Beowulf’s mental power and the warrior’s way to riches (ll.1632-1643)

Synopsis
Translation
Recordings
Beowulf Purges his Inner Demons, but isn’t Indestructible
The Warrior’s Path to Riches
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.
Image found at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stories_of_beowulf_head_of_grendel.jpg#/media/File:Stories_of_beowulf_head_of_grendel.jpg


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Synopsis

Beowulf and the Geats lug Grendel’s head back to Heorot.


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Translation

“They then went forth on the footpath,
rejoicing in the wooded countryside, passing along the trail,
down familiar ways; those royally brave men
carried the head from the cliffs around the lake,
struggling with it all together,
the very bold. Four of them
balanced the beast’s head on their spearpoints
as they carried Grendel’s remains to the gold-hall.
Finally they could see the hall from the hill’s cusp,
the war-like fourteen turned from the road
and the Geats passed into the valley. The lord of battle
was at their heart as they strode through the meadhall’s yard.”
(Beowulf ll.1632-1643)


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Recordings

Old English:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}


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Beowulf Purges his Inner Demons, but isn’t Indestructible

As someone reading this poem centuries after it was first performed and then later written out I can’t say for sure, but I think that the monks who were familiar with the story and wrote it out probably had Christ’s harrowing of hell and resurrection in mind when they penned Beowulf’s return. Hell has indeed been harrowed and the prize — in this case, and in the Biblical case, really — is a symbol of everlasting peace. Or, at least, peace from external forces. For there will always be things outside of our control that come in and stir things up.

Looked at in the context of the poem, though, I think that there’s a case to be made that Beowulf’s experience in the Grendels’ hall isn’t about Heorot at all. Instead it’s more about Beowulf himself.

In the comments on this entry, fellow writer about ancient things, Megas Begadonos mentions that the feminine has long been associated with the realm of the subconscious. Thus, Beowulf’s fighting and overcoming Grendel’s mother symbolizes his gaining control over his subconscious mind. Such a feat is indeed the mark of strength.

Of course, when he defeated Grendel, there’s no question that Beowulf showed an incredible strength. But when he defeats Grendel’s mother, I don’t think it’s just a matter of strength, or even of God or fate’s favour. I think the victory over Grendel’s mother is due to Beowulf’s adaptability and his mental resilience. Both qualities that could be useful in ferreting out subconscious impulses that might derail a warrior on the way to kingship.

After all, when Hrunting fails him, he’s quick enough to find another weapon to use against this foe who, in a straight grappling match seems to be his equal if not his superior. And since the sword that he grabs is an ancient weapon made by giants, it could be interpreted as wisdom or ancient knowledge, the kinds of things that could help someone in their struggles to not just subdue the demons that torment them and those around them, as Grendel did, but to take off their heads and rob them of all power.

Thus, unlike the Beowulf in Robert Zemeckis’ 2007 animated feature, in the poem Beowulf does not give in to the wiles of Grendel’s mother. Instead he is able to overcome a desire for the power that he could easily seize (a theme that also comes up in Beowulf: A Musical Epic, though not from Beowulf’s interaction with Grendel’s mother, but rather from Wealhtheow’s lusting for him).

Because of all of this symbolic growth, Beowulf eventually goes on to be a judicious king, only to lose his power and his life when a stranger rouses not just a humanoid monster but a flying, fire-breathing dragon. A beast all together alien from him and his experience, suggesting that as powerful as a person can become physically, mentally, or spiritually, there are still variables they can’t control for and obstacles they can’t top.

What do you think the symbolic significance is of the fight with Grendel’s mother? Is it any different from the significance of Beowulf’s fight with Grendel?


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The Warrior’s Path to Riches

As long as it was followed for the right reasons (according to the ring giver, of course), the “fold-weg”1 of the “fyrd-hwate”2 could be quite rewarding. Indeed, if you shook your “wæl-steng”3 in battlefields from the plains to the forests to the “holm-clif”4 you’d be on “feþe-last”5 to receive quite a reward. In fact, if you were “fela-modig”6 or even “cyne-beald”7 you could go to the “medu-wong”8 in triumph. For you’d know full well that you’d have a fantastic place in the “gold-sele”9 waiting for you.

1fold-weg: way, path, road, earth. fold (earth, ground, soil, terra firma; land, country, region; world) + weg (way, direction, path, road, highway,; journey, course of action)

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2fyrd-hwate: warlike, brave. fyrd (national levy or army, military expedition, campagin, camp) + hwæt ((as adjective) sharp, brisk, quick, active, bold, brave)

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3wæl-steng: spearshaft. wæl (slaughter, carnage) + steng (stake, pole, bar, rod, staff, cudgel) [A word that is exclusive to Beowulf.]

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4holm-clif: sea-cliff, rocky shore. holm (wave, sea, ocean, water) + clif (cliff, rock, promontory, steep slope) [A word that is exclusive to Beowulf.]

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5feþe-last: step, track, course. feðe (power of locomotion, walking, gait, pace) + last (sole of foot, spoor, footprint, track, trace)

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6fela-modig: very bold. fela (many, much, very much) + modig (spirited, daring, bold, brave, high-souled, magnanimous, impetuous, headstrong, arrogant, proud) [A word that is exclusive to Beowulf.]

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7cyne-beald: royally bold, very brave. cyning (king, ruler, god, Christ, Satan) + beald (bold, brave, confident, strong, presumptious, impudent) [A word that is exclusive to Beowulf.]

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8medu-wong: field (where the meadhall stood). medu (mead) + wang (plain, meadow, field, place, world) [A word that is exclusive to Beowulf.]

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9gold-sele: hall in which gold is distributed. gold (gold) + sele (hall, house, dwelling, prison)

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Closing

Next week, Grendel’s head enters Heorot.

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When Beowulf was confirmed to be an “English” story

In an effort to look at something other than an adaptation of Beowulf, this week, I’m looking back through time. Just a mere 23 years, though, peering back at 1993. Why? Because this was the year when Beowulf‘s English-ness was confirmed.

David Keys tells the story in this article.

Here’s the summary: From the mid 1970s onwards, the accepted academic opinion was that Beowulf, with all of its ship burials and stories of heroics in Daneland and Geatland, was a story from the viking Danes. In other words, Beowulf was not an English story.

But, thanks to the seven years work of Dr Sam Newton, the Anglo-Saxon literature specialist, it was confirmed that Beowulf is indeed an English story about the English. Newton’s reasoning for this claim was based on his findings that there are no Scandinavian loanwords in Beowulf, that the names of the characters come from Old English templates, and that the major characters in Beowulf are revered by the early English, not the 10th century Vikings.

Newton even went so far as to say that the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings came from the same geographic area, save that the Anglo-Saxons came over to Britain about 500 years earlier, making this poem about the very early English. And so the oldest poetry from old English was confirmed to be English.

But so what?

Well, I think that this story was newsworthy at the time (and would be today as well) because national stories are important. And that’s not something that the Americas grew out of after they were colonized within the last five centuries.

The American stories of nationhood are inescapable the world over — ideas of manifest destiny and their country being the swinging bachelor pad of democracy where anyone can be anything if they only work at it. As a Canadian, although it often seems like we’re just America’s hat up here, I know that even we have a story, albeit one that’s much more quietly told.

The Canadian story is one of resilience in nature, of diversity and acceptance in society, and of striving to be globally minded in thought.

Whenever a group of people gets together anywhere in the world they’ll eventually tell the story of how or why they got there (even when there are already people where they got to who have their own story). Why? Because stories have a great deal of power to define and celebrate in-groups. Though that’s not to say that outsiders can find a place in an already established national story.

Along with the importance of confirming that it was their own original story, Dr Newton’s work ensured that the UK had Beowulf as the basis for its story. But I think that there’s another element to the importance of claiming Beowulf as an English story. Particularly if it’s a story of the early peoples who would eventually come to Britain and form the basis of the English.

And this is it: The Anglo-Saxons, who, after centuries of mingling with other cultures and peoples, became the modern English, are not native to Britain.

Though, after centuries of living somewhere it’s all too easy to get comfortable and forget that you haven’t always been there.

What do you think the purpose of a national story or epic is?

Beowulf breaks the surface, bringing in a brave and bloodless haul (ll.1623-1631)


Synopsis
Translation
Recordings
A Quieter Ending Grants Greater Closure?
Crab Fishers as Brave Bearers of Sea-Gifts
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.
Image found at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stories_of_beowulf_head_of_grendel.jpg#/media/File:Stories_of_beowulf_head_of_grendel.jpg


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Synopsis

Beowulf emerges from the Grendels’ lake and is gratefully met by his fellow Geats.


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Translation

“Then came the seafarer to the safety of land,
swimming stout-heartedly, joyous with his sea-spoils,
the amazing burden that he had with him then.
They all flocked to him, thanked god,
that mighty heap of thanes, took delight in their chief,
that they were able to see him safe again.
Then they were busied with the swift unbinding
of helm and byrnie. The lake’s surface stilled,
the sky was again visible within, though dappled in blood.”
(Beowulf ll.1623-1631)


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Recordings

Old English:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}


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A Quieter Ending Grants Greater Closure?

As Beowulf resurfaces we see his thanes crowd around him, giving their thanks and feeling overjoyed for his safe return. Then they take his armour off as the poet reflects on how the lake is stilled. Though there is still some blood at the surface.

This little section of the poem does a lot to signal that the battle is over, and in a much more meaningful way than the parts of the poem that followed the fight with Grendel.

After that fight we saw Beowulf being loudly celebrated by the Danes and heard the story of Sigemund and the the dragon. There was feasting and festivities almost immediately after the victory.

But, here, by the side of the Grendels’ lake, we just get a man’s loyal retainers thanking god for his safe return and removing from him the garb of battle. The exuberant celebration around the defeat of Grendel is very satisfying, but the quiet reception Beowulf gets after leaving the lake is much more conclusive.

Not unlike what comes after the climax in the classical arc of a story.

As Aristotle put down in his Poetics, after the climax of a story there’s the denouement.

The denouement is the part of the tale where the hero settles down and the new normal (whatever that may be) sets in. It’s the part of a story where the audience can settle back into their seat after spending the previous part of it on its edge and reflect on what just happened. It’s the critical down time where you can bask in the glow of the story that’s just been told while still being in it.

Actually, most superhero movies spring to mind when I think about the ending to this adventure of Beowulf’s compared to the end of the adventure with Grendel.

By the end of the first movie in a planned trinity there’s a loose thread or two that aren’t tied up by the time the credits roll. And, now, more and more, there are even more loose ends presented after the credits. A more conclusive ending doesn’t come until the third movie.

As such, that first movie is just like the fight with Grendel, there’s much fanfare for the victory, but the savvy reader can see the signs that there’s more to come. In a way, Beowulf’s victory over Grendel was “too easy”.

After finishing the fight with Grendel’s mother, however (and taking Grendel’s head), there is no fanfare. No stories are raucously told. No gifts of gold or horses are promised and presented. Instead, Beowulf’s armour is undone not by his hand, but by those of his men.

I can’t say for sure, but to me this gesture betokens a great deal of closure. The actor, Beowulf, isn’t just taking off his costume to prepare for the next scene. His captive audience, his fellow Geats, are removing that costume, as if to say, “we, the audience, acknowledge that the story’s over, you’re free to go.”

Which denouement do you find more rewarding: that of the fight with Grendel, or of the fight with Grendel’s mother? Why?


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Crab Fishers as Brave Bearers of Sea-Gifts

As shows like Deadliest Catch illustrate, any “lid-mann”1 who goes out after crab is indeed “swið-mod”2. But you’d have to be to haul in such a “sæ-lac”3 as those crab, that “mægen-byrþen”4 taken in by net. And all without the “wæl-dreore”5 being spilled between crab and “lid-mann,” though the sea and the elements are much fiercer fighters.

1lid-mann: seafarer, sailor, pirate. lid (ship, vessel) + mann (person, man, mankind, brave man, hero, vassal, servant, name of the rune for ‘m’)

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2swið-mod: stout-hearted, brave, insolent, arrogant. swið (strong, mighty, powerful, active, severe, violent) + mod (heart, mind, spirit, mood, temper, courage, arrogance, pride, power, violence)

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3sæ-lac: sea-gift, sea-spoil. (sheet of water, sea, lake, pool) + lac (play, sport, strife, battle, sacrifice, offering, gift, present, booty, message) [A word that is exclusive to Beowulf.]

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4mægen-byrþen: huge burden. mægen (bodily strength, might, main, force, power, vigour, valour, virtue, efficacy, efficiency, good deed, picked men of a nation, host, troop, army, miracle) + byrðen (burden, load, weight, charge, duty) [A word that is exclusive to Beowulf.]

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5wæl-dreore: blood of battle, battle gore. wæl (slaughter, carnage) + dreore (blood)

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Closing

Next week, Beowulf and the Geats head back to Heorot.

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Beowulf told with puppets gets me thinking about performance

Thanks to a Google alert I have set up for “Beowulf poem” (leaving off “poem” would net me nothing but updates about a company with the same name), I came across a puppet version of Beowulf that’s currently in the works.

As you can read here, this version of the poem has been in the works for more than a year.

The Hawk Rock Theatre of Putnam County, NY is putting the show on, and judging from the pictures of the puppets and the props, it looks like everything in the show has been carefully crafted. In fact, even the script was adapted with care. Apparently local English scholar Kate Mackie did the adaptation. And it sounds like they couldn’t have had a better writer on the project, since Mackie first read Beowulf in Old English when she was 19. I don’t even think I knew what Old English was when I was 19 (aside from the common idea that what Shakespeare wrote is “ye Olde Englishe”).

In past entries I’ve noted that all of the adaptations of Beowulf that I’ve found out about stand as proof that this 1000+ year old poem still resonates with people. I think that performances of it are still happening really speaks to this. Especially when those performances do incredibly well, such as Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage.

But, as is the case with that musical take on the poem and this puppet performance, their reach is, sadly, severely limited.

Brewster, the town whose HamletHub news page reported on the upcoming puppet performance is a village in New York.

Nonetheless, these very local performances just remind me that even though people can and will record whatever their phones can hold only to later upload them somewhere online, being present for a live performance still matters. Performance can still be intimate and immediate.

It’s kind of strange, but thinking about Beowulf and this puppet show adaptation makes it seem to me that as access to content increases, there’s a lot more power and importance put back into smaller venues.

It’s been a while since I’ve been out to a concert, but I can’t help but think that going to a larger venue only to watch the show through a monitor that’s closer to you than the stage is kind of ridiculous. Sure, the sound is still crisp and energized and live, but the visuals are just an image on a screen. I think it’s much better if you can see the person you’ve come to see, and (glaring stage lights aside) they can see you.

Of course, packed stadiums can bring an artist way more income than a packed small town theatre. But there’s something lost when artistic energy is dispersed so far and wide through a monstrous crowd. Although truly gifted performers can still make everyone who’s come out for them feel like they were singled out. It’s an incredible property of going to see a live show, feeling as though, big venue or small, you’re a member of something bigger than you, of an entity called an audience that the performer can electrify with just a few notes.

And, though, I won’t be catching Hawk Rock Theatre’s Beowulf performance (unless it finds its way to Youtube after the fact), after more than a year of preparations, I’m sure it’ll be a show brimming with artistic energy and presence.

If you’re going to be in the Brewster/Southeast area of New York state between November 4 and November 6, you should definitely go and see how this take on Beowulf plays out.

When it comes to performances which do you prefer: A live show or something recorded? Why?

Beowulf leaves the underwater haul, and a summary of his time in the Grendels’ hall (ll.1612-1622)

Synopsis
Translation
Recordings
Take only What’s Needed, Leave only Slaughter?
A Treasure Never Lost
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.
Image found at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stories_of_beowulf_head_of_grendel.jpg#/media/File:Stories_of_beowulf_head_of_grendel.jpg


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Synopsis

Beowulf grabs a couple of things and then leaves the Grendels’ hall.


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Translation

“Nothing more did he take from that place, the lord of Weder-Geats,
any valuable things, though he there many did see,
except for the head and the hilt both,
the shining treasure; the blade before it melted
was a fire-hardened damescened edge, but its blood was too hot,
that alien spirit’s poison, the one which died there.
Soon he was safe and swimming, he who in earlier strife
had called down defeat in his wrath, he climbed through the waters;
the churning waters had been purified,
likewise was the land thereabouts, when that alien spirit
left off her life days and lost her loaned life.”
(Beowulf ll.1612-1622)


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Recordings

Old English:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}


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Take only What’s Needed, Leave only Slaughter?

Beowulf must want to travel light. Otherwise, I can’t see why he doesn’t take more from the strange hall of the Grendels. Practically speaking, anyway.

Poetically, there’s a parallel here between the dragon and the thief who steals the cup. There’s even a parallel between Beowulf’s taking little and Wiglaf taking only a single item from the dragon’s hoard after it’s defeated. But after having seen the armoury of the Grendels’ I still don’t quite see why Beowulf doesn’t go back and grab a complete sword. I guess he’s already carrying Hrunting though, since he owes Unferth that sword.

Stepping back, Beowulf’s choice to not raid the Grendels’ armoury like someone who’s just teamed up with a bunch of other players and headed to a dungeon in World of Warcraft makes a little more sense when you think about the figurative weight of what he took.

Grendel’s head is the symbol of the end of the Grendels’ reign of terror. There is a very old belief that to cut the head off of an enemy ensures the loss of their power. Aside from physiology, the idea that the head is the central part of something lives on in things like the word “capital” (from the Latin “caput”, or “head”). After all, a capital is where a country’s government is based, and therefore one of the most symbolically significant places in any sort of major conflict.

The sword hilt that Beowulf doesn’t just pitch into the water but takes with him also has its significance.

As we’ll learn later, there’s a story engraved on the hilt. And though Beowulf comes from a vibrant oral tradition, I’m sure that the notion of writing was held in very high esteem. I’m not sure what kind of script would be on the hilt, but the importance that’s ascribed to this hilt with its engraved story of the great flood really plays into the idea that a written story gained even more reverence than a remembered one.

Actually, maybe this little trinket suggests (at least in part) why Beowulf was eventually written down. It was simply well regarded enough to justify all of the effort that went into writing something down before the age of widely available pulp-based paper and ballpoint pens.

Would you have just taken what Beowulf took, or would you have tried to take all the treasure out of the Grendels’ hall as the spoils of victory?


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A Treasure Never Lost

It sounds like something out of a video game, but Beowulf did it first. He went down to a hall of monsters, where he fought an “ellor-gast”1 or two. And during the strife he found a “maðm-æht”2, a giant’s sword. A weapon that guaranteed the monster’s “wig-hryre”3. And though after beheading the other “ellor-gast”1 that giant’s “broden-mæl”4 had melted away he still had the hilt and the story of how he got it.

Along with Grendel’s head, he pulled the hilt out with him, too, as he swam through a “yð-geblond”5 that had now calmed. Though of the three things he hauled out of the underwater hall, it’s the story that he’ll have for the rest of his “lif-dæg”6.

1ellor-gast: alien spirit. ellor (elsewhere, elsewhither, to some other place) + gast (spirit, ghost) [A word that is exclusive to Beowulf.]

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2maðm-æht: valuable thing, treasure. maðum (treasure, object of value, jewel, ornament) + æht (possessions, goods, lands, wealth, cattle, serf, ownership, control) [A word that is exclusive to Beowulf.]

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3wig-hryre: slaughter, defeat. wig (strife, contest, war, battle, valour, military force, army) + hryre (fall, descent, ruin, destruction, decay) [A word that is exclusive to Beowulf.]

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4broden-mæl: damescened sword. broden (surface, board, plank, tablet) + mæl (mark, sign, ornament, cross, crucifix, armour, harness, sword, measure; time, point of time, occasion, season, time for eating, meal, meals)

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5yð-geblond: wave mixture, surge. yð (wave, billow, flood, sea, liquid, water) + blandan (blend, mix, mingle, trouble, disturb, corrupt)

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6lif-dæg: life-day, lifetime. lif (life, existence, life-time) + dæg (day, life-time, Last Day, name of the rune for ‘d’)

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Closing

Next week, Beowulf returns to the surface.

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A marathon inspired by Beowulf?

Ben de Rivaz and Tom Burton train for the Breca Wanaka SwimRun, inspired by Beowulf.

Breca Wanaka SwimRun race organiser Ben de Rivaz, of the UK, right, trains with friend Tom Burton in Lake Wanaka in front of Ruby Island. Image from http://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/85042363/new-multisport-concept-launches-in-wanaka-in-march

Earlier in this blog I found a connection between Beowulf and baseball. That connection of the ancient poem to modern sport was pretty unexpected. The latest connection between Beowulf and sports is much clearer, but no less surprising.

This connection is the sport known as “swimrun”. You can read all about an English enthusiast’s setting up a new course in Australia, and get a quick summary of the sport here.

With its start in Sweden, and a slow spread throughout Europe (so far mostly England, it sounds like), “swimrun” is a marathon that involves (unsurprisingly) swimming and running. The twist comes in with the condition that competitors must wear running shoes and a wetsuit for the entire race and carry certain gear as well.

Unfortunately, this article doesn’t specify what kind of gear needs to be carried, but given the analog to Beowulf’s swimming race with Breca, it wouldn’t surprise me if the gear was something that tried to replicate the weight and feel of a sword. Interestingly, though, given the fact that Beowulf is an Old English poem about Nordic peoples, the only explicit reference to Beowulf and Breca’s swimming race associated with swimruns (as far as I know) is the name of English enthusiast Ben de Rivaz’s new course. That name is, quite simply, the Breca Wanaka SwimRun.

Though the name of his course isn’t the only reference to the swimming race in Beowulf. De Rivaz’s also requires competitors to race in pairs.

Movie, book, theatrical, and TV adaptations are one thing, but it’s great to see that Beowulf is inspiring people in other spheres as well. It just shows that fans of Beowulf have diverse interests, which suggests to me that the poem really has a broad appeal.

Though, I think Beowulf has a few advantages over other literature when it comes to broad appeal. I mean, how can you go wrong with something that’s literature but also includes magic, monsters, and even a dragon?

Along with Breca and Beowulf’s swimming race, Quidditch and other sports from books have been adapted to real life settings. If you could put together a club or league based on a game from any book which would you choose? Let me know in the comments!

Courageous hope and a summary of the Finn and Hengest incident (ll.1600-1611)

Synopsis
Translation
Recordings
The Geat’s Hope, Beowulf’s Bewilderment, God’s Power
A Summary of What Happened to Hengest in Finn’s Hall
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.
Image found at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stories_of_beowulf_head_of_grendel.jpg#/media/File:Stories_of_beowulf_head_of_grendel.jpg


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Synopsis

The Danes go while the Scyldings stay. Meanwhile, Beowulf’s sword melts.


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Translation

“Then came the ninth hour of the day. To a man
the brave Scyldings left the lake, and with them went
that generous gold-friend. But the strangers stayed to wait,
though sick at heart, and stared at those waters;
they wished and yet could not believe that they would see
in the flesh once more their lord and friend. Meanwhile,
back in the cave the sword began, after the blood of battle
spattered the war-icicle, to soften and wane. It was a wondrous sight,
all the blade melting away much like ice
when the Father looses the frost bonds,
unties the waters from their cold-cords, he who has power
over the sowing and the harvest; such is truly the Measurer’s might.”
(Beowulf ll.1600-1611)


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Recordings

Old English:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}


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The Geat’s Hope, Beowulf’s Bewilderment, God’s Power

At least the Geats kept faith. Sort of.

It’s pretty clear that they stayed on because of a stubborn hope that Beowulf would return. Though the poet acknowledges that this hope is tempered with the belief that the Danes must be right, that Beowulf must be dead.

Nonetheless, I think that the Geat’s sticking around is a different kind of ofermod. That the Geats don’t just get up and leave with the Danes exemplifies a kind of internal courage to wish and hope in the face of adversity. It’s the kind of hope that isn’t easy to conjure up and hold onto, so I think the Geats definitely show tremendous spirit in holding onto it, despite their belief that Beowulf is dead.

Actually, I take the Geats’ enduring faith in Beowulf as a sign that the poet believes the Geats have more life in them than the Danes. After all, the poet’s told us that Heorot will burn, but (so far) no mention of the fall of the Geats has been made.

At any rate, after that look at sorrowful hope, the poet brings us back to the man himself.

We rejoin Beowulf as he watches the sword he pulled from the Grendels’ armoury melt. Apparently because Grendel’s blood (but not his mother’s?) was too hot for the steel to handle. Which, I guess makes sense, since, Grendel would have to be the hotter blooded of the two.

I mean, he was the one who actively went out and attacked Heorot. All the while we can only guess that Grendel’s mother just did her own thing. At least, that is, until Grendel was killed. Though up until then I think it’s fair to say, as the Greeks might, that Grendel had itchy blood.

The imagery that the poet uses to explain the melting of the sword, much like Beowulf’s swordstrokes in his battles, is perfectly placed. This image demonstrates the power of god as an entity that has the ability to melt the ice, and, as I’ve translated it, is an entity that “has power/over the sowing and the harvest” (“se geweald hafað/sæla ond mæla” (ll.1610-1611)). So this god is nothing to mess around with, but also a powerful ally for one such as Beowulf.

Plus, the use of the image of melting ice is a great metaphor for the melting away of the chilly atmosphere around Heorot. Just as in a video game, the defeat of the Grendels’ has palpably restored peace to Daneland. In fact, even the waters that Beowulf swims through, which were once teeming with all sorts of monsters, are now seemingly calm.

So I don’t think it’s much of a jump to go from the image of god freeing the waters from their “frost bonds” (“forstes bend” (l.1609)) to Beowulf freeing Daneland from the Grendels’ grip of terror.

Why do you think Grendel’s blood melted Beowulf’s sword?


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A Summary of What Happened to Hengest in Finn’s Hall

After being trapped there for the winter by frozen water, Hengest was forced into an uneasy truce with his enemy Finn. Along with being untrustworthy in the past, Hengest’s lord and his lord’s nephew had just been killed in pitched battle.

Now, Hengest, that “gold-wine”1, tried to resist the “heaþo-swate”2 that called to him. But his men implored their “wine-dryhten”3 to revenge, and he could not resist the “wig-bill”4. Though he waited through a long winter to exact revenge for his lord and his son, waited until the “wæl-rap”5 were melted from the sea-ways.

At least, that’s the reason the poets give.

I think he waited to ensure that his wrath would not just be a “hild-gicel”6, melting away after the strife in the hall. Instead he wanted something surer and so waited until his hatred hardened into the kind of “wig-bill”4 that Beowulf would praise.

1gold-wine: liberal prince, lord, king. gold (gold) + wine (friend, protector, lord, retainer)

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2heaþo-swate: blood of battle. heaðu (war) + swat (sweat, perspiration, exudation, blood, foam, toil, labour)

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3wine-dryhten: friendly lord, lord and friend. wine (friend, protector, lord, retainer) + dryhten (ruler, king, prince, lord)

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4wig-bill: sword. wig (strife, contest, war, battle) + bill (chopper, battle axe, falchion, sword) [A compound word that’s exclusive to Beowulf.]

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5wæl-rap: flood-fetter (ice). wæl (whirlpool, eddy, pool, ocean, sea, river, flood) + rap (rope, cord, cable)

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6hild-gicel: battle-icicle (blood dripping from a sword [like water from an icicle]). hild (war, combat) + gicel (icicle, ice) [A compound word that’s exclusive to Beowulf.]


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Closing

Next week, Beowulf makes his escape.

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