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

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
A word’s afterlife
Closing

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Abstract

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

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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)

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Recordings

Old English:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}

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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.

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Closing

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

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