Beowulf wakes the dragon

Recap
Synopsis
The Original Old English
My Translation
A Quick Interpretation
Closing

Beowulf is protected from dragon fire by his shield while treasure awaits.

An illustration of Beowulf fighting the dragon that appears at the end of the epic poem. Illustration in the children’s book Stories of Beowulf (H. E. Marshall). Published in New York in 1908 by E. P. Dutton & Company. Image found at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Beowulf_and_the_dragon.jpg.


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Recap

Last week, Beowulf made his final boast and said that if he had to die at the dragon’s claws, he wanted to do so alone and gloriously.


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Synopsis

Beowulf goes down to the barrow and calls out the dragon. And the dragon calls back.


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The Original Old English

“Aras ða bi ronde rof oretta,
heard under helme, hiorosercean bær
under stancleofu, strengo getruwode
anes mannes. Ne bið swylc earges sið!
Geseah ða be wealle se ðe worna fela,
gumcystum god, guða gedigde,
hildehlemma, þonne hnitan feðan,
stondan stanbogan, stream ut þonan
brecan of beorge. Wæs þære burnan wælm
heaðofyrum hat; ne meahte horde neah
unbyrnende ænige hwile
deop gedygan for dracan lege.
Let ða of breostum, ða he gebolgen wæs,
Wedergeata leod word ut faran,
stearcheort styrmde; stefn in becom
heaðotorht hlynnan under harne stan.
Hete wæs onhrered, hordweard oncniow
mannes reorde; næs ðær mara fyrst
freode to friclan. From ærest cwom
oruð aglæcean ut of stane,
hat hildeswat. Hruse dynede.”
(Beowulf ll.2538-2558)


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My Translation

“Arose then behind the shield that renowned warrior,
hard under helm, bore his battle shirt
beneath the stony cliffs. He trusted in the slaughter
one man alone was capable of. That was no cowardly course of action!
Then by the wall the one who had survived
with good manly virtue a great many battles,
the crash of colliding shields and spears, when bands on foot clashed,
saw standing a stone arch, a stream out from there
burst from the barrow, and soon exploded into
a raging flume of hot deadly fire. Beowulf could not be near
the hoard for any length of time without being burned up,
he could not survive in the depths of the dragon’s flame.
Then he allowed it from his breast, released his rage,
the lord of the Weder-Geats sent the word out,
fierce-hearted he shouted, his voice came in
clean as the clang of battle as it reverberated under the grey stone.
Hatred was aroused, the hoard guardian recognized
man speech. Then there was no more time
to ask for friendship. First came the breath
of the fierce assailant from out of the stones,
a hot vapour of battle. The earth resounded with the creature’s calling.”
(Beowulf ll.2538-2558)


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A Quick Interpretation

Beowulf’s yell is one thing. His barbaric yawp is probably a mix of sword and shield being bashed together and the loudest yell a human could muster.

But the dragon’s call? When I read about that, I can’t help but hear this:

Quite clearly Beowulf’s shout is yet another way he psyches himself up. It makes me wonder if he ever felt the fear that seems to be behind all of his boasting about fighting the dragon when he was about to face down an army of men.

Based on how quickly Hygelac took him on as one of his chief warriors, and how he described himself as being the baddest dude in the north, I doubt Beowulf ever felt fear when getting ready for warfare. But now he’s old. And now he’s fighting a monster out of the sorts of stories told to children and drinking men in the hall. Something unreal.

Though it definitely doesn’t seem that Beowulf and the Geats have any trouble believing in a dragon. It’s like a cockroach in a tidy house — a rarity, but definitely not an impossibility.

Actually, bearing the clip above in mind, the Geats’ apparent attitude towards dragons is like the apparent situation in most Godzilla movies.

One way or another, the modern world in these movies just accepts Godzilla not as an impossibility that needs to be comprehended but as some sort of rarely seen animal capable of great destruction. It’s existence is forever floating around in the back of everyone’s minds, it seems, so that when Godzilla finally appears, he doesn’t inspire disbelief, he’s just a terrifying force of nature like a typhoon or hurricane coming to land.

And so I think that along with dealing with his age, Beowulf is also wrestling with his bad luck in having to encounter this monster. His various attempts to psych himself up are his way of covering those emotions, or pushing them out of his mind so that it can be filled with nothing but the slaying of dragons. Where’s a bard with songs of Sigmund when you need one?

If you were to read or hear that a clutch of dragons had been discovered in some remote location would you be surprised or just brush it off as a kind of “of course!” fact?

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!


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Closing

Next week, Beowulf makes the first move in this fight.

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You can find the next part of Beowulf here.

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One thought on “Beowulf wakes the dragon

  1. Pingback: What Beowulf has for the dragon: taunts and worries | A Blogger's Beowulf

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