingians are mentioned, this battle would have happened in the 5th century AD. Socially, on the other hand, the sense that you ought to fight to the death – especially after your lord is killed in battle – may have waned by the time that Beowulf’s been written down.

More troubling, however, is the idea that Beowulf swam back with some hopes of claiming the throne for himself. Hygd may have been as enamoured with Beowulf as some argue Wealhtheow was, only she may also have been more successful in the wooing.

Whatever happened behind the scenes that saw Beowulf mounting the throne, the very fact that he survived the apparently lost battle against Hetware seems to work against many of the ideals of Anglo-Saxon warriors and society.

Perhaps, again, these things were what caused him to feel responsible for the dragon’s wrath. Perhaps his conscience was pricking at something deeper than disciplining some thief who stole a cup.

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Closing

Check back here next Thursday for the continuation of the messenger’s words to the Geats!

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Appraising a Dagger via a Sword

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Reading Steel
Ouroboros Slinks in
Closing

{A modern replica of an Anglo-Saxon “seax” (or dagger). Image found on Englisc Gateway}

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Abstract

The messenger sent by Wiglaf tells the waiting people of Beowulf’s fate, and Wiglaf’s steadfastness.

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Translation

“‘Now is the Weder’s gracious giver,
the lord of the Geats, fast in his deathbed,
gone to the grave by the dragon’s deed:
Beside him, in like state, lay the
mortal enemy, dead from dagger wounds; for that sword
could not work any wound whatever on
that fierce foe. Wiglaf sits
by Beowulf’s side, the son of Weohstan,
a warrior watching over the unliving other,
holding vigil over the Geats’ chief,
he sits by the beloved and the reviled.'”
(Beowulf ll.2900-2910a)

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Recordings

Old English:

Modern English:

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Reading Steel

The emphasis that the messenger puts on the dagger is strange. It’s not that he goes out of his way to praise it, but the fact that he makes it clear that the sword was useless. This extra detail suggests that the sword was indeed considered the proper, noble weapon, while the dagger held a lower position on the symbolic/social scale of weapons. Nonetheless, the connotation of Beowulf’s dagger use underlines just what the Geats lose when they lose Beowulf.

It was likely standard among Anglo-Saxons to carry a dagger of some kind with them, along with their swordbelt. However, even in the heat of the moment, the poet peels things back and tells us that Beowulf wore his dagger on his hip/byrnie.

So was the wearing of a smaller blade a new thing with Beowulf’s generation? Was it simply the garb of a proper warrior? Why does the poet specify where Beowulf wore his dagger?

Such a small detail, though potentially of some historical or cultural significance, is more likely than not just an example of the poet filling out his poetic meter. The mention of the sword’s failure, as an explanation for the use of the dagger definitely shows that the messenger is true to his word – he leaves out no detail.

And that honesty opens up the other side of the issue, it seems very likely that the sword is only mentioned to excuse the dagger. In fact, if you’ve read Beowulf enough times, you can almost see the crowd rolling their eyes and thinking that Beowulf’s just being Beowulf, being too strong for any sword and whatnot.

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Ouroboros Slinks in

Yet, if we turn the mention of the dagger again, then there’s the matter of the dragon’s existence in the story being cyclical. The dragon appears because a thief steals from its hoard.

A dagger is weapon of favour among those who prize stealth (like thieves) – hence the modern genre tag “cloak and dagger” – and so is likely to be a thief’s weapon. The dragon is killed with a dagger, and so the dragon’s existence in the story is something of a closed system. A noble sword is wielded, but in the end what woke the dragon must put it back to its rest.

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Closing

Next week, watch for the prognostications of the messenger on Thursday! I’ll also be uploading links to any British/Medieval archaelogical news that I come across.

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"Dum Diane vitrea" – in Full!

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Closing

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{A stained glass window from The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See, also known simply as Seville Cathedral. Image from the Wikipedia.}

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Abstract

The complete translation of “Dum Diane vitrea” complete with recordings!

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Translation

“When Diana’s glassy torch rises late
And is kindled by her rosy brothers,
A pleasant breath of wind lifts
the etheric cloud from all couples;
Thus she softens emotive power
And immoveable hearts, which
Towards the pledge of love she sways.

As the light of the evening star fades,
Charm’s humour is given to
The drowsy dew of fleeting passion.

Oh how fruitful is that remedy of drowsiness,
Which tempestuous cares and sorrows sedates!
So long as it steals up to sore open eyes,
themselves a sweet joy of love to have.

“Morpheus then draws forth
an urge in the mind
Like gentle wind over mature corn,
clear shoreside river murmurings,
the circuitous orbit of mill arms,
he who steals sleep from clear eyes.

After the smooth-tongued dealings of Venus
fatigue the mind’s wealth.
This wonderful new mist swims
and settles in the eyelids.
Oh, how favourable the shift from love to slumber,
Yet how a kiss gives new rise to love!

The deadly fume evaporates from the womb,
As its three little rooms are bedewed;
These lovers eyes and eyelids are then filled
With the fog of sleepiness,
Yet vision veers not away.
Whence through the eyes are we bound
By animal power, as they are the will’s helpers.

As beneath a leafy canopy of trees,
it is so sweet to cease when the nightingale sings.
How sweet to play in the meadow grass
with a bright beauty of a maid,
if there be many fragrant herbs to breath
if there be a bed of roses on which to lay,
oh how sweet the nourishment of sleep
after being exhausted by the chase of Venus’ trade,
which instills such sleepiness.

Oh how great the unreliable varying
of the spirit of love!
It is as a wandering raft upon the seas,
when free from anchor,
In flux between hope and fear, both dubious;
So goes the battle of Venus.”
(“Dum Diane vitrea” [Complete])

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Recordings

Latin:

Modern English:

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Closing

That’s it for the medieval Latin poem “Dum Diane vitrea”! That’s also it for my translations of Latin. From here on in, it’s Old English all the way!

Also, though this blog’s name and layout will stay the same for the rest of December, watch for a new name and design come the new year.

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