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Full text of "The oldest English epic: Beowulf, Finnsburg, Waldere, Deor, Widsith, and the German Hildebrand; translated in the original metres, with introductions and notes by Francis B. Gummere"

THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 



T 



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IHE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

BEOWULF, FINNSBURG, WALDERE, 

DEOR, WIDSITH, AND THE 

GERMAN HILDEBRAND 



TRANSLATED IN THE ORIGINAL METRES 
WITH INTRODUCTIONS AND NOTES 

BY 

FRANCIS B. GUMMERE 



J? fc d a_4. 



NetD gotk 

THE MACMILLAN COMPANY 

1922 



All rights reserved 

— tTT 



COPTRTOHT, 1909, 

Bt the macmillan company. 



Set up and eleotrotyped. Published April, 1909. 



Nortoooli ^K88 

J. 8. Gushing Co. — Berwick & Smith Co. 

Norwood, Mass., U.S.A. 



^0 

GEORGE LYMAN KITTREDGE 

KEENEST OF CRITICS, KINDEST OF FRIENDS 






PREFACE 

Old English epic in the specific sense is that ancient 
and wholly heathen narrative poetry which Englishmen 
brought from their continental home and handed down 
by the agency of professional singers. The material thus 
accumulated either kept its original form of the short 
lay, fit for chant or recitation at a banquet, full of 
immediate effects, often dramatic and always vigorous, 
or else it was worked over into longer shape, into more 
leisurely considered and more leisurely appreciated poems. 
This second class is represented by Beowulf, the sole sur- 
vivor in complete form of all the West-Germanic epic. 
Waldere, of which two brief fragments remain, seems also 
to have been an epic poem; like Beowulf, it has been 
adapted both in matter and in manner to the point of 
view of a monastery scriptorium. Finnshurg, on the other 
hand, so far as its brief and fragmentary form allows such 
a judgment, has the appearance of a lay. Its nervous, 
fiery verses rush on without comment or moral; and it 
agrees with the description of a lay which the court 
minstrel of Hrothgar sings before a festal throng, and 
of which the poet of Beowulf gives a summary. Not 
English at all, but closely related to English traditions 
of heroic verse, and the sole rescued specimen of all its 
kind in the old German language, is Hildehrand, evidently 
a lay. By adding this to the English material, one has 

vii 



viii PREFACE 

the entire salvage from oldest narrative poetry of the 
West-Germanic peoples in mass. Finally, there are two 
lays or poems purporting to describe at first hand the 
life of these old minstrels, who either sang in permanent 
and well-rewarded office for their king, or else wandered 
from court to court and tasted the bounty of many chief- 
tains. These two poems, moreover, contain many refer- 
ences to persons and stories of Germanic heroic legends 
that appear afterward in the second growth of epic, in the 
Scandinavian poems and sagas, in the cycle of the Nihe- 
lungen, Griidrun^ and the rest. Such is the total rescue 
from oldest English epic that fate has allowed. It 
deserves to be read in its full extent by the modern 
English reader ; and it is now presented to him for the 
first time in its bulk, and in a form which approximates 
as closely as possible to the original. 

The translator is under great obligations to Professor 
Walter Morris Hart, of the University of California, not 
only for his generous aid in reading the proof-sheets of 
this book, but also for the substantial help afforded by his 
admirable study of Ballad and Epic. 



CONTENTS 

CHAPTEK PAOB 

I. Beowulf 1 

II. The Attack on Finnsburg 159 

III. Waldere • . . . 164 

IV. The Hildebrand Lay 171 

V. The Singer and His Lay 178 

Index 201 



Ix 



THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 



CHAPTER I 

BEOWULF 



rpHE manuscript^ is written in West-Saxon of the tenth 
century, with some Kentish peculiarities; it is evi- 
dently based on successive copies of an original in either 
Northumbrian or Mercian, which probably belonged to 
the seventh century. ^ Two scribes made this copy. One 
wrote to verse 1939 ; the other, who seems to have con- 
tributed those Kentish forms, finished the poem. There 
is some attempt to mark the verses, and a few long syl- 
lables are indicated ; but the general appearance is of prose. 
The original epic seems to have been composed by a 
single author,^ not for chant or recitation to the accom- 
paniment of a harp, but for reading, as a "book." 

1 Codex Vitellius, A, xv, British Museum ; injured by fire, but still 
legible in most places, and, for Beowulf, complete. 

2 There is no positive evidence for any date of origins. All critics 
place it before the ninth century. The eighth brought monastic coiTup- 
tion to Northumbria ; while the seventh, described by Beda, with its 
austerity of morals, its gentleness, its tolerance, its close touch with 
milder forms of heathenism, matches admirably the controlling mood of 
the epic. 

8 This attitude towards the so-called " Homeric question " in Beowulf 
must be explained and defended elsewhere, though a few hints are given 
in the following pages. 

B 1 



2 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

Libraries were then forming in England, and so edifying 
a poem as this could well find its place in them. Of 
course, the number of persons who heard the manuscript 
read aloud would be in vast excess of those who learned 
its contents through the eye. The poet may or may not 
have been a minstrel in early life; in any case he had 
turned bookman. He was familiar to some extent with 
the monastic learning of his day, but was at no great 
distance from old heathen points of view; and while his 
Christianity is undoubted, he probably lived under the 
influence of that "confessional neutrality," which ten 
Brink assumed for the special instance, and which his- 
torians record for sundry places and times. Above all, 
the poet knew ancient epic lays, dealing with Beowulf's 
adventures, which were sung in the old home of the 
Angles, and in Frisia, and were carried over to England ; 
out of these he took his material, retaining their form, 
style, and rhythmic structure, many of their phrases, their 
conventional descriptions, and perhaps for some passages 
their actual language. Finnshurg and Hildelrand give 
one an approximate idea of these older lays, which were 
property of the professional minstrel, the gleeman or scop. 
This scop^ or "maker," is always mentioned by the epic 
poet with respect. His business was to recite or chant to 
the music of a harp the lays of bygone generations before 
king or chieftain in court or hall, precisely as our epic 
describes the scene. ^ He must also on occasion compose, 
"put together" in the literal sense, a lay about recent 
happenings, often carrying it abroad from court to court 
as the news of the day.2 Out of such old lays of Beowulf's 

1 See especially B., 1066 ff., and the two poems Widsith and Dfior. 

2 See B.y 149 ff. For extemporizing, see the classical passage, B. , 867 ff. 



BEOWULF 3 

adventures, our poet selected, combined, and retold a 
complete story from his own point of view. Comment, 
reflection, and a certain heightening of effect, are his 
peculiar work, along with a dash of sentiment and an 
elegiac tone such as one feels one should not meet in a 
Finnshurg, even if the whole of that lay were preserved. 
Attempts to prove that the poem was translated or para- 
phrased from a Scandinavian original have been utterly 
unsuccessful. Quite obsolete, too, as in the case of Homer, 
is the idea that Beowulf is primitive and " popular " poetry. 
Its art is highly developed ; its material has been sifted 
through many versions and forms. 

The characters of this epic of Beowulf are all continental 
Germanic. The scene of action for the first adventure is 
in Denmark ; and Hrothgar's hall was probably at a place 
now called Leire, not far from the fiord of Roeskilde. 
Where the fight with the dragon took place and Beowulf 
came to his death, depends on the opinion which one holds 
in regard to the home of the hero. There are two theo- 
ries; certainty, despite the recent proclamation of it, is 
out of the question. Beowulf is said to belong to the 
"Geatas"; and the majority of scholars^ hold that these 
Geatas were a tribe living in the southern part of Sweden. 
But some powerful voices have been raised for the Geatas 
as Jutes, who lived in what is now Jutland. In either 
case. Angles and Frisians, and whatever peoples were 
grouped about the Elbe, the Weser, and the Ems, would 
note with great interest, and hold long in memory, an 
expedition of Geatas which should proceed to the lower 
Rhine and there find defeat at the hands of a Frankish 

1 Including Henrik Schtick, whose essay on the Geatas (Upsala, 1907) 
is thought by some reviewers to be final in its conclusions. 



4 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

prince. Such an expedition actually occurred; it is the 
historical foundation not, to be sure, of the events of the 
epic, but of the existence of its characters. It is men- 
tioned several times in the poem,^ and is also matter of 
sober chronicle; its date is in the second decade of the 
sixth century. Gregory of Tours, in his History of the 
Franks^ says that Chochilaicus, king of the Danes, — in 
another and later story, say of the seventh century, this 
chieftain is called king of the " Getse," — invaded Holland 
in viking fashion, took a good store of plunder, and got it 
later on his boats ; but he was fought and killed by Theu- 
debert, son of the Frankish king, his booty was recaptured, 
and many prisoners were taken. It is etymologically 
certain that Chochilaicus is the Hygelac of our epic, uncle 
to Beowulf; and there is no reason to doubt the tradition 
that the hero himself, though not mentioned by the chron- 
icle, was with his kinsman and chieftain, and escaped 
after the defeat by a masterful piece of swimming. The 
poem tells this ; ^ and its exaggeration in loading Beo- 
wulf with thirty suits of armor is only proof that some- 
thing of the sort took place. Legend is always false and. 
always true. History invents facts ; but legend can only 
invent or transpose details; and there is sure to be some- 
thing real within the field of the glass which legend holds 
up to one's eyes, let the distortions be as they may be. 
Surely some stirring epic lays were sung about fight and 
fall and escape ; but in this phase of Beowulf's career our 
poet was not interested. He mentions many feuds of 
Franks, Frisians, Langobards, of Danes, Geats, Swedes ; 

1 See B., 1202, 2201, 2355, 2913 ; and the notes to these passages. 

2 III, 3. Dani, cum rege sua nomine Chochilaico, ... he begins. 
8 See B., 2359 f. 



BEOWULF 6 

and he gives a summary of the hiy about one of these 
feuds which a gleeman sang to Hrothgar's court. But 
these, too, were outside of his main interest. 

His interest in Beowulf seems to have centred in the 
hero's struggles with those uncanny and demonic, but not 
highly supernatural powers, who either dwell by moor- 
lands and under dismal waters, or else, in the well-known 
form of a dragon, haunt old barrows of the dead and fly 
at midnight with fiery trail through the air. Undoubtedly 
one is here on the border-land of myth. But in the actual 
poem the border is not crossed. Whatever the remote 
connection of Beowulf the hero with Beowa the god, 
whatever this god may have in him of the old Ingeevonic 
deity whom men worshipped by North Sea and Baltic as 
god of fertility and peace and trade, whatever echo of 
myths about a destroying monster of invading ocean tides 
and storms may linger in the story of Grendel and his 
horrible mother, nothing of the sort comes out of the 
shadow of conjecture into the light of fact. To the poet 
of the epic its hero is a man, and the monsters are such 
as folk then believed to haunt sea and lake and moor. 
Hrothgar's people who say they have seen the uncanny 
pair 1 speak just as real rustics would speak about ghosts 
and strange monsters which they had actually encountered. 
In both cases one is dealing with folk-lore and not with 
mythology. When these crude superstitions are devel- 
oped by priest and poet along polytheistic lines, and in 
large relations of time and space, myth is the result. But 
the actual epic of Beowulf knows nothing of this process; 
and there is no need to regard Grendel or his mother as 
backed by the artillery of doom, to regard Beowulf as the 

» 2?., 1345 ff. 



6 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

embodiment of heaven's extreme power and good-will. 
The poet even rationalizes his folk-lore. ^ Though there 
are traces of " another story," traces which would doubt- 
less lead to outright myth, the e^Dic is told in terms of 
human achievement. Though its hero, in this record of ad- 
venture, neither fights other heroes nor leads armies, and 
though, like many celebrated champions of vast strength, 
he is not at ease with ordinary weapons, nevertheless 
he is for the poet that same Beowulf who always fought 
in the van with trusty blade,^ despatched the mother of 
Grendel with a sword, and killed Dseghrefn, — presum- 
ably the slayer of Hygelac, — in the fatal combat by the 
lower Rhine. Yet Dseghrefn, one is abruptly told, as 
Beowulf boasts of all his good blade has done and all it is 
yet to do, was not slain by the sword, but " his bones were 
broken by brawny gripe." 

The inconsistency of this passage, taken with that ref- 
erence elsewhere to the hero's inability to use a sword, 
is supposed by a few scholars to prove different origins 
for different portions of the actual epic. It really proves 
that the poet combined Beowulf of the actual " war record " 
with Beowulf of the struggles against monsters and 
dragons, the hero with thirty men's strength in his grasp. 
Every reader of popular tales knows that in these struggles 
swords are rarely good for much. Like Samson, Beowulf 
depends on his own might ; but that might must approach 
the miraculous. Different formulas, if one may use the 
term, are applied to different phases of the same hero's 
adventures. For example, Beowulf is evidently in one 

1 Accounting for Grendel's invulnerability, B., 984-990, somewhat as 
in the case of the dragon (2699) which had to be pierced beneath, where 
it had no scales. '^ B. , 2490. 



BEOWULF 7 

formula a bright, capable, precocious boy ; his grandfather 
loves him as an own child; he performs, to his great renown, 
a prodigious feat of swimming when he is a mere lad.^ 
On the other hand, conforming to the type of many popu- 
lar tales, he is described ^ as " slack " in youth, a shiftless, 
clumsy, disregarded encumbrance, whom the king will not 
honor and whom the retainers despise : but the inevita- 
ble change comes, the hero bursts into full glory. Here 
is another formula. If it is not easy for modern criticism 
to fit these stories with one another and with their subject, 
let it be remembered how hard was the task which con- 
fronted the poet in his constructive problem. Unity of 
character was no object of the old lays ; vigorous narrative 
of action was all they attempted. Yet this poet strove 
manfully to make Beowulf a consistent character through- 
out the epic; and in view of the divergence of the differ- 
ent stories told of all heroes, one is inclined to think that 
the Northumbrian bard did his work fairly well. On the 
large plan he works out his design with evident intention 
of harmony. Parts match parts ; scenes answer to scenes; 
the pattern is plain. In detail, to be sure, he makes many 
a blunder. Grendel "in his folly'' despises weapons; 
yet it is explained that he is "safe" against them all, — 
and where is the folly ? Beowulf, in another .place, will 
take no mean advantage by bearing arms against one who 
knows nothing of their use ! ^ Grendel, again, terrible as he 
is to the Danes, never has a shred of chance with Beowulf, 
who is victor from the start; yet with the mother, who is 
expressly described as far less formidable than her off- 
spring, the hero is hard put to it, and nearly overcome. 
He trusts now in his sword, which fails. Is this the 
1 B., 2432 ; 535. » B., 2187. 8 See B., 433 f. and 801 ff. ; and G77 ff. 



8 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

Beowulf whose irresistible and crushing grasp made 
Grendel sing the wild song of death ? No, but it is the 
Beowulf who had such a thrilling adventure with the 
" she-wolf of the seas," that it could on no account be 
left out of the list. Adventures in the old cycles were 
not made to modern order ; and it was something of a 
triumph to combine the meagre account of the killing of 
Grendel, described as almost a bagatelle for the hero, with 
the far more detailed and interesting account of the des- 
perate struggle under water. Probably this hulking, 
swamp-haunting Grendel was originally no relative what- 
ever of the vicious but indomitable old " she-wolf," and 
their adventures were absolutely distinct. The poet, in 
one of the more modern passages, tells of their kinship 
and describes their home ; and it is not unlikely that he 
sought by this method of combination, which gave at the 
same time scope to his poetic fancy, to bring about unity 
in structure and conformity of general treatment. This 
assumption, moreover, would credit him with the descrip- 
tion of Hrothgar's court, the events there, the scene in 
which riders chant Beowulf's praise and a minstrel makes 
the lay about him, and, on the whole, a very handsome 
portion of the epic at large. The poet's invention cannot 
be denied. 

In short, the best way to regard all the inconsistencies 
in the epic account of Beowulf is neither to split hira 
into equal parts of liero and god, nor yet to divide him 
among many poets, but simply to think of him as a hero 
who not only has his own fairly authentic story, but has 
attracted a whole cycle of more or less alien adventures 
into his sphere. There is ample analogy in the round of 
popular tales. Many a champion now fights in fierce 



BEOWULF 

battle, and now goes to exterminate a monster. I^orse 
stories tell of heroes whose adventures are so close to 
Beowulf's as to rouse suspicion of copy or common origin. 
In the present state of knowledge it is best to let the 
adventures pass as adventures, and to renounce more 
curious search. As was said, agnosticism is here the 
only safe attitude towards myth. Beowulf's swimming- 
match with Breca has been euhemerized into the mere 
killing of sea-beasts, and etherialized into a myth of the 
culture-god who taught a grateful folk how to navigate 
the stormy seas. Beowulf must be accepted as the hero 
of a tale. His capital adventures are the sort of thing 
which heroes, real or fictitious, are always assumed to do. 
They kill monsters, giants, dragons. " It is their nature 
to," as the old verse ran. Such feats are expected from 
a kindly and beneficent hero ; and such a hero the real 
Beowulf may well have been. If he reminded folk of a 
god Beowa, so much the better. He really rendered good 
service to some northern king, though he is no glorified 
rat-catcher. Perhaps he did destroy noxious beasts as 
other heroes had done. His last fight, if one can accept 
the dragon, is a most humanly told and everyday sort 
of tale, though it is quite another story compared with 
the former adventures. 

The lays about all these adventures our poet heard 
and knew and loved. He knew also the lore of devils 
and hell's fiends, who vex the righteous man, and never- 
theless can be met and conquered by a Christian champion. 
He could not make a Christian out of Beowulf, but he 
describes the hero in terms of one of the converted An- 
glian kings and surrounds him with the amenities of the 
new courts. Of Grendel he made a hell-fiend outright, 



10 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

and assigned him by superfluous genealogy to the tribe 
of Cain. The wise saws and ancient instances may be 
colored by a new theology; but they derived from the 
old wisdom poetry in which Germanic minds had long 
delighted. 

We have thus come fairly close to an understanding of 
the poet's conception of the characters in his epic and his 
treatment of them. We must now look at the characters 
themselves. 

II 

The persons^ of the epic fall into evident groups. 
Apart from the prelude, which glorifies the Danish 
royal house, and repe9,ts the pretty myth of Scyld the 
Sheaf-Child, we have the actual family and companions 
of Hrothgar, king of the Danes. He himself is son of 
Healfdene — that is, a king whose mother was not of the 
Danish folk — and brother to Heorogar and Halga. The 
three brothers, as so often in Germanic families, have 
names in the same rime ; one thinks of Gunther, Giselher, 
and Gemot in the Nihelungen. Heorogar, the oldest, 
was king before Hrothgar, and had a son Heoroweard, 
but for some reason did not leave favorite armor to 
him. Halga was probably father of Hrothulf, — as in 
the Norse account, Helgi was father of Hrolf Kraki, the 
famous hero. Saxo tells the story of him, and his 
betrayal by a relative, who probably answers to Heoro- 
weard of our epic. In Widsith one is told more of 
Hrothgar and this nephew Hrothulf. Together they 

1 To the scholars who have studied these characters and solved sundry 
problems of relationship and parallel mention, it is impossible to render 
adequate thanks and praise. Much is still left unsolved ; and some of the 
problems are insoluble. 



BEOWULF 11 

successfully repelled an attack by Ingeld, Hrothgar's sc«i- 
in-law, on their own land. Hrothgar's own sons are 
Hrethric and Hrothmund ; and they seem to be consider- 
ably younger than their cousin Hrothulf, judging by the 
queen's appeal ^ to the laiter, and her assumption that 
he would treat the boys honorably and kindly if their father, 
the king, should die. This queen of Hrothgar — who first 
breaks the list of aspirated names — is Wealhtheow 
(" foreign maid "), a dignified and charming woman so 
far as she appears in the epic. She and the king have a 
daughter, who made a favorable impression on the affable 
Beowulf; 2 he heard men in hall call her Freawaru as she 
went about, like her mother, pouring the ale. She was 
betrothed to Ingeld, son of Froda, the Heathobard king ; 
but the visitor forecasts no real good from this alliance. — 
Such was Hrothgar's family. Besides unnamed officers 
and attendants, three important men at his court were 
iEschere, his beloved comrade and chancellor, whom 
Grendel's mother destroys, a warrior of renown, rich in 
counsel, elder brother to Yrmenlaf ; further, Wulfgar, a 
prince of the Wendlas, chamberlain and marshal of the 
court ; and Unferth, the orator or spokesman, who is a 
puzzle in regard to his exact vocation and rank. He 
undertakes to " haze " Beowulf at the first banquet, and 
is badly beaten in the battle of words. He is a warrior, 
and lends Beowulf his sword ; but dark things are hinted 
about his character and perhaps about his reputation for 
coiirage. Yet he is a favorite of Hrothgar, sits " at his 
feet," — on a bench just below him, — and could be 
regarded as a kind of jester and merrymaker, were not 
his position so evidently above that class. " Orator " 
1^., 1180. 2 5., 2020. 



12 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

must do. He had the gift of tongues ; but there is no 
hint that he made verses. 

Another quite subordinate group of Danes may be 
noted here as involved in the episode of Finn. Hnaef, 
son of Hoc, brother to Hildeburh, is said by Widsith to 
be ruler of the Hocings. His sister Hildeburh is married 
to Finn the Frisian king, son of Folcwalda. When 
Hnaef is killed, Hengest is leader of the Danes ; later he 
too is slain. Guthlaf and Oslaf are Danish warriors. — 
One Danish king, moreover, is mentioned as antitype for 
Beowulf. This is Heremod, who resembles both Lotherus 
of Saxo, and Hermod of the Hyndluljoth in Norse poetic 
tradition. 

The other main group is that of the house of Hygelac, 
and his nephew Beowulf. Swerting, a king of the Geats, 
had a son Hrethel, who had three sons, — one notes again 
the rime and the aspirated names, — Herebeald, Hsethcyn, 
and Hygelac. By a tragic accident, Haethcyn shot and 
killed his elder brother ; he is killed himself in leading 
his people against the Swedes ; and Hygelac then becomes 
king. Hygelac falls on the historic raid, leaving a son, 
Heardred, who is killed by Onela the Swede. Then 
Beowulf comes to the throne. Professor Gering conjec- 
tures the year 521 for this accession. Hygelac's queen is 
Hygd, daughter of Heereth; when her husband falls, she 
offers the crown to Beowulf, but he prefers to act as re- 
gent for Heardred. Hygd is described in terms of praise. 
Hygelac, moreover, has a daughter whom he gives to Eofor 
in reward for killing Ongentheow, the Swedish king. 
Eofor and Wulf (" Boar " and " Wolf ") are sons of 
Wonred. As for the hero, he is a Wsegmunding, son of 
Ecgtheow of that tribe ; but his mother is only daughter 



BEOWULF 13 

of King Hrethel the Geat, who adopts the boy at seven 
years of age and brings him up. Ecgtheow, meanwhile, 
has killed one Heatholaf, a Wylfing, and is not allowed to 
stay with his wife's people, but takes refuge with Hrothgar 
the Dane. The boy, of course, remains with Hrethel. 
As sister's son to Hygelac, a very close relationship among 
the old Germans, "by some accounted nearer than actual 
sonship," Beowulf becomes virtually a Geat. Neverthe- 
less, when he dies he has but one kinsman left, the faithful 
Wiglaf, "last of the Waegmundings." Beowulf's own 
story 1 is mainly reminiscence of feuds in which he took 
part. He tells Hrothgar's court of his swimming adven- 
ture along with a friend of his youth, Breca, son of Bean- 
stan and prince of the Brondings. He also names to 
Hygelac a favorite thane who was killed by Grendel, 
Hondscio, whose man-price is paid by the Danish king. 
Beowulf leaves a widow,^ but no children. His " last 
words" are very impressive.^ 

One would like to have the lays which dealt with feud 
between Geat and Swede ; but all one has in the epic is 
allusion or summary.^ Ongentheow, a capable king, has 
the poet's good-will in spite of these hostile relations. He 
kills Hsethcyn, but is killed by Eofor as deputy of Hygelac. 
Ongentheow's son Onela becomes king of Swedes ; another 
son, Ohthere, has himself two sons, Eanmund and Eadgils 
(all these names rime by the initial vowels), who rebel 
against their uncle, King Onela, and are banished, taking 
refuge with Heardred the Geat. Onela invades Geatland 
and kills Heardred, but, it would seem, allows Beowulf to 

1 B., 2425 ff. 2 The reading is generally accepted : see B., 3150. 

8 See passages beginning B. , 2729 ; 2794 ; 2813. 

* Many of these names and stories appear, more or less disguised, 
in Norse traditions. 



14 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

succeed to the throne undisturbed. Later, Beowulf sup- 
ports Eadgils in an expedition of revenge ; the nephew- 
kills Onela and succeeds to the Swedish throne. 

Other persons are mentioned incidentally. Dseghrefn, 
champion of the Hugas, or Franks, probably killed 
Hygelac, and was killed by Beowulf on the famous raid. 
Far more enticing are the dim traditions of Offa the old 
Anglian king, son of Garmund, and father of Eomer. 
Offa still was known by later generations, and by his kin 
beyond the German Ocean, as the best warrior and wage- 
giver who ever reigned in the sea-girt lands of the north. ^ 
Something of the Offa legend besides mere reminiscence 
and comparison has surely slipped into the epic ; but it is 
hard to follow in detail. A wider range of legend, touch- 
ing the heroic times which have given so many names and 
stories to Germanic verse, includes Eormanric the Goth, 
typical tyrant ; Hama, also a Goth, who bore away the 
mysterious Brosings' necklace ; and that famous pair, 
Sigemund and Fitela, the Wselsings, of whom the Volsung 
saga afterwards told so full a tale.^ 

Biblical names are few ; our poet was no pedant, and 
carried his learning with ease. Probably the burden was 
light. Cain and Abel decorate Grendel's family tree. 
" God " is used mainly in the Christian sense, even when 
divine dealings with a heathen people are in point. 
" Hel " is the place,^ not the goddess. But Weland, god 
of the forge, is named as maker of Beowulf's armor ; and 
if the conception of Wyrd, or Fate, is now and then a 
philosophical projection of the heathen goddess, it is more 
often a personal name. Devils, fiends, monsters, dragons, 
occur in indiscriminate execration of the Christian and 
i See Widsith, 38 fE. « See B., 1201, 1198, 879. » B., 852. 



BEOWULF 15 

heathen vocabulary. " Eotens " are giants, but also ene- 
mies, also devils ; in complimentary use, also Frisians. 

Geography is not very clearly visualized, but it was 
conceived. The Frisians, Franks, Finns, place themselves. 
The Heathobards are either the Langobards, or a small 
tribe on the Elbe. The Danes are called Bright-Danes, 
Spear-Danes, and Ring-Danes; also, and quite indiffer- 
ently,^ North, South, East, and West Danes. The Geats 
are called Weather or Storm Geats, War Geats, and Sea 
Geats. Of their place names. Eagle Cliff and Whale's 
Cliff are mentioned, and "Hreosnabeorh." Ravenswood 
is probably to be sought in Swedish lands. 

Ill 

The poet used the old lays for facts and events, but he 
must have taken many of the descriptions as well as most 
of the comment into his own hand. The conditions of 
culture in the epic are fairly English; though the very 
raid on which Hygelac lost his life testifies to commerce, 
however predatory, on the part of continental Germanic 
tribes with the civilized section of Europe, and to their ac- 
quaintance with things of civilized life. The actual Beo- 
wulf surely knew wine, beds, ornaments and gold of all 
sorts, armor and weapons of the best ; these were objects 
of plunder. So, perliaps, even with tapestry. But the 
construction of the hall Heorot is certainly helped by ex 
post facto information of the poet, and so are the paved 
street, the mosaic floor, trappings of war-horses, musical 
instruments. Above all, the courtesy, refinement, reti- 
cence, and self-control not only of the main characters, but 
of chamberlains, watchmen, and the like, must be a reflec- 

1 B., 383, 392. 



16 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

tion of English life at one of the Christianized courts. 
Weapons and armor are perhaps traditional in the main. 
The corselet or coat of mail was very carefully made, and 
required a year of one man's time to forge it and to join 
its twenty thousand small rings, — the " ring-mail " of the 
poem.^ Shields are perpetually mentioned, and were 
mainly of wood, strengthened by leather and even by 
metal bands. The sword is so valued as to have name 
and pedigree. All this could be traditional ; and so 
could be the use of runes or letters for inscriptions on the 
hilt or blade of a sword. The poet still held to old be- 
lief in the magic effects of such runes, as well as in the 
efficacy of spells and bannings generally. One must not 
too closely regard this attitude of the bard, his puerility 
and pettiness of tone. Even Chaucer sins in the same 
fashion, if it be a sin to breathe the intellectual and artistic 
air of one's own day, and to reveal this habit in one's 

work. 

IV 

Metre and style of the epic are traditional ; the art of 
the minstrel was unchanged by the poet. His rhythm 
holds to that four-stressed verse with initial rimes which 
dominates all Anglo-Saxon poetry and rests on the com- 
mon Germanic tradition. Its essential principles, as 
observed in the present translation, may be stated as 
follows. The single verse consists of two obvious half- 
verses, each of which has two stressed syllables ; and 
these stressed syllables of the verse must be also accented 
syllables of the word, — as in modern, but not as in clas- 
sical metres. The first stressed syllable of the second 
half — third of the whole — is the "rime-giver." With 
1 J. R. Clark Hall, Beowulf, p. 179, quoting Sophus Mtiller. 



BEOWULF 17 

it must rime one and may rime both of tlie two preceding 
stressed syllables. The fourth stressed syllable, however, 
— second in the second half-verse, — must not rime with 
the third, or rime-giving syllable, but may rime with that 
one of the other two which happens not to match the 
rime-giver. For example, in the usual form, — 

" Oft Scyld the Scefing from squadroned foes," 

*' foes " rimes with no stressed syllable, as both first and 
second match the rime-giving third ; but in — 

" There laid they down their darling lord," 

a cross-rime prevails. It must be remembered that all 
vowels rime with one another: so, — 

" ice-flecked, outbound, atheling's barge." 

By observing these rules in translation, one may count on 
a rhythmic movement which fairly represents the old 
verse. The translation, to be sure, must alternate stressed 
and unstressed syllables with more " regularity " than can 
be found in the original, which followed rules of detail 
now impossible to observe. The preponderance of falling 
rhythm cannot always be maintained, nor can the trans- 
lator always keep his rimed verse-stresses on the words 
to which they belong in the old metrical system. But 
these are not vital objections. Nothing meets the reader 
in this old rhythm with which he is not familiar in 
modern poetry ; he recognizes initial rime as an orna- 
mental factor in verse, though he is not wont to find 
it the controlling factor. 

This same statement holds true of the style of the 
old epic. Modern poetry has occasional variant repeti- 
tion ; but repetition is not the controlling factor, the 



VI 



18 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

inevitable cross-pattern, as it is in old poetic diction. 
Modern poetry makes ample use of metaphor; but the 
practical necessity of " kennings " in alternate statement 
or epithet is no longer known. Considering now these 
old factors of poetic style for themselves, one finds that 
variant repetition is woven into the very stuff of epic ; 
it is closely allied, as in Hebrew poetry, with the rhyth- 
mic principle. But our epic verse is continuous, and 
has no stanzaic balance, no limit, such as exists in He- 
brew ; so that in oldest English poetry the unrestrained 
process of variant repetition piles epithet on epithet and 
phrase on phrase. In Beowulf there have been counted a 
hundred different appellations for the hero, and fifty-six 
for King Hrothgar.^ Occasionally there is a " couplet " 
which resembles the Hebrew: 

" To him the stateliest spake in answer ; 
The warriors' leader his word-hoard unlocked." 

On this variant repetition great force is bestowed by the 
use of metaphor, particularly by " kennings." A ken- 
ning is where one speaks of the sea as " the whale's road " 
or " the gannet's bath," — as if the phrase were a "token " 
of the thing. So in the couplet just quoted, " spake in 
answer " is literal ; its variant, 'j^unlocked the word-hoard," 
is metaphorical ; and " word-hoard " is kenning for 
" thoughts " or " intention." When the reader grows 
accustomed to this cross-pattern of repetition, — and he 
has no quarrel with it in its somewhat different guise 
in the Psalms, — he will appreciate its importance as a 
factor in the old poetry, and he will not be unduly baffled 

1 Illustrations of variant repetition, taken almost at random, are B., 
120-125, 2794 f., and 3110 ff. The " couplet " is J5., 268 f. 



BEOWULF 19 

by its persistence.^ One can easily get rid of it, or sup- 
press it to the vanishing point, by a prose translation ; 
but that is not only to renounce real knowledge of the 
poetical ways of the epic, but to get an utterly false idea 
of it. 

Other features of the style of the epic call for little or no 
comment. Litotes, or emphasis by understatement, — as 
when the best of warriors is called " not the worst," — is 
a prime favorite with the poet of Beowulf ; it can be found 
on almost every page. The simile occurs a few times, to 
be sure, but it is an exotic ; and any long simile may be 
set down as copied from learned sources. 

V 

No greater mistake exists than to suppose that the 
rhythm and style of these early English poems cannot 
be rendered adequately in modern English speech. It is 
not a question of classical hexameters, but of English verse 
old and new. As a practical problem solvitur amhulando; 
one can point to the fact that all the accredited German 
translations of Beowulf and Finnshurg, with one exception, 
have been made in the verse of the original ; ^ and this 
exception is a failure just so far as it fails to give account 
of verse and style. As a matter of theory nothing is 
more absurd than to contend that the old system of verse 
was an art suddenly and utterly lost in the abyss of the 
Norman Conquest. To be sure, its exact prosody could not 
survive changes in linguistic structure ; compromises with 

^ Now aud then it is puzzling, as when it seems to make two persons 
out of one : see B., 688 f. ; 1866 f. ; 2129 f. 

2 Heyne's is in blank verse. The latest of the German translations, 
that of Professor Gering, gives the four-stress verse with admirable effect, 
retains the rime, and in itself refutes the charge of the prosemen. 



20 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

foreign forms of verse took it into new ways, and sent it, 
say as " tumbling verse," down to our own time, justified 
by such a line as Browning's 

" Seethed in fat and suppled in flame "... 

yet in its own person it passed the stage of the conquest, 
kept its vigor, suffered few notable changes, and appears 
as a popular and effective verse, some six centuries from 
the date of the original Beowulf^ in the Piers Plowman 
poems. Englishmen of that day had ears to hear " rum- 
ram-ruf " in no mocking spirit, as well as to greet the 
harmonious flow of Chaucer's pentameter. That very 
pentameter, too, reveals from time to time in the actual 
four-stress tendency, and, — though not so often, — in 
its initial rimes, a hint of the old rhythmic structure : 

" Ther shyveren shaf tes upon sheeldes thikke "... 

In short, if the two systems — old four-stressed initial- 
rimed and new pentameter — could appeal to the same 
hearers, and if Chaucer is now the delight for lovers of 
verse that he was in his own day, there should be no 
difficulty for modern ears to allow the dual presence. 
William Morris employed something akin to the old 
rhythm in parts of his charming Love is Enough: 

" For as lone as thou liest in a land that we see not, 
When the world loseth thee, what is left for its losing ? " 

Yet, apart from its haphazard and unregulated initial 
rimes, this rhythm is far too swift in its pace for the old 
verse. Professor J. L. Hall used it for his translation of 
Beowulf very effectively ; but though he curbed it here 
and there, it is still too rapid, and the initial rimes are 
not fully carried out. The translation of Beowulf by 
Morris and Wyatt cannot be called an improvement on 



BEOWULF 21 

Professor Hall's translation, for their vocabulary is archaic 
or invented to an intolerable degree, and the rimes are 
not followed on any fixed principle. However, the pres- 
ent writer's business lies not at all with the criticism of 
verse-translations of Beowulf ; his affair consists in pre- 
senting to modern readers a rendering, faithful as he can 
make it, of the entire body of oldest traditional narrative 
poetry in English, as handed down by the minstrel, or as 
worked over into longer epic form. 



BEOWULF 

PRELUDE OF THE FOUNDER OF THE DANISH HOUSE 

Lo, praise of the prowess of people-kings 

of spear-armed Danes, in days long sped, 

we have heard, and what honor the athelings "won I 

Oft Scyld the Scefing ^ from squadroned foes, 

5 from many a tribe, the mead-bench tore, 
awing the earls. ^ Since erst he lay 
friendless, a foundling, fate repaid him : 
for he waxed under welkin, in wealth he throve, 
till before him the folk, both far and near, 

10 who house by the whale-path,^ heard his mandate, 
gave him gifts : a good king he ! 
To him an heir was afterward born, 
a son in his halls, whom heaven * sent 
to favor the folk, feeling their woe 

1 English historians knew the story or mj^th of this Scyld (" Shield"), 
who as a helpless child drifts ashore in an oarless boat. The boat is filled 
with weapons, but a "sheaf" of grain serves as pillow for the little 
sleeper ; and hence the people call him Shield the Sheaf-Child. They 
make him their king. He ruled, so William of Malmesbury says, " where 
Heithebi stands, once called Slaswic." The term "Sheaf-Child" came 
to be misunderstood as "Child of Sheaf," and Scyld was furnished with 
a father, Scef or Sceaf . 

* An ' earl " was the freeman, the warrior in a chosen band ; though 
not yet indicating specific rank, the word carried a general idea of nobil- 
ity. 

3 Kenning for " sea." Tribes across the water, say in southern Sweden, 
or westward of the Danish lands in Zealand, became tributary to Scyld. 

* Literally, " God." 

22 



BEOWULF 23 

15 that erst they had lacked an earl for leader 
so long a while ; the Lord endowed him, 
the Wielder of Wonder, with world's renown. 
Famed was this Beowulf : ^ far flew the boast of 

him, 
son of Scyld, in the Scandian lands. 

20 So 2 becomes it a youth ^ to quit him well 
with his father's friends, by fee and gift, 
that to aid him, ag^d, in after days, 
come warriors willing, should war draw nigh, 
liegemen loyal: by lauded deeds 

26 shall an earl l^ave honor in every clan. 
Forth he fared at the fated moment, 
sturdy Scyld to the shelter of God.* 
Then they bore him over to ocean's billow, 
loving clansmen, as late he charged them, 

30 while wielded words the winsome Scyld, 

the leader beloved who long had ruled. . . . 
In the roadstead rocked a ring-dight vessel, 
ice-flecked, outbound, atheling's barge : 
there laid they down their darling lord 

^ Not, of course, Beowulf the Geat, hero of the epic. Genealogies of 
Anglo-Saxon kings name this son of Scyld as Beaw, Beo, Bedwig, Bead- 
wig, Beowinus, etc., all shorter forms or corruptions of a common origi- 
nal name. The name Beowulf may mean " Wolf-of-the-Croft " (Gering), 
but its etymology is uncertain. 

'^ Sc. "as Scyld did." Beowulf's coming fame is mentioned, so to 
speak, as part of Scyld's assets, and the whole passage is praise of the 
"pious founder " of the Danish line. 

8 The Exeter Maxims, vv. 14 f., say : 

Let the atheling young by his honest comrades 
be emboldened to battle and breaking of rings, — 
i.e. liberal gifts to his clansmen. 

* To heaven, the other world. Various metaphors are used for death ; 
e.g. "he chose the other light." See also v. 2469. 



24 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

35 on the breast of the boat, the breaker-of -rings,* 
by the mast the mighty one. Many a treasure 
fetched from far was freighted with him. 
No ship have I known so nobly dight 
with weapons of war and weeds of battle,^ 

40 with breastplate and blade : on his bosom lay 
a heaped hoard that hence should go 
far o'er the flood with him floating away. 
No less ^ these loaded the lordly gifts, 
thanes' huge treasure, than those had done 

45 who in former time forth had sent him 
sole on the seas, a suckling child. 
High o'er his head they hoist the standard, 
a gold-wove banner ; let billows take him, 
gave him to ocean. Grave were their spirits, 

50 mournful their mood. No man is able 
to say in sooth, no son of the halls, 
no hero 'neath heaven, — who harbored that freight ! * 

^ Kenning for king or chieftain of a comilatus : he breaks off gold 
from the spiral rings — often worn on the arm — and so rewards his 
followers. In jElfric's famous Colloquy, early in the eleventh century, 
the huntsman says he sometimes gets gift of a horse or an arm-ring from 
his king. 

2 Professor Garnett's rendering. 

^ The poet's favorite figure of litotes or understatement. He means 
that the treasure which they sent out with the dead king far exceeded 
what came with him in the boat that brought him, a helpless child, to 
their shores. 

* While the reader should guard against putting into these effective 
lines sentiment and suggestion which they do not really contain, he should 
compare this close with the close of Tennyson's Morte (V Arthur. The 
classical passage for ship-burial among the old Germans is the descrip- 
tion of Balder's funeral in the prose Edda. On the " greatest of all 
ships" was laid the corpse of the god ; and a balefire was made there ; 
and rings, and costly trappings, and Balder' s own horse, were consumed 
along with the body. 



BEOWULF 26 

I 

Now Beowulf bode in the burg of the Scyldings, 

leader belovdd, and long he ruled 
55 in fame with all folk, since his father had gone 

away from the world, till awoke an heir, 

haughty Healfdene, who held through life, 

sage and sturdy, the Scyldings glad.i 

Then, one after one, there woke to him, 
60 to the chieftain of clansmen, children four: 

Heorogar, then Hrothgar, then Halga brave; 

and I heard that was 's queen,^ 

the Heathoscylfing's helpmate dear. 

To Hrothgar ^ was given such glory of war, 
65 such honor of combat, that all his kin 

obeyed him gladly till great grew his band 

of youthful comrades. /It came in his mind 

to bid his henchmen a Hall uprear, 

a master mead-house, mightier far 
70 than ever was seen by the sons of earth, 

and within it, then, to old and young 

he would all allot that the Lord had sent him, 

save only the land * and the lives of his men. 

1 If gl<zde is adverb, read : \J/ - , 

Haughty Healfdene : hardy and wise, (V ^v.; ^ 

though old, he graciously governed the Scyldings. 
The name " Halfdane " means that his mother was foreign born. 

2 "I heard," the epic formula, often has a merely conjunctive force, 
as here, when it may be rendered, as Klaeber notes, "and further." —  
The name of the daughter is lost ; no suggestion so far has enough weight 
to gain preference. The " Battle-Scylfings " are the race known in 
Scandinavian annals as Ynglings, a Swedish people. Kluge, using the 
Saga of Hrolf Kraki, reads: " Sigeneow was Saewela's queen." 

' Heorogar's reign, noted below, vv. 405, 2158, is here passed over 
by the poet, who wishes to come at once to the story. 

^Literally, "folk's share." Gering translates " all that God had given 
him along with his land and his people." 



iA 



26 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC >'t' 

Wide, I heard, was the work commanded, 
75 for many a tribe this mid-earth round, 

to fashion the folkstead. It fell, as he ordered, 

in rapid achievement that ready it stood there, 
I of halls the noblest: Heorot ^ he named it 

whose message had might in many a land. 
80 Not reckless of promise, the rings he dealt, 

treasure at banquet: there towered the hall, 

high, gabled wide, the hot surge waiting 
'■ of furious flame. 2 Nor far was that day 

when father and son-in-law stood in feud 
85 for warfare and hatred that woke again. ^ 

1 That is, " The Hart," or "The Stag," so called from decorations in the 
gables that resembled the antlers of a deer. This hall has been carefully 
described in a pamphlet by Heyne. The building was rectangular, with 
opposite doors — mainly west and east — and a hearth in the middle of 
the single room. A row of pillars down each side, at some distance from 
the walls, made a space which was raised a little above the main floor, 
and was furnished with two rows of seats. On one side, usually south, 
was the high-seat, midway between the doors. Opposite this, on the other 
raised space, was another seat of honor. At the banquet soon to be de- 
scribed, Hrothgar sat in the south or chief high-seat, and Beowulf op- 
posite to him. The scene for a flyting (see below, v. 499) was thus 
very effectively set. Planks on trestles — the "board "of later English 
literature — formed the tables just in front of the long rows of seats, 
and were taken away after banquets, when the retainers were ready to 
stretch themselves out for sleep on the benches. Some additional com- 
ment will be found in the excellent notes in Mr. Clark Hall's translation 
of Beowulf, p. 174. 

2 Fire was the usual end of these halls. See v. 781, below. One thinks 
of the splendid scene at the end of the Xibelungen, of the Xialssaga, of 
Saxo's story of Amlethus, and many a less famous instance. 

' It is to be supposed that all hearers of this poem knew how Hroth- 
gar's hall was burnt, — perhaps in the unsuccessful attack made on 
him by his son-in-law Ingeld. See vv. 2020 ff., and the note, where 
Beowulf tells of an old feud which this marriage is to set aside, and hints 
that the trouble will not be cured even by such a remedy. He too thinks 
that " warfare and hatred will wake again." — See also Widsith, vv. 45 5. 



I 



K 

BEOWULF 27 

With envy and anger an evil spirit 

endured the dole in his dark abode, 

that he heard each day the din of revel 

high in the hall : there harps rang out, 
90 clear song of the singer. He sang who knew ^ 

tales of the early time of man, 

how the Almighty made the earth, 

fairest fields enfolded by water, 

set, triumphant, sun and moon 
95 for a light to lighten the land-dwellers, 

and braided bright the breast of earth 

with limbs and leaves, made life for all 

of mortal beings that breathe and move. 
So lived the clansmen in cheer and revel 
100 a winsome life, till one began 

to fashion evils, that fiend of hell. 

Grendel this monster grim was called, 

march-riever ^ mighty, in moorland living,^ 

in fen and fastness ; fief of the giants 
105 the hapless wight a while had kept 

since the Creator his exile doomed. 

On kin of Cain was the killing avenged 
yby sovran God for slaughtered Abel. 

1 A skilled minstrel. The Danes are heathens, as one is told presently; 
but this lay of beginnings is taken from Genesis. 

2 A disturber of the border, one who sallies from his haunt in the fen 
and roams over the country near by. This probably pagan nuisance is 
now furnished with biblical credentials as a fiend or devil in good stand- 
ing, so that all Christian Englishmen might read about him. " Grendel " 
may mean one who grinds and crushes. 

8 See notes below on the notion of a water-hell. " Hell and the lower 
world," says Bugge, " were connected to some extent in the popular mind 
with deep or boundless morasses." Home, of the Eddie Poems, tr. Scho- 
field, p. Isxiv. 



28 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

111 fared his feud,i ^nd far was he driven, 
110 for the slaughter's sake, from sight of men. 
Of Cain awoke all that woful breed, 
Etins 2 and elves and evil-spirits, 
as well as the giants that warred with God 
weary while : but their wage was paid them I 

II 

115 Went he forth to find at fall of night 
that haughty house, and heed wherever 
the Ring-Danes, outrevelled, to rest had gone. 
Found within it the atheling band 
asleep after feasting and fearless of sorrow, 

120 of human hardship. Unhallowed wight, 
grim and greedy, he grasped betimes, 
wrathful, reckless, from resting-places, 
thirty ^ of the thanes, and thence he rushed 
fain of his fell spoil, faring homeward, 

125 laden with slaughter, his lair to seek. 

Then at the dawning, as day was breaking, 
the might of Grendel to men was known ; 
then after wassail was wail uplifted, 
loud moan in the morn. The mighty chief, 

1 Cain's. 

2 The eoten, Norse jotun, or giant, survives in the English ballad-title, 
Hind Etin. The "giants" of v. 113 come from Genesis, vi, 4. See 
also the apocrjrphal book of Enoch, noted by Kittredge, Paul und 
Braune's Beitrdge, xiii, 210, who accounts for this tradition that Cain 
was the ancestor of evil monsters. 

3 Beowulf, the coming champion, has the strength (v. 379) of " thirty " 
men iu his hand's grasp, and (v. 2361) swims to safety after Hygelac's 
defeat laden with " thirty " suits of mail on his aim. The reader will 
note the meagreness and haste of this account of the actual attack. No 
details are given. This brevity is of course due to the poet ; and one can 
only guess at his motive. 



X 

BEOWULF 29 

1^30 atheling excellent, unblithe sat, 

labored in woe for the loss of his thanes, 

when once had been traced the trail of the fiend, 

spirit accurst : too cruel that sorrow, 

too long, too loathsome. 1 Not late the respite ; 

135 with night returning, anew began 
ruthless murder ; he recked no whit, 
firm in his guilt, of the feud and crime. 
They were easy to find who elsewhere sought 
in room remote their rest at night, 

140 _ bed in the bo wers,^ when that bale was shown, 
was seen in sooth, with surest token, — 
the hall-thane's^ hate. Such held themselves 
far and fast who the fiend outran ! 
Thus ruled unrighteous and raged his fill 

145 one against all ; until empty stood 

that lordly building, and long it bode so. 
Twelve years' tide the trouble he bore, 
sovran of Scyldings, sorrows in plenty, 
boundless cares. There came unhidden 

150 tidings true to the tribes of men, 

in sorrowful songs,* how ceaselessly Grendel 
harassed Hrothgar, what hate he bore him, 
what murder and massacre, many a year, 
feud unfading, — refused consent 

1 See V. 191. 
\ 2 The smaller buildings within the main enclosure but separate from 
the hall. 

3 So the text. Grendel, by his ravaging, is master of the hall ; and 
there is no need to change to " hell-thane." 

* The journalists of the day, Widsiths, Deors, Bernlefs, carried such 
tidings in their " sorrowful son^s." So, too, perhaps, began the story 
of the actual downfall of the Burgundian kings, afterward the epic of the 
Nibelungs. 



30 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

155 to deal with any of Daneland's earls, 

make pact of peace, or compound for gold : 
still less did the wise men ween to get 
great fee for the feud from his fiendish hands.* 
But the evil one ambushed old and young, 

160 death-shadow dark, and dogged them still, 
lured, and lurked in the livelong night 
of misty moorlands : men may say not 
where the haunts of these Hell-Runes ^ be. 
Such heaping of horrors the hater of men, 

165 lonely roamer, wrought unceasing, 

harassings heavy. O'er Heorot he lorded, 
gold-bright hall, in gloomy nights ; 
and ne'er could the prince^ approach his throne, 
— 'twas judgment of God, — or have joy in his hall. 

170 Sore was the sorrow to Scyldings'-friend, 
heart-rending miser3^ Many nobles 
sat assembled, and searched out counsel 
how it were best for bold-hearted men 
against harassing terror to try their hand. 

175 Whiles they vowed in their heathen fanes 
altar-offerings, asked with words* 
that the slayer-of-souls^ would succor give them 
for the pain of their people. Their practice this, 

1 He would of course pay no wergild for the men he had slain. So 
boasted a Norse bully once. 

2 " Sorcerers-of-hell." Bune is still used in Low German dialects for 
" witch." 

8 Hrothgar, who is the " Scyldings'-friend " of 170- A difficult 
passage. 

* That is, in formal or prescribed phrase. 

6 In Psalm xcvi, 5 (Grein-Wiilker, n-umber 95) : " All the gods of the 
nations are idols, but the X,ord made the heavens." The Anglo-Saxon 
version reads : '" All heathen gods are devils-of-war." . . . 



BEOWULF 31 

their heathen hope ; 'twas Hell they thought of 
180 in mood of their mind. Almighty they knew not, 
Doomsman of Deeds ^ and dreadful Lord, 
nor Heaven's-Helmet heeded they ever, 
Wielder-of- Wonder. — Woe for that man 
who in harm and hatred hales his soul 
185 to fiery embraces ; — nor favor nor change 
awaits he ever. But well for him  
that after death-day may draw to his Lord, 
and friendship find in the Father's arms! 

Ill 

Thus seethed ^ unceasing the son of Healfdene 
190 with the woe of these days; not wisest men 
assuaged his sorrow; too sore the anguish, 
loathly and long, that lay on his folk, 
most baneful of burdens and bales of the night. 

This heard in his home Hygelac's thane, 
196 great among Geats, of Grendel's doings. 
He was the mightiest man of valor 
in that same day of this our life, 
stalwart and stately. A stout wave-walker 
he bade make ready. ^ Yon Dattle-king, said he, 
200 far o'er the swan-road he fain would seek, 
the noble monarch who needed men ! 

* The complimentary excess of kennings for "God" is like the pro- 
fusion in naming king or chieftain. See v. 345 f. 

2 How fast-colored this metaphor remained for poets it is hard to say. 
Certainly " bore" or " suffered " is too pale a rendering. 

3 This verse, rimed in modern fashion, must represent v. 194 of the 
original, which runs : 

Thset fram hSm gefrsegn HygelS.ces thegn, . . . 



32 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

The prince's journey by prudent folk 

was little blamed, though they loved him dear ; 

they whetted the hero, and hailed good omens.* 

205 And now the bold one from bands of Geats 
comrades chose, the keenest of warriors 
e'er he could find; with fourteen men ^ 
the sea-wood ^ he sought, and, sailor ^ proved, 
led them on to the land's confines. 

210 Time had now flown; ^ afloat was the ship, 
boat under bluff. On board they climbed, 
warriors ready; waves were churning 
sea with sand; the sailors bore 
on the breast of the bark their bright array, 

216 their mail and weapons: the men pushed off, 
on its willing way, the well-braced craft. 
Then moved o'er the waters by might of the wind 
that bark like a bird with breast of foam, 
till in season due, on the second day, 

220 the curved prow such course had run 

^ Literally, "looked about for signs and omens"; but by implication 
the omens are good. Many of these old customs are preserved in tradition 
or by record ; and the chapter of Tacitus's Germania is familiar which 
describes one of them in detail. By Hygelac's own account (vv. 1094 ff. ) 
the friends of Beowulf did try to hold him back from his perilous 
undertaking. 

2 In the language of the original, and of modem golf, Beowulf goes 
on a " fifteen-some," as one of fifteen. 

8 Ship. 

* In the Nibelungen Lay one is told that Siegfried — also a slayer of 
dragons and a winner of gold — is a good sailor (367, 3) : 

Die rehten wazzerstrS,ze sint mir wol bekant. 

In the next stanza the start of the ship is described ; and Siegfried him- 
self helps to push off from shore, using " a pole." 

^ That is, since Beowulf selected his ship and led his men to the 
harbor. 



BEOWULF 33 

that sailors now could see the land, 

sea-cliffs shining, steep high hills, 

headlands broad. Their haven was found, 

their journey ended. Up then quickly 
226 the Weders' ^ clansmen climbed ashore, 

anchored their sea-wood, with armor clashing 

and gear of battle: God they thanked 

for passing in peace o'er the paths of the sea. 
Now saw from the cliff a Scylding clansman, 
230 a warden ^ that watched the water-side, 

how they bore o'er the gangway glittering shields, 

war-gear in readiness ; wonder seized him 

to know what manner of men they were. 

Straight to the strand his steed he rode, 
235 Hrothgar's henchman ; with hand of might 

he shook his spear,^ and spake in parley. 

" Who are ye, then, ye armed men, 

mailed folk, that yon mighty vessel 

have urged thus over the ocean ways, 
240 here o'er the waters ? A warden I, 

sentinel set o'er the sea-march here, 

lest any foe to the folk of Danes 

with harrying fleet should harm the land. 

No aliens ever at ease thus bore them, 

1 One of the auxiliary names of the Geats, who by the reckoning of 
Bugge, Gering, and others, were Jutes. Jutland, says Gering, is truly 
called the Wettermark, "the land of storms." Others, a majority, put 
Geatland in Sweden. 

2 Possibly some unconscious reminiscence is here of the Roman coast- 
guard who once patrolled the Saxon Shore. Saxon pirates would well 
remember him. The stone-paved street (below, v, 320) points to similar 
traditions. 

3 Literally, "main-wood," "strength-wood." — The warden is not 
alone, but has with him an armed guard. See v. 293. 



34 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

246 linden-wielders : ^ yet word-of -leave 
clearly ye lack from clansmen here, 
my folk's agreement. — A greater ne'er saw I 
of warriors in world than is one of you, — 
yon hero in harness ! No henchman he 

250 worthied by weapons, if witness his features, 
his peerless presence ! I pray you, though, tell 
your folk and home, lest hence ye fare 
suspect to wander your way as spies 
in Danish land. Now, dwellers afar, 

265 ocean-travellers, take from me 

simple advice: the sooner the better 
I hear of the country whence ye came." 



IV 

To him the stateliest ^ spake in answer ; 

the warriors' leader his word-hoard unlocked : — 
260 " We are by kin of the clan of Geats, 

and Hygelac's own hearth-fellows we. 

To folk afar was my father known, 

noble atheling, Ecgtheow named. 

Full of winters, he fared away 
265 aged from earth ; he is honored still 

through width of the world by wise men all. 

To thy lord and liege in loyal mood 

we hasten hither, to Healfdene's son, 

people-protector : be pleased to advise us ! 
270 To that mighty-one come we on mickle errand, 

1 Or : Not thus openly ever came warriors hither ; yet . . . 

2 Literally, " Him the oldest answered." Compare modem uses of 
elder and alderman. 



BEOWULF 35 

to the lord of the Danes ; nor deem I right 

that aught be hidden. We hear — thou knowest 

if sooth it is — the saying of men, 

that amid the Scyldings a scathing monster, 

275 dark ill-doer, in dusky nights 

shows terrific his rage unmatched, 

hatred and murd^T.- To Hrothgar I 

in greatness of soul would succor bring, 

so the Wise-and-Brave ^ may worst his foes. — 

280 if ever the end of ills is fated, 

of cruel contest, if cure shall follow, 

and the boiling care-waves ^ cooler grow ; 

else ever afterward anguish-days 

he shall suffer in sorrow while stands in place 

286 high on its hill that house unpeered ! " 

Astride his steed, the strand-ward answered, 
clansman unquailing: " The keen-souled thane 
must be skilled to sever and sunder duly 
words and works, if he well intends. 

290 I gather, this band is graciously bent 

to the Scyldings' master. March, then, bearing 
weapons and weeds the way I show you. 
I will bid my men your boat meanwhile 
to guard for fear lest foemen come, — 

295 your new-tarred ship by shore of ocean 
faithfully watching till once again 
it waft o'er the waters those well -loved thanes, 
— winding-neck'd wood, — to Weders' bounds, 
heroes such as the hest of fate 

1 Hrothgar. 

2 This powerful metaphor is known also in Old-Norse ("sdsbreka," 
Skirnismal, 29) and in Old-Irish ("tuind mbroin," 'a billow of cares'). 

— BUGOE. 



86 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

300 shall succor and save from the shock of war."* 
They bent them to march, — the boat lay still, 
fettered by cable and fast at anchor, 
broad-bosomed ship. — Then shone the boars ^ 
over the cheek-guard ; chased with gold, 

306 keen and gleaming, guard it kept 

o'er the man of war, as marched along 
heroes in haste, ^till the hall they saw, 
broad of gable and bright with gold: 
that was the fairest, 'mid folk of earth, 

310 of houses 'neath heaven, where Hrothgar lived, 
and the gleam of it lightened o'er lands afarj 
The sturdy shieldsman showed that bright 
burg-of-the-boldest ; bade them go 
straightway thither ; his steed then turned, 

315 hardy hero, and hailed them thus : — 

" 'Tis time that I fare from you. Father Almighty 
in grace and mercy guard you well, 
safe in your seekings. Seaward I go, 
'gainst hostile warriors hold my watch." 

* See Klaeber, Modern Philology, III, 250. In other words, the ship 
will carry back the survivors. Other translators take " the well-loved 
man " to be Beowulf, and read : 

for hero like him, by hest of fate 

shall surely fare from the fight unscathed. 

2 Holthausen points out that by verse 1453 Beowulf's helmet has sev- 
eral boar-images on it ; he is the "man of war" (to be sure, a conjec- 
tural reading); and the boar-helmet guards him as typical representative 
of the marching party as a whole. The boar was sacred to Freyr, who 
was the favorite god of the Germanic tribes about the North Sea and the 
Baltic. Rude representations of warriors show the boar on the helmet 
quite as large as the helmet itself. 



BEOWULF 37 

V 

320 Stone-bright the street : ^ it showed the way 
to the crowd of clansmen. Corselets glistened 
hand-forged, hard ; on their harness bright 
the steel ring sang,^ as they strode along 
in mail of battle, and marched to the hall. 

326 There, weary of ocean, the wall along 

they set their bucklers, their broad shields, down, 
and bowed them to bench: the breastplates clanged, 
war-gear of men ; their weapons stacked, 
spears of the seafarers stood together, 

330 gray-tipped ash : that iron band 

was worthily weaponed ! — A warrior proud 
asked of the heroes their home and kin. 
" Whence, now, bear ye burnished shields, 
harness gray and helmets grim, 

335 spears in multitude ? Messenger, I, 
Hrothgar's herald ! Heroes so many 
ne'er met I as strangers of mood so strong. 
'Tis plain that for prowess, not plunged into exile, 
for high-hearted valor, Hrothgar ye seek! " 

340 Him the sturdy-in-war bespake with words, 
proud earl of the Weders answer made, 
hardy 'neath helmet : — " Hygelac's, we, 

1 Either merely paved, the strata via of the Romans, or else thought of 
W as a sort of mosaic, an extravagant touch like the reckless waste of gold 

\on the vealls and roofs of a hall. — Stone buildings, it will be noted, are 
for old English poetry a mystery, a legacy of the past and its demi-gods — 
" work of giants" ; for prose they pass as fit only for kings. Asser in 
his Life of Alfred (ed. Stevenson, 91, 23, and p. 154) calls them viUae 
regiae. The common Germanic hatred of cities and of stone houses is 
familiar from the rhetoric of Tacitus. 

2 See Finnsburg, vv. 7 f. for a more striking personification. 



38 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

fellows at board ; I am Beowulf named. 
I am seeking to say to the son of Healfdene 

345 this mission of mine, to thy master-lord, 
the doughty prince, if he deign at all 
grace that we greet him, the good one, now." 
Wulfgar spake, the Wendles' chieftain, 
whose might of mind to many was known, 

360 his courage and counsel : " The king of Danes, 
the Scyldings' friend, I fain will tell, 
the Breaker-of-Rings, as the boon thou askest, 
the famed prince, of thy faring hither, 
and, swiftly after, such answer bring 

355 as the doughty monarch may deign to give." 
Hied then in haste to where Hrothgar sat 
white-haired and old, his earls about him, 
till the stout thane stood at the shoulder ^ there 
of the Danish king : good courtier he I 

360 Wulfgar spake to his winsome lord: — 
" Hither have fared to thee far-come men 
o'er the paths of ocean, people of Geatland; 
and the stateliest ^ there by his sturdy band 
is Beowulf named. This boon they seek, 

366 that they, my master, may with thee 

have speech at will: nor spurn their prayer 

to give them hearing, gracious Hrothgar ! 

In weeds of the warrior worthy they, 

methinks, of our liking ; their leader most surely, 

370 a hero that hither his henchmen has led." 

1 ' ' Before the shoulders, ' ' whatever position this was. Gering : " at the 
left shoulder of the lord of the land." 

2 Literally, " oldest." See above, v. 258. 



BEOWULF 39 

VI 

Hrothgar answered, helmet of Scyldings: — 
" I knew him of yore in his youthful days ; 
his aged father was Ecgtheow named, 
to whom, at home, gave Hrethel the Geat 

375 his only daughter. ^ Their offspring bold 
fares hither to seek the steadfast friend. 
And seamen, too, have said me this, — 
who carried my gifts to the Geatish court, 
thither for thanks, — he has thirty men's 

380 heft of grasp in the gripe of his hand, 
the bold-in-battle. Blessed God 
out of his mercy this man hath sent 
to Danes of the West, as I ween indeed, 
against horror of Grendel. I hope to give 

386 the good youth gold for his gallant thought. 
Be thou in haste, and bid them hither, 
clan of kinsmen, to come before me; 
and add this word, — they are welcome guests 
to folk of the Danes." 

[To the door of the hall__ 

390 Wulfgar went 2] and the word declared: — 
" To you this message my master sends, 
East-Danes' king, that your kin he knows, 

1 It is point of honor In the sovran — and the late Queen Victoria 
was proud of her accomplishment in this respect — to know all the nobles 
and royal persons in their relationship and descent. So Hildebrand, try- 
ing to make his son believe that the paternal claim is true, asks to be put 
to the test of genealogies and kinship : "If thou namest one only, the 
others I know." The loquacity of Hrothgar is both the royal leisurely 
way, and also an attempt of the poet to characterize the king, and set 
him apart. 

2 Grein's insertion to mend an evident omission of the scribe. 



40 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

hardy heroes, and hails you all 

welcome hither o'er waves of the sea I 
396 Ye may wend your way in war-attire, 

and under helmets Hrothgar greet; 

but let here the battle-shields bide your parley, 

and wooden war-shafts wait its end." 

Uprose the mighty one, ringed with his men, 
400 brave band of thanes : some bode without, 

battle-gear guarding, as bade the chief. 

Then hied that troop where the herald led them, 

under Heorot's roof: [the hero strode,] ^ 

hardy 'neath helm, till the hearth he neared.^ 
405 Beowulf spake, — his breastplate gleamed, 

war-net woven by wit of the smith : — 

" Thou Hrothgar, hail ! Hygelac's I, 

kinsman and follower. Fame a plenty 

have I gained in youth ! ^ These Grendel-deeds 
410 I heard in my home-land heralded clear. 
I Seafarers say * how stands this hall, 
I of buildings best, for your band of thanes 

1 Grein's insertion. 

2 " Hardy beneath his helmet" is a common phrase in epic description. 
See above, v. 296, and Nibelungen, under hehne gctn, in many places. — 
The hearth, always in the middle of the hall, would be close to the throne, 
as Heyne points out in his essay on the situation and structure of Heorot, 
referring to an Anglo-Saxon document of the eleventh century. ' ' Hearth ' ' 
is more specific and better visualized than the mere "interior" of some 
readings, 

3 So all the old epic heroes ; they have no passion for modesty. 

Sum pius Aeneas fama super aethera notus, -^ ' 

is more vigorous trumpeting than even this blast from Beowulf. Dryden 
notes in his Essay on Dramatic Poetry that only the later heroes made 
anything of reticence as a manly virtue. 

*See above, v. 377, and Hildehrand, v. 44. These "seafarers" are 
not necessarily sailors by profession, but any persons who fare over sea 
aud bring the news ; cf. v. 1818, «' we seafarers " = Beowulf and his men. 



BEOWULF 41 

I empty and idle, when evening sun 
Un the harbor of heaven is hidden away. 
415 So my vassals advised me well, — 

brave and wise, the best of men, — 

O sovran Hrothgar, to seek thee here, 

for my nerve and my might they knew full well. 

Themselves had seen me from slaughter come 
420 blood-flecked from foes, where five I bound, 

and that wild brood worsted. I' the waves I slew 

nicors ^ by night, in need and peril 

avenging the Weders,^ whose woe they sought, — 

crushing the grim ones. Grendel now, 
425 monster cruel, be mine to quell 

in single battle ! So, from thee, 

thou sovran of the Shining-Danes, 

Scyldings'-bulwark, a boon I seek, — 

and, Friend-of-the-folk, refuse it not, 
430 O Warriors'-shield, now I've wandered far, — 

that I alone with my liegemen here, 

this hardy band, may Heorot purge ! 

More I hear, that the monster dire, 

^ The nicor, says Bugge, is a hippopotamus ; a walrus, says ten Brink. 
But that water-goblin who covers the space from Old Nick of jest to the 
Neckan and Nix of poetry and tale, is all one needs, and Nicor is a good 
name for him. Dan Michel in the fourteenth century renders sirens or 
sea-fairies by this word nicor. A glance, too, at Vigfusson's Icelandic 
Dictionary, s.v. " Nykr," is instructive. To square this story with 
vv. 550 ff., below, many emendations are proposed ; but figures may be 
changed even in hunting-stories. Moreover, see w. 574-7. There was 
genuine fear of sea-beasts among these men of the coast, and Horace's 
nionstra natantia (I, iii, 18) would have appealed to them as no matter 
for jests. They enhance the horror of Nicor's Mere, below, v. 1425. 
Whales are specified in v. 541 as objects of fear ; see note to v. 
549. 

2 His own people, the Geats. 



42 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

in his wanton mood, of weapons recks not; 
435 hence shall I scorn — so Hygelac stay, 

king of my kindred, kind to me ! — 

brand or buckler to bear in the fight, 

gold-colored targe : but with gripe alone 

must I front the fiend and fight for life, _ 

440 foe against foe. Then faith be his ^ 

in the doom of the Lord whom death shall take. 

Fain, I ween, if the fight he win, 

in this hall of gold my Geatish band 

will he fearless eat, — as oft before, — 
445 my noblest thanes.^ Nor need'st thou then 

to hide my head ; ^ for his shall I be, 

dyed in gore, if death must take me ; 

and my blood-covered body he'll bear as prey, 

ruthless devour it, the roamer-lonely, 
450 with my life-blood redden his lair in the fen : 

no further for me need'st food prepare ! * 

To Hygelac send, if Hild ^ should take me, 

best of war-weeds, warding my breast, 

1 Klaeber, with Earle : "he shall resign himself to the judgment." It 
is a kind of trial by battle ; and perhaps the sense is that the one who 
falls in the fight may well have cause to believe in God's justice. But 
the common aud ancient belief that " Wyrd goes as she must " is in the 
background. 

2 Literally, "the flower of my men" (Schiicking) ; it is parallel to 
"Geatish band." This interpretation removes grave difficulties from 
the passage. " As oft before " is a general and pregnant phrase referring 
to Grendel's previous attacks on the Danish clansmen. 

3 That is, cover it as with a face-cloth. " There will be no need of 
funeral rites." 

* The fondness for emphasis by understatement — litotes — here takes 
the form of anticlimax. 

^ Personification of Battle. That personal and mythological force 
lingers in the word seems clear from its uses in poetry. 



BEOWULF 43 

armor excellent, heirloom of Hrethel 
466 and work of Wayland.^ Fares Wyrd^ as she must." 

VII 

Hrothgar spake, the Scyldings'-helmet : — 
" For fight defensive, Friend my Beowulf, 
to succor and save, thou hast sought us here. 
Thy father's combat ^ a feud enkindled 

460 when Heatholaf with hand he slew 
among the Wylfings; his Weder kin 
for horror of fighting feared to hold him. 
Fleeing, he sought our South-Dane folk, 
over surge of ocean the Honor-Scyldings, 

465 when first I was ruling the folk * of Danes, 
wielded, youthful, this widespread realm, 
this hoard-hold of heroes. Heorogar was dead, 
my elder brother, had breathed his last, 
Healf dene's bairn: he was better than I ! 

470 Straightway the feud with fee ^ I settled, 
to the Wylfings sent, o'er watery ridges, 
treasures olden : oaths he ^ swore me. 

1 The Germanic Vulcan. See below, Deor''s Song, and notes. 

2 Compare the personifying force in a phrase of the Heliand, "Thy 
Wyrd stands near thee," — thy fated hour is nigh. This mighty power, 
whom the Christian poet can still revere, has here the general force of 
" Destiny." Chaucer glosses the plural {Wirdes) as Destiny, but Mac- 
beth has no doubt of the "personification" when he meets the Weird- 
Sisters, that is, sister fates. 

2 There is no irrelevance here. Hrothgar sees in Beowulf's mission a 
heritage of duty, a return of the good offices which the Danish king ren- 
dered to Beowulf's father in time of dire need. — F. Seebohm, Tribal Cus- 
toms in Anglo-Saxon Laxo, London, 1902, comments on this ethical side 
of the feud, and makes great use of the material in Beowulf. 

* Repeated from v. 463, also in the original. 

' Money, for wergild, or man-price. ' Ecgtheow, Beowulf's sire. 



44 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

Sore is my soul to say to any 

of the race of man what ruth for me 
475 in Heorot Grendel with hate hath wrought, 

what sudden harry ings. Hall-folk fail me, 

my warriors wane ; for Wyrd hath swept them 

into Grendel's grasp. But God is able 

this deadly foe from his deeds to turn ! 
480 Boasted full oft, as my beer they drank, 

earls o'er the ale-cup, armed men, 
 that they would bide in the beer-hall here, 

Grendel's attack with terror of blades.^ 
^Then was this mead-house at morning tide 
485 dyed with gore, when the daylight broke, 

all the boards of the benches blood-besprinkled, 

gory the hall : I had heroes the less, 

doughty dear-ones that death had reft. 

— But sit to the banquet, unbind thy words, 
490 hardy hero, as heart shall prompt thee." 

Gathered together, the Geatish men 
in the banquet-hall on bench assigned, 
sturdy-spirited, sat them down, 
hardy-hearted. A henchman attended, 
496 carried the carven cup in hand, 

served the clear mead. Oft minsjtrels sang 

blithe in Heorot. Heroes revelled, 

no dearth of warriors,^ Weder and Dane. 

1 " With terrible blades," — drawn swords. — " Boast " is not used in 
the modern sense, nor was it "Dutch courage" that inspired the utter- 
ance. As in the Indian war-dance, so at the Germanic feast in hall or 
camp before battle, the warrior was expected to make his be6t or promise 
of prowess, — and to keep it. 1 hese vaunts easily lent themselves to 
jocose treatment in the declining days of epic or romance ; witness the 
famous "gabs" in Charlemagne'' s Journey to Jerusalem. 

2 In spite of v. 476, Hrothgar still has a large band of retainers. 



BEOWULF 45 

VIII 

Unferth ^ spake, the son of Ecglaf, 
500 who sat at the feet of the Scyldings' lord, 

unbound the battle-runes.^ — Beowulf's quest, 

^sturdy seafarer's, sorely galled him ; 

ever he envied that other men ' "^ 

should more achieve in middle-earth 
605 of fame under heaven than he himself. — 

" Art thou that Beowulf, Breca's rival, 

who emulous swam on the open sea, 

when for pride the pair of you proved the floods, 

and wantonly dared in waters deep 
510 to risk your lives ? No living man, 

or lief or loath, from your labor dire 

could you dissuade, from swimming the main. 

Ocean-tides with your arms ye covered, 

with strenuous hands the sea-streets measured, 
615 swam o'er the waters. Winter's storm 

rolled the rough waves. In realm of sea 

a sennight strove ye. In swimming he topped thee, 

had more of main ! Him at morning-tide 

billows bore to the Battling Reamas,^ 

1 Spelled Hunferth in the text, but ahvaj-s riming with vowels. 

2 "Began the fight." — But here is scarcely the flyting, or song-con- 
test, found everywhere among peoples in a primitive stage of culture. It 
is rather a report of the spirited way in which Beowulf carried off the 
laurels in the " hazing" of the guest by a competent official of the host. 
Probably this test was part of the formal reception ; but it seems a 
strange survival in epic by the side of the courtly and extravagant com- 
pliments exchanged between Beowulf and Hrothgar. In Scandinavian 
sources one gets the rough flyting in its coarseness and strength. See the 
Lokasenna, above all, and the cases reported by Saxo. In one the prizes 
are peculiar: a queen's necklace, the man's life. 

^ Bugge places the home of these Heathoreamas in Southern Norway. 
He also notes a parallel swimming-match in the Egilssaga. 



46 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

620 whence he hied to his home so dear, 

beloved of his liegemen, to land of Brondings, 
fastness fair, where his folk he ruled, 
town and treasure. In triumph o'er thee 
Beanstan's bairn ^ his boast achieved. 

525 So ween I for thee a worse adventure 

— though in buffet of battle thou brave hast been, 
in struggle grim, — if Grendel's approach 
thou darst await through the watch of night ! " 

Beowulf spake, bairn of Ecgtheow : — 
630 " What a deal hast uttered, dear my Unferth, 

drunken with beer, of Breca now, 

told of his triumph ! Truth I claim it, 

that I had more of might in the sea 

than any man else, more ocean-endurance. 
636 We twain had talked, in time of youth, 

and made our boast, — we were merely boys, 

striplings still, — to stake our lives 

far at sea : and so we performed it. 

Naked swords, as we swam along, 
640 we held in hand, with hope to guard us 

against the whales. Not a whit from me 

could he float afar o'er the flood of waves, 

haste o'er the billows ; nor him I abandoned. 

Together we twain on the tides abode 
645 five nights full till the flood divided us, 

churning waves and chillest weather, 

darkling night, and the northern wind 

ruthless rushed on us : rough was the surge. 

Now the wrath of the sea-fish ^ rose apace ; 

1 Breca. 

2 Partly founded on actual experience of angry whales, as York Powell 
pointed out, and partly on doings of mythical beasts of the sea. 



BEOWULF 47 

550 yet me 'gainst the monsters my mailed coat, 
hard and hand-linked, help afforded, — 
battle-sark braided my breast to ward, 
garnished with gold. There grasped me firm 
and haled me to bottom the hated foe, 

665 with grimmest gripe. 'Twas granted me, though, 
to pierce the monster with point of sword, 
with blade of battle : huge beast of the sea 
was whelmed by the hurly through hand of mine. 



IX 

Me thus often the evil monsters 
560 thronging threatened. With thrust of my sword, 

the darling, I dealt them due return ! 

Nowise had they bliss from their booty then 

to devour their victim, vengeful creatures, 

seated to banquet at bottom of sea ; 
565 but at break of day, by my brand sore hurt, 

on the edge of ocean up they lay, 

put to sleep by the sword. And since, by them 

on the fathomless sea-ways sailor-folk 

are never molested. — Light from east, 
570 came bright God's beacon; the billows sank, 

so that I saw the sea-cliffs high, 

windy walls. For Wyrd oft saveth 

earl undoomed if he doughty be ! ^ 

^ A Germanic commonplace. It occurs in the Aiidreas of Cynewulf, 
in part in the Hildebrand Lay, v. 55, and in sundry Norse poems. 
"Undoomed" is " one who is not fey." — Da sterbent wan die veigen, 
Nibelungen, 149, "only the fey die," may be compared with the ballad 
phrase in Archie o' Cawfield, Child, III, 489 ; 



48 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

And so it came that I killed with my sword 
675 nine of the nicors. Of night-fought battles 

ne'er heard I a harder 'neath heaven's dome, 

nor adrift on the deep, a more desolate man! 

Yet I came unharmed from that hostile clutch, 

though spent with swimming. The sea upbore me, 
580 flood of the tide, on Finnish ^ land, 

the welling waters. No wise of thee^ 

have I heard men tell such terror of falchions, 

bitter battle. Breca ne'er yet, 

not one of you pair, in the play of war 
585 such daring deed has done at all 

with bloody brand, — I boast not of it ! — 

"There'll uo man die but him that's fee. ..." 

Schiicking, in Englische Studien, 30, p. 104, insists on a different transla- 
tion of this passage. " Undoomed," he suggests, is proleptic ; and the 
poet really says "fate often saves a hero — who then, of course, is not 
a doomed man, — if he be brave." It is true that the proleptic construc- 
tion is found in Anglo-Saxon ; and the interpretation is possible. Prac- 
tically the same case occurs when Horace tells Lydia (III, ix) that he 
would die for Chloe if the fatee would but spare this love of his and let 
her live ; — 

Si parcent animaefata superstiti. 

But the present passage hardly needs this subtle interpretation, and 
evidently means that fate often spares a man who is not doomed, really 
devoted to death, if he is a brave man, in a word, favors the brave if 
favor be possible. Weird sisters and fey folk survived long in Scottish 
tradition. 

1 The Finnish folk, as Gering points out, we now call Laplanders. 

2 This speech of Beowulf's is admirable. He has defended his own 
reputation, shrugs his shoulders at the necessity of referring to his prowess, 
and makes a home-thrust at Unferth. The climax of his invective is 
imputation to Unferth of the two supreme sins in the Germanic list : 
murder of kin, and cowardice. — Below, v. 1167, Unferth is said to be 
courageous, but faithless to his kin. — Then the hero-orator proceeds to 
promise or "boast" what he himself will do; and with his cheerful 
"gab" the speech closes amid general applause. 



BEOWULF 49 

though thou wast the bane ^ of thy brethren dear, 

thy closest kin, whence curse of hell 

awaits thee, well as thy wit may serve ! 
590 For I say in sooth, thou son of Ecglaf, "^ 

never had Grendel these grim deeds wrought, 

monster dire, on thy master dear, 

in Heorot such havoc, if heart of thine 

were as battle-bold as thy boast is loud ! 
696 But he has found no feud will happen; 

from sword-clash dread of your Danish clan 

he vaunts him safe, from the Victor-Scyldings. 

He forces pledges, favors none 

of the land of Danes, but lustily murders, , 

600 fights and feasts, nor feud he dreads 

from Spear-Dane men. But speedily now 

shall I prove him the prowess and pride of the Geats, 

shall bid him battle. Blithe to mead 

go he that listeth, when light of dawn 
606 this morrow morning o'er men of earth, 

ether-robed sun from the south shall beam ! " 
Joyous then was the Jewel-giver, 

hoar-haired, war-brave ; help awaited 

the Bright-Danes' prince, from Beowulf hearing, 
610 folk's good shepherd, such firm resolve. 

Then was laughter of liegemen loud resounding 

with winsome words. Came Wealhtheow forth, 

1 Murderer. — 

"TlMugh thou hast murdered thy mother's sons," — 

would translate the passage less directly but without an archaism. — -s 
Beowulf is glad to think as he dies that he is free from murder ofN\ 
kin ; see below, v. 2742. The kin-bond, of course, was or should be very 
strong. See Beda's story of Imma, Eccl. Hist., iv, 22; and Schofield's 
summary of Signy''8 Lament for the Volsung case. 



50 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

queen of Hrothgar, heedful of courtesy, 
\ gold-decked, greeting the guests in hall ; 

615 and the high-born lady handed the cup 
first to the East-Danes' heir and warden, 
bade him be blithe at the beer-carouse, 
the land's beloved one. Lustily took he 
banquet and beaker, battle-famed king. 

620 Through the hall then went the Helmings'Lady, 
to younger and older everywhere 
carried the cup,i till came the moment 
when the ring-graced queen, the royal-hearted, 
^ to Beowulf bore the beaker of mead. 

626 She greeted the Geats' lord, God she thanked, 
in wisdom's words, that her will was granted, 
that at last on a hero her hope could lean 
for comfort in terrors. The cup he took, 
hardy-in-war, from Wealhtheow's hand, 

630 and answer uttered the eager-for-combat. 
Beowulf spake, bairn of Ecgtheow : — 

1 Literally, " jewelled- vessel " ; but as Banning points out, this refers 
simply to the ofiBce of passing the cup, not, as in Widsith, 102, to the giv- 
ing of " lordly gifts," as some translate the phrase. The Gnomic Verses, 
preserved in the Exeter Book, are explicit about the duties of a noble 
dame in such cases. She must be (see Grein-WUlker, I, 346) — 

fond of her folk, and full of cheer, 

fast in a secret, and free of hand 

with steeds and treasure : serving the mead 

in the crowd of clansmen, constant alway 

Defence-of-Athelings first to gi'eet, 

to carry the cup to the king's hand first, 

quickly still, and counsel render 

ever to him and his heroes all. 

The Defence-of-Athelings is, of course, the king. " Steeds and treas- 
ure " is the usual phrase for "gifts." Wealhtheow answers well to all 
these requirements. 



BEOWULF 61 

" This was my thought, when my thanes and I 

bent to the ocean and entered our boat, 

that I would work the will of your people 
635 fully, or fighting fall in death, 

in fiend's gripe fast. I am firm to do 

an earl's brave deed, or end the days 

of this life of mine in the mead-hall here." 

Well these words to the woman seemed, 
640 Beowulf's battle-boast. — Bright with gold 

the stately dame by her spouse sat down, 
y Again, as erst, began in hall 

warriors' wassail and words of power, 

the proud-band's revel,i till presently 
646 the son of Healfdene hastened to seek 

rest for the night ; he knew there waited 

fight for the fiend in that festal hall, 

when the sheen of the sun they saw no more, 

and dusk of night sank darkling nigh, 
650 and shadowy shapes came striding on, 

wan under welkin. The warriors rose. 

Man to man, he made harangue, 

Hrothgar to Beowulf, bade him hail, 

let him wield the wine hall : a word he added : — 
655 " Never to any man erst I trusted, 

since I could heave up hand and shield, 
y this noble Dane-Hall, till now to thee. 

1 

1 Literally, "clamor of the victorious people." The phrase is formal, ' 

as in so many cases ; for just now, and in v. 597, any adjective v?ould 
suit the Danes better than " victorious,"' nor can this count as proleptic. 
So in the English Ballads there is a false " true love," — i.e. " affianced," 
— or other contradiction, with similar formal use. Compare the phrase 
" excellent iron," v. 2586, belovp, for a sv^^ord that has just failed to 
"'bite." 



52 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

Have now and hold this house unpeered ; 
remember thy glory ; thy might declare ; 
660 watch for the foe! No wish shall fail thee 
if thou bidest the battle with bold-won life." 



X 

-V ' Then Hrothgar went with his hero-train, 
I defence-of-Scyldings, forth from hall ; 

fain would the war-lord Wealhtheow seek, 
666 couch of his queen. The King-of-Glory 

against this Grendel a guard had sefe, 

so heroes heard, a hall-defender, 

who warded the monarch and watched for the mon- 
ster. 

In truth, the Geats' prince gladly trusted 
670 his mettle, his might, the mercy of God! ^ 

Cast off then his corselet of iron, 

helmet from head ; to his henchman gave, — ' 

choicest of weapons, — the well-chased sword, 

bidding him guard the gear of battle. 
675 Spake then his Vaunt ^ the valiant man, 

Beowulf Geat, ere the bed he sought : — 

" Of force in fight no feebler I count me, 

in grim war-deeds, than Grendel deems him. 

Not with the sword, then, to sleep of death 
680 his life will I give, though it lie in my power. 

No skill is his to strike against me, 

1 See above, vv. 572 f . 

2 This Vaunt, or Boast, spoken to the hero's few comrades on the eve 
of the vigil and fight, is different from the Vaunt at the banquet, and in 
its sentimental turn has some distant resemblance to the later " Good- 
Nights," particularly the type of Lord MaxwelVs Last Good-Night. 



BEOWULF §3 

my shield to hew though he hardy be, 
bold in battle ; we both, this night, 
shall spurn the sword, if he seek me here, 

685 unweaponed, for war. Let wisest God, 
sacred Lord, on which side soever 
doom decree as he deeraeth right." 
Reclined then the chieftain, and cheek-pillows held 
the head of the earl, while all about him 

690 seamen hardy on hall-beds sank. 

None of them thought that thence their steps ' 
to the folk and fastness that fostered them, 
to the land they loved, would lead them back! 
Full well they wist that on warriors many 

695 battle-death seized, in the banquet-hall, 
of Danish clan. But comfort and help, 
war-weal weaving, to Weder folk 
the Master gave,^ that, by might of one, 
over their enemy all prevailed, 

700 by single strength. In sooth 'tis told 
that highest God o'er human kind 
hath wielded ever ! — Thro' wan night striding, 
came the walker-in-shadow. Warriors slept 
whose best was to guard the gabled hall, — 

705 all save one. 'Twas widel;y known 

that against God's will the ghostly ravager 

fi him 2 could not hurl to haunts of darkness ; 
wakeful, ready, with warrior's wrath, 
bold he bided the battle's issue. 

1 The usual mingling of pagan tradition and Christian doctrine. The 
weaving, as in classical myths, is work of the Noms, or fates, but God 
disposes it as he will. Often, however, the Germanic fates stand alone at 
their loom. " Wyrd wove me this." 

2 Beowulf, — the " one." Ms. has " them." 



54 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

XI 

710 Then from the moorland, by misty crags, 
with God's wrath laden, Grendel came. 
The monster was minded of mankind now 
sundry to seize in the stately house. 
Under welkin he walked, till the wine-palace there, 

715 gold-hall of men, he gladly discerned, 

flashing with fretwork.^ Not first time, this, 
that he the home of Hrothgar sought, — 
yet ne'er in his life-day, late or early, 
such hardy heroes, such hall-thanes, found I 

■^20 Xo the house the warrior walked apace, ^ 
parted from peace ; ^ the portal opened, 
though with forged bolts fast, when his fists had 
struck it, 

1 Whether the hall " flashed " or " glittered " to the monster's vision 
as he came near, in this nocturnal raid, does not concern the poet, who 
uses a conventional description. 

2 This is the third announcement of the arrival, and it is such seemingly 
vain repetitions that caused Miillenhoff, ten Brink, Mdller, and others to 
assume interpolations by several hands and to regard the poem as a series 
of " editions," on the basis of a general accretion from short lays to the 
present conglomerate of adaptations, interpolations, and inconsistencies. 
The accretion theory is not ridiculous by any means ; but it does not ex- 
plain the Beoioidf half so well as the assumption of a single author who 
wrote the present poem on the basis of old lays, and applied in its general 
construction the same methods of variation and repetition which obtain 
for every rhythmic period and almost for every sentence in Anglo-Saxon 
poetry at large. The first announcement of Grendel's coming empha- 
sizes the fact that it is by night ; the second lays stress on the start from 
the moor ; the third brings him to the hall, and to the action. See the 
same sort of repetition for an arrival, vv. 1640, 1644, below. If we will 
only apply to the whole web of narrative what we know of the web of 
sentence and period, much of the supposed awkwardness, "poor mend- 
ings," "patchwork," and so on, will prove simply the habit of all that 
national epic. — See also Hart, Ballad and Epic, pp. 194 ff. 

» That is, he was a " lost soul," doomed to hell. 



BEOWULF 66 

and baleful he burst in his blatant rage, 

the house's mouth. All hastily, then, 
726 o'er fair-paved floor the fiend trod on, 

ireful he strode ; there streamed from his eyes 

fearful flashes, like flame to see. 

He spied in hall the hero-band, 

kin and clansmen clustered asleep, 
730 hardy liegemen. Then laughed his heart ; 

for the monster was minded, ere morn should dawn, 

savage, to sever the soul of each, 

life from body, since lusty banquet 

waited his will ! But Wyrd forbade him 
736 to seize any more of men on earth 

after that evening. ^ Eagerly watched 

Hygelac's kinsman his cursed foe, 

how he would fare in fell attack. 

Not that the monster was minded to pause ! 
740 Straightway he seized a sleeping warrior ^ 

for the first, and tore him fiercely asunder, 

the bone-frame bit, drank blood in streams, 

swallowed him piecemeal : swiftly thus 

the lifeless corse was clear devoured, 
746 e'en feet and hands. Then farther he hied ; 

for the hardy hero with hand he grasped, 

felt for the foe with fiendish claw, 

for the hero reclining, — who clutched it boldly, 

prompt to answer, propped on his arm.^ 

1 It is a trait of the national epic, partly explained by the familiar 
nature of the stories which it told, to anticipate in this way the issue of 
an adventure and then go back to the details. 

2 His name was Hondscio. See below, v. 2076. 

8 Some read: "prompt to answer, opposed the arm." The text is 
not too clear ; but the situation is what one would expect, and the awk- 
wardness of the translation does not cloud the facts. 



56 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

760 Soon then saw that shepherd-of-evils 
that never he met in this middle- world, 
in the ways of earth, another wight 
with heavier hand-gripe ; at heart he feared, 
sorrowed in soul, — none the sooner escaped 1 

765 Fain would he flee, his fastness seek, 
the den of devils : no doings now 
such as oft he had done in days of old I 
Then bethought him the hardy Hygelac-thane 
of his boast at evening : up he bounded, 

760 grasped firm his foe, whose fingers cracked. 
The fiend made off, but the earl close followed. 
The monster meant — if he might at all — 
to fling himself free, and far away 
fly to the fens, — knew his fingers' power 

765 in the gripe of the grim one. Gruesome march 
to Heorot this monster of harm had made ! 
Din filled the room ; the Danes were bereft, 
castle-dwellers and clansmen all, 
earls, of their ale.^ Angry were both^ 

^ This rendering, backed by Bugge, Holthausen, and Heyne, is quite 
as good as the mere " terrified " of translators who balk at the undigni- 
fied notion of spilt beer. But "the ale-bench" is too familiar in the 
epic for such scruples ; and the hall was primarily intended for the Ger- 
manic dream, which meant the revel of drinking men. " Tlie ale was 
all upset" is as much as to say " men feared there would be no more joy 
in Heorot," so rocked and tottered the great building. It is a phrase 
parallel to the " bulging breast " for anger, and such survivals of the 
primitive methods of speech ; and, as has been suggested, may well have 
seemed archaic to the poet who copied traditional lines. 

2 Yet Grendel has shown the white feather from the start. This 
" angry " is also conventional ; " desperate with fear " is the word for 
the fiend. — Beowulf's easy victory here should be compared to his far 
more hazardous fight with Grendel's mother, when his strengta seema 
not to help, and he has to use a weapon. 



BEOWULF 61 

770 those savage hall-guards : the house resounded. 

Wonder it was the wine-hall firm 

in the strain of their struggle stood, to earth 

the fair house fell not ; too fast it was 

within and without by its iron bands 
775 craftily clamped ; though there crashed from sill 

many a mead-bench — men have told me — 

gay with gold, where the grim foes wrestled. 

So well had weened the wisest Scyldings 

that not ever at all might any man 
780 that bone-decked, brave house break asunder, 

crush by craft, — unless clasp of fire 

|n smoke engulfed it. — Again uprose 

din redoubled. Danes of the North 

with fear and frenzy were filled, each one, 
785 who from the wall that wailing heard, 

God's foe sounding his grisly song, 

cry of the conquered, clamorous pain 

from captive of hell. Too closely held him 

he who of men in might was strongest 
790 in that same day of this our life. 

XII 

Not in any wise would the earls'-defence ^ 
suffer that slaughterous stranger to live, 
useless ^ deeming his days and years 
to men on earth. Now many an earl 
795 of Beowulf brandished blade ancestral, 
fain the life of their lord to shield, 
their praised prince, if power were theirs ; 

1 Kenning for Beowulf. 

9 Litotes for " dangerous," " destructive." 



68 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

never they knew, — as they neared the foe, 
hardy-hearted heroes of war, 

800 aiming their swords on every side 

the accursed to kill, — no keenest blade, 

no fairest of falchions fashioned on earth, 

could harm or hurt that hideous fiend ! 

He was safe,^ by his spells, from sword of battle, 

805 from edge of iron. Yet his end and parting 
on that same day of this our life 
woful should be, and his wandering soul 
far off flit to the fiends' domain. 
Soon he found, who in former days, 

810 harmful in heart and hated of God, 
on many a man such murder wrought, 
that the frame of his body failed him now. 
For him the keen-souled kinsman of Hygelac 
held in hand ; hateful alive 

816 was each to other. The outlaw dire 
took mortal hurt ; a mighty wound 
showed on his shoulder, and sinews cracked, 
and the bone-frame burst. To Beowulf now 
the glory was given, and Grendel thence 

820 death-sick his den in the dark moor sought, 
noisome abode : ^ he knew too well 
that here was the last of life, an end 
of his days on earth. — To all the Danes 
by that bloody battle the boon had come. 

825 From ravage had rescued the roving stranger 

1 Also his mother, against whom Beowulf's sword is wielded in vain; 
below, V. 1522. 

'•^ Schiicking, Beoiculf's Hikkkehr, p. 10, notes the resemblance of this 
fight to the struggles between a saint and the devil or devils, as, for ex- 
ample, in Juliana, vv. 288, 654 ff., and St. Dunstan's affair with Satan. 



BEOWULF 69 

Hrothgar's hall ; the hardy and wise one 

had purged it anew. His night-work pleased him, 

his deed and its honor. To Eastern Danes 

had the valiant Geat his vaunt made good, 

830 all their sorrow and ills assuaged, 
their bale of battle borne so long, 
and all the dole they erst endured, 
pain a-plenty. — 'Twas proof of this, 
when the hardy-in-fight a hand ^ laid down, 

835 arm and shoulder, — all, indeed, 

of Grendel's gripe,^ — 'neath the gabled roof. 

XIII 

Many at morning, as men have told me, 

warriors gathered the gift-hall round, 

folk-leaders faring from far and near, 
840 o'er wide-stretched ways, the wonder to view, 

trace of the traitor. Not troublous ^ seemed 

the enemy's end to any man 

who saw by the gait of the graceless foe 

how the weary-hearted, away from thence, 
845 baffled in battle and banned, his steps 

death-marked dragged to the devils' mere.* 

^ Hadding, in the forest by night sheltered by a rude tent of twigs, sees 
" a hand of extraordinary size " wandering about. His nurse, a giantess, 
holds the hand while Hadding hews it off, and "corrupt matter" flows 
from it. Tearing and rending with their claws is the giants' way. See 
Saxo, Bk. I (Holder, p. 23), and Elton's translation, 

2 That is, all Grendel's machinery of grasp, both clutch and reach. 
The translation "fist" will not do. The concluding nine lines of this 
section are compared by ten Brink with the last stanza of Tasso's Jerusa- 
lem Delivered. 

* Note the favorite litotes, 

* 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 



60 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

Bloody the billows were boiling there, 

turbid the tide of tumbling waves 

horribly seething, with sword-blood hot, 
850 by 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, 
855 on 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, 
860 under 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 
865 their gray ^ steeds set to gallop amain, 

and ran a race when the road seemed fair. 

From time to time, a thane of the king,* 

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. 

1 "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. 

2 Warriors often improvised lays of their own battles, and so laid the 
foundation of epic ; thus Gaston Paris, in his Histoire Poetique de Charle- 
magne, for French sources. This thane of Hrothgar may have been a profes- 
sional minstrel in 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 tradi- 
tional phrase and comment in the process. If the epithet applied to him 



BEOWULF 61 

who had made many vaunts, and was mindful of verses, 
stored with sagas and songs of old, 

870 bound 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 

876 he had heard in saga of Sigemund.^ 
Strange the stor}^ : he said it all, — ^ 
the Wselsing's wanderings wide, his struggles, 
which never were told to tribes of men, 
the feuds and the frauds, ^ save to Fitela only, 

880 when of these doings he deigned to speak, 
uncle to nephew; as ever the twain 
stood side by side in stress of war, 

by the epic, guma gilphloeden, 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 of 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 improvi- 
sation in verse was no longer expected. 

1 In the Nibelutig en Lay this adventure is told of Siegfried, son of Sig- 
mund, who is son of Wsels. In the Volsunga Saga (Waelsings) Sin- 
fiotli ( = 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. 

2 Literally, "he told the whole story, . . . much of it unknown. . ." 
8 That is, betrayals, treacheries. 



62 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

and multitude of the monster kind 

they had felled with their swords. Of Sigemund grew, 

885 when he passed from life, no little praise ; 
for the doughty-in-combat a dragon killed 
that herded the hoard : ^ under lioary rock 
the atheling dared the deed alone, 
fearful quest, nor was Fitela there. 

890 Yet 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, 

896 himself to pleasure ; a sea-boat he loaded, 
and bore on its bosom the beaming gold, 
son of Waels ; the worm was consumed. 
He had of all heroes the highest renown 
among races of men, this refuge-of-warriors, 

900 for deeds of daring that decked his name 
since ^ the hand and heart of Heremod 
grew slack in battle. He, swiftly banished 
to mingle with monsters ^ at mercy of foes, 

1 " 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. 

2 Miillenhoff'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 Beowoilf. 

3 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. 



BEOWULF ^ 

to death was betrayed; for torrents of sorrow 

906 had lamed him too long ; ^ a load of care 
to earls and athelings all he proved. 
Oft indeed, in earlier days, 

for the warrior's wayfaring ^ wise men mqurned, 
who had hoped of him help from harm and bale, 

910 and had thought their sovran's son^ 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 

915 to all : the other ^ was urged to crime ! 

And afresh to the race,^ the fallow roads 
by swift steeds measured ! The morning sun 
was climbing higher. Clansmen hastened 
to the high-built hall, those hardy-minded, -^ 

920 the wonder to witness. Warden of treasure, 
crowned with glory, the king himself, 
with stately band from the bride-bower strode; 

1 Bugge emends : 

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

and understands the "earlier days" in v. 007 as the days before Here- 
mod's real tyranny began, though his subjects were already chafing at his 
folly and neglect. 

2 "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 ? 

8 See w. 20 ff., above : "So becomes it a youth ..." 

* Sc. Heremod. 

^ 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. 



64 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

and with him the queen and her crowd of maidens 
measured the path to the mead-house fair. 

XIV 

Xl 926 Hrothgar spake, — to the hall he went, 
stood by the steps, the steep roof saw, 
garnished with gold, and GrendeFs hand : — 
" For the sight I see to the Sovran Ruler 
be speedy thanks ! A throng of sorrows 

930 I 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, 

935 stood 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, 

940 by 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, 

945 that 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 

960 wealth of the world that I wield as mine ! 
Full oft for less have I largess showered, 
my precious hoard, on a punier man, 



BEOWULF 65 

less stout in struggle. Thyself hast now 

fulfilled such deeds, that thy fame shall endure 
956 through 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 
960 force of the foe. Fain, too, were I 

hadst thou but seen himself, what time 

the fiend in his trappings tottered to fall I 

Swiftly, I thought, in strongest gripe 

on his bed of death to bind him down, 
965 that he in the hent of this hand of mine 

should breathe his last: but he broke away.^ 

Him I might not — the Maker willed not — 

hinder from flight, and firm enough hold 

the life-destroyer : too sturdy was he, 
970 the ruthless, in running ! For rescue, however, 

he left behind him his hand in pledge, 

arm and shoulder ; nor aught of help 

could the cursed one thus procure at all. 

None the longer liveth he, loathsome fiend, 
976 sunk 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 Ecglaf ^ 
in boastful speech of his battle-deeds, 

^ Literally, " I intended ... if his body had not slipped away." 
* Unferth, Beowulf's sometime opponent in the flyting. 



66 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

since athelings all, through the earl's great prowess, 
^ beheld that hand, on the high roof gazing,^ 
foeman's fingers, — the forepart of each 

985 of 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 

990 that battle-hand bloody from baneful foe. 



XV 



/' 



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 

996 that were wove on the wall, and wonders many 
to delight each mortal that looks upon them. 
Though braced within by iron bands, 
that building briglit was broken sorely ; ^ 
rent were its hinges ; the roof alone 

1000 held safe and sound, when, seared with crime, 
\the fiendish foe his flight essayed, 

^ That is, as Klaeber points out, Modern Philology, 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. 

2 There is no horrible inconsistency here such as the critics strive and 
cry about. In spite of the ruin that Grendel and Beovralf 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. 



BEOWULF 67 

of life despairing. — No light thing that,^ 

the flight for safety, — essay it who will I 

Forced of fate, he shall find his way 
1005 to 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 ; 
1010 the 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 
1015 many a mead-cup the mighty-in-spirit, 

kinsmen who sat in the sumptuous hall, 

Hrothgar and Hrothulf.^ 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, 

broidered battle-flag, breastplate and helmet ; 

and a splendid sword was seen of many 

borne to the brave one. Beowulf took 
1025 cup in hall : ^ for such costly gifts 



iThe 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. 

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

' 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. 



68 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

he suffered no shame in that soldier throng.^ 
For I heard of few heroes, in heartier mood, . 
with four such gifts, so fashioned with gold, 
on the ale-bench honoring others thus ! 

1030 O'er the roof of the helmet high, a ridge, 
" wound with wires, kept ward o'er the head, 
lest the relict-of -files ^ should fierce invade, 
sharp in the strife, when that shielded hero 
should go to grapple against his foes. / 

1035 Then the earls'-defence ^ on the floor * bade lead 
1^ 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, 

1040 when 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, 

1045 o'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 willing to say the sooth aright. 

^ The comitatus ; the soldurii. 

* Kenning for sword. Charles Lamb (" On the Inconvenience Result- 
ing from being Hanged'') calls a resuscitated man " the leavings of the 
rope." 

» Hrothgar. He is also the " refuge of the friends of Ing," of v. 1044. 
Ing belongs to myth. 

* 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 iu the romances. 



BEOWULF 69 

XVI 

1050 And the lord of earls, to each that came 

with Beowulf over the brhiy ways, 

an heirloom there at the ale-bench gave, 

precious gift ; and the price ^ bade pay 

in gold for him whom Grendel erst 
1056 murdered, — and fain of them more had killed, 

had not wisest God their Wyrd averted, 

and the man's ^ brave mood. The Maker then 

ruled human kind, as here and now. 

Therefore is insight always best, 
1060 and forethought of mind. How much awaits him 

of lief and of loath, who long time here, 

through days of warfare this world endures I 

Then song and music mingled sounds 

in the presence of Healfdene's head-of-armies * 

1065 and harping was heard with the hero-lay ^ 
as Hrothgar's singer the hall-joy woke 
along the mead-seats, m aking ji is song 
of that sudden raid on the sons of Finn ^ 
Healfdene's hero, Hnaef the Scylding, 

1070 was fated to fall in the Frisian slaughter.^ 

1 Man-price, wergild. 

2 Beowulf's. The same combination of fate and courage as above, 
V. 573. 3 Hrothgar. 

* Literally, ^^ glee-wood was greeted (stirred, touched) and lay was 
sung." 

* 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 hia 
readers' familiarity with the story, — a fragment of it still exists, and is 
printed in this volume, — simply gives the headings. 

' 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 



70 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

Hildeburh needed not hold in value 

her enemies' honor! ^ Innocent both 

were the loved ones she lost at the linden-play, 

bairn and brother; they bowed to fate, 

1075 stricken by spears; 'twas a sorrowful woman I 
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 

1080 of the sweets of the world! By war were swept, too, 

support among scholars. Finn, a Frisian chieftain, who nevertheless has 
a " castle " outside the Frisian border, marries Hildeburh, a Danish prin- 
cess ; and her brother, Hnaef, with many other Danes, pays Finn a visit. 
Relations between the two peoples have been strained before. Something 
starts the old feud anew ; and the visitors are attacked in their quarters. 
Hnaef 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, Hnsef . 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 Hntef fell, "that is to say, an 
event which precedes the story told in the Beoiculf,'' and is noted in these 
introductory lines (vv. 1069 f.). — In the Widsith, Hnaef 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. 3.3, Hun 
ruled the Haetweras, 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. 

1 Usual litotes; she had good cause to complain. The ''enemies" 
must be the Frisians ; the original word is " eoteus," " ettins," monsters ; 
but it is elsewhere used in speaking of Frisian men. 



BEOWULF 71 

Finn's own liegemen, and few were left ; 

in the parleying-place ^ he could ply no longer 

weapon, nor war could he wage on Hengest, 

and rescue his remnant by right of arms 
1086 from 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 
1090 day 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. 
1095 Fact 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 
1100 by word or work should warp the treaty,* 

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, 
1105 that murderous hatred to mind recall. 



1 Battlefield. — Hengest is the " prince's thane," companion of Hnsef. 
" Folcwald's son " is Finn. 

'^ That is, Finn would govern in all honor the few Danish warriors who 
were left, provided, of course, that none of them tried to renew the quarrel 
or avenge Hnaef 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 -Alfred's Laws. " With the advice of my Witan, I 
order. ..." 



72 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

then edge of the sword must seal his doom. 
Oaths were given, and ancient gold 
heaped from hoard. — The hardy Scylding, 
battle-thane best,^ on his balefire lay. 

1110 All 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 Hnsef's own pyre 

1115 the bairn of her body on brands to lay, 
his bones to burn, on the balefire placed, 
at his uncle's side.^ In sorrowful dirges 
bewept them the woman: great wailing ascended.* 
Then wound up to welkin the wildest of death-fires, 

1120 roared o'er the hillock : ^ heads all were melted, 

1 Hnaef. 

* 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 privi- 
lege for the poet; and the dirge of the mother and sister doubtless dwelt 
chiefly on the tragic intensity of the double loss. 

3 Reading guthrinc = guthhring, " 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 BeowTilf, v. 3150, 
below, was accompanied by choral wailing of the throng. In the Biad, 
at the funeral of Hector: " Thus spake she wailing and therewith the 
great multitude of the people groaned." — " Thus spake she wailing and 
stirred unending moan. ..." 

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



BEOWULF 73 

gashes burst, and blood gushed out 
from bites ^ of the body. Balefire devoured, 
greediest spirit, those spared not by war 
out of either folk: their flower was gone. 

XVII 

1125 Then 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, 

1130 though 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 fared ^ another 
year to men's dwellings, as yet they do, 

1135 the 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, 

1140 and how to hasten the hot encounter 

where sons of the Frisians were sure to be. 
So he escaped not the common doom,^ 
when Hun with " Lafing," the light-of-battle, 
best of blades, his bosom pierced : 

1145 its edge was famed with the Frisian earls. 

^ Wounds. 

2 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. * See conclusion of note to v. 1070. 



74 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

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, 

1150 mourning their woes.^ Finn's wavering spirit 
bode 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 

1155 all 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, 

1160 the gleeman's song. Then glad rose the revel; 
bench-joy brightened. Bearers draw 
from their "wonder-vats" wine. Comes Wealhtheow 

forth, 
under gold-crown ^ goes where the good pair sit, 
uncle and nephew, true each to the other one, 

1165 kindred 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 

^ That is, these two Danes, escaping home, had told the story of the 
attack on Hnaef, 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 Finnshurg. 

2 So men go "hardy under helmet." — The following lines are of un- 
usual length, and are so rendered. The uncle and nepliew are Hrothgar 
and Hrothulf. See above, v. 1017, and below, vv. 1180 f. 



BEOWULF 76 

unsure at the sword-play. The Scylding queen spoke: 

" Quaff of this cup, my king and lord, 
1170 breaker 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 ; ^ of those gifts be mindful, 

or near or far, which now thou hast. 
1176 Men 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 
1180 to greet thy doom. For gracious I deem 

my Hrothulf,'^ 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 
1186 offspring 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, 

1 Emended by some editors to "guests." Neither reading combines 
satisfactorily with the context. 

2 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 prob- 
ably 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. 



76 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

1190 young men together : the Geat, too, sat there, 
Beowulf brave, the brothers between. 

XVIII 

A cup she gave him, with kindly greeting 
and winsome words. Of wounden gold, 
she offered, to honor him, arm-jewels twain, 

1196 corselet 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,* 

1200 jewel and gem casket. — Jealousy fled he, 
Eormenric's hate : chose help eternal.^ 
Hygelac Geat,^ grandson of Swerting, 
on the last of his raids this ring bore with him, 
under his banner the booty defending, 

1205 the war-spoil warding; but Wyrd o'erwhelmed him 
what time, in his daring, dangers he sought, 
feud with Frisians. Fairest of gems 

1 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 jevk'elry, 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 Heime in 
the Germanic legend. 

2 TTsually 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. 

8 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 w. 2355, 2914, 



BEOWULF 71 

he bore with him over the beaker-of-waves, 

sovran strong : under shield he died. 
1210 Fell 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,^ 

and held the death-field. 

Din rose in hall. 
1215 Wealhtheow 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 1 

Preserve thy strength, and these striplings here 
1220 counsel 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 
1226 prosper, O prince ! I pray for thee 

rich possession s.2 To son of mine 

1 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 nar- 
rative 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" ha.s 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. 

2 Or, perhaps, "thou art heartily welcome to these treasures I have 
given thee," as Gering translates. 



78 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

be helpful in deed and uphold his joys I 

Here every earl to the other is true, 

mild of mood, to the master loyal ! 
1230 Thanes are friendly, the throng obedient, 

liegemen are revelling : list and obey! "^ 

Went then to her place. — That was proudest of 
feasts ; 

flowed wine for the warriors. Wyrd they knew not, 

destiny dire, and the doom to be seen 
1236 by many an earl ^ 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 
1240 beds and bolsters. — One beer-carouser 

in danger of doom^ lay down in the hall. — 

At their heads they set their shields of war, 

bucklers bright ; on the bench were there 

over each atlieling, easy to see, 
1246 the 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 -' \ 

1P60 their sovran king. — They were clansmen good.* 

1 Literally, " Do as I bid." 

2 Litotes for "all." The fatal stroke hovered over them all, though 
only one was actually stricken. 

'Literally, "ready to go Isc. to death], and fey," on the verge of 
death, and a marked man. 

* 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: 



/' 



BEOWULF 7S 

XIX 

Then sank they to sleep. With sorrow one bought 
his rest of the evening, — as ofttime had happened 
when Grendel guarded that golden hall, 
evil wrought, till his end drew nigh, 

1255 slaughter for sins. 'Twas seen and told 
how an avenger survived the fiend, 
as was learned afar. The livelong time * 
after that grim fight, Grendel's mother, 
monster of women, mourned her woe. 

1260 She was doomed to dwell in the dreary waters, 
cold sea-courses, since Cain cut down 
with edge of the sword his only brother, 
his father's offspring : outlawed he fled, 
marked with murder, from men's delights, 

1265 warded the wilds. — There woke from him ^ 
such fate-sent ghosts as Grendel, who, 
war-wolf horrid, at Heorot found 
a warrior watching and waiting the fray, 
with whom the grisly one grappled amain. 

1270 But the man remembered his mighty power, 
the glorious gift that God had sent him. 

Ever must hei-oes 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. 

1 Miillenhoff so punctuates, and explains that though only twenty-four 
hours had passed from the time of Grendel's discomfiture to her quest of 
revenge, the interval seemed interminable to the waiting monster. More- 
over, by this reading no gap in the Ms. is assumed. 

■■^ See v. 107, abovajj:^' From him are descended," etc. This repetition 
certainly seems vain, and this way of narrative is not our way. 



80 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

in his Maker's mercy put his trust 

for comfort and help: so he conquered the foe, 

felled the fiend, who fled abject, 
1275 reft of joy, to the realms of death, 

mankind's foe. And his mother now, 

gloomy and grim, would go that quest 

of sorrow, the death of her son to avenge. 

To Heorot came she, where helmeted Danes 
1280 slept in the hall. Too soon came back 

old ills of the earls, when in she burst, 

the mother of Grendel. Less grim, though, that 
terror, 

e'en as terror of woman in war is less, 

might of maid, than of men in arms 
1285 when, hammer-forged, the falchion hard, 

sword gore-stained, through swine of the helm, 

crested, with keen blade carves amain. 
"■ Then was in hall the hard-edge drawn, 

the swords on the settles,^ and shields a-many 
1290 firm held in hand : nor helmet minded 

nor harness of mail, whom that horror seized. 
Haste was hers ; she would hie afar 

and save her life when the liegemen saw her. 

Yet a single atheling up she seized 
1295 fast and firm, as she fled to the moor. 

He was for Hrothgar of heroes the dearest, 

of trusty vassals betwixt the seas, 

whom she killed on his couch, a clansman famous, 

in battle brave. — Nor was Beowulf there ; 
1300 another house had been held apart, 

after giving of gold, for the Geat renowned. — 
1 They had laid their arms on the benches near where they slept ; v. 1242. 



BEOWULF 81 

Uproar filled Heorot ; the hand all had viewed, 

blood-flecked, she bore with her ; bale was returned, 

dole in the dwellings : 'twas dire exchange 
1306 where Dane and Geat were doomed to give 

the lives of loved ones. Long-tried king, 

the hoary hero, at heart was sad 

when he knew his noble no more lived, 

and dead indeed was his dearest thane. 
1310 To his bower was Beowulf brought in haste, 

dauntless victor. As daylight broke, 

along with his earls the atheling lord, 

with his clansmen, came, where the king abode 

waiting to see if the Wielder-of-All 
1316 would turn this tale of trouble and woe. 

Strode o'er floor the famed-in-strife, 

with his hand-companions, — the hall resounded, — 

wishing to greet the wise old king, 

Ingwines' lord ; he asked if the night 
1320 had passed in peace to the prince's mind. 

XX 

Hrothgar spake, helmet-of-Scyldings : — 
" Ask not of pleasure ! Pain is renewed 
to Danish folk. Dead is jEschere, 
of Yrmenlaf the elder brother, 
1326 my sage adviser and stay in council, 
shoulder-comrade ^ in stress of fight 
when warriors clashed and we warded our heads, 

^ Eaxl-gestealla, "shoulder-comrade," here refers to the line of battle; 
but it might include the other qualities of advice and counsel. Dau 
Michel in his fourteenth century translation or paraphrase, Ayenbite of 
Inwyt, calls a councillor bezide-zittere, " beside-sitter." 



82 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

hewed the helm-boars : hero famed 

should be every earl as jEschere was I 
1330 But here in Heorot a hand hath slain him 

of wandering death-sprite. I wot not whither,* 

proud of the prey, her path she took, 

fain of her fill. The feud she avenged 

that yesternight, unyieldingly, 
1335 Grendel in grimmest grasp thou killedst, — 

seeing how long these liegemen mine 

he ruined and ravaged. Reft of life, 

in arms he fell. Now another comes, 

keen and cruel, her kin to avenge, 
1340 faring far in feud of blood : 

so that many a thane shall think, who e'er 

sorrows in soul for that sharer of rings, 

this is hardest of heart-bales. The hand lies low 

that once was willing each wish to please. 
1345 Land-dwellers here ^ and liegemen mine, 

who house by those parts,^ I have heard relate 

that such a pair they have sometimes seen, 

march-stalkers mighty the moorland haunting, 

wandering spirits : one of them seemed, 
1360 so far as my folk could fairly judge, 

of womankind ; and one, accursed, 

in man's guise trod the misery-track 

1 He surmises presently where she is. 

2 The connection is not diflBcult. The words of mourning, of acute 
grief, are said ; and according to Germanic sequence of thought, inex- 
orable here, the next and only topic is revenge. But is it possible ? 
Hrothgar leads up to his appeal and promise with a skilful and often 
effective description of the horrors which surround the monster's home 
and await the attempt of an avenging foe. This account is not the thing 
of shreds and patches which Miillenhoff and ten Brink would make it out. 

8 Following Gering's suggestion. 



BEOWULF 8S 

of exile, though huger than human bulk. 

Grendel in days long gone they named him, 
1355 folk of the land ; his father they knew not, 

nor any brood that was born to him 

of treacherous spirits. Untrod is their home ; * 

by wolf-cliffs haunt they and windy headlands, 

fenways fearful, where flows the stream 
1360 from mountains gliding to gloom of the rocks, 

underground flood. ^ Not far is it hence 

1 R. Morris pointed out what seems an imitation of this passage in the 
Blickling Homilies. 

2 Compare Etibla Khan : — 

" Where Alph, the sacred river, ran 
Through caverns measureless to man, 
Down to a sunless sea." 

It is worth while to compare with this passage another deliberate na- 
ture-description in Anglo-Saxon verse, and its Latin model as well. One 
sees how it is modified, enlarged, and really improved. It is the opening 
of a little poem on Doomsday paraphrased from Latin verses attributed to 
Beda, — and also to Alcuin. 

Alone I sat in the shade of a grove, 
in the deeps of the holt, bedecked with shadows, 
there where the waterbrooks wavered and ran 
in the midst of the place, — so I make my song, — 
and winsome blooms there waxed and blossomed, 
all massed amid a meadow peerless. 
And the trees of the forest trembled and murmured 
for a horror of winds, and the welkin was stirred, 
and my heavy heart was harassed amain. 
Then I suddenly, sad and fearful, 
set me to sing this sorrowful verse. . . . 
This represents five lines of Latin -. — 

Inter florigeras fecundi cespitis herbas, 
flamine ventorum resonantibus undique ramis, 
arboris urabriferae maestus sub tegmine solus 
dum sedi, subito planctu turbatus amaro, 
carmina prae tristi cecini haec lugubria mente. . . . 
It is no long stride hence to the conventional dream-poets, and such 
openings as are offered by the beginning of the Piers Plowman vision. 

i 



84 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

in measure of miles that the mere expands, 
and o'er it the frost-bound forest hanging, 
sturdily rooted, shadows the wave. 

1365 By night is a wonder weird to see, 

fire on the waters. So wise lived none 
of the sons of men, to search those depths I 
Nay, though the heath-rover,i harried by dogs, 
the horn-proud hart, this holt should seek, 

1370 long distance driven, his dear life first 

on the brink he yields ere he brave the plunge 
to hide his head : 'tis no happy place ! 
Thence the welter of waters washes up 
wan to welkin when winds bestir 

1376 evil storms, and air grows dusk, 

and the heavens weep. Now is help once more 
with thee alone ! The land thou knowst not,^ 
place of fear, where thou findest out 
that sin-flecked being. Seek if thou dare ! 

1380 I will reward thee, for waging this fight, 
with ancient treasure, as erst I did, 
with winding gold, if thou winnest back." 

1 Bugge has shown how popular the stag or hart was among the north- 
ern folk for names of persons and places — so Hrothgar's own hall Heorot, 
or " The Hart " — and for comparisons and the like. — There is a curious 
note by Andr^ Ch^nier, made in preparation for one of his poems 
(CEuvres Poetiques, II, 107), about a white animal that prefers to be 
torn to pieces rather than soil itself by rescue in a miry swamp. But the 
strength of the present suggestion lies in its uncompromising contrast of 
terrors, one with the other. 

2 Has been emended to read: "the land now thou knowst," that is, 
" I have described the place: go thither if you dare." By the text one 
understands: "Here is land unknown to you and horrible. If you 
dare, etc." 



BEOWULF 85 

XXI 

Beowulf spake, bairn of Ecgtheow : 

"Sorrow not, sage ! It beseems us better 
1385 friends to avenge than fruitlessly mourn them. 

Each of us all must his end abide 

in the ways of the world ; so win who may 

glory ere death ! When his days are told, 

that is the warrior's worthiest doom. 
1390 Rise, O realm-warder ! Ride we anon, 

and mark the trail of the mother of Grendel. 

No harbor shall hide her — heed my promise ! — 

enfolding of field or forested mountain 

or floor of the flood, let her flee where she will ! 
1396 But thou this day endure in patience, 

as I ween thou wilt, thy woes each one." 

Leaped up the graybeard : God he thanked, 

mighty Lord, for the man's brave words. 

For Hrothgar soon a horse was saddled 
1400 wave-maned steed. The sovran wise 

stately rode on ; his shield-armed men 

followed in force. The footprints led 

along the woodland, widely seen, 

a path o'er the plain, where she passed, and trod 
1406 the murky moor ; of men-at-arms 

she bore the bravest and best one, dead, 

him who with Hrothgar the homestead ruled. 
On then went the atheling-born 

o'er stone-cliffs steep and strait defiles, 
1410 narrow passes and unknown ways, 

headlands sheer, and the haunts of the Nicors. 

Foremost he ^ fared, a few at his side 
^ Hrothgar is probably meant. 



86 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

of the wiser men, the ways to scan, 
till he found in a flash the forested hill 

1415 hanging over the hoary rock, 
a woful wood : the waves below 
were dyed in blood. The Danish men 
had sorrow of soul, and for Scyldings all, 
for many a hero, 'twas hard to bear, 

1420 ill for earls, when -3^]schere's head 

they found by the flood on the foreland there. 
Waves were welling, the warriors saw, 
hot with blood ; but the horn sang oft 
battle-song bold. The band sat down, 

1425 and watched on the water worm-like things, 
sea-dragons strange that sounded the deep, 
and nicors that lay on the ledge of the ness — 
such as oft essay at hour of morn ^ 
on the road-of-sails their ruthless quest, — 

1430 and sea-snakes and monsters. These started away, 
swollen and savage that song to hear, 
that war-horn's blast. The warden of Geats, 
with bolt from bow, then balked of life, 
of wave-work, one monster ; amid its heart 

1436 went the keen war-shaft ; in water it seemed 

less doughty in swimming whom death had seized. 
Swift on the billows, with boar-spears well 
hooked and barbed, it was hard beset, 
done to death and dragged on the headland, 

1440 wave-roamer wondrous. Warriors viewed 
the grisly guest. 

Then girt him Beowulf 
in martial mail, nor mourned for his life. 
1 Noon ? " Mittagsstunde, Geisterstunde." 



BEOWULF 87 

His breastplate broad and bright of hues, 
woven by hand, should the waters try ; 

1446 well could it ward the warrior's body 

that battle should break on his breast in vain 
nor harm his heart by the hand of a foe. 
And the helmet white that his head protected 
was destined to dare the deeps of the flood, 

1460 through wave-whirl win : 'twas wound with chains, 
decked with gold, as in days of yore 
the weapon-smith worked it wondrously, 
with swine-forms set it, that swords nowise, 
brandished in battle, could bite that helm. 

1455 Nor was that the meanest of mighty helps 
which Hrothgar's orator ^ offered at need : 
" Hrunting " they named the hilted sword, 
of old-time heirlooms easily first ; 
iron was its edge, all etched with poison, 

1460 with battle-blood hardened, nor blenched it at fight 
in hero's hand who held it ever, 
on paths of peril prepared to go 
to folkstead ^ of foes. Not first time this 

1 Unferth is the thyle (spokesman ?) of the king. Naming a sword 
furnished the least of its personal attributes in Germanic days. It had 
its moods and tenses; " refused" often "to bite" (1523, 2578), or else, 
on appeal, did miraculous service. It spoke, sang, chided its inactive 
owner, spurred even to his duty, as in a fine Danish ballad. It had its 
own name, — Hrunting, Naegling. It had kennings in plenty, — such a§ 
the " warrior's friend " or "friend of war," vv. 1810, 2735. It gave out 
a light, which is not always to be euhemerized into the sparks that flew 
from it in battle. The reference in 1459 is to the hardening process of 
dipping it in poison, snake's blood, or the like. " Blood of battle " was 
especially efficacious for this purpose. On the other side of the account, 
it could be made harmless by certain magic forms. So Beowulf finds, 
even with this Hrunting or "thruster" ; see v. 1522. 

2 Meeting-place. "Destined" is, in view of the issue, to be under- 
stood as " expected," — it had been sent on other capital errands before. 



88 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

it was destined to do a daring task. 
1466 For he bore not in mind, the bairn of Ecglaf 
• sturdy and strong, that speech he had made, 
drunk with wine, now this weapon he lent 
I to a stouter swordsman. Himself, though, durst not 
under welter of waters wager his life 
1470 as loyal liegeman. So lost he his glory, 
honor of earls. With the other not so, 
who girded him now for the grim encounter. 

XXII 

Beowulf spake, bairn of Ecgtheow : — 

" Have mind, thou honored offspring of Healfdene, 
1476 gold-friend of men, now I go on this quest, 

sovran wise, what once was said : 

if in thy cause it came that I 

should lose my life, thou wouldst loyal bide 

to me, though fallen, in father's place ! 
1480 Be guardian, thou, to this group of my thanes, 

my warrior-friends, if War should seize me ; 

and the goodly gifts thou gavest me, 

Hrothgar beloved, to Hygelac send! ^ 

Geatland's king may ken by the gold, 
I486 Hrethel's son see, when he stares at the treasure, 

that I got me a friend for goodness famed, 

and joyed while I could in my jewel-bestower. 

And let Unferth wield this wondrous sword,^ 

earl far-honored, this heirloom precious, 

1 "Discharge for me," that is, "my two great obligations : care for 
my thanes, and the rendering to my lord of what I have won by my 
prowess," — good Germanic ethics. 

2 The sword which Hrothgar gave to Beowulf ? Or Beowulf's own 
sword which he brought with him ? 



BEOWULF 89 

1490 hard of edge : with Hrunting I 

seek doom of glory, or Death shall take me." 

After these words the Weder-Geat lord 
boldly hastened, biding never 
answer at all : and ocean floods 

1495 closed o'er the hero. Long while ^ of the day 
fled ere he felt the floor of the sea. 
Soon found the fiend who the flood-domain 
sword-hungry held these hundred winters, 
greedy and grim, that some guest from above, 

1500 some man, was raiding her monster-realm. 
She grasped out for him with grisly claws,^ 
and the warrior seized; yet scathed she not 
his body hale; the breastplate hindered, 
as she strove to shatter the sark of war, 

1505 the linked harness, with loathsome hand. 

Then bore this brine-wolf, when bottom she ^ touched, 
the lord of rings to the lair she haunted, 
whiles vainly he strove, though his valor held, 
weapon to wield against wondrous monsters 

1510 that sore beset him ; sea-beasts many 
tried with fierce tusks to tear his mail, 
and swarmed on the stranger. But soon he marked 
he was now in some hall, he knew not which, 
where water never could work him harm, 

1515 nor through the roof could reach him ever 
fangs of the flood. Firelight he saw, 
beams of a blaze that brightly shone. 

^ " An hour of the day," — Mullenhoff. Others translate : " the space 
of a whole day." 

2 In the saga of Onn and Grettir, it is a cat-monster with which the hero 
fights, 8 Or " he " ? 



90 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

Then^ the warrior was ware of that wolf-of-the-deep, 
mere-wife monstrous. For mighty stroke 

1520 he swung his blade, and the blow withheld not. 
Then sang on her head that seemly blade 
its war-song wild. But the warrior found 
the light-of -battle ^ was loath to bite, 
to harm the heart : its hard edge failed 

1525 the noble at need, yet had known of old 

strife hand to hand, and had helmets cloven, 
doomed men's fighting-gear. First time, this, 
for the gleaming blade that its glory fell. 
Firm still stood, nor failed in valor, 

1530 heedful of high deeds, Hygelac's kinsman ; 
flung away fretted sword, featly jewelled, 
the angry earl ; on earth it lay 
steel-edged and stiff. His strength he trusted, 
hand-gripe of might. So man shall do 

1536 whenever in war he weens to earn him 
lasting fame, nor fears for his life ! 
Seized then by shoulder,^ shrank not from combat, 
the Geatish war-prince Grendel's mother. 
Flung then the fierce one, filled with wrath, 

1 Discrepancies here vex the higher critic ; but they are simply some- 
what exaggerated traits of structure and style. The course of the action is 
not "hopelessly confused." Beowulf, overwhelmed by the first onset 
of Grendel's mother, is dragged to her lair, and on the way is beset by 
monsters of every kind. Managing to extricate himself from the coil, 
he finds he is in a great arched hall, free of the water, and has only the 
mother of Grendel before him. He takes good heed of her and prepares 
his attack. 

2 Kenning for " sword." Hrunting is bewitched, laid under a spell of 
uselessness, along with all other swords. See note above to v. 1455. 

* Changed by many editions to "hair." The two sentences here 
with " then " in each show well the dissected style of our old epic verse. 



BEOWULF ©1 

1640 his deadly foe, that she fell to ground. 

Swift on her part she paid him back 

with grisly grasp, and grappled with him. 

Spent with struggle, stumbled the warrior, 

fiercest of fighting-men, fell adown. 
1545 On the hall-guest she hurled herself, hent her short 
sword, 

broad and brown-edged,^ the bairn to avenge, 

the sole-born son. — On his shoulder lay 

braided breast-mail, barring death, 

withstanding entrance of edge or blade. 
1550 Life would have ended for Ecgtheow's son, 

under wide earth for that earl of Geats, 

had his armor of war not aided him, 

battle-net hard, and holy God 

wielded the victory, wisest Maker. 
1556 The Lord of Heaven allowed his cause ; 

and easily rose the earl erect. 

XXIII 

'Mid the battle-gear saw he a blade triumphant, 
old-sword of Eotens, with edge of proof, 
warriors' heirloom, weapon unmatched, 

1660 — save only 'twas more than other men 
to bandy-of-battle could bear at all — 
as the giants had wrought it, ready and keen. 
Seized then its chain-hilt the Scyldings' chieftain, 
bold and battle-grim, brandished the sword, 

1565 reckless of life, and so wrathfully smote 

1 This brown of swords, evidently meaning burnished, bright, con- 
tinues to be a favorite adjective in the popular ballads. 



92 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

that it gripped her neck and grasped her hard, 

her bone-rings breaking : the blade pierced through 

that fated-one's flesh : to floor she sank. 

Bloody the blade : he was blithe of his deed. 
1670 Then blazed forth light. 'Twas bright within 

as when from the sky there shines unclouded 

heaven's candle. The hall he scanned. 

By the wall then went he ; his weapon raised 

high by its hilts the Hygelac-thane, 
1575 angry and eager. That edge was not useless Wi i ' ^ ^ 

to the warrior now. He wished with speed 

Grendel to guerdon for grim raids many, 

for the war he waged on Western-Danes 

oftener far than an only tirae,^ 
1580 when of Hrothgar's hearth-companions 

he slew in slumber, in sleep devoured, 

fifteen men of the folk of Danes, 

and as many others outward bore, 

his horrible prey. Well paid for that 
1586 the wrathful prince ! For now prone he saw 

Grendel stretched there, spent with war, 

spoiled of life, so scathed had left him 

Heorot's battle. The body sprang far 

when after death it endured the blow, 
1590 sword-stroke savage, that severed its head. 

^ This belittling variation of the "many raids" just mentioned, the 
solemnity of the favorite litotes, give an enfeebled air to modern Eng- 
lish. The ancient English had other views of poetical style than ours. — 
The long parenthesis, too, while Beowulf's sword is uplifted over the dead 
Grendel, is not to present taste. — The cutting off of the head, as Gering 
suggests, is to prevent Grendel from visiting his old haunts as a ghost and 
stirring up new troubles. He could not be harmed by ordinary swords, 
as all were conjured; but this old giant blade of the monsters has no 
spell laid on it. 



BEOWULF 93 

Soon,^ then, saw the sage companions 
who waited with Hrothgar, watching the flood, 
that the tossing waters turbid grew, 
blood-stained the mere. Old men together, 

1596 hoary -haired, of the hero spake ; 

the warrior would not, they weened, again, 
proud of conquest, come to seek 
their mighty master. To many it seemed 
the wolf -of-the- waves had won his life. 

1600 The ninth hour ^ came. The noble Scyldings 
left the headland ; homeward went 
the gold-friend of men.^ But the guests sat on, 
stared at the surges, sick in heart, 
and wished, yet weened not, their winsome lord 

1606 again to see. 

Now that sword began, 
from blood of the fight, in battle-droppings,* 
war-blade, to wane : 'twas a wondrous thing 
that all of it melted as ice is wont 
when frosty fetters the Father loosens, 

1610 unwinds the wave-bonds, wielding all 
- seasons and times : the true God he ! 

Nor took from that dwelling the duke of the Geats 
precious things, though a plenty he saw, 
save only the head and that hilt withal 

1616 blazoned with jewels : the blade had melted, 

burned was the bright sword, her blood was so hot, 

* After the killing of the monster and Grendel's decapitation. 

2 Strictly this would be three o'clock in the afternoon ; but the close 
of the day, perhaps the shorter northern day in winter, seems indicated. 
Gering translates " evening." 

' Hrothgar. 

* The blade slowly dissolves in blood-stained drops like icicles. 



94 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

SO poisoned the hell-sprite who perished within there. 

Soon he was swimming who safe saw in combat 

downfall of demons ; up-dove through the flood. 
1620 The clashing waters were cleansed now, 

waste of waves, where the wandering fiend 

her life-days left and this lapsing world. 

Swam then to strand the sailors'-refuge, 

sturdy-in-spirit, of sea-booty glad, 
1626 of burden brave he bore with him. 

Went then to greet him, and God they thanked, 

the thane-band choice of their chieftain blithe, 

that safe and sound they could see him again. 

Soon from the hardy one helmet and armor 
1630 deftly they doffed : now drowsed the mere, 

water 'neath welkin, with war-blood stained. 
Forth they fared by the footpaths thence, 

merry at heart the highways measured, 

well-known roads. Courageous men 
1635 carried the head from the cliff by the sea, 

an arduous task for all the band, 

the firm in fight, since four were needed 

on the shaf t-of-slaughter ^ strenuously 
^ to bear to the gold-hall Grendel's head. 
1640 So presently to the palace there 

foemen fearless, fourteen Geats, 

marching came. Their master-of-clan 

mighty amid them the meadow-ways trod. 

Strode ^ then within the sovran thane 
1645 fearless in fight, of fame renowned, 

hardy hero, Hrothgar to greet. 
'^ ^And next by the hair into hall was borne 

1 Spear. 2 See note to v. 720. . 



BEOWULF 95 

Grendel's head, where the henchmen were drinking, 
an awe to clan and queen alike, 
1650 a monster of marvel : the men looked on. 

XXIV 

Beowulf spake, bairn of Ecgtheow : — 

" Lo, now, this sea-booty, son of Healfdene, 

Lord of Scyldings, we've lustily brought thee, 

sign of glory ; thou seest it here. 
1666 Not lightly did I with my life escape ! 

In war under water this work I essayed 

with endless effort; and even so 

my strength had been lost had the Lord not shielded 
me. 

Not a whit could I with Hrunting do 
1660 in work of war, though the weapon is good; 

yet a sword the Sovran of Men vouchsafed me 

to spy on the wall there, in splendor hanging, 

old, gigantic, — how oft He guides 

the friendless wight ! — and I fought with that brand, 
1665 felling in fight, since fate was with me, 

the house's wardens. That war-sword then 

all burned, bright blade, when the blood gushed o'er 
it, 

battle-sweat hot ; but the hilt I brought back 

from my foes. So avenged I their fiendish deeds, 
1670 death-fall of Danes, as was due and right. 

And this is my best, that in Heorot now 

safe thou canst sleep with thy soldier band, 

and every thane of all thy folk 

both old and young ; no evil fear, 
1675 Scyldings' lord, from that side again, 



88 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

aught ill for thy earls, as erst thou must ! " 
Then the golden hilt, for that gray-haired leader, 
hoary hero, in hand was laid, 
giant-wrought, old. So owned and enjoyed it 

1680 after downfall of devils, the Danish lord, 

wonder-smiths' work, since the world was rid 
of that grim-souled fiend, the foe of God, 
murder-marked, and his mother as well. 
Now it passed into power of the people's king, 

1685 best of all that the oceans bound 

who have scattered their gold o'er Scandia's isle. 
Hrothgar spake — the hilt he viewed, 
heirloom old, where was etched the rise 
of that far-off fight when the floods o'erwhelmed, 

1690 raging waves, the race of giants 

(fearful their fate !), a folk estranged 
from God Eternal : whence guerdon due 
in that waste of waters the Wielder paid them. 
So on the guard of shining gold 

1696 in runic staves it was rightly said 

for whom^ the serpent-traced sword was wrought, 
best of blades, in bygone days, 
and the hilt well wound. — The wise-one spake, 
son of Healfdene ; silent were all : — 

1700 " Lo, so may he say who sooth and right 
follows 'mid folk, of far times mindful, 
a land-warden old,^ that this earl belongs 

1 Often the maker put his own name on what he made, and in verse : 
Ek Hlewagastiz Holtingaz horna tawido, runs the inscription on the 
famous golden horn; that is, " I, Hlewagast Holting, this horn have 
made," — probably the oldest Germanic verse that is preserved. 

2 That is, ' ' whoever has as wide authority as I have and can remem- 
ber so far back so many instances of heroism, may well say, as I say, that 
no better hero ever lived than Beowulf." 



BEOWULF 97 

to the better breed ! So, borne aloft, 
thy fame must fly, O friend my Beowulf, 
1705 far and wide o'er folksteads many. Firmly thou shalt 

all maintain,! 
mighty strength with mood of wisdom. Love of 

mine will I assure thee, 
as, awhile ago, I promised ; thou shalt prove a stay 

in future, 
in far-off years, to folk of thine. 



to the heroes a help. Was not Heremod ' thus 



1710 to offspring of Ecgwela, Honor-Scyldings, 

nor grew for their grace, but for grisly slaughter, 
for doom of death to the Danishmen. 
He slew, wrath-swollen, his shoulder-comrades, 
companions at board ! So he passed alone, 

1715 chieftain haughty, from human cheer. 

Though him the Maker with might endowed, 
delights of power, and uplifted high 
above all men, yet blood-fierce his mind, 
his breast-hoard, grew ; no bracelets gave he 

1720 to Danes as was due ; he endured all joyless 
strain of struggle and stress of woe, 
long feud with his folk. Here find thy lesson ! 
Of virtue advise thee I This verse ^ I have said for 

thee, 
wise from lapsed winters. Wondrous seems 

1725 how to sons of men Almighty God 

1 The three verses are hypermetric in the original. 

2 The antitype again : see above, v. 901. Heremod is of Hrothgar's own 
kingdom ; of Ecgwela, a Danish ancestor also, nothing is known. 

' Poetry was a wide word of old, and gid — i.e. " verse " or " poem " — 
was also used to indicate the oral communication of wisdom (once always 
in rimed saws, proverbs, and the like) and philosophy. 



98 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

in the strength of His spirit sendeth wisdom, 
estate, high station : He swayeth all things. 
Whiles He letteth right lustily fare 
the heart of the hero of high-born race, — 

1730 in seat ancestral assigns him bliss, 
his folk's sure fortress in fee to hold, 
puts in his power great parts of the earth, 
empire so ample, that end of it 
this wanter-of-wisdom weeneth none. 

1735 So he waxes in wealth ; nowise can harm him 
illness or age ; no evil cares 
shadow his spirit ; no sword-hate threatens 
from ever an enemy : all the world 
wends at his will ; no worse he knoweth, 

1740 till all within him obstinate pride 

waxes and wakes while the warden slumbers, 
the spirit's sentry ; sleep is too fast 
which masters his might, and the murderer nears, 
stealthily shooting the shafts from his bowl 

XXV 

1745 " Under harness his heart then is hit indeed 
by sharpest shafts ; and no shelter avails 
from foul behest of the hellish fiend. ^ 
Him seems too little what long he possessed. 
Greedy and grim, no golden rings 

1 That is, he is now undefended by conscience from the temptations 
(shafts) of the devil. This " sermon" of Hrothgar may be "of forty- 
parson power," as some one says ; but one likes to know what sort of ser- 
mon those English of the seventh century preferred. This one would have 
pleased Dr. Johnson. The same allegory is found in the Middle-English 
Saioles Warde, — that is, conscience, — and in many other places, times, 
and authors. 



BEOWULF 09 

1760 he gives for his pride ; the promised future 

forgets he and spurns, with all God has sent him, 

Wonder-Wielder, of wealth and fame. 

Yet in the end it ever comes 

that the frame of the body fragile yields, 

1756 fat^d falls ; and there follows another 
who joyously the jewels divides,^ 
the royal riches, nor recks of his forebear. 
Ban, then, such baleful thoughts, Beowulf dearest, 
best of men, and the better part choose, 

1760 profit eternal ; and temper thy pride, 

warrior famous ! The flower of thy might 
lasts now a while : but erelong it shall be 
that sickness or sword thy strength shall minish, 
or fang of fire, or flooding billow, 

1765 or bite of blade, or brandished spear, 
or odious age ; or the eyes' clear beam 
wax dull and darken : Death even thee 
in haste shall o'erwhelm, thou hero of war ! 
So the Ring-Danes these half-years a hundred I 
ruled, 

1770 wielded 'neath welkin, and warded them bravely 
from mighty-ones many o'er middle-earth, 
from spear and sword, till it seemed for me 
no foe could be found under fold of the sky. 
Lo, sudden the shift ! To me seated secure 

1776 came grief for joy when Grendel began 
to harry my home, the hellish foe; 
for those ruthless raids, unresting I suffered 

1 Note the absumet heres CoBcuba dignior as partly a division of treas. 
ure, the right Germanic thing to do, and the hint of revel and profusioo 
in Horace's vein. 



100 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

heart-sorrow heavy. Heaven be thanked, 

Lord Eternal, for life extended 
1780 that I on this head all hewn and bloody, 

after long evil, with eyes may gaze ! 
I — Go to the bench now ! Be glad at banquet, 

warrior worthy ! A wealth of treasure 

at dawn of day, be dealt between us ! " 
1786 Glad was the Geats' lord, going betimes 

to seek his seat, as the Sage commanded. 

Afresh, as before, for the famed-in-battle, 

for the band of the hall, was a banquet dight 

nobly anew. The Night-Helm darkened 
1790 dusk o'er the drinkers. 

The doughty ones rose 

for the hoary-headed would hasten to rest, 

ag^d Scylding ; and eager the Geat, 

shield-fighter sturdy, for sleeping yearned. 

Him wander-weary, warrior-guest 
1796 from far, a hall-thane heralded forth, 

who by custom courtly cared for all 

needs of a thane as in those old days 

warrior-wanderers wont to have. 
r So slumbered the stout-heart. Stately the hall 
1800 rose gabled and gilt where the guest slept on 

till a raven black the rapture-of-heaven ^ 

blithe-heart boded. Bright came flying 

shine after shadow. The swordsmen hastened, 

athelings all were eager homeward 
1805 forth to fare; and far from thence 

^ Kenning for the sun. — This is a strange r6le for the raven. He is 
the warrior's bird of battle, exults in slaughter and carnage ; his joy here 
is a compliment to the sunrise. 






BEOWULF 101 

the great-hearted guest would guide his keel. 

Bade then the hardy-one Hrunting be brought 
to the son of Eeglaf, the sword bade him take, 
excellent iron, and uttered his thanks for it, 

1810 quoth that he counted it keen in battle, 

" war-friend " winsome : with words he slandered not 
edge of the blade : 'twas a big-hearted man ! ^ 
Now eager for parting and armed at point 
warriors waited, while went to his host 

1815 that Darling of Danes. The doughty atheling 
to high-seat hastened and Hrothgar greeted. 

XXVI 

Beowulf spake, bairn of Ecgtheow : — 
"Lo, we seafarers say our will, 
far-come men, that we fain would seek 
1820 Hygelac now. We here have found 

hosts to our heart : thou hast harbored us well. 
If ever on earth I am able to win me 

1 This is the simplest way to render a disputed passage ; but it may 
not be the right way. The "hardy-one" here is Beowulf; he returns 
"Hrunting" in a formal speech, and praises its merits, laying no stress 
(^properly, for enchantment was at work) on its failure to "bite " in the 
battle with Grendel's mother. So the Geat's courtesy is put in strong 
relief, and the parting from Unferth is contrasted with the meeting. 
Probably there were favorite songs once about BeowTilf's flyting with 
Unferth, and our amiable Christian poet, who has doubtless softened 
many of its asperities, now lays stress on the reconciliation. Klaeber, how- 
ever, has shown that the philological ways of this interpretation are not 
smooth. Moreover, the present to a parting guest was inexorable custom ^ 
in Germania ; and Unferth is only doing his duty when (the passage can 
so be read) he, "the hardy-one," the son of Eeglaf, orders "Hrunting" 
to be brought to Beo\vvilf, who accepts it in his customary polite fashion. 
Of course, one must suppose that " Hrunting" has been already handed 
back to its owner, and is now finally presented. 



102 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

more of thy love, O lord of men, 
aught anew, than I now have done, 

1825 for work of war I am willing still I 
If it come to me ever across the seas 
that neighbor foemen annoy and fright thee, — 
as they that hate thee erewhile have used, — 
thousands then of thanes I shall bring, 

1830 heroes to help thee. Of Hygelac I know, 
ward of his folk, that, though few his years, 
the lord of the Geats will give me aid 
by word and by work, that well I may serve thee, 
wielding the war-wood to win thy triumph 

1836 and lending thee might when thou lackest men. 
If thy Hrethric should come to court of Geats,^ 
a sovran's son, he will surely there 
find his friends. A far-off land 
each man should visit who vaunts him brave." 

1840 Him then answering, Hrothgar spake : — 
" These words of thine the wisest God 
sent to thy soul ! No sager counsel 
from so young in years e'er yet have I heard. 
Thou art strong of main and in mind art wary, 

1846 art wise in words ! I ween indeed 
if ever it hap that Hrethel's heir 2 
by spear be seized, by sword-grim battle, 

1 Courteous, dignified, smoothly phrased, this leave-taking speech is 
admirable, — The custom of sending one's son to serve and live in other 
noble families was maintained in England down to relatively modem 
times. The concluding sententia admirably balances advantage of travel 
with the dangers of those who go far from the protection of their own 
kin. 

2 Hygelac. — The involutions and variations of this period — high 
compliment — are characteristic of all formal speeches in the epic. 



BEOWULF 103 

by illness or iron,^ thine elder and lord, 
people's leader, — and life be thine, — 

1850 no seemlier man will the Sea-Geats find 
at all to choose for their chief and king, 
for hoard-guard of heroes, if hold thou wilt 
thy kinsman's kingdom ! Thy keen mind pleases mo 
the longer the better, Beowulf loved ! 

1855 Thou hast brought it about that both our peoples, 
sons of the Geat and Spear-Dane folk, 
shall have mutual peace, and from murderous strife, 
such as once they waged, from war refrain. 
Long as I rule this realm so wide, 

1880 let our hoards be common, let heroes with gold 
each other greet o'er the gannet's-bath, 
and the ringed-prow bear o'er rolling waves 
tokens of love. I trow my landfolk 
towards friend and foe are firmly joined, 

1865 and honor they keep in the olden way." -^/ 

To him in the hall, then, Healfdene's son 
gave treasures twelve, and the trust-of-earls 
bade him fare with the gifts to his folk beloved, 
hale to his home, and in haste return. 

1870 Then kissed the king of kin renowned, 

Scyldings' chieftain, that choicest thane, 

and fell on his neck. Fast flowed the tears 

of the hoary-headed. Heavy with winters, 

he had chances twain, but he clung to this,^ — 

^ Compare for this combination of abstract and concrete, Genesis, v. 
2296 : — 

When from thy heart hunger or wolf 
soul and body at the same time tears. 
So, also, "battling and bulwarks," v. 2323, below. 

2 That is, he might or might not see Beowulf again. Old as he was, 
the latter chance was likely; but he clung to the former, hoping to see 
his young friend again " and exchange brave words in the halL'' 



104 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

1876 that each should look on the other again, 

and hear him in hall. Was this hero so dear to him, 
his breast's wild billows he banned in vain; 
safe in his soul a secret longing, 
locked 1 in his mind, for that loved man 

1880 burned in his blood. Then Beowulf strode, 
glad of his gold-gifts, the grass-plot o'er, 
warrior blithe. The wave-roamer bode 
riding at anchor, its owner awaiting. 
As they hastened onward, Hrothgar's gift 

1886 they lauded at length. — 'Twas a lord unpeered, 
every way blameless, till age had broken 
— it spareth no mortal — his splendid might. 

XXVII 

Came now to ocean the ever-courageous 
hardy henchmen, their harness bearing, 

1890 woven war-sarks. The warden marked, 
trusty as ever, the earl's return. 
From the height of the hill no hostile words 
reached the guests as he rode to greet them; 
but " Welcome ! " he called to that Weder clan 

1896 as the sheen-mailed spoilers to ship marched on. 
Then on the strand, with steeds and treasure 
and armor their roomy and ring-dight ship 
was heavily laden: high its mast 

^ The Anglo-Saxon gnomic poems insist on this secrecy of thought. 

When a man speaks or sings, "he unlocks his word-hoard." The 

advice of secrecy is emphasized for exiles and kinless men, as witness The 

Wanderer, v. 11 : 

Sooth I know, 

in every earl 'tis an excellent trait 

that he bar and bind his breast amain, 

keep fast tiis thought-treasure, — think as he will. 



BEOWULF 105 

rose over Hrothgar's hoarded gems. 

1900 A sword to the boat-guard Beowulf gave, 

mounted with gokl ; on the mead-bench since 
he was better esteemed, that blade possessing, 
heirloom old. — Their ocean-keel boarding, 
they drove through the deep, and Daneland left. 

1905 A sea-cloth was set, a sail with ropes, 

firm to the mast; the flood-timbers moaned; ^ 
nor did wind over billows that wave-swimmer blow 
across from her course. The craft sped on, 
foam-necked it floated forth o'er the waves, 

1910 keel firm-bound over briny currents, 

till they got them sight of the Geatish cliffs, 
home-known headlands. High the boat, 
stirred by winds, on the strand updrove. 
Helpful at haven the harbor-guard stood, 

1915 who long already for loved companions 
by the water had waited and watched afar. 
He bound to the beach the broad-bosomed ship 
with anchor-bands, lest ocean-billows 
that trusty timber should tear away. 

1920 Then Beowulf bade them bear the treasure, 
gold and jewels ; no journey far 
was it thence to go to the giver of rings, 
Hygelac Hrethling : at home he dwelt 
by the sea-wall close, himself and clan. 

1925 Haughty that house, a hero the king, 
high the hall, and Hygd ^ right young. 



1 With the speed of the boat. 

2 Queen to Hygelac. She is praised by contrast with the antitype, 
Thryth, just as Beowulf was praised by contrast with Heremod. The 
slight insertion of a negative in the text of v. 1932, made by Schiicking, 



10ft THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

wise and wary, though winters few 

in those fortress walls she had found a home, 

Haereth's daughter. Nor humble her ways, 

1930 nor grudged she gifts to the Geatish men, 

of precious treasure. Not Thryth's pride showed she, 
folk-queen famed, or that fell deceit. 
Was none so daring that durst make bold 
(save her lord alone) of the liegemen dear 

1935 that lady full in the face to look, 
but forged fetters he found his lot, 
bonds of death ! And brief the respite; 
soon as they seized him, his sword-doom was spoken, 
and the burnished blade a baleful murder 

1940 proclaimed and closed. No queenly way 
for woman to practise, though peerless she, 
that the weaver-of-peace ^ from warrior dear 

Englische Studien, xxxix, 108 f., seems a most happy solution of the prob- 
lem presented by this passage. The old emendation, — 

But Thrytho proved, 
folk-queen fearsome, fell and cruel . . . 

was rejected by recent editors because Thrytho is not a likely form of the 
name. Reading as the translation reads, one has a most likely bit of 
praise by negative, in the usual manner of this poet, for Hygd, who did 
not show the cruelty and haughtiness of Thryth, the legendary wife of 
Offa, king of the Continental Angles. With her legend is perhaps mingled 
a reference to the Anglo-Saxon queen of the Mercian Offa, Cynethryth. 
She died in 796, and is too late for the original version of the Beowulf, if 
those considerations have weight which are urged against a date for the 
original version later than the seventh century. See, however, Steven- 
son's note to Asser's Alfred, Capp. 14, 16, and p. 206, where the tale of 
Eadburh, daughter to Offa of Mercia, is told to explain why Wessex folk 
disliked the name of "queen." — Thryth belongs to that well-known 
family of obstreperous maids who riot and rage until tamed by the right 
man. In no case can the description apply to Hygd, who is called " very 
young." — There is some reason for thinking that TTie Banished Wife's 
Complaint, an Anglo-Saxon lyric, is based on the story of Offa. 
1 Kenning for " wife." 



BEOWULF 107 

by wrath and lying his life should reave ! 

But Hamming's kinsman ^ hindered this. — 
1946 For over their ale men also told 

that of these folk-horrors fewer she wrought,^ 

onslaughts of evil, after she went, 

gold-decked bride, to the brave young prince, 

atheling haughty, and Offa's hall 
1950 o'er the fallow flood at her father's bidding 

safely sought, where since she prospered, 

royal, throned, rich in goods, 

fain of the fair life fate had sent her, 

and leal in love to the lord of warriors. 
1965 He, of all heroes I heard of ever 

from sea to sea, of the sons of earth, 

most excellent seemed. Hence ^ Offa was praised 

for his fighting and feeing by far-off men, 

the spear-bold warrior ; wisely he ruled 
1960 over his empire. Eomer woke to him, 

help of heroes, Hemming's kinsman, 

grandson of Garmund,* grim in war. 

xxvni 

Hastened the hardy one, henchmen with him, 
sandy strand of the sea to tread 
1965 and widespread ways. The world's great candle, 
sun shone from south. They strode along 

1 Eomer, as below (conjecturally), v. 19G0 ; or, as Gering suggests, Offa 
himself. 

2 Litotes for " ceased altogether." — Offa is praised in the Widsith lay, 
V. 38. 

2 See the ideal of a good king at the opening of the poem. 
■* The genealogy of the Mercian Offa makes his ancestral Anglian name- 
sake, Offa, the sou of Woermund. 



108 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

with sturdy steps to the spot they knew 
where the battle-king young, his burg within, 
slayer of Ongentheow,^ shared the rings, 

1070 shelter-of-heroes. To Hygelac 

Beowulf's coming was quickly told, — 
that there in the court the clansmen's refuge, 
the shield-companion sound and alive, 
hale from the hero-play homeward strode. 

1979; With haste in the hall, by highest order, 
room for the rovers was readily made. 
By his sovran he sat, come safe from battle, 
kinsman by kinsman. His kindly lord 
he first had greeted in gracious form, 

1980 with manly words. The mead dispensing, 

came through the high hall Hsereth's daughter, 
winsome to warriors, wine-cup bore 
to the hands of the heroes. Hygelac then 
his comrade fairly with question plied 

1985 in the lofty hall, sore longing to know 

what manner of sojourn the Sea-Geats made. 
" What came of thy quest, my kinsman Beowulf, 
when thy yearnings suddenly swept thee yonder 
battle to seek o'er the briny sea, 

1990 combat in Heorot ? Hrothgar couldst thou 
aid at all, the honored chief, 
in his wide-known woes ? With waves of care 
my sad heart seethed ; I sore mistrusted 
my loved one's venture : long I begged thee 

1996 by no means to seek that slaughtering monster, 

1 By the hands of one of his retainers, who, as Tacitus pointed out, 
and Earle reminds us, were bound to attribute their own brave deeds 
to their chief, and give him the glory. 



BEOWULF 109 

but suffer the South- Danes to settle their feud 
themselves with Grendel. Now God be thanked 
that safe and sound I can see thee now ! " 
Beowulf spake, the bairn of Ecgtheow: — 

2000 " 'Tis known and unhidden, Hygelac Lord, 
to many men, that meeting of ours, 
struggle grim between Grendel and me, 
which we fought on the field where full too many- 
sorrows he wrought for the Scylding-Victors, 

2005 evils unending. These all I avenged. 
No boast can be from breed of Grendel, 
any on earth, for that uproar at dawn,i 
from the longest-lived of the loathsome race 
in fleshly fold ! — But first I went 

2010 Hrothgar to greet in the hall of gifts, 

where Healf dene's kinsman high-renowned, 
soon as my purpose was plain to him, 
assigned me a seat by his son and heir. 
The liegemen were lusty; my life-days never 

2015 such merry men over mead in hall 

have I heard under heaven ! The high-born queen, 
people's peace-bringer, passed through the hall, 
cheered the young clansmen, clasps of gold, 
ere she sought her seat, to sundry gave. 

2020 Oft to the heroes Hrothgar's daughter, 
to earls in turn, the ale-cup tendered, — 
she whom I heard these hall-companions 
Freawaru name, when fretted gold 
she proffered the warriors. Promised is she, 

1 " Struggle by night," translates Gering ; that is, the fight between 
Grendel and Beowulf. It might refer, however, — see v. 126, — to the out- 
cries and wailings of the Danes. No more boasting over that ! 



110 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

2025 gold-decked maid, to the glad son of Froda.^ 

Sage this seems to the Scyldings'-friend, 

kingdom's-keeper : he counts it wise 

the woman to wed so and ward off feud, 

store of slaughter. But seldom ever 
2030 when men are slain, does the murder-spear sink 

but briefest while, though the bride be fair ! ^ 
"Nor haply will like it the Heathobard lord, 

and as little each of his liegemen all, 

when a thane of the Danes, in that doughty throng, 
2036 goes with the lady along their hall, 

and on him the old-time heirlooms glisten 

hard and ring-decked, Heathobard's treasure, 

weapons that once they wielded fair 

until they lost at the linden-play ^ 

1 Beowulf gives his uncle the king not mere gossip of his journey, but 
a statesmanlike forecast of the outcome of certain policies at the Danish 
court. Talk of interpolation here is absurd. As both Beowulf and 
Hygelac know, — and the folk for whom the Beowulf was put together 
also knew, — Froda was king of the Heathobards (probably the Lango- 
bards, once near neighbors of Angle and Saxon tribes on the continent) , 
and had fallen in fight with the Danes. Hrothgar will set aside this feud 
by giving his daughter as "peace-weaver" and wife to the young king 
Ingeld, son of the slain Froda. But Beowulf, on general principles and 
from his observation of the particular case, foretells trouble. He even 
goes into particulars ; and here the poet not unskilfully uses the actual 
Ingeld story, — which he knew doubtless in song and saga, as Saxo 
Grammaticus knew it, though in another version — for the forecast of 
the hero. It is worth noting that in Saxo the old warrior stirs his 
master by a lay of battle and vengeance which he chants at a banquet. — 
From the Widsith we know that Ingeld attacked Hrothgar later in 
Heorot, and was defeated by uncle and nephew in a bloody battle. 

2 Play of shields, battle. A Danish warrior cuts down Froda in the 
fight, and takes his sword and armor, leaving them to a son. This son 
is selected to accompany his mistress, the younii princess Freawaru, to her 
new home when she is Ingeld's queen. Heedlessly he wears the sword 
of Froda in hall. An old warrior points it out to Ingeld, and eggs him 



BEOWULF 111 

2040 liegeman leal and their lives as well. 

Then, over the ale, on this heirloom gazing, 

some ash-wielder old ^ who has all in mind 

that spear-death of men,^ — he is stern of mood, 

heavy at heart, — in the hero young 
2045 tests the temper and tries the soul 

and war-hate wakens, with words like these: — 

Canst thou not, comrade, ken that sword 

which to the fray thy father carried 

in his final feud, 'neath the fighting -mask^ 
2050 dearest of blades, when the Danish slew him 

and wielded the war-place on Withergild" s fall,^ 

after havoc of heroes, those hardy Scyldings ? 

Now, the son of a certain slaughtering Dane^ 

proud of his treasure, paces this hall, 
2055 Joys in the killing, and carries the jewel ^ 

that rightfully ought to he owned by thee ! 

Thus he urges and eggs him all the time 

with keenest words, till occasion offers 

that Freawaru's thane, for his father's deed, 
2060 after bite of brand in his blood must slumber, 

on to vengeance. At his instigation the Dane is killed ; but the murderer, 
afraid of results, and knowing the land, escapes. So the old feud must 
break out again. 

1 In Saxo (Bk. VI) Starcatherus sees that the slayers of Frotho, father 
of Ingellus, are high in favor with the latter king, and sings a song of 
reproach at the banquet. At first he complains of the neglect of himself 
in his old age and of the king's gluttony ; then he passes to taunts of 
cowardice and an appeal for vengeance on the murderers. 

2 That is, their disastrous battle and the slaying of their king. 

3 Withergild is mentioned in Widsith, v. 124, and must be a proper 
name. If it were taken otherwise, it might be translated " when recom- 
pence, chance to recover losses, was out of the question." 

* The sword, here called "treasure " or " jewel " in no strained figure. 
It is unnecessary to turn it into a collar or other adornment. 



112 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

losing his life ; but that liegeman flies 
living away, for the land he kens. 
And thus be broken on both their sides 
oaths of the earls, when Ingeld's breast 

2065 wells with war-hate, and wife-love now 
after the care-billows cooler grows. 

" So 1 I hold not high the Heathobards' faith 
due to the Danes, or their during love 
and pact of peace. — But I pass from that, 

2070 turning to Grendel, O giver-of-treasure, 
and saying in full how the fight resulted, 
hand-fray of heroes. When heaven's jewel 
had fled o'er far fields, that fierce sprite came, 
night-foe savage, to seek us out 

2075 where safe and sound we sentried the hall. 
To Hondscio then was that harassing deadly, 
his fall there was fated. He first was slain, 
girded warrior. Grendel on him 
turned murderous mouth, on our mighty kinsman, 

2080 and all of the brave man's body devoured. 
Yet none the earlier, empty-handed, 
would the bloody-toothed murderer, mindful of bale, 
outward go from the gold-decked hall : 
but me he attacked in his terror of might, 

2085 with greedy hand grasped me. A glove hung by him ^ 

1 Beowulf returns to his forecast. Things might well go somewhat as 
follows, he says ; sketches a little tragic story ; and with this prophecy 
by illustration returns to the tale of his adventure. One will hardly 
agree with Miillenhoff that such a use by the poet of an old legend shows 
mere helpless imbecility of interpolation. In many other cases, say 
Gray's Bard, the close of Dickens's Tale of two Cities, Thomas of 
Ercaldoune, — to mention some very incongruous instances, — one praises 
the good art or artifice of narrative. 

* Not an actual glove, but a sort of bag. The line could run — 
. . . with savage hand seized me. A sack hung by him . . . 



BEOWULF 113 

wide and wondrous, wound with bands ; 

and in artful wise it all was wrought, 

by devilish craft, of dragon-skins. 

Me therein, an innocent man, 
2090 the fiendish foe was fain to thrust 

with many another. He might not so, 

when I all angrily upright stood. 

'Twere long to relate how that land-destroyer 

I paid in kind for his cruel deeds ; 
2095 yet there, my prince, this people of thine 

got fame by my fighting. He fled away, 

and a little space his life preserved ; 

but there staid behind him his stronger hand 

left in Heorot ; heartsick thence 
2100 on the floor of the ocean that outcast fell. 

Me for this struggle the Scyldings'-friend 

paid in plenty with plates of gold, 

with many a treasure, when morn had come 

and we all at the banquet-board sat down. 
2105 Then was song and glee. The gray-haired Scylding, 

much tested, told of the times of yore. 

Whiles the hero his harp bestirred, x 

wood-of -delight ; now lays he chanted 

of sooth and sadness, or said aright 
2110 legends of wonder, the wide-hearted king ; 

or for years of his youth he would yearn at times, 

for strength of old struggles, now stricken with age, 

hoary hero : his heart surged full 

when, wise with winters, he wailed their flight. 
2115 Thus in the hall the whole of that day 

at ease we feasted, till fell o'er earth 

another night. Anon full ready 



114 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

in greed of vengeance, Grendel's mother 

set forth all doleful. Dead was her son 
2120 through war-hate of Weders ; now, woman monstrous, 

with fury fell a foeman she slew, 

avenged her offspring. From -^schere old, 

loyal councillor, life was gone ; 

nor might they e'en, when morning broke, 
2125 those Danish people, their death-done comrade 

burn with brands, on balefire lay 

the man they mourned. Under mountain stream 

she had carried the corpse with cruel hands. 

For Hrothgar that was the heaviest sorrow 
2130 of all that had laden the lord of his folk. 

The leader then, by thy life, besought me 

(sad was his soul) in the sea-waves' coil 

to play the hero and hazard my being 

for glory of prowess : my guerdon he pledged. 
2135 I then in the waters — 'tis widely known — 

that sea-fioor-guardian savage found. 

Hand-to-hand there a while we struggled ; 

billows welled blood ; in the briny hall 

her head I hewed with a hardy blade 
2140 from Grendel's mother, — and gained my life, 

though not without danger. My doom was not yet. 

Then the haven-of -heroes, Healfdene's son, 

gave me in guerdon great gifts of price. 

XXXI 1 

" So held this king to the customs old, 

2145 that I wanted for nought in the wage I gained, 

the meed of my might ; he made me gifts, 

1 Sections XXIX and XXX are not indicated. 



BEOWULF 116 

Healfdene's heir, for my own disposal. 
Now to thee, my prince, I proffer them all, 
gladly give them. Thy grace alone 

2160 can find me favor. Few ^ indeed 

have I of kinsmen, save, Hygelac, thee ! " 

Then he bade them bear him the boar-head standard,^ 

the battle-helm high, and breastplate gray, 

the splendid sword ; then spake in form : — 

2155 " Me this war-gear the wise old prince, 
Hrothgar, gave, and his hest he added, 
that its story be straightway said to thee.' — 
A while it was held by Heorogar king, 
for long time lord of the land of Scyldings ; 

2160 yet not to his son the sovran left it, 

to daring Heoroweard, — dear as he was to him, 
his harness of battle. — Well hold thou it all ! " 
And I heard that soon passed o'er the path * of this 
treasure, 
all apple-fallow, four good steeds, 

2165 each like the others ; arms and horses 

he gave to the king. So should kinsmen be, 
not weave one another the net of wiles, 
or with deep-hid treachery death contrive 

i"None." He forgets, or lets his compliment forget, Weohstan : 
see vv. 2813, 2602, below. But over fifty years pass between this date 
and the date of his speech to Wiglaf. Weohstan, moreover, was in ser- 
vice at the Swedish court (Gering suggests that he was a younger son and 
sought his fortune in foreign parts), and was actually fighting on the side 
of Geatland's foes. See note to v. 2602, below. 

2Seev. 1021. Klaeber, Modern Philology, III, 462, compares the old 
" Raven " banners of the Northmen mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chroni- 
cle ; and Professor Hart refers to Asser's Life of Alfred, trans. Giles, 
Bohn ed., p. 62. 

8 Or : That first to thee should his thanks be said. 

* Followed it. The original figure is " guarded its tracks." 



116 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

for neighbor and comrade. His nephew was ever 
2170 by hardy Hygelac held full dear, 

and each kept watch o'er the other's weal. 

I heard, too, the necklace to Hygd he presented, 

wonder- wrought treasure, which Wealhtheow gave 
him, 

sovran's daughter : three steeds he added, 
2176 slender and saddle-gay. Since such gift 

the gem gleamed bright on the breast of the queen. 
Thus showed his strain the son of Ecgtheow 

as a man remarked for mighty deeds 

and acts of honor. At ale he slew not 
2180 comrade or kin ; nor cruel his mood, 

though of sons of earth his strength was greatest, 

a glorious gift that God had sent 

the splendid leader. Long was he spurned, 

and worthless by Geatish warriors held ; 
2185 him at mead the master-of-clans 

failed full oft to favor at all. 

Slack and shiftless ^ the strong men deemed him, 

profitless prince ; but payment came, 

to the warrior honored, for all his woes. — 
2190 Then the bulwark-of-earls ^ bade bring within, 

hardy chieftain, Hrethel's heirloom 

garnished with gold : no Geat e'er knew 

in shape of a sword a statelier prize. 

The brand he laid in Beowulf's lap ; 
2196 and of hides assigned him seven thousand, ^ 

1 Even in the name and story of the Roman Brutus one finds traces of 
this common motive in certain tales of the sluggish and stupid boy who 
blossoms out as a warrior, a hero of renown. It is very common in 
Norse legend. 2 Hygelac. 

8 This is generally assumed to mean hides, though the text simply 



^ 



BEOWULF in 

with house and high-seat.^ They held in common 
land alike by their line of birth, 
inheritance, home : but higher the king 
because of his rule o'er the realm itself. 



2200 Now further it fell with the flight of years, 
with harryings horrid, that Hygelac perished,^ 
and Heardred, too, by hewing of swords 
under the shield-wall slaughtered lay, 
when him at the van of his victor-folk 

says "seven thousand." In v. 2994 Wulf and Eofor each get "a hun- 
dred thousand in land and winding rings. " A hide in England meant 
about 120 acres, though "the size of the acre varied." Wulf and Eofor 
together would thus get a tract as large as England itself ; see Mr. W. H. 
Stevenson's note in his edition of Asser's Alfred, p. 154. He points out 
that the numeral refers to both land and treasure. In this passage the 
seven thousand may also include the value of "house and high-seat," 
with vague idea of treasure in the bargain. Both numerals, then, the 
seven thousand and the hundred thousand, are indefinite expressions of 
quantity, somewhat as when one now says of a man that he is " worth a 
million." 

Y 1 The seat in hall like a throne occupied by the owner and the head of 

/the clan, 

2 On the historical raid into Frankish territory between 512 and 520 
A.D. The subsequent course of events, as gathered from hints of this 
epic, is partly told in Scandinavian legend. Heardred succeeds to the 
throne ; for Beowulf most houorably refuses Hygd's proposal and serves 
the young king as guardian and chief va.ssal. But the reign is short. If 
with Gering we put 518 as the date of Hygelac's fall, it would not be 
long before Heardred took up the cause of Eanmund and Eadgils, sons of 
Ohtere, both of them rebels against their uncle Onela, the Swedish king. 
Onela makes a raid into the territory of Heardred and kills him. Then 
Beowulf succeeds. His further relations with this feud will be noted be- 
low. — Heardred is called Hereric's nephew. As the sister's son was a 
conspicuous relationship, and men had names from it analogous to tl» 
patronymic method, one may suppose that Hygd had a brother Hereric. 



118 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

2205 sought hardy heroes, Heatho-Scilfings, 

in arms o'erwhelming Hereric's nephew. 

Then Beowulf came as king this broad 

realm to wield ; and he ruled it well 

fifty winters,^ a wise old prince, 
2210 warding his land, until One began 

in the dark of night, a Dragon, to rage. 

In the grave on the hill a hoard it guarded, 

in the stone-barrow steep. A strait path reached it, 

unknown to mortals. Some man, however, 
2215 came by chance that cave within 

to the heathen hoard. ^ In hand he took 

a golden goblet, nor gave he it back, 

^ The chronology of the epic, as scholars have worked it out, would 
make Beowulf well over ninety years of age when he fights the dragon. 
But the fifty years of his reign need not be taken as historical fact. 

2 The text is here hopelessly illegible, and only the general drift of the 
meaning can be rescued. For one thing, we have the old myth of a 
dragon who guards hidden treasure. But with this runs the story of 
some noble, last of his race, who hides all his wealth within this barrow 
and there chants his farewell to life's glories. After his death the dragon 
takes possession of the hoard and watches over it. A condemned or ban- 
ished man, desperate, hides in the barrow, discovers the treasure, and 
while the dragon sleeps, makes off with a golden beaker or the like, and 
carries it for propitiation to his master. The dragon discovers the loss 
and exacts fearful penalty from the people round about. — 'ihe huge 
barrows were prominent objects and frequent ; in the oldest English 
charters we have directions for bounding estates "from the luathen bar- 
row," They are still familiar in many an English landscape, like Mr. 
Hardy's " Egdon Heath." Barrows have been opened which had a secret 
entrance somewhat as described here. Moreover, the robbing of graves 
which contained treasure or property proportional to the standing of 
the buried man, must have been a strong temptation. That superstition 
surrounded this crime with every sort of danger is evident enough. See 
below, vv. 3051-3073. Lifting buried gold is still an uncanny business, 
and folk-lore recounts its perils. Such gold brings the worst of luck ; 
and it is noteworthy that the epic takes this view, v. 3163, and has all 
the dragon's treasure heaped in Beowulf's own tomb. 



BEOWULF 119 

stole with it away, while the watcher slept, 
by thievish wiles : for the warden's wrath 
2220 prince and people must pay betimes I 

XXXII 

That way he went with no will of his own, 

in danger of life, to the dragon's hoard, 

but for pressure of peril, some prince's thane. 

He fled in fear the fatal scourge, 
2225 seeking shelter, a sinful man, 

and entered in. At the awful sight 

tottered that guest, and terror seized him ; 

yet the wretched fugitive rallied anon 

from fright and fear ere he fled away, 
2230 and took the cup from that treasure-hoard. 

Of such besides there was store enough, 

heirlooms old, the earth below, 

which some earl forgotten, in ancient years, 

left the last of his lofty race, 
2235 heedfully there had hidden away, 

dearest treasure. For death of yore 

had hurried all hence ; and he alone 

left to live, the last of the clan, 

weeping his friends, yet wished to bide 
2240 warding the treasure, his one delight, 

though brief his respite. The barrow, new-ready, 

to strand and sea- waves stood anear,^ 

hard by the headland, hidden and closed ; 

there laid within it his lordly heirlooms 

1 Jacob Grimm, alive to the poetry of these old traditions, tells of the 
grave-chamber of one Swedish king which was close to the sea. 



120 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

2246 and heaped hoard of heavy gold 

that warden of rings. Few words he spake : ^ — 
" Now hold thou, earth, since heroes may not, 

what earls have owned ! Lo, erst from thee 

brave men brought it ! But battle-death seized 
2250 and cruel killing my clansmen all, 

robbed them of life and a liegeman's joys. 

None have I left to lift the sword, 

or to cleanse the carven cup of price, 

beaker bright. My brave are gone. 
2255 And the helmet hard, all haughty with gold, 

shall part from its plating. Polishers sleep 

who could brighten and burnish the battle-mask ; 

and those weeds of war that were wont to brave 

over bicker of shields the bite of steel 
2260 rust with their bearer. The ringed mail 

fares not far with famous chieftain, 
, at side of hero I No harp's delight, 

no glee-wood's gladness ! No good hawk ^ now 
» flies through the hall ! Nor horses fleet 
2265 stamp in the burgstead ! Battle and death 

the flower of my race have reft away." 

Mournful of mood, thus he moaned his woe, 

alone, for them all, and unblithe wept 

by day and by night, till death's fell wave 
2270 o'erwhelmed his heart. His hoard-of-bliss 

1 Miillenhoff remarked on the resemblance of this elegiac passage to 
the poems of the Exeter Ms., — The Ruin, The Wanderer, The Seafarer. 
But in point of fact it is the favorite "deep note" of English poetry 
at large, which always takes strength of word and emotion from the 
thought of death. 

2 When the father sees his " Pearl," in the poem of that name, he ia 
afraid and bides as still "as hawk in hall." 



BEOWULF 121 

that old ill-doer open found, 

who, blazing at twilight the barrows haunteth, 

naked foe-dragon flying by night 

folded in fire : the folk of earth 
2275 dread him sore. 'Tis his doom to seek 

hoard in the graves, and heathen gold 

to watch, many-wintered : nor wins he thereby ! 
Powerful this plague-of-the-people thus 

held the house of the hoard in earth 
2280 three hundred winters ; till One aroused 

wrath in his breast, to the ruler bearing 

that costly cup, and the king implored 

for bond of peace. So the barrow was plundered, 

borne off was booty. His boon was granted 
2285 that wretched man ; and his ruler saw 

first time what was fashioned in far-off days. 
When the dragon awoke, new woe was kindled. 

O'er the stone he snuffed. The stark-heart found 

footprint of foe who so far had gone 
2290 in his hidden craft by the creature's head. — 

So may the undoomed easily flee 

evils and exile, if only he gain 

the grace of The Wielder ! — That warden of gold 

o'er the ground went seeking, greedy to find 
2295 the man who wrought him such wrong in sleep. 

Savage and burning, the barrow he circled 

all without ; nor was any there, 

none in the waste. . . . Yet war he desired, 

was eager for battle. The barrow he entered, 
2300 sought the cup, and discovered soon 

that some one of mortals had searched his treasure, 

his lordly gold. The guardian waited 



122 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

ill-enduring till evening came ; 

boiling with wrath was the barrow's keeper, 

2305 and fain with flame the foe to pay 

for the dear cup's loss. — Now day was fled 
as the worm had wished. By its wall no more 
was it glad to bide, but burning flew 
folded in flame : a fearful beginning 

2310 for sons of the soil ; and soon it came, 

in the doom of their lord, to a dreadful end. 

XXXIII 

Then the baleful fiend its fire belched out, 
and bright homes burned. The blaze stood high 
all landsfolk frighting. No living thing 

2315 would that loathly one leave as aloft it flew. 
Wide was the dragon's warring seen, 
its fiendish fury far and near, 
as the grim destroyer those Geatish people 
hated and hounded. To hidden lair, 

2320 to its hoard it hastened at hint of dawn. 
Folk of the land it had lapped in flame, 
with bale and brand. In its barrow it trusted, 
its battling and bulwarks : that boast was vain ! 

To Beowulf then the bale was told 
2325 quickly and truly : the king's own home, 

of buildings the best, in brand-waves melted, 

that gift-throne of Geats. To the good old man 

sad in heart, 'twas heaviest sorrow. 

The sage assumed that his sovran God 
2330 he had angered, breaking ancient law, 

and embittered the Lord. His breast within 



BEOWULF 123 

with black thoughts welled, as his wont was never. 

The folk's own fastness that fiery dragon 

with flame had destroyed, and the stronghold all 

2336 washed by waves ; but the warlike king, 
prince of the Weders, plotted vengeance. 
Warriors'-bulwark, he bade them work 
all of iron — the earl's commander — 
a war-shield wondrous : well he knew 

2340 that forest-wood against fire were worthless, 

linden could aid not. — Atheling brave, \ V^ 

he was fated to finish this fleeting life,^ 
his days on earth, and the dragon with him, 
though long it had watched o'er the wealth of the 
hoard ! — 

2346 Shame he reckoned it, sharer-of-rings, 
to follow the flyer-afar with a host, 
a broad-flung band ; nor the battle feared he, 
nor deemed he dreadful the dragon's warring, 
its vigor and valor: ventures desperate 

2360 he had passed a-plenty, and perils of war, 
contest-crash, since, conqueror proud, 
Hrothgar's hall he had wholly purged, 
and in grapple had killed the kin of Grendel, 
loathsome breed ! Not least was that 

2356 of hand-to-hand fights where Hygelac fell, 
when the ruler of Geats in rush of battle, 
lord of his folk, in the Frisian land, 
son of Hrethel, by sword-draughts 2 died, 

^ Literally "loan-days," days loaned to man. Professor Hart refers to 
the striking passage in Everyman, vv. 164 ff. 

2 This fine figure of the sword drinking the blood from the wounds it 
bas made should not be weakened. It is like that tremendous metaphor 



124 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

by brands down-beaten. Thence Beowulf fled 

2360 through strength of himself and his swimming power, 
though alone, and his arms were laden with thirty 
coats of mail, when he came to the sea! ^ 
Nor yet might Hetwaras ^ haughtily boast 
their craft of contest, who carried against him 

2366 shields to the fight: but few escaped 

from strife with the hero to seek their homes I 
Then swam over ocean Ecgtheow's son 
lonely and sorrowful, seeking his land, 
where Hygd made him offer of hoard and realm, 

2370 rings and royal-seat, reckoning naught 

the strength of her son to save their kingdom 
from hostile hordes, after Hygelac's death. 
No sooner for this could the stricken ones 
in any wise move that atheling's mind 

2375 over young Heardred's head as lord 
and ruler of all the realm to be : 
yet the hero upheld him with helpful words, 
aided in honor, till, older grown, 
he wielded the Weder-Geats. — Wandering exiles 

2380 sought him o'er seas, the sons of Ohtere, 

who had spurned the sway of the Scylfings'-helmet, 

in the Exodus, when the engulfing waves which clash over the drowned 
Egyptians and toss their crests to heaven are thus compressed : — 

mightest of sea-deaths 
lashed the sky, — 

that is, the sea which brought about death. 

1 It is like the additional touch which legend always gives to history, 
when Beowulf has this douceur of the thirty suits of armor, corresponding 
to his hand-gripe of thirty-man power. 

2 Chattuarii, a tribe that dwelt along the Rhine, and took part in re- 
pelling the raid of (Hygelac) Chocilaicus. 



BEOWULF 126 

the bravest and best that broke the rings, 

in Swedish land, of the sea-kings' line, 

haughty hero.^ Hence Heardred's end. 
2386 For shelter he gave them, sword-death came, 

the blade's fell blow, to bairn of Hygelac ; 

but the son of Ongentheow sought again 

house and home when Heardred fell, 

leaving Beowulf lord of Geats 
2390 and gift-seat's master. — A good king he ! 

XXXIV 

The fall of his lord he was fain to requite 
in after days ; and to Eadgils he proved 
friend to the friendless, and forces sent 
over the sea to the son of Ohtere, 

2395 weapons and warriors : well repaid he 

those care-paths cold when the king he slew.^ 
Thus safe through struggles the son of Ecgtheow 
had passed a plenty, through perils dire, 
with daring deeds, till this day was come 

2400 that doomed him now with the dragon to strive. 
With comrades eleven the lord of Geats 
swollen in rage went seeking the dragon. 

1 Onela, son of Ongentheow, who pursues his two nephews Eanmund 
and Eadgils to Heardred's court, wliere they have taken refuge after their 
unsuccessful rebellion. In the fighting Heardred is killed. 

2 That is, Beowulf supports Eadgils against Onela, who is slain by 
Eadgils in revenge for the "care-paths" of exile into which Onela 
forced him. Bugge, relying on the Norse story, translates " by care- 
paths cold " ; that is, Eadgils revenged himself by marches fraught with 
care or sorrow for Onela. As the battle in the Tnglingasaga takes place 
on the ice, Bugge reads "cold" literally. But it is the technical adjec- 
tive for exile j " winter-cold exile," e.g. in Deor^s Song. 



126 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

He had heard whence all the harm arose 

and the killing of clansmen ; that cup of price 
2406 on the lap of the lord had been laid by the finder. 

In the throng was this one thirteenth man, 

starter of all the strife and ill, 

care-laden captive ; cringing thence 

forced and reluctant, he led them on 
2410 till he came in ken of that cavern-hall, 

the barrow delved near billowy surges, 

flood of ocean. Within 'twas full 

of wire-gold and jewels ; a jealous warden, 

warrior trusty, the treasures held, 
2416 lurked in his lair. Not light the task 

of entrance for any of earth-born men ! 
Sat on the headland the hero king, 

spake words of hail ^ to his hearth-companions, ^y 

gold-friend of Geats. All gloomy his soul, 
2420 wavering,^ death-bound. Wyrd full nigh 

stood ready to greet the gray-haired man, 

to seize his soul-hoard, sunder apart 

life and body. Not long would be 

the warrior's spirit enwound with flesh. 
3426 Beowulf spake, the bairn of Ecgtheow : — 

" Through store of struggles I strove in youth, 

mighty feuds ; I mind them all. 

I was seven years old when the sovran of rings, 

friend-of-his-folk, from my father took me, 

1 Hselo. — Surely not "farewell," in spite of the lugubrious context, 
which is quite in line with the usual epic anticipation of ill success and 
death. It is his heot really, his vow, largely reminiscent of other strug- 
gles, but closing with an explicit promise of valorous deed. 

' Animula vagula. — The personification of Wyrd should be noticed; 
it occurs so in the Heliand itself. 




BEOWULF 127 

2430 had me, and held me, Hrethel the king, 
with food and fee, faithful in kinship. 
Ne'er, while I lived there, he loathlier found me,^ 
bairn in the burg, than his birthright sons, 
Herebeald and Ha3thcyn and Hygelac mine. 

2435 For the eldest of these, by unmeet chance, 
by kinsman's deed, was the death-bed strewn, 
when Hsethcyn killed him with horny bow, 
his own dear liege laid low with an arrow, 
missed the mark and his mate shot down, 

2440 one brother the other, with bloody shaft. 
A feeless fight ^ and a fearful sin, 
horror to Hrethel ; yet, hard as it was, 
unavenged must the atheling die ! 
Too awful it is for an aged man 

2445 to bide and bear, that his bairn so young 



1 Usual litotes : " he held me no less dear." 

2 That is, the king could claim no wergild, or man-price, from one son 
for the killing of the other. The casus is peculiarly Germanic in detail ; in 
general scope it is like the great kin-tragedies of the world's literature. A 
similar story is told in the Thithrekssaga of Herbort, Herdegen, and Sin- 
tram, but, as Miillenhoff points out, with a different ending. In the 
Scottish ballad of The Twa Brothers, one kills the other while wrestling 
(though with a knife) ; but the ballad touches the parent only by mes- 
sages to account for the disappearance of John. It is important to under- 
stand that the picture of the old king's grief is hypothetical. There 
is no wergild, says the poet, and revenge is out of the question. For let 
one but fancy the feelings of a father who has caused his son to be hanged ! 
The picture of such a state of things then follows. Then (v. 2462) one 
returns to Hrethel with the remark that his case was really as sad as the 
hypothetical one. Gering thinks that the poet took his picture of the 
broken-hearted parent from the story of Ermanric, of whom the Volsungn- 
saga relates that he caused his only son to be hanged on an accusation 
of misconduct with Swanhild, the young man's stepmother. Ermanric's 
story was known to English poetry. See above, v. 1201, and the stanza in 
Deor^s Song. 



128 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

rides ^ on the gallows. A rime he makes, 

sorrow-song for his son there hanging 

as rapture of ravens ; no rescue now 

can come from the old, disabled man 1 
2450 Still is he minded, as morning breaks, 

of the heir gone elsewhere ; * another he hopes not 

he will bide to see his burg within 

as ward for his wealth, now the one has found 

doom of death that the deed incurred. 
2465 Forlorn he looks on the lodge of his son, 
. j wine-hall waste and wind-swept chambers 
^ reft of revel. The rider sleepeth, 

I the hero, far-hidden ; ^ no harp resounds, 

in the courts no wassail, as once was heard. 

XXXV 

2460 " Then he goes to his chamber, a grief-song chants 
alone for his lost. -Too large all seems, 
homestead and house> So the helmet-of-Weders 
hid in his heart for Herebeald 
waves of woe. No way could he take 

2465 to avenge on the slayer slaughter so foul ; 

iThe regular metaphor in this case. The traditional phrase held for 
a long while. Wright and Halliwell, Reliquiae Antiquae, II, 119, print 
from a Harleian Ms. these verses where Christ calls on man to consider 
the sacrifice on the cross : — 

Restles I ride, — 

Lok upon me, put fro [thee] pride 1 

Mi palefrey is of tre. ..." 

that is, "my horse is made of wood." Vigfusson, in one of the Grimm 
centenary papers, says that gallows were horse-shaped. [" Traces of Old 
Law in the Eddie Lays."] 

2 Usual euphemism for death. ' Sc. in the grave. 



BEOWULF 129 

nor e'en could he harass that hero at all 

with loathing deed, though he loved him not. 

And so for the sorrow his soul endured, 

men's gladness he gave up and God's light chose. 
2470 Lands and cities he left his sons 

(as the wealthy do) when he went from earth. 

There was strife and struggle 'twixt Swede and Geat 

o'er the width of waters ; war arose, 

hard battle-horror, when Hrethel died, 
2475 and Ongentheow's offspring grew 

strife-keen, bold, nor brooked o'er the seas 

pact of peace, but pushed their hosts 

to harass in hatred by Hreosnabeorh.^ 

Men of my folk for that feud had vengeance, 
2480 for woful war ('tis widely known), 

though one of them bought it with blood of his heart, 

a bargain hard : for Hsethcyn proved 

1 This war must not be confused with the later hostilities between Geat 
and Swede in Heardred's reign, already noted (vv. 2200 ff.) ; it deals 
with an older feud, the main course of which can be surmised from this 
passage and the long speech of the messenger (see v. 2922, below) who 
announces Beowulf's death, and says that now not only wUl Frisians and 
Franks be bent on war, but the Swedes will surely renew the ancient strife. 
Onela and Ohthere are sons of Ongentheow, and often raid Geatland (the 
mention of "wide water" makes for the Jutland theory of Beowulf's 
home) ; Hsethcyn replies with a raid on Swedish soil. He seizes Ongen- 
theow's queen. But the old king follows the foe, defeats him, and kills 
Haethcyn, whose men are in desperate case, surrounded by enemies, in 
Ravenswood. But now comes Hygelac with another Geatish army (not 
so favorable a fact for Jutland !), defeats the Swedes, whose queen again 
is captured, and besieges Ongentheow in his citadel. Ongentheow is finally 
killed by Eofor, whose brother Wulf has been disabled in fierce fight with 
the desperate old hero. Eofor is then married to Hygelac' s daughter. The 
lively but episodic account of this last struggle makes one yearn for the 
original songs, perhaps the epic, in which it was sung. Bugge has shown 
traces of it in Norse tradition. The style of reference to the death ol 
Hsethcyn shows how familiar the whole story must have been. 



130 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

fatal that fray, for the first-of-Geats. 
At morn, I heard, was the murderer killed 
2485 by kinsman for kinsman,^ with clash of sword, 
when Ongentheow met Eofor there. 
Wide split the war-helm : wan he fell, 
hoary Scylfing ; the hand that smote him 
of feud was mindful, nor flinched from the death-blow. 

2490 — " For all that he ^ gave me, my gleaming sword 
repaid him at war, — such power I wielded, — 
for lordly treasure : with land he entrusted me, 

^ -^ homestead and house. He had no need 

from Swedish realm, or from Spear-Dane folk, 

2495 or from men of the Gifths,^ to get him help, — 
some warrior worse for wage to buy ! 
Ever I fought in the front of all, 
sole to the fore ; and so shall I fight 
while I bide in life and this blade shall last 

2600 that early and late hath loyal proved 

since for my doughtiness Dseghrefn * fell, 

1 Eofor for Wulf . — The immediate provocation for Eofor in killing 
"the hoary Scylfing," Ongentheow, is that the latter has just struck Wulf 
down ; but the king, Haethcyn, is also avenged by the blow. See the 
detailed description below, vv. 2961-2982. 

2 Hygelac. — Beo\\'ulf comes to his own services and their reward ; the 
transition is so abrupt that some verses may be supposed to have been 
lost at this point. It will be noted that he speaks throughout this mono- 
logue as a warrior, stout with sword, and not as a wrestler, phenomenal 
" strong man," or the like, except in the almost contradictory parenthesis, 
vv. 2506 f. In vv. 2518 f., the poet is matching Beowulf 's speech before the 
Grendel fight (677 ff.); while in 2680 ff., the "strong man" is again the 
main theme, backed by an old Anglian legend of another prince. 

8 Gepidae, who at this time were still near the Baltic. See Mlillenhoff, 
Deutache Alterthumskunde, II, 99 ; and Widsith, v. 60. 

* The Franks were called Hugones ; and this " Day-Raven " may have 
fought Beowulf on the historic raid into Prankish territory. 



BEOWULF 131 

slain by my hand, the Hugas' champion. 
Nor fared he thence to the Frisian king 
with the booty back, and breast-adornments ; 

2505 but, slain in struggle, that standard-bearer 

fell, atheling brave. Not with blade was he slain, 
but his bones were broken by brawny gripe, 
his heart-waves stilled. — The sword-edge now, 
hard blade and my hand, for the hoard shall strive." 

2510 Beowulf spake, and a battle-vow made, 
his last of all : " I have lived through many 
wars in my youth ; now once again, 
old folk-defender, feud will I seek, 
do doughty deeds, if the dark destroyer 

2515 forth from his cavern come to fight me ! " 
Then hailed he the helmeted heroes all, 
for the last time greeting his liegemen dear, 
comrades of war : " I should carry no weapon, 
no sword to the serpent, if sure I knew 

2520 how, with such enemy, else my vows 
I could gain as I did in Grendel's day. 
But fire in this fight I must fear me now, 
and poisonous breath ; so I bring with me 
breastplate and board. ^ From the barrow's keeper 

2526 no footbreadth flee I.^ One fight shall end 
our war by the wall, as Wyrd allots, 
all mankind's master. My mood is bold 
but forbears to boast o'er this battling-flyer. 
— Now abide by the barrow, ye breastplate-mailed, 

2530 ye heroes in harness, which of us twain 
better from battle-rush bear his wounds. 
Wait ye the finish. The fight is not yours, 
1 Shield. 2 The same phrase is used by Leofsunu at Maldon. 



132 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

nor meet for any but me alone 

to measure might with this monster here 

2635 and play the hero. Hardily I 

shall win that wealth, or war shall seize, 
cruel killing, your king and lord ! " 

Up stood then with shield the sturdy champion, 
stayed by the strength of his single manhood, 

2540 and hardy 'neath helmet his harness bore 
under cleft of the cliffs : no coward's path ! 
Soon spied by the wall that warrior chief, 
survivor of many a victory-field 
where foemen fought with furious clashings, 

2546 an arch of stone ; and within, a stream 

that broke from the barrow. The brooklet's wave 

was hot with fire. The hoard that way 

he never could hope unharmed to near, 

or endure those deeps,^ for the dragon's flame. 

2550 Then let from his breast, for he burst with rage, 
the Weder-Geat prince a word outgo ; 
stormed the stark-heart ; stern went ringing 
and clear his cry 'neath the cliff-rocks gray. 
The hoard-guard heard a human voice ; 

2655 his rage was enkindled. No respite now 
for pact of peace ! The poison-breath 
of that foul worm first came forth from the cave, 
hot reek-of-fight : the rocks resounded. 
Stout by the stone-way his shield he raised, 

2560 lord of the Geats, against the loathed-one ; 
while with courage keen that coiled foe 
came seeking strife. The sturdy king 
had drawn his sword, not dull of edge, 
1 The hollow passage. 



BEOWULF 138 

heirloom old ; and each of the two 

2566 felt fear of his foe, though fierce their mood. 
Stoutly stood with his shield high-raised 
the warrior king, as the worm now coiled 
together amain ; the mailed-one waited. 
Now, spire by spire, fast sped and glided 

2670 that blazing serpent. The shield protected 
soul and body a shorter while 
for the hero-king than his heart desired,* 
could his will have wielded the welcome respite 
but once in his life ! But Wyrd denied it, 

2575 and victory's honors. — His arm he lifted, 
lord of the Geats, the grim foe smote 
with atheling's heirloom. Its edge was turned, 
brown ^-blade, on the bone, and bit more feebly 
than its noble master had need of then 

2680 in his baleful stress. — Then the barrow's keeper 
waxed full wild for that weighty blow, 
cast deadly flames ; wide drove and far 
those vicious fires. No victor's glory 
the Geats' lord boasted; his brand had failed, 

2586 naked in battle, as never it should, 
excellent iron ! — 'Twas no easy path 
that Ecgtheow's honored heir must tread 
over the plain to the place of the foe ; 
for against his will he must win a home 

1 By auother interpretation, the following lines would read — 

what time it was fated first in his life 

that Wyrd would not will him to wield at all 

victory's honors. 

*See note to v. 1546 ; and for the "biting," v. 1455. For the seem 
Ingly sarcastic note of "excellent " in v. 2686, see note to v. 644. 



134 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

2590 elsewhere far, as must all men, leaving 

this lapsing life ! — Not long it was 

ere those champions grimly closed again. 

The hoard-guard was heartened; high heaved his 
breast 

once more ; and by peril was pressed again, 
2695 enfolded in flames, the folk-commander ! 

Nor yet about him his band of comrades, 

sons of athelings, armed stood 

with warlike front : to the woods they bent them, 

their lives to save.^ But the soul of one 
2600 with care was cumbered. Kinship true 

can never be marred in a noble mind ! 

XXXVI 

Wiglaf his name was, Weohstan's son, 
linden-thane loved, the lord of Scylfings,* 
^Ifhere's kinsman. His king he now saw 
2605 with heat under helmet hard oppressed. 

He minded the prizes his prince had given him, 

1 In 2532 the thanes were told to await the finish. Either this is con- 
ventional blame of coward retainers ; or else the thanes are supposed to 
fly from their place where Beowulf stationed them, when they ought to 
have disregarded his instructions and helped. Beowulf's other band 
waited for him by the uncanny and blood-stained mere. In Saxo (Bk. 
IX, Holder, p. 302) Ragnar fights two huge serpents, who try to crush 
him and kill him with their poison. He has no comrades ; but the men 
of the court in that land fly to hiding-places and watch the fight "like 
scared girls." 

2 As noted above to v. 2151, Weohstan was a kinsman of Hygelac and 
Beowulf, but had taken service under the Swedish king Onela, killing the 
rebel Eanmund and winning his weapons and armor. When Eadgils, 
Eanmund's brother, succeeds to the Swedish throne, Weohstan returns to 
his own kindred. Evidently he makes his peace, gets the family estates, 
and leaves them to his son Wiglaf. (Gering, p. 119.) 



BEOWULF 135 

wealthy seat of the Wsegmunding line, 
and folk-rights that his father owned. 
Not long he lingered. The linden yellow, 

2610 his shield, he seized; the old sword he drew : — 
as heirloom of Eanmund earth-dwellers knew it, 
who was slain by the sword- edge, son of Ohtere, 
friendless exile, erst in fray 
killed by Weohstan, who won for his kin 

2616 brown-bright helmet, breastplate ringed, 
old sword of Eotens, Onela's gift, 
weeds of war of the warrior-thane, 
battle-gear brave : though a brother's child 
had been felled, the feud was unfelt by Onela.^ 

2620 For winters this war-gear Weohstan kept, 

breastplate and board, till his bairn had grown 
earlship to earn as the old sire did: 
then he gave him, mid Geats, the gear of battle, 
portion huge, when he passed from life, 

2625 fared aged forth. For the first time now 
with his leader-lord the liegeman young 
was bidden to share the shock of battle. 
Neither softened his soul, nor the sire's bequest 
weakened in war.^ So the worm found out 



^ That is, although Eanmund was brother's son to Onela, the slaying 
of the former by Weohstan is not felt as cause of feud, and is rewarded 
by gift of the slain man's weapons. 

2 Both Wiglaf and the sword did their duty. — The following is one of 
the classic passages for illustrating the comitatus as the most conspicuous 
Germanic institution, and its underlying sense of duty, based partly on 
the idea of loyalty and partly on the practical basis of benefits received 
and repaid. It should be read along with the wholly admirable com- 
panion portions of The Fight at Maldon, as well as the story of Cyne- 
wulf and Cyneheard in the Chronicle. Historical song and epic strike 
the same note ; and the testimony of Tacitus {Oermania, c. xiv) is warm 



136 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

2630 when once in fight the foes had met! 

Wiglaf spake, — and his words were sage; 

sad in spirit, he said to his comrades : — 

" I remember the time,^ when mead we took, 

with praise and admiration of Germanic loyalty among the warriors of 
the first and second centuries. Caesar, as one would expect, looks at 
the institution from a practical military man's point of view. 

1 See the famous talk of Biarco and Hialto which Saxo (Bk. II, Hol- 
der, pp. 59 f.) says he got from " an old Danish song." In Elton's trans- 
lation Hialto says : " Sweet it is to repay the gifts received from our lord 
... let us do with brave hearts all the things that in our cups we boasted 
. . . letus keep the vows which we swore. ..." And Biarco (Bjarki) : " I 
will die overpowered near the head of my slain Captain, and at his feet 
thou also shalt slip on thy face in death, so that whoso scans the piled 
corpses may see in what wise we rate the gold our lord gave us ! " — As 
to "remembering the mead," see Finnsbrtrg, vv. 39ff. The very words 
of Wiglaf, however, are echoed in Maldon by vElfwine, as the faithful thane 
exhorts his comrades to light on nor forsake their slain lord. 

" Remember what time at the mead we talked, 
when on the benches our boasts we made, 
heroes in hall, of the hard encounter : 
now may be kenned whose courage avails ! 
I will my kinship make clear to all, 
that I was in Mercia of mighty race. 
My ag^d father was Ealhelm named. . . . 
None of the lords of my land shall taunt me 
I was fain from this field to flee away, 
my life to save now my lord lies dead, 
all hewn in combat, — my crudest grief : 
for he was my kinsman and captain both." 

Offa exhorted in the same vein ; and then — 

Leofsunu spake and lifted his shield: — 
" This is my best that hence I flee not 
a footbreadth's space, but will further go 
to revenge in fight my friend-and-lord. 
Nor need at Sturmere steadfast thanes 
jeer and taunt that I journeyed home, 
when my liege had fallen, a lordless man.'* 



BEOWULF 137 

what promise we made to this prince of ours 

2635 in the banquet-hall, to our breaker-of-rings, 
for gear of combat to give him requital, 
for hard-sword and helmet, if hap should bring 
stress of this sort ! Himself who chose us 
from all his army to aid him now, 

2640 urged us to glory, and gave these treasures, 
because he counted us keen with the spear 
and hardy 'neath helm, though this hero-work 
our leader hoped unhelped and alone 
to finish for us, — folk-defender 

2645 who hath got him glory greater than all men 
for daring deeds ! Now the day is come 
that our noble master has need of the might 
of warriors stout. Let us stride along 
the hero to help while the heat is about him 

2650 glowing and grim ! For God is my witness 
I am far more fain the fire should seize 
along with my lord these limbs of mine! ^ 
Unsuiting ^ it seems our shields to bear 

A valuable survival of this taunting of men who broke the oath of 
loyalty is the cry of the sworn-brother in Bewick and Graham : — 

In every town that I ride through, 

They'll say — " There rides a brotherless man ! " 

That is, there is one who has done to death his sworn-brother. 

With these speeches of the Maldon warriors and of Wiglaf one may 
compare the awkward but effective prose which reports the answer of 
Cynewulf's thanes to the conquering band of Cyneheard. They resist all 
bribes and entreaties to quit their dead master and king, and fall beside 
him. The account is perhaps based on an old lay. — See Anglo-Saxon 
Chronicle for the year 755. 

^ Sc. "than to bide safely here," — a common figure of incomplete 
comparison. 

2 Unusually deliberate understatement, indicating the excess of shame 
and disgrace. 



138 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

homeward hence, save here we essay 

2655 to fell the foe and defend the life 

of the Weders' lord. I wot 'twere shame 

on the law of our land ^ if alone the king 

out of Geatish warriors woe endured 

and sank in the struggle ! My sword and helmet, 

2660 breastplate and board, for us both shall serve! " 

Through slaughter-reek strode he to succor his 

chieftain, 
his battle-helm bore, and brief words spake : — 
" Beowulf dearest, do all bravely, 
as in youthful days of yore thou vowedst 

2665 that while life should last thou wouldst let no wise 
thy glory droop I Now, great in deeds, 
atheling steadfast, with all thy strength 
shield thy life ! I will stand to help thee." 
At the words the worm came once again, 

2670 murderous monster mad with rage, 

with fire-billows flaming, its foes to seek, 

the hated men. In heat-waves burned 

that board 2 to the boss, and the breastplate failed 

to shelter at all the spear-thane young. 

2676 Yet quickly under his kinsman's shield 

went eager the earl, since his own was now 
all burned by the blaze. The bold king again 
had mind of his glory: with might his glaive 
was driven into the dragon's head, — 

2680 blow nerved by hate. But Nsegling^ was shivered, 

1 Custom, tradition, — one of the boni mores which, Tacitus says, 
counts for so much more than law. ^ Wiglaf s wooden shield. 

8 Gering would translate "kinsman of the nail," as both are made of 
iron. — What is said here of Beowulf's excessive strength, like the 
former mention of his early slackness, is a legendary trait of Offa 



BEOWULF 139 

broken in battle was Beowulf's sword, 

old and gray. 'Twas granted him not 

that ever the edge of iron at all 

could help him at strife : too strong was his hand, 
2685 so the tale is told, and he tried too far 

with strength of stroke all swords he wielded, 

though sturdy their steel : they steaded him nought. 

Then for the third time thought on its feud 

that folk-destroyer, fire-dread dragon, 
2690 and rushed on the hero, where room allowed, 

battle-grim, burning ; its bitter teeth 

closed on his neck, and covered him 

with waves of blood from his breast that welled. 

XXXVII 

'Twas now, men say, in his sovran's need 
2696 that the earl made known his noble strain, 
craft and keenness and courage enduring. 
Heedless of harm,i though his hand was burned, 
hardy -hearted, he helped his kinsman. 
A little lower ^ the loathsome beast 

the elder, the Uffo of Saxo Grammaticus. This excess of strength is a 
favorite trait in certain lines of romance, runs into exaggeration, and lends 
itself to burlesque. In Hugh Spencer's Feats in France, a poor popular 
ballad, the hero cannot tilt with any one French lance, his strength 
smashing it in his hand ; and he is accommodated only when a dozen 
lances are bound into one. 

1 Literally, "heeded not head," — either his own ("heedless of head 
and limbs" translates Gering), or else the dragon's: "nor feared the 
flame from the beast's jaws," — which is less likely. 

* As in other fights with a dragon, the monster is killed by a blow 
underneath its body where no scales protect it. Saxo's Frotho, succeed- 
ing to a depleted treasury, is told by a " native " about a dragon (serpens) 
who guards a mount {montis possessor) full of treasure. Its poison is 
deadly. Frotho must not seek to pierce its scales, but "there is a place 



140 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

2700 he smote with sword ; his steel drove in 
bright and burnished ; that blaze began 
to lose and lessen. At last the king 
wielded his wits again, war-knife drew, 
a biting blade by his breastplate hanging,^ 

2705 and the Weders'-helm smote that worm asunder, 
felled the foe, flung forth its life.^ 

So had they killed it, kinsmen both, 
athelings twain : thus an earl should be 
in danger's day ! — Of deeds of valor 

2710 this conqueror's-hour of the king was last, 
of his work in the world. The wound began, 
which that dragon-of-earth had erst inflicted, 
to swell and smart ; and soon he found 
in his breast was boiling, baleful and deep, 

2716 pain of poison. The prince walked on, 
wise in his thought, to the wall of rock ; 
then sat, and stared at the structure of giants, 
where arch of stone and steadfast column 
upheld forever that hall in earth. 

2720 Yet here must the hand of the henchman peerless 
lave with water his winsome lord, 
the king and conqueror covered with blood, 
with struggle spent, and unspan his helmet. 
Beowulf spake in spite of his hurt, 

under its belly" where his sword can thrust and kill. — Saxo, Bk. II 
(Holder, p. 38). Much the same is told of another king who slays the 
serpent that guards an " underground room." Bk. VI (Holder, p. 181). 

1 In the ballads this useful dagger or short sword is often a "wee pen- 
knife that hangs low down by the gare " ; but the wee penknife now and 
then is described as " three-quarters [of a yard] long." 

2 As in all the adventures described by our poet, the actual climax and 
decisive part of the fight is told in briefest fashion. 



BEOWULF 141 

2726 his mortal wound ; full well he knew 
his portion now was past and gone 
of earthly bliss, and all had fled 
of his file of days, and death was near : 
" I would fain bestow on son of mine 

2730 this gear of war, were given me now 
that any heir should after me come 
of my proper blood. This people I ruled 
fifty winters. No folk-king was there, 
none at all, of the neighboring clans 

2735 who war would wage me with ' warriors'-friends ' * 
and threat me with horrors. At home I bided 
what fate might come, and I cared for mine own ; 
feuds I sought not, nor falsely swore 
ever on oath. For all these things, 

2740 though fatally wounded, fain am I ! ^ 

From the Ruler-of-Man no wrath shall seize me, 
when life from my frame must flee away, 
for killing of kinsmen ! Now quickly go 

1 That is, swords. See v. 1810, above. " Friend-of-war " would be a 
more exact translation of the kenning. 

^ " With a joyful spirit, I Sir Richard Grenville, die." "I am no 
sinner," says Beowulf, "and die a glad man." This mood of the happy 
warrior in death has had less clerical correction than occurred in a 
similar situation in, The Fight at Maldon. Byrhtnoth, dying on the 
field, looks up to heaven and says : — 

" I praise and thank thee. Prince of Nations, 
for all the bliss this earth has brought me I 
Now, Merciful Maker, is most my need 
that thou good speed to my spirit give, 
and let my soul to thee safely come, 
pass in peace to thy power and keeping, 
Prince of Angels ! I pray thee well 
that it get no harm from hell's destroyers." 

For the unmixed note of exultation we turn to the pagan Norsemen. 



142 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

and gaze on that hoard 'neath the hoary rock, 
2745 Wiglaf loved, now the worm lies low, 

sleeps, heart-sore, of his spoil bereaved. 

And fare in haste. I would fain behold 

the gorgeous heirlooms, golden store, 

have joy in the jewels and gems, lay down 
2750 softlier for sight of this splendid hoard 

my life and the lordship I long have held." 

XXXVIII 

I have heard that swiftly the son of Weohstan 

at wish and word of his wounded king, — - 

war-sick warrior, — woven mail-coat, 
2755 battle-sark, bore 'neath the barrow's roof.^ 

Then the clansman keen, of conquest proud, 

passing the seat,^ saw store of jewels 

and glistening gold the ground along; 

by the wall were marvels, and many a vessel 
2760 in the den of the dragon, the dawn-flier old : 

unburnished bowls of bygone men 

reft of richness ; rusty helms 

of the olden age ; and arm-rings many 

wondrously woven. — Such wealth of gold, 
2765 booty from barrow, can burden with pride 

each human wight : let him hide it who will ! — 

His glance too fell on a gold-wove banner 

1 It is a common feature of Anglo-Saxon poetical style that the move- 
ments of prominent persons are described in this way. So v. 405, 
"Beowulf ^ake, — on him the breastplate glittered," etc. Hence, in- 
stead of the word " to go," the poet takes phrases like " bore his armor," 
"bore sword and shield." In translations such as " went protected by 
his armor " (Gering), the stylistic feature is lost. 

2 Where Beowulf lay. 



BEOWULF 143 

high o'er the hoard, of handiwork noblest, 
brilliantly broidered ; so bright its gleam, 

2770 all the earth-floor he easily saw 

and viewed all these vessels. No vestige now 
was seen of the serpent : the sword had ta'en him. 

Then, I heard, the hill of its hoard was reft, 
old work of giants, by one alone ; 

2775 he burdened his bosom with beakers and plate 
at his own good will, and the ensign took, 
brightest of beacons. — The blade of his lord 
— its edge was iron ^ — had injured deep 
one that guarded the golden hoard 

2780 many a year and its murder-fire 

spread hot round the barrow in horror-billows 
at midnight hour, till it met its doom. 
Hasted the herald, the hoard so spurred him 
his track to retrace ; he was troubled by doubt, 

2786 high-souled hero, if haply he'd find 

alive, where he left him, the lord of Weders, 
weakening fast by the wall of the cave. 
So he carried the load. His lord and king 
he found all bleeding, famous chief, 

2790 at the lapse of life. The liegeman again 
plashed him with water, till point of word 
broke through the breast-hoard. Beowulf spake, 
sage and sad, as he stared at the gold : — 
" For the gold and treasure, to God my thanks, 

2795 to the Wielder-of-Wonders, with words I say, 
for what I behold, to Heaven's Lord, 

^ The formula doubtless had comedown from days when, as Tacitus 
says, metals were rare among the Germans and iron had to be imported. 
The whole passage is a variant of vv. 2771 (6) f. Wiglaf took all this 
treasure without fear of interruption, for the warden of it was killed. 



144 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

for the grace that I give such gifts to my folk 

or ever the day of my death be run ! 

Now I've bartered here for booty of treasure 
2800 the last of my life, so look ye well 

to the needs of my land ! No longer I tarry. 

A barrow bid ye the battle-famed raise 

for my ashes. 'Twill shine by the shore of the flood, 

to folk of mine memorial fair 
2805 on Hrones Headland high uplifted, 

that ocean-wanderers oft may hail 

Beowulf's Barrow, as back from far ^ 

they drive their keels o'er the darkling wave." 
From his neck he unclasped the collar of gold, 
2810 valorous king, to his vassal gave it 

with bright-gold helmet, breastplate, and ring, 

to the youthful thane : bade him use them in joy. 
" Thou art end and remnant of all our race, 

the Waegmunding name. For Wyrd hath swept them, 
2816 all my line, to the land of doom, 

earls in their glory: I after them go." 

This word was the last which the wise old man 

harbored in heart ere hot death-waves 

of balefire he chose. From his bosom fled 
2820 his soul to seek the saints' reward.^ 

1 Besides the Germanic Yngwar, who was buried by the sea, there are 
famous classical cases. Achilles had his tomb " high on a jutting head- 
land over wide Hellespont, that it might be seen from far off the sea by 
men that now are and by those that shall be hereafter." So the Odyssey, 
in Butcher and Lang's translation of the last book. In Book XI, Elpenor 
asks for such a tomb. According to Vergil, ^n. VI, 232, Misenus was 
buried by ^neas on a huge mound on a cliff by the sea. 

2 A Christian term, — "the splendid state of the redeemed, of the 
martyrs," — heaven. 



BEOWULF 145 



XXXIX 



It was heavy hap for that hero young 
on his lord beloved to look and find him 
lying on earth with life at end, 
sorrowful sight. But the slayer too, 

2826 awful earth-dragon, empty of breath, 

lay felled in fight, nor, fain of its treasure, 
could the writhing monster rule it more. 
For edges of iron had ended its days, 
hard and battle-sharp, hammers' leaving ; * 

2830 and that flier-afar had fallen to ground 
hushed by its hurt, its hoard all near, 
no longer lusty aloft to whirl 
at midnight, making its merriment seen, 
proud of its prizes : prone it sank 

2835 by the handiwork of the hero-king. 

Forsooth among folk but few^ achieve, 

— though sturdy and strong, as stories tell me, 

and never so daring in deed of valor, — 

the perilous breath of a poison-foe 

2840 to brave, and to rush on the ring-hoard hall, 
whenever his watch the warden keeps 
bold in the barrow. Beowulf paid 
the price of death for that precious hoard ; 
and each of the foes had found the end 

2845 of this fleeting life. 

Befell erelong 
that the laggards in war the wood had left, 

^ What had been left or made by the hammer ; well-forged. 
2 As usual, litotes for " none at all." 



146 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

trothbreakers, cowards,^ ten together, 

fearing before to flourish a spear 

in the sore distress of their sovran lord. 
2860 Now in their shame their shields they carried, 

armor of fight, where the old man lay; 

and they gazed on Wiglaf. Wearied he sat 

at his sovran's shoulder, shieldsman good, 

to wake him with water.'* Nowise it availed. 
2855 Though well he wished it, in world no more 

could he barrier life for that leader-of-battles 

nor baffle the will of all-wielding God. 

Doom of the Lord was law o'er the deeds 

of every man, as it is to-day. 
2860 Grim was the answer, easy to get, 

from the youth for those that had yielded to fear 1 

Wiglaf spake, the son of Weohstan, — 

mournful he looked on those men unloved : — 

" Who sooth will speak, can say indeed 
2865 that the ruler who gave you golden rings 

and the harness of war in which ye stand 
y/ — for he at ale-bench of ten-times 

bestowed on hall-folk helm and breastplate, 
/ lord to liegemen, the likeliest gear 
2870 which near or far he could find to give, — 

threw away and wasted these weeds of battle, 

on men who failed when the foemen came ! 

1 In Maldon the antitype of cowardice and false thaneship is furnished 
by the three sons of Odda, — Godric, who mounts his lord's own horse 
when the chieftain falls, and flies to the woods and the fastness, Godwine, 
and Godwig. They will not stay to fall about their lord's body, faithful 
in death, as do the rest. 

2 Trying to revive him. In the Anglo-Saxon Genesis, water ♦• wakes " 
land into fertility. 



BEOWULF 147 

Not at all could the king of his comrades-in-arms 
venture to vaunt, though the Victory-Wielder, 

2875 God, gave him grace that he got revenge 
sole with his sword in stress and need. 
To rescue his life, 'twas little that I 
could serve him in struggle ; yet shift I made 
(hopeless it seemed) to help my kinsman. 

2880 Its strength ever waned, when with weapon I struck 
that fatal foe, and the fire less strongly 
flowed from its head. — Too few the heroes 
in throe of contest that thronged to our king ! 
Now gift of treasure and girding of sword, 

2886 joy of the house and home-delight 
shall fail your folk; his freehold-land 
every clansman within your kin 
shall lose and leave, when lords highborn 
hear afar of that flight of yours, 

2890 a fameless deed. Yea, death is better 
for liegemen all than a life of shame I " 

XL 

That battle-toil bade he at burg to announce, 

at the fort on the cliff, where, full of sorrow, 

all the morning earls had sat, 
2895 daring shieldsmen, in doubt of twain: 

would they wail as dead, or welcome home, 

their lord beloved ? Little i kept back 

of the tidings new, but told them all, 

the herald that up the headland rode. — 
2900 "Now the willing-giver to Weder folk 

1 Nothing. 



148 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

in death-bed lies, the Lord of Geats 
on the slaughter-bed sleeps by the serpent's deed I 
And beside him is stretched that slayer-of-men 
with knife-wounds sick : i no sword availed ^ 

2905 on the awesome thing in any wise 

to work a wound. There Wiglaf sitteth, 
Weohstan's bairn, by Beowulf's side, 
the living earl by the other dead, 
and heavy of heart a head-watch ^ keeps 

2910 o'er friend and foe. — Now our folk may look 
for waging of war when once unhidden 
to Frisian and Frank the fall of the king 
is spread afar. — The strife began 
when hot on the Hugas ^ Hygelac fell 

2915 and fared with his fleet to the Frisian land. 
Him there the Hetwaras humbled in war, 
plied with such prowess their power o'erwhelming 
that the bold-in-battle bowed beneath it 
and fell in fight. To his friends no wise 

2920 could that earl give treasure ! And ever since 
the Merowings' favor has failed us wholly.* 
Nor aught expect I of peace and faith 
from Swedish folk. 'Twas spread afar 
how Ongentheow reft at Ravenswood 

2925 HsBthcyn Hrethling of hope and life, 

1 Dead. 2 Death-watch, guard of honor, " lyke-wake." 

'A name for the Franks. — "The fleet" (literally "fleet-army") 
marks a viking's raid ; but does not make necessarily for the argument 
that Geats were Swedes. An expedition by boat from Jutland, using the 
large rivers for quick piratical assaults and plunderings, is likely enough. 

* The Hetwaras (see v. 2363, above) were subordinate to the Frankish 
or Merovingian line founded by Chlodowech (Clovis), whose grandson 
Theudebert was in command of the forces which routed Hygelac's army. 



BEOWULF 148 

when the folk of Geats for the first time sought 
in wanton pride the Warlike-Scylfings. 
Soon the sage old sire ^ of Ohtere, 
ancient and awful, gave answering blow; 

2930 the sea-king ^ he slew, and his spouse redeemed, 
his good wife rescued, though robbed of her gold, 
mother of Ohtere and Onela. 
Then he followed his foes, who fled before him 
sore beset and stole their way, 

2935 bereft of a ruler, to Ravenswood. 

With his host he besieged there what swords had left, 
the weary and wounded ; woes he threatened 
the whole night through to that hard-pressed throng: 
some with the morrow his sword should kill, 

2940 some should go to the gallows-tree 

for rapture of ravens. But rescue came 
with dawn of day for those desperate men 
when they heard the horn of Hygelac sound, 
tones of his trumpet ; the trusty king 

2946 had followed their trail with faithful band. 

XLI 

"The bloody swath of Swedes and Geats 
and the storm of their strife, were seen afar, 
how folk against folk the fight had wakened. 
The ancient king with his atheling band 
2950 sought his citadel, sorrowing much : 
Ongentheow earl went up to his burg. 
He had tested Hygelac's hardihood, 
the proud one's prowess, would prove it no longer, 

^Ongentheow. — This episode has been explained above, note toy. 
2477. 2 Haethcyn. 



150 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

defied no more those fighting-wanderers 

2955 nor hoped from the seamen to save his hoard, 
his bairn and his bride : so he bent him again, 
old, to his earth-walls. Yet after him came 
with slaughter for Swedes the standards of Hygelac 
o'er peaceful plains in pride advancing, 

2960 till Hrethelings fought in the fenced town.* 
Then Ongentheow with edge of sword, 
the hoary-bearded, was held at bay, 
and the folk-king there was forced to suffer 
Eofor's anger. In ire, at the king 

2966 Wulf Wonreding with weapon struck ; 

and the chieftain's blood, for that blow, in streams 
flowed 'neath his hair. No fear felt he, 
stout old Scylfing, but straightway repaid 
in better bargain that bitter stroke 

2970 and faced his foe with fell intent. 

Nor swift enough was the son of Wonred 
answer to render the aged chief ; 
too soon on his head the helm was cloven ; 
blood-bedecked he bowed to earth, 

2975 and fell adown : not doomed was he yet, 

and well he waxed, though the wound was sore. 
Then the hardy Hygelac-thane,^ 
when his brother fell, with broad brand smote, 
giants'-sword crashing through giants'-helm 

1 The line may mean : till Hrethelings stormed on the hedged shields, — 
i.e. the shield-wall or hedge of defensive war. — Hrethelings, of course, 
are Geats. 

2 Eofor, brother to Wnlf Wonreding. As was noted above, this Ho- 
meric account of the fight is not difficult to follow. Wulf wounds Ongen- 
theow, who replies with a terrific stroke, felling Wulf to earth, but not 
killing him. Eofor, the brother, avenges Wulf speedily, and gets hia 
reward for killing the old hero-king. 



BEOWULF 161 

2980 across the shield-wall : sank the king, 
his folk's old herdsman, fatally hurt. 
There were many to bind the brother's wounds 
and lift him, fast as fate allowed 
his people to wield the place-of-war. 

2985 But Eofor took from Ongentheow, 
earl from other, the iron-breastplate, 
hard sword hilted, and helmet too, 
and the hoar-chief's harness to Hygelac carried, 
who took the trappings, and truly promised 

2990 rich fee 'mid folk,i — and fulfilled it so. 
For that grim strife gave the Geatish lord, 
Hrethel's offspring, when home he came, 
to Eofor and Wulf a wealth of treasure. 
Each of them had a hundred thousand ^ 

2995 in land and linked rings ; nor at less price reckoned 
mid-earth men such mighty deeds ! 
And to Eofor he gave his only daughter 
in pledge of grace, the pride of his home. 

" Such is the feud, the foeman's rage, 

3000 death-hate of men : so I deem it sure 
that the Swedish folk will seek us home 
for this fall of their friends, the fighting- Scylfings,* 
when once they learn that our warrior leader 
lifeless lies, who land and hoard 

3005 ever defended from all his foes, 

1 Conjectural but obvious reading, with the general sense of " open " — 
public, prominent. 

2 Sc. " value in " hides and the weight of the gold. See note on v. 2195, 
above. 

8 Transposed from its place as v. 3005, and reading "Scylfings" foi 
the " Scyldings " of the Ms. Then no gap need be assumed. 



162 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

furthered his folk's weal, finished his course 

a hardy hero. — Now haste is best, 

that we go to gaze on our Geatish lord, 

and bear the bountiful breaker-of-rings 
3010 to the funeral pyre. No fragments merely 

shall burn with the warrior. ^ Wealth of jewels, 

gold untold and gained in terror, 

treasure at last with his life obtained, 

all of that booty the brands shall take, 
3015 fire shall eat it. No earl must carry 

memorial jewel. No maiden fair 

shall wreathe her neck with noble ring : 

nay, sad in spirit and shorn of her gold, 

oft shall she pass o'er paths of exile 
3020 now our lord all laughter has laid aside, 

all mirth and revel. Many a spear 

morning-cold shall be clasped amain, 

lifted aloft ; nor shall lilt of harp 

those warriors wake ; but the wan-hued raven,* 
3025 fain o'er the fallen, his feast shall praise 

and boast to the eagle how bravely he ate 

when he and the wolf were wasting the slain." 

So he told his sorrowful tidings, 
and little ^ he lied, the loyal man 
3030 of word or of work. The warriors rose ; 

1 Beowulf was glad he had won such treasure for his folk, v. 2794, 
above. Earls and maids should be glad for it. But the herald, who fore- 
sees for earl and maid another fate — exile for one, and death in battle 
after surprise at dawn (or is it that the spear shaU be found clasped by 
a cold, dead hand?) for the other — will heap all the treasure in the 
tomb. Compare the treasures for Scyld's ship-burial. 

2 See Finnsburg, w. 6, 36. * Not at all. 



BEOWULF 158 

sad, they climbed to the Cliff-of-Eagles, 
went, welling with tears, the wonder to view. 
Found on the sand there, stretched at rest, 
their lifeless lord, who had lavished rings 

3035 of old upon them. Ending-day 
" had dawned on the doughty-one ; death had seized 
in woful slaughter the Weders' king. 
There saw they, besides, the strangest being, 
loathsome, lying their leader near, 

3040 prone on the field. The fiery dragon, 
fearful fiend, with flame was scorched. 
Reckoned by feet, it was fifty measures 
in length as it lay. Aloft erewhile 
it had revelled by night, and anon come back, 

3046 seeking its den; now in death's sure clutch 
it had come to the end of its earth-hall joys. 
By it there stood the stoups and jars ; 
dishes lay there, and dear-decked swords 
eaten with rust, as, on earth's lap resting, 

3050 a thousand winters they waited there. 
For all that heritage huge, that gold 
of bygone men, was bound by a spell,i 
so the treasure-hall could be touched by none 
of human kind, — save ^ that Heaven's King, 

3065 God himself, might give whom he would. 
Helper of Heroes, the hoard to open, — 
even such a man as seemed to him meet. 

1 Laid on it when it was put in the barrow. This spell, or in our days 
the " curse," either prevented discovery or brought dire ills on the finder 
and taker. The Nibelungs' gold is cited by Holthausen as a case in point. 
— See below, v. 3069. 

' One of our poet's mild "riders" to correct obvious remains of gentil- 
ism. 



154 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

XLII 

A perilous path, it proved, he ^ trod 

who heinously hid, that hall within, 
3060 wealth under wall ! Its watcher had killed 

one of a few,^ and the feud was avenged 

in woful fashion. Wondrous seems it, 

what manner a man of might and valor 

oft ends his life, when the earl no longer 
3065 in mead-hall may live with loving friends. 

So Beowulf, when that barrow's warden 

he sought, and the struggle ; himself knew not 

in what wise he should wend from the world at last. 

For ^ princes potent, who placed the gold, 
3070 with a curse to doomsday covered it deep, 

so that marked with sin the man should be, 

hedged with horrors, in hell-bonds fast, 

racked with plagues, who should rob their hoard. 

Yet no greed for gold, but the grace of heaven, 
3076 ever the king had kept in view.* 

Wiglaf spake, the son of Weohstan : — 

"At the mandate of one, oft warriors many 

sorrow must suffer ; and so must we. 

The people's-shepherd showed not aught 

1 ProbfCbly the fugitive is meant who discovered the hoard. Ten Brink 
and Gering assume that the dragon is meant. "Hid " (the Ms. reading) 
may well mean here " took while in hiding." 

2 That is, " one and a few others." But Beowulf seems to be indicated. 
2 Ten Brink points out the strongly heathen character of this part of the 

epic. Beowulf's end came, so the old tradition ran, from his unwitting 
interference with spell-bound treasure. 

* A hard saying, variously interpreted. In any case, it is the some- 
what clumsy effort of the Christian poet to tone down the heathenism of 
his material by an edifying observation. 



BEOWULF 155 

3080 of care for our counsel, king beloved ! 

That guardian of gold he should grapple not, urged we, 
but let him lie where he long had been 
in his earth-hall waiting the end of the world, 
the hest of heaven. — This hoard is ours, 

3085 but grievously gotten ; too grim the fate 
which thither carried our king and lord. 
I was within there, and all I viewed, 
the chambered treasure, when chance allowed me 
(and my path was made in no pleasant wise) 

3090 under the earth-wall. Eager, I seized 

such heap from the hoard as hands could bear 
and hurriedly carried it hither back 
to my liege and lord. Alive was he still, 
still wielding his wits. The wise old man 

3096 spake much in his sorrow, and sent you greetings 
and bade that ye build, when he breathed no more, 
on the place of his balefire a barrow high, 
memorial mighty. Of men was he 
worthiest warrior wide earth o'er 

3100 the while he had joy of his jewels and burg. 
Let us set out in haste now, the second time 
to see and search this store of treasure, 
these wall-hid wonders, — the way I show you, — 
where, gathered near, ye may gaze your fill 

3106 at broad-gold and rings. Let the bier, soon made, 
be all in order when out we come, 
our king and captain to carry thither 
— man beloved — where long he shall bide 
safe in the shelter of sovran God." 

3110 Then the bairn of Weohstan bade command, 
hardy chief, to heroes many 



156 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

that owned their homesteads, hither to bring 
firewood from far — o'er the folk they ruled — 
for the famed-one's funeral. " Fire shall devour 

3115 and wan flames feed on the fearless warrior 
who oft stood stout in the iron-shower, 
when, sped from the string, a storm of arrows 
shot o'er the shield- wall : the shaft held firm, 
featly feathered, followed the barb." ^ 

3120 And now the sage young son of Weohstan 
seven chose of the chieftain's thanes, 
the best he found that band within, 
and went with these warriors, one of eight, 
under hostile roof. In hand one bore 

3125 a lighted torch and led the way. 

No lots they cast for keeping the hoard 
when once the warriors saw it in hall, 
altogether without a guardian, 
lying there lost. And little they mourned 

3130 when they had hastily haled it out, 

dear-bought treasure ! The dragon they cast, 
the worm, o'er the wall for the wave to take, 
and surges swallowed that shepherd of gems. 
Then the woven gold on a wain was laden — 

3135 countless quite ! — and the king was borne, 
hoary hero, to Hrones-Ness. 

XLIII 

Then ^ fashioned for him the folk of Geats 
firm on the earth a funeral-pile, 

1 Professor Garnett's translation. 

2 The construction of the poem is certainly strengthened by this dignified 
close, which corresponds in theme to the opening lines. 



BEOWULF 157 

and hung it with helmets and harness of war 
3140 and breastplates bright, as the boon he asked ; 

and they laid amid it the mighty chieftain, 

heroes mourning their master dear. 

Then on the hill that hugest of balefires 

the warriors wakened. Wood-smoke rose 
3146 black over blaze, and blent was the roar 

of flame with weeping (the wind was still), 

till the fire had broken the frame of bones, 

hot at the heart. In heavy mood 

their misery moaned they, their master's death. 
3160 Wailing her woe, the widow ^ old, 

her hair upbound, for Beowulf's death 

sung in her sorrow, and said full oft 

she dreaded the doleful days to come, 

deaths enow, and doom of battle, 
3155 and shame. — The smoke by the sky was devoured. 
The folk of the Weders fashioned there 

on the headland a barrow broad and high, 

by ocean-farers far descried : 

in ten days' time their toil had raised it, 
3160 the battle-brave's beacon. Round brands of the pyre 

a wall they built, the worthiest ever 

that wit could prompt in their wisest men. 

They placed in the barrow that precious booty, 

the rounds and the rings they had reft ere while, 

^ Compare the account of Hildeburh at her brother's funeral, above, vt. 
1114 ff. Nothing is said of Beowulf's wife in the poem, but Bugge — whose 
restoration of the text is followed here — surmises that Beowulf finally 
accepted Hygd's offer of kingdom and hoard, and, as was usual, took her 
into the bargain. In any case a praejica (with differences) belonged to the 
Germanic funeral, and chanted her vocero. Specimens of these laments, 
which often, as here, expressed forebodings for the future, may be found 
in the present writer's Beginnings of Foetry. 



158 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

3165 hardy heroes, from hoard in cave, — 

trusting the ground with treasure of earls, 

gold in the earth, where ever it lies 

useless to men as of yore it was. 

Then about that barrow the battle-keen rode,* 
3170 atheling-born, a band of twelve, 

lament to make, to mourn their king, 

chant their dirge, and their chieftain honor. 

They praised his earlship, his acts of prowess 

worthily witnessed: and well it is 
3175 that men their master-friend mightily laud, 

heartily love, when hence he goes 

from life in the body forlorn away. 

Thus made their mourning the men of Geatland, 
for their hero's passing his hearth-companions: 
3180 quoth that of all the kings of earth, 

of men he was mildest and most beloved, 
to his kin the kindest, keenest for praise. 

^ The close resemblance of these funeral rites to the ceremonies at At- 
tila's burial has often been noted. Jordanis, reporting them briefly — 
pauca de multis dicere — tells how the corpse was placed under a " silken 
tent," and how horsemen rode round it, in masterly fashion, and chanted 
Attila's great deeds. At the burial of Achilles "heroes of the Achaeans 
moved mail-clad round the pyre . . . both footmen and horse, and great 
was the noise that arose." 



CHAPTER II 

THE ATTACK ON FINNSBURG 

TN contrast to the remoteness, the detached and moralizing 
method, of the poet of the Beowulf^ the singer of Finns- 
burg comes to close quarters with his theme, and treats it 
in nervous, direct, dramatic fashion. Fragment as this 
is, it serves to stamp its maker as no bookman, but a min- 
strel, who knew how to rouse his hearers in the hall with 
living words. In directness of treatment, in delight of 
battle, it sounds the same note that one hears in the 
historical poems of Maldon and Brunnanhurh. But it is 
not an historical poem like those. It is a piece of the old 
traditional and mainly oral epic, closely related to the 
legendary cycle from which the Beowulf derived, and 
resembling that poem in all essentials of style and metre. 
Those qualities which difference it from the Beoivulf 
are mainly negative ; it lacks sentiment, moralizing, 
the leisure of the writer ; it did not attempt, probably, 
to cover more than a single event ; and one will not err in 
finding it a fair type of the epic songs which roving sing- 
ers were wont to chant before lord and liegemen in hall 
and which were used with more or less fidelity by makers 
of complete epic poems. 

The manuscript which contained the Finnsburg frag- 
ment once belonged to the library at Lambeth Palace, 
but was lost some time ago. Hickes made a copy of it for 
his Thesaurus^ at the beginning of the eighteenth century; 
and all editions are based on the copy. Hickes may have 

159 



160 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

made mistakes ; the scribe is always guilty in these cases 
until he is proved innocent ; and so arises store of con- 
troversy over textual matters in infinite detail. But the 
meaning and the vigor of the whole are beyond controversy. 

" No gables are burning." — ^ 

Then cried ^ to his band the battle-young king : 
" 'Tis no dawn from eastward ; no dragon flies ; 
nor burn on this hall the horned gables : 
5 but hither comes bearing a hostile hand 

its battle-gear bright : ^ the birds * are calling, 

" gray-coat " howls,^ and harsh dins the war-wood, * 

1 Despite Moller's argument that the fight here described belongs 
«' between vv. 1145 and 1146 " of Beowulf, that is, where Hengest and the 
remnant of the Danes are attacked after the battle in which Hnsef falls, 
the majority of scholars are surely right in regarding this part of Finns- 
burg as the story of the first attack, in which Hnaef falls. See the note 
to Beoiculf, V. 1068, — Some one has called the attention of the " battle- 
young king " to a peculiar light, and both suggests and rejects explanations, 
the final one of which is preserved. The king is probably Hnsef, to 
whom, perhaps, Hengest speaks. They are looking out from their hall. 

2 In appeal, — a call and summons to the throng, as the chieftain notes 
that the strange light is that of weapons, and that his hall is singled out 
for a night attack. The desperate courage of chief and clansmen surprised 
in a hall or withiu the usual house-defences was a favorite theme in Ger- 
manic verse, corresponding to the frequency of the situation in actual 
life. One thinks of the splendid close of the Nihelungen-Lay as the 
masterpiece in its kind. Bugge points out the resemblance of the situation 
to that described in the Saga of Hrolf Kraki. 

3 Conjectural half -verses supplied by Grein to mend the broken rhyth- 
mical scheme. 

* Birds of the battle-field, who follow the army in anticipation of fight, 
and feast on the slain. See Beoimilf, above, vv. 3024 fE. ; the famous 
passage in Brunnanburh, vv. 60 ft. ; and Elene, vv. Ill f. (with J. 
Grimm's note). 

6 The wolf ; see preceding references. Some editors make " gray-coat " 
the "gray coat-of-mail," after Beowulf, v. 334. 

6 The spear. — The personification of this and kindred passages should 



THE ATTACK ON FINNSBURG 161 

shield answers shaft. Yon shines the moon 

full from the clouds ; and foul deeds rise 
10 to whelm this people with peril and death. 

But waken ye now, warriors mine ; 

seize your shields, be steadfast in valor, 

fight at the front, and fearless bide ! " 
Then rose from rest, with ready courage^ 
15 many gold-decked thanes, and girt them with swords. 

Then went to the door those warriors doughty, 

Sigeferth^ and Eawa, swords they drew; 

to the other entrance, Ordlaf and Guthlaf,^ 

whom Hengest himself all hastily followed. 
20 Yet with Garulf * pleaded Guthere then 

to draw no sword ^ at the door of the hall 

nor risk at first rush his royal life 

where the rugged-in-war ^ would wrest it from him. 

not be prosed into " rattled on," or " clashed," instead of "spoke." Com- 
pare the passage (^Andreas^ 442) describing an ocean storm, where "The 
billow oft answered, one wave the other." 

^ Conjectural, to mend a deficient line. 

2 See below, v. 26, and Widsith^ v. 31, where he appears as 
Sseferth. 

* See Beowulf, 1148, where the two are mentioned, Ordlaf appearing 
as Oslaf. Later they return to Frisian land and help to take vengeance on 
Finn. Gering points out that the names are " good Norse." 

* Garulf and Guthere are Frisians of the attacking party ; one of them 
asks the other not to risk life in the first desperate onrush (Gering : in 
this his first battle). — Which is the petitioner? Recently Klaeber has 
proposed a reading which makes Guthere the spokesman and assumes 
that he is uncle to Garulf. As Hagen with Patafrid in the Waltharius, 
as Hildebrand with Wolfhart in the Xibehingen, so here Guthere pleads 
with his sister's son not to risk life in the first onrush. 

^ Literally, not to carry his war-gear to the door, not to go there. 

^ Perhaps Sigeferth, whom Guthere sees at the door ; but it may simply 
mean that a veteran and heroic champion is sure to be at the post, and 
that Garulf should wait for the general engagement rather than rush on 
sure death. 



162 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

But he ^ cried across all in no craven's voice, 

25 hardy hero : " Who holds the door? " 

" Sigeferth my name is, Secgas' prince, 
wide-heralded hero : heavy my trials, 
hard wars that I waged ; there awaits thee now 
such 2 as thyself would serve to me I " 

30 Then din by the door ^ from death-blows sounded ; 
in hands of heroes were hewn the shields, 
the bone-helms * burst ; and the burg-floor groaned, 
until in the grim fight Garulf fell 
first of the earls of earth-dwellers there,^ 

36 Guthlaf's*^ son, and good men beside him. 
Sank still the slain : wide circled the raven 
sallow-brown, swarthy : the sword-light gleamed 
as if Finn's whole burg were blazing with fireJ 
Never heard I that worthier warring men, 

40 conquerors sixty, more splendidly fought, 

and for mead-draughts sweet such service rendered, 

1 By Klaeber's reading, Garulf. 

2 Literally, " which of the two," — life or death. 

3 Ms. "In the hall," with false rime, and therefore changed by editors 
to "by the wall." 

* Variant of "shields" in the preceding verse. 

* That is, as ten Brink explains, of those who dwelt in that part of the 
earth, — the Frisians. 

6 To avoid a clash with v. 18, above, MoUer changed to Guthulf (war- 
wolf). Ten Brink suspects a tragic motive and retains Guthlaf. Father 
and son would thus be opposed and repeat the tragedy of the Hildebrand 
Lay. 

^ Valhalla was lighted by swords. See Uhland, Mythus v. Thor, p. 
166. — Swords were named for their light-giving power ; they shine after 
death of the owner, — as in the case of that sailor who has slain five and 
twenty dragons {Salomon and Saturn, 156 f.) : — 

His sword well-burnished shineth yet, 
and over the barrow beam the hilts. ... 



THE ATTACK ON FINNSBURG 163 

as hero-liegemen paid Hnsef their lord ! 
Five days fought they in full succession^ 
jive nights as well; ^ but none was slain 
45 of those doughty warriors warding the door. 

Then wended away a wounded clansman, 
said that his breastplate was broken sore, 
his harness hewn, his helmet pierced. 
Swiftly then asked the shepherd-of-folk ^ 
50 how the warriors all their wounds were bearing, 
or which one, now, of the heroes twain ^ . . . 

1 Half- verses supplied by MoUer. 

2 Hnsef is the likely chieftain to ask this question. One of his warriors 
has to leave the door because his armor no longer is trustworthy ; and 
Hnsef asks the rest how they fare. Some editors, however, think it is 
Finn ; and others prefer Hengest. 

3 Few fragments inspire more sorrow over the loss of good things than 
this nervous and swift-moving scene of battle. 



CHAPTER III 

"WALDERE 

"pROM the famous Waltharius, one of the best poems of 
medieval times, although written in Latin hexameters 
by a scholar at the monastery of St. Gall as a kind of ex- 
ercise in composition, we learn the story of Walter and 
Hiltigund as it was current early in the tenth century 
among the Alemannians. Probably Ekkehard, who wrote 
it, had his material in Latin prose ; it is not now believed 
that the young poet translated directly from a German 
original. Surely, however, there were poems about Walter 
in the vernacular; and the present fragments in Anglo- 
Saxon show that the story itself was popular throughout 
the Germanic world. Jacob Grimm believed that Walter 
was originally a Gothic hero ; and the connection with Attila 
makes for this supposition. As for the flight of the pair, 
the pursuit, the combats, there is reason to believe that 
these romantic elements are based on the old story of Heden 
and Hilde, runaway lovers, where Hagen is the father of 
the bride. 

The fragments of our Anglo-Saxon epic poem — for 
such it probably was, and not merely a short lay — show 
an older form of the story than is found in Ekke- 
hard's version. Guthhere is " friend," — that is, king, — 
"of the Burgundiaus," while for Ekkehard Guntharius 
has become Frank. But the story cannot have varied much 
in its essential facts. Attila, pictured as an amiable and 

164 



WALDERE 165 

accomplished monarch, carries off hostages from sundry- 
kingdoms of Western Europe to insure promised tribute, 
but gives his young captives the best of training and nur- 
ture. "Hagano," Hagen, is hostage for the Frankish 
king ; Herericus of Burgundy must give his daughter 
Hiltigund — in Anglo-Saxon, Hildeguth ; while Alphere, 
king of Aquitania, surrenders his son Waltharius. The 
three grow into strength and beauty at Attila's court, 
treated as sons and daughter. Hagen and Walter are 
sworn friends — "blood-brothers." Gunther (Guntha- 
rius ; Guthhere in Anglo-Saxon) meanwhile succeeds to 
the Frankish throne, and Hagen escapes in order to join 
his master. Walter and Hiltigund, too, soon fly as a 
betrothed pair from Attila, taking with them treasure of 
great value. Gunther learns that the fugitives are in his 
domain, and summons his vassals to help him capture 
the booty and the maiden. Hagen tries to dissuade him, 
but goes along with the other eleven chosen companions 
of the king. This of course is the size of a comitatus for 
kings or heroes on particularly dangerous quests. The 
fugitives are overtaken. Walter chooses a good defensive 
ground, with rocks behind him and on both sides. Hagen 
again tries to prevent bloodshed, but in vain. Walter in 
single combat kills eight heroes who come upon him succes- 
sively; among them is Hagen's sister's son, who will not de- 
sist for all his uncle's warning. Then four together come 
upon the heroic Walter with a curious weapon, a kind of 
combined trident and lasso; but three of them are killed in 
the attempt. Of all his foes Walter has only Gunther and 
his old friend Hagen left. But the old friend feels now a 
motive for fighting ; he must revenge the killing of his 
sister's son. Moreover, Gunther makes the last appeal 



166 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

to Hagen's loyalty ; and the hero consents, pointing out, 
however, that Walter must be enticed out of his impreg- 
nable fighting-place. So the king and his vassal apparently 
give up the battle and withdraw. 

All night Walter and Hiltigund rest, and next day re- 
sume their journey. In the open Walter is attacked by 
both Gunther and Hagen; they fight as in ballads, for long 
hours ; but after all three of the combatants have suffered 
mutilations of the severest kind, peace is made; the woman 
acts as surgeon ; and amid jocosities between the reconciled 
brothers-in-arms, and with much drinking of wine, the 
poem ends, not omitting, however, the picture of future 
felicity for Walter and his bride. 

The first of these Anglo-Saxon fragments belongs before 
the fight in the open. Exhausted by the long struggle 
with his foes, Walter now for the first time hesitates; he 
is not quite sure either of himself or of his sword. His 
own favorite weapon is the spear; and, as he says in the 
second fragment to Guthhere, he is battle-spent and weary. 
Probably the Anglo-Saxon poem did not put a night be- 
tween the two sets of encounters. ^ However that may 
have been, Hildeguth, who is here no shrinking and quiet 
maiden, exhorts Walter to play the man. As for his sword, 
that never failed yet ; as for himself, she knows well what 
he has done, and willed to do, in the most desperate straits 
of war. Let him drive Guthhere in disgrace from the 
field. . . . Not very much of the text between the frag- 
ments has been lost. In the second Guthhere is advanc- 
ing to fight and uttering his boast. He praises his sword 

1 Zupitza is reported as saying in his lectures that " he thought it not 
impossible that the sequence of the fragments had been turned around." 
See Josef Fischer, Zu den Waldere-Fragmenten, Breslau, 1886. 



WALDERE 1G7 

and gives its proud history. Walter, or Waldere, replies 
that tired as he is, he is a match for the king; nor has 
Hagen, as the king hoped, broken down Walter's strength 
so as to make him an easy victim. His defiant invitation 
to Guthhere to come and fetch the spoils of war from 
his person is good Germanic; so perhaps is the pious 
bow to fate, to God, but it has been set to a feebler 
tune. The style of these fragments is not so energetic 
and convincing as the style of Finnshurg; but taken all 
together they show that our literature has lost a fine story 
not ineffectively told. 

The manuscript of the Waldere belongs to the library 
of Copenhagen, where it was found as cover for some 
unvalued sermons. 



Hildeguth spake. She heartened^ him eagerly: 
" Sure, work of Wayland ^ will weaken never 
with any man who can Mimming wield, 
hoary-hued sword. Many heroes by turn 
5 blood-stained and blade-pierced in battle it felled. ^ 

Attila's van-leader,* valor of thine let not 
fail thee to-day or thy doughty-mood fall ! 

1 If we translate "heard him gladly," then the conjectural words in 
italics are wrong. Heinzel thinks this speech is made by some com- 
rade, some man, to Waldere, who " hears him gladly." But the other 
supposition, that Hildeguth addresses her lover and hero, is vastly 
preferable. 

2 The sword. In the Beowulf, Wayland is credited with the making of 
the hero's breastplate ; and there as here the sword must have a name of 
the patronymic form. 

* Literally, "have fallen " ; sc. by its work. 

* In the Latin poem, Waltharius just before he fled from Attila had led 
his master's army against the fo« in a successful campaign. 



168 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

. . . The day is come 
when to one or other thy way must lead, — 

10 loss of life, or lasting glory 

ever with earth-dwellers, ^If here's son! 
Nowise can my words bewail, O friend, 
that ever I saw thee,^ when swords were at play, 
shamefully shrink from shock of battle 

15 with warrior foe, and flee to the wall 

to shield thy body, — though blades enow 
hewed on thy harness from hostile throng! 
Nay, further ever the fight thou hast urged, 
and I feared thy fate, so far thy venture, 

20 lest thou too wildly shouldst war, and seek, 
in clash of contest, combat mortal 
with another man.^ Have mind now on honor, 
on glory of war, while God is with thee! 
Fear not for the brand : the bravest of weapons, 

25 'twas given to help us^! On Guthhere, therefore, 
beat down his boast ; this battle he sought, 
and stirred up strife in spite of justice; 
the sword he claimed, and the caskets of treasure,* 
wealth of rings: now, wanting them all 

30 he shall flee from this fight to find his lord, 
hasten homeward, or here shall he die 
if he . . . 

1 That is, " ever heard it said of thee that thou . . ." 

2 She has often been frightened about his fate, she says, fearing he would 
go beyond even the bounds of his wonderful resources and so fall victim 
to some hostile warrior. Now is the time to show that same desperate 
spirit. . . . 

* Literally, " as an aid to both of us." 

* In the Latin poem Guntharius pretends he has a right to Walter's 
plunder in pay for the tribute the Franks have sent to Attila. 



'a 



WALDEKE 169 

B 

"... a better sword ^ 
save only this, which I as well ^ 
have kept concealed in the stone-bright case.^ 
I know that Theodric * thought to send it 

6 to Widia ^ himself, with wealth of treasure, 
of gold with that glaive, and gifts enow 
precious: — so Widia was paid his reward 
that the kinsman of Nithhad ^ from cruel straits, 
son of Wayland, saved his lord, 

10 who journeyed fast from the giants' land." 

Waldere spake, warrior famous, 
held in his hand the help-in-battle,'^ 

1 Guthhere is making his boast before opening fight. Hagen still holds 
off. In preceding lines Guthhere probably said that his own sword was 
better than Waldere's. 

2 As thou ? 

3 " Jewelled scabbard " seems a good meaning. " Here is a sword as 
good as any, though, like thyself, I have not yet unsheathed it," may be 
the purport of this speech. Then we come into smooth water. The sword 
was once property of the great hero, etc. 

* Theodoric the Goth played a main part in Germanic legend as Dietrich 
of Bern, chief vassal of Attila. His figure is familiar in the last scene of 
the Nibelungen. 

6 Widia is probably the Wudgaof Widsith, vv. 124 ff., where he is one of 
the great warriors of Ermanric ; here he is transferred to the Theodric 
legend. 

6 Widia is thought to be the historical Vidigoja ; but by this account he 
was son of Wayland (Weland, Velundr) by Baduhild, daughter of Nith- 
had. In the well-known myth, Nithhad captures Wayland and takes away 
his magic ring so that he cannot fly (by another more prosaic account, 
hamstrings him), gives the ring, with others, to his daughter Baduhild, 
and sets the divine smith to useful work in captivity. The daughter comes 
to Wayland to have her ring repaired ; but Wayland detains her, and be- 
gets this son by her. One of Widia's feats in his service with Theodric is 
to free his lord from the giants. 

'' Kenning for " .=^word." 



170 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

weapon of war; his words he uttered: 

" Lo, great was thy faith, Burgundians'-friend,^ 

15 that Hagen's hand would hold me to warfare, 

unfit me for fighting ! Now fetch, if thou darest, 
from so battle-worn ^ man this breastplate gray ! 
Here it stands on my shoulders, splendid with gold, 
-^Ifhere's heirloom, amply studded,^ 

20 no evil armor for atheling's wear 

if only with hands he can heart and life 
guard from his foes. It fails me never 
when cruel unkindred * crowd upon me, 
beset me with swords, as ye sought me here ! 

26 Yet One Only ^ availeth the victory to give, 
ready to aid whatever is right ! 
Whoso hopes for help from the Holy One, 
Grace of God, will get it surely, 
if his ways have earlier earned him that. 

30 Then haughty heroes may have their reward, 
and wield their wealth. . . . 

1 Kenning for " king," as in Beowulf. 

2 See introductory remarks above. Waldere has slain all the vassals 
of Guthhere save Hagen, if we follow the account of Ekkehard. 

3 » Wide-nebbed." 

* Unmcegas. — The adjective " cruel " is conjectured. 

* This is not so incongruous as it looks from the point of view of the 
preceding boast. The concession to Wyrd, or Fate, probably formed a 
part of these old speeches of defiance. " Wyrd goes aye as she must," 
says Beovnilf. New theology accented the concession and added the 
graces of Christian humility. 



CHAPTER IV 

THE HILDEBRAND LAY 

A LTHOUGH not written in English, the Hildebrand 
Lay, sole fragment of the old epic poetry in Ger- 
man, is so nearly related in matter and manner to parts 
of the English epic, and derives its theme from sources 
related so closely to the source of Waldere^ that a trans- 
lation of it may well be added to the foregoing pieces. 
One has thus a body of West- Germanic poetry of the 
early period, to offset the far greater mass of East- Ger- 
manic poetry preserved by happy chance in Scandinavia. 

The facts about this lay of Hildebrand and Hathuhrand 
are hard to fix in detail; but the general drift is clear. 
Not far from the year 800, two monks, who may have 
belonged to the monastery at Fulda, copied the poem, 
which lacks both beginning and end, on the covers of a 
theological manuscript. Probably they had the poem 
before them in writing. If so, this in its turn was 
written, as Lachmann urges for the copy, from memory; 
and memory retained only those parts that have come to 
us. Some roving singer had sung to the High-German 
writer a song which was mainly in Low-German dialect ; 
and what this writer could remember of it he had set 
down in a curious mixture of linguistic forms, but not 
in such utter confusion as to forbid the recognition of 
the original piece as substantially of Saxon origin. 

The main theme is very old and has always been popu- 

171 



172 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

lar ; for proof, one needs but to mention such a distant 
and modern treatment of it as the Sohrab and Mustum 
of Matthew Arnold. Scholars have found it in widely 
spread and varying forms ; and a German ballad, many cen- 
turies later, has actually given to the grim scene a happy 
ending. In its present shape the story has become part 
of the Theodoric legend, and as such must be credited 
to the romantic and highly poetical Goths ; would that 
some kindly fate had preserved the rich and sonorous 
words of their version ! The Nibelungen, as every one 
knows, places old Hildebrand as Dietrich's right-hand 
man, who, with his lord, has been long among the Huns, 
in that banishment of which Deor speaks in the Anglo' 
Saxon lyric, — only in the Hildebrand Lay one is told that 
Odoacer is cause of the flight. Kogel points out the 
curious perversity of legend when it deals with historical 
facts : it was Odoacer whom Theodoric really shut up in 
Ravenna and put to death. That Attila and Theodoric 
became contemporary in this cycle of legends, and are 
treated as overlord and chief vassal, is another license of 
the legendary muse. But the poem is the thing. Un- 
doubtedly it is much closer than such epic verse as the 
Beowulf, and even the Waldere fragments, to the old songs 
which minstrels had come to sing and which warriors 
still made about their own deeds or the deeds of their 
friends. The nervous directness is here which one was 
tempted to find characteristic of Finnshurg. Full of 
blunders as the manuscript is, with patches of something 
very like prose when the scribe failed to remember his 
original, — one should think of a schoolboy writing out 
from memory The Charge of the Light Brigade^ — the whole 
effect is that of contact with strong and resonant verse. 



THE HILDEBRAND LAY 17& 

The original, as was hinted above, must have had 
a tragic ending ; the theme demands it, and not only a 
scrap of this same tale in Old Norse, but analogy of 
other cases, where similar matter is handled, sustains the 
demand. The father unwillingly kills his son. Such 
things must have actually happened now and again in 
the days of the comitatus, and ten Brink surmises such a 
case in the Finnshurg with Garulf and Guthlaf ; but the 
killing of near kin remained the capital crime for a 
German. The frequency of it means, for the Sibyl of 
the Voluspa poem, the approaching end of the world. 

Here, then, was tra gedy of the^k ind w hich ^thrilled 

a Greek audience at the fearful dilemma of Orestes. 
Loyalty to one's lord was a Germanic virtue which grew 
stronger with the necessities of constant warfare, until it 
came to be supreme, and thus overshadowed the obliga- 
tions of actual kindred. Hildebrand is a victim of the 
clash of these two duties, — and not for once only. 
Thirty years before this crowning tragedy, he was forced 
to choose between his lord, a banished man, and his wife 
and child. Now the child faces him in arms. 

HILDEBRAND AND HATHUBRAND 

... I heard it said^ . . 
that as foemen in fight sole faced each other 
Hildebrand and Hathubrand, two hosts between.^ 
There son and father their fighting-gear tested, 

1 Related, told in song and lay. " So the books tell us," says the 
medieval writer. Even in Scottish ballads of the border a statement is 
backed by the assertion that " the chronicle will not lie." The poet of 
the Heliand uses the " heard " formula, though the gospels are author- 
ity for his narrative. 

2 " Between two armies." They meet, like two Homeric heroes, between 
the opposing lines, exchange speeches, and come to fight. 



174 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

6 made ready their battle-weeds, belted the sword 

o'er their ring-mail, the heroes, who rode to the fray» 

Hildebrand spake, Herebrand's son, — 

... he was riper in years, 

the older man : to ask he commenced, 
10 though few his words, who his ^ father was 

of human folk ^ . . . 

. . . " or of what race thou mayst be, 

if thou namest one only, the others I know. 

All kindred I ken in this kingdom, O youth ! " 
16 Hathubrand spake, Hildebrand's son : — 

" Trusty ^ people have told to me, 

who, old and wise, knew ancient ways, 

my father was Hildebrand : Hathubrand I ! 

Long ago went he eastward ; from Otacher's * hate 
20 with Theotrich ^ fled he, and thanes in plenty. 

In his land he left forlorn behind him 

bride in bower and boy ungrown, 

reft of inheritance : rode he yet eastward I 

Theotrich later, in thronging perils, 
25 of my father had need: 'twas so friendless a man ! * 

* Hathubrand's. Hildebrand's wide knowledge of the tribes of men is 
characteristic of his age, his standing, and his experience. So Hrothgar 
shows he is familiar with "the best people" and their kin, the instant 
he hears Beowulf's name. B., 372. 

2 Editors and critics assume that something has been lost at this point. 
But it has been remarked that such abrupt transitions are common in 
Germanic verse. Still, even so there is loss of rime. Probably the copy- 
ists forgot just how the verse ran and set it down as King Alfred says he 
now and then translated Latin, — " sense for sense." Only the poetry is 
lost here. 

3 Moller's emendation to save the rime. < Odoacer. 

* Dietrich usually in German ; Theodric in Anglo-Saxon. 

6 One who is banished, without kin and clan to support him. Some 
translate this as meaning Theotrich : " banished as he was, he had good 



THE HILDEBRAND LAY 175 

Boundlessly angry at Otacher was he, 
the trustiest thane in Theotrich's service, 
ever front in the folk-rank, too fain for battle, 
famous was he among fighting-men bold I 
30 I believe not he lives." ... 

Hildebrand spake^ Herehrand's son:^ — 
" But High-God knows, in heaven above, 
that thou never yet with such near-kin man, 
hero brave, hast held thy parley ! " 

36 He unwound from his arm the winding rings, 

of kaiser-gold wrought, that the king had given him, 
Lord of the Huns : " In love now I give it thee." 
Hathubrand spake, Hildebrand's son : — 
" With the spear should a man receive his gifts, 

40 point against point . . . 

Thou art over-crafty, thou aged Hun, — 
enthrallst me with speech to o'erthrow me with spear. 
Old as thou'st grown, bear'st only guile ! 
Seafaring folk ^ have said to me, 

45 come west over Wendelsea, — War hath seized him. 
Dead is Hildebrand, Herebrand's son ! " 

need," etc. The " he " of the next line, of course, is Hildebrand, who is 
enraged because Otacher forces him to leave wife and child. 

1 The italicized words are Holler's conjectural emendation ; they make 
only slight changes, and restore the verse. The original runs: '"The 
mighty God is my witness,' quoth Hildebrand, 'from heaven above, 
that in spite of this [i.e. ' that thou hast said.' Probably the preceding 
gap is a large one and much talk has passed between the warriors] thou 
hast never yet parleyed [Scherer translates "fought "] with a man so near 
of kin.' " The quoth Hildebrand is a singer's aside, such as is often 
thrust into the text of ballads, and lies outside of the metrical scheme. 

2 Compare Beowulf, vv. 377, 411. Wentilseo is the Anglo-Saxon 
Wendelsx, the Mediterranean. " War [probably personified] hath 
seized him " is a familiar phrase in Beowulf. 



176 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

Hildebrand spake, Herebrand's son ^ . . . 
" Well can I see by thy war-gear now,^ 

the ruler thou hast at home is rich, 
50 nor under this king wast thou cast into exile. 

. . . Wellaway, God all-wielding, fate's woe is upon 
us ! 

I was summers and winters full sixty a-wandering, 

and still was I chosen with chief of the troops ; 

yet at no burg^ was death ever dealt me by man. 
65 Now my own sweet son with sword must hew me, 

fell me with falchion, or fall at my hands ! 

— Yet* 'tis easily done, if thou doughty be,^ 

from so old a man his arms to take, 

to seize the spoil, if such strength be thine.^ 

1 Editors incline to think that Hildebrand's subsequent speech is lost 
and that the following words of the text belong to Hathubrand, whose 
suspicion is increased as he looks on his father's sumptuous armor. A 
man must have a powerful lord to give him such gear, — run his thoughts, 
— not a homeless exile. But it is also natural for the old man to look on 
the young warrior's rich armor and draw similar conclusions. 

2 The original verse is rimeless and corrupt. 

8 At the taking of no fortified place during my time of exile, in no 
battle, however desperate, has death found me. 

* A parallel to this sudden transition from the tender and pathetic to 
sarcasm and defiance may be found in the tragic popular ballad of Beicick 
and Graham. Here the dilemma is that a son must either disobey and 
actually fight his own father or fight his dearest friend, his " sworn- 
brother." He chooses the latter. The friend, of course, cannot believe 
the announcement of this impending fight, and reminds the unwilling 
challenger of long and firm brotherhood between the two. The challenger 
half explains the situation, and is dropping into pathos ; but knowing its 
perils, suddenly changes the note : — 

" If thou be a man, as I think thou art. 

Come over that ditch and fight with me." . . . 

6 See Beowulf ioT the identical phrase, a commonplace, v. 573. 
6 That is, " if thou hast the right [of the victor] to it." 



THE HILDEBRAND LAY 177 

60 Most infamous were he ^ of East-Goth folk 

who should keep thee from combat so keenly desired, 
from fight with foe ! Let the fated one ^ try 
whether now his trappings be taken from him, 
or both of these breast-plates he boast as his own." 

65 Charging with ash-spears,^ clashed they first, 
with sharpest shafts the shields that clove. 
Then strode to the struggle those sturdy -warriors,* 
hewed in hate on the white-faced shields, 
until both of the lindens^ little grew, 

70 all worn with weapons. . . . 

1 Here the text has " quoth Hildebrand." 

2 The wari'ior whose fate it is now to fight. Said of both of them. 

8 They ride furiously at each other with levelled lances, each trying to 
pass or pierce the shield of his opponent. Then they dismount and stride 
to the fight with swords. 

* The compound word so translated is not found elsewhere, but it is 
a kenning for the warriors. 

s Shields, as often in the English epic. 



CHAPTER V 

THE SINGER AND HIS LAY 

TF the Beowulf and the Waldere were epic poems com- 
posed by that more deliberate process in vogue in the 
scriptorium, there are lays like the Hildehrand and Finns- 
burg, material of the epics, which seem to demand the 
living voice, the banquet in hall, the excited band of 
warriors who listen and shout applause to the singer. A 
minstrel of this type had in memory a store of favorite 
lays, old and new. He had, too, the technique of his 
art, and could on occasion improvise upon new material, 
using of course the traditional and conventional phrases 
which made a good half of all his songs. He was a strik- 
ing figure. In two happy rescues from the wreckage of 
our old poetry, he not only tells the story of his life, but 
indicates the range of the material at his command. 



DEOR THE SINGER 

On the face of it, this distinctly charming lyric is a 
kind of " Ode to Himself " in Ben Jonson's vein. The 
aging minstrel has ceased to please the public, particularly 
the king ; his place as court poet, even his home and 
lands, are given to a successful rival. Well, he has sung 
in his day of many a man and woman of the heroic timo 
who knew fortune's frown at its blackest, and yet cama 

178 



THE SINGER AND HIS LAY 179 

into sunshine at last. The exempla shall give him hope ; 
and hope is the overword of his breezy refrain. It is a 
manly piece of verse. The poet does not rail on lady 
fortune herself, does not whine or snivel over the king's 
inconstancy, and does not call the public hard names, — 
" dull ass " is Jonson's way, — with insistence on his own 
superiority. Granting, what is true, that " Widsith " is 
a wholly ideal figure, composite, a type, and granting, 
what is probable, that Deor must pass as a definite man, 
it is highly gratifying that the first poet whom we can 
name as an individual in the long English list gives such 
an amiable account of himself. 

Careful reading of the lyric, however, takes away some- 
thing of the immediate impression made by its plan and 
its seeming purpose. Deor, to be sure, stands before us a 
definite and quite real man, but he is not an Englishman; 
he belongs on the continent, and his people, the " sons of 
Heoden," are shadowy folk. He is even accused of getting 
into English by translation out of the Norse. Any actual 
personal poem that such a singer could have made about 
his own fortunes had a long and thorny way to travel 
before it came to its present estate as the oldest lyric 
in our tongue. From our point of view, it is the story 
of the typical court-singer, just as Widsith is a story of the 
typical wandering singer. Widsith, too, talks in the first 
person, tells what gifts he got, where he wandered, and 
how excellent was his art. " I and Scilling were as 
good poets as you could find, — and the best judges of 
poetry applauded us to the echo," is his complacent ac- 
count of the matter. The difference really lies in the 
fact that Widsith, for all his first personal confidences, 
makes no impression as an individual on any count ; 



180 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

he comes in sections ; while Deor is artistically an indi- 
vidual, if not a definite man who tells us as matter of 
the witness-box his own emotion and thought. It is true 
that all the material of Deor's song is continental ; but 
Anglo-Saxon poets were quite capable of making such a 
compact and convincing " dramatic lyric " out of the old 
stuff. They were accustomed to " ego" verses : one thinks 
of the Riddles, and, still better, of The Dream of the Rood. 
The Wanderer is another case, not unlike this of Deor, 
though of much later origin ; both poems are artistically 
sincere and sympathetic. Deor, old as it is, has the modern 
lyric note of annexing wide human interests and a sweep 
of history in order to illustrate the singer's proper fate ; 
and this conception on the part of an English poet would 
blend admirably with the tradition of some minstrel in 
the ancestral home, who took courage from his own stock 
of lays and fronted his evil hour with a smile. That, 
however, is an impression. There are facts which must 
be considered ; and these facts seem at first to allow 
another inference. 

The form of Deors Song is peculiar. It has a refrain- 
line which marks off the verses into sections or paragraphs, 
so that one is tempted to call it a poem in stanzas. Traces of 
the same structure are noted in the Rune-Lay, and naturally 
also in the Psalms; but the mere recurrence of a refrain 
does not suffice to form the regular stanza. In part of 
the Gnomic Verses, or Maxims, of the Exeter manuscript,i 
however, and in what used to be called the first of the 
Riddles, there is an attempt to make those regular stanzas 
which are so familiar in Old Norse ; and the result must 
be noted here, in order to reach a right judgment about 
1 See note to Beowulf, v. 1250. 



THE SINGER AND HIS LAY 181 

the structure of the old singer's lay. The first of the 
Riddles was once interpreted as giving the name of 
the poet Cynewulf. Recently it has been taken out of 
the category of riddles and referred to an incident in the 
famous Saga of the Volsungs, a Norse tale, whose legend 
was familiar in far older form to the poet of the Beowulf. 
As Signy's Lament, Professor Schofield translates it and 
explains its meaning. Signy is twin sister to Sigmund ; 
she is married against her will to Siggeir, who slays her 
father and has all her brothers exposed and killed save 
Sigmund, who is helped by Signy to escape to the forest, 
where he lives as an outlaw. An outlaw was often called 
"wolf." The Wolf of the poem, therefore, is Sigmund. 
Signy is fain to revenge her slaughtered kinsfolk; her own 
sons by King Siggeir are nought ; and she resolves to have 
by her own brother a son who shall show the Volsung met- 
tle. Revolting as the deed seems to her, she must do it for 
the sake of revenge. Disguised, she goes to Sigmund in the 
forest, is entertained as a wanderer; returns to her palace ; 
and in due time bears a son, Sinfiotli, the Fitela of the 
verses in the Beoivulf,^ whom she rears for a while and 
then takes to her brother. Ignorant of his true relation, 
Sigmund trains up the boy as his nephew, and together 
they destroy Siggeir, with whom Signy also perishes, as a 
true Germanic wife, though she is glad thus to avenge her 
father. Professor Schofield places this Lament at the time 
when Signy commits the boy to her brother's care. 

Such is the probable matter. It is the manner, the 
verse-form, which gives this poem such significance for 
the study of Beor. Its rimes are here and there inaccu- 
rate ; the rhythm is close in some parts to the kind common 

1 See B., 859 £f. 



182 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

in Scandinavian but practically unknown in Anglo-Saxon :• 
and therefore Professor Lawrence, who was first to study 
this phase of it, assumed it to be a translation out of the 
Norse. As it follows Deor in the Exeter manuscript, and 
Beor also has refrain and what have been taken for stanzas, 
the two poems are bracketed for similar origins. 

Is Deor^ then, a translation, and is his song to be ranged 
as an early specimen of those innumerable effusions, 
studied or improvised, of the Scandinavian bard, which 
are paraphrased in Saxo's Latin and recorded now in the 
prose of the Sagas and now in the actual verse ? Or is 
it an original English poem based on traditions of the old 
minstrel life in Germania, — a document for the Germanic 
singer in days of the common legendary store in which all 
Ingsevonic peoples about North Sea and Baltic had their 
part ? Here is Signys Lament for comparison, — if a 
Lament it be, and the supposed making of that tragic 
person. 

I 

My people suppose they are pleasured with gifts * . . . 



They will surely oppress him if peril comes o'er him. 
Unlike are our lots. 

n 

Wolf's on an isle ^ and I on another ; 
firm is the island, by fen surrounded. 
Unmerciful are they, the men on the isle ; 
TTiey will surely oppress him if peril comes o'er him. 
Unlike are our lots. 

1 The stanza is obscure and much discussed. Lines are thought to be 
lost which would make up the quatrain. 

2 In the forest, as an outlaw. 



THE SINGER AND HIS LAY 183 

m 

On my Wolf I waited with wide-faring hopes. 
When rainy the weather and rueful I sat there, 
then the battle-brave man embraced me beside him. 
Delight had I of it ; no less had I sorrow.^ 

IV 

Wolf, O my Wolf, my waiting and hope of thee, 
'twas they made me sick, and thy seldom-coming, 
my heavy-weighed heart, and not hunger for food ! 



Hear'st thou, O watchful ! 2 Swift whelp of us both ^ 
borne by Wolf to the wood I 
Full lightly is parted what never was paired, — 
the song we two sang ! * 

Now as compared with Beor^ translated below, this 
Lament shows signs of the Norse stanzaic structure which 
are not found in the companion piece. Deor's so-called 
stanzas are due simply to a recurring and consistently 
applicable refrain line, such as, for modern instance, one 
finds in Tennyson's Tears^ Idle Tears. Parallelism, 
obvious in Deor at the start and so characteristic of all 
Anglo-Saxon verse, is not found in the Lament. Deor is 

i Concentration of the tragic moment. Signy loathed her unnatural 
mission ; she joyed in the anticipated vengeance thus made possible. 

2 By Schofield's interpretation. She now addresses her husband, " the 
vigilant " ; perhaps here in mocking use of the epithet ? 

3 Herself and Sigmund. She has given the boy to her brother. — 
Or is " of us both " a reference, like " vigilant," to Siggeir's belief that 
he is father to Sinfiotli ? 

* Emended to " the way we two walked." The short even verses and 
long odd verses, as in Norse, make a plain stanza here, just as in certain 
gnomic verses one gets a stanza by arrangement. In the first and second 
stanzas, as assumed, of this poem, a refrain, and also repetition of a line, 
mark off the bounds. 



184 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

surely not a translation of the same sort as the Lament; 
it can hardly pass as a translation at all. Its refrain line 
is originative, is the core and suggestion of the poem. 
Indeed, this refrain looks as if it might serve, and had 
served, in other cases. Any number of exempla could be 
fitted to it and it could be shifted to another singer's 
account. Many another poem, by such a refrain line, 
could draw lessons from a legendary past, of which the 
Englishman was once as fond as he was of maxim and 
moral. Moreover, the autobiographical part of Deor is too 
old in its allusions for a translation out of the Norse ; and 
it is particularly this singer's voice from the Germanic 
past which interests the student of songcraft in days 
before the epic. For this purpose, and in this sense, Deor 
surely seems to be an original English poem and a docu- 
ment, precious beyond words, of Germanic minstrelsy. 
Its value is not destroyed by the juxtaposition of Signy's 
Lament. 

Deor consoles himself by recounting the sufferings and 
trials of sundry characters in Germanic tradition. He 
begins with Wayland, smith divine, a favorite in epic 
and other old verse. Beowulf's breastplate is " Wayland's 
work " ; in the Waldere^ Mimming is best of swords and 
also "work of Wayland." Gest and romance continue 
to speak of him into the fifteenth century ; and King 
Alfred had called him greatest of goldsmiths. Localities 
were named after him. The famous Franks Casket,^ which 
Professor Napier assigns to Northumbria for place and the 
beginning of the eighth century for time, represents Way- 

1 See Napier in An English Miscellany (Furnivall Volume), pp. 362 ff., 
with reproduction of the figures. 



THE SINGER AND HIS LAY 185 

land " holding in a pair of tongs the head of one of Nith- 
had's sons over an anvil," — making a drinking-cup of the 
skull. In front of Wayland is Beaduhild, King Nithhad's 
daughter, who went to the captive smith to have her ring 
mended. Wayland's brother Egil is shooting birds ; with 
wings made of their feathers, Wayland is to escape. Now 
this scene, which answers to the story of Wayland in a 
Norse saga, is also indicated by Deor's allusions. Way- 
land is taken into bondage by the crafty King Nithhad, 
fettered (by some accounts, hamstrung), and robbed of 
the ring which gave him power to fly. But Beaduhild, 
daughter of his captor, and the sons as well, come to him ; 
he mends the rings for the daughter and so recovers his 
own ring, and his old power — or, by more prosaic accounts, 
constructs wonderful pinions that enable him to escape. 
First, however, he kills the king's sons, and puts the 
daughter to shame. Here are two " cases " for the bard, 
— first Wayland, and then Beaduhild herself. The next 
case is extremely difficult ; but Hild, if the name shall 
stand, was unhappy, and so were the exiles, whether 
Goths or whatever else ingenuity can suggest.^ Theodric 
is Theodoric the Goth, "Dietrich of Bern" ; for traditions 
of Germanic verse knew that he was banished to the court 
of Attila for the thirty winters named by Deor's song. 
But the allusion here is too vague for precise inference, 
and the text is evidently marred. Eormanric, again, is the 
typical tyrant, cruel and remorseless king, of the same 
traditions ; led astray by evil counsel, he puts his only 

1 Grein's explanation still seerns the best. Hild is really the Odila of 
the story told in a Norse saga, and Eormanric was the author of her dis- 
grace ; "heroes of Geat " would be Gothic subjects who suffered in the 
consequent turmoil. Others read " Maethhilde " as the woman's name, 
and in the next verse " the love of Geats." 



186 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

son to death, has his wife torn to pieces, and ruins the 
happiness of many individuals and, at last, of his realm. 
From these luckless folk Deor turns to the picture of the 
Sorrowful Person, and for the first time theology peers 
over the shoulder of our cheerful bard. Then he tells of 
himself, his loss, his bad outlook ; with a last and personal 
change rung on his brave refrain, and waking a fervent 
desire in the reader that the second clause of it " came 
true," this sane and sound old singer ends his song. 



Wayland learned bitterly banishment's ways, 
earl right resolute ; ills endured ; 
had for comrades Care and Longing,^ 
winter-cold wanderings ; woe oft suffered 
6 when Nithhad forged the fetters on him,^ 
bending bonds on a better man. 

That he surmounted: so this may I! 

II 

Beaduhild mourned her brother's death 
less sore in soul than herself dismayed 
10 when her plight was plainly placed before her, — 
birth of a bairn. No brave resolve 
might she ever make, what the end should be. 
That she surmounted : so this may I! 

1 Perhaps an allusion to one of the two Wayland stories, where his 
wife, once swan-maid, resuming her swan-raiment, leaves him, and he 
pines vainly for sight of her. 

2 A slight change in the text would square the account with that version 
of the story which has Wayland hamstrung : — 

When Nithhad put such need upon him, 
laming wound on a lordlier man. 



THE SINGER AND HIS LAY 187 

III 

We have heard from many of Hild's disgrace, 
16 how heroes of Geat were homeless made 
till sorrow stole their sleep away. 

That they surmounted: so this may I!^ 

IV 

Theodric waited ^ for thirty winters 
in Merings' burg : to many 'twas known. 
20 That he surmounted : so this may I! 

V 

We have often heard of Eormanric, 
his wolfish mind ; wide was his rule 
o'er realm of Goths : a grim king he I 
Sat many a subject sorrow-bound, 
26 waiting but woe, and wished full sore 

that the time of the king might come to end. 
That they surmounted : so this may I! 

VI 

-~ Sitteth one ^ sorrowful, severed from joys ; 
all's dark in his soul ; he deems for him 
30 endless ever the anguish-time ! 

Yet let him think that through this world 

1 Some editors and translators omit this refrain, and make one " case " 
of the two treated in III and IV ; also, as noted above, reading " Maethhilde " 
and "the love-longing of Geat had no bounds." 

2 Lived there, that is, at some castle of the Huns, as Attila's vassal. 
See notes to the Hildehrand lay. 

3 That is, any person who has lost his situation and has fallen on evil 
times. If the strict dramatic-lyric scheme be assumed, this could pass as 
interpolation. The writer of these lines could hardly have taken Deer's 
own tonic. 



188 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

the wise God all awards with difference, 

on many an earl great honor lays, 

wealth at will, but woe on others. 
36 — To say of myself the story now, 

I was singer ^ erewhile to sons-of-Heoden, 

dear to my master, Deor my name. 

Long were the winters my lord was kind ; 

I was happy with clansmen ; till Heorrenda "^ now 
40 by grace of his lays ^ has gained the land 

which the haven-of-heroes * erewhile gave me. 
That he ^ surmounted : so this may I! 

II 

WIDSITH 

rpHIS word, beyond reasonable doubt, means " far- 
wanderer " ; the poem surely describes the life and 
defines the vocation of a typical roving singer of the older 
times. How its parts were put together, what credit goes 
to its historical and biographical statements, how one is 
to reconstruct the wanderer's itinerary, are questions still 
under lively debate ; ^ they are not to be discussed now 

1 In the original, Scop. He was court-singer to the king of the Heoden- 
ings. See Widsith, v. 21. 

2 Horant is the sweet singer in Gudrun (a late offshoot of the Hild 
story) whose song makes all the birds cease their own lays and listen to him. 

3 Literally but awkwardly — 

lay-craft's man, the land has received. . . . 

* The king. Frequent kenning in the Beowulf. 

6 Who ? Is the refrain here a kind of echo ? Is this Deor who sur- 
mounted his troubles, as also may the hearer or reader who repeats the 
poem ? Was the whole a general poem of consolation ? 

6 WeU discussed by Dr. W. W. Lawrence in Modern Philology for 
October, 1906, who has shed light on several dark places in the poem. The 
short introduction, and the equally short epilogue, were almost surely 
written in England. 



THE SINGER AND HIS LAY 189 

beyond their quite incidental bearing upon the personality 
of the scop himself. 

Widsith is introduced by the usual formula as about to 
speak and as a man worth hearing. He comes of good 
stock ; is champion rover in his profession ; and once went 
on an important mission with persons of the very highest 
rank. But the first outcome of his " word-hoard " is dis- 
appointing. For some forty lines he is very dull ; the 
speech does not belong to him, one is fain to think, but is 
rather a poetical list of kings and peoples, like those made 
for children in modern times, easy to remember by means 
of the rime-scheme into which the names must fit. Saxo 
uses such a list of alliterating names in telling of those 
who fought at Bra valla ; but he fills out the original Norse. ^ 
With these English versus memoriales also is mingled other 
stuff. There is a moral reflection, at which the modern 
hearer of sermons and lectures would do well not to scoff ; 
and there are two passages which go into legendary de- 
tails, — one about Offa and one about Hrothgar and 
Hrothwulf. With the fiftieth line, a good sounding 
verse, by the way, the Far- Wanderer drops his impersonal 
and hearsay information, and for the rest of the poem 
speaks of things he has seen for himself. It is a miscel- 
laneous account, not only in matter, but in style, spirit, 
and effect. Apart from the impossible Israelites and 
Assyrians of his itinerary, the singer betrays either the 
plurality of his origins or his incapacity to tell a good, 
cheerful, likely lie such as one expects from a forerunner 
of Mandeville ; a travelled man, moreover, he now stam- 
mers along as the most helpless of artists, and now breaks 

1 See Holder's Ed., p. 257, beginning of Bk. VIII ; and Vigfusson and 
Powell, Corpus Poeticum Boreale, I, 353 ff. 



190 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

out into vivid and moving verse. His account of his visit 
to Eormanric is in parts admirably done. At last he is 
silent ; the word-hoard is locked again ; and in a little 
epilogue the pen of some sympathetic scribe epitomizes 
a minstrel's life, and chants that most English of all Eng- 
lish refrains, the memento mori. 

So much for Widsith as this oldest of the rescued early 
poems in English sets him forth. His supposed words are 
obviously put together in different places and times. 
Very likely the tale of his actual wanderings, continuous 
and dealing with definite occasions, may be the original 
part of the poem, as Dr. Lawrence suggests ; but even 
this modest statement cannot be positively affirmed. No 
one singer ever saw or did what Widsith professes to have 
seen and done ; and some of the statements can have no 
ba5^*s of fact in the experience of anybody. Widsith's 
story is fiction, so one must fairly admit ; but Widsith 
himself is true. He is rescued from the past, with a queer 
patchwork story which purports to be of his making, and 
which deals exclusively — as his brother Deor's tale also 
dealt — with continental places, persons, and times. Like 
another singer of far later date, the German Traugemund,^ 
he comes with a " true tale " of many strange things which 
he has seen in his wanderings. The man who copied him 
into the Exeter Book must have been a lover of the past ; 
the rescue of this old singer with his queer itinerary, his 
scraps of epic and wastes of history and biography outworn, 
might well have been precious in the eyes of an anti- 
quarian. One suspects, moreover, that this convenient 
traveller had fathered many a group of verses, more or less 
connected in general subject, which imparted " things 

1 Uhland, VolksUeder, I, 1. 



THE SINGER AND HIS LAY 191 

everybody ought to know." Widsith says so was good 
verification for statements of this sort, just as Alfred ot 
Hending or whoever else was sound authority for a 
proverb. There must have been many lays in which a 
singer spoke of his far journeys, but did not mention his 
own name. Folk, as Moller points out, would call him 
just what he said he was, — a far-wanderer. The name 
was generic. In a different sense, the name of Robinson 
became generic for the actual stories told in the first-person 
by men who followed Defoe's enticing trail ; there were 
hundreds of " Robinsons " in the eighteenth century. 

This pedantic Widsith may be to some extent a crea- 
ture of the English pen ; but a real roving singer has 
been rescued from continental tradition in his name. 
The pomp of heroic lays still echoes in his faltering 
speech. He has the court accent, the high manner ; he 
wears none but a king's livery, and takes only royal gifts. 
One wishes profoundly he had told more about himself, 
and had held longer the note of battle he strikes so well ; 
but one is grateful to have him on any terms. 

WIDSITH 

" THE FAR- WANDERER " 

Widsith spake, his word-hoard unlocked, 
who farthest had fared among folk of earth 
through tribes of men, oft taking in hall 
rich meed of gold.i Of the Myrging line 
5 his ancestors woke.^ With Ealhhild fair, 
weaver-of -concord, went he first,^ 

1 For his minstrelsy. 

2 Were born, — kenning, or metaphor, considerably faded. 

3 For the first time. If any consistency is to be found in this poem, 
we mu3t think of Ealhhild (see also v. 97) as a princess of the Myrgings 



192 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

seeking the home of the Hrethan king, — 
from the east, from Anglia, — Eormanric fierce, 
marrer-of-covenants.^ — Much he sang. 
10 " Many men have I heard of who held dominion. 
Let every leader live aright, 
earl after earl in honor rule, 
who thinks to thrive and his throne maintain ! 
Of these 2 was Hwala a while the best, 

(a tribe living near the Elbe) who goes to the Gothic court to be wife 
(" weaver-of-concord " is the usual kenning) to Eormanric. Widsith 
goes with her. If she is called daughter to Audoin (therefore sister to 
Alboin) , and thus is made out a hundred and fifty years or so younger than 
her husband, and if the conqueror of Italy is put back in the old home 
of the Langobards, these inconsistencies are only a part of the legendary 
process. To the English writer of this short prologue, the figures of his 
continental legends, even when historical, had no chronology. All be- 
longed together ; and the various nations are pictured in their original 
territories. Even the favorites of the English themselves never leave the 
old home. 

1 Foil to " weaver-of-concord." Eormanric, king of " Hreth-Goths," 
or Goths, is the typical tyrant in Germanic legend, — witness Door's Song, 
— and the epithets are bestowed on him as part of his proper name. 
That he had not won them at the time of this supposed marriage, but was 
a generous prince, we gather from vv. 88 ff., where the singer warms at 
the remembrance of a fine gratuity. Epithets, moreover, must not be 
taken too literally. The Beotoulf poet speaks oi the " Victor "-Scyldings 
when telling of their defeat. — "From the east" (long misunderstood) 
means that the home of Ealhhild and Widsith was in the "east" for 
the writer of this prologue in England ; Anglia being the " old home " on 
the Cimbrian peninsula and by the lower Elbe. Not far from this old 
home, for the writer and for the legends that he knew, were still grouped 
Goths and Vandals to the eastward, by the Baltic, and nearer yet, the 
Langobards. 

2 This list, which in vv. 18 ff. shows (in the alternating use, for ex- 
ample, of the word "ruled") plain traces of a strophic or stanzaic 
arrangement, is of immense ethnological interest. It ends with names 
that give a glimpse of legend itself, and it shows an effort at system- 
atic grouping. — The moral, too, with which it opens, is in the vein so 
often found in old epic ; gnomic verse is very ancient, and there is no 
need to put these edifying lines upon an " interpolator." 



THE SINGER AND HIS LAY 193 

15 and Alexander, of all, the greatest 

in the race of men, and most he throve 

of any on earth that ever I heard. 

Attila ruled Huns, and Eormanric Goths, 

Becca the Banings,^ Burgundy Gifeca. 
20 Caesar ruled Greeks and Cfelic Finns,^ 

Hagena Holrarygas, Heoden the Glommas.' 

Witta ruled Sueves, and Wada*the Ha3lsings, 

Meaca the Myrgings, Mearchealf the Hundings. 

Theodric^ ruled Franks, and Thyle the Rondings, 
25 Breoca the Brondings, Billing the Wernas. 

Oswine ruled Eowas, Ytas ^ Gef wulf, 

Fin '' the Folcwalding Frisian clans. 

Sigehere longest the Sea-Danes ruled, 

1 The word means "murderers." Mullenhoff counts with these epithet- 
names others in the two lists like (v. 69) Wicings, that is, "vikings" or 
" men who camp " ; (v. 24) Rondings, or " shieldsmen " ; (v. 63) Sword- 
weras, "swordsmen" or " men of an oath." 

2 These would be the extremes, south and north, for the Germanic 
singer. 

3 Baltic folk. Hagena (see Waldere, B, 15) and Heoden belong to the 
old Hild Myth. 

* Wada, Wade, along with Wayland, survived the conquest and was 
still a favorite in Chaucer's time. "Tales of Wade" were proverbial. 
In Troilus and Criseide, III, 614 : 

He songe, she playde, he tolde a tale of Wade. 

As a seafaring person he had his " boat," to which Chaucer refers in the 
Merchant's Tale, C. T., E. 1424. Binz adds a reference in Sir Bevis 
which makes Wade fight a "fire-drake," like Beowulf, and one from 
Malory's Morte D' Arthur, — "as wight as ever was Wade . . ." — com- 
parison of power and prowess. 

^ Not the Goth, of course, but a king of the Franks. 

^ H. Moller, Altenglisches Volksepos, p. 88, declares these Ytas to be the 
people who invaded and settled Kent, — not the Danish Jutes, but a Frisian 
tribe. 

^ For this verse, with 29 and 81, see the fragment of Finnsburg, trans- 
lated above, and the episode, in Beowulf, vv. 1068 ff. 
o 



194 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

Hnaef the Hocings, Helm ^ the Wulfings, 
30 Wald the Woings, Wod Thuringians, 

Saeferth the Sycgan, the Swedes Ongentheow,^ 

Sceafthere Ymbras, Sceafa Longbards, 

Hun the Hsetweras, Holen the Wrosnas. 

Hringwald was hight the Herefars' king. 
36 Offa^ ruled Angles; Ale wih Danes, — 

of all mankind in mood the bravest, 

yet never with Offa his earlship availed: 

for Offa won, of all men first, 

when still a boy the broadest empire : 
40 none of his age showed earlship more 

in stress of battle with single brand: 

against the Myrgings marked he bounds 

by Fifeldor: * thenceforth 'twas held 

by Sueve and Angle as Offa won it. 
45 Hrothwulf and Hrothgar^ held the longest 

* Beowulf, V. 620, Hrothgar's queen is said to belong to the family of 
Helmings. 

2 Ibid., vv. 2472 ff., 2910 ff., the story is told of struggles between Swede 
and Geat in which this king plays a part. 

8 Legendary king of the continental Angles. Offa, king of Mercia, 
traced his blood through this elder namesake to Woden. — See, too, Beo- 
wulf, vv. 1949, 1957. 

* The river Eider. 

* See Beowulf w. 1017, 1181 f. Hrothwulf is nephew to King Hrothgar, 
and evidently if the old king should die would be natural guardian to his 
children. The queen (1181) erpresses her confidence that Hrothwulf in 
that event would take no advantage of his position. It would seem that 
she feared otherwise and her fears were well founded ; but this present 
passage shows that when the uncle lived he and his nephew worked in con- 
cord ; and the victory mentioned is when Ingeld, Hrothgar's son-in-law, 
broke his oaths (5., 84) and in revenge for old wrongs (B., 2024 ff., tells 
the story and foretells the trouble) invaded the Danish kingdom. At 
Herorot (Hrothgar's great hall) he is badly defeated. — See also the saga 
of Hrolf-Kraki. 



THE SINGER AND HIS LAY 196 

concord of kin as cousins ^ together, 
after they routed the race of W icings, 
laid prone the pride of the power of Ingeld, 
hewed down at Heorot the Heathobard line. 

60 So I fared through many a foreign realm ^ 
this wide earth o'er, as weal or ill 
came to my ken; of my kin bereft, 
far from my folk, I followed onward. 
Wherefore I can sing and say my tales, 

66 to men in the mead-hall make my lay, 
how high-born heroes heaped me gifts. 
I was with Huns and with Hrethan Goths,^ 
with Swedes and with Geats* and with Southern Danes, 
with Wenlas ^ and with Wternas and with the Wicings, 

60 with Gefthas and with Winedas and with Geflegas, 
with Angles and with Sueves and with ^nenas, 
with Saxons and with Scygan and with the Swordmen, 
with Hronas and with Deanas and with Heatho- 
Reamas.^ 

1 In the old sense of "uncle-and-nephew," which is the literal meaning 
of the text. In the ballad of Arthur and Gawain, uncle and nephew, the 
former says to the latter : " thou art my coz," — sister's son. 

2 Rhys, Celtic Heathendom, p. 248, notes that the Celtic bards also pre- 
tended to have been present at the scenes they describe. 

8 Huns and Goths, as before with Attila and Eormanric, belong to- 
gether. See Waldere and Hildehrand. 

* See the introduction to the Beoioulf, 

fi Wulfgar in Beoioulf, v. 348, is "prince of the Wendlas," perhaps a 
tribe of Danes well to the north. Miillenhoff identifies them with the 
Vandals, who once lived by the Baltic, as did the Wenedas (Wends). 
The old grouping, before that great movement of the tribes which made 
the heroic age, is here regarded as unbroken. 

6 Tribe in southern Norway. See Beowulf, w. 519 f. In translating 
W. 59-63 a superfluous " I was " is omitted. The verses are longer than 
others, except 68 f., 76, and 79-84. 



196 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

With Thyrings ^ was I, and Throwends too ; 
65 and with the Burgundians got I a ring, 

when Guthliere ^ gave me the glittering treasure 

in pay for my song : no puny king ! 

With Franks and Frisians and F'rumtings was I, 

with Rugas and Glommas and Rumwalas.^ 
70 Likewise with ^If wine * in Italy was I : 

of all mankind I ken he had 

the fairest hand his fame to heighten, 

heart most ungrudging in gift of rings, 

of shining circlets, son of Eadwine. 
76 With Saracens was I, and Serings too, 

with Greeks and with Finns, and with Csesar * was I, 

he that ruled o'er the revellers' cities,^ 

wielded the wealth of the Walas' ^ realm. 

With Scots and Picts, and Scrid-Finns ^ was I, 
80 with Lith-Wicings, Leonas, and Longobards, 

with Heathmen and Ha3reths and Hunding folk. 

1 Thuringians. 

2 See the Waldere. He is the Nihelungen Gunther, with a difference. 

3 That is, " Rome-Welsh," foreigners of Rome. A curious bit of popu- 
lar etymology turned Romulus into Anglo-Saxon Romwalus. 

* This is the famous Alboin, son of Audoin ( = Eadwine in Anglo- 
Saxon), the Langobard or Lombard king who invaded Italy in 568 a.d. 
His people had already shifted their territory from the neighborhood of 
the Elbe to the Danube. Paul the Deacon records that Alboin's gener- 
osity and fame were known by all of Germanic tongue "and sung in 
their songs." 

5 The rimes are disordered ; but Creacum answers to Casere with the 
k sound. 

6 Literally, " wine-burg," place of banquets. 

■'As above, "foreigners"; the Italians are still called "Welsh" by 
German folk. 

8 Probably the " Snow-Shoe Finns," such as King Alfred heard about 
from the sea-captain. The Finns in vv. 20, 77, Miillenhoff places in the 
northeast of Europe. 



THE SINGER AND HIS LAY 191 

With Israelites was I and with the Ex-Syrings,^ 
with Ebrews and Indians, in Egypt too. 
With Medes and Persians and Myrging folk, 

86 and with Mofdingas too, and the Myrgings beyond, 
and with Amothings, and with East-Thyrings, 
with Eolas, Istas, and Idumeans.^ 
And^ I was with Eormanric all that while 
the king of the Goths was gracious to me. 

90 A ring he gave me, ruler of strongholds, 
on which six-hundred of solid gold 
was scored for the treasure by shilling-count; ^ 
I made then Eadgils owner of this, 
my helmet-lord,^ when home I fared, 

95 the loved one, in pay for the land he gave me, 
First ^ of the Myrgings, my father's home. 
Then Ealhhild gave me another ring, 
queen of the doughty-band, daughter of Eadwine.^ 

1 Assyrians. 

2 The " list " has been badly damaged here, so far as symmetry goes, 
and falls into a curious kind of pedantry. 

3 Here begins what may fairly pass as the oldest and best part of the 
poem. The reader should note the resemblances of style and phrase here 
to style and phrase of the Beowulf. Kennings are heaped, in variant 
repetition, for the two kings. The fact that Widsith gave what he had 
received to his own king should be compared with Beowulf's similar 
action ; the latter gets land in return, the former is paying for land 
already given. 

* The heavy gold ring is marked with its value. Spirals of gold, too, 
were often twisted about the arm ; one round broken from the spiral 
counted so much. So a king's kenning is " ring-breaker." 

6 A favorite kenning for the king is " helmet," or " refuge," or 
*' shelter," or " haven," of his people. 

^ Lord or king. 

■^ If persons and places here must be put into some sort of consistent 
relations both with one another and with the statements of the prologue, 
Heinzel's scheme is least open to cavil. Widsith leaves his home among 
the Myrgings, somewhere in the neighborhood of Holstein, and his king, 



198 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

My laud of her moved through many lands 
100 whenever in song I was urged to say 

where under heaven I'd heard of the best 

gold-decked queen her gifts dividing.^ 

Then I and Scilling^ with sounding voice 

before our lord uplifted song : 
105 loud to the harp the lay rang out, 

and many men of mood sublime 

spake with words, — who well could judge, — 

that they never had known a nobler song. 

Thence I ranged o'er the realm of Goths, 
110 ever seeking the sturdiest clansmen. — 

Such was Eormanric's suite of earls: ^ 

Eadgils, and sings his way to Italy, where the great Alboin (^Ifwine) 
gives him welcome, and sends him along with the conqueror's sister, Ealh- 
hild, on the marriage journey to Eormanric. He stays at the Gothic court 
some time, and gets a splendid gratuity. This, in a kind of anticipatory 
clause familiar to readers of our old epic, and demanded no doubt by the 
curiosity of its original hearers, is further described as going to pay 
Widsith's lord, when the singer got home again, for paternal estates now 
or previously restored. But another ring is given to Widsith by the new 
queen, whose praise he has sung and will sing again. Inspired by her, 
he and Scilling sang wonderfully to the Gothic court, so that the Goths 
themselves — first and greatest masters of the old minstrel's art, be it 
remembered — can think of nothing better. — Fiction as it is, this is con- 
sistent, so far as it goes. Then follows a description of Eormanric's 
retinue, a confusion of names, with a touch or so of legend ; and Widsith 
has done. Dr. Lawrence points out that in view of the cross-pattern in 
Anglo-Saxon poetical style it is not at all certain that Widsith and Scilling 
are supposed to sing at Eormanric's court. "Our lord" may well be 
Eadgils, as in v, 94. 

1 See the summary of a queen's duties in a note to the Beowulf, v. 622. 
"Gold-decked," adorned with gold, is the usual adjective for high-bom 
dames. 

2 Miillenhoff, Runenlehre, p. 64, makes this name mean " sonorous," 
— another appellation, like " Widsith" itself, for the Scop. 

8 Miillenhoff' s arrangement is followed here, so that the names are given 
as chosen from the list of Eormanric's company, though they are actually 



THE SINGER AND HIS LAY 199 

Hethca and Beadeca; ^ Harlings both, 
Emerca, Fridla ; that East-Goth, too, 
sage and brave, the Sire of Unwen; ^ 

115 Secca and Becca, Seafolan and Theodric, 

Heathoric and Sifeca, Hlithe and Inggentheow, 
Eadwine and Elsa,^ -^gelmund and Hangar, 
and the Neighbor-Myrgings' noble band, 
Wulfhere and Wyrmhere, — (war was not languid, 

120 when the Hrethan host with hardy blade 
were fain to defend by the forests of Vistula 
olden homes from Attila's horde) ! — 
Rsedhere and Rondhere, Rumstan and Gislhere, 
Withergield * and Freotheric, Wudga and Hama;^ 

125 not worst ^ of warrior-comrades these, 
though now I come to name them last ! 
From their host full often whining flew 
howling ^ spears at the hostile throng. 
Exiles won there woven ^ gold, 

130 men and women, Wudga and Hama. 

drawn from various sources and from imagination. The Eormanric saga 
itself does not come clearly out ; in the Norse account, Swanhild, his wife 
( = Ealhhild, perhaps), is put to death for alleged unfaithfulness. Nothing 
is hinted here of all that, though among the followers of the famous " troth- 
breaker " is named Becca, the betrayer Bikki in Norse legend. 

1 These names occur in the mythical genealogy of Essex, and mean 
" slaughter " and " battle." 

2 The East-Goth is Ostrogotha, who, according to Jordanes, was father 
of Hunuil, the Unwen of this verse. 

3 Names of Langobard kings. 

* See Beowulf, v. 2051, 

6 Hama, Heime in later German legend, is said in Beowulf, v. 1198, to 
have carried off the famous Brising necklace. 

^ Litotes, as in the Beowulf. 

""Yelling." See King Heidrek's Riddle on the Arrow ; " It flies aloft, 
yelling aloud." . . . 

* Twisted, as in rings and the like. 



200 THE OLDEST ENGLISH EPIC 

So found I ever, in faring thus, 
that he is dearest to dwellers on earth 
whom God has raised to rule o'er men 
as long as here he lives in the world." * 



135 So, faring aye, are fated to wander 

men of song through many lands, 

to say their need and to speak their thanks. 

Or south or north, some one is found, 

wise of word and willing of hoard, 
140 to lift his praise in his liegemen's presence, 

to honor his earlship, — till all is fled, 

light and life together : he gets him laud, 

holds under heaven a haughty name. 

1 The words of Widsith are ended, — with a fine bow to the king on 
whose favor he relies for bread. Even in the epilogue a professional note 
is evident. Minstrels are the real voice of fame ; treat them accordingly, 
— as Hamlet advised about the actors. For the results of bad treatment 
of minstrels, see Uhland's effective little piece, Des Sdngers Fluch. 



INDEX OF NAMES 

So far as the characters of the Beowulf are concerned, a brief statement of 
their functions and mutual relations has been made in the Introduction to 
that poem. For further study of this matter, and of kindred subjects, the 
reader may be referred to the following books and essays. MiJllenhofF, 
Beowlf, Berlin, 1889 (previously published papers collected in one volume) ; 
ten Brink, Beowulf, Strassburg, 1888; and H. Moller, Das Beowidfepos, 
Kiel, 1883, are full of valuable suggestions, although their main purpose is 
to prove theories now for the most part set aside. Equally important are 
the various essays of Sophus Bugge, particularly his Studien uber das Beo- 
untlfepos in Vol. XII of Paul and Braune's Beitrage, and of E. Sievers, par- 
ticularly Beowulf und Saxo in the Reports of the Saxon Academy of Sciences, 
Vol. XLVII. Two articles by F. Klaeber in Vol. Ill of Modern Philology 
may be named as important for more than one phase of Beowulf criticism. 
Other essays and books, many of them highly significant in their day, but 
now absorbed into the main body of information about the epic, — such as 
Grein's paper on its historic relations, in Vol. IV of Ebert's Jahrbuch, — will 
be found in the excellent bibliography prefixed to Vol. II of Holthausen's 
edition of Beowidf, Heidelberg and New York, 1905, 1906. The text, notes, 
and glossary of this edition are admirable. A good English edition is that 
of Wyatt, Cambridge, 1898. The notes to J. R. Clark Hall's prose transla- 
tion, London, 1901, and to Gering's metrical translation in German, Heidel- 
berg, 1906, have been noted above as valuable for their general information. 
References to material for study of the other poems, such as W. W. Law- 
rence's article on Widsith, will be found in the several Introductions above. 
On the general question of epic structure in the Beowulf, readers are referred 
to W. M. Hart's Ballad and Epic in the Harvard Studies and Notes in Philol- 
ogy and Literature, Boston, 1907. 

It will be remarked that some of the names in Widsith are omitted from 
this index. Only those are given whicli are mentioned in the other poems, 
or belong to the common Germanic legend. 



Abel, B. 108. 

iElfhere, B. 2604. 

iElfhere, Wa. A, 11; B, 19. 

.^schere, B. 1323, 1329, 1420, 2122. 
Attila, Wa. A, 6; Wi. 18. 

( Baduhild ) j^ _ 

\ Beaduhild J ' '' 
Beanstan, B. 524. 
Becca, Wi. 115. 



Beowulf (Dane), B. 18, 53. 

Beowulf » (Geat), 343, 364, 405, 457, 
501, 506, 529, 609, 623, 631, 653, 
676, 795, 818, 856, 872, 946, 957, 
1020, 1024, 1043, 1051, 1191, 1216, 
1299, 1310, 1383, 1441, 1473, 1651, 
1704, 1758, 1817, 1854, 1880, 1971, 
1987, 1999, 2194, 2207, 2324, 2359, 
2389, 2425, 2510, 2663, 2681, 2724, 
2807, 2842, 2907, 3066. 

i Breca, B. 506, 531, 583. 

I Breoca, Wi. 25. 



' The gecoDd scribe in nearly all cases has Biowulf. 
201 



202 



INDEX OF NAMES 



Cain, B. 107, 1261. 

Da?ghrefn, B. 2501. 
Deor, D. 37. 

Eadgils, B. 2392. 

Eadgils, Wi. 93. 

Eadwine (Audoin), Wi. 74, 98; 117. 

Ealhhild, Wi. 5, 97. 

Eanmund, B. 2611. 

Eawa (Ms. Eaha), F. 17. 

Ecglaf, B. 499, 590, 980, 1465, 1808. 

Ecgtheow, Beowulf, son of, B. 529, 

631, 957, 1383, 1473, 1651, 1817, 

1999, 2425. 
Ecgtheow, the son of, B. 1550, 2177, 

2367, 2398, 2587. 
Ecgtheow, B. 263, 373. 
Eofor, B. 2486, 2993, 2997. 
Eomer, B. 1960. 
Eormenric, B. 1201 ; Z>. 21 ; Wi. 8, 

18, 88, 111. 

Finn, Fin Folcwalding, B. 1068, 1081, 
1096, 1128, 1146, 1152, 1156; F. 
38; Wi. 27. 

Fitela, B. 879, 889; see also p. 181. 

Folcwalda, B. 1089. 

Freawaru, B. 2022. 

Froda, B. 2025. 

Garmund, B. 1962. 

Garulf, F. 20, 33. 

Grendel, B. 102, 127, 151, 195, 384, 
409, 424, 474, 478, 483, 527, 591, 
666, 678, 711, 819, 836, 927, 930, 
1054, 1253, 1258, 1266, 1282, 1334, 
1354, 1391, 1538, 1577, 1586, 1639, 
1648, 1775, 1997, 2002, 2006, 2070, 
2078, 2118, 2139, 2353, 2521. 

Guthere, F. 20. 

Guthliere (Gunther, 

Guntharius), W. A, 25 ; Wi. 66. 

Guthlaf (Dane), B. 1148. 

Guthlaf ( " ?), F. 18, 35. 

Hsereth, 1929, 1981. 

f Hffithcyn, B. 2434, 2437, 2482. 

( Hfethcen Hrethling, 2925. 
Hagen (Hagena), W. B, 15; Wi. 21. 
Halga, B. 61. 

Hama, B. 1198; Wi. 124, 130. 
Hathubrand, H. 3, 15, 18, 38. 
Healfdene, B. 57. 



Healfdene (in patronymic designa- 
tion of Hrothgar), B. 190, 268, 
344, 645, 1009, 1020, 1040, 1064, 
1474, 1652, 1699, 1867, 2011, 2143, 
2147. 

Heardred, 2202, 2375, 2388. 

Heatholaf, B. 460. 

Hebn, Wi. 29; of. B. 620. 

Hemming, B. 1944, 1961. 

Hengest, B. 1083, 1091, 1096, 1127; 
F. 19. 

Heoden, D. 36; Wi. 21. 

Heorogar, B. 61, 467, 2158. 

Heoroweard, B. 2161. 

Heorrenda (Horant), D. 39. 

Herebeald, B. 2434, 2463. 

Herebrand, H. 7, 46, 47. 

Heremod, B. 901, 1709. 

Hcreric, B. 2206. 

Hild ( ?), D. 14. 

Hildebrand, H. 3, 7, 15, 18, 31, 38, 
46, 47. 

Hildeburh, B. 1071, 1114. 

Hildeguth (?), W. A, 1. 

Hnacf, B. 1069, 1114; F. 42; Wi. 29. 

Hoc, B. 1076. 

Hondscio, B. 2076. 

Hrethel, B. 374, 454 (?), 2191, 2430, 
2442 ( ?), 2474. 

Hrethel, in patronymic for Hygelac, 
B. 1485, 1847, 2358, 2992. 

Hrethling, name for Geatish war- 
riors, B. 2960. 

Hrethling, name for sons of Hrethel, 
B. 1923, 2925. 

Hrethric, 1189, 1836. 

Hrothgar, B. 61, 64, 152, 235, 277, 
335, 339, 356, 367, 371, 396, 407, 
417, 456, 613, 653, 662, 717, 826, 
863, 925, 1017, 1066, 1236, 1296, 
1321, 1399, 1407, 1456, 1483, 1580, 
1592, 1646, 1687, 1816, 1840, 1884, 
1899, 1990, 2010, 2020, 2129, 2155, 
2351 ; Wi. 45. 

Hrothmund, B. 1189. 

Hrothwulf, Hrothulf, B. 1017, 1181; 
Wi. 45. 

Hun (?), B. 1143. 

Hwala, Wi. 14. 

Hvgd, B. 1926, 2172, 2369. 

Hygelac, B. 452, 1202, 1483, 1820, 
1830, 1970, 1983, 2000, 2151, 2169, 
2201, 2355, 2372, 2434, 2914, 2943, 
2952, 2958, 2988. 



INDEX OF NAMES 



203 



Hygelac, in name for Beowulf, B. 
194, 407, 737, 758, 914, 1530, 1574. 

Hygelac, in patronymic for Heardred, 
B. 2386. 

Hygelac, in name for Eofor, B. 2977. 

Hygelac, in name for Geatish war- 
riors, B. 261, 342. 

Hygelac Hrethling, B. 1923. 

Ingeld, B. 2064; Wi. 48. 
Nithhad, TT. B, 8; D. 5. 

Ofifa, B. 1949, 1957; Wi. 35, 37, 38, 

44. 
Ohthere, Ohtere, in patronymic, B. 

2380, 2394, 2612. 
Ohthere, in names of parents, B. 

2928, 2932. 
Onela, B. 2616, 2932. 
Ongentheow, B. 2486, 2924, 2951, 

2961, 2985; Wi. 31. 
Ongentheow, in patronymic, B. 2387, 

2475. 
Ongentheow, in name for Eofor, B. 

1968. 
( Ordlaf, F. 18. 
I Oslaf,' B. 1148. 
Otacher (Odoacer), H. 19, 26. 

Scilling, Wi. 103. 

Scyld, B. 4, 27. 

Scyld, in patronymic for Beowulf the 

Dane, B. 19. 
Sigeferth, F. 17, 26. 
Sigemund, B. 875, 884. 
Signy, see Introduction to Deor; 

also B. 62, note "Sigeneow." 
Swerting, B. 1202. 



Theodric, Theotrich (Goth), TF. B, 4; 

D. 18; H. 20, 24, 27. 
Theodric (Frank), Wi. 24. 
Thryth (?), B. 1931. 

Unferth, B. 499, 530, 1165, 1488. 
Unwen (Hunuil), in name of Ostro- 
gotha, Wi. 114. 

Wada, Wi. 22. 

Wsels, in patronymic, B. 897. 

Waldere, W. B,l\. 

Wayland, Weland, B. 455; TT. A, 2; 

D. 1. 
Wayland, in patronymic, W. B, 9. 
Wealhtheow, B. 612, 664, 1162, 1215, 

2173. 
Weohstan, B. 2614, 2620. 
Weohstan, in patronymic, B. 2602, 

2752, 2862, 2907, 3076, 3110, 3120. 
Widia, Wudga, IF. B, 5, 7; Wi. 124, 

130. 
Wiglaf, B. 2602, 2631, 2745, 2852, 

2862, 2906, 3076. 
Withergield (?), B. 2051; Wi. 124. 
Wonred, in patronymic, B. 2971. 
Wulf, B. 2965, 2993. 
Wulfgar, B. 348, 360, 390. 

Yrmenlaf, B. 1324. 



Names of Swords 

Hrunting, B. 1457, 1490, 1659, 1807. 
Lafing, B. 1143. 
Mimming, W. A, 3. 
Naigling, B. 2680. 



Ordlaf and Oslaf are probably the same perton. 



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