Posts Tagged ‘Hrothgar’

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.




þa wæs Hroðgare         heresped gyfen,


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


þonne yldo bearn         æfre gefrunon,

ond þær on innan         eall gedælan

geongum ond ealdum,         swylc him god sealde,

buton folcscare         ond feorum gumena.


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


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.


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


æfter wælniðe         wæcnan scolde.


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


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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