Beowulf Read-Along Starting Week Four

Beowulf Read-Along Starting Week Four

 

Beowulf Read-Along

 

Week 4 – May 22 – 31; Lines 2200 – End
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WEEK 4:
VOCABULARY
  
suppurate: form pus; fester
foment: instigate or stir up; incite
howe: hollow place
graith: accountrements; dress; gear

hoke: don’t know!

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Quick Summary:  Time passes and Hygelac is killed in battle with the Shylfings, Headred his son takes over and Beowulf, though prodded to take the kingdom from Headred, instead supports him and only becomes King at Headred’s death.  He rules as a wise and successful king for 50 years.  Unbeknownst to the Geats, a dragon lurks in a barrow, where it guards a cursed treasure beyond wonders, and is finally stirred by a thief, a slave who steals a precious cup and awakens the creature’s wrath.  In his hunt, the dragon burns Beowulf’s throne-hall and Beowulf knows that he must confront this adversary in spite of foreseeing his own death.  When he faces the dragon, only Wiglaf, a kinsman, remains to assist him, and while Beowulf kills the dragon, he is mortally wounded.  Upon his death, Wiglaf prophecies defeat for the Geats at the hands of the Swedes because of their cowardice and the fact they are without a king.  The treasure is left as it was found, under a curse and Beowulf is given a noble funeral, a tribute to the remarkable and honoured king that he was.

 

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Lines 2200 – 2396
We notice at this point of the poem, Beowulf has ruled fifty winters, the same amount of time that Hrothgar had ruled when Beowulf came to his aid: ” …… He ruled it well for fifty winters, grew old and wise as warden of the land …… “ (Lines 2208-2210)
Like Grendel had threatened Heorot, the dragon threatens the Geats.
We get a flashback to Hygelac’s death and receive more evidence of Beowulf’s “consideration” and honourable behaviour when he refused to usurp Heardred and his inheritance of the throne of the Geats: ” ….. with Hygelac dead, she (Hygd) has no belief in her son’s ability to defend their homeland against foreign invaders. Yet there was no way the weakened nation could get Beowulf to give in and agree to be elevated over Heardred as his lord or to undertake the office of kingship. But he did provide support for the prince, honoured and minded him until he matured as the ruler of Geatland ……. “ then after a fight with the sons of Ohthere : ” …. Heardred lay slaughtered and Onela returned to the land of Sweden, leaving Beowulf to ascend the throne, to sit in majesty and rule over the Geats. He was a good king…..” Beowulf passed up an opportunity for power and instead chooses to give Heardred his rightful inheritance and support him in his rule. An amazing choice that shows his loyalty, graciousness and his desire to do what is right. (Lines 2355 – 2390)
Lines 2397 – 2586
It is as if Beowulf feels his mortality as he recounts his earlier days and the stories surrounding his people. His last boast contains the highest goal of glory again: ” ….. I shall pursue this fight for the glory of winning …….” (Lines 2425 – 2515)
I was a little perplexed as to why Beowulf announces himself to the dragon: ” ….. The lord of the Geats unburndened his breast and broke out in a storm of anger. Under grey stone his voice challenged and resounded clearly. Hate was ignited. The hoard-guard recognized a human voice ……” Doesn’t it seem imminently sensible to sneak in and kill the creature, if he can? Again, it is as if Beowulf sets up for himself the ultimate challenge. (Lines 2516 – 2557)
What is it with these swords??! ” …… Beowulf was foiled of a glorious victory. The glittering sword, infallible before that day, failed when he unsheathed it, as it never should have……” First he decides to fight Grendel without a sword; then he decides to use a sword against Grendel’s mother; Unferth’s sword fails him so he has to use one he finds in the barrow; now he decides to use a sword but it fails. Infallible swords that fail in the highest time of crisis …….. I can’t help but think that there is an important point in all this that I’m missing, but I cannot for the life of me find it. (Lines 2583 – 2586)
  
Lines 2587 – 2801
” …… No help or backing was to be had then from his high-born comrades; that hand-picked troop broke ranks and ran for their lives to the safety of the wood ……. in a man of worth the claims of kinship cannot be denied …..” After his men stood by him against Grendel, why do these ones run away? Cowardice? Fate? A sigh of a weaker people with less honour? Yet his kinsman, Wiglaf, stands by him. Perhaps the scene is simply a device to ensure that the reader sees Wiglaf’s loyalty and therefore the fact that he is to be Beowulf’s heir will be believable. Wiglaf then scolds the Thanes and he appears to try to shame them into standing by their lord but ends up going in to face the dragon with only Beowulf as his fellow-warrior. (2592 – 2630)
” ….. When he wielded a sword, no matter how blooded and hard-edged the blade his hand was too strong, the stroke he dealt (I have heard) would ruin it. He could reap no advantage …..” This appears to be an explanation of the failed swords, but if you examine the previous instance it appears that his sword had never failed him but failed him now, which would have had nothing to do with his strength. Yes, it is a conundrum. (Lines 2684 – 2687)
Beowulf fatally wounds the dragon but is wounded/poisoned by the creature and recounts his rule as his life fades away. Initially he wants to see the treasure: ” …….. I want to examine the ancient gold, gaze my fill on those garnered jewels; my going will be easier for having seen the treasure, a less troubled letting-go of the life and lordship I have long maintained …….”and then refers to his people: ” ……. To the everlasting Lord of All, to the King of Glory, I give thanks that I behold this treasure here in front of me, that I have been allowed to leave my people so well endowed on the day I die. Now that I have bartered my last breath to own this forune, it is up to you to look after their needs …….” He clearly intend the treasure for his people even though he trusts God to take care of their needs. (Lines 2702 – 2801)
Lines 2802 – End
Wiglaf then rebukes the Thanes for betraying Beowulf in their cowardice and foretells that this one act will be known and cause the Geats to be attacked by their enemies, who will take advantage of their weakness. With the death of their peace-maker, who has maintained that peace through bravery and empathy, signifies the death of that peace and perhaps the death of their people. (Lines 2860 – 3027)
There are 50’s showing up regularly in this poem, 50 years of rule from both kings, the dragon was 50 feet in length and I think I saw another 50 somewhere. I wonder if this is meaningful or not …..???

” ……. Yet Beowulf’s gaze at the gold treasure when he first saw it was not selfish …..” More proof of Beowulf’s unusual qualities …… Wiglaf then indicates that Beowulf was intent on possessing the treasure and did not listen to their warning to leave the dragon alone. He orders Beowulf’s funeral pyre, removes the treasure, we see Beowulf’s funeral and then the surprising end ……. ” …….. They (the Geats) let the ground keep that ancestral treasure, gold under gravel, gone to earth, as useless to men now as it ever was ……” Wiglaf takes the changes in Beowulf a step further, not only renouncing the value of spoils (treasure) but questioning its value throughout history. The poem ends with a tribute to its hero: ” …… They said that of all the kings upon the earth he was the man most gracious and fair-minded, kindest to his people and keenest to win fame.” (Lines 3074 – 3182 [End])

Does Beowulf’s legacy pass to Wiglaf, making him a new type of hero, or does the culture of fate and destiny still have a hold on this society?

For me, these last sections of the poem were the most difficult to understand, with many possible contradictions; the history of the treasure; the importance of the treasure to the poem — is it a symbol of fame and glory or a warning symbol of materialism and its effect on society; the significance of the number 50; we have more death caused by kin — what does this mean?; the contrast between Beowulf’s earlier contest with Grendel and this contest with the dragon; God not allowing Grendel near Hrothgar’s throne yet he allows the dragon to destroy Beowulf’s throne-hall, etc.  So many interweaving threads in this story leave wonderful trails to follow and with my fifth read of the poem I’m still pondering the implications of the themes it contains.  

I’d love to hear the comments of those of you still with us!

 

 

Beowulf Read-Along: Starting Week Three

Beowulf Read-Along Week Three
Beowulf Read-Along

 

Week 3 – May 17 – 24; Lines 1251 – 2199

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VOCABULARY
kesh: causeway or log bridge
bulwark: a solid wall-like structure
brehon: ancient Irish lawyer or judge
thane: warrior, follower, servant
damascene: decorated sword or steel with peculiar markings
sept: a family or group of families under a head
gorget: a piece of armour for defending the throat
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Quick Summary:  However ………. joy and celebration come too soon to Heorot, as Grendel’s mother arrives to reek vengeance for the death of her son.  She carries away Hrothgar’s most trusted warrior and friend, Aeschere, and so the Geats and the Danes are off in pursuit.  They come to a lake writhing with serpents and sea creatures, and Beowulf volunteers to attempt to kill the monster.  He swims for nearly a day until he is caught in the grasp of the dam and taken to her cavern, where the blade Unferth gave him fails and he is forced to take a different one from the wall to complete the killing.  To everyone’s shock, Beowulf emerges from the water victorious.  He is once again celebrated, and there are stories told which are intended to instruct character.  The Geats return to their king and Beowulf relates his adventures.

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Lines 1251 – 1441
And so Grendel’s mother comes to Heorot to avenge his death and leaves with her son’s arm and one of Hrothgar’s most trusted friends.
Again we see the theme of winning glory as the highest goal in life: ” ….. It is always better to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning. For every one of us, living in this world means waiting for our end. Let whoever can win glory before death. When a warrior is gone, that will be his best and only bulwark……” So it is not only vengeance that is called for, but the desire to win fame for oneself.  (Line 1384-1389)
It is curious that Beowulf almost chastizes Hrothgar at the end of this section: ” …… Endure your troubles to-day. Bear up and be the man I expect you to be ….” Do I sense a frustration on Beowulf’s part with Hrothgar’s lack of action? Not at all the way I would expect someone to talk to a king, and I think it shows the power Beowulf wields over him. (Line 1395-1396)
What an effective scene where they come upon Aeschere’s head at the foot of the cliff and then see the water surging with different kinds of reptiles, and sea-dragons and monsters “slouching on slopes by the cliff”. I wonder what a sea-dragon looks like …… Perhaps like this:

 

Lines 1442 – 1491
Now comes one of the parts that fascinate me; Unferth lends Beowulf his sword, Hrunting, which has never failed in battle. ” …. (he – Unferth) could hardly have remembered the ranting speech he had made in his cups. He was not man enough to face the turmoil of a fight under water and the risk of his life. So there he lost fame and repute ….”  So it is reasonably obvious that Unferth has altered his original opinion of Beowulf after seeing his defeat of Grendel, gaining a healthy respect for him and even lending him his precious sword. It also appears as if a warrior’s reputation is like a bank account; every time he performs an heroic feat, he makes a deposit of glory but every time he shows an act of cowardice, glory is withdrawn. In this instance, one act of cowardice seems to clear his whole account! (Line 1455-1491)
Then we see Beowulf not only take the sword, Hrunting, but he then bequeaths his own sword to Unferth if he does not return. This is uncommon courtesy shown to a man who did nothing but taunt and jeer at him when he first came to Heorot. He should have killed Unferth for his insults, yet he shows a tolerance and then a grace that is quite perplexing given the society in which he lives, and yet is quite appealing.
” ….. With Hrunting I shall gain glory or die! …..” Hmmm …… we shall see …… (Line 1491)
Lines 1492 – 1650
” ….. then (he) heaved his war-sword and swung his arm: the decorated blade came down ringing and singing on her head. But he soon found his battle-torch extinguished: the shining blade refused to bite. It spared her and failed the man in his need. It had gone through many hand-to-hand fights, had hewed the armour and helmets of the doomed, but here at last the fabulous powers of that heirloom failed …..”  (Line 1520-1528)
So Unferth’s sword proves of no use to him. I wonder why he decided to use a sword on Grendel’s mother but not on Grendel? Did he feel she would be easier to kill? Had he earned enough glory with killing Grendel and did not need to earn such overwhelming renown? I can’t even guess the answer to this one.
But finally he finds a sword in Grendel’s mother’s den that does the trick and he lops off her head. He then finds Grendel and decapitates him before bringing his head to the surface.
Oh, the lack of faith of the Shieldings for Beowulf’s success. They all assume he is dead and skedaddle, but Beowulf’s thanes wait in hope and finally their hero emerges with Grendel’s head and the hilt of the sword.
So with this last act of Beowulf’s, ” …. his courage was proven, his glory was secure …..” Can he not lose his glory now because of these amazing feats of courage and bravery? A deposit that cannot be decreased?? (Line 1646)
Lines 1651 – 1790
Beowulf returns to Heorot to explain what happened during his sojourn into the depths of the waters after Grendel’s mother, and afterwards Hrothgar launches into a very long speech. It includes:
…. Hrothgar’s values: ” …. A protector of his people, pledged to uphold truth, justice and to respect tradition …..”  (Line 1700-1701)
….. Beowulf’s character: ” ….. In all things you are even-tempered, prudent and resolute ……”  (Line 1705-1706)
…… Hrothgar tells the story of King Heremod and contrasts him with Beowulf. He instructs Beowulf to, ” ….. learn from this and understand true values. I who tell you have wintered into wisdom …..” He follows this story with a cautionary monologue on the dangers of power without generosity and gratitude, and gives his own situation of an example of a journey from power to grief and helplessness. He exhorts Beowulf to live a life that is not focussed on material possessions or “external rewards”. Is he suggesting he concentrate on an internal building of character? Hmmm ….. doesn’t sound like advice from a king of a culture whose status is built upon winning glory and spoils …….. (Line 1709-1768)
Lines 1791 – 1887
” …….. Then that stalwart fighter ordered Hrunting to be brought to Unferth, and bade Unferth take the sword and thanked him for lending it. He said he had found it a friend in battle and a powerful help; he put no blame on the blade’s cutting edge. He was a considerate man…..”
Wow! Again, Beowulf’s actions appear to be outside the cultural norm. He thanked him and then lied about the degree of help the sword had been to him to spare Unferth’s feelings?! He certainly shows a consideration that defies explanation, especially after Unferth had originally mocked and challenged him. (Lines 1807 – 1812)
Hrothgar says more kind words regarding Beowulf and there is a foreshadowing when he says: ” ….. and you are still alive, then I firmly believe the seafaring Geats won’t find a man worthier of acclaim as their king and defender than you, if only you would undertake the lordship of your homeland……”It appears that Beowulf has not only won glory but also Hrothgar’s backing if ever an opportunity arises for him to become king of the Geats. (Lines 1849-1853)
We saw Wealhtheow, Hrothgar’s queen, being a peace-weaver in the last section as she pleaded for Beowulf’s consideration for her sons, but we see a similar attribution given to Beowulf: …… What you have done is to draw two peoples, the Geat nation and us neighbouring Danes, into shared peace and a pact of friendship in spite of hatreds we have harboured in the past ……”  Beowulf, too, is a peace-weaver. He has made peace with Unferth, Hrothgar and the Danes, and his own version of peace with Grendel and his dame. (Lines 1855-1857)
This was such a lovely part of the poem:
” …. And so the good and grey-haired Dane, that high-born king, kissed Beowulf and embraced his neck, then broke down in sudden tears. Two forebodings disturbed him in his wisdom, but one was stronger: nevermore would they meet each other face to face. And such was his affection that he could not help being overcome: his fondness for the man was so deep-founded, it warmed his heart and wound the heartstrings tight in his breast ……” and ” …… He was a peerless king until old age sapped his strength and did him mortal harm, as it has done so many …..”Again, Beowulf could have brought war to Hrothgar in his weakness and taken over his kingdom but instead he assisted him and won a friend and ally. However, we didn’t find out what the second thought that disturbed Hrothgar was, did we? (Lines 1870 – 1887)
Lines 1888 – 2199
The Geats appear to have a quick sail home, Beowulf brings his treasure to King Hygelac and Queen Hygd, we hear a story about Queen Modthryth, who is harsh and quick to deal punishment, until she is married to Offa whose influence appears to have worked great improvement in her character. Again, I’m not quite sure as to the purpose of the interposed story.  Perhaps simply a contrast of queens; how one should act (as a peace-weaver) and how one should not act (as a tyrant).
When Beowulf meets Hygelac, the king of the Geats says: ….. Did you help Hrothgar much in the end? Could you ease the prince of his well-known troubles? Your undertaking cast my spirits down, I dreaded the outcome of your expedition and pleaded with you long and hard to leave the killer be, let the South-Danes settle their own blood-feud with Grendel ……” Two points strike me here; first, all the peoples appeared to well know the problems and tragedy that Hrothgar faced with Grendel, yet no one was willing to help except Beowulf. I also noted that Beowulf went against his king’s wishes when he sailed for Heorot, and I think this infers his position was a well-respected and honoured one if he was allowed to do as he wished without the approval of the king. However, later it says the king originally did not think much of him so perhaps it is simply that Hygelac does not value Beowulf and therefore, does not really care what he does …..??? (Lines 1990 – 1998)
Beowulf begins to recount his tale but deviates from his story and begins to prophesy about the marriage of Hrothgar’s daughter and the tragedy that will happen, once again in the good, old blood-feud fashion. (Lines 2020 – 2068)
I was fascinated that Beowulf declined to go into detail about his heroic exploits: ” ….. It would take too long to tell how I repaid the terror of the land for every life he took and so won credit for you, my king and for all your people ……” Shocking that he would miss a chance to build his glory in the eyes of others and put the focus on his king and people. (Lines 2092 – 2095)

” …… Thus Beowulf bore himself with valour; he was formidable in battle yet behaved with honour and took no advantage; never cut down a comrade who was drunk, kept his temper and, warrior that he was, watched and controlled his God-sent strength and his outstanding natural powers. He had been poorly regarded for a long time, was taken by the Geats for less than he was worth: and their lord too had never much esteemed him in the mead-hall. They firmly believed that he lacked force, that the prince was a weakling; but presently every affront to his deserving was reversed ….” (Line 2177-2189)  Initially, the Geats did not appreciate his virtues of consideration, kindness, empathy and temperance because they did not fit with their society and they did not understand them, but when these virtues were coupled with bravery, courage, and force of action, he finally got the recognition he deserved. Yet Beowulf appears to be a new type of warrior, a new type of person foreshadowing a new type of society. What do the rest of you think?

Week 4 starting post will go up on May 24th!  

 

Beowulf Read-Along: Starting Week Two

Beowulf Read-Along Starting Week Two
Beowulf Read-Along

 

Week 2 – May 9 – 16; Lines 710 – 1250

 

 

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VOCABULARY (for those with the Heaney translation):


hasp: shut or fasten
hoop: clasp or encircle
hirpling: a fast but uneven gait.

lap: a part that lies along the side of a part of another

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Quick Summary:  Beowulf awaits the monster and when Grendel arrives, he gives him the surprise of his life; so strong is Beowulf that he is able to rip off Grendel’s arm, and the monster escapes to the fens to bleed to death.  When morning comes, the kingdom celebrates Beowulf’s victory with a story of Sigemund, the dragon slayer and King Heremond (there is much foreshadowing in this section) by a ministrel, speeches giving thanks to the Lord, a doling out of gifts/treasure, and a final story about the Danes and Frisians with regard to blood feuds and revenge. To conclude this section, Wealhtheow, Hrothgar’s queen, honours Beowulf with a curious speech ……
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Traits of Grendel

 
Picking up from the last section, I thought I would label some descriptions for Grendel.  My sympathy for him is non-existent, and and here is why:
“…. blood-lust rampant ….”
” …. powerful demon …..”
” ….a fiend out of hell ….”
” ….. grim demon ……”
“…… God-cursed brute …..”
” ….. creating havoc …….”
” ……. greedy and grim ….”
” …… inflamed from the raid ……”
“……. merciless Grendel ……”
” …… malignant by nature, he never showed remorse …”
” ….. hall-watcher’s hate ……”
” ……Grendel ruled in defiance of right …….”
” ……vicious raids and ravages of Grendel ….”
” …… long unrelenting feud …..”
” ….. how he would never parley or make peace nor pay the death-price ……”
” ….. all were endangered: young and old …..”
“……. dark death-shadow ……”
” ….. reavers from hell …….”
“……. inflicting constant cruelties …… atrocious hurt …. ”
(Lines 85-166)
He is evil, a murderer and, not only does he kill the people, he is “inflamed” by killing (and probably by eating his killings). He does not distinguish adults from children but will gladly murder both. He has never shown any remorse for his actions and, in fact, refuses even to speak with the Spear-Danes to make peace, nor will he pay the wergild. I can well imagine the terror the Danes feel towards this vicious creature, as they are powerless to stop his ravages.
I did not understand by my translation that the Danes came into Grendel’s territory. In fact, the Danes appear to have been in the area for generations and Grendel’s appearance seems relatively recent, but the text is not completely clear.
What bothers Grendel, is the joy that he is hearing: the lovely note of the harp, people singing and laughing and speaking about God. He hates everything that is good and is overcome with the will to destroy it.
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Lines 710 – 835

And yet another example of Grendel’s evil as he comes to Heorot preparing more murders:” …… And his glee was demonic, picturing the mayhem …….” The fact that he was excited with joy at the though of killing and dismembering helpless people, makes me shiver. (Lines 730-731)
Okay, this is perhaps the goriest description I remember reading in any book: ” ….. struck suddenly and started in; he grabbed and mauled a man on his bench, bit into his bone-lappings, bolted down his blood and gorged on him in lumps, leaving the body utterly lifeless, eaten up hand and foot …” Yuck! (Lines 739-744)
As soon as Grendel knows that he has met someone who is a match for him, he immediately is “desperate to flee” and “hide”, which paints him as a coward and a bully, although this word is entirely too weak to describe his demonic character. (Lines 754-763)
From the text, I understood that Beowulf decides to fight Grendel without a sword because of a type of honour; he wants to meet him on equal terms.  Is that what everyone else understands? Now, during the fight, his warriors try to attack Grendel with their swords but, ” …no blade on earth, no blacksmith’s art could ever damage their demon opponent. He had conjured the harm from the cutting edge of every weapon …” “He” appears to mean Grendel, which perhaps indicates that he has access to magic …..??? Of course, by having Beowulf fight the monster with his bare hands, it makes him appear more heroic.  (Lines 790- 807)


Lines 836 – 1061

” ……. Beowulf’s doings were praised over and over again. Nowhere, they said, north or south between the two seas or under the tall sky on the broad earth was there anyone better to raise a shield or to rule a kingdom ….”  Beowulf the hero! Of course, this deed would have given him enormous respect and power. (Lines 855-860)
“….. Yet there was no laying of blame on their lord, the noble Hrothgar; he was a good king …”  Hrothgar really should have tried to kill Grendel himself and, even if he died in the process, at least he would have died with honour. However, by the above lines, we can surmise that even if he had been cowardly, he must have had other good qualities that engendered respect in his warriors and allayed their scorn. The poet makes certain to include this line, so it appears to be important.  Again, this reminds me of King Theoden in The Lord of the Rings ….. and Heorot is very like Meduseld, the Golden Hall in Rohan. (Lines 861-862)
The tale of Sigemund, the dragon-slayer is a comparison between his exploits and those of Beowulf,  but does it also have another function?? (see questions) (Lines 884-914)
Of course, with Beowulf’s defeat of Grendel, the first acknowledgement is to the Lord and His favour, but there is someone else who is mentioned …” …… But now a man (Beowulf), with the Lord’s assistance, has accomplished something none of us could manage before now for all our efforts.  Whoever she was who brought forth this flower of manhood, if she is till alive, that woman can say that in her labour the Lord of Ages bestowed a grace on her …..”  Part of the honour of victory is given to Beowulf’s mother, another example of renown and recognition given to a woman. (Lines 938-945)

Beowulf’s mighty deed has certainly put Unferth in his place: ” ….. There was less tampering and big talk then from Unferth the boaster, less of his blather …….” Perhaps he will now give Beowulf the respect he has certainly earned. (Lines 978-980)
And my favourite line: ” …… Whoever remains for long here in this earthly life will enjoy and endure more than enough ….” It is a wise statement. The author is not fatalistic, like I might have expected, but contrasts “enjoy” and “endure” for a balanced picture of life. (Lines 1060-1061)

Lines 1062 – 1157

This is what I understood from the poem of the battle between the Danes & the Frisians:
Hildeburh his a Danish princess married to Finn, a Frisian king. The Danes, led by Hildeburh’s brother Hnaef, attack the Frisians on their home soil. Hnaef is killed along with Hildeburh’s son, a Frisian warrior. With the Danes losing, Hengest, a Dane, steps up and agrees to a truce with Finn, who says that the Danes can stay among the Frisians, be honoured with gifts, and be treated exactly as his own people (it appears the Danes cannot get home because it is wintertime and the sea is too rough). Enmity is nursed over the winter by the Danes and when spring arrives, they attack, killing Finn, stealing his treasures and they take Hildeburh back home. There is a mention of Guthlaf and Oslaf making an “old accusation” but I have no idea what that is about.


Lines 1158 – 1250
Here we see what appears to be a somewhat nervous Wealhtheow trying to secure the succession of kingship for her sons:
“……(to Hrothgar) and now the word is that you want to adopt this warrior as a son. So, while you may, bask in your fortune, and then bequeath kingdom and nation to your kith and kin, before your decease. I am certain of Hrothulf (Beowulf). He is noble and will use the young ones well. He will not let you down. Should you die before him, he will treat our children truly and fairly. He will honour, I am sure, our two sons, repay them in kind when he recollects all the good things we gave him once, the favour and respect he found in his childhood …..”
Just the fact that she has to make his speech indicates that she is not sure at all that Beowulf will honour her sons, and while this speech is diplomatic, Beowulf could not fail to miss her point.
I must say, this would be the perfect chance for Beowulf to attack Hrothgar and win treasure, bounty and more renown for himself. Hrothgar is weak and Beowulf is admired (and probably feared) by everyone. It is a perfect opportunity!
The gift of the torque to Beowulf is interwoven with a story of Hygelac’s death while wearing his torque. I got the impression that the message here was that, while treasure was good and perhaps even necessary to this culture, it cannot give life and that their fate could certainly be affected by their decisions. Is this a different tone than we have heard previously in this poem? 
” …. Fate swept him away because of his proud need to provoke a feud with the Frisians …”

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Please put any questions, comments, or answers to the questions below in the comment area even further below! I’m going back into the previous week’s posts at the end of the section week to answer my own questions, so if anyone is curious, you can check out Week 1.

 

  1. The tale of Sigemund the dragon-slayer is a comparison between his deeds and those of Beowulf, but do you think it might serve another purpose?  If so, what purpose?  What about King Heremond?  Why was it important for the reader to learn about him?
  2. How did you interpret Wealhtheow’s speech?  Did you agree with my analysis?  Was there another purpose in her words other than honouring Beowulf and attempting to protect her sons’ inheritance?  Does she have a deeper objective?
  3. Did you see a motive or intent in the story of the actions between the Danes and the Frisians?  Why do you think the poet chose to include it?


Week 3 starting post will go up on May 16th!  

Beowulf Read-Along – Starting Week One

Beowulf Read-Along Starting Week 1
Beowulf Read-Along

 

Week 1 – May 1 – 8; Lines 1 – 709

 

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VOCABULARY (for those with the Heaney translation):
In case anyone needs a little help 
thole: to bear; endure
torque: a collar or neck chain, usually twisted
reaver: spoiler; plunderer
thane: free servant or attendant to a lord
bolter: covered in (blood)
bawn: enclosure of mud or stone walls around a house or castle
mizzle: mist or fine rain

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Quick Summary:  So Hrothgar’s lineage begins with Shield Sheafson, his great-grandfather who was a foundling but built a prosperous kingdom through battle.  Beow was his son, who was followed by Halfdane, Hrothgar’s father.  Hrothgar is at first smiled on by fortune, but then Grendel appears, to ruin his precious Hall, eat his men, and disrupt his later years of kingship.  After 12 years of Heorot enduring the monster’s carnage, Beowulf arrives to settle a debt, promising to kill the vile creature or die in the attempt.  There is feasting and then Hrothar hands over Heorot to Beowulf to await Grendel ……

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Lines 1-11:

 
The poem begins with the lineage of Hrothgar. What I find interesting to note is that Shield Sheafson did not inherit the kingship, but was actually a foundling who won it by his bravery and the fact he slaughtered countless numbers of people. “……. scourge of many tribes, a wrecker of mead-benches, rampaging among foes …… “ These were the “virtues” that were admired, and allowed an unknown warrior to become king. (Lines 1-11)
 

Lines 20 – 25:

 
After Shield becomes king, the kingship seems to follow a path of direct lineage. Beow, Shield’s son, is prudent”, “giving freely while his father lives so that afterwards in age when fighting starts steadfast companions will stand by him ….”, an indication that not only do you need to be brave and a consummate killer, but that loyalty must be purchased for a king to remain in power: (Lines 20-25)
“Behaviour that’s admired is the path to power among people everywhere.” (Lines 24-25)
 

Lines 26 – 52:

 
We read about the funeral of Shield Sheafson. I was surprised to see the words: “No man can tell, no wise man in hall or weathered veteran knows for certain who salvaged that load.” They seemed to know that the body could land somewhere and the treasure and offerings be taken by someone else. Interesting ….. (Lines 26-52)

Lines 56 – 82:

 
Halfdane is Beow’s son and he had the three sons and a daughter, Hrothgar being the second son. When it says: “The fortunes of war favoured Hrothgar……”, we cannot be certain whether his older brother, Heorogar was killed in war, or that Hrothgar won more renown and loyalty than Heorogar, and therefore was accepted as king. Heorot, the great mead-hall, appears to have been built as a tribute to Hrothgar’s greatness …….. (Lines 56-82)

Lines 126 – 147

 
I thought the author (and Heaney) did a wonderful job of describing Grendel. I almost shiver as I imagine him coming into the mead-hall with all the unsuspecting warriors asleep. Cain was God-cursed for murdering and being unrepentant and, like Cain, so is Grendel. In one swoop, he carries off 30 men! We are not directly told his size, but he must be huge.
What puzzled me in this section (and the upcoming ones) is that Hrothgar does not fight. He is an honoured king who must have reached such renown by the battles he has won and the people he has slaughtered. Why is he so hesitant to fight Grendel?
….”Their mighty prince, the storied leader, sat stricken and helpless, humiliated by the loss of his guard, bewildered and stunned, staring aghast at the demon’s trail, in deep distress….”
WHY? Is he afraid? Even if Grendel is powerful, wouldn’t dying a death to defend your home and people be more honourable than sitting and doing nothing? Is he simply old now and cannot get up the courage to fight? He allows the carnage to go on for 12 years! I am really perplexed by Hrothgar’s lack of action. (Lines 126 – 147)
 

It sounded like Hrothgar was living in peaceful times, erecting a type of memorial for himself and then all of a sudden this monster appears and starts to wreak havoc. Perhaps he was looking for peace in his old age and, because of his age, is overwhelmed by such a unstoppable demon. I want him to spring up and at least take a few swings at Grendel but he is powerless. Not the response I’d imagine from a respected king of the Spear-Danes. 

Lines 194 – 355
Quite an impressive entrance by Beowulf and his warriors. Their courage, bravery and self-assurance is readily apparent to both the coast-guard and the warrior, Wulfgar, they meet at Heorot. I loved the coast-guard’s response to Beowulf’s statement that he has come to kill the monster: “Anyone with gumption and a sharp mind will take the measure of two things: what’s said and what’s done.” (Lines 287-289)
Even after 12 years of the monster ravaging their halls, the Spear-Dane warriors still have respect for their king; Wulfgar calls him, “our noble king”, “our-dear lord”, “friend of the Danes”, and “giver of rings”.

And why has Beowulf come? Why would he risk the lives of himself and his men? To prove his bravery with a feat no one has been able to accomplish, or is there another reason ….???
 
 
Lines 399 – 498
Beowulf is clear with Hrothgar that he only wants his men to contend with the monster:

” ……. my one request is that you won’t refuse me, who have come this far, the privilege of purifying Heorot, with my own men to help me, and nobody else.” (Lines 429-432)

Beowulf does not know the Spear-Danes. He does not know if he can trust them, how much he can trust them, how they fight, what their actions might be during a fight, etc. When he left Geatland, I got the impression that he chose his warriors carefully, as he knew it was going to be a great task and perhaps not one he was willing to share with men who had not been able to deal with the monster and men whom he did not know. (Lines 427 – 441)
  
Ah ha! Now we find out the motivation for Beowulf’s offer of help. Hrothgar payed wergild for one of Beowulf’s father’s (Ecgtheow) killings and gave him shelter in his banishment. Because of his father’s debt, Beowulf owes Hrothgar a favour as well as his allegiance.  Is it telling that Hrothgar brings up this debt instead of Beowulf? Does this fact decrease impression of the unselfish act of bravery Beowulf is presenting? (Lines 456-479)
We also find out that Hrothgar’s older brother, Heorogar had died but we don’t find out why. (Lines 467-469)
Lines 499 – 709
The verbal sparring and boasts between Beowulf and Unferth is a long section of the poem and therefore gives an indication that it is rather important. It is the height of ungraciousness (and not to mention stupidity) to try to make a renowned warrior, and especially one who has arrived to rescue the kingdom, look foolish. Beowulf extinguishes any influence Unferth’s words might have had with a magnificent accusation, basically calling him a coward and accrediting him with murdering his family.  It’s a shocking allegation. Killing other people’s kin is expected, but killing your own is truly heinous. I assume Unferth is left alive after 12 years because of his cowardice, yet Beowulf firmly puts him in his place ….. ” …… you will suffer damnation in the depths of hell …..” (Lines 499 – 606) [Strangely, in the audiobook version read by Seamus Heaney —— wonderful, BTW ——– they chose to delete this whole section, a crime I think, because it is so necessary to later understand Beowulf’s character and motivations]
We also see a rare appearance of a woman in this story, Wealtheow, Hrothgar’s queen. There is obviously a respect for women in this society and Beowulf treats her with great courtesy. (Lines 607 – 641)
As he prepares with his warriors to face the monster, notice that Beowulf says: ” ……There’s nothing you wish for that won’t be yours if you win through alive ….”  A little monetary incentive towards bravery! (Lines 642 – 661)

As to why Beowulf decides to fight Grendel unarmed, I can only assume that he wants an even match.  Honour is all-important in this society.  I can see Unferth accusing him of having an advantage with a sword, but by using only his bare hands, he will win even more glory for himself. It is funny that Beowulf uses a pillow when he sleeps: “Then down the brave man lay with a bolster under his head …. “ 😀 There is quite an emphasis in this section of God having control over the situation ………. previously Hrothgar had gone to his counsellors and pagan gods but it is quite clear here that the author wants us to see that Beowulf has God on his side. (Lines 662 – 709)

 Please put any questions, comments, or answers to the questions below in the comment area even further below!

 

  1. Why do you think that Hrothgar has not fought Grendel?
  2. Why do you think Beowulf allows Unferth to speak to him in such a manner?
  3. Any thoughts with regard to the pagan vs. Christian references so far?
  4. Did a few of these scenes remind you of any of Tolkien’s works?


Week 2 starting post will go up on May 8th!  

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The following are answers to the above questions.  Please keep in mind, that these answers are my opinions (or often guesses) based on the text.  Often, they may not be the only answer, just aspects of the poem that have stood out for me.

1.      In this culture, the king should have fought.  The fact that he hasn’t is unusual.  Is it because he is too old, or too weak, or too scared, or is Grendel simply too menacing to expect an outcome other than death?  I don’t believe we’ll ever be able to know exactly why, but I do think it’s an important point of the story, in that his behaviour is counter to what is expected.
2.    Again, there is no reason given.  And again, Beowulf’s response is counter-cultural.  He should have challenged Unferth and killed him.  However, his actual response is rather mild.  Another indication of a difference in the cultural norm.
3.    What is so fascinating is that there is an intermixing of both pagan and Christian views.  They neither appear entirely Christian or pagan.  On one hand, they thank God and invoke His goodness and His control over situations, and on the other they profess fate and seek out pagan counsellors.  While both beliefs are still present, they grate against each other, and I can understand, at some point, that one will have to win out over the other.

4.    For me, King Theoden of Rohan shone out from Hrothgar, and Meduseld was Heorot.