Heorot at Peace, Heorot in Sorrow: Book XVII – Book XIX

The Lady of the Lake from the stories of King Arthur, another take on Grendel's mother from Beowulf?

If Wealhtheow is like Guinevere, then Grendel’s mother is like the Lady of the Lake: the more volatile and magical side of femininity. Image from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Arthur-Pyle_The_Lady_of_ye_Lake.JPG.

XVII

Departed then the warriors to go to their homes
deprived of friends, scattered across Frisia,
their homes and their strongholds. Hengest there yet
dwelt, through the slaughter-stained and all ill-fated winter
with Finn; filled with thoughts of home,
though they might not sail the sea upon
a ring-prowed ship; the sea heaved with storms,
winds fought upon it; the wintry waves were locked
tight with binding ice, and would be until came
another year to the world, as it yet does,
as the seasons are still observed,
bringing gloriously bright weather. Then would winter depart,
leave the earth’s fair bosom; the exiles were eager to go,
the strangers in the hall; but then they thought more
of revenge for their injury than of putting to sea,
if they might bring about a hostile encounter,
that the son of Jutes may have his crime etched in his heart.
So he could not refuse the law of the world,
when to him Hunlafing gave War-Radiance,
the best of swords, placed it into his lap,
that was amidst the Jutes a known weapon.
Just so, it later befell Finn, the bold in spirit,
that he was cruelly killed in his own home,
suffered the dire attack after Guðlaf and Oslaf
spoke of the sorrow of their sea voyage,
all blamed their share of woe on Finn, nor might the restless spirit
restrain itself at heart. Then was the hall made red,
red from the blood of their enemies, likewise was Finn slain,
king of the troop, and they seized the queen.
The Scyldings also bore away to their ships
all that had belonged to the lord of that land,
whatever within that hall they could find of
jewels, fine-worked gems. Then they left with that noble lady
on the sea voyage to Daneland,
lead her back to her people. Then the song was sung,
the entertainer’s tale. Revelry again arose,
the noise among the benches flashed as the cup bearer brought
joy from/the joy of the wondrous vessel. Then Wealhtheow came forth,
going under the weight of golden rings, over to where
the two sat, nephew and uncle; there yet were those kin together,
each to the other true. Also there sat spokesman Unferth
at the foot of the Scylding lord’s seat; each of them to his spirit trusted,
that he had great courage, though he to his own kin was not
merciful at the swordplay. Spoke then the Scylding lady:

“Take of this fullness, my noble lord,
treasure bestower while you are in joy,
gold giving friend of men, and to the Geats
speak mild words, as anyone shall do;
be with the Geats glad, be mindful of their gift
from near and far that you now have.
My man has said, that you for a son this
warrior would have. Heorot is cleansed,
the bright ring-hall; use, while you will,
your many joys, and to your kin leave
the folk and kingdom, when you shall go forth,
as fate foresees. I myself know
how gracious Hrothulf is, that he will defend
the honour of the youth, if you before him,
friend of the Scyldings, leave this world;
I believe that he will liberally repay
our two sons, if he recalls all the care we’ve given him,
the favour and honour* that we showed him
while he was a child** and still growing up.’
She turned then from the bench, there to where her sons were,
Hreðric and Hroðmund, and to the hero’s son,
all the youths together; for there the good man sat,
Beowulf the Geat, there between the two brothers.

XVIII

“To him the cup was carried and cordial invitations
offered in words, along with wound gold
bestowed with good will, armbands two,
garments and rings, the greatest neck-ring
in all the earth, as I have heard.
Not anywhere else under the sky have I heard of a finer
hero’s hoard treasure, not since Hama bore away to there
the magnificent necklace of Brosing,
jewels fixed in precious setting; when he fled
the cunning enmity of Eormenric; chose eternal gain.
Then the ring had Hygelac the Geat,
Swerting’s grandson, wore it on his final raid,
during that time he defended the treasure under his banner,
protected the spoils of the slain*; but he was carried off by fate,
since he for pride’s sake sought trouble,
bore feud to the Frisians. Yet he carried those adornments away,
took the precious stones over the wide waves,
that mighty man; he fell dead beneath his shield.
Then it passed from the king’s body into the grasp of the Franks,
his mail-coat and the circlet also;
the less worthy warriors plundered the slain,
after the battle carnage; the Geatish people
occupied a city of corpses. The hall swelled with sound.
Wealhtheow spoke, she before the throng said this:

“Enjoy these rings, dear Beowulf,
young warrior, be with health, and this garment use,
our people’s treasure, and prosper well;
show to these youths your strength, and to them
offer kind advice; I for this reward shall remember you.
You have brought it about, so that far and near
forever among men shall you be praised,
just as widely as the sea encompasses
the home of the wind, the jutting cliffs. Be, long as you live,
prince, blessed! I wish to you great
treasure. Be you to my sons
of kind deed and joyful!
Here each man is to the other true,
of mild heart, under our lord’s protection;
the warriors are united, a people fully prepared
these men all have drunken the pledge and do as I command.”

She went then to her seat. There was the greatest of feasts,
men drank great wine; none knew the fate that awaited,
a dolorous destiny, as it would again
and again befall the many, after evening came,
and Hrothgar had retired with his entourage to his chamber,
the ruler gone to rest. The hall was guarded
by warriors without number, as they had oft done before;
the bench boards were cleared; the floor was enlarged
with bedding and pillows. One reveller
was marked and doomed on that couch to depart.
They set at their heads their battle-shields,
the bright shield-wood. On the benches behind the
princes who’d watched the waves
were the helmets that towered in battle, ringed mail-shirts,
glorious spears. Such was their custom,
to be always ready for war,
whether at home or out plundering, or at any time
that their lord showed signs of
need for rallying; that was a brave people.

XIX

Sank they then to sleep. One man paid a dear price
for that evening’s rest, as they went to it as they would
in the gold hall before Grendel occupied it,
ruled with terror, until his end came,
death after such dire crimes. They then became manifest,
those deeds of the widely known man, that avenger then yet
lived after that hateful one, for a long time,
while he wallowed in war wounds. Grendel’s mother,
that hag, the one with a woman’s misery in mind,
who was made to inhabit fearsome waters,
who lives in cold streams, after Cain became
the slayer by the sword of his own brother,
kin by the same father; he fled as an outlaw for that,
marked with murder, fled from the joy of companionship,
occupied the wilderness. Thence was born
that terrible fate; that was hateful Grendel,
the savage outcast, then at Heorot he found
a watchful man waiting for war.
There that man seized the monster;
nevertheless he was mindful of his great might,
an ample allotment of strength, that which God granted him,
and he trusted in the Ruler’s favour,
comfort and support; through that he overcame the fiend,
laid the hell beast low. Then he humiliated went,
deprived of joy and seeking the dwelling of death,
thus went the enemy of men. And his mother would yet
come, gluttonous and gloomy in mind,
on her joyless journey, all to avenge the death of her son.
It came then to Heorot, where the ring-Danes
within that hall slept. There would soon be
a reversal among the warriors when
in came Grendel’s mother. The terror she inspired
was only lessened slightly, as a woman warrior’s might
may be against the great strength of an armed man
when with ornamented sword, hammer forged,
blade bloody and raised over the boar helm,
the sharp edge shears the opponent.
Then in the hall were swords drawn,
blades pulled over benches, many a broad shield
held firm in hand; but they paid no mind to helmets,
or the battle shirt, when terror returned to the hall.
She was in haste, she wished to be away from there,
to save her life, since she had been discovered.
Quickly, before she went, she seized one
man fast, as she fled to the fens.
That man was Hrothgar’s dearest warrior,
his closest companion of all people living between the seas,
a powerful shield-warrior, that was the man she killed while at rest,
that famed fighter. Beowulf was not there,
he had been assigned a different resting place earlier,
during the gift giving for that renowned Geat.

Uproar burst forth from Heorot — to pay the blood cost
the mere-woman had seized the best known hand. Sorrow was renewed;
it had happened again in that hall. Their trade was harsh,
both parties had to pay a steep price
with the lives of friends. Hrothgar was now an old king,
a grey-haired battle-ruler, troubled at heart,
when he had heard his chief retainer was lifeless,
when he learned his dearest follower was dead.
Quickly Beowulf was called from his chamber,
the man blessed with victory in battle. At daybreak
came the one man, that noble warrior,
himself among companions, to where the wise one was,
he who wondered whether the All-Ruler would ever
reverse his sorrowful fortunes in the future.
Went then over the floor the man renowned in battle
amidst his hand-picked troop — the hall’s timbers resounded —
so that he could address the wise one with words,
the lord of the Ingwins; asked him how he was,
if the night had fulfilled his wishes.

Want more Beowulf? Continue the poem here!

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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!

Assurances to end a story, or just an act?

Introduction
Synopsis
The Original Old English
My Translation
A Quick Question
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: http://bit.ly/2frmbiU


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Introduction

This is another busy week for me, but I still want to post something here. So, since I wrote up a new news piece for last week, here is a new translation post. However, this is just a translation. To make it more interesting I’ll first post the original Old English from lines 1665 – 1676. My translation is underneath that.


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Synopsis

Beowulf completes the story of how he defeated Grendel’s mother, and he assures Hrothgar that Heorot is now safe.


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The Original Old English

“‘Ofsloh ða æt þære sæcce, þa me sæl ageald,
huses hyrdas. þa þæt hildebil
forbarn brogdenmæl, swa þæt blod gesprang,
hatost heaþoswata. Ic þæt hilt þanan
feondum ætferede, fyrendæda wræc,
deaðcwealm Denigea, swa hit gedefe wæs.
Ic hit þe þonne gehate, þæt þu on Heorote most
sorhleas swefan mid þinra secga gedryht
ond þegna gehwylc þinra leoda,
duguðe ond iogoþe, þæt þu him ondrædan ne þearft,
þeoden Scyldinga, on þa healfe,
aldorbealu eorlum, swa þu ær dydest.'”

(Beowulf ll.1665-1676)


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My Translation

“‘Then I slew her in that fight, as the hall began to glow around me,
a strangely fortified house. than that battle blade
burned, the damascened sword, as the creature’s blood struck it,
hottest of battle bloods. I took the hilt out
from the fiend’s remains, the wicked deed avenged,
the death by violence of Danes, as was befitting.
Thence I swear this to thee, that you may now
sleep without sorrow in Heorot hall with all your company,
and each thane of your people,
old nobles and youths, that they all now have no need to fear,
lord of the Scyldings, for your own portion,
the lives of your folk, as you did before.'”

(Beowulf ll.1665-1676)


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A Quick Question

Beowulf has confirmed that the threat to Heorot is over, and he assures Hrothgar of that pretty thoroughly here. Does this part of the story leave you feeling a strong sense of closure? Or, knowing that there’s still a dragon out there somewhere, do you feel like Beowulf’s words are just leading to an act break in the story?


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Closing

Next week, Beowulf gives Hrothgar another gift.

You can find the next part of Beowulf here.

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Beowulf hauls Grendel’s head in, spectacles of the war-fierce (ll.1644-1650)

Synopsis
Translation
Recordings
The Wondrous Beowulf and His Spectacle of a Head
Spectacles of the Bold in Deed
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: http://bit.ly/2frmbiU


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Synopsis

Beowulf and the Geats stride into Heorot, heaving Grendel’s head.


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Translation

“Then that weathered warrior strode in,
the man bold in deeds had grown authoritative,
a war-fierce man, he greeted Hrothgar.
By the hair was Grendel’s head then borne
into the middle of the floor, where the warriors drank,
the terror dropped amidst the men and their queen;
a wondrous spectacle in the sight of men.”
(Beowulf ll.1644-1650)


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Recordings

Old English:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}


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The Wondrous Beowulf and His Spectacle of a Head

I wonder what the people assembled in Heorot are more shocked by: Grendel’s head or the return of Beowulf?

The Danes had lost hope for the young Geat, after all (ll.1601-1602). So it must be a wonder that he’s back.

Even more so that he’s back with the head of Grendel.

But why should hauling the head into the hall matter?

I think it’s because the head is an important symbol of the seat of power in early medieval minds. That the head is drug in by the hair might also have some symbolic significance since the people that the Anglo-Saxons encountered when they first came to Britain grew their hair long – both men and women. In this sense, Grendel’s monstrosity doesn’t just come from being cursed by god, but by being the other, the thing that needed to be purged from the land to make it pure and good.

Actually, if Grendel is seen as a reference to the Celtic peoples that the Anglo-Saxons encountered, then maybe there was a sense that they were cursed by god. After all, the Irish retained an earlier variety of Christianity even after the second wave of missions came in. No doubt there would have been differences in doctrine, however, leading the British locals’ ideas of Christianity being considered heretical, a people whom god had turned its back on.

Whatever it might have meant to early audiences, the fact that Beowulf managed to separate Grendel’s head from his vile body shows that, with line 1645, he has indeed “grown authoritative” (“dóme gewurþad”). His deeds now match his words. After all, he had promised Hrothgar to rid Heorot of Grendel, and up until this moment it was a promise unfulfilled.

Yes, Beowulf killed Grendel when they fought in Heorot, but then Grendel’s mother came raging in. And who knows what Grendel’s body was doing on that altar in her hall. Perhaps he was just being prepared for burial, perhaps that’s where their tribe laid people out for a set number of days after death.

Or, maybe Grendel was such an angry creature because he had died and been revived before on that altar, the catch being that with each revival, he lost a bit of whatever humanity he had in him. In this case, maybe her mourning wasn’t for Grendel’s death but for the fact that with each revival she lost a little bit of the sweet, playful son whom she had raised years ago.

Why do you think Beowulf plonks Grendel’s head down in the middle of Heorot? Is it just done for dramatic effect? Or is there something more to it?


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Spectacles of the Bold in Deed


At medieval festivals you could go see the “bold in deed”1. Yes, there would be all manner of performers, competitions, and carousing, but there would also be games for the “war fierce”2. Things like one-on-one tournament sword and shield fights, jousts, wrestling. Activities which would have been the “spectacle”3 of the day.

 

1daed-cene: bold in deed. daed (deed, action, transaction, event) + cene (bold, brave, fierce, powerful, learned, clever) [A word that is exclusive to Beowulf.]

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2hilde-deor: war fierce, brave. hilde (war, combat) + deor (animal, beast, deer, reindeer; brave, bold, ferocious, grievous, severe, violent)

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3wlite-seon: sight, spectacle. wlite (brightness, appearance, form, aspect, look, countenance, beauty, splendour, adornment) + seon (look, behold, observe, perceive, understand, know, inspect, visit, experience, suffer, appear, seem, provide) [A word that is exclusive to Beowulf.]

Back Up

 


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Closing

Next week, Beowulf speaks!

You can find the next part of Beowulf here.

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Flaming waters and who measures out miles anyway? (ll.1357b-1367)

Synopsis
Translation
Recordings
A Weird Home with Flaming Water
The Wondrous Life of a Mile Measurer
Closing

Beowulf, Grendel, Old English, Anglo-Saxon

An illustration of Grendel by J.R. Skelton from Stories of Beowulf. Grendel is described as “Very terrible to look upon.”Stories of beowulf grendel” by J. R. Skelton – Marshall, Henrietta Elizabeth (1908) Stories of Beowulf, T.C. & E.C. Jack. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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Synopsis

Hrothgar tells Beowulf (and us) about where the Grendels live.

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Translation

&nbsp:&nbsp:&nbsp:&nbsp:&nbsp:&nbsp:&nbsp:&nbsp:&nbsp:&nbsp:&nbsp:&nbsp:&nbsp:”They occupy that
strange land, along wolf-inhabited slopes, near wind-wracked cliffs,
up the perilous fen-path, where mountain streams
fall through mists from the headlands,
water creeping from underground. It is not many miles
hence that their mere can be found,
with frost-covered groves overhanging it;
tree roots overshadow those waters with their interlocking embrace.
Each night there you can see the oddest of wonders,
the water catches fire; none among the dear wise
children of humanity know of those waters’ bottom.”
(Beowulf ll.1357b-1367)

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Recordings

Old English:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}

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A Weird Home with Flaming Water

Wonder upon wonder! After telling us that Grendel and Grendel’s mother were known to the people living on his lands, Hrothgar goes on to describe where the two live. And it doesn’t sound very hospitable.

Wolves on the slopes (“wulfhleoþu” l.1358), paths that cut through the marsh (“fengelad” l.1359), and everything is covered in mist (“genipu” l.1360). It sounds downright swampy.

Given this description of the monstrous Grendels’ home it’s no wonder it’s the Anglo-Saxon (read British) default to ascribe brutality and low intelligence to people who live in the backwoods and hills. If the presentation of Grendel and Grendel’s mother are anything to go on, making these people monsters (as we still do in horror movies to this day), is one of the oldest stereotypes carried down by speakers of English.

But that’s not the worst of it.

Along with being in such a perilous place, the water there burns by night. Water’s not supposed to burn. And especially not at night. And yet this stuff does.

Maybe it’s marsh gas (viewers of the Jon Pertwee Doctor Who story “Carnival of Monsters” might know how flammable the stuff can be).

Or maybe it’s just the light of the moon rippling off the water between tree branches in such a way that it looks like the water is glowing.

Or, weirdest of all, maybe the fires that dance upon the lake’s surface at night are lights for those below. Maybe this is the site of an anti-Heorot, a place where monsters kick back, drink their malts and eat strictly vegetarian meals.

It sounds crazy, but, as we’ll learn later on, the Grendels do have a rather mysterious cave/hall to call their own.

And why not introduce an anti-Heorot here?

So few people adapt the poem beyond the confrontation with Grendel’s mother. But, if you look at the poem as a thing divided into thirds based on the three major fights something interesting appears. Along with three monsters (Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon) there are three halls that are featured (Heorot, the Grendel’s, and Beowulf’s). So why shouldn’t the water on fire be lights coming up from the deep, where monsters play and frolic, while one of them plays an old rib cage like a xylophone?

What do you think is causing the water of this strange lair to look like it’s burning by night?

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The Wondrous Life of a Mile Measurer

The area that Hrothgar talks about in this passage seems quite remote. It contrasts quite a bit with the tame paths and meadows around Heorot. At some point though, he must have asked someone to “mil-gemearc” the distance between Heorot and this place.

Literally, such a request would have been to “mark the miles” between the two, though “measure by miles” is far less imperative. Not that it’d be difficult to make these two words sound like a command when put together. They’re quite straightforward. “Mil” means “mile” and “gemearc” means “mark,” “sign,” “line of division,” “standard,” “boundary,” “limit,” “term,” “border,” “defined area,” “district,” or “province.”

What I wonder, though, is whether or not Hrothgar sent the same person or another to measure out the “fen-gelad.” Measuring out a “marsh-path” would be a bit more treacherous, since I doubt the ground would be very solid. I mean the two words “fen” (“mud,” “mire,” “dirt,” “fen,” “marsh,” “moor,” or “the fen country”) and “gelad” (“course,” “journey,” “way,” “street,” “water-way,” “leading,” “carrying,” “maintenance,” or “support”) going together don’t really give the sense of a path around the marsh, but rather directly through it. “Fen-gelad” sounds like it describes a path that is itself marshy.

It’d be all the worse for our measurer if they were told to go all the way to where the “fyrgen-stream” drop down into the marsh. Those “mountain streams” would be pretty deep into the fen, I’d wager. After all, the only interpretation for “fyrgen” in this context is “mountain,” so whatever sense of “stream” you went with (“stream,” “flood,” “current,” “river,” or “sea”), would need to be coming off of a mountain. And it sounds like Heorot is quite far from most mountains.

As hard a task as all this measuring out would be, I imagine that the person doing it would see some “nið-wundor.” How could they not see a “dire wonder” or “portent” along such a path? Though seeing such a thing wouldn’t necessarily uplift their spirits. “Wundor” is at least neutral, meaning simply “wonder,” “miracle,” “marvel,” “portent,” “horror,” “wondrous thing,” or “monster”. But “nið” refers to “abyss,” “strife,” “enmity,” “attack,” “war,” “evil hatred,” “spite,” “oppression,” “affliction,” “trouble,” or “grief.” So these sights may leave whatever measurer of miles that sees them with grief.

Indeed, such “nið-wundor” likely include sights like a “wulf-hleothu.” I’d be pretty distressed if I had to pass by a hillside where wolves lived after all. They’d have the higher ground and all sorts of advantages. Though, they might also be devils in disguise since “wulf” can translate as “wolf,” “wolfish person,” or “devil”. They’d definitely be on a hillside, though: “hleoþu” only means “cliff,” “precipice,” “slope,” “hillside,” or “hill”.

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Closing

Next week, Hrothgar further describes this strange place and promises Beowulf a great reward.

You can find the next part of Beowulf here.

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