Spectacular speculation (ll.12-19) [Old English]

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
All about “aldorlease”
Browsing Beowulf possibilities
Closing

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Abstract

Scyld Scefing’s son is born, and recognized as a suitable successor.

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Translation

“His son was afterward born,
young in years, then did god send
consolation to the people; well did god know their distress,
What they had endured under the lord of old
for a long while; he the life-lord,
glory-lord, granted worldly-worth;
Beowulf was famous – glory widely sprang –
as Scylde’s successor, in all Scandinavian lands.”
(Beowulf ll.12-19)

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Recordings

Old English:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}

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All about “aldorlease”

Here is a grand example of the importance of family connections and succession for Anglo-Saxon society. However, rather than being a purely happy situation, there’s a note of hope invested in Scyld’s successor.

After all, it’s unclear who the “lord of old” (“aldorlease” (l.15)) is.

Since we’ve only been hearing of Scyld up to this point, the obvious answer is that it is Scyld himself. He was a good king because he commanded so much tribute, but it’s possible that people grew tired of him because of his concentrated wealth.

The lord of old could also be some old god, and maybe, getting into the Christian influences in the poem early, the reference alludes to Scyld’s own belief. Quite possibly he was an early convert, and used the birth of his son as a sign of this new god’s favour.

Or – Scyld’s rule was a little bit on the harsh side, and the scribe responsible for writing out Beowulf inserted this reference to allude to god’s showing favour to an oppressed people by giving this lord a successor who could be as fierce but more even handed.

Whoever the “lord of old” is, the entity referred to in lines 16-17, is definitely benevolent. Whether that’s a set of references to Scyld or to the Christian god.

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Browsing Beowulf possibilities

Yes, Scyld’s successor was named Beowulf. And ultimately, then, Hrothgar has an ancestor who shares his name with the hero who saves him.

Maybe breaking out the titular name so early is a kind of feint, something to bring people in until the great hall of Heorot is built and the story’s strife becomes clear.

Though using “Beowulf” as a preview of the hero of the poem, could also be the case here. If this is the case, then the Beowulf of the poem proper could be considered a sort of second coming.

Or, along similar lines, maybe “Beowulf” is the name of a hero older than the events of the poem, here preserved as a fantastical figure. That would definitely explain why the mysterious Beowulf appears amidst historical figures like Hrothgar.

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Closing

Editing the recordings is going much more slowly than anticipated. Getting a novel ready for publication, and getting freelance projects together have filled my days. But, my plan is to edit one track a day, get them on YouTube at the end of each week, and then embed those videos here.

As per next week’s text, Beowulf’s successor-ship is cemented, and Scyld’s funeral begins.

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Back to the Beginning of the Woven Ring (ll.1-11) [Old English]

Featured

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
A Turn of Fate
Setting a Tight Sequential Tone
Closing

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Abstract

The poem begins on a rollicking note, as the poet recalls the glory of Scyld Scefing.

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Translation

“What! We Spear-Danes had heard in days of yore
of the power of the king of a people,
how heroes accomplished valorous deeds.
Often did Scyld Scefing take away
the mead benches from troops of enemies,
terrified the Erola, afterwards that first was found
to become destitute; for that he experienced solace
grew up under a cloud, his honour prospered,
until each surrounding people from over
the whale road paid obeisance,
gave tribute: that was a good king!”
(Beowulf ll.1-11)

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Recordings

Old English:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}

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A Turn of Fate

Right in the middle of this excerpt, there’s a marked turn.

The poet notes that “the first was found/to become destitute” (“Syððan ærest wearð/feasceaft funden” (ll.6-7)). Rather than just saying that Scyld Scefing became prosperous, the time is taken to note that the powerful that he tore down were torn down before his rise is solidly mentioned in line 7.

This sequencing of events underlines, very early on, the importance of sequence in the Anglo-Saxon world. It also gives some insight into kingship and the belief in something like fortune’s wheel. Only one person can be a powerful king at any given time, and only on can be on the top of the wheel in any given arena at one time. It just so happened that Scyld was at the top of both at the same time.

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Setting a Tight Sequential Tone

That the poet makes a note of this power shift also sets the tone of the poem. It will be a story of changing fortunes, but it will be one in which there is no vacuum left for things to be pulled into. There will always be some definite succession of events, something will always happen at the end of something else.

Already, we’ve seen this in the death of Beowulf. The Geats lost a leader, and they will definitely be wiped out since they have none to replace Beowulf. Meanwhile the surrounding tribes will shortly be upon them.

In a sense, the open-endedness that we are left with at the end of the poem promises something that may have been considered a fate worse than death: exile. Scyld might have stolen mead benches, what people would recline on while enjoying themselves and socializing, but exile means that a person would have no mead bench at all – none to even win back.

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Closing

Next week, a batch of recordings will have been uploaded to this blog, and we’ll move onto Scefing’s further deeds.

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