A great Danish warrior? And compact reward words (ll.1292-1301)

How Great is this “Famed Fighter”?
Treasure for Glory

Grendel's mother menaces a pinned Beowulf with a knife.

By J. R. Skelton – Marshall, Henrietta Elizabeth (1908) Stories of Beowulf, T.C. & E.C. Jack, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11001837

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Grendel’s mother grabs a Dane for the road.

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“She was in haste, she wished to be away from there,
to save her life, since she had been discovered.
Quickly, before she went, she seized one
man fast, as she fled to the fens.
That man was Hrothgar’s dearest warrior,
his closest companion of all people living between the seas,
a powerful shield-warrior, that was the man she killed while at rest,
that famed fighter. Beowulf was not there,
he had been assigned a different resting place earlier,
during the gift giving for that renowned Geat.”
(Beowulf ll.1292-1301)

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Old English:


Modern English:


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How Great is this “Famed Fighter”?

Grendel’s mother flees now, but takes one with her. Why, exactly she grabbed anyone isn’t entirely clear. I mean, I guess she came for revenge, was frightened by all the clamour and such that met her and then just grabbed someone in lieu of killing several. I guess it’s just her luck that she grabbed one so dear to Hrothgar. First her son’s killed, now she’s unwittingly called down the wrath of the Danish fighting force (and Beowulf, too, since he’s still around somewhere).

If he was such a renowned warrior, though, then why was this Dane so easily carried off?

Perhaps, like Hrothgar, this warrior was past his prime but was quite a fighter in his day? That seems most likely, though if that was the case, I just don’t understand the blocking of the scene.

I mean. at this point in Grendel’s mother’s attack, everyone in the hall has grabbed their swords and shields. They’ve left behind their helmets and mail shirts, so that’s how you know that they’re in haste. In a sense, they’ve forgone the proper defensive measures (putting on armour) in favour of just getting right to their offense. Like someone who slinks down to the kitchen and grabs their biggest knife when they hear someone breaking in, the Danes here aren’t thinking of their own personal safety but are more interested in getting the intruder out.

I can understand that.

But why, then, is this one guy taken away?

Reading the passage again, it sounds like the Dane Grendel’s mother grabbed was probably out front, being such a renowned fighter and all of that. Which does make sense, though it also shows just how hasty everyone was in the face of this new terror. Unless the one that Grendel’s mother carried off was well in front of everyone else, I don’t see why those around him didn’t struggle against her or somehow try to wrench him from her grasp.

Though if any of the Danes had the wits about them to do that, I suppose that they wouldn’t have had much need for Beowulf in the first place.

Do you think Grendel’s mother plucked the Dane she took from a crowd, or just from the front of the Danes’ group?

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Treasure for Glory

This week’s passage doesn’t have many compound words, but here’s a short sort of sentence all the same.

A truly worthy “rand-wiga” would enjoy great “blaed-faestne” on the battlefield. And rightfully so, since fighting well with a spear or sword and shield, as a “rand-wiga,” (combining “rand” (“border,” “edge,” “boss of a shield,” “rim of a shield,” “shield,” or “buckler”) and “wiga” (“fighter,” or “man”)) or “shield-warrior” (or “man at arms,” more generally), would require a lot of skill.

Though that skill would help such a “rand-wiga” to be “blaed-fastne,” (“blaed” (“blowing,” “blast,” “inspiration,” “breath,” “spirit,” “life,” “mind,” “glory,” “dignity,” “splendour,” “prosperity,” “riches,” or “success”) and “faeste” (“fast,” “firmly,” “securely,” “straitly,” “strictly,” “heavily,” or “speedily”)). And being “blaed-faestne” is a great thing, since the word means “glorious,” “prosperous,” or “[a] success.”

Plus, based on the meanings of “blaed,” it sounds like just about anyone could be “blaed-faestne” if they were well practiced enough. You’d just need to hold securely enough your spirit, or inspiration.

And, in the world of Beowulf, if you were “blaed-faestne” with anything that was relevant to someone with wealth, you’d no doubt be given a “maþðum-gife,” or “gift of treasure.” Perhaps because it was such a common practice to reward good work with treasure, this word combines “maþðum” (“treasure,” “object of value,” “jewel,” or “ornament”) and “giefu” (“giving,” or “gift”) to mean just what those words together suggest: a gift of treasure, whether that treasure is just something valuable or something shiny.

One other thing to note about the compounds in this week’s passage is that they’re all concentrated around the Dane that Grendel’s mother seized and Beowulf. Given how the poet tends to use more compounds in war scenes, I’d have thought they’d be more spread out in this passage, but I guess he’d used enough to talk about Grendel’s mother and wanted to put the spotlight back on male glory.

Maybe all that time on monstrous femininity was a bit too much for the poem’s early audiences.

What do you think about the distribution of compound words in this week’s passage?

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Next week, more on what Grendel’s mother stole from Heorot.

You can find the next part of Beowulf here.

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1 thought on “A great Danish warrior? And compact reward words (ll.1292-1301)

  1. Pingback: The threat Grendel’s mother poses, more war words (ll.1279-1291) | A Blogger's Beowulf

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