Reluctant king Beowulf and his long-term feud strategy

Recap
Synopsis
The Original Old English
My Translation
Quick Question
Closing

A vassal pledging loyalty to a lord via homage, maybe to quell a feud.

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


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Recap

After showing how the dragon devastated Beowulf’s lands and hall, the poet started to share how Beowulf became king.


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Synopsis

After some swimming, some fighting, and some turning offers down, Beowulf becomes king of the Geats. He also tries to ensure a lasting peace.


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The Original Old English

Oferswam ða sioleða bigong sunu Ecgðeowes,
earm anhaga, eft to leodum;
þær him Hygd gebead hord ond rice,
beagas ond bregostol, bearne ne truwode
þæt he wið ælfylcum eþelstolas
healdan cuðe, ða wæs Hygelac dead.
No ðy ær feasceafte findan meahton
æt ðam æðelinge ænige ðinga,
þæt he Heardrede hlaford wære
oððe þone cynedom ciosan wolde;
hwæðre he him on folce freondlarum heold,
estum mid are, oððæt he yldra wearð,
Wedergeatum weold. Hyne wræcmæcgas
ofer sæ sohtan, suna Ohteres;
hæfdon hy forhealden helm Scylfinga,
þone selestan sæcyninga
þara ðe in Swiorice sinc brytnade,
mærne þeoden. Him þæt to mearce wearð;
he þær for feorme feorhwunde hleat
sweordes swengum, sunu Hygelaces,
ond him eft gewat Ongenðioes bearn
hames niosan, syððan Heardred læg,
let ðone bregostol Biowulf healdan,
Geatum wealdan. þæt wæs god cyning!
Se ðæs leodhryres lean gemunde
uferan dogrum, Eadgilse wearð
feasceaftum freond, folce gestepte
ofer sæ side sunu Ohteres,
wigum ond wæpnum; he gewræc syððan
cealdum cearsiðum, cyning ealdre bineat.
(Beowulf ll.2367-2396)


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My Translation

“Thanks to long practice he swam over the sea,
the son of Ecgtheow, a reclusive water treader heading
back to his people. There Hygd urged him to take
the treasure and the throne, rings and the power seat.
She trusted not her son. She doubted that he could hold
the royal seat against foreign foes, for Hygelac was dead.
Yet for nothing could that people find a means
to get Beowulf to accept such power, nothing whatever swayed him,
so long as Heardred was lord,
until the kingdom itself would choose.
Nonetheless, in that time Beowulf proved to be a well
of friendly counsel among the people, freely and with grace,
until he became mature in power, a ruler of the Weder-Geats.
But then miserable men sought for Heardred from over the sea,
Ohthere’s son. Those men had rebelled against the protector
of the Scylfings, the best among sea kings,
he who had dealt out treasure in the Swedish kingdom,
the greatly famed ruler. For Heardred that marked the end.
For his hospitality he gained a terrible wound,
the sting of a swung sword, that unfortunate son of Hygelac.
Afterwards Ongentheow’s son left,
headed for home, after Heardred was slain,
leaving the ruler’s seat for Beowulf to fill,
he was then called to rule the Geats. That was a good king!
Though the fall of the prince made that one mindful,
worried for retribution as days dragged on, he turned to Eadgils,
a man destitute of friends. That people,
those of the sons of Ohthere, he helped
with warriors and weapons. The feud was settled after a chill cold,
a cruel campaign, when old king Onela was bound by death.”
(Beowulf ll.2367-2396)


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Quick Questions

To summarize the feud upon feud in this passage:

The son of Ohthere and his gang get vengeance for Ohthere when they kill Heardred. But they’re pretty uneasy about Beowulf. Luckily he soothes their worries by helping them secure their position back in what would become Sweden. But Onela’s probably got some sons. So the cycle of violence is probably going to continue.

Would Beowulf have known this? Do you think he’s expecting an attack from Onela’s son? Is this maybe why he doesn’t fear the dragon – fighting an army of men is more terrifying because they’re not monsters?

If Beowulf knows about how inescapable all these feuds are, is that why he’s so reluctant to be king?

What are your thoughts? Go ahead and share them in the comments!


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Closing

Next week, we come back to the present and Beowulf’s preparations for fighting the dragon.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like. And feel free to reblog this post to help more people find it.

Also, be sure to follow this blog if you want to keep up with my translations of the poem.

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Something the story of Beowulf shares with modern TV

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 decided to fight the dragon one-on-one and commissioned an iron shield.


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Synopsis

The poet steps away from Beowulf for a second to sing about how his past accomplishments have prepared him to face the dragon.


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The Original Old English

“Oferhogode ða hringa fengel
þæt he þone widflogan weorode gesohte,
sidan herge; no he him þa sæcce ondred,
ne him þæs wyrmes wig for wiht dyde,
eafoð ond ellen, forðon he ær fela
nearo neðende niða gedigde,
hildehlemma, syððan he Hroðgares,
sigoreadig secg, sele fælsode
ond æt guðe forgrap Grendeles mægum
laðan cynnes. No þæt læsest wæs
hondgemota, þær mon Hygelac sloh,
syððan Geata cyning guðe ræsum,
freawine folca Freslondum on,
Hreðles eafora hiorodryncum swealt,
bille gebeaten. þonan Biowulf com
sylfes cræfte, sundnytte dreah;
hæfde him on earme ana XXX
hildegeatwa, þa he to holme beag.
Nealles Hetware hremge þorfton
feðewiges, þe him foran ongean
linde bæron; lyt eft becwom
fram þam hildfrecan hames niosan.”
(Beowulf ll.2345-2366)


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My Translation

“Further, Beowulf, the prince of rings,
was too proud to attack the far-flier with a band of men,
an overpowering army. Nor did he fear further attack from the drake,
he thought but little of the dragon’s strength and courage, since he
had already risked harsh circumstances, survived countless combats,
endured the crash of battle, since he had done so for Hrothgar.
Beowulf had been blessed with victory, cleansed the Dane’s hall,
in combat he crushed to death the hateful kindred
of Grendel. Not the least of his deeds happened later,
the hand-to-hand encounter where the man slew Hygelac,
after the Geatish king was caught in the battle onslaught,
the lord and friend of the people fell in Friesland.
Hygelac, Hrethel’s son, had died in the blade brew,
struck by the sword. From there Beowulf
put his strength to use, swimming thence.
In his arm he held the battle gear of thirty men
with which he went to sea.
None of the Hetwares had reason to be exultant
in that battle on foot, with Beowulf against them on the front
bearing a shield. Few would later
return home from their meeting with that warrior.”
(Beowulf ll.2345-2366)


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A Quick Interpretation

Just in case you were wondering if Beowulf kept fit after he got back to Geatland, here’s your answer. According to this little story from the poet, Beowulf is still a swimming, fighting, load-carrying (?) machine.

So what? Well, from a narrative point of view, it’s neat how the poet uses a flashback to fill in some details during the otherwise lost 50 years of king Beowulf’s life. Actually, flashbacks are still alive and well in our stories.

Granted, it’s not the most recent example, but one show that is full of examples of this trope is Lost. This show set on an apparently empty tropical island was full of mysteries. From things like the hatch in the middle of nowhere, to the polar bear seen loping around now and then. And most of those mysteries were solved through near-episode long flashbacks that filled in details and offered answers (or at least clues).

The Good Place is another great example of flashback being used to reveal story information or demonstrate a character’s traits. It’s also a fairly mysterious show.

Is Beowulf quite so mysterious because of this and other flashbacks?

Potentially.

Take the strangely disagreeing lines 2365-66. These lines stand in defiance of the image of Beowulf as this perfect warrior. They read: “Few would later/return home from their meeting with that warrior” (“lyt eft becwom/fram þam hildfrecan hames niosan.”).

“Few” of the warriors who faced Beowulf survived the battle. Not “none” but “few”. On the face of it, it sounds like the poet is pulling back a bit from Beowulf as this macho force.

But I think that this is just an example of the poem’s sense of humour. It’s a kind of sarcastic understatement, the sort of line delivered from a crooked grin in a cocked face after a little chuckle.

But humour is a tricky thing in print. Especially in poetry. So, what do you think? Is this line a little joke? Or is it pointing to Beowulf going soft on his way to becoming king?

Share your thoughts in the comments!

And if you liked this translation, give this post a like. You might also want to follow this blog so that you can get the rest of this poem as it’s translated.


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Closing

Next week, the poet continues the story of Beowulf’s life after the death of Hygelac.

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Beowulf becomes king after some summarizing

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.

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


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Synopsis

Hygelac gives Beowulf the greatest gifts of all.


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The Original Old English

“Het ða eorla hleo in gefetian,
heaðorof cyning, Hreðles lafe
golde gegyrede; næs mid Geatum ða
sincmaðþum selra on sweordes had;
þæt he on Biowulfes bearm alegde
ond him gesealde seofan þusendo,
bold ond bregostol. Him wæs bam samod
on ðam leodscipe lond gecynde,
eard, eðelriht, oðrum swiðor
side rice þam ðær selra wæs.
Eft þæt geiode ufaran dogrum
hildehlæmmum, syððan Hygelac læg
ond Heardrede hildemeceas
under bordhreoðan to bonan wurdon,
ða hyne gesohtan on sigeþeode
hearde hildefrecan, Heaðoscilfingas,
niða genægdan nefan Hererices,
syððan Beowulfe brade rice
on hand gehwearf;”
(Beowulf ll.2190-2208)


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My Translation

“After those gifts were given the protector of the earls,
the battle-famed king, ordered Hrethel’s heirloom be brought in.
It was a wondrous, gold-chased thing, there was no other
amid the whole Geat treasure hold to best that sword.
This Hygelac laid upon Beowulf’s lap,
and to him he gave seven thousand hides of land,
a hall and a throne. Both already owned land
by right of kin, though he of greater
hereditary right had more — lands were ample among
those of high rank — to him the best of the
earth was bequeathed.
After that came many days
full of the fury of battle. Hygelac fell,
Heardred’s protection proved useless,
it collapsed under the phalanx that brought his death
when they, the victorious people of the Heatho-Scylfings,
attacked with seasoned swordsmen.
That brought about fatal strife for his nephew Hereric.
Afterwards those lands turned to Beowulf’s hand.”
(Beowulf ll.2190-2208)


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A Quick Interpretation

Here the gift exchange comes to an end. Then, the summaries come.

By their nature, summaries work best when you’re familiar with what’s being talked about.

If these summaries were in plainly written prose, then they would be very informative. But these are poetic summaries. And they’re poetic summaries that refer to things that only Beowulf scholars are familiar with.

Heardred hasn’t been mentioned much at all up to this point in the poem, and Hereric is a brand new ripple all together. So, ultimately, this passage shows how much a part of Beowulf was of some sort of greater body of work or group of stories. The poet is definitely pulling on a wealth of cultural and shared knowledge. Which makes this ancient poem written in a barely familiar form of English the perfect example of how far removed such old things are from us.

An alliterative, compound word-heavy language just isn’t English as we know it. And neither are Heardred or Hereric.

And yet, Beowulf sticks with us.

All that stuff about Beowulf fighting monsters and being a little bit of a monster himself keeps it relevant because it speaks so much to our greatest struggle. Whenever we face a new challenge we come up against some form of change. And we can change in a bad way, perhaps taking the easy way out of a tight spot. Or we can try to do our best and meet those challenges in an honest way, hopefully leading to positive growth. And that’s probably why so many adaptations of Beowulf focus on those first two monsters.

Starting next week, though, I’ll be starting to translate the final part of the poem. We’ll be seeing the poem’s third monster.

What’s your favourite monster from mythology? I’ve always been a fan of dragons. Leave your favourite in the comments!


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Closing

Next week, something big, scaly, and flying gets in the way of Beowulf’s happiness.

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Beowulf gives a sword to be a king

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

The decorative grip and pommel of the Gilling Sword, like Beowulf's ancient giant sword?

The grip and pommel of the Gilling Sword, found in a stream in Yorkshire in 1976. Did the giant’s sword that Beowulf found have a similar hilt? Copyright York Museums Trust http://bit.ly/2gh8HXJ. Image from http://bit.ly/2gpntKw.


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Synopsis

Beowulf and the Geats leave Daneland.


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The Original Old English

“Cwom þa to flode felamodigra,
hægstealdra heap, hringnet bæron,
locene leoðosyrcan. Landweard onfand
eftsið eorla, swa he ær dyde;
no he mid hearme of hliðes nosan
gæstas grette, ac him togeanes rad,
cwæð þæt wilcuman Wedera leodum
scaþan scirhame to scipe foron.
þa wæs on sande sægeap naca
hladen herewædum, hringedstefna,
mearum ond maðmum; mæst hlifade
ofer Hroðgares hordgestreonum.
He þæm batwearde bunden golde
swurd gesealde, þæt he syðþan wæs
on meodubence maþme þy weorþra,
yrfelafe. Gewat him on naca
drefan deop wæter, Dena land ofgeaf.”
(Beowulf ll.1888-1904)


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My Translation

“Came they then to the sea, the very brave
and young company; 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, 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 ship 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.”
(Beowulf ll.1888-1904)


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A Quick Interpretation

The best poetry says a lot with a little.

Beowulf’s gift of the sword to the coastguard demonstrates his magnanimity and a quality that makes him a great king: fairness. Beowulf doesn’t just toss the coastguard who, presumably, has been keeping watch over the Geats’ ship for the duration of their stay, some little trinket. He gives him a sword that’s covered in gold (or, as Seamus Heaney has it, it has “gold fittings” (l.1901) (“bunden golde/swurd” (l. 1900-1901))).

A gold-bound sword seems like a pretty good reward for watching what must have been a peaceful shore for a few days.

Though, it could be argued that out of a whole shipload of treasures a mere gold-bound sword is small change. So is Beowulf short-changing this guy?

I don’t think so.

I think that part of what the Anglo-Saxon kings considered when they divided treasure was that treasure’s usefulness to its receivers. A gold-bound sword might have questionable usage in combat. But, as the poet points out, this gift led the coastguard to be “honoured all the more among the meadbenches for that treasure” (“on meodubence maþme þy weorþra” (l.1902)). And that’s why I think it’s what an Anglo-Saxon king (like future Beowulf) would consider a perfectly fair gift for the coastguard.

After all, the poet has never left me with the impression that Daneland faced danger from outside of itself.

Grendel is a threat from within Daneland’s borders, and when the poet mentions the fall of Heorot he says that it’s a family squabble that leads to its end. So somebody guarding one of Daneland’s borders is probably not winning much glory through combat. Thus, Beowulf’s gift of the gold-bound sword is a perfect gift since it boost’s the man’s honour in the eyes of his companions.

With that, then, Beowulf leaves the land where he spent some very formative time with a final act that nods towards his being a fantastic king.


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Closing

Next week, Beowulf and the Geats fight the sea.

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The lessons of bad king Heremod and Hrothgar’s bluster

Synopsis
Original
Translation
Recordings
Hrothgar’s Anti-Heremod Bluster and Compounds that Sing Beowulf’s Praises
A Cruel Heart and its Cure
Closing


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Synopsis

Having told Beowulf how to be a good king, Hrothgar shares the story of bad king Heremod.


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Original

                 Ne wearð Heremod swa
eaforum Ecgwelan, Arscyldingum;
ne geweox he him to willan, ac to wæl-fealle
ond to deað-cwalum Deniga leodum;
breat bolgen-mod beod-geneatas,
eaxl-gesteallan, oþþæt he ana hwearf,
mære þeoden, mon-dreamum from.
ðeah þe hine mihtig god mægenes wynnum,
eafeþum stepte, ofer ealle men
forð gefremede, hwæþere him on ferhþe greow
breost-hord blod-reow. Nallas beagas geaf
Denum æfter dome; dream-leas gebad
þæt he þæs gewinnes weorc þrowade,
leod-bealo longsum. ðu þe lær be þon,
gum-cyste ongit; ic þis gid be þe
awræc wintrum frod.
(Beowulf ll.1709b-1724a)


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Translation

                  “‘Heremod was not so
to the sons of Ecgwelan, the Ar-Scyldings;
he did not grow into joy, but to slaughter,
a death dealer to the Danish people.
With enraged heart he killed table companions
and shoulder comrades alike, until he was truly alone,
he of renown, of power, was away from human joy,
though mighty God had given him all,
raised him in strength, put him ahead of
all other men in all things. Yet in his heart he harboured
secret and cruel bloodthirsty thoughts; never gave he
any rings to the Danes who strove for fame. He lived joylessly,
such that his struggles made him suffer misery,
his life was a long-lasting affliction to his people. By this be taught,
see what is manly virtue! That is why I, wise from many winters,
tell you this tale.'”
(Beowulf ll.1709b-1724a)


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Recordings

Old English:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}


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Hrothgar’s Anti-Heremod Bluster and Compounds that Sing Beowulf’s Praises

One of the elements of Hrothgar’s short story that catches my eye is the compound words. A little harder to pick up on in Modern English, these are the words that are hyphenated in the Old English original above.

Hrothgar is no stranger to using these verbal embellishments, but there’re a lot of them clustered around the height of Heremod’s cruelty.

In fact, when Hrothgar tells of how he treated those closest to him, from lines 1711-1715, we get six of them.

That’s six compounds out of a total of 11 in four lines out of a total of 15. So more than half of this passage’s compounds are concentrated in less than 1/3 of its lines.

This clustering of compounds makes me think that Hrothgar is getting particularly agitated as he shares this part of the story. His anger at recalling this terrible king working his words into the much more artful compounds, perhaps expressing something that singular words just can’t reach. Indeed, Heremod’s reckless slaughtering of those close to him sounds like something that defies words.

Which is maybe the poet’s point here, putting aside matters of alliteration and prosody.

I mean, before there were widespread written records (so, snugly in the time of Beowulf‘s oral original), heroes and villains alike were memorialized through shared stories and poetic performances. So, if everyday words couldn’t capture a person’s deeds, then they must be quite extreme.

Actually, if you’ll excuse the spoilers, if we look at the last lines of the poem, Beowulf isn’t remembered with a bunch of compound words after his death, he’s simply remembered as the one who was “the mildest among men and most gracious, the/kindest to people and most eager for fame” (“manna mildust ond mon-ðwærust,/leodum liðost ond lof-geornost” (l.3181-3182)). That phrase “most eager for glory” is encapsulated in the compound “lof-geornost”. The word “mon-ðwærust” is also a compound, which literally means “most gracious of men”.

But that’s just two compounds in two lines.

Even looking at the preceding lines from the end of the poem, there’s no more than one compound per line of the poem. Contrasted with Hrothgar’s apopleptic barrage of compound words, the much more regular rhythm of compound words when the poet is memorializing Beowulf seems calmer, even melodious in comparison.

Thus, maybe the compound words Hrothgar concentrates around Heremod’s cruelty reflects how his memory is an onerous one, and something that can only be to teach. Actually, I can’t help but think that Hrothgar explicitly tells Beowulf he shares this tale to teach him how to be a good king is a bit of classic English understatement, a bit of comedic relief after the heavy telling of the cruel and stingy king Heremod.

What do you think of the words Hrothgar uses to describe Heremod’s cruelty to his companions? Are they embellished to highlight the cruelty as the story’s main lesson? Let me know in the comments.


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A Cruel Heart and its Cure

Any ruler who holds “blod-hreow”1 thoughts in their “breost-hord”2
freezes the fountain that flows from their heart.
So “bolgen-mod”3, they are always ready to dole out “wæl-feall”4,
to call for “deað-cwalu”5 whether for prisoner or “beod-geneatas”6.
In their “dream-leas”7 soul they bristle with the weapons needed to be
the “leod-bealu”8. To these rulers, and to all,
“man-dream”9 with “eaxl-gestealla”10 is “gum-cyst”11, a way
to pour the warmth of joy over the ice-lock of cruelty
that numbs their magnanimity and threatens their people and themselves.

1blod-hreow: sanguinary, cruel. blod (blood, vein) + hreow (sorrow, regret, penitence, repentance, penance, sorrowful, repentent)

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2breost-hord: thought, mind. breost (breast, bosom, stomach, womb, mind, thought, disposition, ubertas) + hord (hoard, treasure)

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3bolgen-mod: enraged. belgan (to be or become angry, offend, provoke) + mod (heart, mind, spirit, mood, temper, courage, arrogance, pride, power, violence)

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4wæl-feall: slaughter, death, destruction. wæl (slaughter, carnage) + fiell (fall, destruction, death, slaughter, precipice, case, inflection)

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5deað-cwalu: death by violence. deað (death, dying, cause of death) + cwalu (killing, murder, violent death, destruction) [A word that is exclusive to Beowulf.]

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6beod-geneatas: table companion. beod (table, bowl, dish) + geneata (companion, follower (especially in war), dependant, vassal, tenant who works for a lord)

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7dream-leas: joyless, sad. dream (joy, gladness, delight, ecstasy, mirth, rejoicing, melody, music, song, singing) + lease (without, free from, devoid of, bereft of,(+/-) false, faithless, untruthful, deceitful, lax, vain, worthless falsehood, lying, untruth, mistake)

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8leod-bealu: calamity to a people. leod (man) + bealu (bale, harm, injury, destruction, ruin, evil, mischief, wickedness, malice, a noxious thing, baleful, deadly, dangerous, wicked, evil)

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9man-dream: revelry, festivity. man (one, people, they) + dream (joy, gladness, delight, ecstasy, mirth, rejoicing, melody, music, song, singing)

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10eaxl-gestealla: shoulder-companion, comrade, counsellor, competitor. eaxl (shoulder) + steall (standing, place, position, state, stall (for cattle), stable, fishing ground)

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11gum-cyst: excellence, bravery, virtue, liberality. guma (man, lord, hero) + cyst (free-will, choice, election, picked host, moral excellence, virtue, goodness, generosity, munificence)

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Closing

Next week Hrothgar stares off into the distance as he talks about humanity’s place in the world, fate, and god.

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Hrothgar offers hopeful words to Beowulf

Synopsis
Original
Translation
Recordings
Hrothgar’s Hopeful Praise
What a Memorable Ruler Needs to Do
Closing
Special Announcement

The decorative grip and pommel of the Gilling Sword, like Beowulf's ancient giant sword?

The grip and pommel of the Gilling Sword, found in a stream in Yorkshire in 1976. Did the giant’s sword that Beowulf found have a similar hilt? Copyright York Museums Trust http://bit.ly/2gh8HXJ. Image from http://bit.ly/2gpntKw.


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Synopsis

Hrothgar praises Beowulf and gives a hearty recommendation for his being king.


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Original

“þæt, la, mæg secgan se þe soð ond riht
fremeð on folce, feor eal gemon,
eald eðelweard, þæt ðes eorl wære
geboren betera! Blæd is aræred
geond widwegas, wine min Beowulf,
ðin ofer þeoda gehwylce. Eal þu hit geþyldum healdest,
mægen mid modes snyttrum. Ic þe sceal mine gelæstan
freode, swa wit furðum spræcon. ðu scealt to frofre weorþan
eal langtwidig leodum þinum,
hæleðum to helpe.
(Beowulf ll.1700-1708)


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Translation

“Indeed, it may be said, by he who upholds
right and truth for his people, for all humanity,
even by the old realm lord, that this man
is born to greatness! Your success is wide-flung
over the sea-ways, my friend Beowulf,
your fame is spread over every people. All you do
is done with steadfastness, strength, and wisdom of heart.
To you I give my lasting honour, as we two had earlier agreed. You shall be
to your people an everlasting pillar and help to warriors’ hands.”
(Beowulf ll.1700-1708)


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Recordings

Old English:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}


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Hrothgar’s Hopeful Praise

On a bit of a technical note out front, in the original, Hrothgar’s lines from line 1705-1707 are a lot longer than the others. It’s not that the words the poet uses here are any longer than usual or anything like that. Instead, it seems to be some sort of aesthetic choice. If this part of the poem was performed before it was written down, maybe these long lines are meant to show Hrothgar’s rambling praise of Beowulf. The old “realm lord” (“eðel weard” (l.1702)) is simply beside himself with gratefulness.

And why not?

Beowulf has finally stopped the attacks on Heorot, and given Hrothgar an unexpected gift. The hilt of a giant’s sword is no mere trinket. Especially since it has a story written on it, something no doubt incredibly curious because of the clarity of the runes on it and the craft evident in the hilt’s overall quality. After all, the blade melted in Grendel’s blood, but the hilt did not.

But along with this celebration of Beowulf’s growing fame comes Hrothgar’s proclamation of Beowulf’s future success. Maybe the old schoolyard saying “takes one to know one” could apply here, since as a successful king throughout most of his reign (he did unite his people and organize the building of Heorot, after all), Hrothgar can see the same qualities in Beowulf. And so he assures him that he will be a help to warriors and a pillar for his people going forward. In true poetic fashion Hrothgar then turns around to talk about Heremod, someone undecidedly un-kingly especially in the Anglo-Saxon sense.

Which brings me around to a timely note.

There’s still plenty more Beowulf to work through (just over 900 or so lines before I meet myself where I started this blog with line 2631). There’s also more of Hrothgar’s speech. But, since this is a time of year when many celebrate hope and joy (from the observation of daylight’s slow return from the solstice onwards to the celebration of the birth of a saviour), I figured that ending the 2016 leg of my translation on this hopeful note is appropriate. So enjoy whatever celebrations you may have left for 2016 and this blog will return in the new year (further details on that below).


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What a Memorable Ruler Needs to Do

For an “eðel-weard”1 to achieve “lang-twidig”2 fame,
even in days when warriors revered their spear-bearing forebears,
more than conquest and overturning mead-benches were required.
Such a ruler to be remembered would need to flip those benches
back upright, and sit his people, new and old, down at them,
spreading golden wealth like butter on bread, an even swath
that covered even those from the most “wid-wegas”3
all of those there assembled in that ruler’s glowing hall.


1eðel-weard: lord of the realm, man. eðel (country, native land, ancestral home, name of the rune for oe) + weard (watching, ward, protection, guardianship, advance post, waiting for, lurking, ambuscade)

Back Up

2lang-twidig: lasting, assured. lang (long, tall, lasting) + twi (two, double) [A word that is exclusive to Beowulf.]

Back Up

3wid-wegas: distant regions. wid (wide, vast, broad, long) + wegas (way, direction, path, road, highway, journey, course of action)

Back Up


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Closing

In the new year, Hrothgar tells the story of bad king Heremod. Don’t miss it!


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Special Announcement

In news about this blog itself, I’ll be taking a break from updating A Blogger’s Beowulf as we roll through the holidays. But a new post about Beowulf news will appear on January 10, 2017, and the next translation post will go up on January 12.

If the holidays that you celebrate have already passed by, I hope that they were fantastic! And if your holidays are coming up, I hope that they will be fantastic!

Watch for the new posts in the new year!

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Wending through the Ravenswood (ll.2922-2935) [Old English]

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Picking at the Messenger’s Words
Biblical Arrogance
Closing

<!–

{Wiglaf shown landing the distracting blow, or Beowulf landing the fatal one – that’s just how much of a team this duo is. Image found on Weird Worm.}

–>

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Abstract

The messenger goes on to recount why the Swedes will also turn against the Geats once word of Beowulf’s death reaches them.

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Translation

Nor do I expect the Swedes to hold us as kin
or remain peaceful; for it was widely known
that Ongeontheow slew Haethcyn,
son of Hrethel, in the strife at Ravenswood,
when for arrogance the Geats first
sought to strike the Scylfings.
Old and terrible, Ohthere’s wise father
gave the return assault,
destroyed the sea king, kept his bride,
deprived his aged wife of gold,
the mother of Onela and Ohthere;
then he followed the mortal foe,
until they showed themselves
in great leaderless hardship in the Ravenswood.
(Beowulf ll.2922-2935)

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Recordings

Old English:

Modern English:

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Picking at the Messenger’s Words

This passage is as complex as any path through a place called the Ravenswood might be. The Anglo-Saxon basics are here (a feud, raiding for treasure’s sake, protecting peace weavers), but the way that they’re delivered likely leaves something to be desired for most modern readers.

Particularly, the jump from the statement that the Swedes will not be the Geats’ greatest allies to the retelling of the Geats arrogantly raiding Swedish lands is not entirely clear.

There is a connection between the two, sure, but it definitely casts the Swedes in a much more negative light than the Geats. I mean, obviously any such unprovoked attack is likely to start some bitter feelings, but just as much as the Swedes hate the Geats for it, the Geats should hate the Swedes – their king was lost there, after all.

However, maybe the way that the messenger tells the story, calling the Geats arrogant and putting the Swedes in the place of the villains, is a call back to the story of Haethcyn and Herebeald. The story of fratricide leading to Haethcyn’s becoming king upon Hrethel’s death, itself brought on by Herebeald’s death.

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Biblical Arrogance

If we follow this string a little further, we can speculate that the Geats’ arrogance wasn’t to be found in fighting a greater force than themselves – but rather that the Geats were arrogant in trying to force judgment on Haethcyn (a man that none could judge nor feud with because of the nature of fratricide).

For if the Swedes were a greater force than what the Geats could muster, and though it sounds like it must have been a harsh fate for those Ongeontheow met in the Ravenswood, it’s possible that they raided Swedish lands simply to get Haethcyn, the one guilty of fratricide, killed.

If such is the case, then maybe this act itself is also a reference to the story of king David and Bathsheba, in which he sends her husband, Uriah, to the front line so that she becomes a widow and therefore available. This biblical story is definitely one of arrogance, yet, Christ is considered to be of David’s lineage, and so relating a doomed race to such a story suggests that there is hope yet for the Geats, in some small and distant way.

Following this line of thinking, and working with the hypothesis that Beowulf was written down in the 10th/11th centuries, then maybe it was popular enough to write down around this time because it reflected a large group of Anglo-Saxon society’s hopefulness in the face of great odds.

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Closing

That’s it for Tongues in Jars until the New Year. Watch for the next Beowulf entry on January 3!

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