Archive for June, 2010

After the description of Healfdene’s career we come to his four children:

ðæm feower bearn         forð gerimed


in worold wocun,         weoroda ræswan,

Heorogar ond Hroðgar         ond Halga til;

hyrde ic [þæt Yrse wæs] Onelan cwen,

Heaðoscilfingas         healsgebedda.

Part of this passage is missing from the manuscript and has general been accepted as rendered above, by the square brackets.

Literal:  Then four children all-told, woke to the world, from the leader the band, Heorogar and Hrothgar, and Halga the good; I have heard that [Yrsa] was Onela’s queen, the battle scylding’s bedfellow.

Most of it is straight forward, with the only confusion being the fourth child, generally taken to be a daughter, Yrse.

hyrde ic [þæt Yrse wæs On]elan cwen

Fourth child of Healfdene

The manuscript here reads “elan”, which is thought to mean Onela, a Swedish king mentioned later in the poem.  Onela’s wife was Yrse (Ursula), so the missing name is reverse engineered from that premise.

There is some suggestion that the missing passage is greater than implied here, and that Yrse was originally married to Halga, who then died, she then married Onela.  It comes from the fact than Yrse breaks the alliterating ‘h’ of the other siblings.  So there would have to be another child with a ‘h’ name that is now missing altogether.  Perhaps like guessing at the name that Achilles used when he hid amongst the women of Lycomedes – impossible to answer, but not beyond conjecture.

The lines run something like this:

ðæm feower bearn         forð-gerimed

Then four children all-told

in worold wocun,         weoroda ræswan,

in [the] world awoke, [to the] host’s leader,

Heorogar ond Hroðgar         ond Halga til;

Heorogar and Hrothgar and Halga [the] good;

hyrde ic [þæt  Yrse wæs On]elan cwen,

Heard [have] I that Yrse was Onela’s queen,

Heaðoscilfingas         healsgebedda.

[the] Battle-scylding’s bedfellow.

And so to my translation:

To Healfdene, leader of hosts,

Four children were born,

Heorogar and Hrothgar,

And Halga the good,

And Yrsa, who became Onela’s queen,

Bed-maiden to that Lord of Battle.

Next: the rise of Hrothgar and the building of Heorot.


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After the details of Scylds funeral, the next few passages give an account of the descendants of Scyld, going from Beowulf (mark I) to Healfdene and down to Hrothgar and then founding of Heorot.

Ða wæs on burgum         Beowulf Scyldinga,

Leof leodcyning,         longe þrage


folcum gefræge         (fæder ellor hwearf,

aldor of earde),         oþþæt him eft onwoc

heah Healfdene;         heold þenden lifde,

gamol ond guðreouw,         glæde Scyldingas.


Then in the strongholds was Beowulf the beloved king of his people, his fame lasted a long time – his noble father having turned elsewhere [dead] – until he had his own son, noble Healfdene who ruled while he lived, aged and fierce in battle, [the] gracious Syldings.

So, we have Beowulf taking up where Scyld left off.  The is the curious phrase:

fæder ellor hwearf, aldor of earde

Father elsewhere turned/travelled, Lord of [this] land

Either a kenning for his father’s (Scyld) death, or again implying that Scyld’s departure is somehow more than death.

Another difficult part here is poetic phrasing when Healfdene’s birth is discussed:

oþþæt him eft onwoc, heah Healfdene

Until he/him again awoke, noble Healfdene

Though eft can mean:a second time, again, afterwards.  And onwoc, awoke, is really poetic phrasing (in this context) for ‘was born’.

In the location of the verse we are dicussing the success of Beowulf, who ‘ruled a long time’ and throughout the people was ‘well known/renouwned’.  So add that to the line:

[Beowulf ruled a long time] Until, after him noble Healfdene was born.

And in condensed form:

Throughout the strongholds,

Beowulf’s was renowned,

That King of men,

Ruled a long time.

Then new life came to him,

Noble Healfdene was born,

Who, while he lived,

Was fierce in battle,

Glorious were the Syldings.

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