A funeral ship and far foreign lands (ll.32-42) [Old English]

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
The matter of the treasure ship
Far away may as well be undiscovered
Closing

Back To Top
Abstract

Scyld’s funeral procession and the description of his final ship feature this week.

Back To Top
Translation

“There at the landing place stood a ring-prowed ship
icy and eager to start, ready for that nobleman’s passage;
the dear lords lead him to
the brightly ringed wealth ship,
treasure filled it to the mast; there was plentiful loot
from foreign lands, booty, loaded into it.
Never heard I of a more splendidly adorned ship
war-ready and armoured,
blade and byrnie; upon his lap was lain
a multifarious fortune, among which
he was to go to far foreign lands.”
(Beowulf ll.32-42)

Back To Top
Recordings

Old English:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}

Back To Top
The matter of the treasure ship

Scyld’s ship would make a cracking archaeological find. All of that treasure, some of which coming from foreign lands, would have so much to say about the range of the early medieval Danes (and maybe Anglo-Saxons?).

Outside of such a find, though, the big thing here is that the ship is characterized as “icy” (“isig” l.33).

What would the use of an icy ship be?

Would it more effectively cut through the water?

Or is it supposed to mean that it’s an old ship, one that’s been so covered with hoarfrost from travelling in the chill north that it’s become discoloured? Maybe barnacled?

The safest bet is that it’s an old ship. It’d be one thing to use a new one for a Viking burial, but it’d be something else entirely to use a new ship and to laden it with so much treasure.

Speaking of which, aside from the immense wealth on board, the time is taken to mention that the ship is “war-ready and armoured” (“hildewæpnum ond heaðowædum” l.39). Beliefs in some sort of struggle that one must go through to get to the afterlife are fairly common around this time, and they may have coupled with ideas traditionally ascribed to the Norse. Particularly, I refer to the Norse idea that only those who go to death armed will be able to join the ranks of Valhalla. Perhaps there’s also some of the Celtic belief that the afterlife is another life similar to the one in which readers of this entry find themselves.

Whatever the case, Scyld could very easily buy a king out of ransom, and fend off a horde of demons on his way to the “far foreign lands” (“æht feor” l.42).

Back To Top
Far away may as well be undiscovered

Is the “far foreign land” of line 42 a predecessor to Shakespeare’s “he undiscover’d country” (from 3.i.81)? Outside of going into a lengthy historical/literary analysis, let’s just look at the two lines within the context of internet writing.

One tips for writing for the internet found in many books/articles/heads of experts is to use Anglo-Saxon words, rather than Latinate or Greek-derived words. It’s supposed to be best to use words that have been in English since the days of the Beowulf bard(s). Keeping this in mind, and remembering that the key here is simplicity maintaining itself throughout history, “the foreign country” as a euphemism for death should have some staying power.

After all, in the days when travel between points was difficult and most people stayed where they were born, anything outside of the village and its surroundings would seem distant and hard to reach. This difficulty of travelling abroad persisted from the time of Beowulf‘s composition (whether you peg it in the 7th or 11th century), to the time of Shakespeare (despite theories about his own wide travelling). With travel abroad being so difficult, round trips were even more so, and thus travelling to a “far foreign” land would mean a person may as well be dead – or vice versa.

Thus, though Shakespeare probably never read Beowulf, the sentiment of his “undiscover’d country,” and of Beowulf’s “far foreign land” is undoubtedly the same.

Back To Top
Closing

That’s it for this week. Recordings continue to be delayed, in fact, at this point the “Recording” section of each entry will continue to be included, but they will be filled only when I can find the time.

Next week, we get into part two of Scyld’s funeral, in which his body and its adornments are described.

Back To Top

Advertisements

The power of spoken word (ll.20-31) [Old English]

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
A word’s afterlife
Closing

Back To Top
Abstract

Beowulf’s reputation is summed up as enough to draw reliable companions for battle, and Scyld dies.

Back To Top
Translation

“Thus the young man shall bring about good,
from the largesse of his father’s stores,
so that he among men thereafter retains
willing companions when battle comes,
the nation would endure; praiseful deeds shall
always increase for the family of such a man.
Scyld left off amidst his work,
full busy when he went to the Lord.
They brought him to the seashore,
those dear companions, as he had bidden them.
That man’s words ruled his companions,
those of the earthly prince long in languishing.”
(Beowulf ll.20-31)

Back To Top
Recordings

Old English:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}

Back To Top
A word’s afterlife

The companionship sung about in this section of the poem sounds dear. Yet it’s phrased in a way that also makes it sound slightly tyrannical. It becomes quite a bit less so if you look at the text as something that’s supposed to be larger than life, and that’s supposed to magnify its characters.

Particularly powerful, though, is Scyld’s word. Lines 30-31 are not to be taken lightly. For these lines sum up what it means to be a truly great hero to Anglo-Saxons (as far as I can figure): commanding enough respect to have your words retain their effect, even after you’ve died. It’s a reflection of Scyld’s strength and, more than likely, his diplomatic skills that his word is so followed.

This same respect is paid to Beowulf, whose dying wish for a specific funeral is also followed. Thus, from the beginning, this poem is about exemplary figures who command the pseudo-mythical power of not only having their words be fulfilled after they’ve died, but also having these events reported.

Such fame might not put them in the same group as dog-headed men and a very large saint, but it definitely makes them remarkable for their time.

Back To Top
Closing

Next week, we come to the description of Scyld’s funeral. Watch for it on Thursday 27 June!

Back To Top

Spectacular speculation (ll.12-19) [Old English]

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
All about “aldorlease”
Browsing Beowulf possibilities
Closing

Back To Top
Abstract

Scyld Scefing’s son is born, and recognized as a suitable successor.

Back To Top
Translation

“His son was afterward born,
young in years, then did god send
consolation to the people; well did god know their distress,
What they had endured under the lord of old
for a long while; he the life-lord,
glory-lord, granted worldly-worth;
Beowulf was famous – glory widely sprang –
as Scylde’s successor, in all Scandinavian lands.”
(Beowulf ll.12-19)

Back To Top
Recordings

Old English:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}

Back To Top
All about “aldorlease”

Here is a grand example of the importance of family connections and succession for Anglo-Saxon society. However, rather than being a purely happy situation, there’s a note of hope invested in Scyld’s successor.

After all, it’s unclear who the “lord of old” (“aldorlease” (l.15)) is.

Since we’ve only been hearing of Scyld up to this point, the obvious answer is that it is Scyld himself. He was a good king because he commanded so much tribute, but it’s possible that people grew tired of him because of his concentrated wealth.

The lord of old could also be some old god, and maybe, getting into the Christian influences in the poem early, the reference alludes to Scyld’s own belief. Quite possibly he was an early convert, and used the birth of his son as a sign of this new god’s favour.

Or – Scyld’s rule was a little bit on the harsh side, and the scribe responsible for writing out Beowulf inserted this reference to allude to god’s showing favour to an oppressed people by giving this lord a successor who could be as fierce but more even handed.

Whoever the “lord of old” is, the entity referred to in lines 16-17, is definitely benevolent. Whether that’s a set of references to Scyld or to the Christian god.

Back To Top
Browsing Beowulf possibilities

Yes, Scyld’s successor was named Beowulf. And ultimately, then, Hrothgar has an ancestor who shares his name with the hero who saves him.

Maybe breaking out the titular name so early is a kind of feint, something to bring people in until the great hall of Heorot is built and the story’s strife becomes clear.

Though using “Beowulf” as a preview of the hero of the poem, could also be the case here. If this is the case, then the Beowulf of the poem proper could be considered a sort of second coming.

Or, along similar lines, maybe “Beowulf” is the name of a hero older than the events of the poem, here preserved as a fantastical figure. That would definitely explain why the mysterious Beowulf appears amidst historical figures like Hrothgar.

Back To Top
Closing

Editing the recordings is going much more slowly than anticipated. Getting a novel ready for publication, and getting freelance projects together have filled my days. But, my plan is to edit one track a day, get them on YouTube at the end of each week, and then embed those videos here.

As per next week’s text, Beowulf’s successor-ship is cemented, and Scyld’s funeral begins.

Back To Top

Back to the Beginning of the Woven Ring (ll.1-11) [Old English]

Featured

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
A Turn of Fate
Setting a Tight Sequential Tone
Closing

Back To Top
Abstract

The poem begins on a rollicking note, as the poet recalls the glory of Scyld Scefing.

Back To Top
Translation

“What! We Spear-Danes had heard in days of yore
of the power of the king of a people,
how heroes accomplished valorous deeds.
Often did Scyld Scefing take away
the mead benches from troops of enemies,
terrified the Erola, afterwards that first was found
to become destitute; for that he experienced solace
grew up under a cloud, his honour prospered,
until each surrounding people from over
the whale road paid obeisance,
gave tribute: that was a good king!”
(Beowulf ll.1-11)

Back To Top
Recordings

Old English:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}

Back To Top
A Turn of Fate

Right in the middle of this excerpt, there’s a marked turn.

The poet notes that “the first was found/to become destitute” (“Syððan ærest wearð/feasceaft funden” (ll.6-7)). Rather than just saying that Scyld Scefing became prosperous, the time is taken to note that the powerful that he tore down were torn down before his rise is solidly mentioned in line 7.

This sequencing of events underlines, very early on, the importance of sequence in the Anglo-Saxon world. It also gives some insight into kingship and the belief in something like fortune’s wheel. Only one person can be a powerful king at any given time, and only on can be on the top of the wheel in any given arena at one time. It just so happened that Scyld was at the top of both at the same time.

Back To Top
Setting a Tight Sequential Tone

That the poet makes a note of this power shift also sets the tone of the poem. It will be a story of changing fortunes, but it will be one in which there is no vacuum left for things to be pulled into. There will always be some definite succession of events, something will always happen at the end of something else.

Already, we’ve seen this in the death of Beowulf. The Geats lost a leader, and they will definitely be wiped out since they have none to replace Beowulf. Meanwhile the surrounding tribes will shortly be upon them.

In a sense, the open-endedness that we are left with at the end of the poem promises something that may have been considered a fate worse than death: exile. Scyld might have stolen mead benches, what people would recline on while enjoying themselves and socializing, but exile means that a person would have no mead bench at all – none to even win back.

Back To Top
Closing

Next week, a batch of recordings will have been uploaded to this blog, and we’ll move onto Scefing’s further deeds.

Back To Top