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

Picking at the Messenger’s Words
Biblical Arrogance


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

Or you can jump to the next part of Beowulf here!

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One thought on “Wending through the Ravenswood (ll.2922-2935) [Old English]

  1. Pingback: Questionable Memories (ll.2910b-2921) [Old English] | A Blogger's Beowulf

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