[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. 59-78.




[Part III]


Many at morning, as men have told me,
warriors gathered the gift-hall round,
folk-leaders faring from far and near,
840o’er wide-stretched ways, the wonder to view,
trace of the traitor.  Not troublous1 seemed
the enemy’s end to any man
who saw by the gait of the graceless foe
how the weary-hearted, away from thence,
845baffled in battle and banned, his steps
death-marked dragged to the devil’s mere.2
60 Bloody the billows were boiling there,
turbid the tide of tumbling waves
horribly seething, with sword-blood hot,
850by that doomed one dyed, who in den of the moor
laid forlorn his life adown,
his heathen soul, — and hell received it.
     Home then rode the hoary clansmen
from that merry journey, and many a youth,
855on horses white, the hardy warriors,
back from the mere.  Then Beowulf’s glory
eager they echoed, and all averred
that from sea to sea, or south or north,
there was no other in earth’s domain,
860under vault of heaven, more valiant found,
of warriors none more worthy to rule !
(On their lord beloved they laid no slight,
gracious Hrothgar :  a good king he !  )
     From time to time, the tried-in-battle
865their gray3 steeds set to gallop amain,
and ran a race when the road seemed fair.
From time to time, a thane of the king,4
61 who had made many vaunts, and was mindful of verses,
stored with sagas and songs of old,
870bound word to word in well-knit rime,
welded his lay ;  this warrior soon
of Beowulf’s quest right cleverly sang,
and artfully added an excellent tale,
in well-ranged words, of the warlike deeds
875he had heard in saga of Sigemund.5
Strange the story :  he said it all, —6
the Wælsing’s wanderings wide, his struggles,
which never were told to tribes of men,
the feuds and the frauds,7 save to Fitela only,
880when of these doings he deigned to speak,
uncle to nephew ;  as ever the twain
stood side by side in stress of war,
62 and multitude of the monster kind
they had felled with their swords.  Of Sigemund grew,
885when he passed from life, no little praise ;  
for the doughty-in-combat a dragon killed
that herded the hoard :8  under hoary rock
the atheling dared the deed alone,
fearful quest, nor was Fitela there.
890Yet so it befell, his falchion pierced
that wondrous worm ; — on the wall it struck,
best blade ;  the dragon died in its blood.
Thus had the dread-one by daring achieved
over the ring-hoard to rule at will,
895himself to pleasure ;  a sea-boat he loaded,
and bore on its bosom the beaming gold,
son of Wæls ;  the worm was consumed.
He had of all heroes the highest renown
among races of men, this refuge-of-warriors,
900for deeds of daring that decked his name
since9 the hand and heart of Heremod
grew slack in battle.  He, swiftly banished
to mingle with monsters10 at mercy of foes,
63 to death was betrayed ;  for torrents of sorrow
905had lamed him too long ;11  a load of care
to earls and athelings all he proved.
Oft indeed, in earlier days,
for the warrior’s wayfaring12 wise men mourned,
who had hoped of him help from harm and bale,
910and had thought their sovran’s son13 would thrive,
follow his father, his folk protect,
the hoard and the stronghold, heroes’ land,
home of Scyldings. — But here, thanes said,
the kinsman of Hygelac kinder seemed
915to all :  the other14 was urged to crime !
     And afresh to the race,15 the fallow roads
by swift steeds measured !  The morning sun
was climbing higher.  Clansmen hastened
to the high-built hall, those hardy-minded,
920the wonder to witness.  Warden of treasure,
crowned with glory, the king himself,
with stately band from the bride-bower strode ;
64 and with him the queen and her crowd of maidens
measured the path to the mead-house fair.


925Hrothgar spake, — to the hall he went,
stood by the steps, the steep roof saw,
garnished with gold, and Grendel’s hand : —
“For the sight I see to the Sovran Ruler
be speedy thanks !  A throng of sorrows
930I have borne from Grendel ;  but God still works
wonder on wonder, the Warden-of-Glory.
It was but now that I never more
for woes that weighed on me waited help
long as I lived, when, laved in blood,
935stood sword-gore-stained this stateliest house, —
widespread woe for wise men all,
who had no hope to hinder ever
foes infernal and fiendish sprites
from havoc in hall.  This hero now,
940by the Wielder’s might, a work has done
that not all of us erst could ever do
by wile and wisdom.  Lo, well can she say
whoso of women this warrior bore
among sons of men, if still she liveth,
945that the God of the ages was good to her
in the birth of her bairn.  Now, Beowulf, thee,
of heroes best, I shall heartily love
as mine own, my son ;  preserve thou ever
this kinship new :  thou shalt never lack
950wealth of the world that I wield as mine !  
Full oft for less have I largess showered,
my precious hoard, on a punier man,
65 less stout in struggle.  Thyself hast now
fulfulled such deeds, that thy fame shall endure
955through all the ages.  As ever he did,
well may the Wielder reward thee still !”
Beowulf spake, bairn of Ecgtheow : —
“This work of war most willingly
we have fought, this fight, and fearlessly dared
960force of the foe.  Fain, too, were I
hadst thou but seen himself, what time
the fiend in his trappings tottered to fall !  
Swiftly, I thought, in strongest gripe
on his bed of death to bind him down.
965that he in the hent of this hand of mine
should breathe his last :  but he broke away.16
Him I might not — the Maker willed not —
hinder from flight, and firm enough hold
the life-destroyer :  too sturdy was he,
970the ruthless, in running !  For rescue, however,
he left behind him his hand in pledge,
arm and shoulder ;  nor aught of help
could the curséd one thus procure at all.
None the longer liveth he, loathsome fiend,
975sunk in his sins, but sorrow holds him
tightly grasped in gripe of anguish,
in baleful bonds, where bide he must,
evil outlaw, such awful doom
as the Mighty Maker shall mete him out.”

980     More silent seemed the son of Ecglaf17
in boastful speech of his battle-deeds,
66 since athelings all, through the earl’s great prowess,
beheld that hand, on the high roof gazing,18
foeman’s fingers, — the forepart of each
985of the sturdy nails to steel was likest, —
heathen’s “hand-spear,” hostile warrior’s
claw uncanny.  ’Twas clear, they said,
that him no blade of the brave could touch,
how keen soever, or cut away
990that battle-hand bloody from baneful foe.


There was hurry and hest in Heorot now
for hands to bedeck it, and dense was the throng
of men and women the wine-hall to cleanse,
the guest-room to garnish.  Gold-gay shone the hangings
995that were wove on the wall, and wonders many
to delight each mortal that looks upon them.
Though braced within by iron bands,
that building bright was broken sorely ;19
rent were its hinges ; the roof alone
1000held safe and sound, when, seared with crime,
the fiendish foe his flight essayed,
67 of life despairing. — No light thing that,20
the flight for safety, — essay it who will !
Forced of fate, he shall find his way
1005to the refuge ready for race of man,
for soul-possessors, and sons of earth ;
and there his body on bed of death
shall rest after revel.
                                                Arrived was the hour
when to hall proceeded Healfdene’s son :
1010the king himself would sit to banquet.
Ne’er heard I of host in haughtier throng
more graciously gathered round giver-of-rings !
Bowed then to bench those bearers-of-glory,
fain of the feasting.  Featly received
1015many a mead-cup the mighty-in-spirit,
kinsmen who sat in the sumptuous hall,
Hrothgar and Hrothulf.21  Heorot now
was filled with friends ;  the folk of Scyldings
ne’er yet had tried the traitor’s deed.
1020     To Beowulf gave the bairn of Healfdene
a gold-wove banner, guerdon of triumph,
a broidered battle-flag, breastplate and helmet ;
and a splendid sword was seen of many
borne to the brave one.  Beowulf took
1025cup in hall :22  for such costly gifts
68 he suffered no shame in that soldier throng.23
For I heard of few heroes, in heartier mood,
with four such gifts, so fashioned with gold,
on the ale-bench honoring others thus !
1030O’er the roof of the helmet high, a ridge,
wound with wires, kept ward o’er the head,
lest the relict-of-files24 should fierce invade,
sharp in the strife, when that shielded hero
should go to grapple against his foes.
1035Then the earls’-defence25 on the floor26 bade lead
coursers eight, with carven head-gear,
adown the hall :  one horse was decked
with a saddle all shining and set in jewels ;
’twas the battle-seat of the best of kings,
1040when to play of swords the son of Healfdene
was fain to fare.  Ne’er failed his valor
in the crush of combat when corpses fell.
To Beowulf over them both then gave
the refuge-of-Ingwines right and power,
1045o’er war-steeds and weapons :  wished him joy of them.
Manfully thus the mighty prince,
hoard-guard for heroes, that hard fight repaid
with steeds and treasures contemned by none
who is wiling to say the sooth aright.



1050And the lord of earls, to each that came
with Beowulf over the briny ways,
an heirloom there at the ale-bench gave,
precious gift ;  and the price27 bade pay
in gold for him whom Grendel erst
1055murdered, — and fain of them more had killed,
had not wisest God their Wyrd averted,
and the man’s28 brave mood.  The Maker then
ruled human kind, as here and now.
Therefore is insight always best
1060and forethought of mind.  How much awaits him
of lief and of loath, who long time here,
through days of warfare this world endures!

Then song and music mingled sounds
in the presence of Healfdene’s head-of-armies29
1065and harping was heard with the hero-lay30
as Hrothgar’s singer the hall-joy woke
along the mead-seats, making his song
of that sudden raid on the sons of Finn.31
     Healfdene’s hero, Hnæf the Scylding,
1070was fated to fall in the Frisian slaughter.32
70 Hildeburh needed not hold in value
her enemies’ honor !33  Innocent both
were the loved ones she lost at the linden-play,
bairn and brother ;  they bowed to fate,
1075stricken by spears ;  ’twas a sorrowful woman !
None doubted why the daughter of Hoc
bewailed her doom when dawning came,
and under the sky she saw them lying,
kinsmen murdered, where most she had kenned
1080of the sweets of the world !  By war were swept, too,
71 Finn’s own liegemen, and few wars were left ;
in the parleying-place34 he could ply no longer
weapon, nor war could he wage on Hengest,
and rescue his remnant by right of arms
1085from the prince’s thane.  A pact he offered :
another dwelling the Danes should have,
hall and high-seat, and half the power
should fall to them in Frisian land ;
and at the fee-gifts, Folcwald’s son
1090day by day the Danes should honor,
the folk of Hengest favor with rings,
even as truly, with treasure and jewels,
with fretted gold, as his Frisian kin
he meant to honor in ale-hall there.
1095Pact of peace they plighted further
on both sides firmly.  Finn to Hengest
with oath, upon honor, openly promised
that woful remnant, with wise-men’s aid,
nobly to govern, so none of the guests
1100by work or work should warp the treaty,35
or with malice of mind bemoan themselves
as forced to follow their fee-giver’s slayer,
lordless men, as their lot ordained.
Should Frisian, moreover, with foeman’s taunt,
1105that murderous hatred to mind recall,
72 then edge of sword must seal his doom.
Oaths were given, and ancient gold
heaped from hoard. — The hardy Scylding,
battle-thane best,36 on his balefire lay.
1110All on the pyre were plain to see
the gory sark, the gilded swine-crest,
boar of hard iron, and athelings many
slain by the sword :  at the slaughter they fell.
It was Hildeburh’s hest, at Hnæf’s own pyre
1115the bairn of her body on brands to lay,
his bones to burn, on the balefire placed,
at his uncle’s side.37  In sorrowful dirges
bewept them the woman :  great wailing ascended.38
Then wound up to welkin the wildest of death-fires,
1120roared o’er the hillock :39  heads all were melted,
73 gashes burst, and blood gushed out
from bites40 of the body.  Balefire devoured,
greediest spirit, those spared not by war
out of either folk :  their flower was gone.


1125Then hastened those heroes their home to see,
friendless, to find the Frisian land,
houses and high burg.  Hengest still
through the death-dyed winter dwelt with Finn,
holding pact, yet of home he minded,
1130though powerless his ring-decked prow to drive
over the waters, now waves rolled fierce
lashed by the winds, or winter locked them
in icy fetters.  Then fared41 another
year to men’s dwellings, as yet they do,
1135the sunbright skies, that their season ever
duly await.  Far off winter was driven ;
fair lay earth’s breast ;  and fain was the rover,
the guest, to depart, though more gladly he pondered
on wreaking his vengeance than roaming the deep,
1140and how to hasten the hot encounter
where sons of the Frisians were sure to be.
So he escaped not the common doom,42
when Hun with “Lafing,” the light-of-battle,
best of blades, his bosom pierced :
1145its edge was famed with the Frisian earls.
74 On fierce-heart Finn there fell likewise,
on himself at home, the horrid sword-death ;
for Guthlaf and Oslaf of grim attack
had sorrowing told, from sea-ways landed,
1150mourning their woes.43  Finn’s wavering spirit
bone not in breast.  The burg was reddened
with blood of foemen, and Finn was slain,
king amid clansmen ;  the queen was taken.
To their ship the Scylding warriors bore
1155all the chattels the chieftain owned,
whatever they found in Finn’s domain
of gems and jewels.  The gentle wife
o’er paths of the deep to the Danes they bore,
led to her land.
                                      The lay was finished,
1160the gleeman’s song.  Then glad rose the revel ;
bench-joy brightened.  Bearers draw
from their “wonder-vats” wine.  Comes Wealhtheow forth,
under gold-crown44 goes where the good pair sit,
uncle and nephew, true each to the other one,
1165kindred in amity.  Unferth the spokesman
at the Scylding lord’s feet sat :  men had faith in his spirit,
his keenness of courage, though kinsmen had found him
75 unsure at the sword-play.  The Scylding queen spoke :
“Quaff of this cup, my king and lord,
1170breaker of rings, and blithe be thou,
gold-friend of men ;  to the Geats here speak
such words of mildness as man should use.
Be glad with thy Geats ;45  of those gifts be mindful,
or near or far, which now thou hast.
1175Men say to me, as son thou wishest
yon hero to hold.  Thy Heorot purged,
jewel-hall brightest, enjoy while thou canst,
with many a largess ;  and leave to thy kin
folk and realm when forth thou goest
1180to greet thy doom.  For gracious I deem
my Hrothulf,46 willing to hold and rule
nobly our youths, if thou yield up first,
prince of Scyldings, thy part in the world.
I ween with good he will well requite
1185offspring of ours, when all he minds
that for him we did in his helpless days
of gift and grace to gain him honor !”
Then she turned to the seat where her sons were placed,
Hrethric and Hrothmund, with heroes’ bairns,
76 1190young men together :  the Geat, too, sat there,
Beowulf brave, the brothers between.


A cup she gave him, with kindly greeting
and winsome words.  Of wounden gold,
she offered, to honor him, arm-jewels twain,
1195corselet and rings, and of collars the noblest
that ever I knew the earth around.
Ne’er heard I so mighty, ’neath heaven’s dome,
a hoard-gem of heroes, since Hama bore
to his bright-built burg the Brisings’ necklace,47
1200jewel and gem casket. — Jealousy fled he,
Eormenric’s hate :  chose help eternal.48
Hygelac Geat,49 grandson of Swerting,
on the last of his raids this ring bore with him,
under his banner the booty defending,
1205the war-spoil warding ;  but Wyrd o’erwhelmed him
what time, in his daring, dangers he sought,
feud with Frisians.  Fairest of gems
77 he bore with him over the beaker-of-waves,
sovran strong :  under shield he died.
1210Fell the corpse of the king into keeping of Franks,
gear of the breast, and that gorgeous ring ;  
weaker warriors won the spoil,
after gripe of battle, from Geatland’s lord,50
and held the death-field.
                                                       Din rose in hall.
1215Wealhtheow spake amid warriors, and said : —
“This jewel enjoy in thy jocund youth,
Beowulf lov’d, these battle weeds wear,
a royal treasure, and richly thrive !
Preserve thy strength, and these striplings here
1220counsel in kindness :  requital be mine.
Hast done such deeds, that for days to come
thou art famed among folk both far and near,
so wide as washeth the wave of Ocean
his windy walls.  Through the ways of life
1225prosper, O prince !  I pray for thee
rich possessions.51  To son of mine
78 be helpful in deed and uphold his joys !
Here every earl to the other is true,
mild of mood, to the master loyal !  
1230Thanes are friendly, the throng obedient,
liegemen are revelling :  list and obey !”52
     Went then to her place. — That was proudest of feast ;  
flowed wine for the warriors.  Wyrd they knew not,
destiny dire, and the doom to be seen
1235by many an earl53 when eve should come,
And Hrothgar homeward hasten away,
royal to rest.  The room was guarded
by an army of earls, as erst was done.
They bared the bench-boards ;  abroad they spread
1240beds and bolsters. — One beer-carouser
in danger of doom54 lay down in the hall. —
At their heads they set their shields of war,
bucklers bright ;  on the bench were there
over each atheling, easy to see,
1245the high battle-helmet, the haughty spear,
the corselet of rings.  ’Twas their custom so
ever to be for battle prepared,
at home, or harrying, which it were,
even as oft as evil threatened
1250their sovran king. — They were clansmen good.55


1  Note the favorite litotes.

2  Sea or Lake of the Nicors.  Indefinite talk of the moorland or fen as home of the monsters here yields to the idea of home in the waters.  The water-hell was familiar to Germanic traditions; in Scandinavia it takes very definite form; and even in the Heliand, translation of the gospels, we read of the punishments of the waters, wateres witi.

3  “Fallow.” Just now the horses were “white”; and in v. 916 it will be the roads that are “fallow.” Color schemes are not very exact in our old poetry, and color was not used to any extent in visualizing a scene.  The popular ballads show the same lack of clearness.

4  Warriors often improvised lays of their own battles, and so laid the foundation of epic; thus Gaston Paris, in his Histoire Poétique de Charlemagne, for French sources.  This thane of Hrothgar may have been a professional minstrel n the eyes of the epic poet who made the Beowulf ;  but there is a possibility of his amateur standing.  In any case, he improvises a lay on Beowulf’s adventure, as he rides along, and uses his store of traditional phrase and comment in the process.  If the epithet applied to him by the epic, guma gilphlœden, means “a man laden with vaunts” and not simply “a warrior who had made many vaunts and performed them, that is , covered with glory,” — and the former rendering is preferable, — then yet another accomplishment of the Germanic warrior is indicated.  He could probably sing his beot, or vaunt, in good verse.  Specimens of such a vaunt, sung, however, by a North American Indian at the war-dance, and improvised to the rhythm of the bystanders’ choral singing, can be studied with some application to the Germanic problem, — for the cruder forms of improvisation, to be sure, and not for a finished chant of adventure like this in question, which is followed by traditional verse dealing with the Germanic heroic legend. — It is told by William of Orange, a hero of medieval song, born about 754, that when he was riding as a monk through the forest, he caused a song in praise of his own deeds to be sung by a retainer who rode in his train. — The Canterbury pilgrims were keeping old custom when they told tales as they rode; but improvisation in verse was no longer expected.

5  In the Nibelungen Lay this adventure is told of Siegfried, son of Sigmund, who is son of Wæls.  In the Volsunga Saga (Wælsings) Sinfioti ( = Fitela) is son to Sigmund by his sister Signy.  See the introduction to Deor’s Song, below.  Beowulf is thus ranged at once with heroes of Germanic legend.

6  Literally, “he told the whole story, . . . much of it unknown. . . “

7  That is, betrayals, treacheries.

8  “Guarded the treasure.” — The “brief abstract” style of this report of the singer’s lay befits a tale which was known to hearers of lay and epic alike.  Sigmund is the type with which Beowulf is compared, the good and great hero; while Heremod, admirably introduced, serves as antitype.  The latter is probably the Lotherus of Saxo’s history, son of Dan, of the royal Danish house, the brave king who turns tyrant and is at last slain by a desperate and outraged folk.  For further reference to him, see below, vv. 1709 ff. and 2177 ff.

9  Müllenhoff’s rendering, and the best.  Heremod, one is told, might have rivalled and surpassed Sigmund, but the former fell from grace, turned tyrant, and in fact was precisely what the aspiring hero should not be, — quite the opposite, say, of this glorious Beowulf.

10  Probably “devils in hell,” who would also be the foes.  Others take the banishment literally, — as if to actual giants, who soon compassed the king’s death.

11  Bugge emends :

                    With torrents of sorrow
he had long lamed his landfolk ;  a load of care . . . 

and understands the “earlier days” in v. 907 as the days before Heremod’s real tyranny began, though his subjects were already chafing at his folly and neglect.

12  “Way of life” (Wyatt).  Sievers refers it to the assumed literal banishment.  Or does it mean some wild adventure undertaken when the king should have been caring for his folk at home?

13  See vv. 20 ff., above :  “So becomes it a youth . . .”

14  Sc. Heremod.

15  The singer has sung his lays, and the epic resumes its story.  The time-relations are not altogether good in this long passage which describes the rejoicings of “the day after”; but the present shift from the riders on the road to the folk at the hall is not very violent, and is of a piece with the general narrative style.

16  Literally, “I intended . . . if his body had not slipped away.”

17  Unferth, Beowulf’s sometime opponent in the flyting.

18  That is, as Klaeber points out, Modern Philogy, III, 256, the nobles look from outside “in the direction of the high roof, and behold the hand.” Beowulf, he says, “had placed Grendel’s hand . . . (on some projection perhaps) above the door (outside) as high as he could reach.” But ten Brink (Beowulf, p. 63) takes for granted that the hand was placed inside the hall.  See vv. 836, 926, above.

19  There is no horrible inconsistency here such as the critics strive and cry about.  In spite of the ruin that Grendel and Beowulf had made within the hall, the framework and roof held firm, and swift repairs made the interior habitable.  Tapestries were hung on the walls, and willing hands prepared the banquet.

20  The usual litotes for “impossible.” So, v. 1027, below, “few” means “none at all.” — As for the matter, a moral commonplace is not very happily forced into the narrative.

21  Uncle and nephew.  It would seem that after a long period of amity (cf. Widsith, 45) they quarreled and fought.  See also below, v. 1164.

22  From its formal use in other places, this phrase, to take cup in hall, or “on the floor,” would seem to mean that Beowulf stood up to receive his gifts, drink to the donor, and say thanks.

23  The comitatus ;  the soldurii.

24  Kenning for sword.  Charles Lamb (“On the Inconvenience Resulting from being Hanged”) calls a resuscitated man “the leavings of the rope.”

25  Hrothgar.  He is also the “refuge of the friends of Ing,” of v. 1044.  Ing belongs to myth.

26  Horses are frequently led or ridden into the hall where folk sit at banquet :  so in Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale, in the ballad of King Estmere, and in the romances.

27  Man-price, wergild.

28  Beowulf’s.  The same combination of fate and courage as above, v. 573.

29  Hrothgar.

30  Literally, “glee-wood was greeted (stirred, touched) and lay was sung.”

31  There is no need to assume a gap in the Ms. As before about Sigemund and Heremod, so now, though at greater length, about Finn and his feud, a lay is chanted or recited; and the epic poet, counting on his readers’ familiarity with the story, — a fragment of it still exists, and is printed in this volume, — simply gives the headings.

32  The exact story to which this episode refers in summary is not to be determined, but the following account of it is reasonable and has good support among scholars.  Finn, a Frisian chieftain, who nevertheless has a “castle” outside the Frisian border, marries Hildeburh, a Danish princess; and her brother, Hnæf, with many other Danes, pays Finn a visit.  Relations between the two poeples have been strained before.  Something starts the old feud anew; and the visitors are attacked in their quarters.  Hnæf is killed; so is a son of Hildeburh.  Many fall on both sides.  Peace is patched up; a stately funeral is held; and the surviving visitors become in a way vassals or liegemen of Finn, going back with him to Frisia.  So matters rest a while.  Hengest is now leader of the Danes; but he is set upon revenge for his former lord, Hnæf.  Probably he is killed in feud; but his clansmen, Guthlaf and Oslaf, gather at their home a force of sturdy Danes, come back to Frisia, storm Finn’s stronghold, kill him, and carry back their kinswoman Hildeburh.  The Finnsburg fragment, translated below, describes (so Bugge puts it, conforming, as he says, “to the common view”) the fight in which Hnæf fell, “that is to say, an event which precedes the story told in the Beowulf,” and is noted in these introductory lines (vv. 1069 f.). — In the Widsith, Hnæf is called ruler of the Hocings. — In v. 1142 it is assumed that Hengest is killed by the sword “Lafing” of a Frisian named Hun.  In Widsith, v. 33, Hun ruled the Hætweras, a tribe of Franks now apparently subject to Finn the Frisian.  Another reading makes Finn slay Hengest with a sword “Hun-lafing.” Two other interpretations make either Finn lay this sword “Hunlafing,” or Hun lay “Lafing,” on Hengest’s lap, as a gift and a sign of allegiance on the part of the receiver.  Of course, in this case, Hengest dissembles his real feelings to gain time and opportunity for the subsequent invasion.

33  Usual litotes; she had good cause to complain.  The “enemies” must be the Frisians; the original word is “eotens,” “ettins,” monsters; but it is elsewhere used in speaking of Frisian men.

34  Battlefield. — Hengest is the “prince’s thane,” companion of Hnæf.  “Folcwald’s son” is Finn.

35  That is, Finn would govern in all honor the few Danish warriors who were left, provided, of course, that none of them tired to renew the quarrel or avenge Hnæf their fallen lord.  If, again, one of Finn’s Frisians began a quarrel, he should die by the sword.  “With wise-men’s aid” is like the form familiar in Ælfred’s Laws.  “With the advice of my Witan, I order. . . .”

36  Hnæf.

37  This reading, which involves a very slight change, was proposed by Holthausen, and is followed by Gering in his German translation.  The clash of kin-duties is the deep note in Germanic tragedy :  to emphasize the fact that here lay the hero, and by him his sister’s son, — the dearest of relationships, — opposed in fight and united in death, was clear privilege for the poet; and the dirge of the mother and sister doubtless dwelt chiefly on the tragic intensity of the double loss.

38  Reading gūthrinc = gūthring, “noise of battle,” with Grein.  It could easily be used for the lamentation of a great multitude. — For the previous passage, if the old reading is retained, a period should follow “placed” (v. 1116), and the next line would be :

Sad by his shoulder sorrowed the woman,
wept him with dirges :  great wailing ascended. . . .

This vocero or lament of the widow, as in the case of Beowulf, v. 3150, below, was accompanied by choral wailing of the throng.  In the Iliad, at the funeral of Hector :   “Thus spake she wailing and therewith the great multitude of the people groaned.” — “Thus spake the wailing and stirred unending moan. . . .”

39  The high place chosen for the funeral :  see description of Beowulf’s funeral-pile at the end of the poem.

40  Wounds.

41  A touch of myth lingers in this personification of the seasons.  Compare the pretty lyric “Lenten is comen with love to toune,” where “toune,” like “men’s dwellings” in the text, means no definite place, but the whole district in question “where folk live.” Of course, spring then brought the new year.

42  See conclusion of note to v. 1070.

43  That is, these two Danes, escaping home, had told the story of the attack on Hnæf, the slaying of Hengest, and all the Danish woes.  Collecting a force, they return to Frisia and kill Finn in his home.  To this attack some writers refer the fragment of Finnsburg.

44  So men go “hardy under helmet.” — The following lines are of unusual length, and are so rendered.  The uncle and nephew are Hrothgar and Hrothulf.  See above, v. 1017, and below, vv. 1180 f.

45  Emended by some editors to “guests.” Neither reading combines satisfactorily with the context.

46  Nephew to Hrothgar, with whom he subsequently quarrels, and elder cousin to the two young sons of Hrothgar and Wealhtheow, — their natural guardian in the event of the king’s death.  There is something finely feminine in this speech of Wealhtheow’s, apart from its somewhat irregular and irrelevant sequence of topics.  Both she and her lord probably distrust Hrothulf; but she bids the king to be of good cheer, and, turning to the suspect, heaps affectionate assurances on his probity.  “My own Hrothulf” will surely not forget those favors and benefits of the past, but will repay them to the orphaned boy.

47  Legend and myth are interwoven in this allusion, but the Brisings’ (Brosings’ in our Ms.) necklace by this time had probably sunk to a sort of celestial standard of value in jewelry, a traditional phrase, and the myth — preserved in part by Scandinavian stories — of the wonderful ornament of the goddess Freyja had quite lost its vitality in epic verse.  For Eormanric, see the allusion in Deor’s Song, below.  Hama is Helme in the Germanic legend.

48  Usually this means that “he died”; but Bugge, translating “he went into God’s refuge,” and relying on a late form of the legend, thinks we are to understand that Hama retired from the world into a monastery.

49  The poet now tells the fate of this gift of Wealhtheow.  Beowulf gives it to his lord Hygelac, who wears it on his fated raid into Frisian lands, — the historical event which took place between 512 and 520 A.D.  Theudebert, grandson of Clovis the Frankish king, surprised and slew Hygelac, captured his fleet and the booty, and took many prisoners. — See also vv. 2355, 2914.

50  Tradition told of Hygelac’s enormous size and strength.  A certain Liber Monstrorum, perhaps of the seventh century, cites rex Hugilaicus, who ruled the Getae and was killed by the Franks, as one whom no horse could carry since he was twelve years old, and whose enormous skeleton was still on an island near the mouth of the Rhine.  Moreover, this friendly account would attribute the defeat to surprise by an overwhelmingly superior force. — Quite in accord with the usual construction of epic narrative in old English verse, and with the same structure in little as shown by the parallels and variations of the sentence or period, the poet returns to the scene in the hall.  “Din rose in the hall” has been emended to “din ceased,” or “warriors listened,” but vainly; the usual applause goes up as the gifts are handed to the hero, and then silence falls as the queen speaks.

51  Or, perhaps, “thou art heartily welcome to these treasures I have given thee,” as Gering translates.

52  Literally, “Do as I bid.”

53  Litotes for “all.” The fatal stroke hovered over them all, though only one was actually stricken.

54  Literally, “ready to go [sc. to death], and fey,” on the verge of death, and a marked man.

55  The Gnomic poetry of the Exeter Ms., 178 ff., describes, in what may be stanzaic verse, how clansmen or comites ought to live in fellowship, and especially that they should sleep under one roof, remaining a united band by night as well as by day:

Ever must heroes in harmony live,
     in the same place sleeping ;
So that never shall man of man speak ill
     till death undo them !

Compare vv. 1228 ff., above. For the matter of the stanzaic form see Signy’s Lament, translated below in the introduction to Deor’s Song.

[BACK]     [Blueprint]     [NEXT]