[BACK]     [Blueprint]     [NEXT]

From The Oldest English Epic :  Beowulf, Finnsburg, Waldere, Deor, Widsith, and the German Hildebrand, Translated in the Original Metres with Introduction and Notes by Francis B. Gummere, New York :  The Macmillan Company, 1923 ;  pp. 39-59.




[Part II]


     Hrothgar answered, helmet of Scyldings : —
“I knew him of yore in his youthful days ;
his agéd father was Ecgtheow named,
to whom, at home, gave Hrethel the Geat
375his only daughter.1  Their offspring bold
fares hither to seek the steadfast friend.
And seamen, too, have said me this, —
who carried my gifts to the Geatish court,
thither for thanks, — he has thirty men’s
380heft of grasp in the gripe of his hand,
the bold-in-battle.  Blesséd God
out of his mercy this man hath sent
to Danes of the West, as I ween indeed,
against horror of Grendel.  I hope to give
385the good youth gold for his gallant thought.
Be thou in hate, and bid them hither,
clan of kinsmen, to come before me ;
and add this word, — they are welcome guests
to folk of the Danes.”
                                                [To the door of the hall
390Wulfgar went2] and the word declared : —
“To you this message my master sends,
East-Dane’s king, that your kin he knows,
4 hardy heroes, and hails you all
welcome hither o’er waves of the sea !
395Ye may wend you way in war-attire,
and under helmets Hrothgar greet ;
but let here the battle-shields bide your parley,
and wooden war-shafts wait its end.”
     Uprose the mighty one, ringed with his men,
400brave band of thanes :  some bode without,
battle-gear guarding, as bade the chief.
Then hied that troop where the herald led them,
under Heorot’s roof :  [the hero strode.]3
hardy ’neath helm, till the hearth he neared.4
405Beowulf spake, — his breastplate gleamed,
war-net woven by wit of the smith : —
“Thou Hrothgar, hail !  Hygelac’s I,
kinsman and follower.  Fame a plenty
have I gained in youth !5  These Grendel-deeds
410I heard in my home-land heralded clear.
Seafarers say6 how stands this hall,
of buildings best, for your band of thanes
41 empty and idle, when evening sun
in the harbor of heaven is hidden away.
415So my vassals advised me well, —
brave and wise, the best of men, —
O sovran Hrothgar, to seek thee here,
for my nerve and my might they knew full well.
Themselves had seen me from slaughter come
420blood-flecked from foes, where five I bound,
and that wild brood worsted.  I’ the waves I slew
nicors7 by night, in need and peril
avenging the Weders,8 whose woe they sought, —
crushing the grim ones.  Grendel now,
425monster cruel, be mine to quell
in single battle !  So, from thee,
thou sovran of the Shining-Danes,
Scyldings’-bulwark, a boon I seek, —
and, Friend-of-the-folk, refuse it not,
430O Warriors’-shield, now I’ve wandered far, —
that I alone with my liegemen here,
this hardy band, may Heorot purge !
More I hear, that the monster dire,
42 in his wanton mood, of weapons recks not ;
435hence shall I scorn — so Hygelac stay,
king of my kindred, kind to me ! —
brand or buckler to bear in the fight,
gold-colored targe :  but with gripe alone
must I front the fiend and fight for life,
440foe against foe.  Then faith be his9
in the doom of the Lord whom death shall take.
Fain, I ween, if the fight he win,
in this hall of gold my Geatish band
will he fearless eat, — as oft before, —
445my noblest thanes.10  Nor need’st thou then
to hide my head ;11 for his shall I be,
dyed in gore, if death must take me ;
and my blood-covered body he’ll bear as prey,
ruthless devour it, the roamer-lonely,
450with my life-blood redden his lair in the fen :
no further for me need’st food prepare !12
To Hygelac send, if Hild13 should take me,
best of war-weeds, warding my breast,
43 armor excellent, heirloom of Hrethel
455and work of Wayland.14  Fares Wyrd15 as she must.”


     Hrothgar spake, the Scyldings’-helmet : —
“For fight defensive, Friend my Beowulf,
to succor and save, thou hast sought us here.
Thy father’s combat16 a feud enkindled
460when Heatholaf with hand he slew
among the Wylfings; his Weder kin
for horror of fighting feared to hold him.
Fleeing, he sought our South-Dane folk,
over surge of ocean the Honor-Scyldings,
465when first I was ruling the folk17 of Danes,
wielded, youthful, this widespread realm,
this hoard-hold of heroes.  Heororgar was dead,
my elder brother, had breathed his last,
Healfdene’s bairn :  he was better than I !  
470Straightway the feud with fee18 I settled,
to the Wylfings sent, o’er watery ridges,
treasures olden :  oaths he19 swore me.
44      Sore is my soul to say to any
of the race of man what ruth for me
475in Heorot Grendel with hate hath wrought,
what sudden harryings.  Hall-folk fail me,
my warriors wane ;  for Wyrd hath swept them
into Grendel’s grasp.  But God is able
this deadly foe from his deeds to turn !  
480Boasted full oft, as my beer they drank,
earls o’er the ale-cup, arméd men,
that they would bide in the beer-hall here,
Grendel’s attack with terror of blades.20
Then was this mead-house at morning tide
485dyed with gore, when the daylight broke,
all the boards of the benches blood-besprinkled,
gory the hall :  I had heroes the less,
doughty dear-ones that death had reft.
— But sit to the banquet, unbind thy words,
490hardy hero, as heart shall prompt thee.”

Gathered together, the Geatish men
in the banquet-hall on bench assigned,
sturdy-spirited, sat them down,
hardy-hearted.  A henchman attended,
495carried the carven cup in hand,
served the clear mead.  Oft minstrels sang
blithe in Heorot.  Heroes revelled,
no dearth of warriors,21 Weder and Dane.



Unferth22 spake, the son of Ecglaf,
500who sat at the feet of the Scyldings’ lord.
unbound the battle-runes.23 — Beowulf’s quest,
sturdy seafarer’s, sorely galled him ;
Ever he envied that other men
should more achieve in middle-earth
505of fame under heaven than he himself. —
“Art thou that Beowulf, Breca’s rival,
who emulous swam on the open sea,
when for pride the pair of you proved the floods,
and wantonly dared in waters deep
510to risk your lives ?  No living man,
or lief or loath, from your labor dire
could you dissuade, from swimming the main.
Ocean-tides with your arms ye covered,
with strenuous hands the sea-streets measured,,
515swam o’er the waters.  Winter’s storm
rolled the rough waves.  In realm of sea
a sennight strove ye.  In swimming he topped thee,
had more of main !  Him at morning-tide
billows bore to the Battling Reamas,24
46 520whence he hied to his home so dear,
beloved of his liegemen, to land of Brondings,
fastness fair, where his folk he ruled,
town and treasure.  In triumph o’er thee
Beanstan’s bairn25 his boast achieved.
525So ween I for thee a worse adventure
— though in buffet of battle thou brave hast been,
in struggle grim, — if Grendel’s approach
thou darst await through the watch of night!”

     Beowulf spake, bairn of Ecgtheow: —
530“What a deal hast uttered, dear my Unferth,
drunken with beer, of Breca now,
told of his triumph !  Truth I claim it,
that I had more of might in the sea
than any man else, more ocean-endurance.
535We twain had talked, in time of youth,
and made our boast, — we were merely boys,
striplings still, — to stake our lives
far at sea :  and so we performed it.
Naked swords, as we swam along,
540we held in hand, with hope to guard us
against the whales.  Not a whit from me
could he float afar o’er the flood of waves,
haste o’er the billows ;  nor him I abandoned.
Together we twain on the tides abode
545five nights full till the flood divided us,
churning waves and chillest weather,
darkling night, and the northern wind
ruthless rushed on us :  rough was the surge.
Now the wrath of the sea-fish26 rose apace ;
47 550yet me ’gainst the monsters my mailéd coat,
hard and hand-linked, help afforded, —
battle-sark braided my breast to ward,
garnished with gold.  There grasped me firm
and haled me to bottom the hated foe,
555with grimmest gripe.  ’Twas granted me, though,
to pierce the monster with point of sword,
with blade of battle :  huge beast of the sea
was whelmed by the hurly through hand of mine.


     Me thus often the evil monsters
560thronging threatened.  With thrust of my sword,
the darling, I dealt them due return !
Nowise had they bliss from their booty then
to devour their victim, vengeful creatures,
seated to banquet at bottom of sea ;
565but at break of day, by my brand sore hurt,
on the edge of ocean up they lay,
put to sleep by the sword.  And since, by them
on the fathomless sea-ways sailor-folk
are never molested. — Light from east,
570came bright God’s beacon ;  the billows sank,
so that I saw the sea-cliffs high,
windy walls.  For Wyrd oft saveth
earl undoomed if he doughty be !27
48 And so it came that I killed with my sword
575nine of the nicors.  Of night-fought battles
ne’er heard I a harder ’neath heaven’s dome,
nor adrift on the deep a more desolate man !
Yet I came unharmed from that hostile clutch,
though spent with swimming.  The sea upbore me,
580flood of the tide, on Finnish28 land,
the welling waters.  No wise of thee29
have I heard men tell such terror of falchions,
bitter battle.  Breca ne’er yet,
not one of you pair, in the play of war
585such daring deed has done at all
with bloody brand, — I boast not of it ! —
49 though wast the bane30 of thy brethren dear,
thy closest kin, whence curse of hell
awaits thee, well as thy wit may serve !
590For I say in sooth, thou son of Ecglaf,
never had Grendel these grim deeds wrought,
monster dire, on thy master dear,
in Heorot such havoc, if heart of thine
were as battle-bold as thy boast is loud !
595But he has found no feud will happen ;
from sword-clash dread of your Danish clan
he vaunts him safe, from the Victor-Scyldings.
He forces pledges, favors none
of the land of Danes, but lustily murders,
600fights and feasts, nor feud he dreads
from Spear-Dane men.  But speedily now
shall I prove him the prowess and pride of the Geats,
shall bid him battle. Blithe to mead
go he that listeth, when light of dawn
605this morrow morning o’er men of earth,
ether-robed sun from the south shall beam !”
     Joyous then was the Jewel-giver,
hoar-haired, war-brave ;  help awaited
the Bright-Danes’ prince, from Beowulf hearing,
610folk’s good shepherd, such firm resolve.
Then was laughter of liegemen loud resounding
with winsome words.  Came Wealhtheow forth,
50 queen of Hrothgar, heedful of courtesy,
gold-decked, greeting the guests in hall ;
615and the high-born lady handed the cup
first to the East-Danes’ heir and warden,
bade him be blithe at the beer-carouse,
the land’s beloved one.  Lustily took he
banquet and beaker, battle-famed king.
620Through the hall then went the Helmings’ Lady,
to younger and older everywhere
carried the cup,31 till came the moment
when the ring-graced queen, the royal-hearted,
to Beowulf bore the beaker of mead.
625She greeted the Geats’ lord, God she thanked,
in wisdom’s words, that her will was granted,
that at last on a hero her hope could lean
for comfort in terrors.  The cup he took.
hardy-in-war, from Wealhtheow’s hand,
630and answer uttered the eager-for-combat.
Beowulf spake, bairn of Ecgtheow: —
“This was my thought, when my thanes and I
bent to the ocean and entered our boat,
that I would work the will of your people
635fully, or fighting fall in death,
in fiend’s gripe fast.  I am firm to do
an earl’s brave deed, or end the days
of this life of mine in the mead-hall here.”
Well these words to the woman seemed,
640Beowulf’s battle-boast. — Bright with gold
the stately dame by her spouse sat down.
Again, as erst, began in hall
warriors’ wassail and words of power,
the proud-band’s revel,32 till presently
645the son of Healfdene hastened to seek
rest for the night ;  he knew there waited
fight for the fiend in that festal hall,
when the sheen of the sun they saw no more,
and dusk of night sank darkling nigh,
650and shadowy shapes came striding on,
wan under welkin.  The warriors rose.
Man to man, he made harangue,
Hrothgar to Beowulf, bade him hail,
let him wield the wine hall :  a word he added : —
655“Never to any man erst I trusted,
since I could heave up hand and shield,
this noble Dane-Hall, till now to thee.
52 Have now and hold this house unpeered ;
remember thy glory ;  thy might declare ;  
660watch for the foe !  No wish shall fail thee
if thou bidest the battle with bold-won life.”


Then Hrothgar went with his hero-train,
defence-of-Scyldings, forth from hall ;
fain would the war-lord Wealhtheow seek,
665couch of his queen.  The King-of-Glory
against this Grendel a guard had set,
so heroes heard, a hall-defender,
who warded the monarch and watched for the monster.
In truth, the Geats’ prince gladly trusted
670his mettle, his might, the mercy of God !33
Cast off then his corselet of iron,
helmet from head ;  to his henchman gave, —
choicest of weapons, — the well-chased sword,
bidding him guard the gear of battle.
675Spake then his Vaunt34 the valiant man,
Beowulf Geat, ere the bed he sought : —
“Of force in fight no feebler I count me,
in grim war-deeds, than Grendel deems him.
Not with sword, then, to sleep of death
680his life will I give, though it lie in my power.
No skill is his to strike against me,
53 My shield to hew though he hardy be,
bold in battle ;  we both, this night,
shall spurn the sword, if he seek me here,
685unweaponed, for war.  Let wisest God,
sacred lord, on which side soever
doom decree as he deemeth right.”
Reclined then the chieftain, and cheek-pillows held
the head of the earl, while all about him
690seamen hardy on hall-beds sank.
None of them thought that thence their steps
to the folk and fastness that fostered them,
to the land they loved, would lead them back !
Full well they wist that on warriors many
695battle-death seized, in the banquet-hall,
of Danish clan.  But comfort and help,
war-weal weaving, to Weder folk
the Master gave,35 that, by might of one,
over their enemy all prevailed,
700by single strength.  In sooth ’tis told
that highest God o’er human kind
hath wielded ever ! — Thro’ wan night striding,
came the walker-in-shadow.  Warriors slept
whose hest was to guard the gabled hall, —
705all save one.  ’Twas widely known
that against God’s will the ghostly ravager
him36 could not hurl to haunts of darkness ;
wakeful, ready, with warrior’s wrath,
bold he bided the battle’s issue.



710Then from the moorland, by misty crags,
with God’s wrath laden, Grendel came.
The monster was minded of mankind now
sundry to seize in the stately house.
Under welkin he walked, till the wine-palace there,
715gold-hall of men, he gladly discerned,
flashing with fretwork.37  Not first time, this,
that he the home of Hrothgar sought, —
yet ne’er in his life-day, late or early,
such hardy heroes, such hall-thanes, found !
720To the house the warrior walked apace,38
parted from peace ;39  the portal opened,
though with forged bolts fast, when his fists had struck it,
55 and baleful he burst in his blatant rage,
the house’s mouth.  All hastily, then,
725o’er fair-paved floor the fiend trod on,
ireful he strode ;  there streamed from his eyes
fearful flashes, like flame to see.
He spied in hall the hero-band,
kin and clansmen clustered asleep,
730hardy liegemen.  Then laughed his heart ;
for the monster was minded, ere morn should dawn,
savage, to sever the soul of each,
life from body, since lusty banquet
waited his will !  But Wyrd forbade him
735to seize any more of men on earth
after that evening.40  Eagerly watched
Hygelac’s kinsman his cursed foe,
how he would fare in fell attack.
Not that the monster was minded to pause !
740Straightway he seized a sleeping warrior41
for the first, and tore him fiercely asunder,
the bone-frame bit, drank blood in streams,
swallowed him piecemeal :  swiftly thus
the lifeless corse was clear devoured,
745e’en feet and hands.  Then farther he hied ;  
for the hardy hero with hand he grasped,
felt for the foe with fiendish claw,
for the hero reclining, — who clutched it boldly,
prompt to answer, propped on his arm.42
56 750Soon then saw that shepherd-of-evils
that never he met in this middle-world,
in the ways of earth, another wight
with heavier hand-gripe ;  at heart he feared,
sorrowed in soul, — none the sooner escaped !  
755Fain would he flee, his fastness seek,
the den of devils :  no doings now
such as oft he had done in days of old !  
Then bethought him the hardy Hygelac-thane
of his boast at evening :  up he bounded,
760grasped firm his foe, whose fingers cracked.
The fiend made off, but the earl close followed.
The monster meant — if he might at all —
to fling himself free, and far away
fly to the fens, — knew his fingers’ power
765in the gripe of the grim one.  Gruesome march
to Heorot this monster of harm had made !  
Din filled the room ;  the Danes were bereft,
castle-dwellers and clansmen all,
earls, of their ale.43  Angry were both44
57 770those savage hall-guards :  the house resounded.
Wonder it was the wine-hall firm
in the strain of their struggle stood, to earth
the fair house fell not ;  too fast it was
within and without by its iron bands
775craftily clamped ;  though there crashed from sill
many a mead-bench — men have told me —
gay with gold, where the grim foes wrestled.
So well had weened the wisest Scyldings
that not ever at all might any man
780that bone-decked, brave house break asunder,
crush by craft, — unless clasp of fire
in smoke engulfed it. — Again uprose
din redoubled.  Danes of the North
with fear and frenzy were filled, each one,
785who from the wall that wailing heard,
God’s foe sounding his grisly song,
cry of the conquered, clamorous pain
from captive of hell.  Too closely held him
he who of men in might was strongest
790in that same day of this our life.


Not in any wise would the earls’-defence45
suffer that slaughterous stranger to live,
useless46 deeming his days and years
to men on earth.  Now many an earl
795of Beowulf brandished blade ancestral,
fain the life of their lord to shield,
their praiséd prince, if power were theirs ;
58 never they knew, — as they neared the foe,
hardy-hearted heroes of war,
800aiming their swords on every side
the accursed to kill, — no keenest blade,
no fairest of falchions fashioned on earth,
could harm or hurt that hideous fiend !
He was safe,47 by his spells, from sword of battle,
805from edge of iron.  Yet his end and parting
on that same day of this our life
woful should be, and his wandering soul
far off flit to the fiends’ domain.
Soon he found, who in former days,
810harmful in heart and hated of God,
on many a man such murder wrought,
that the frame of his body failed him now.
For him the keen-souled kinsman of Hygelac
held in hand ;  hateful alive
815was each to other.  The outlaw dire
took mortal hurt ;  a mighty wound
showed on his shoulder, and sinews cracked,
and the bone-frame burst.  To Beowulf now
the glory was given, and Grendel thence
820death-sick his den in the dark moor sought,
noisome abode :48  he knew too well
that here was the last of life, an end
of his days on earth. — To all the Danes
by that bloody battle the boon had come.
825From ravage had rescued the roving stranger
59 Hrothgar’s hall ;  the hardy and wise one
had purged it anew.  His night-work pleased him,
his deed and its honor.  To eastern Danes
had the valiant Geat his vaunt made good,
830all their sorrow and ills assuaged,
their bale of battle borne so long,
and all the dole they erst endured,
pain a-plenty. — ’Twas proof of this,
when the hardy-in-fight a hand49 laid down,
835arm and shoulder, — all, indeed,
of Grendel’s gripe,50 — ’neath the gabled roof.


1  It is point of honor in the sovran — and the late Queen Victoria was proud of her accomplishments in this respect — to know all the nobles and royal persons in their relationship and descent.  So Hildebrand, trying to make his son believe that the paternal claim is true, asks to be put to the test of genealogies and kinship :  “If thou namest one only, the others I know.” The loquacity of Hrothgar is both the royal leisurely way, and also an attempt of the poet to characterize the king, and set him apart.

2  Grein’s insertion to mend an evident omission of the scribe.

3  Grein’s insertion.

4  “Hardy beneath his helmet” is a common phrase in epic description.  See above, v. 342, and Nibelungen, under helme gân, in many places. — The hearth, always in the middle of the hall, would be close to the throne, as Heyne points out in his essay on the situation and structure of Heorot, referring to an Anglo-Saxon document of the eleventh century.  “Hearth” is more specific and better visualized than the mere “interior” of some readings.

5  So all the old epic heroes; they had no passion for modesty.

Sum pius Aeneas fama super aethera notus,

is more vigorous trumpeting than even this blast from Beowulf.  Dryden notes in his Essay on Dramatic Poetry that only the later heroes made anything of reticence as a manly virtue.

6  See above, v. 377, and Hildebrand, v. 44.  These “seafarers” are not necessarily sailors by profession, but any persons who fare over sea and bring the news; cf. v. 1818, “we seafarers” = Beowulf and his men.

7  The nicor says Bugge, is a hippopotamus; a walrus, says ten Brink.  But that water-goblin who covers the space from Old Nick of jest to the Neckan and Nix of poetry and tale, is all one needs, and Nicor is a good name for him.  Dan Michel in the fourteenth century renders sirens or sea-fairies by this word nicor.  A glance, too, at Vigfusson’s Icelandic Dictionary, s.v. “Nykr,” is instructive.  To square this story with vv. 550 ff., below, many emendations are proposed; but figures may be changed even in hunting-stories.  Moreover, see vv. 574-7.  There was genuine fear of sea-beasts among these men of the coast, and Horace’s monstra natanta (I, iii, 18) would have appealed to them as no matter for jests.  They enhance the horror of Nicor’s Mere, below, v. 1425.  Whales are specified in v. 541 as objects of fear; see note to v. 549.

8  His own people, the Geats.

9  Klaeber, with Earle :  “he shall resign himself to the judgment.” It is a kind of trial by battle; and perhaps the sense is that the one who falls in the fight may well have cause to believe in God’s justice.  But the common and ancient belief that “Wyrd goes as she must” is in the background.

10  Literally, “the flower of my men” (Schücking); it is parallel to “Geatish band.” This interpretation removes grave difficulties from the passage.  “As oft before” is a general and pregnant phrase referring to Grendel’s previous attacks on the Danish clansmen.

11  That is, cover it as with a face-cloth.  “There will be no need of funeral rites.”

12  The fondness for emphasis by understatement — litotes — here takes the form of anticlimax.

13  Personification of Battle.  That personal and mythological force lingers in the word seems clear from its uses in poetry.

14  The Germanic Vulcan.  See below, Deor’s Song, and notes.

15  Compare the personifying force in a phrase of the Heliand, “Thy Wyrd stands near thee,” — thy fated hour is nigh.  This mighty power, whom the Christian poet can still revere, has here the general force of “Destiny.” Chaucer glosses the plural (Wirdes) as Destiny, but Macbeth has no doubt of the “personification” when he meets the Weird-Sisters, that is, sister fates.

16  There is no irrelevance here.  Hrothgar sees in Beowulf’s mission a heritage of duty, a return of the good offices which the Danish king rendered to Beowulf’s father in time of dire need. — F. Seebohm, Tribal Customs in Anglo-Saxon Law, London, 1902, comments on this ethical side of the feud, and makes great use of the material in Beowulf.

17  Repeated from v. 463, also in the original.

18  Money, for wergild, or man-price.

19  Ecgtheow, Beowulf’s sire.

20  “With terrible blades,” — drawn swords. — “Boast” is not used in the modern sense, nor was it “Dutch courage” that inspired the utterance.  As in the Indian war-dance, so at the Germanic feast in hall or camp before battle, the warrior was expected to make his beót or promise of prowess, — and to keep it.  These vaunts easily lent themselves to jocose treatment in the declining days of epic or romance; witness the famous “gabs” in Charlemagne’s Journey to Jerusalem.

21  In spite of v. 476, Hrothgar still has a large band of retainers.

22  Spelled Hunferth in the text, but always riming with vowels.

23  “Began the fight.” — But here is scarcely the flyting, or song-contest, found everywhere among peoples in a primitive stage of culture.  It is rather a report of the spirited way in which Beowulf carried off the laurels in the “hazing” of the guest by a competent official of the host.  Probably this test was part of the formal reception; but it seems a strange survival in epic by the side of the courtly and extravagant compliments exchanged between Beowulf and Hrothgar.  In Scandinavian sources one gets the rough flyting in its coarseness and strength.  See the Lokasenna, above all, and the cases reported by Saxo.  In one the prizes are peculiar :  a queen’s necklace, the man’s life.

24  Bugge places the home of these Heathoreamas in Southern Norway.  He also notes a parallel swimming-match in the Egilssaga.

25  Breca.

26  Partly founded on actual experience of angry whales, as York Powell pointed out, and partly on doings of mythical beasts of the sea.

27  A Germanic commonplace.  It occurs in the Andreas of Cynewulf, in part in the Hildebrand Lay, v. 55, and in sundry Norse poems.  “Undoomed” is “one who is not fey.” — Da sterbent wan die veigen, Nibelungen, 149, “only the fey die,” may be compared with the ballad phrase in Archie o’ Cawfield, Child, III, 489 :

“There’ll no man die but him that’s fee. . . .”

Schücking, in Englische Studien, 39, p. 104, insists on a different translation of this passage.  “Undoomed,” he suggests, is proleptic; and the poet really says “fate often saves a hero — who then, of course, is not a doomed man, — if he be brave.” It is true that the proleptic construction is found in Anglo-Saxon; and the interpretation is possible.  Practically the same case occurs when Horace tells Lydia (III, ix) that he would die for Chloe if the fates would but spare this love of his and let her live; —

Si parcent animae fata superstiti.

But the present passage hardly needs this subtle interpretation, and evidently means that fate often spares a man who is not doomed, really devoted to death, if he is as brave man, in a word, favors the brave if favor be possible.  Weird sisters and fey folk survived long in Scottish tradition.

28  The Finnish folk, as Gering points out, we now call Laplanders.

29  This speech of Beowulf’s is admirable.  He has defended his own reputation, shrugs his shoulders at the necessity of referring to his prowess, and makes a home-thrust at Unferth.  The climax of his invective is imputation to Unferth of the two supreme sins in the Germanic list :  murder of kin, and cowardice. — Below, v. 1167, Unferth is said to be courageous, but faithless to his kin. — Then the hero-orator proceeds to promise or “boast” what he himself will do; and with his cheerful “gab” the speech closes amid general applause.

30  Murderer. —

“Though thou hast murdered thy mother’s sons,” —

would translate the passage less directly but without an archaism. — Beowulf is glad to think as he dies that he is free from murder of kin; see below, v. 2742.  The kin-bond, of course, was or should be very strong.  See Beda’s story of Imma, Eccl. Hist., iv, 22; and Schofield’s summary of Signy’s Lament for the Volsung case.

31  Literally, “jewelled-vessel”; but as Banning points out, this refers simply to the office of passing the cup, not, as in Widsith, 102, to the giving of “lordly gifts,” as some translate the phrase.  The Gnomic Verses, preserved in the Exeter Book, are explicit about the duties of a noble dame in such cases.  She must be (See Grein-Wülker, I, 346) —

fond of her folk, and full of cheer,
fast in a secret, and free of hand
with steeds and treasure :  serving the mead
in the crowd of clansmen, constant always
Defence-of-Athelings first to greet,
to carry the cup to the king’s hand first,
quickly still, and counsel render
ever to him and his heroes all.

The Defence-of-Athelings is, of course, the king.  “Steeds and treasure” is the usual phrase for “gifts.” Wealhtheow answers well to all these requirements.

32  Literally, “clamor of the victorious people.” The phrase is formal, as in so many cases; for just now, and in v. 597, any adjective would suit the Danes better than “victorious,” nor can this count as proleptic.  So in the English Ballads there is a false “true love,” — i.e. “affianced,” — or other contradiction, with similar formal use.  Compare the phrase “excellent iron,” v. 2586, below, for a sword that has just failed to “bite.”

33  See above, vv. 572 f.

34  This Vaunt, or Boast, spoken to the hero’s few comrades on the eve of the vigil and fight, is different from the Vaunt at the banquet, and in its sentimental turn has some distant resemblance to the later “Good-Nights,” particularly the type of Lord Maxwell’s Last Good-Night.

35  The usual mingling of pagan tradition and Christian doctrine.  The weaving, as in classical myths, is work of the Norns, or fates, but God disposes it as he will.  Often, however, the Germanic fates stand alone at their loom.  “Wyrd wove me this.”

36  Beowulf, — the “one,” Ms. has “them.”

37  Whether the hall “flashed” or “glittered” to the monster’s vision as he came near, in this nocturnal raid, does not concern the poet, who uses a conventional description.

38  This is the third announcement of the arrival, and it is such seemingly vain repetitions that caused Müllenhof, ten Brink, Möller, and others to assume interpolations by several hands and to regard the poem as a series of “editions,” on the basis of a general accretion from short lays to the present conglomerate of adaptations, interpolations, and inconsistencies.  The accretion theory is not ridiculous by any means; but it does not explain the Beowulf half so well as the assumption of a single author who wrote the present poem on the basis of old lays, and applied in its general construction the same methods of variation and repetition which obtain for every rhythmic period and almost for every sentence in Anglo-Saxon poetry at large.  The first announcement of Grendel’s coming emphasizes the fact that it is by night; the second lays stress on the start from the moor; the third brings him to the hall, and to the action.  See the same sort of repetition for an arrival, vv. 1640, 1644, below.  If we will only apply to the whole web of narrative what we know of the web of sentence and period, much of the supposed awkwardness, “poor mendings,” “patchwork,” and so on, will prove simply the habit of all that national epic. — See also Hart, Ballad and Epic, pp. 194 ff.

39  That is, he was a “lost soul,” doomed to hell.

40  It is a trait of the national epic, partly explained by the familiar nature of the stories which it told, to anticipate in this way the issue of an adventure and then go back to the details.

41  His name was Hondscio.  See below, v. 2076.

42  Some read :  “prompt to answer, opposed the arm.” The text is not too clear; but the situation is what one would expect, and the awkwardness of the translation does not cloud the facts.

43  This rendering, backed by Bugge, Holthausen, and Heyne, is quite as good as the mere “terrified” of translators who balk at the undignified notion of spilt beer.  But “the ale-bench” is too familiar in the epic for such scruples; and the hall was primarily intended for the Germanic dréam, which meant the revel of drinking men.  “The ale was all upset” is as much as to say “men feared there would be no more joy in Heorot,” so rocked and tottered the great building.  It is a phrase parallel to the “bulging breast” for anger, and such survivals of the primitive methods of speech; and, as has been suggested, may well have seemed archaic to the poet who copied traditional lines.

44  Yet Grendel has shown the white feather from the start.  This “angry” is also conventional; “desperate with fear” is the word for the fiend. — Beowulf’s easy victory here should be compared to his far more hazardous fight with Grendel’s mother, when his strength seems not to help, and he has to use a weapon.

45  Kenning for Beowulf.

46  Litotes for “dangerous,” “destructive.”

47  Also his mother, against whom Beowulf’s sword is wielded in vain; below, v. 1522.

48  Schücking, Beowulf’s Rückkehr, p. 10, notes the resemblance of this fight to the struggles between a saint and the devil or devils, as, for example, in Juliana, vv. 288, 554 ff., and St. Dunstan’s affair with Satan.

49  Hadding, in the forest by night sheltered by a rude tent of twigs, sees “a hand of extraordinary size” wandering about.  His nurse, a giantess, holds the hand while Hadding hews it off, and “corrupt matter” flows from it.  Tearing and rending with their claws is the giants’ way.  See Saxo, Bk. I (Holder, p. 23), and Elton’s translation.

50  That is, all Grendel’s machinery of grasp, both clutch and reach.  The translation “fist” will not do.  The concluding nine lines of this section are compared by ten Brink with the last stanza of Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered.

[BACK]     [Blueprint]     [NEXT]