Beowulf’s effectiveness questioned, words for advisers (ll.1321-1333a)

Beowulf a Half-Assing Hero?
Seeking Advice when faced with a Murderous Sprite

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,

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Hrothgar explains why Æschere was so dear, and faces the reality that now confronts his taken friend.

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“Hrothgar spoke, protector of the Scyldings:
‘Ask ye not about the night’s joy; sorrow is renewed
to the Danish people. Æschere is dead,
Yrmenlaf’s elder brother,
my counsellor and confidant, my adviser,
my shoulder companion, when we at battle
were both at the fore, when we clashed with foes,
when the boar figures were struck. So should a man be,
a warrior who has proven his worth, so Æschere was!
This deadly creature came wandering to Heorot
to kill him by hand; I know not to what secret place
that terrible one slunk to turn him to carrion,
to make of him a gladdening feast.'”
(Beowulf ll.1321-1333a)

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Old English:


Modern English:


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Beowulf a Half-Assing Hero?

Hrothgar is laying it all out there. The warrior that Grendel’s mother carried off wasn’t just some thane or some hall dweller, but his dearest companion and, from the sound of it, his trusted long-time adviser. Of course, all of this comes across in Hrothgar’s relating how he and the man fought side by side in the heat of battle, as well as the statement that he “had proven his worth” (“ærgod” (l.1329)). This line is a bit difficult to swallow for me, though.

It sounds like Hrothgar might be calling Beowulf out here, only lightly and through implication, but still. Yet, hasn’t Beowulf also proven himself as a warrior in defeating Grendel? It sounds like the difference is that the foes that Hrothgar and Æschere beat in their heyday didn’t retaliate after a sound thrashing. But, being monsters (and yet, very human since she is motivated by grief for family), Grendel’s mother does so. I definitely get a strong sense that along with Hrothgar’s woe in losing Æschere there’s a sense that Beowulf did not entirely complete the job.

Sure, the Geat killed Grendel, but he didn’t manage to rid Heorot of its monster problem. Though, of course Beowulf and everyone else had no idea that Grendel had a mother, or a family.

In fact, leading up to his appearance, Grendel is only ever referred to as the “kin of Cain.” We’re never really told anything else about his other relations. It’s almost as if Grendel wasn’t born through sex and conception, but instead sprang fully formed from Cain’s murdering Abel; as if he himself is a physical manifestation of a terrible sin. One that would have a lot of resonance with people like the Anglo-Saxons because of their familiarity with stories like Hod’s killing his brother Balder. Though that is a story of accidental fratricide.

What do you think? Is Hrothgar about to lay into Beowulf for not realizing that Grendel’s mother would come crashing in on Heorot’s new “peace”? Or was Grendel’s mother a surprise to everyone and Hrothgar is struggling through his grief and shock to try to say “Beowulf, do it again!”?

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Seeking Advice when faced with a Murderous Sprite

If you’re ever about to encounter a “wæl-gæst,” you’d likely want to get some advice. Why? Because running into a “murderous sprite” (from “wæl” (“slaughter,” or “carnage”) and “gæst” (“breath,” “soul,” “spirit,” “life,” “good or bad spirit,” “angel,” “demon,” “Holy Ghost,” “man,” or “human being”)) is no small thing.

You’d definitely want to go and seek a “run-wita.”

Such a person is someone who could be considered an adviser. After all, “wita” means “sage,” “philosopher,” “wise man,” “adviser,” “councillor,” “elder,” “senator,” “witness,” or “accomplice”); and run means “mystery,” “secrecy,” “secret,” “counsel,” “consultation,” “council,” “runic character,” “letter,” or “writing”. So such a person would be able to tell you much that is mysterious or secret.

Though your adviser should also be someone whom you could trust indefinitely because of the mysteriousness of your situation (how else can you be sure of their secretive information?).

So you’d want someone whom you could (or, hopefully already do) consider a person that you’ve been to shoulder to shoulder with before – whether it was in a tight shield wall formation on the battle field or it was waiting together in a packed line at some government office. The kind of person whom you could call an “eaxl-gestealla” with confidence, a person who indeed was a “shoulder-companion” (from the combination of “eaxl” (“shoulder”) and “steall” (“standing,” “place,” “position,” “state,” “stall (for cattle),” “stable,” or “fishing ground”)).

This sort of adviser would, in that way, be more than just someone giving you some pointers, they would be a veritable “ræd-bora.” That is, someone whom you consider a ruler (bora, or “ruler”) of wisdom (ræd (that is: “advice,” “counsel,” “resolution,” “deliberation,” “plan,” “way,” “design,” “council,” “conspiracy,” “decree,” “ordinance,” “wisdom,” “sense,” “reason,” “intelligence,” “gain,” “profit,” “benefit,” “good fortune,” “remedy,” “help,” “power,” or “might”)).

And, of course, given the fact that people might think you’re crazy if you come to them asking for help with a murderous sprite problem, your chosen adviser should be someone whom you knew was good at sharing tips from way back, or, as the Anglo-Saxons would say, was “ær-god.” This word comes from the combination of “ær” (“ere,” “before that,” “soon,” “formerly,” “beforehand,” “previously,” “already,” “lately,” or “’til”) and “god” (“good (of persons or things),” “virtuous,” “desirable,” “favourable,” “salutary,” “pleasant,” “valid,” “efficient,” “suitable,” “considerable,” “sufficiently great,” “good thing,” “advantage,” “benefit,” or “gift”) to mean “good from old times.”

With such an “ær-god” person on your team, you could definitely survive the quest to the murderous sprite and the “eft-sið,” or “journey back” (from “eft” (“again,’ “anew,” “a second time,” “then,” “thereupon,” “afterwards,” “hereafter,” “thereafter,” “back,” “likewise,” or “moreover”) combined with “sið” (“going,” “motion,” “journey,” “errand,” “departure,” “death,” “expedition,” “undertaking,” “enterprise,” “road,” “way,” “time,” “turn,” or “occasion”)).

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Next week Hrothgar talks Beowulf.

You can find the next part of Beowulf here.

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1 thought on “Beowulf’s effectiveness questioned, words for advisers (ll.1321-1333a)

  1. Pingback: Beowulf’s humour gets dry, and words on wishing for victory (ll.1310-1320) | A Blogger's Beowulf

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