The Ward on the Huge Hoard (ll.3047-3057) [Old English]

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
The Problem of Entering the Gold Hoard
A Big, Strong Word
Closing

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Abstract

The poet reflects further on the dragon, and reveals some interesting facts about the serpent’s hoard.

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Translation

“Beside him stood beakers and cups,
plates laid about and dear swords,
rusty, eaten through, as only those who live
in the embrace of earth for a thousand winters
can be. Yet that huge cache,
the hold of gold of men of old, was spell-bound,
so that no man might enter
that ring-hall, save god itself,
Ruler of Triumph, give its approval
– for god is humanity’s handler – to open that hoard,
even then only for such a man as god thought fit.”
(Beowulf ll.3047-3057)

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Recordings

Old English:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}

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The Problem of Entering the Gold Hoard

Only someone with god’s stamp of approval can enter the hoard.

Does that mean Wiglaf has god’s approval? For he entered the hoard and saw its vast richness, reported it to Beowulf and showed a small fraction of it. The implications of such a thing are a little confusing though. If Wiglaf had god’s approval, then why isn’t he leading the Geats through the coming hardships? Why are they a people consigned to nothing more than utter annhilation?

The only really good reason I can come up with is that the poem’s named Beowulf, not A History of the Geats, or the Geatilliad. Which begs the question: why would the Anglo-Saxons tell such an elegiac story? And why would it later be considered important enough to write down?

In considering the answer, the place of the elegy in Anglo-Saxon literature and narrative is incredibly important.

Quite possibly, the fall of the Geats did not happen in the way the poem describes, but has been accelerated for the sake of the form. Or maybe for the sake of the lesson. Though what the lesson of Beowulf is, is rather ambiguous. Its moral could be any number of things.

Christianity is the way to go?

Even the smallest transgression – something so tiny that you can only remember it as a vague feeling – can lead to your downfall?

Wyrd is cruel and unknowable?

The poem’s a bit longer than your average fable, so narrowing it down to something concrete isn’t quite so straightforward.

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A Big, Strong Word

The difficulty of interpretation aside, the word used to describe the hoard, eacencraeftig, has a crystal clear meaning. Sure, it means “huge,” but broken down into its component parts it means “augmented strength” (“eacen”+”craeftig”).

Since it’s used to describe the hoard, eacencraeftig clearly means immense or huge. The sense of the word’s components together gives a similar affect, since physical strength has always been linked to physical size, and augmenting that strength means increasing that size. There isn’t necessarily anything crafty about the word otherwise, but it’s neat to know what little there is.

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Closing

Next week the poet returns to the poem’s namesake. Watch for it on Thursday!

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