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

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Tales of Brave Hygelac
Stories’ Stretchability
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 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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