Between Religions? (ll.3069-3075) [Old English]

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
The Ward on the Hoard
Wiglaf: Favoured and Condemned
Closing

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Abstract

A brief passage about the curse laid upon the dragon’s hoard.

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Translation

“Just so the renowned princes solemnly declared
a curse upon that which they placed there until doomsday,
that the man would be guilty in sins,
confined in idol’s shrines, held fast in hell-bonds,
tormented in evil, whoever plundered that place;
not at all had he earlier perceived
the gold-giving lord’s favour.”
(Beowulf ll.3069-3075)

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Recordings

Old English:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}

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The Ward on the Hoard

One of the strongest arguments for this poem’s being written down for some sort of missionary purpose is its treatment of pagan seeming religions. We get the first taste of this all the way back at the poem’s opening, when the poet describes Hrothgar’s use of strange rituals to try to ward off Grendel. Here, as there, there’s a clear connection between idols and evil.

Though, interestingly, and especially given the poem’s symmetry, in this extract, the poet isn’t condemning the characters to evil and hellbonds, but rather is the poet reporting what the hoard’s original owner did to protect their wealth.

Rather than a mention of religion that condemns people, this is a mention of it that sees people condemning those who seek out worldly wealth, as represented by the impossibly valuble hoard. To do so, the one hurling the curse would need to be invoking an opposite power – or, perhaps that same hellish power that they condemn the hoard’s violator to.

This is where things get complicated in themselves, since the powers invoked could be either or, but also in the broader context of the poem.

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Wiglaf: Favoured and Condemned

It was noted two weeks ago that the poet states that only someone whom god judged worthy would be allowed into the hoard. Wiglaf seems to have passed, since he in fact delved into the hoard. But now, the poet tells us that the hoard’s establisher laid a curse on it that would condemn any looter to hell. Read as a whole, these two parts of the poem say that god wanted the Geats to be destroyed, essentially having set a kind of trap.

Perhaps Beowulf put in a word for Wiglaf, though, and his death has been staid until the last of the Geats has fallen. After all, Beowulf’s soul did go to where the righteous are judged (l.2820).

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Closing

Leave your thoughts in the comments. And check back here next week for the first part of Wiglaf’s words about Beowulf and his mad sally against the dragon.

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