Getting a Hand from Grendel: Book X – Book XIII

Grendel terrifyingly looms with his death bag, screaming at Beowulf.

An illustration of Grendel by J.R. Skelton from Stories of Beowulf. Grendel is described as “Very terrible to look upon.” From: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stories_of_beowulf_grendel.jpg.

X

Then from him Hrothgar went among his warrior band,
the prince of the Scyldings left the hall.
The war chief would seek out Wealhtheow,
the queen consort. But the king of heaven had
against Grendel, as people later learned by inquiry,
set a hall guard; one with a special office to fulfill
for the lord of the Danes, a steadfast sentry against monsters.
Indeed that Geatish man eagerly trusted
the courage of his strength, the Measurer’s protection.
Then he did off with his iron corselet,
took the helm from his head, entrusted his ornamented sword,
servant of the best iron, to his men
and he commanded them to keep his war gear.
Spoke he then some good boast words,
Beowulf the Geat, before he laid himself down:

“I consider my own prowess with battle work unbowed
when compared to Grendel;
as Grendel himself slays without sword,
that thief of life, I shall do the same.
He has not the advantage, that he shall slay me,
though he hew away my shield, though he be vigorous in his
evil deed: but we this night should
forego the sword, if he seeks to dare
a battle beyond weapons, and afterwards wise God
shall decide which of us, oh holy Lord,
is worthy of glory, as He deems proper.”

He kept himself bold then, took pillow
to cheek with his band, and he among the many
ready seafarers gave themselves over to hall-rest.
But none of those thought that they should afterward
ever see their dear land again,
their people or their towns, return to where they had been raised.
They all envisioned, through sleep-smeared eyes, those stories
of how things had been in that wine hall, how death had come
for many of those Danish people. But to that hall-guard the Lord gave
woven success in war, the Danes would thank the Weder people,
both would find joy and help, that they the fiend there
would fully overcome through that one’s strength,
by his own might. The truth is shown,
that mighty God rules humankind
always. In the deepest night
came slinking the wanderer in shadow. The warriors slept,
when they should have been holding that hall.
All but one. It was known of many people,
that they might not, as long as the Measurer allowed it not,
be brought to the shadow beneath by the sin-stained,
but that one woke with wrath in enmity
pledged enraged battle to the creeping creature.

XI

Then Grendel came from the moor under misty cliff
bounding. He bore god’s ire,
meant that sinner against humankind
to ensnare some in that humbled hall.
Raging beneath the heavens, he headed to Heorot,
the gold hall best known to men,
shimmering with ornaments. That was not the first time
that he the home of Hrothgar sought out.
But, never had he in earlier days nor afterwards
found a thane so hard in the hall.
When he came to the hall,
the joy of journeying men to rob, the door’s
secure fire-forged bar soon gave way, as he touched it:
it burst open for the one meditating on mischief. Standing at the hall’s mouth,
his own twisted into a raging smile. Quickly then
that fiend on the shining floor trod,
went with hatred at heart; he stood, in his eyes
an unfair light like flame.
Saw he in the hall many men,
a sleeping peaceful host gathered all together,
a heap of youths. Then his heart roared anew.
He intended to sever, before the day returned,
the terrible fierce assailant, from each one of those sleepers
their limb and life, expected he a lavish feast
to come about. Yet such was not set as fate,
that he would be allowed more of mankind
to taste during that night. The mighty looked on,
kin of Hygelac, to see how the enemy
with his calamitous grip would fare.
That fierce foe gave no thought to yielding,
but he swiftly seized at his first chance
a sleeping warrior, slit through him heedlessly,
bit through bone-locks, drank blood from the veins,
swallowed sinful morsels; soon he had
consumed all of that one,
feet and hands. Forward and nearer he stepped,
his hand grazed against the strong-hearted
warrior at rest — the fiend’s fingers reached
for him. He, the Beowulf, hastily took the arm
and sat up to strengthen his hold.
Soon that master of the wicked deed found one
like none he had ever met in all the earth,
no other in any region of the world
had so great a hand grip. At heart Grendel grew
panicked, feared he might never break free.
In his mind Grendel was eager to escape, wished he could flee to his darkness,
seek and join his devil kin. He could feel that further life for him was not there,
only one like none other he had ever encountered in all his days.
The goodly kin of Hygelac was mindful then
of his evening boast, he stood sternly upright
and secured his grip. His fingers were bursting,
the beast was squirming to escape. The man stepped toward the monster.
That creature intended, whenever he might do so,
to flee to the fen-hollow. Grendel could feel his fingers
loosening under the foe’s grip, it was indeed a terrible journey
that the horrible fiend took to Heorot that night!
The noble hall resounded, all of the Danes,
citizens, each violently stirred,
all awake in broken ale-dream distress. Both within were warring,
fierce were the hall wardens. That room resounded;
it was a great wonder, that the wine hall
held out against those boldly brawling,
that fair house; but it was yet secure
inward and outward in its iron bonds,
skilfully smithed. In there from the floor
were wrenched mead benches many, as I have heard,
each gold adorned, where the hostile ones fought.
Never before thought the wise of the Scyldings
that any man or means ever could be found
to bring the grand and antlered hall down,
destroy it by cunning, unless in the hottest embrace
it was swallowed by flame. Sounds newly rose up
often, horrible fear came over over
the Danes, each and every one of them
heard wailing while outside Heorot’s walls,
a chant of terror uttered by god’s adversary,
it sang of defeat, a wound to sear and sever
the captive of hell. He held him tight,
that man was the greatest in might
all the days of this life.

XII

For nothing at all would Beowulf
allow the death-bringer to leave alive,
he did not consider that one’s days of life of
any worth to anyone anywhere. Then the mobile host
moved swiftly to defend Beowulf with their fathers’ swords,
they wished to defend the very soul of their leader,
those of the famed people, where they might do so.
But they knew not that their work was in vain,
the tough-spirited war-men,
that each man’s looking to hew the beast in half was faulty,
their seeking his soul with the sword point unsuccessful: that sin-laden wretch,
by even the best iron in or on the earth,
by any battle bill, could not at all be touched,
for he had forsworn the use of any weapon of war,
each and every edge. Yet his share of eternity
in the days of this life
would be agonizing, and the alien spirit
into the grasp of fiends would journey far.
Then the one who in earlier days had
completely changed the heartfelt mirth of man
for transgression — the one who sinned against god —
realized that his body would not endure,
for the spirited kin of Hygelac
had him firm in hand; as long as each of those fighters was living
he was hateful to the other. What a wound
endured the terrible creature: his shoulder split
into an open and immense red mouth, sinews sprung loose,
bone joints split. Beowulf was given
war glory; whereas Grendel would thence
flee with his mortal wound to the fen cliffs
seeking out a joyless home. He knew for certain,
that his life was coming to an end,
his days were now numbered. Every one of the Danes’
wishes were fulfilled after that deadly onslaught.
That place had been cleansed, after that one from afar arrived,
clever and brash, at the hall of Hrothgar,
rescued it from strife. Gladdened by his night work,
fodder for the flame of fame for courage, that man of Geatish
folk had fulfilled his boast to the Danes,
had cured a great wound,
parasitical sorrow, that had earlier been a daily part
of the misery they were to suffer —
no little grief. It was an open token,
when the war-fierce one placed the hand,
arm and shoulder — there all together was
Grendel’s grip — under the broad roof.

XIII

It was that morning, as I have heard,
when to that gift-hall came many warriors;
chieftains marching from regions ranging
far and near to see that wonder,
the remnants of the resented one. None of those there
thought upon that one’s death sorely,
where the trail of the fame-less transgressor showed
how he went with weary-heart on his way,
the evil that was overcome, to the water-sprites of some pond,
the fated and fugitive leaving a trail of lifeblood.
There they guessed the water swelled with blood,
there repulsive waves surged, all mingling,
hot with gore, sword-blood tossing;
there the fated to die hid, when he, joy-less,
in fen refuge laid aside his life,
his heathen soul. From there hell took him.
Afterwards the old war-wagers went out,
so too did many youths go on that merry journey,
from the sea high-spirited horses they rode,
warriors on their steeds. There was Beowulf’s
glory retold; many oft spoke of it,
that in neither north nor south between the two seas
was there any other such man on all the face of the earth,
and under the sky’s expanse was there no better
shield bearer, one worthy of kingship.
Though they indeed found no blame with their lord and friend,
gracious Hrothgar, for he was a good king.
Meanwhile the battle-reputed let the horses trot,
in contests the bay horses sped,
there they found the path quite fair,
they thought it best. Around one of the king’s thanes
was a man made of stories, mindful of many tales,
such that he was in old tradition
immersed, bound words one to the other
according to appropriate meter. The man began again
of Beowulf’s struggle to smartly sing
and quickly made a new narrative account,
wrangled words. Of everything he spoke,
what he of Sigemund had heard said,
deeds of courage, many not widely known.
He spoke of the wrangling of Wælsing’s son, Sigemund’s wide wanderings
where that warrior’s child was not often recognized
nor the feud and wicked deed known but to Fitela, the one with him.
For Sigemund would tell Fitela of such things,
from uncle to nephew, as they were always
companions bound by need come every strife;
they had a great many of the giants race
slain with their swords. Sigemund’s fame saw
no small surge after his death day,
after he had in cruel combat killed the dragon,
the hoard’s guardian. Under the grey stone,
the nobleman’s son, alone he dared to do
the dangerous deed; Fitela was not with him then.
Without that comrade he plunged his sword through
the wondrous wyrm, so that it stuck in the wall,
that lordly iron. The dragon died its death.
His courage over the foe won him its treasure fully,
so that he ring hoards had to give
as he saw fit; a boat they loaded,
they bore in the ship’s bosom bright treasures,
Waels’ son; the hot wyrm melted.
[]His fame was pushed most widely
among the nations, protector of warriors,
for deeds of courage — he prospered from then after —
after Heremod retired from war,
his strength and courage. He had his power stolen
when ambushed by the enemy Jutes and his forces
were quickly slain. His sorrow oppressed him
far too long; to his people he waned,
to all his nobles his life grew too full of care.
That campaign was often a source of anxiety for
many wise men before the time of king Heremod’s brash way of life,
it made those miserable who relied on him for relief,
those that wished that every prince would prosper,
receive his patrimony, protect the people,
their stores and their strongholds, be a man of might,
uphold the ancestral home of the Scyldings. Just the same there,
Beowulf, the kin of Hygelac, to all humankind
became a decorated friend. Yet sin still slinked in.
The contending continued among
the tawny mares racing on the sand. By then the morning light
shoved and rushed over the horizon. There came many retainers,
all bold-minded, to that high hall,
to see that strange object; the king himself
from the bed chamber, guardian of the ring-hoard,
walked with a sense of leading an army,
of renowned virtue, and his queen with him
tread the path to the mead hall with her maiden troop.

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Boasts and Beer-Drinking: Book VII – Book IX

VII

Hrothgar spoke, protector of the Scyldings:

“For manly deeds you, friend of mine Beowulf,
and for our benefit, have you sought us.
Thy father fought his way into a terrible feud,
in time he killed Heatholaf with his own hand
while among the Wulfings. Thus he could not have
shelter with those kin for dread of war.
From thence he sought South Dane folk
over the surging waves, the Ar-Scyldings;
that was when I had just begun rule of the Danish people
and in youth governed this fierce empire,
walled and treasure-filled towns of warriors.
At that time was Heregar dead, my elder kinsmen left unliving,
son of Halfdane; alas, he was better than I!
Nonetheless, I settled your father’s feud with goods;
I sent to the Wulfings, over the water’s ridges,
old treasures; for that bold Ecgtheow swore oaths to me.
Yet it grieves me at heart to tell,
indeed, to any man, what affliction Grendel has wrought
on me and on Heorot amidst his hostile designs,
those spiteful attacks. Because of him my hall troop,
my band of warriors, is made thin; wyrd swept them
into Grendel’s terror. But God may easily
put an end to the deeds of that fell-destroyer!
Quite often ale-drunken threats
issued from warriors while belching over ale-cups,
that they would wait in the beer-hall
for Grendel’s onslaught with horrible swords raised high.
Yet when morning came to this mead hall,
this noble-hall was blood-stained, as day was lit,
all the bench space was smeared with blood,
the hall battle-bloodied. Then had I fewer loyal
dear men, death itself had carried them off.
Here and now, sit to our feast, and in the hall hear
of heroes’ glorious victories, as thine heart urges thee!”

At his final word, a space was cleared on a beer hall bench
for all the Geat men to sit together.
There the bold went to feast,
exulting in their strength. A thane bore them refreshment,
he who in hand bore the adorned ale cup,
he poured out the sweet brightness; the poet meanwhile sang
clear in Heorot. There were, as Hrothgar promised, songs of heroic joy
among the none too few noble warrior Danes and Geats.

VIII

Unferth spoke, son of Ecglaf,
he who sat at the foot of the Scylding lord.
That man unbound battle words, ready to halt Beowulf’s venture,
the deed of the courageous sea-farer, he bore the hero a great grudge,
for he would not allow that any other man
over all the earth and under heaven
could ever achieve fame to match his own:

“Are you the Beowulf, he who contended against Breca
on the wide sea in a swimming contest,
where you two for pride moved as you could
and for a foolish boast in the deep water
ventured your lives? No man whatever,
neither loved nor loathed, could dissuade you two
from that distressing journey, not even as you rowed out to sea.
Out there you two eagerly covered the waters with your arms,
traversing the sea-street, moving most quickly with your hands,
gliding over spear-like waves. Ocean ripples roiled,
the winter’s surge. You two on the waters
had toil for seven nights. He the flood overcame,
it had the greater strength, so that come the morning
the sea had carried him to the land of the Heatho-Reams.
Then he sought his dear father land
those dear to him, the land of the Brondings,
splendid strongholds against war, where he had folk,
fortress, and rings. So in truth the son of Beanstan
fully bested you by endurance in your bet with him.
As that is, I believe that you will have the worse outcome,
though thou hast thrived in combat everywhere,
bloody battle, if you will dare wait
nearly all the long night for Grendel.”

Beowulf spoke, son of Ecgtheow:

“Well, you are very much, my friend Unferth,
beer-drunken to be speaking of Breca,
telling of his victory! The truth as I reckon
is that I more swimming strength had,
endured more hardship on the waves, than any other man.
We two dared and bet with each other
since we were children — we two were then
yet in youth — that we two out on the spear-sea
would risk our lives, and so it happened.
We held our naked swords as we two rowed over the waves,
hardiness in hand. We two bore these blades against the whales,
thought to protect ourselves. Breca not at all far from me
could float on the ocean-flow,
being the swifter on the swell, I would not stray from him.
When we two together had been on the sea
for five nights’ time, then we drifted apart on the flood,
wading on the raging waves, in the coldest of weather,
the night darkened, and the north wind
blew battle-grim against us. Wild were the waves,
enraging the hearts of the sea-fish.
Then against the loathed creatures my corselet,
hard, hand-woven, was of great help,
the broad coat of mail that on my breast lay
gold adorned. Yet, in spite of that coat the hostile enemy
pulled me to the bottom, held fast
in its grim grip. I was yet given this mercy:
I could reach the fiend with sword-point,
my battle blade. In the war rush I seized the life
of the stalwart sea-deer with my own hand.”

IX

Very often the vile enemy
vexed me violently; I stretched out to them
my dear sword, as was suitable.
They did not have much joy in that,
the evildoers, they that would have me served up at a feast like this,
they came to permanent seats in the sea-bed.
Come morning, with sword wounds
even more were laid upon the shore,
set to sleep by the sword, so that afterward none
near the steep ford could hinder
the seafarers’ course. Light of the east,
God’s bright beacon, rose. The sea abated
so that I the sea-cliff could see,
set my eyes upon the windy shore. Wyrd oft saves
the unmarked man, when his strength thrives.
However they confined me, I, with the sword, slew
nine sea-beasts. Never have I heard of any, for all my asking,
able to fight so hard beneath heaven’s vault by night,
nor of any man so miserable on the sea.
Yet I continued to survive the hostile distance,
weary of the journey. It was then that the sea bore me up,
the waters brought me to Finland,
borne on the sea of a foreign land. I from no man
have heard tell of you set in such strife,
darkened sword terror. Neither you nor Breca
have tales of such battle-play, neither of you two
have done sincerely such deeds
with the stained sword — nor do I mean to boast in this —
though you brought death to your own brother,
near blood relation; thus in hell shall you
suffer damnation, pain your tongue cannot untie.
I tell to you the truth, son of Ecglaf:
Grendel never could such a horror perpetuate,
that dire demon, over your people,
the humiliation of Heorot, were thy courage,
your heart, so fierce as you yourself says it is.
He has discovered that he need not greatly fear the vendetta,
the terrible thronging swords of your people,
slashings from the Victory-Scyldings.
After all, against that apostle of violence none arise
from among the Danish people, so he wars as he likes,
killing and feasting, prosecution he knows comes not
from the Spear-Danes. But I shall now surprise
him with the might and strength of the Geats,
bringing him battle. Afterward whomever wants to
go to mead shall and shall heartily, once the morning light
brings another day to humanity,
when the light-clad sun shall shine once more from the south.”

These words warmed the treasure-giver in his hall,
grey-haired and battle strong; consolation lived
for the ruler of the bright Danes, he heard in Beowulf
the guardian of a people’s steadfast hope.
There followed the laughter of men, the roar of singing,
words were joyful. Then came forth Wealhtheow,
Hrothgar’s queen, mindful of her king;
she greeted the gold-ornamented warriors in the hall,
and the freeborn woman quickly gave
first to the lord of the East-Danes’ realm;
told him to be blithe at the beer-drinking,
dear to the people. At that he turned more to
the feast and the hall-goblet, a king revelling in victory.
After that that Helming woman went about
to each section of the noble and the young,
she offered the costly vessel to each and every, until that time
that she, the ring adorned queen
of distinguished mind, bore the mead cup to Beowulf.
She greeted the Geatish man, thanked god
with wise words, that he her will fulfilled,
that she could find consolation in any living warrior
against her people’s plaguing sin. He partook of that cup,
the fierce fighter, offered from Wealhtheow,
and then sang the one ever ready for war,
Beowulf spoke, son of Ecgtheow:

“I thought upon that, as I came across the sea,
seated in the sea boat amidst the multitude of my men,
that I completely for your people
would work that will, or die in the slaughter,
held fast in the fiend’s fist. I shall perform
the lordly deed, or find the end
of all my days in this mead hall!”

That lady well liked those words,
the boast-speech of the Geat; then went gold-laden
the stately queen of her people to sit with her lord.
At last it was again as it had been in the hall,
brave words were spoken, people milled about beneath the roof,
the sounds of a victorious people, until in a short time
the son of Halfdane’s will turned to seeking his
evening rest. Knew he that the wretch
against that high hall planned attack,
after the sun’s light might be seen,
when then night had grown dark over all,
draped in shade-mail the shape would come stalking
under the waning heavens. All the throng arose.
Greeted the men each other then,
Hrothgar Beowulf, and to him wished health,
gave over rule of the drinking hall, and these words said:

“Never before have I to any man yielded up,
since I could raise my own hand, my own shield,
the noble house of the Danes but to you now.
Have now and hold this best of houses:
Have remembrance of fame, mighty valour’s seed,
be wakeful against the wrathful one! Thy desire shall not
lack if you survive this brave deed with your life.”

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Going from the Guard to the Herald: Book IV – Book VI

An ale house like a mead hall from Beowulf that's in Sweden.

An ale house just north of Göteborg in Sweden, but a pretty good approximation of what Heorot would look like (except for the lack of gold). Image from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Viking_house_Ale_Sweden.jpg

IV

Their chief answered him,
wielder of the band’s wisdom, he unlocked his word hoard:

“We are kin of the Geatish people,
we come from among Hygelac’s hearth retainers.
His people knew my father,
a noble progenitor known as Ecgtheow, –
he commanded many winters, before he went on his way,
full of years, each man of counsel
on the wide earth takes heed of his name.
We through care of the worries of your lord,
son of Halfdane, have come seeking for
the protector of your people. Your exhortation to us is great!
We have much to declare towards your people’s errand,
the freedom of the Danes, no longer shall there evil
be in this land, I believe. You know —
if it is truly as we have heard —
that against the Scyldings fights a fiend unknown to me,
a thriving ravager, that in the dark of night
threatens you with unknowable fear,
oppression, and slaughter. That I might teach Hrothgar
through the counsel of a broad mind,
how he the wise and good could overcome that fiend —
if he ever should wish to end
this ruinous trouble — relief will come after,
and his cares shall turn cool.
Else ever after shall be times of sorrow,
distress shall be only endured, all while that greatest
of houses is forced to make do, empty, in its high place.”

The guard, astride his horse, spoke to that man,
the fearless officer:

          “Everyone shall
come to know and understand your sharp skill,
words and deeds, as they shall determine.
I hear this and judge thus: that you and your warriors are true
to the Scylding lord. Come forth bearing
your weapons and armour; I will lead you.
Also, I will command my men
to guard your boat against the fiend,
relay a request to them to guard your newly tarred
ship on the shore, until it again bears
you dear men over the streaming surface
in its bound boards to the Geat’s borders;
it is my hope that such doers of good may have that fate,
to survive the battle rush in the hall.”

They went upon their way then. And as the guard promised,
the boat was bound, the capacious craft tethered with cord,
secure at anchor. Boar-shapes shone
atop the warriors’ cheek guards; ornamented gold,
glistening and firmament firm, securely they held their wearers’ life,
the pond-still thoughts of war-hearted, grim men. They all hurried onward,
going down together, until from that high hall of a home,
ornamented and gold-dappled for all to see
that it was foremost among all the human works
and buildings beneath heaven, there the ruler called for them;
the light of the people that shone over so great a land.
The coastguard took the battle-brave to the bright,
high-souled hall, that he may point out
the shortest path thither. That hero of combat turned his horse
about, spoke he these words next:

“It is time for me to go. The Almighty
Father’s grace keep you healthy
amidst your quest! I am to the sea,
to hold the shore against fiendish foes.”

V

The Geats’ way then was stone-paved, along the road
the warriors went together. War-byrnies shone,
hard, hand-linked, shining ring-mail from
skilled hands celebrated in song hung beneath plate.
Shortly they arrived at the hall in their horrible war gear,
sea-weary they set their shields,
battle-hard bucklers, against that hall’s outer wall;
they dropped onto the benches set there, mail-shirts ringing,
those war-skilled men. Spears stood,
bound in a seaman’s bunch, all together,
ashen shaft over grey; that iron-clad crew’s
weapons jostled as they rested against the hall.
Then a proud warrior asked after those men’s origins:

“Where come ye, ye of the anointed shields,
shirts of grey mail and visored helms,
this crowd of spears? I am Hrothgar’s
herald and officer. Never saw I this many men
from far away of such high spirits.
It seems to me that you for glory, not at all for exile,
yay, even for courage, have sought out Hrothgar.”

One man among them courageously answered,
the proud man of the Weders, spoke after those words,
bold beneath his helm:

          “We are Hygelac’s
table-companions; Beowulf is my name.
I will explain to the son of Halfdane,
that famed lord, my errand,
your prince, if he will grant us such audience,
allow us to greet him graciously.

Wulfgar spoke: a Wendel man,
well known for his heart-thought,
of war and of wisdom:

          “I, friend of Danes,
will inquire of our shield,
giver of rings, as thou art a petitioner,
of that famed lord, about your journey,
and then the answer I shall convey immediately,
that I may speak as it so pleases him.”

Then quickly he turned to face where Hrothgar sat,
old and hoar among the throng of his thanes.
Wulfgar then went to the one of honourable deeds, shoulder to shoulder
with the Danish lord he spoke: knew he their noble customs.
Wulfgar’s words to his friend and lord were thus:

“Here are those who came, who ventured
forth going over the sea from the Geatish lands;
their chief champion
they call Beowulf, he is the petitioner,
the one asking, my lord, if he might mix
words with you. Do not propose to deny
your reply, gracious Hrothgar.
By his war-gear I think their worth is equal
to that of esteemed warriors; indeed he seems dependable,
the one warrior who has lead them so far.”

VI

Hrothgar spoke, protector of the Scyldings:

“I knew that man when he was but a boy.
His father of old was called Ecgtheow,
he to whom Hrethel of the Geats gave
his only daughter. And now, I hear, his son
has come here, seeking favourable friendship.
Once sailors, that brought gifts
from Geatland thither as thanks,
said that this man has the might of
thirty men in his hand-grip,
is famed in war. He, Holy God,
for our support has sent him
to the West-Danes, this I believe,
against Grendel’s terror. I shall well reward
them with treasures for his courage.
Be thou in haste, go with this command,
that the peaceful host may hear it together.
Also give him word that they are welcome
in these Danish lands!”

          Then to the hall door
went Wulfgar, from within this word was called out:

“You, as commanded by word of my war-lord,
prince of the East-Danes, here have a famed family.
and you, proven brave in your coming to him
from over the sea-wave, are welcome hither.
Now you may go in wearing your armour,
under your helmets, to see Hrothgar;
yet here leave your shields unbound,
the broad boards, and deadly spears, this is a meeting for words alone.”

Arose then the hero, from amidst his many thanes,
various valiant warriors, though some remained there,
to watch the war-gear, as they were strictly ordered.
Those going in hurried together, their chief at their head,
went under Heorot’s roof. Through the hall strode the war-fierce,
under hard helmets, until they stood upon the hearth.
Beowulf spoke — on him the byrnie shone,
his corselet crafted with the smith’s skill:

“Be thou, Hrothgar, hale! I am Hygelac’s
relation and man; I have started into earning
great glory since my youth. News of Grendel
is openly known in my homeland;
it was the talk of sailors, that this hall stood,
best of buildings, idle and emptied
of each man after the evening light
becomes obscured beneath heaven’s brightness.
Then a council urged me to help,
the most esteemed, the cleverest of Geatish men,
that I thee, the ruler of Danes, Hrothgar seek,
for they all know of my strength.
They themselves saw when I cleverly overcame,
foe after foe, when I bound five,
devastated the kin of giants, and upon the sea slew
water-demons by night. Indeed I have endured dire need,
have fulfilled the Geat’s hatred — such was the hope they summoned —
it consumed those enemies. And so it shall now go against Grendel,
with this monster I will stand alone as it please,
have a singular meeting with the demon. Now, I to thee,
lord of the Bright-Danes, will make my request,
prince of the Scyldings, I will proclaim this alone:
That you do not refuse me, protector of warriors,
close friend of the people, that for which I have now come from afar,
that I might alone save for my band of warriors,
this hardy heap, cleanse Heorot.
I have also learned, by asking, that this demon
in his recklessness does not care for weapons.
I the same shall scorn, that Hygelac may be for me,
my liege-lord, blithe of heart,
that I neither sword nor the broad shield shall bear,
the linden-bound battle buckler; instead I shall grapple
against the fiend with my grasp and struggle for life,
hater against hated; in that I shall trust
in God’s judgment to take whom he will in death.
I expect that the fiend will, if he be allowed
in the hall of battle, the Geatish people
devour unafraid, as he often has,
trampling the flower of men. You need not
cover my head, but he will have me
blood-stained, if death take me.
The beast will bear away my bloodied body, thinking to taste,
without remorse will the lone-goer eat me,
staining his moor-den, so do not be long anxious
about my body’s state.
Send to Hygelac, if me battle take,
this best of battle dresses, that I bear upon my breast,
choicest of garments; that is Hraedlan’s heirloom,
the work of Wayland. For always fate shall go as it will!”

Want more Beowulf? Continue the poem here!

Off to a Rousing Start: Prologue – Book III

Scyld Scefing gets a Viking funeral in Beowulf's beginning.

A viking funeral, perhaps like Scyld Scefing’s, as painted by Frank Dicksee in 1893.

Prologue

What! We Spear-Danes have heard in days of yore
of the power of the king of a people,
how heroes accomplished valorous deeds.
Often did Scyld Scefing take away
the mead benches from troops of enemies,
terrified the Erola, afterwards those who had been first were found
to become destitute. For that Scefing experienced solace
grew up under a cloud, his honour prospered,
until each surrounding people from over
the whale road paid obeisance,
gave tribute: that was a good king!
His son was afterward born,
young in years, then did god send
consolation to the people; well did god know their distress,
What they had endured under the lord of old
for a long while; he the life-lord,
glory-lord, granted worldly-worth;
Beowulf was famous—glory widely sprang –
as Scylde’s successor, in all Scandinavian lands.
Thus a young man shall bring about good
from the largesse of his father’s stores,
so that he among men thereafter retains
willing companions when battle comes,
ensures the nation would endure; praiseful deeds shall
always increase for the family of such a man.
Scyld left off amidst this work,
full busy when he went to the Lord.
They brought him to the seashore,
those dear companions, as he had bidden them.
That man’s words ruled his companions,
those of the earthly prince long in languishing.
There at the landing place stood a ring-prowed ship
icy and eager to start, ready for that nobleman’s passage;
the dear lords lead him to
the brightly ringed wealth ship,
treasure filled it to the mast; there was plentiful loot
from foreign lands, booty, loaded into it.
Never heard I of a more splendidly adorned ship
war-ready and armoured,
blade and byrnie. Upon Scyld’s lap was lain
a multifarious fortune, among which
he was to go to far foreign lands.
By no means did they leave a lack of gifts,
treasures of the people, when that was done,
when they sent Scyld forth to his origin,
for he was one who came over the waves as a child.
Then they established a golden sign for him
high overhead, they let the waves bear him,
their gift, to the raging ocean; they were
sorrowful at heart, mourning souls. Men cannot
say for certain, hall rulers,
heroes under heaven, who that horde discovered.

I

Then was the burden on Beow, son of Scyld,
that dear king of men, for several long seasons.
He was reputed among the people, while his father departed elsewhere,
a lord of earth. Until Halfdane awoke,
a match for the father, he held, while he lived,
aged and battle experienced, the joy of the Scyldings.
In unbroken succession Halfdane woke four children in the world: a daughter I believe, then Heorogar, and Hrothgar, and Halga also;
I have heard that […] the daughter was Onela’s queen,
that war-Scylding’s beloved bedfellow.
Hrothgar was given success in war,
honour in battle, such that his kith and kin
eagerly listened, until the young one grew
into a mighty troop lord. His mind soon turned
to the glory of being called a hall lord,
of ruling a mead hall made by the work of many,
one that the children of the ages would ever ask about,
and therein to dole out all
to young and old alike, such as god gave him,
all but the people’s land and lives.
Then heard I that a work summons went widely,
to many peoples from throughout this earth,
to adorn that dwelling place. After their first meeting,
immediately amidst those assembled, it was made ready,
the greatest of all halls; the poets named it Heorot,
he whose word has widespread influence.
That boast did not lie, rings were doled out,
a continuous treasure flow. That hall rose high,
towering and wide-gabled, made to resist fierce fire,
loathe of lightning; yet it was not as such for long,
since woken sword-hate would later swallow it
after war broke out between son-in-law and father-in-law.
Then a terrible demon ushered in a time
of difficult suffering, as it would be in darkness,
he who daily heard the joy makers
loud in the hall; there hands were waved over harps,
there the poets sang clear. Told they of
knowing the long ago provenance of all people,
spoke of how the Almighty made the earth,
this beauteous world, and the water that flows about it;
set the sun and the moon victoriously above
with rays to light the ways of people,
and adorned the rolling hills
with limbs and leaves; spoke of how the Maker shaped
each variety of life, all things that have motion.
So the warriors of the hall lived in joy,
were prosperous, until that one began
committing crimes, like a fiend of hell.
It was the ghastly ghoul called Grendel,
border walker from the marshlands, he that the moors held,
whose mire was his mansion; from the land held fast by
woe-laden man-shaped sea beasts,
since the Shaper had condemned them
as kin of Cain – so the almighty Lord punished
him for that murder, when he slew Abel.
Cain was given no good from that, the Measurer cast him
far abroad, done for his evil, away from humankind.
Then the monsters all awoke,
ogres and elves and orcs,
also giants, those that waged long warfare
against God; until he gave them their reward.

II

That demon knew then what he sought, once night fell,
at the high house, he knew how the Ring-Danes
after beer-drinking would be stayed there.
Found he therein a fortune of princes
sleeping fast after the feast — they knew no sorrow,
men of the war spear. The unholy figure,
grim and greedy, was quickly enthused,
savage and severe, and at once he seized
thirty thanes; after that he went out
heading loudly home with his prey;
after the slaughter he returned to his dwelling.
Then, outside the hall at daybreak,
was Grendel’s war-strength seen by human eyes;
after that was there weeping to heaven,
a morning full of mourning. Famous warriors,
long-tested true lords, sorrowful sat,
the mighty moaned, the lost thanes saddened them,
until they found the faint, loathful footprints that
the evil-doing fiend had made. That was helpful to
track the beast’s escape, hateful and sluggish. That night
was not long alone, nigh the next night Grendel again brought
more violent death and seemed not to hesitate as before,
bringing violence and outrage; he came down heavily upon them.
Then was he easy to find roaming
about elsewhere seeking rest,
a place to recline and relax, to which he left a trail,
that token spoke truly of the object
of the hall-dwellers’ hate; they sought
refuge outside the hall once they knew that fiend was running free.
So Grendel ruled in defiance of right,
one of lesser stuff against all, until that
greatest of houses stood silent. It was so for some time,
twelve winters of anger the friends of Scyld suffered,
each became accustomed to such hardship,
rough sorrow; because of that they became speakers,
sons of the age, knowledge of them was unhidden,
those troubled deeds of old, that Grendel lashed
out against Hrothgar for a long time, the hateful
monster’s way, years filled with failures and feuding,
a perpetual siege. That kin would not treat
with any man of the Danes for even the shortest time,
deadly evil from afar, as few did hope,
nor were there any who believed that his
hand could be stayed with a bright death price;
the fierce enemy was, after all, the pursuer,
a dark death shadow over the veterans and youths,
those who tarried and planned. Night upon night
Grendel held the misty moors, men never knew
whither the fiendish monster rapidly went.
So the fiend trespassed deeply against humankind,
the horror of the lone-goer, oft-cursed,
awful in affliction; Heorot was lived in by day,
but the richly adorned hall was his by gloomy night,
though Grendel could not approach the throne,
the treasure to the Measurer, nor could he be known.
This did much to the misery of the Scyldings,
their hearts broken. Many oft sat
with the ruler to give counsel, esteemed advice,
things that the rash and the best were fixing
to do against the awful horror.
Meanwhile they made demands of cherished idols
at household shrines, with words of worship,
so that they sought help against their problems
from the soul-slaying fiend. Such was their way,
their heathenish hope; they concentrated on hell
in their hearts, they knew not the Measurer,
the deeds of the Judge, they knew not almighty God
nor knew they of the praiseful protection of heaven,
glorious God. Woe betide them that shall
cast their soul into the flames’ embrace when
embroiled in cruel enmity, cheer they never know,
never a person restored! Well be those that might
after their death day seek the Lord
and hope for the safety of God’s grace.

III

So they brooded upon the troubles of that time,
none of the wise could put them upon the right
way; that strife was too steep, loathful and long-lasting,
that which had befallen the people,
that fierce severe punishment, the wreaker of night-destruction.
One of his thanes heard of this while home with Hygelac,
one good amidst the Geats, he heard tell of Grendel’s deeds;
he was humanities’ mightiest in strength
in the days of this life,
regal and great. He was given command of a ship
and well-directed; he spoke, saying he would seek
the troubled king across the swan’s way,
that famous ruler, to show that he was the man they needed.
Then were wise warriors chosen to accompany
him on his journey, those whom to him were dear,
whetstones to wondrous deeds, each looking hale.
The good Geat people then a great warrior
had crowned, there you a brave man might find!
Some fifteen sought out the ship at shore;
to the frontier they went, following the words of the wise,
the ones versed in sea-ways. The foremost knew motion;
the ship was on the sea, the boat that sat before barrows.
The warriors roaringly rose a cry — the current carried them on,
bringing the sea against sand. The men bore
bright treasures upon their chests,
magnificent in martial-gear; they all shoved off,
men bound for an expected expedition by boat.
The ship then knew the ocean’s motion, was wind-hastened,
became foamy-necked, became seabird like,
until near the time of day they had left,
after their ship with curved prow had glided,
when those well-travelled ones saw land,
dazzling sea cliffs, steep hills,
an ample headland. Then was sailing simple,
the journey at an end. From that ship sprang
the Geats onto the sands,
their boat they bound there — they shook their mail-coats,
rattled war-gear; they thanked God then,
the one that made their ship’s going smooth.
From those dazzling cliffs the Scyldings’ shore guard saw them,
the one who held the sea-cliffs saw those
men carrying bright shields across a ship’s gangway,
bearing ready war gear; his curiosity overpowered
his thinking, the need to know what these men were.
So rode out the thane of Hrothgar
to the shore, powerfully he shook the
spear in his hand before the wave-goers,
asked in a querying tone:

           “What are ye gear-havers,
wearers of corselets, that thus laden
in a high ship come over the sea-street,
hither with the waves? I am set
as border guard, to keep this isle hold watched,
So that no loathed ones may batter this
Danish land with naval force.
Never in known memory have any
come so openly bearing shields; nor do you
seem eager to get a word of permission from this watchman,
a Dane’s consent. Never saw I a mightier man
upon this earth, than this one before me,
this man of might; is that not a retainer,
one worthy of weapons? Never would his mien betray him,
a singular sight. Now I shall know whence
you come, far-farer, before you enter this land
as a spy, before you further step into
these Danish lands. Now, you of the far-off dwelling place,
sea-farer, I would hear tell of
your singular purpose; haste is best
in saying why you are come hence.”

Want more Beowulf? Continue the poem here!

Wiglaf: The right hero in an ever-changing world? (ll.2602-2630)

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

Beowulf and Wiglaf, each a hero, after the fierce fight against the dragon.

Wiglaf and Beowulf at the end of the fierce fight with the dragon. Image from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stories_of_beowulf_wiglaf_and_beowulf.jpg.


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Recap

Last week, Beowulf did what he said he would never do. He backed down.


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Synopsis

Wiglaf, the new Geat hero, is introduced.


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The Original Old English

Wiglaf wæs haten Weoxstanes sunu,
leoflic lindwiga, leod Scylfinga,
mæg ælfheres; geseah his mondryhten
under heregriman hat þrowian.
Gemunde ða ða are þe he him ær forgeaf,
wicstede weligne Wægmundinga,
folcrihta gehwylc, swa his fæder ahte.
Ne mihte ða forhabban; hond rond gefeng,
geolwe linde, gomel swyrd geteah,
þæt wæs mid eldum Eanmundes laf,
suna Ohteres. þam æt sæcce wearð,
wræccan wineleasum, Weohstan bana
meces ecgum, ond his magum ætbær
brunfagne helm, hringde byrnan,
eald sweord etonisc; þæt him Onela forgeaf,
his gædelinges guðgewædu,
fyrdsearo fuslic, no ymbe ða fæhðe spræc,
þeah ðe he his broðor bearn abredwade.
He frætwe geheold fela missera,
bill ond byrnan, oððæt his byre mihte
eorlscipe efnan swa his ærfæder;
geaf him ða mid Geatum guðgewæda,
æghwæs unrim, þa he of ealdre gewat,
frod on forðweg. þa wæs forma sið
geongan cempan, þæt he guðe ræs
mid his freodryhtne fremman sceolde.
Ne gemealt him se modsefa, ne his mæges laf
gewac æt wige; þæt se wyrm onfand,
syððan hie togædre gegan hæfdon.
(Beowulf ll.2602-2630)


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My Translation

“Wiglaf was his name, son of Weohstan,
a beloved warrior, man of the Scylfings,
kinsman of Aelfhere. He saw his liege lord
under the battle mask hot and suffering.
Then he remembered that bounty which he had earlier given,
how he lived in the rich dwelling place of the Waegmundings,
a place granted to each by common right, as his father had enjoyed.
Then he could not restrain himself, by hand his shield was grasped,
a yellow shield, the ancient sword he drew,
that which was, according to men, Eanmunde’s heirloom,
the sword of the son of Ohthere. It was brought back from battle,
while Weohstan was in friendless exile, he was that man’s slayer
with the sword’s edge, and to his kinsmen he bore
a shining helm, ringed mail shirt,
and that ancient sword of giant’s craft. Onela had given it to him,
his kinsman’s war garments,
the ready war garb, no feud was there to speak of,
though he his brother’s son had killed.
He kept the adornments for many half-years,
sword and mail-shirt, until his son could
perform the same heroic deeds as his late father.
Then he also gave the Geats one of the countless number
of war garbs when he departed from life,
old and on his way forth. Then was the first time
for that young warrior to advance himself
in the onslaught of battle for his noble lord.
His spirit was not melted by what he saw, nor did
his kinsman’s heirloom fail in the conflict. This the serpent discovered
after the two Geats had come together.”
(Beowulf ll.2602-2630)


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A Quick Interpretation

Well, it looks like Beowulf’s successor is pretty much set up.

Wiglaf enters the scene, bearing some pretty hefty gear. It’s the equipment of Onela’s nephew. So it’s from the Swedes; a bit of treasure from a successful Geat raid or battle. And this gear comes from his own dad, which makes its appeal something of a double whammy, I would think. Not only does this gear have history, but it’s something that Wiglaf inherited, adding to its reputation.

So he’s well-equipped to help Beowulf out. I guess all the other Geats Beowulf brought with him just had the small fortune required to pick a few things up from the local blacksmith. That’s got to be why they all ran off, right?

Actually, thinking of things that way, why are swords and helmets and armour with a history so valuable and confidence-bestowing?

Sure, swords and armour that have lasted for generations must be made of some tough stuff.

But if you have this ancestral sword that’s totally bad-ass and practically never fails you, when you’re slain and your sword is taken as war booty, was the sun in your eyes as your opponent came down with a slash to end you or did your sword screw up?

I guess that’s part of why there would be that belief that certain pieces of equipment had “proper” users. Beyond being form-fitted, the right swordsman with the right sword must’ve been believed to be unstoppable.

Interestingly, Beowulf puts the lie to that way of thinking, though. Beowulf’s ultimate weapon is his bare-handed physical strength. But something like the dragon can’t be beaten by brute force or wrestling holds alone. So maybe it’s less about the right piece of gear for the right user, and, in line with the Anglo-Saxon idea of the world being an ever-changing place, more about that right fit changing every few years.

Hopefully, for Beowulf’s sake, Wiglaf is the “right” wielder for the sword his dad gave him.

What’s your take on the importance of ancestral swords or on war gear plundered from fallen foes? Is it a guarantee of quality or just a cheap way to get some things that would have been prohibitively expensive?

Feel free to share your theories in the comments!


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Closing

In the next post, Wiglaf makes a speech to stir his comrades to Beowulf’s side. You can find that post, and the rest of my translation, starting here.

Yep! Perhaps a little confusingly, this is the last of my translation posts. The entries aren’t in perfect chronological order as far as when I wrote them, unfortunately. But now the entirety of Beowulf is on this blog!

Thanks for following this project as I’ve slowly released pieces of it over the years. And in the coming weeks, look forward to more coverage of Beowulf related news and media!

A bit further down the road, look for reworked, standalone chapters of the poem as I prepare my translation for publication.

And, of course, if you enjoyed this post, please give it a like. And, if you want to keep up with my Beowulf coverage, please do follow this blog!

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A right-thinking Beowulf? (ll.2580b-2601)

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

St. George slaying a dragon solo unlike mister might Beowulf.

An illumination showing a pleasantly distracted looking St. George slaying a cat-pawed dragon. No “right thinking” partner required? Image from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zanino_di_Pietro_-_Saint_George_Killing_the_Dragon_-_Walters_W322215R_-_Open_Obverse.jpg.


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Recap

Last week, Beowulf’s sword failed him and his shield proved weaker than expected.


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Synopsis

Beowulf battles the dragon, but needs to give it some space.


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The Original Old English

“þa wæs beorges weard
æfter heaðuswenge on hreoum mode,
wearp wælfyre; wide sprungon
hildeleoman. Hreðsigora ne gealp
goldwine Geata; guðbill geswac,
nacod æt niðe, swa hyt no sceolde,
iren ærgod. Ne wæs þæt eðe sið,
þæt se mæra maga Ecgðeowes
grundwong þone ofgyfan wolde;
sceolde ofer willan wic eardian
elles hwergen, swa sceal æghwylc mon
alætan lændagas. Næs ða long to ðon
þæt ða aglæcean hy eft gemetton.
Hyrte hyne hordweard (hreðer æðme weoll)
niwan stefne; nearo ðrowode,
fyre befongen, se ðe ær folce weold.
Nealles him on heape handgesteallan,
æðelinga bearn, ymbe gestodon
hildecystum, ac hy on holt bugon,
ealdre burgan. Hiora in anum weoll
sefa wið sorgum; sibb æfre ne mæg
wiht onwendan þam ðe wel þenceð.”
(Beowulf ll.2580b-2601)


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My Translation

“Then was the barrow
guard, after that battle stroke, thrust into a fierceness of spirit –
it threw its deadly fire, wildly leapt
those battle lights. Of glorious victory the
gold-giving friend of the Geats could not boast then,
the war sword failed him while unsheathed in battle, as it should
not have, became known as iron formerly excellent. That was no easy
journey, when the renowned kin of Ecgtheow
knew he should give up that ground,
that he should, against his wish, inhabit a dwelling place
elsewhere, so shall each man
leave off his loaned days. Then not long was it
before the fierce warriors met each other again.
The hoard guard himself took heart – his breast began to heave
from strain – he lunged forth once again. Harsh straits were suffered,
the fires enveloped Beowulf, he who once had ruled the people.
Not any of the band of comrades were with him then.
The sons of nobility stood around merely draped in martial virtues
they fled into the woods at the sight below,
eager to save their own lives. Of them, in only one mind
surged sorrow. Kinship may never
for anything be turned away from if a man thinks rightly.”
(Beowulf ll.2580b-2601)


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A Quick Interpretation

The fabric of Beowulf the poem is shot through with the idea of boasts and actions being bigger than mere words. Throughout the story we see Beowulf match this process of action. Boast, act, report.

But this is where we get some sure signals that the story is ending.

Beowulf can’t follow through on his boast from earlier. On lines 2524-2525 he had said “And I will not give/a foot’s length when I meet the barrow’s guard” (“Nelle ic beorges weard/forfleon fotes trem”). And now he is giving that ground. Beowulf can no longer do as he says, his actions now speak more quietly than he has need of them to.

Those he had handpicked as the best of the young Geats are also leaving him in his hour of greatest need.

Except for one.

One Geat up on that hill looks down and sees his lord in need and wants to help out. More than that, though, he is “a man [who] thinks rightly” (“þam ðe wel þenceð” (l.2601)).

Maybe that’s what Beowulf needs right now: right thinking.

After all, although his actions failed to meet his boast, that was due to his overestimating his abilities and the tools he had with him. But there is more to it than that, I think. Any incongruence between acts and words in the morality of Beowulf suggests a sourness of character. Liars say what they’ll do and then don’t do it, and they orchestrate that kind of outcome because they’re thinking of deceiving (others or themselves).

Beowulf falls prey to a bit of this with his failed follow through. Not that he was intending to go back on his boast, though the stories could have branded him as such because of that failure to follow through. So it makes sense that one with right thinking will swoop in for Beowulf’s rescue.

Was Beowulf thinking properly when he came up with his flame-resistant shield and when he said he had to fight the dragon alone? Or were these things the product of a mind convinced that the body it was attached to could still pull off such grand deeds?

Feel free to share your theories in the comments!


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Closing

Next week, we turn away from the dragon to see what the Geats on the clifftop are up to.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like. And, if you want to keep up with my translations, please do follow this blog!

 

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The best laid shield plans of Beowulf and dragons (ll.2559-2580a)

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 called out the dragon and heard it call back.


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Synopsis

Beowulf attacks the dragon, and the unexpected happens.


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The Original Old English

“Biorn under beorge bordrand onswaf
wið ðam gryregieste, Geata dryhten;
ða wæs hringbogan heorte gefysed
sæcce to seceanne. Sweord ær gebræd
god guðcyning, gomele lafe,
ecgum unslaw; æghwæðrum wæs
bealohycgendra broga fram oðrum.
Stiðmod gestod wið steapne rond
winia bealdor, ða se wyrm gebeah
snude tosomne; he on searwum bad.
Gewat ða byrnende gebogen scriðan,
to gescipe scyndan. Scyld wel gebearg
life ond lice læssan hwile
mærum þeodne þonne his myne sohte,
ðær he þy fyrste, forman dogore
wealdan moste swa him wyrd ne gescraf
hreð æt hilde. Hond up abræd
Geata dryhten, gryrefahne sloh
incgelafe, þæt sio ecg gewac
brun on bane, bat unswiðor
þonne his ðiodcyning þearfe hæfde,
bysigum gebæded.”
(Beowulf ll.2559-2580a)


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My Translation

“The warrior below the barrow, the lord of the Geats,
swung the rim of his shield against the dreadful stranger,
then was the coiled creature with heart ignited
eager to seek battle. The good war-king
bad already drawn his his sword, the ancient heirloom,
sharp of edges, each was in horror at the intent
to harm and rain destruction evident in the other’s eyes.
He stood firmly against the towering shield,
the lord of a dear people, when the serpent coiled himself
quickly together. Beowulf waited in arms.
Then the serpent went gliding along, still coiled and burning,
hastening toward his fate. The shield well protected
Beowulf’s being and body for a lesser time
than that renowned prince required for his purpose,
that was the first time that day
that he learned he would have to prevail, though fate had not decreed
triumph for him. The lord of the Geats
swung up his hand, the one terrible in its varied colours was struck by
the mighty heirloom, yet its long-tested edge failed,
it gleamed dry, stopped by the beast’s bones, bit less strongly
just when the king of a people had need of it,
when it could have cut him free from his afflictions.”
(Beowulf ll.2559-2580a)


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A Quick Interpretation

Well, all of Beowulf’s psyching up seems to have been for naught. He jumps in to slash the dragon, and his sword has no effect.

Worse than that, though, Beowulf’s grand plan fails him. His heavy iron shield is either heating up too much in the dragon’s fire or actually melting.

These two events are a dire turn for the poem’s hero, but are they really all that surprising? I don’t even mean because of the meta information that we have as readers. Looking at this fight with the logic of the poem in mind, it seems that it follows one of the poem’s major patterns.

Beowulf wears gear and uses weapons when he’s fighting in wars. But in two of the three one-on-one fights we hear about before this dragon fight, Beowulf triumphs when he goes in empty handed.

I mean, Grendel and Day Raven are killed thanks to Beowulf’s killer grip.

Grendel’s mother is an exception, and I’m not sure what to do with that, exactly.

I suppose her case could be dismissed since her underwater hall is kind of an inversion of the Old English Anglo-Saxon normal to begin with. A hall, to them, is a human space, but the Grendels’ hall is occupied by monsters. An Anglo-Saxon hall, generally ruled by a man, is ruled by a woman. A hall is usually warm and dry and safe, but the Grendels have their hall in a cold, damp, and dangerous cave.

So in the context of the Grendel’s hall, Beowulf’s armour deflecting Grendel’s mother’s knife makes sense. Beowulf’s using the giant’s sword to ultimately kill Grendel’s mother makes sense.

But the dragon’s lair is not the inversion of a hall. It’s just a stony area near an ancient barrow by the sea. And a barrow is definitely not a hall in any sense. So bringing gear to this fight may have been deemed necessary, but it’s not surprising that his shield doesn’t work the way he hoped it would, or that his sword fails him. This is a monster fight in an ordinary place.

It’s almost as if Beowulf, this exceptional human being, took the sensible average advice of his counselors, or his people, completely forgetting that he is not average. Such advice doesn’t quite apply to him.

Of course, Beowulf would’ve been burned alive without his shield.

But I really think that a younger Beowulf would’ve just rushed in and torn the dragon’s lower jaw off, disabling its fire breath and leaving it to bleed out as he did with Grendel. The elder Beowulf, though, seems to have lost belief in his own physical power and prowess, hence his failed reliance on these specially made or imbued, but otherwise absolutely normal, pieces of gear.

Do you think that Beowulf’s confidence has flagged in his old age and he’s just going through the motions? Or do you think that Beowulf just thinks that dragon is beyond his power so some extra gear is needed?

Feel free to share your theories in the comments!


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Closing

Next week, the dragon launches its counterattack!

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like. And, if you want to keep up with my translations, please do follow this blog!

You can find the next part of Beowulf here.

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What Beowulf has for the dragon: taunts and worries (ll.2510-2537)

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

The kind of dragon perfectly at home in Beowulf as if by fate.

An Anglo-Saxon dragon, complete with treasure hoard. Image from http://brer-powerofbabel.blogspot.ca/2011_09_01_archive.html


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Recap

Last week, Beowulf recounted how Hygelac rewarded him for his role in the war with the Swedes. And I wondered about Beowulf’s timeline.


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Synopsis

Beowulf now boasts to boost his spirits.


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The Original Old English

“Beowulf maðelode, beotwordum spræc
niehstan siðe: ‘Ic geneðde fela
guða on geogoðe; gyt ic wylle,
frod folces weard, fæhðe secan,
mærðu fremman, gif mec se mansceaða
of eorðsele ut geseceð.’
Gegrette ða gumena gehwylcne,
hwate helmberend, hindeman siðe,
swæse gesiðas: ‘Nolde ic sweord beran,
wæpen to wyrme, gif ic wiste hu
wið ðam aglæcean elles meahte
gylpe wiðgripan, swa ic gio wið Grendle dyde.
Ac ic ðær heaðufyres hates wene,
oreðes ond attres; forðon ic me on hafu
bord ond byrnan. Nelle ic beorges weard
forfleon fotes trem, ac unc furður sceal
weorðan æt wealle, swa unc wyrd geteoð,
metod manna gehwæs. Ic eom on mode from
þæt ic wið þone guðflogan gylp ofersitte.
Gebide ge on beorge byrnum werede,
secgas on searwum, hwæðer sel mæge
æfter wælræse wunde gedygan
uncer twega. Nis þæt eower sið
ne gemet mannes, nefne min anes,
þæt he wið aglæcean eofoðo dæle,
eorlscype efne. Ic mid elne sceall
gold gegangan, oððe guð nimeð,
feorhbealu frecne, frean eowerne!'”
(Beowulf ll.2510-2537)


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My Translation

“Beowulf spoke after a pause, made a formal boast
for the final time. ‘In youth I
risked much in combat, yet I will once more.
Though I am now an old king of the people, I shall pursue this feud,
gain glory, if only the fiend to men
will come out from his earth-hall to face me!’
Addressed he then each warrior,
speaking true to each helm-wearer, for the last time,
every gathered dear companion: ‘I would not bear a sword,
bring the weapon to the wyrm, if I knew how
I might otherwise grapple gallantly against
that foe, as I once with Grendel did.
But there will be hot war-fires I expect,
stinking breath and venom. Thus I have on
both shield and byrnie. And I will not give
a foot’s length when I meet the barrow’s guard, but between us two
what is to happen later on the sea-wall, that is as fate.
The Measurer of Men is indeed to decide. I am firm of heart,
so that I may desist from boasting over this war-flyer.
Wait you all on the barrow, my armed men,
warriors ready in war-gear, while we see which
of we two can endure the wounds
after our deadly onslaught. This is not your fight,
nor any other man’s, but mine alone
to share my might with the foe,
indeed, to share my courage. By that courage shall
I win the gold, or, in this battle, gain the peril of a violent death,
if the latter, may your lord to swept away!’”
(Beowulf ll.2510-2537)


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A Quick Interpretation

I can see Beowulf screaming down to the barrow as he wraps up his boast, and I can see him maybe bashing his shield and sword together as he speaks to the Geats (and the thief!) he has with him, imploring them to stay put.

What’s most surprising and gripping about this passage, though, is Beowulf’s apparent foreknowledge of what is to happen. He doesn’t get specific but his saying “but between us two/what is to happen later on the sea-wall, that is as fate” (“ac unc furður sceal/weorðan æt wealle, swa unc wyrd geteoð” (ll.2525-2526)) strikes me as a bit of insight into his own end.

And honestly, that sentiment seems to colour this whole passage.

Beowulf definitely knows how dangerous this fight will be. And he seems to bar the others from joining him because he wants to expose only himself to what will surely be a fatal encounter. I mean, he also wants to get all the glory (hello there, fatal flaw), but I definitely get the impression there are a few drops of compassion for his fellow Geats in the mix, too.

How much of his future do you think Beowulf is aware of? Is he just predicting that he’ll end up fighting the dragon on an outcropping close to the nearby sea? Or is there more insight there?

Feel free to share your theories in the comments!


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Closing

Next week, Beowulf sets out to meet the dragon.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like. And, if you want to keep up with my translations, please do follow this blog!

You can find the next part of Beowulf here.

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Beowulf’s history and timeline (ll.2490-2509)

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

Beowulf's timeline reflects his skewed history.

A somewhat anachronistic clock set into a medieval-looking tower and reflected in the water. Image from: https://pxhere.com/en/photo/1388017.


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Recap

Last week, Beowulf explained how Haethcyn met his end and Eofor ended the Geatish/Swedish war.


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Synopsis

Beowulf reviews the treasures that Hygelac gave him and how he raised his reputation in countless battles.


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The Original Old English

“‘Ic him þa maðmas, þe he me sealde,
geald æt guðe, swa me gifeðe wæs,
leohtan sweorde; he me lond forgeaf,
eard, eðelwyn. Næs him ænig þearf
þæt he to Gifðum oððe to Gardenum
oððe in Swiorice secean þurfe
wyrsan wigfrecan, weorðe gecypan.
Symle ic him on feðan beforan wolde,
ana on orde, ond swa to aldre sceall
sæcce fremman, þenden þis sweord þolað,
þæt mec ær ond sið oft gelæste.
Syððan ic for dugeðum Dæghrefne wearð
to handbonan, Huga cempan;
nalles he ða frætwe Frescyninge,
breostweorðunge, bringan moste,
ac in compe gecrong cumbles hyrde,
æþeling on elne; ne wæs ecg bona,
ac him hildegrap heortan wylmas,
banhus gebræc. Nu sceall billes ecg,
hond ond heard sweord, ymb hord wigan.'”
(Beowulf ll.2490-2509)


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My Translation

“‘The treasures that Hygelac granted me,
were payment for my role in that war, all of which fortune allowed me,
I won it for him by flashing sword. For that he gave me land,
a place to be from, the joy of home. Thus, for Hygelac there was
no need, no reason to be required to seek someone from the gift house,
or the Spear-Danes, or the Swedes for worse war-makers, my worth was well-known.
Always would I go on foot before him,
first in the line, and so shall I do ‘til age takes me,
so shall I conduct war, as long as this sword survives,
that which has and will endure.
For this is the sword I held when I, for nobility’s sake,
became the hand-slayer of Day Raven the Frank.
No treasure at all did that warrior
bring back to the Frisian king.
No breastplate could he have carried,
for in the field he fell as standard bearer,
princely in courage. He was not slain by the sword,
but instead a hostile grip halted the surge of his heart,
broke his bone-house. Now shall the sword’s edge,
hand and hard blade, be heaved against the sentinel of the hoard.’”
(Beowulf ll.2490-2509)


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A Quick Interpretation

First, reading this passage really confuses me about the timeline of Beowulf’s life story.

Wasn’t Hygelac lord of the Geats when he was over in Daneland, fighting the Grendels? And didn’t Beowulf go over there when he was just a teen?

If those two things are true, then Beowulf must have been something like a squire in that battle with the Swedes. He must also have been a pre-teen then. Or, at the youngest, 13. I mean, he was also supposed to be the runt of his generation, and one whom the elders of the Geats doubted.

But if all of that’s true, then how much more land did Beowulf get from Hygelac after returning from Daneland? And if he already had land and treasures before going to Daneland why would the elders of the Geats be so doubtful about him?

Along similar lines, did Beowulf fight Day Raven before going to Daneland, too? Is that where he gained the reputation for having the strength of 30 men in his hand-grip? Or when Beowulf dropped his sword to manually throttle Day Raven did the gathered crowd cheer and whoop, knowing what was coming?

Honestly, if anyone has a better grasp of Beowulf’s timeline, please do get in touch.

Setting aside concerns about when the events of Beowulf’s life happened, he seems to have had a rich life of fighting just as many non-monstrous as monstrous opponents. So I wonder why the poet decided to go down the monster route.

Perhaps it was a matter of interest.

We have so few poems and stories from the Old English-speaking Anglo-Saxons. So it wouldn’t surprise me if their world of stories was flooded with historical or political romps and Beowulf was meant to be something that broke out of that.

Or, maybe this poem was supposed to be a fusion between what then passed as history and their common mythology?

Feel free to share your theories in the comments!


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Closing

Next week, Beowulf tries to pump himself up with a speech to the other Geats with him on the cliff.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like. And, if you want to keep up with my translations, please do follow this blog!

You can find the next part of Beowulf here.

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King Hæthcyn’s brief run toward battle (ll.2472-2489)

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

A Viking Age battle involving, no doubt, a king like Beowulf.

Thorir Hund dressed in a reindeer-hide tunic kills King Olaf at the Battle of Stiklestad. Painting by Peter Nicolai Arbo. Click image for source.


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Recap

Last week, Beowulf shared how Hrethel’s remaining kids (Hygelac and Hæthcyn) inherited his wealth.


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Synopsis

This week, we learn of Hæthcyn’s all too short run as king of the Geats.


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The Original Old English

“‘þa wæs synn ond sacu Sweona ond Geata
ofer wid wæter, wroht gemæne,
herenið hearda, syððan Hreðel swealt,
oððe him Ongenðeowes eaferan wæran
frome, fyrdhwate, freode ne woldon
ofer heafo healdan, ac ymb Hreosnabeorh
eatolne inwitscear oft gefremedon.
þæt mægwine mine gewræcan,
fæhðe ond fyrene, swa hyt gefræge wæs,
þeah ðe oðer his ealdre gebohte,
heardan ceape; Hæðcynne wearð,
Geata dryhtne, guð onsæge.
þa ic on morgne gefrægn mæg oðerne
billes ecgum on bonan stælan,
þær Ongenþeow Eofores niosað.
Guðhelm toglad, gomela Scylfing
hreas hildeblac; hond gemunde
fæhðo genoge, feorhsweng ne ofteah.'”
(Beowulf ll.2472-2489)


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My Translation

“‘After that, between Swedes and Geats was war and enmity,
over the wide waters could be heard their cries of sorrow,
the noise of wall-hard warfare, after Hrethel perished.
From across that water came Ongeontheow’s sons,
warlike, they would not free those
they held in lamentation, they would not relent.
Near the hill of Hreosnburgh they often launched voracious
murderous attacks. My own close-kin avenged this,
feud and war-fire, as it was known,
though one of them bought it with his life,
at a hard price; Hæthcyn, Geatish lord,
was taken in the war’s assailing.
Then in the morning I heard that his kin
avenged him by the blade, laid its edge to end the slayer’s life,
where Eofor’s attack fell upon Ongeontheow.
His war-helm was split, the Swedish warlord
fell, mortally wounded, for Eofor’s hand held memory
enough of the feuding, Ongeontheow could not hold off the fatal blow.’”
(Beowulf ll.2472-2489)


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A Quick Interpretation

King today, a war statistic tomorrow. Poor Hæthcyn, forced to live on with the sorrow of killing his brother, being spurned by his father, and then being king for what sounds like just a few months before dying in battle.

Well, the king is dead. Long live the king.

Yes, this is how Hæthcyn meets his end. It must not have been very glorious, since Beowulf doesn’t dwell on it here. Instead, Eofor is given the attention in the story of this strife. Rightfully so, I suppose, since he doesn’t die and actually lands the blow that ends it all.

Though I can’t really blame Beowulf for glossing over Hæthcyn’s role.

Maybe he was a weak king. After all, he fell in battle, and seems to have done nothing diplomatic to keep the peace between Geats and Swedes.

More than that, though, if Hæthcyn really did kill Herebeald by accident, then he would still be in the terrible position of having killed his brother and haunted by that fact.

If it was no accident, but something along the lines of Robert Baratheon’s hunting trip in Game of Thrones, though, then Hæthcyn definitely wouldn’t be remembered. Such an intention would set him among the worst of the villains in the Anglo-Saxon’s mythology. That kind of treachery isn’t just against family, but against what then would have been seen as the natural order of royal succession. So, just like bad king Heremod, Hæthcyn was given all the gifts of worldly status and squandered them for his own greedy ends — if his brother’s death was indeed not an accident.

Aside from all of that, I really like the phrase that describes Eofor’s disposition when he attacks Ongeontheow: that his “hand held memory/enough of feuding” (“hond gemunde/fæhðo genoge” (ll.2488-2489)). It’s simple, yet incredibly evocative of the single warrior channeling the will of his group into a single act.

Speaking of warriors, do you think that Hæthcyn put up a fight? Or do you think that he went down like a dropped sack of potatoes after an arrow or sword made its way through him?

Feel free to share your theories in the comments!


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Closing

Next week, Beowulf gets back to his own story as he explains how he was rewarded for his role in the fight with the Swedes.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like. And, if you want to keep up with my translations, please do follow this blog!

You can find the next part of Beowulf here.

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