Wiglaf Organizes and Eulogizes (ll.3110-3119) [Old English]

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Picking through a Jumble
Wiglaf’s Word(s)
Closing

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Abstract

Wiglaf commands the wood for Beowulf’s pyre to be gathered, giving a curious measuring of his strength.

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Translation

“Commanded then the son of Weohstan, gave
the fighters orders, bold in battle, warrior among many,
the one who owns a hall, that they might
bring wood for the pyre from afar, for the good man
the leader of a people: ‘Now shall fire consume
– he shall grow dark by the flames – the ruler of warriors,
he who often endured the shower of iron
when the arrow storm was from the bow impelled,
over the shield wall, the shafts their duty fulfilled,
arrowheads aided by hasting feather fletching.'”
(Beowulf ll.3110-3119)

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Recordings

Old English:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}

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Picking through a Jumble

The descriptive lines of this week’s extract sound jumbled. This is not just a result of translation, but a reflection of the original Old English text. For this extract stands out in these last few hundred lines as one of the most eccentric.

From clause to clause, it seems as if the speaker is alternating between Beowulf and Wiglaf, but not settling on either. Or, it appears that the speaker is trying to address Wiglaf with the same sort of accolades normally reserved for Beowulf (“bold in battle,” (“hæle hildedior” (l.3111)), “the one who owns a hall” (“boldagendra” (l.3112))).

In either case, there is a great deal of frantic uncertainty in the speaker’s voice at this point, directly after Wiglaf has taken the Geats through the hoard. A sound theory is that the poet composed this section to reflect the Geats’ disorientation after having seen such a sight. They could very easily have vaguely forgotten that Beowulf was dead and mistaken Wiglaf for him, or temporarily felt the wild need to afford Wiglaf the same praise as their king of fifty years deserved.

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Wiglaf’s Word(s)

More often than not in Beowulf whole adjectival clauses are bandied about where simple adjectives might do in modern usage. Wiglaf’s words to the Geats are an incredible example of such elaborate speech at work.

Wiglaf’s describing Beowulf by his evasion of the arrow storm on the battlefield is unique at four lines long.

Taking a zoomed out look at this bit of information about the Geat reveals that Beowulf fought near the front, in the section of any army harried by the defending (possibly besieged) army’s ranged defenses. It also suggests that the Geats used such tactics in their fighting, since the arrows are hastened to their marks. Perhaps they go so quickly that they are unable to fly true and strike only the enemy? If such is the case, then perhaps this lengthy dwelling on archers and arrows is a reflection on the thinning ranks of Geats – there are simply fewer and fewer of them to absorb the missiles from their hurried archers.

Much more likely, given the constant note of fate and wyrd running through the poem, this lengthy description of Beowulf’s battle actions reflects on his luck. He was often the one at the fore of battle, where not only would there have been showers of arrows falling (shot, perhaps by both sides), but also a host of swords and spears probing the air, hungry for human life.

Yet, he “often” came out of such situations okay. Taking a closer look at Wiglaf’s speech, that one word becomes incredibly curious. Were there times when Beowulf was sorely wounded? When his plans did not go as smoothly as had been hoped? Or is this word just an example of Anglo-Saxon understatement, meant to mean that he always came back hale and hearty except for when he tangled with the dragon?

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Closing

Next week, Wiglaf chooses warriors to help him in the work of clearing the hoard and bringing Beowulf to Hronesness.

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