Beating out Land Limits (ll.2971-2981) [Old English]

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
A Mess of Actors
Land Buried Beneath Words
Closing

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Abstract

Wulf is laid low by Ongeontheow, who in turn is slain by Eofor.

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Translation

“‘Yet the bold son of Wonred could not
against that aged man land a blow,
instead he afterward sheared the helm from his head,
so that Wulf should bow his bloodied head,
he fell to the ground; yet fate called not yet to him,
and he recovered himself, though he fully felt his wound.
The hardy thane of Hygelac then hoisted
his broad blade, as his brother lay there,
an antique edge of giant design, his stroke caught the &nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbspgiant’s helm,
through Ongeontheow’s shield wall; then bowed that king,
the people’s protector, he was struck through to his &nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbspsoul.'”
(Beowulf ll.2971-2981)

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Recordings

I have a new (untested) microphone, so I will be able to record this week’s translation and that from the last two weeks this weekend. Watch for these entries for widgets!

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A Mess of Actors

Okay, so we start to get into the conclusion of the messenger’s tale of Ongeontheow and the Geats raid on the Swede’s land. On the surface, this excerpt is straightforward, for the most part.

As has been the case before, the original Old English for this section uses no proper nouns – they’re all just pronouns. It seems that this must have been the poet’s solution to making action scenes vibrant without breaking patterns in things like sentence length.

After all, using nothing but pronouns and pronominal phrases to refer to the characters involved in the two fights in this passage is a way to show through language the chaos of such a scene. It’s told with only three major players, but the lack of concrete names suggests a lack of concrete order, or any order whatsoever.

Blows are exchanged, but just whose doing what isn’t necessarily 100% clear based on pronouns alone.

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Land Buried Beneath Words

However, digging deeper than the surface of this excerpt, and even the surface of words, the verb “Let,” (l.2977) means many things. It can mean “to lift,” “to lead,” or “to make or beat the bounds of land.”

Given that this word appears in a story about a raid, it may be the perfect context for “Let” to take on various meanings.

The simple interpretation of “Let,” as “hoisted,” or “raised,” works but it still leaves us with something to wonder about. The messenger stated earlier that this raid on the Swedes was merely for treasure and plunder, but in a sense isn’t raiding a place tantamount to an accelerated habitation?

All that gold dug out of the ground, all that coin exchanged, all of those crops eaten – and all at once rather than over the course of years and years. So, in a way, though the Geats set out with only treasure in mind, they definitely picked up more when Eofor slew Ongeontheow (announced with the use of “Let”).

It should be fair to say that there’s little better to do to create the limits of your land in one sense or other than to simply destroy the ones you need to move. Having defeated those in your way, you’ve very clearly opened your way up.

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Closing

Next week – the story of the Geats and Swedes begins to wrap up. Watch for it!

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Ongoing Ongeontheow (ll.2961-2970) [Old English]

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Teaching by Analogues?
Against Anger, About a Word
Closing

<!–

{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

In the messenger’s story, Ongeontheow is captured and attacks Wulf, son of Wonred, in self defense.

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Translation

“‘There by the sword’s edge Ongeontheow,
the grey-haired lord, was left to suffer at
Eofor’s command alone. Angrily against him
Wulf son of Wonred reached with a weapon,
so that his sword swing struck, sending blood
forth from under his hair. Yet he was
not frightened, the old Scylfing,
he paid him back double for that blow,
turning a far worse death strike against that one,
after that the king turned thither.'”
(Beowulf ll.2961-2970)

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Recordings

I’m currently without a recording microphone, and so have no way to record these. However, I should be picking one up over the coming weekend.

Old English:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}

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Teaching by Analogues?

As the messenger’s story continues, so too does his focus on Ongeontheow. Here we see him, gray-haired, retaliate against one of the Geats who was too angry to wait for Eofor’s decision.

Actually, it’s a curious detail to add that Ongeontheow is “grey-haired” (“blonden-fexa” l.2962). Obviously we should take it to mean that he is an old man, but as such it’s difficult to not think of Hrothgar, another old man encountered in the poem.

Or, to even think of Beowulf himself.

After all, the messenger must have a point for telling the story of the Ravenswood at such length. I mean, if he just wanted to remind everyone of their feud with the Swedes he could have cut things off with his statement about them not showing any mercy (l.2922-2923). Instead, he launches into a story that runs for 75 lines (ll.2923-2998), involves detailed descriptions of events, and focuses not on a Geat, but the chief of the Swedes.

Apart from using this story to get the Geats to recognize their current situation (as noted in last week’s entry), Ongeontheow could be a stand in for Beowulf.

Perhaps the messenger is warning the Geats of the Swedes, but also, for some strange reason, he’s trying to remind them of themselves. He’s trying to show them how their own laziness and their own cowardice – represented by Wulf’s inabiity to contain his anger – is what caused the trouble stirred by the dragon, just as the same lead to the death of Wulf (and of Beowulf).

But how could such an interpretation be backed up? Well, with the idea that the messenger like all of those bearing news and facts some might not like, needs to add a spin to what he says. His spin is to use a story that everyone can relate to but present it in a way that is different.

Or, perhaps everyone was familiar with Ongeontheow’s actions from a poem or story the Geats told amongst themselves. As of now we can’t really say for sure.

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Against Anger, About a Word

In a much more direct fashion, this excerpt from the messenger’s story is clearly an admonition against anger, against acting when a passion is in you.

Instead, at least through implication, the messenger is telling the people that they must be cautious, just as Eofor was in deciding Ongeontheow’s fate rather than just lashing out at him as Wulf did. Just as an army that has captured their opponent’s leader must think things throw and step carefully into the future, so too must the Geats if they’re to navigate the difficult, leaderless times that lay ahead of them.

For the Geats it is a time that is likely to be noisy with deathblows. A concept perhaps strange to us, but familiar to Anglo-Saxons since the Old English compound “wael-hlem,” meaning “death-blow,” literally translates to “carnage-sound.”

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Closing

That’s it for this week, but the messenger’s story continues next week, as Eofor steps into the fray.

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A Geat Teller and Swedish Main (ll.2946-2960) [Old English]

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Tales of Brave Hygelac
Stories’ Stretchability
Closing

<!–

{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 recounts how Hygelac’s horde turned the tide of the battle with Ongeontheow.

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Translation

“‘The gory track Geats and Swedes left there,
from the widely seen onslaught,
was easy to follow back to the erupting feud.
Then he knew the good men amongst his comrades,
the old sorrowful man sought to secure his soldiers,
Ongeontheow the chief turned to higher ground;
he had learned first hand of Hygelac’s battlecraft,
his splendid war strength; he trusted not to resistance,
the hope that he might rout those sea-farers,
those sea-borne warriors, resist that horde,
protect his son and wife; after that the aged one’s
banners went behind the earthen wall. Then the
persecution of the Swedish people was commanded,
Hygelac’s sign rushed forward into the peaceful plain,
afterward the Hrethlings thronged around that fortified
enclosure.'”
(Beowulf ll.2946-2960)

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Recordings

I’m currently without a recording microphone, and so have no way to record these. However, I should be picking one up over the coming weekend.

Old English:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}

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Tales of Brave Hygelac

The messenger gives his story of the battling Geats and Swedes a very unexpected spin in this week’s excerpt.

Although Hygelac has appeared to save the Geats trapped in the forest, the story continues to focus on Ongeontheow. Why? Well, there are a few possibilities.

Among these, there’s the simple explanation that the messenger’s audience is already intimately familiar with Hygelac’s exploits in this battle.

The Geats have no doubt regaled each other with tales of the battle and its hero since they returned from the raid. Heck, there might even be a lost epic poem (or maybe just a short piece like the “Battle of Maldon”) about it – written down or maintained orally. Because of this familiarity the messenger thus skips over Hygelac’s role and instead gives the spotlight over to Ongeontheow.

It’s also possible that the story is told with the focus on Ongeontheow to stir up a sense of the direness of the Geats’ current leaderlessness. They have just lost their great hero, and another is not likely to appear as Hygelac did. Telling this same story, but putting Hygelac front and center would make it into a story to inspire pride and possibly even an early form of nationalism. Switching things around, though, telling the story with more of an eye to what Ongeontheow does, could help to show his listeners that the Swedes are warriors that have indeed been wronged.

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Stories’ Stretchability

This second possibility definitely underlines the importance of perspective in stories, but more importantly, it also suggests the elasticity of narratives. The messenger is, in essence telling the story of the battle of the Ravenswood, but the point of view that he uses will determine its spin. Giving his listeners more information about Ongeontheow’s tactics and motives than Hygelac’s is definitely a way to communicate the idea that the Swedes have been wronged.

Of course, for that sort of thing to get across it would be necessary for the messenger’s audience to have some sense of The Golden Rule. Definitely not something exclusive to Christianity, it’s nonetheless tempting to see the messenger’s using this particular spin on the story of the Battle of Ravenswood to encourage sympathy for the Swedes’ position as a result of this raid/attack.

Then, although not made explicit in the poem, the listeners could take their sympathy for the Swedes’ plight to understand the seriousness of the threat they now pose: The Swedes were attacked openly by a great hero, now we have no great hero, therefore we are also open to attack.

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Closing

Check back here next week for more of Beowulf as this very verbose messenger continues on with his story.

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Psychological Warfare and the Importance of Tactical Mercy (ll.2936-2945) [Old English]

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
A Differently Angled Ambush
Stories and Psychological Warfare
Closing

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Abstract

The messenger’s story of the Ravenswood continues, as the Geats are pinned by Ongeontheow’s host until a saviour is heralded.

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Translation

“‘Beset he then with an immense host the remnant
wearied by war wounds; all the night
long he twisted their tender spirits with vile boasts,
he said that he would destroy them with the
sword’s edge come morning, that he would hang them
on gallows trees to feed the birds. Yet joy again
existed in their sorrowful hearts just as day dawned,
for then came Hygelac with his horn and its call,
a sound they recognized, knew that it meant a troop
of great allies had arrived in their final &nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbspmoment.'”
(Beowulf ll.2936-2945)

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Recordings

Old English:

Modern English:

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A Differently Angled Ambush

The messenger’s message continues, and his story about the Ravenswood really picks up steam in this week’s extract. What could be more exciting than a situation in which a last minute arrival swings in the good guys’ favour, right?

It’s not the first time that we’ve had a story with late comers mentioned in Beowulf. After the hero himself defeats Grendel we hear about the Battle of Finnsburg (ll.1068-1158), where the Frisians have ambushed and wearied the Danes.

Since it sounds like Hygelac was completely unexpected by Ongeontheow and the Geats alike, his appearance here is definitely a kind of ambush. But rather than the tragedy that is the Battle of Finnsburg, Hygelac’s appearance is a cause for joy.

After all, in the story about Finnsburg listeners can take a side, but in the messenger’s story, we know that those listening are cheering for the Geats, and therefore it’s less a negative ambush and more of a rescue, as the phrase “at last faran” (“arrived in their final moment,” l.2945) suggests.

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Stories and Psychological Warfare

Speaking of perspective, it’s easy to see even the major players within the world of Beowulf as brutes with sharp swords, but Ongeontheow does something rather incredible when he has the troop trapped in the Ravenswood.

He doesn’t rush in and slaughter them outright. Instead he launches a psychological attack, as he bombards them with “vile boasts” (“wean oft gehet” l.2937) all through the night (“ondlong niht” l.2938). This is a strange move on Ongeontheow’s part at first glance, but if we look deeper we can see his reasons for it.

During this period of time, destroying a leaderless band outright would have been like killing a headless man. Matters of redundancy aside, it would have been dishonourable and a source of shame, rather than something that a warrior could be proud of. Besides, a terrified group of leaderless enemy soldiers would have to deal with their own shame of having outlived their lord, and would likely tell the darkest stories of their conqueror’s power.

This sense of shame explains a little bit of why Ongeontheow says he’ll leave the Geats until morning, but it doesn’t give a full picture of it.

Down the line of shame, there may have been some convention among warriors of the time to wait so many hours/watches before attacking such a disorganized rabble (perhaps to let one of them rise up as leader?), but Ongeontheow has another reason for his threats.

Multiple stories told by many terrified, shamed, and sorrowful men would grow Ongeontheow’s reputation. But a handful of stories that include his torturing them with vile boasts all night and then slaughtering most of the remaining host would make it easy for any survivors to tell stories of him that were absolutely intimidating.

And, as we saw in 2012’s last entry, Ongeontheow seems to care deeply for the safety of his family. So creating the seeds of intimidating stories would benefit him as it would deter future purpose-less raids from other groups that were looking for places to attack for arrogance’s sake.

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Closing

Next week, the story of Ravenswood continues. Don’t miss it!

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