Hrothgar decides to leave the lake, wondering about what’s beneath the bloody waters (ll.1591-1599)

Synopsis
Translation
Recordings
What the Danes Forgot About Beowulf
What Would the Water Say?
Closing

Beowulf and his band of Geats carrying Grendel's head.

J. R. Skelton – Marshall, Henrietta Elizabeth (1908) Stories of Beowulf, T.C. & E.C. Jack.


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Synopsis

Hrothgar and his counsellors confer and conclude that Beowulf is dead.


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Translation

“Soon those wise men saw,
those who were with Hrothgar watching the water,
that the surging waves were stirred up,
that the water was red with blood. The old ones,
the grey-haired, gathered to speak clearly together
of how that prince down in the deep would not return,
how he who went seeking to be victorious would not
come back to their glorious king; thus they decided
that the she-wolf of the lake had destroyed him.”
(Beowulf ll.1591-1599)


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Recordings

Old English:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}


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What the Danes Forgot About Beowulf

And so the Danes give up on Beowulf.

Since Hrothgar and his counsellors (surely “the old ones” (“gomele” l.1594)) have seen no sign of Beowulf and he’s been down there for quite a while, they conclude that he has died. And so they leave. Easy as that.

Of course, they don’t know that Beowulf is actually pretty busy beneath those bloodied waters. But, being the “ale flagon is half empty” kind of people that they are (12 years of being terrorized will do that to just about anyone), they guess that the blood is Beowulf’s.

And why not think that, right?

It would be pretty easy to just say to yourself: “this Geat was strong enough to beat Grendel, but the monster’s mother is too much for him.”

Which is a logical thing to conclude. Beowulf handily defeated Grendel, but the fight with the mother is quite different. It’s in her lair for starters, and it’s underwater, both of which are sure to be a disadvantage for any warrior.

Except that when Beowulf first met the Danes he boasted about defending himself and Breca from underwater beasts while they were swimming in the open ocean. So Beowulf’s no slouch when it comes to combat beneath the sea. But I guess the Danes are overcome with grief (or have sobered up and forgotten the tales that Beowulf told while the mead cups were being drained).

If you were in the place of the Danes and saw no sign that Beowulf was winning or won and had waited for a considerable amount of time, would you guess he was dead and leave too? Why or why not?



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What Would the Water Say?

Were the young warrior “sige-hreðig”1, beneath the water wave,
would the liquid home of the “brim-wylf”2
thrash its “yð-geblond”3 to spread her blood,
make a gift of it to every molecule?
Or would the waters be indifferent, merely lapping at the feet
of the “blanden-feax”4 ones gathered around to watch for signs?

1sige-hreðig: victorious, triumphant. sig (victory) + hreð (victory, glory)

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2brim-wylf: she-wolf of the sea or lake. brim (surf, flood, wave, sea, ocean, water, sea-edge, shore) + wylf (she-wolf)

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3yð-geblond: wave-mixture, surge. yð (wave, billow, flood, sea, liquid, water) + bland (blending, mixture, confusion) [A word that is exclusive to Beowulf.]

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4blanden-feax: grizzly-haired, grey-haired, old. bland (blending, mixture, confusion) + feax (hair, head of hair)

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Closing

Next week, not everyone leaves the lake, and Beowulf watches something strange.

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