Scavenging Field and Page Alike (ll.3021b-3032) [Old English]

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
A Beastly Finish
A Curious Death March
Closing

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Abstract

The messenger’s premonition ends with the beasts of battle, and the troop of Geats heads to where Beowulf and the dragon lay.

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Translation

“‘The future will see hands habituated to hoisting
morning-cold spears,heaved by hand, not at all shall
the harp’s sweep stir warriors, but wan on the wing
the raven flying over the doomed will speak,
tell the eagle how he vomited and ate,
when he and the wolf reaved the dead.’
Such was the sentence of that speaker’s
dire speech; he did not deceive in
what he told and read of fate. The troop all arose,
went without joy beneath Eagle Cliff,
faces tear-torn, the terrible scene to see.”
(Beowulf ll.3021b-3032)

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Recordings

Old English:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}

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A Beastly Finish

The messenger at last finishes his speech to those Geats gathered to hear word of their dear leader. And, as if he hadn’t been clear enough, he closes with mention of the emblematic beasts of battle.

These animals were closely associated with war in Anglo-Saxon culture because of their established presence on the battlefield. These are, after all, the animals that would swoop or scrounge in and savour the leavings of a battle. Except, perhaps, for the eagle. I mean, it seems more likely that the eagle would fly over a battle field in the hopes of finding a small rodent that’s a bit too curious.

Closing with these animals, which were neutral in and of themselves (they merely represented the destruction of war and nature’s way of restoring things to their former states), makes clear the slaughter that the Geats are in for. They can march away, forever in exile, but even then their lives will be ones of constant vigilance. For human armies can tire of such a chase, whereas nature never can, and the beasts are a symbol of that relentless power.

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A Curious Death March

Up until this point, those to whom the messenger is speaking were some small distance from the cliffs where the battle took pace, and their march towards the awful spectacle can be nothing more than a heavy-footed trek. They already know what they will see, and it will not prove to be overwhelmingly positive.

Yet, this points towards something interesting. The Geats already know what happened, and still a troop of them go to see what are the ruins of their leader and their foe.

Perhaps the Anglo-Saxons had some belief around funerals that friends and family needed to see the corpse before it was buried or burned. Why would such a belief exist?

To allow people to confirm things, maybe. Or perhaps to offer people one final chance to see the deceased’s face. Or, still possible, the Geats go to see Beowulf because they believe a part of their soul is bestowed upon him, maybe making the afterlife an easier place for him to navigate.

Whatever the reason, next week they find Beowulf and the dragon. One is regarded with sorrow and the other with wonder – check out the next entry to find out which is which!

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Closing

This coming week, watch for the next entry on Thursday. I’ll be done with the big draw on my freetime – editing an episode of the Doctor Who podcast TelosAM – by then. As a result, getting back to this blog’s regular schedule will not be an issue.

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A Hot Forecast (ll.3010b-3021a) [Old English]

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Anglo-Saxon Treasure Abuse
Walking without Memory
Closing

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Abstract

The messenger makes his predictions regarding the fate of the Geats, and, more importantly, the fate of the treasure hoard.

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Translation

             “‘None shall match
What will melt amidst his glory, for there shall be the
treasure’s hoarded gold untold, bought at so grim a cost;
and now at his departure those rings bought
with his own life: they shall the fire consume,
all swallowed in the searing heat, no man shall
wear that treasure to remember, nor may
any woman wear those costly rings as shining adornment,
but they shall be sad-hearted, bereaved of gold,
for oft, not once alone, shall they tread foreign lands,
the leader’s laughter now having been silenced,
sport and mirth ceased.'”
(Beowulf ll.3010b-3021a)

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Recordings

Because of previous translating I’d done well before this blog and for various classes, just over 100 lines remain to work through. So, though it will create a substantial backlog, I’m not going to be posting recordings until my translation is finished. I’m also holding recordings back since I’m still working out posting all of them on YouTube.

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Anglo-Saxon Treasure Abuse

Like all medieval prophecy and prognostication, this passage is dripping with sweet sweet meaning juice. In particular, there are two key things to focus on.

Melting down treasure seems to be antithetical to the way that most Anglo-Saxons think. Yet, here it’s announced that the hoard will be heaped upon Beowulf’s funeral pyre. The why might glare from the page at first, but, after this passage is read in full, the reasons are quite clear.

As an elegy, Beowulf simply can’t end on too bright a note. Since this is the poem’s ending, it’s also important for the story to come to a definitive close.

Unfortunately, at least so far as we know, there was no sequel planned to tie up loose ends, and so that job fell to this poem itself. Having found so much treasure, how could it end any differently? Melting the treasure definitely seals up the story, since there is no treasure to transfer its unspoken curse from owner to owner.

After all, the mention of Fafnir, and the dragon Beowulf beats having a treasure hoard bring to mind the story of Ótr’s gold and its curse. Or, for a more modern analogue, “mo money, mo problems.” Cutting out that gold makes the Geats a much less appealing target.

Keeping the gold from being worn will also help the Geats move into the underground. Among the women, it would draw too much attention and make others think that they were available or willing to enter into marriages – which, though it could help the Geats in the long run.

Likewise, the men not wearing any of the treasure as a trophy or remembrance, effectively uproots the Geats, since early medieval peoples built themselves on the tradition and lore that came before them. To be stripped of their memories is tantamount to stripping them of their identity as a people.

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Walking without Memory

On the other hand, losing communal memory (even of just their leader killing a dragon only to later die from his wounds) suits a life of communal exile. For exile cuts off the physical trappings of a western medieval society, whereas denying memory cuts off the psychological and emotional trappings of that society.

So pairing exile with the denial of memory is as damning as possible. Simply being told that you were exiled is shameful in itself, but knowing that you had nothing to go back to twists that knife.

Which makes me think that at least some audience of Beowulf (after it had been written down) was thinking along these lines. Hell, it makes me think that even the early audiences of Beowulf, those who heard a version close to what we have, would have sympathized with the Geats’ losing land and memory.

After all, without a place you have no roots, and without memories of great deeds celebrated by the group you have no enduring communal spirit. With neither any great people becomes no more than the grass trod by wolves, the twigs used by crows, or the mice devoured by eagles.

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Closing

Next week, the messenger brings out the beasts of battle!

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Hastily Towards the Pyre (ll.2999-3010a) [Old English]

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
A Snappy Eulogy, Eager Flames
Burning the Body
Closing

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Abstract

The messenger wraps up his story, and relates how they must now hasten to bring Beowulf’s body to the funeral pyre.

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Translation

“‘That is the root of our feud and foeship,
this very deadly hostility, which, as I truly believe,
means that we shall be sought by the Swedes,
after they hear of how our lord is now lifeless,
the one who in earlier days defended
our people and treasures against our enemies,
after our warriors fell, a prelude to the Scylfings,
worked ever for the people’s benefit and went further
than any other to be like a true lord. Now haste is best,
that we our king see to there
and bring there, he who gave us rings,
to the funeral pyre.'”
(Beowulf ll.2999-3010a)

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Recordings

Old English:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}

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A Snappy Eulogy, Eager Flames

Speaking quickly is one thing, going several lines without a full stop is another. Once again, the poet is making the poem’s language reflect its content, as the long first sentence of this passage is an encapsulation of Beowulf’s deeds. In fact, it may even be a sort of eulogy for him before the funerary party departs for the pyre at Whale’s Ness.

But why cut it so short?

And what happened to Beowulf’s adventures with the Danes?

It seems his glory as a king and a ring-giver has overshadowed his youthful deeds, no doubt a good thing since it would also mean the departing from memory of Beowulf’s needing to go to the Danes to prove himself in the first place.

As to the length of this eulogy, and the messenger’s haste to get Beowulf to the pyre, both suggest an extreme need for closure.

Perhaps the Geats have some sort of scrying tradition, wherein they gaze into the pyre of a dead king and see his successor if he is without a son? Though that seems unlikely, since no one is speaking of bringing in a new king, they’re all merely resolute in their fates.

In terms of closure more generally, if the Geats foresee their doom, then it is entirely possible that they’re eager to complete one last communal ritual as they work to fulfil Beowulf’s final wish. And, the poet(s)’s no doubt eager for a clean close to a poem that has become as much about the Geats as its titular hero.

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Burning the Body

Though, it’s also possible that the messenger’s desire for haste points to something more macabre and more practical all at the same time. Maybe the Geats want to simply get rid of BEowulf’s body.

Why? Well, to keep the Swedes from plundering it, taking some part of it as a trophy, and maybe with the hope that, having been scorched into nothingness, they can build up a grand story about Beowulf’s ascent into the afterlife or some sort of immortality.

Perhaps there’s some belief that the spirit of an old chieftan can act as a guardian force. This protective possibility can’t be entirely ruled out, since the messenger emphasizes over and over again just how resolute Beowulf was in protecting his people.

However, not being an expert in Anglo-Saxon funerals and rites, I can’t say for sure what could be underlying the messenger’s urging haste. And if any rites apply to this situation, Anglo-Saxon ones are definitely relevant, since the poem’s language *is* Old English rather than a form of Old Icelandic or German.

In fact, Beowulf’s primary audience (based on its language, anyway) is Anglo-Saxons. Thus, the matter of rushing to give a funeral for a fallen king must have been something that the Anglo-Saxons related to, and would have reason to do.

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Closing

The Recordings will return! But for sure, next week sees the messenger describing Beowulf’s funeral, the fate of the gold, and a bit of the fate of the Geats themselves.

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Leadership and Laughs (ll.2982-2998) [Old English]

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Of Reflections and Leaders
A Shot of Comedy
Closing

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Abstract

The Geats survey their victory in the aftermath of battle, and Hygelac grants Eofor and Wulf various gifts

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Translation

“‘Then were there many, those who bandaged Wulf,
swiftly raised him up, since it had been cleared,
since they ruled that bloodied field.
At the same time winning warriors stripped those who lost,
from Ongeontheow went his iron mail,
his hard sword hilt and his helmet also;
these old ornaments were brought to Hygelac.
He accepted these treasures and himself fairly stated
among the people that reward would be had, and so he did;
he paid them for their battle-rush, the Geat lord,
Hrethel’s son, when they arrived home,
Eofor and Wulf were overloaded with gifts;
he gave them lands and linked rings
of great value in gold – no man on earth
need reproach him for that reward – after they
forged their glorious deed;
and to Eofor he also gave his only daughter,
a tender home-shaper, his loyalty to lock.'”
(Beowulf ll.2982-2998)

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Recordings

I’ve fallen behind in my recordings, partially because my day job’s been hectic lately. However, I still plan to record and post readings of what I’ve translated, though I may wait until I’ve reached the end of the poem before getting back to recording. Why not bookmark this blog so you can easily keep an eye on this recording situation?

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Of Reflections and Leaders

At last, the story of the Geats’ incursion into Sweden ends – but not on a long-term happy note.

Sure, the Geats are saved, the Swedes are defeated, and treasure is shared, but the future still holds the bleak prospect of the Swedes sweeping in, now that the Geats of the present are leaderless.

Actually, the past few entries have been full of speculation about just what the messenger is trying to do with this story, and one thing that’s gone un-noted so far is how the story sets up a situation in opposition to the one currently facing the Geats.

Hygelac’s appearance renews their spirits when they’re pinned in the Ravenswood. Hygelac replaces the leader of the first group of Geats. And Hygelac gives the Geats a single figure to focus their loyalty on.

Of course, the Geats in the present of the poem have no such focal point. Their leader is dead and gone. Which means that they are like those Geats trapped in the Ravenswood, their fate is already sealed.

But then, a question comes up: why not elect a new leader? Nobility is still an issue to choosing new leaders in early medieval Europe, but Wiglaf is no slouch. Unless all of the military know-how has gone along with Beowulf, Wiglaf’s inexperience could be remedied with wise counsel. In fact, it seems that a much worse choice could be made for the new head of the Geats.

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A Shot of Comedy

Along with this wrap up, we’re also treated to a quick summary of the various gifts that Hygelac bestows upon Eofor and Wulf. We’re not given a great amount of information about them, but the giving is punctuated with a strange sentence: “no man on earth
need reproach him [Hygelac] for that reward” (“ne ðorfte him ða lean oðwitan
mon on middangearde,” ll.2995-6).

After such a heavy tale, and given the Anglo-Saxon propensity for comedic irony, it’s clear that this is a prime example of their sense of humour at work.

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Closing

Next week, check back here for the rest of the messenger’s message!

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