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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