Wiglaf Guides Geats to Gold (ll.3101-3109) [Old English]

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Venturing into the Gold Vault
The Geats Choose Glory over Gold?
Closing

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Abstract

Wiglaf invites the Geats to step into the hoard before they prepare for Beowulf’s funeral.

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Translation

“‘Let us now hasten to another time,
to see and seek out the pile of finely worked jewels,
the wonder under the wall. I shall guide you,
that you shall look upon abundant
rings and broad gold near at hand. Then ready the bier,
swiftly prepare it where we come out,
and then ferry our lord,
beloved of men, to where he shall long
in the Ruler’s protection remain.'”
(Beowulf ll.3101-3109)

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Recordings

Old English:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}

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Venturing into the Gold Vault

At the center of this passage, Wiglaf invites the gathered Geats to take a look at the treasure. His is a simple gesture, and perhaps what is to be done in the circumstances. But, why does he do it?

As Geats, the gold must be a strange thing. On the one hand the hoard is a vast treasure store full of ancient and shiny things – so it’s any of their dreams come true. On the other, it has the potential to be one of the largest draws for the other nations that are likely to wipe them out.

Their currently being kingless is almost just the second largest draw in comparison, actually. The Geats are currently like a headless dragon, and the Swedes and the Franks and no doubt others are likely to be all too keen to take advantage of their vulnerability.

Which leads to either a flaw in the plan to bury the gold with Beowulf, or the final great (unintended) act of the fallen king.

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The Geats Choose Glory over Gold?

The death of Beowulf isn’t just a great blow to the Geats from a martial perspective, it’s also left them crippled diplomatically. Without a king, there’s no single representative for the people. Thus, without Beowulf, the Geats cannot be dealt with in an easy manner.

Yet, aside from honouring Beowulf by leaving the gold with him in his barrow, it seems that Wiglaf may have another reason for doing so. Or, at the least, another reason can be read out of the poet’s doing so for the sake of a poetically parallel ending.

It’s clear that Beowulf is greatly respected. It’s likely even that, though they bear grudges against him, even the Geats’ foreign enemies respect Beowulf to some degree. So, perhaps Wiglaf planned to bury Beowulf with the hoard with Beowulf as a kind of seal upon it. That is, in connecting the gold to the barrow of a respected warrior, it would become inviolate in the eyes of the honourable.

The question that comes up next, though, is why Wiglaf would want to preserve the hoard.

The Geats go in to take a look at it in this passage- who’s to stop any of them from taking a coin, a sword – a cup? Perhaps the thief who did so and woke the dragon doing so is enough of a warning to them.

Perhaps, more importantly, Wiglaf knows the danger of greed (maybe he’d heard of Heremod?) and is well aware that the hoard could inspire such an end to the Geats? If so, maybe Wiglaf (and the Geats in general?) prefer to go out on a high note, lost to history because of the loss of a great leader.

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Closing

Next week, Wiglaf apparently leaves the Geats to their own devices in the hoard, as he gives orders for the construction of Beowulf’s funeral pyre.

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