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Posts Tagged ‘Anglo-Saxon’

After the children of Healfdene is the rise of Hrothgar and the building of his mead-

Stave Church

hall, Heorot.  From an Anglo-Saxon context Heorot means Hart, and is equated

with Kingship (another connection between Anglo-Saxon and Norse symbols found in the Sutton Hoo burial ship).  From the description of its high towers and gables it is sometimes compared to old Scandinavian  Stave Churches.

I’ve broken what follows into two sections.  First the rise of Hrothgar and his desire to build a great mead-hall; second the decoration of the mead-hall and Hrothgar’s Kingship.

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þa wæs Hroðgare         heresped gyfen,

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wiges weorðmynd,         þæt him his winemagas

georne hyrdon,         oðð þæt seo geogoð geweox,

magodriht micel.         Him on mod bearn

þæt healreced         hatan wolde,

medoærn micel,         men gewyrcean

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þonne yldo bearn         æfre gefrunon,

ond þær on innan         eall gedælan

geongum ond ealdum,         swylc him god sealde,

buton folcscare         ond feorum gumena.

Literal:

Then was Hrothgar success in battle given.  War’s glory, that his own kinsmen readily obeyed him, until that the youthful company increased [and his] band of young retainers [grew] large.  On his mind happened to occur the desire for hall-building [and he gave the] command for a great mead-hall, to men to build, that the son’s of men ever [after would] hear about, and there inside [he would to] all deal out, [to] young and old, [that] which God had granted him, except peoples portion (common land) and [the] lives of men.

Like we saw in Maxims II back in a lesson to the young, we have a reference here on how the King should share out his treasure.  But we also have how Hrothgar intends to protect the folcscare (peoples share, or common land) and the lives of men.

The next section:

ða ic wide gefrægn         weorc gebannan

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manigre mægþe         geond þisne middangeard,

folcstede frætwan.         Him on fyrste gelomp,

ædre mid yldum,         þæt hit wearð ealgearo,

healærna mæst;         scop him Heort naman

se þe his wordes geweald         wide hæfde.

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He beot ne aleh,         beagas dælde,

sinc æt symle.         Sele hlifade,

heah ond horngeap,         heaðowylma bad,

laðan liges;         ne wæs hit lenge þa gen

þæt se ecghete         aþumsweorum

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æfter wælniðe         wæcnan scolde.

Literal:

Then I have widely heard [the] task [was] ordered to many clans over this middle-earth to adorn [the] dwelling-place.  The in time it happened, yet quickly, with men, that it came to be finished, this greatest of hall-building;   “Heor[o]t” [is its] name, said he whose words have power, far and wide.  He did not break his promise, [but] dealt our rings, [and] treasure at [his] table.  The hall was high towered and gabled, and awaited the attack of hateful flames; but it was not yet at hand when the sword-hate, on account of mortal enmity of in-laws, must arise.

Here the hall is completed by the treasure from all across middengeard (middle-earth, the earth).  Hrothgar names the hall Heorot, and is true to his word by giving out rings in the hall.  The at the height of this glorious descritption of the completed hall and the benign Kingship of Hrothgar we get a shadow of future destructions.

Sele hlifade,

[the] hall towered

heah ond horngeap,         heaðowylma bad

High and Gabled,                        [and] awaited [the] hostile surge,

laðan liges;

[of] Hateful flames;

And why is Heorot doomed?  Because:

ecghete         aþumsweorum

[The] sword-Hate            [of] father and son in-laws

æfter wælniðe         wæcnan scolde.

Because mortal enmity must arise.

This is an early reference that appears again later in the poem to the Danes killing Froda, Ingeld’s father, King of the Heathobards.

My translation:

Hrothgar was lethal in battle,

His glory bound kinsmen to him,

Swelling the ranks of his warband.

Yet his mind dwelt on a prominence,

And he founded a great mead-hall,

That those here after would sing of,

Where he must deal out rings,

And protect the common wealth

And the lives of men.

And so the command flew

To the reaches of this middle-earth,

And to this house of men,

Rich adornment came.

Swiftly, by the hand of men,

It came to be build.

He, whose word is power,

Named it Heorot.

Nor did he break his word,

But dealt out rings,

And the treasure of his table.

This gabled and high towered hall,

Waited the flame and sword-hate,

Born of the malice that dwelt in the blood.

A lot happened in these two sections: the rise of Hrothgar, the building of Heorot, the noble kingship and the foreshadowing of doom.

Next – the coming of Grendel.

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

ðæm feower bearn         forð gerimed

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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

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folcum gefræge         (fæder ellor hwearf,

aldor of earde),         oþþæt him eft onwoc

heah Healfdene;         heold þenden lifde,

gamol ond guðreouw,         glæde Scyldingas.

Literal:

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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After the telling us of Scyld’s departure we get a relatively long and detailed description of his funeral.  It’s interesting to contrast all these details with the brief description we had earlier of his up-bringing.  We heard he grew in strength under heaven and perhaps that he was fated for greatness, but now we zoom in close to just how a good funeral was performed.  You almost expect þæt wæs god īcþēnung (funeral) at the end.  No?  Ok, just me then.

Another thing is the lack of religious references.  Until know we had some stuff about God sending people Beowulf (mk I), and giving him worldly honor.  But to be fair, none of this is directly aimed at Scyld.  His people, sure, and Beowulf, yes.  But Scyld, only indirectly.

Even though it’s clear (made clear later) that the narrator is conscious of describing the event of an earlier time, a pre-chritian time, he is happy to attribute various events and abilities to God, but it’s almost as if Scyld himself was outside of that influence.

þær æt hyðe stod         hringedstefna,
isig ond utfus,         æþelinges fær.
Aledon þa         leofne þeoden,
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beaga bryttan,         on bearm scipes,
mærne be mæste.         þær wæs madma fela
of feorwegum,         frætwa, gelæded;
ne hyrde ic cymlicor         ceol gegyrwan
hildewæpnum         ond heaðowædum,
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billum ond byrnum;         him on bearme læg
madma mænigo,         þa him mid scoldon
on flodes æht         feor gewitan.
Nalæs hi hine læssan         lacum teodan,
þeodgestreonum,         þon þa dydon
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þe hine æt frumsceafte         forð onsendon
ænne ofer yðe         umborwesende.
þa gyt hie him asetton         segen geldenne
heah ofer heafod,         leton holm beran,
geafon on garsecg;         him wæs geomor sefa,
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murnende mod.         Men ne cunnon
secgan to soðe,         selerædende,
hæleð under heofenum,         hwa þæm hlæste onfeng.

It’s a long section, compared to my normal posts, but I don’t think it makes sense in fragments.

Literal:  There at the harbor stood the curved prow of the a ship.  Icy, and ready to sail, It was a hero’s vessel.  They laid their dearly loved Lord, the ring giver, on to the ship.  They placed that famous man by the mast.  There were many precious things, brought from far oat lands.  I have not heard of a more beautifully equiped ship.  There were battle weapons and battle dress, swords and mail coats, and a multitude of precious things, all to travel far with him across the sea.  (Certainly more wealth than when, as a child and alone, his people cast him to the seas).  They raised a golden standard above his head and gave him to the ocean.  They had mournful hearts and minds.  No man, councilor in the hall, or hero under heaven could say  truthfully who received that cargo.

The last line, I think, add more to that lack of religious comment.  Is it just – who salvaged all that loot?  Or who got Scyld’s soul?  Did he in fact die in the final sense, or is he one of the prototype once and future kings, like King Arthur sailing of to Avalon after receiving his mortal wound from Mordred?

Also you can see the change in focus, the amount of detail.  The ice on the ship, the curve of the prow, the items of treasure to go with Scyld.

Initially we get:

þær æt hyðe stod         hringedstefna,

There at [the] harbor stood [the] ringed prow,

isig ond utfus,         æþelinges fær.

Icy and ready to set out, prince’s/hero’s vessel.

Aledon þa         leofne þeoden,

Lay down, he, [the] dearly loved Lord,

beaga bryttan,         on bearm scipes,

[The] ring giver, into [the] ship’s possession,

mærne be mæste.         þær wæs madma fela

Famous by [the] mast    There was precious things many

of feorwegum,         frætwa, gelæded;

Of distant paths, treasures, brought;

So far so good, then the narrator can’t contain his distance, so excited by the details, and goes from second person (We know the Danes of old) to first person:

ne hyrde ic cymlicor         ceol gegyrwan

Not  heard I [of a] more beatiful  ship equiped

Getting the finer points of a hero’s send off was clearly important and likely went down well around the mead benches.  Probably like watching a retrospective of Bill Shankly.

Then some description of the gifts:

hildewæpnum         ond heaðowædum,

Battle weapons and battle dress

billum ond byrnum;         him on bearme læg

Swords and mail coats;  On his bossom [they] laid

madma mænigo,         þa him mid scoldon

Precious things [a] multitude [there of],  That him with must

on flodes æht         feor gewitan.

To [the] river/tide’s possession far go.

Then there’s a reminder of Scyld’s humble beginnings. And again – as in that was a good king –  there is the understatment, the dark or wry humor at the begnning of this passage.  When it talks about his current (funereal) gift are not at all less then those he had when he was a child (ie the current gift are a loft, when he was a child he had nothing).  So loving detailed description of arms and gold, and honor done to a great man, then a joke and a that Scyld was a self-made man:

Nalæs hi hine læssan         lacum teodan,

Not at all they him less gifts provided,

þeodgestreonum,         þon þa dydon

Peoples treasures than those did

þe hine æt frumsceafte         forð onsendon

Who him at beginning forth sent away

ænne ofer yðe         umborwesende.

Alone over wave being a child.

Then back to the last rites of the funeral.  More treasure, more sadness.  The end summary of the Shankly documentary.

þa gyt hie him asetton         segen geldenne

Then further for him erect standard golden

heah ofer heafod,         leton holm beran,

High over [his] head   [and] allow [the] sea [to] bear [him],

geafon on garsecg;         him wæs geomor sefa,

[and they] Gave [him] to [the] ocean (spearman, sea);  they were mournful [of] heart,

murnende mod.

Mournful [of] mind.

Then the strange ending.  The statement that no one know what really happened to Scyld or to Scyld’s funeral ship.

Men ne cunnon

Man [does] not know,

secgan to soðe,         selerædende,

[to] tell in truth, [or] counsellor in hall,

hæleð under heofenum,         hwa þæm hlæste onfeng.

[or] Hero under heaven [by] whom that/the freight [was] received.

So we have the founding of the Scylding dynasty, the heroic past of the Danes and a sense of what is important, what makes a good king, and how to morn him.  This comes back at the end of the tale, when we have the funeral of a slightly different hero.

Oh yes, and how did I translate it?  H’m.  Tricky this one and subject to change.  I didn’t like the first person narration and kept it to the second.

On the wave,
Caked with ice,
Stood a hero’s ship.
There they placed Scyld’s body,
And with golden tribute
Made his shroud.
There never was
A vessel so equipped:
Bright steel,
swords and mail,
And glorious gifts
Lay around that mast.
Nor was this less,
Than his own people
Provided him:
As a child,
They sent him over seas.

But on this ship,
His latest home,
They set a golden standard.
Then gloomy of heart and mind,
They gave him to the sea.
And the truth of that last voyage,
No wiseman, nor hero under heaven,
Can say who gained that cargo.

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After the brief lesson on how a young man or prince must behave, we resume the back story with the passing of Scyld:

Him ða Scyld gewat         to gescæphwile

felahror feran         on frean wære.

Hi hyne þa ætbæron         to brimes faroðe,

swæse gesiþas,         swa he selfa bæd,

þenden wordum weold         wine Scyldinga;

leof landfruma         lange ahte.

Literal:

So then Scyld departed, at the appointed time, still strong, to be with the Lord.  His beloved companions carried him to the sea, as he had asked, while he ruled, this protector of his people; the dear king had ruled a long time.

Like his birth and upbringing, Scyld’s departure seems equally mysterious and driven by fate.  You see here also the first reference to the dynasty he founded:

þenden wordum weold         wine Scyldinga;

While [he gave] words of command, protector [of the] scyldings;

Scyld’s people become the Scyldings.  It seems common practice to take on their kings/rulers name.  As in the Wuffings, the East Anglian tribe under king Wuffa (ca 570AD).  The Wuffings themselves are linked to Beowulf (or at least to the Geats) by the Sutton Hoo burial ship, and its strong connection to Scandinavian buried practices.

I tried this a few different ways, playing around with order and the hints that Scyld went of his own volition (still active/strong).  I think I kept the hint, but avoided any direct mention.

But the hour came,

When Scyld departed.

And to the sea’s cusp

His dutiful companions took him;

Long had he ruled.

After this the mystery deepens as the myth grows.

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After introducing Scyld’s son, Beowulf, establishing his fame etc., we then get a brief lesson on how the young should behave:

Swa sceal geong guma        gode gewyrcean,

fromum feohgiftum         on fæder bearme,

þæt hine on ylde         eft gewunigen

Wilgesiþas,         þonne wig cume,

leode gelæsten;

Literal:

So a young man must accomplish good deeds, earn rich gifts, while under his fathers protection, so that afterwards – in old age – he retains the company of his friends when war comes. And so may his/the people be served/protected.

It seems that while his father is still alive and ruling a young aethling (prince) had to prove his worth to his father and – more importantly – to his future retainers.  If he wanted his father’s thanes to serve him, and his people, he had to win that loyalty.  So that when war comes (þonne wig cume) the thanes would stand besides him.

This digression on how a person, or a person of s certain status, should behave is a common theme, and not just in Beowulf.  In Maxims II we have:

Cyning sceal on healle

beagas daelan, Bera sceal on hæðe,

eald and egesfull.

Literal: A king must deal out rings in the hall, a bear belongs on the heath, old and terrible.

There are lots of list of this kind, putting things in their place.  After the lesson on how a young man must behave, we get a further confirmation:

Lofdædum sceal in mægþa gehwære        man geþeon

Literal: Praise worthy deeds win renown throughout the tribes/clans/troops.

My translation goes like this:

A young man must,

Prove his worth,

As his father’s son,

So, when weakened by age,

Surrounded by war,

He does not stand alone.

Next, after the lesson, back to the narrative with the passing of Scyld.

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After introducing the founder of the scyldings and his rise to power we get:

Ðæm eafera wæs         æfter cenned,

geong in geardum,         þone god sende

folce to frofre;         fyrenðearfe ongeat

þe hie ær drugon         aldorlease

lange hwile.

Literal:

To him a child was born, a young life in his hall.  God sent it to comfort the people.  They had formerly endured a long time, in dire distress, without a king.

This mentions explicitly what was hinted at earlier when introduction Scyld – the danger of a king without a people, or in this case, a people without a king.  It’s interesting to note that king (Anglo-Saxon: Cyning) derives from the word for kin, or kin-leader.  When you follow it back to that level, the leader of a family – albeit an extended family – you can see the great loss, the distress, it brings about; and, of course, the importance of succession.  There is the normal horror that a political power vacuum can (and generally has throughout history) bring about – the threat of enemy invasion during a time of weakness, and the internal power struggle between kin-rivals.

But king, or cyning, is not mentioned in the fragment above.  Instead we have “aldorlease.”  Which is aldor + lease = leader + without.

Another thing about this passage, perhaps not in written form, is it’s closeness to modern english.

If you remember that thorn (þ) and eth (Ð) are pronounce “th.”  And “g” is often pronounce “y” as in geong=young.

Ðæm eafera wæs æfter cenned:

Then [a] child was afterward born

geong in geardum:

Young in [the] court.

þone god sende:

whom god sent

aldorlease lange hwile:

Leaderless [for a] long while.

And so to my translation:

A son was born to him,

A life in his hall,

A gift to his people:

Darkly they remembered,

Life without a king.

Next time we get to hear about this wondrous son.

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