Beowulf Tells Hygelac the Real (?) Story of Daneland and Grendel: Book XXVIII – Book XXX

A heavenly hall free from Grendel, home to Hygelac and Beowulf.

Emil Doepler’s vision of Valhalla, definitely an ideal of what Hygelac’s court of Geatish warriors could be like. Image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valkyrie#/media/File:Walhall_by_Emil_Doepler.jpg

XXVIII

Went Beowulf then, along with his retinue,
down the beachhead, treading over the sandy seashore,
over the broad beach. The world candle shone overhead,
the sun strove from the south. They had endured,
bravely gone, to where stood that hall of lords,
the place where Ongentheow’s killer ruled,
went to where they had heard that the young king
was doling out rings. Hygelac was quickly told
of Beowulf’s journey there, in that word it was said
that Beowulf was in the burgh, that his lifelong
shield companion had come, that the stalwart
warrior walked within the hall, hale and hearty.
Space was cleared, as the king commanded,
those who had traveled far by foot came in.
Beowulf sat there among his own, a survivor of battle amidst veterans,
kin with kin, once the lord there
had graciously greeted him with singing tones
and great words. Bearing the mead jug
around the hall was Hygd, Haereth’s daughter,
loved by the people, filling the offered cups
with plenty. Hygelac then began
to ask fair questions of the man
in that high hall. He burst with curiosity,
sought to know how all the sea-going Geat’s journey went:

“How fared you on your journey, dear Beowulf,
when you suddenly strove to travel far
over the salt sea to seek strife,
battle, at Heorot? And were you a help
to the widely known best of men,
to that famed prince? I have had sorrow
sitting upon my heart since you left, I did not trust in your
journey, dear man. Long had I told you,
do not go to meet this monster at the hall,
let the South Danes work war against Grendel
themselves. Thus I say thanks to god,
that I am able to see you hale and whole here.”

Beowulf spoke, son of Ecgtheow:

“That is all widely known, lord Hygelac,
that journey’s fame has spread to many among mankind,
how Grendel and I grappled
at the very place where he was used to
terrorizing the Victory-Shieldings with terrible sorrow,
where we battled for life with bare limb. There I avenged all,
so that no kin of Grendel’s would have need
to boast to any over earth when the crash of dawn came,
no matter how long any of his dark brood may last,
all that treacherous and trembling bunch. But when at first
I arrived at that ring hall I greeted Hrothgar.
Soon he trusted to my reputation, the son of Halfdane,
after he came to know the wish of my heart,
then he presented me with a seat between his own sons.
The company was wrapt in joy — never have I ever seen
such celebration over mead as was among those in that hall
in all my life. All the while that renowned queen,
a pledge of peace for her people, went all about the hall,
urging on the youths there. Often, on her rounds, she gave
circlets to the drinkers, until, at the last, she took her seat.

Also, but only at times, before that body of retainers,
Hrothgar’s daughter bore the ale cup to the men in turn.
From those sitting in the hall I learned
that this maiden’s name is Freawearu, she who there gave
those warriors studded and precious vessels. She is promised,
young and gold-adorned, to the gracious son of Froda.
The friend of the Scyldings has settled on this,
the protector of the kingdom, and he considers it wise policy
that his daughter will settle several deadly feuds,
that she will ease their many conflicts. But too often,
when so short a time has passed after a man’s fall,
it is rare for the deadly spear to rest, even though the bride be good.
It may be displeasing to the prince of the Heathobards
and to the thanes of the people of the prince Ingeld
when he with his new bride strides onto the hall floor
while the Danish wedding attendants are nobly entertained.
One will point to the shining of an old heirloom on them,
a time-hardened, ring-patterned treasure of the Heathobards,
recognized from the time when they were able to wield such weapons,
a time that ended when they came to destruction at the shield-play
that scarred their lives and laid low their dear companions.

XXIX

That pointing one will then speak, while beer-drinking, about that precious object,
the elder spear-warrior: He remembers all of that treasure’s history
and those that faced death at spear-point. His mind settles on the grim fates of the fallen,
then, sad of mind, he will test a young warrior’s
spirit with an assault on his heart-thought,
he will arouse the evil of war, and he will say these words:

‘Might you, my comrade, recognize that sword
which your father bore to the field,
wearing his battle mask on his last expedition,
that precious sword, lost on the campaign where the Danes slew him,
when they seized the Heathobards and made where they lay a place of slaughter,
when all our warriors were felled by the valiant Scyldings?
Now here the sons of those slayers go about
on the hall floor, exalting in the adornments of someone else.
They boast of murder, and bear about treasures
that you by right should possess.’

“Just so he urges and reminds each of that time
with bitter words, until the time comes
that one of the lady’s men sleeps in bloodstained furs,
is found sliced by a sword for his father’s deeds,
to avenge those who forfeited their lives. From there that slayer
will escape alive, for he knows the land well.
Then the oath swearing of men will be shattered
on both sides, and afterwards in Ingeld
will well up a deadly hate
and surging sorrow will cool his love for his wife.
Therefore, I consider the Heathobards of no loyalty,
their part of the peace to be made by marriage is not without deceit,
the fastness of their friendship is false.

          “I shall now speak
further about Grendel, so that you may know the matter well,
bestower of treasures, and so that you may learn of what happened after
the hand to hand struggle between warriors. After heaven’s gem
had glided out beyond the earth’s rim the enraged creature came,
that dreadful one sought us out for its evening hostilities,
while we stood guard, still unharmed, in the hall.
There battle proved fatal for Hondscio.
He had been fated to die by the deadly evil, he was the first laid low,
that girded warrior. Grendel swallowed him up,
took his whole body into his mouth and snapped
through mail and bone and sinew until that renowned thane was gone.

“Not eager to leave empty-handed,
that slayer with bloodied teeth, intent upon evil,
pressed on to get further into the hall.
But then he came against my great strength,
as he grabbed me with a readied hand. A grotesque glove hung,
broad and strange, secured with a cunning clasp,
from his hip, it was a thing concocted through ingenuity,
a work of devil’s craft made from dragon’s skin.
He wished to shove blameless me
into that sack, press me in among the many,
that fierce perpetrator of vile deeds. But it would not be so.
Not after I stood upright, completely enraged.

XXX

It would be too long to tell how I repaid that rapacious evil
for each of his crimes, each treachery of that ravager of a people.
Let it simply be known, my lord, that there I brought honour
to our people through my deeds. Yet he managed to squirm away,
he escaped to live a little while longer, to draw the dregs of mirth from his life,
though his lifeblood trailed behind him and he left his right hand with me at Heorot
as he ran from the hall, an abject creature. I can only guess that he,
sad at heart, bereft of strength, sank to the bottom of his mere that night.

“Golden ornaments were awarded to me then
by the friend of the Scyldings for that mortal conflict,
countless treasures, once the morning had come
and we had sat down to feast.
There was song and sonorous entertainment there,
an elder Scylding recounted tales of things learned long ago,
one brave in battle was in harp joy,
he struck the delightful wood while retelling
tales both true and tragic, the great-hearted king
correctly shared strange stories,
and an old warrior bound by age performed
a lament for his youth, the loss of strength in battle.
Within him his heart surged when
he recalled many things from the seasons of his past.
So we took pleasure in that place
all the day long until another night came upon men.

Late within that dark Grendel’s mother appeared,
ready for revenge for the injury she suffered;
she made a journey full of grief. Death had carried off her son,
death egged on by grim-faced Geats. Yet that monstrous woman
would avenge her son, schemed to boldly steal a hall dweller for her loss.
There on the floor was Æschere for the taking,
the wise old counselor departed from this life at her touch.
But, when the morning came, none could
burn up the dead of the Danish people by fire,
nor could that dear man be lain upon a pyre —
she had borne the body in her fiend’s embrace to her home beneath her mountain stream.
That was Hrothgar’s most grievous of those sorrows
that had long befallen him, that leader of a people.
Then that prince implored me while troubled in mind
to perform another heroic deed in the tumult
of the darkened waters, to venture my life:
in short, to perform a glorious deed. And for it he promised me proper reward.

I found in those surging waters, as it is well-known,
the grim and terrible guardian of the deep.
There we two were locked in hand-to-hand combat.
But soon the water seethed with blood, and I had cut off
the head of Grendel’s mother in her battle hall
with a mighty sword edge. With difficulty
I carried my life from that place, but it was not yet fated
for me to die, and so the protector of warriors gave me
a multitude of treasures, that most generous son of Halfdane.
Just so, that king of his people acted in accord with custom,
never had I any want for reward while with him,
he gave me great gains, granted me beautiful treasures,
the true son of Halfdane, and ever were they of my choosing.”

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Going from Hrothgar to Hygelac: Book XXV – Book XXVII

Beowulf and every Geat with him sail from Hrothgar to Hygelac.

Beowulf and the Geats sail across the “gannet-bath”. Image from http://www.mainlesson.com/display.php?author=marshall&book=beowulf&story=beowulf.

XXV

          “It is a wonder to say,
how mighty God distributes among us depths of wisdom,
land and rank; indeed It wields all power.
At times It lets the minds of men wander
toward dreams of fame to match their kin’s,
gives them a native country and earthly pleasures
to protect and enjoy, a fortified city to control and friends to help,
lets him hold sway over a region of the world,
to rule far and wide. Until, that is, unwisely, the man never thinks
of his own end or considers the limit of his life.
But a great man dwells in prosperity, not at all is he hindered
by sickness or age, neither does his mind go dark
with evil anxieties, nor does enmity bare its blade
to him anywhere, and he goes through all the world
according to his desires. He knows nothing is wrong,
but within him a measure of arrogance grows
and flourishes, while the guard sleeps,
his soul’s shepherd lounges. That sleep is too deep,
weighed down with a diet of worldly cares; the slayer then slinks near,
the psyche-dweller who wickedly notches an arrow to his bow and shoots.

“Then that sharp arrow slides beneath the great man’s defenses,
it bites into his heart — he knows no need to guard himself —
the perverse strange command of the evil in his spirit then has hold.
That man begins to think little of what he had long held:
going forth angry-minded he only covets, for pride he never gives
rings of hammered gold. What he had been destined for
is forgotten and neglected, what was shown in the Almighty’s past gifts,
God’s glory, all that was made clear in his share of honour.
Afterwards the common end comes to that man,
that prince’s transitory body declines,
what is fated to die always falls; then another takes what had been that man’s,
one who ungrudgingly shares that former prince’s ancient treasures
among their earls, fearing no retribution.

“Guard against such evil hostility, dear Beowulf,
best of men, and be sure to make the better choice:
eternal gain! Be not intent on pride,
oh renowned warrior! Now is your power prospering
for but a short while, soon will either
illness or the blade deprive you of that strength,
or the grip of flames, or the surging waters,
or an attack by sword, or the flight of spears,
or terrible old age, or the light of your eyes
will fail and grow dim. Presently such will come
upon you, oh lord of battle, and death will overpower you.

“Mindful of such I have ruled the Ring-Danes under the sky
for one hundred half-years, and have protected
them against war with many nations from across this world,
from both spears and swords, such that I see no other beneath the sky’s expanse as an adversary.

“But lo! A hard reversal came to my native land,
grief following joy, once Grendel appeared,
that ancient adversary, that invader of my peace.
At that arrival I continually bore persecution
and great sorrow of mind. Thus I now thank God,
the eternal Lord, that I might experience in my life,
after the struggle, the chance to gaze with my own eyes
upon the beast’s head blood-stained from battle.
Go now to the bench, joyously join the
mirth of feasting. We two shall share
a great many treasures when the morning comes.”

The Geat was glad-hearted at that, he descended the dais,
sought out a seat, as the wise one had commanded.
Then was it as it had been before for the bold,
the sitters in the hall spoke fairly with voices renewed.
The mantle of night fell to darken the world
outside the warriors’ hall. All that company arose,
the grey-haired one then sought his bed,
leader of the Scyldings. The Geat, renowned shield warrior,
was also eager for such rest. Soon to him,
the one wearied along the warrior’s way, a hall thane came,
one to guide the far-flung one on his way,
he who for etiquette’s sake waited on all
thane’s needs, such as should be had in those days
for far-flung seafaring warriors.

Then Beowulf rested his great heart. The hall towered,
gabled and gold-chased. Within the guests slept
until the black-plumed raven called out
heaven’s joy with a bright heart. Then came the shadow-shifting
morning light. The warriors hastened,
those nobles were eager to set out
for the lands of their own people; the strangers, bold in spirit,
sought out the prow of their ship.
Beowulf then commanded that hard Hrunting
be born to Ecglaf’s son, ordered that the man be given his sword,
that dear iron. He said his thanks to him for that gift,
went on with wise words to say it was a good war-friend,
a powerful battle companion, not a word was breathed
against the blade’s edge: all was said sincerely.

And those ready for a journey, they were skilfully
geared as warriors. The leader of those people went
openly to the Danish prince, to where that other worthy was.
The hale hero greeted Hrothgar.

XXVI

Beowulf spoke, the son of Ecgtheow:

“Now we seafarers must say,
we who have come from far off, that we are eager to go,
to return to our lord Hygelac. Here we were received as kin,
our desires were entertained; you have indeed treated us well.
If I may do anything on earth
to earn more of your heart’s affection,
oh lord of men, beyond what I have thus far done
by warlike deeds, I will quickly be ready.
If, while over the sea’s expanse I learn
that neighbouring peoples threaten you with terror,
as enemies formerly did to your people,
I shall bring the help of a thousand thanes,
the aid of warriors. Of Hygelac, lord of the Geats,
I know, though he is young, that,
as the protector of my people, he will support me
with words and with deeds, so that I may honour thee
and bear to you a forest of spears as help,
the strength of support, when you have need of men.
Then, if Hrethric decides to go to
the Geatish hall, your son, oh prince, he shall
find countless friends there; for far-flung countries
are most hospitable to those who are themselves worth meeting.”

Hrothgar spoke to him in answer:

“The Lord in Its wisdom sent those words
into your mind; never have I heard wiser words
from one so young in age.
You are of powerful strength and of wise mind,
with wit in your words. I consider it something to be expected,
that if it shall happen that the spear takes him,
if fierce battle seizes the son of Hrethel,
if illness or iron edge claims your lord,
the guardian of the people, and you still have your life,
then the Sea Geats will not have
anyone better to choose as king,
warrior of hoard guardians, if you will rule
the kingdom of your kin. The better I know you,
the more I like you, dear Beowulf.
You have brought it about so that by all people it shall be said,
by the Geatish people and by the spear Danes,
we have a shared peace and ceased strife,
ended the enmity that we once endured,
and that it was while I ruled over a wide kingdom,
over common treasures, while I greeted with gifts
many others from across the gannet’s bath.
Our ring-prowed ships shall ever bring
gifts and love-tokens across the heaving crests. I of your people
know that you are firm with friend or with foe alike,
steadfast in every respect in the old ways.”

Then the protector of warriors, son of Halfdane,
gave him twelve treasures,
then he commanded those dear ones to
go forth in safety, and to quickly come back.
The king then kissed that one of good and noble descent,
the lord of the Scyldings embraced that best of men,
with arms about his neck; then the
grey-haired one fell to tears. Two things were known to him,
the old one of great wisdom, one of the two was clearer:
that he would never afterward see Beowulf,
meet for a heart to heart. To him that man was so beloved
that he could not restrain his surging emotion,
his heartstrings were wound tight at that thought,
he keenly felt his fondness for the man whom
he now knew as his dearest friend. From him Beowulf then went,
the warrior now proudly wound in gold walked the green earth,
exulting in his treasure. He went to where his ship waited
for its owner and lord, where it had ridden at anchor.
Thereafter the gifts of Hrothgar were often praised
as the Geats went on their way. He was a true king,
blameless in all respects, until age deprived him
of the might of joy, as it has ever oppressed a host of others.

XXVII

Came they then to the sea, the very brave
and young company of Geats; they wore their ring-mail,
their shirts of interlocking rings. The coastguard observed
their coming, as he had earlier observed their arrival,
but he did not greet those guests of
the craggy promontory with insult from afar, he rode towards the band.
He said to them that they would be welcome by the Weder people,
those warriors in bright armour that went to their ship.
There on the spacious beach that craft was
laden with armour, the ring-prowed ship,
and with horses and with treasures; the mast towered
over the hoarded treasures from Hrothgar.
The lord of the Geats then gave that guard a sword
bound in gold, so that afterwards he was
honoured all the more among the mead-benches for that treasure,
the gilded heirloom. Then the ship of them plunged into the sea,
stirred up the deep waters. Thus they left Daneland.

Then the mast was dressed with its sea garb,
the sail bound with rope; the sea wood creaked.
The wave-floater’s journey was not hindered
by wind over waves, that sea-goer swept forth
riding onwards atop foamy necked waters.
The ship with the ring-bound prow went over the sea current
so swiftly that they soon saw the Geatish cliffs,
the familiar headlands appeared, as the ship came closer
until that wind-battered boat rested upon the sands.
Swiftly the harbour guard was ready at the water,
he who for a long time had eagerly looked
far out to sea for that dear man.
He moored that roomy ship on the beach,
fixed it there with anchor ropes, lest the force of the waves
drive that beautiful boat from shore.

Then it was commanded that the prince’s treasure be carried up,
ornaments and plated gold. It was not far from there
for Beowulf to go to the treasure bestower,
Hygelac, son of Hrethel, he who dwelled within
his own home, living near the sea-cliff with his companions.
The building there was magnificent, the king was of princely fame,
one exalted in the hall, along with Hygd, his young queen,
a woman wisely accomplished, though she had lived
within the enclosed stronghold for but a few winters,
daughter of Haereth. Yet she was not bent down by vanity,
she was not sparing in gifts to the Geatish people,
she gave a great many treasures.

          Not so Modthryth, the noble
people’s queen, she committed terrible crimes.
For not anyone of that brave, dear company,
save for her husband, would venture to look upon her
during the day or even meet her eye,
lest they be bound in deadly bonds
thorny and twisted by hand, then made to wait for the mercy
of a sword held tight in their tormentor’s hand,
a blade with branching patterns that must settle their debt,
must slake its thirst for public blood. Such acts cannot compare
to the true custom of queens, even if she be peerless in beauty.
For such women are peace-weavers, and must not steal away life
from dear men for imagined insults.
Indeed, Hemming’s kinsman put an end to that.

The ale drinkers in the hall told another tale:
that Modthryth caused much less trouble to her people,
favoured fewer malicious acts, as soon as she was
given to the young lord while gowned in gold,
a man of noble descent, as soon as she boarded a boat
to cross the pale waters to marry Offa
according to her father’s counsel. Once there
the woman worked well on the throne, renowned for goodness,
she made the most of her destined life-span while alive;
she maintained her deep love with the prince of warriors
among all kingdoms, as I have heard,
the best between the two seas
of all mankind. As such, Offa was foremost
in gifts and in wars, a spear-bold man,
one honoured widely, who ruled his nature
and lands with wisdom. Then Eomer was born,
a help to warriors, Hemming’s kinsman,
grandson of Garmund, powerful in battle.

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!”

How Hrethel’s throne made its way to Hygelac

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

Beowulf tells the tale of the sorrowful old man Hrethel and maybe that's fate.

Vincent van Gogh’s depiction of a sorrowful old man, which may as well be Hrethel. Image from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sorrowful_old_man.jpg.


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Recap

Last week, Beowulf gave us a simile for the sorrow that Hrethel felt when Herebeald died.


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Synopsis

Hrethel leaves off life and Hæthcyn and Hygelac inherit everything.


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The Original Old English

“‘Gewiteð þonne on sealman, sorhleoð gæleð
an æfter anum; þuhte him eall to rum,
wongas ond wicstede. Swa Wedra helm
æfter Herebealde heortan sorge
weallende wæg. Wihte ne meahte
on ðam feorhbonan fæghðe gebetan;
no ðy ær he þone heaðorinc hatian ne meahte
laðum dædum, þeah him leof ne wæs.
He ða mid þære sorhge, þe him swa sar belamp,
gumdream ofgeaf, godes leoht geceas,
eaferum læfde, swa deð eadig mon,
lond ond leodbyrig, þa he of life gewat.'”
(Beowulf ll.2460-2471)


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My Translation

“‘Then Hrethel was in bed, chanting a dirge,
alone even with himself. To him it all seemed too huge,
the fields’ roll, the halls’ stretch. Thus the Geat’s protector,
his heart suffused with sorrow for Herebeald,
set out for that far country. He never knew how he might
wreak his feud on the slayer;
in no way could he hate the warrior
for that dolorous deed, though he was not loved.
Then he, amidst that sorrow, that which sorely him concerned,
gave up on the enjoyment of life, chose God’s light.
He left all he had on earth to his sons, as any prosperous man does,
lands and towns, when he left off this life.’”
(Beowulf ll.2460-2471)


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A Quick Interpretation

Here is an example of society grinding on, beyond the personal concerns of the people in it.

Hæthcyn, the man who killed his own brother and “was not loved” (“him leof ne wæs” (l.2467)), still gets his inheritance. Even though Hrethel never got over that act, even though his sorrow for Herebeald stole away his joie de vive and, arguably, killed him.

But how does Hæthcyn feel about all of this? If it was a hunting accident, I can’t imagine how terrible he feels about it all. But that could be why he has no voice here. He might have shut down in a way different from Hrethel’s death and depression. Hæthcyn may have just completely clammed up, become rather stoic and unassailable. And so this one act destroyed every member of the family except for Hygelac.

After all, if Hygelac was the youngest brother, Hæthcyn would have been the king of the Geats first, but there’s no mention of what he did in the role. This could just be plot convenience, but I really think that Hæthcyn was just a functional shell of his former self and this is why he has almost no page time. And shells of any kind generally don’t make for good characters.

What kind of a king do you think Hæthcyn was?

Feel free to share your theories in the comments!


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Closing

Next week, war breaks out and we learn the fate of Hæthcyn.

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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Fate’s sorrowful means to make Hygelac king?

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

Beowulf tells the tale of the sorrowful old man Hrethel and maybe that's fate.

Vincent van Gogh’s depiction of a sorrowful old man, which may as well be Hrethel. Image from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sorrowful_old_man.jpg.


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Recap

Last week, Beowulf shared a bit of his early life with Hrethel. He also told the story of how Hrethel’s eldest son killed his own brother.


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Synopsis

Beowulf weaves a simile for the sort of sorrow that seizes upon the entire Hrethel household.


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The Original Old English

“‘Swa bið geomorlic gomelum ceorle
to gebidanne, þæt his byre ride
giong on galgan, þonne he gyd wrece,
sarigne sang, þonne his sunu hangað
hrefne to hroðre, ond he him helpe ne mæg,
eald ond infrod, ænige gefremman.
Symble bið gemyndgad morna gehwylce
eaforan ellorsið; oðres ne gymeð
to gebidanne burgum in innan
yrfeweardas, þonne se an hafað
þurh deaðes nyd dæda gefondad.
Gesyhð sorhcearig on his suna bure
winsele westne, windge reste
reote berofene. Ridend swefað,
hæleð in hoðman; nis þær hearpan sweg,
gomen in geardum, swylce ðær iu wæron.'”
(Beowulf ll.2444-2459)


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My Translation

“‘Then was the whole household like a sorrowful old man
who must live on, though his young son hangs on the gallows.
Such a man then makes a dirge, distressed singing,
while his son hangs at the mocking mercy of ravens,
birds gloating over their feast, and he can do nothing
to help his son, no water from his well of experience and age
will allow him to haul the boy down and lavish new life onto his lank body.
Reluctantly he is reminded each morning of
his son’s death. He does not care to wait
for another heir in his hall, since the
first has been found fettered, devoured, by death’s dire decree.
He looks on with tear-filled soul into his lost son’s chambers,
all hall joy now desolation, the resting place of winds,
a place bereft of all joy. The riders sleep.
The fighters lay in darkness. No harp sounds are there.
There are no men in the yard. Nothing is as it once was.’”
(Beowulf ll.2444-2459)


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A Quick Interpretation

There’s definitely a “Lay of the Last Survivor” vibe to the last three lines of this passage.

As with that section of the poem, these lines are a reflection on the emptiness of loss. Except, where the “Lay of the Last Survivor” focused on how the amassed wealth of a whole civilization is useless to a single member of that civilization, this passage is all about family.

After Herebeald’s death, Hrethel’s family falls apart. Why? Because the kinds of retribution for murder that society allows are simply not possible. They couldn’t kill a member of the family.

For a modern spin, the situation is like two people getting into a crash. Except that neither of them can sue each other because of a familial loophole. Though if family members are crashing into each other when they’re out driving, they must have problems beyond broken bones and crumpled metal.

Actually, last week, I put forth the idea that this episode in the Hrethel household has a clear analogue in Norse mythology. But aside from cooking up this episode to bring some mythology into his poem, what could have driven one brother to shoot another with an arrow? I grew up with two brothers, and we fought every now and then, but none of us ever shot another with an arrow.

For the record, it seems that the academic consensus is that Hæthcyn killed Herebeald in a hunting accident.

Maybe this kind of tragedy would just be written off as wyrd or fate. Hygelac had to become the lord of the Geats, and the best way for that to happen was to invalidate his brothers’ claims to the throne. So the gears of fate fired up and took Herebeald and Hæthcyn out.

What’s your favourite (or best) simile or metaphor for sorrow?

Feel free to share it in the comments!


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Closing

Next week, Beowulf explains how society grinds on beyond death.

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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Just how important Beowulf’s gift of horses is

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

A drawing of an Anglo-Saxon chariot, complete with horses.

A 10th century illustration of a two-horse chariot from Prudentius’ Psychomachia (a poem about a battle between virtues and vices). Click the image for the source.


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Synopsis

The poet describes the gifts Beowulf gives to Hygelac and Hygd.


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The Original Old English

“Hyrde ic þæt þam frætwum feower mearas
lungre, gelice, last weardode,
æppelfealuwe; he him est geteah
meara ond maðma. Swa sceal mæg don,
nealles inwitnet oðrum bregdon
dyrnum cræfte, deað renian
hondgesteallan. Hygelace wæs,
niða heardum, nefa swyðe hold,
ond gehwæðer oðrum hroþra gemyndig.
Hyrde ic þæt he ðone healsbeah Hygde gesealde,
wrætlicne wundurmaððum, ðone þe him Wealhðeo geaf,
ðeodnes dohtor, þrio wicg somod
swancor ond sadolbeorht; hyre syððan wæs
æfter beahðege breost geweorðod.”
(Beowulf ll.2163-2176)


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My Translation

“I heard that next four ornate horses were brought in,
quickly, each of them as beautiful as the last,
bay and brilliant. Beowulf gave unto his lord such gifts
in horses and treasures. And so shall all kinsmen do;
not scheme and lay out nets laced with malice for others
through deceitful craft, not arrange death
for hand-companions. Hygelac proved a grand uncle
to Beowulf, a nephew who held fast to the bond,
and each was mindful of the other’s joy.
I heard that then he gave the gorget to Hygd,
Wealhtheow’s well-wrought wonder treasure, that which
the queen had given him, daughter of the prince, three horses as well,
each supple and with ornamented saddles.
The gorget shone like the sun upon Hygd’s breast.”
(Beowulf ll.2163-2176)


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A Quick Interpretation

Ah, horses. Today we admire them for their grace and speed. And, back in the early medieval period, people liked horses for the same reasons. Though these qualities were also tied up with ideas of nobility, virility, divinity, and symbolism.

Elaine Moxon wrote a fantastic post about horses in early medieval Britain over on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog. Definitely check it out for the full story.

But, over and over in that post, Moxon points out that horses are prized because they embody the qualities that warriors wanted. Horses were seen as agile, strong, virile, and a simple comfort. Plus, they made it easy to travel the long distances between towns and kingdoms. But, more than that, having and keeping a horse was a sign of wealth. Paying for all that hay and getting someone to muck the stables wasn’t any easier back then it seems.

So Beowulf’s giving Hygelac and Hygd all of these horses is a truly grand gesture. It implies that they’re worthy of such gifts already and yet having an extra seven horses around makes Hygelac and Hygd that much worthier and wealthier. Also, according to Moxon’s post, bay horses were a symbol of the goddess Freyja and fertility. So Beowulf’s gift shows the depth of his fealty to Hygelac through symbolically boosting his ability to produce an heir.

Personally, I think that horses are indeed magnificent creatures. Speaking as a big fan of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, I also really appreciate horses as a means of fast travel — maybe just as much as the Anglo-Saxons and early Britons did.

What do you like most (or least) about horses? Leave your thoughts in the comments!


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Closing

Next week: A bit of an intermission in the life of Beowulf.

You can find the next part of Beowulf here.

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Is Beowulf’s outward loyalty true loyalty?

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

A vassal pledging loyalty to a lord via homage.

A miniature from a French manuscript depicting the homage ritual. How loyalty was pledged to a superior. Click for source.


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Synopsis

Beowulf gives Hygelac three gifts and a message from Hrothgar.


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The Original Old English

Ða ic ðe, beorncyning, bringan wylle,
estum geywan. Gen is eall æt ðe
lissa gelong; ic lyt hafo
heafodmaga nefne, Hygelac, ðec.”
Het ða in beran eaforheafodsegn,
heaðosteapne helm, hare byrnan,
guðsweord geatolic, gyd æfter wræc:
“Me ðis hildesceorp Hroðgar sealde,
snotra fengel, sume worde het
þæt ic his ærest ðe est gesægde;
cwæð þæt hyt hæfde Hiorogar cyning,
leod Scyldunga lange hwile;
no ðy ær suna sinum syllan wolde,
hwatum Heorowearde, þeah he him hold wære,
breostgewædu. Bruc ealles well!”
(Beowulf ll.2148-2162)


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My Translation

“‘These to you, oh noble king, I will bring
and point out the delicate points of each. After all,
all my grace still relies on you. I have few
kin — indeed there are none but you!’
He commanded then that the boar helm, head-topper for battle,
a war-steeped hat, the ancient mail shirt, and the precious war sword
be brought forth, saying thus after all this garb was brought out:
‘Hrothgar gave me this battle-keened gear,
oh wise lord. And along with them he commanded me
to first tell thee of these treasure’s journey.
He said that they had been Heorogar’s, the king,
lord of the Scyldings, for a long while.
Yet Heorogar did not bequeath them to his son,
the one called Heremod, though he was loyal,
a true wanderer through his father’s heart. Enjoy each of them well!'”
(Beowulf ll.2148-2162)


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A Quick Interpretation

When we think of the medieval world we tend to think in absolutes. Heroes are not just people who do some grand deed once and have that mark their reputation forever. Medieval heroes are people who always do the right thing (King Arthur). Villains are the exact opposite (Bad King John). Modern scholarship has made a lot of hay from complicating these figures, but in the popular imagination the medieval world is one where people’s morality is almost naively black and white.

But in this passage we have a clear example of a character adapting to his context.

Beowulf is maybe one of the most clear-cut characters in the popular imagination. Or at least as he’s experienced in high school and introductory university courses. And yet, this part of his speech to Hygelac includes him reassuring this king of his loyalty.

But mention of that loyalty is almost entirely absent while Beowulf is in Daneland. The only mention we get of Hygelac at all during that part of the poem is in Beowulf’s funeral instructions. If he should die trying to rid Daneland of the Grendels, his armour must be sent back to Hygelac.

So his pledge of loyalty (“all my grace still relies on you” (“Gen is eall æt ðe/lissa gelong” (ll.2149-50))) to his king could just be here out of convenience.

That said, though, I don’t think that Beowulf is disloyal to Hygelac. I think it’s just that this aspect of his character is just now being highlighted because of his context. After all, it would make for a very different character if Beowulf couldn’t shut up about how great Hygelac is from the time he introduces himself to the Danish coastguard.

Now, standing before him and ready to offer gifts, It makes sense that Beowulf reaffirms his loyalty to Hygelac. But, as with a real person, his loyalty is not always at the surface of Beowulf’s personality.

Which isn’t to say that Beowulf is just putting it on for Hygelac. I think that the few mentions of Hygelac that are made while Beowulf is in Daneland show that this loyalty is an aspect of Beowulf’s character. But at that time Beowulf had some more immediate things to be worried about (one named Grendel, the another known as Grendel’s mother). But, now that he’s back in Geatland this loyalty has a place to be expressed and so is on full display.

But what do you think about Beowulf’s obvious statements of loyalty in this passage (and earlier)? Is Beowulf as loyal to Hygelac as a modern person is loyal to their boss? Or is he as loyal as all the true warriors in old stories are to their liege lords?

As always, you can share your thoughts in the comments.


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Closing

Next week, Beowulf gives more gifts!

You can find the next part of Beowulf here.

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