The Oldest English Epic/Chapter 1/Beowulf 18

The Oldest English Epic by Unknown, translated by Francis Barton Gummere
Beowulf: XVIII


A cup she gave him, with kindly greeting
and winsome words. Of wounden gold,
she offered, to honor him, arm-jewels twain,
1195corselet 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,[1]
1200jewel and gem casket.—Jealousy fled he,
Eormenric’s hate: chose help eternal.[2]
Hygelac Geat,[3] grandson of Swerting,
on the last of his raids this ring bore with him,
under his banner the booty defending,
1205the war-spoil warding; but Wyrd o’er whelmed him
what time, in his daring, dangers he sought,
feud with Frisians. Fairest of gems
he bore with him over the beaker-of-waves,
sovran strong: under shield he died.
1210Fell 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,[4]
and held the death-field.
Din rose in hall.
1215Wealhtheow 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!
Preserve thy strength, and these striplings here
1220counsel 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
1225prosper, O prince! I pray for thee
rich possessions.[5] To son of mine
be helpful in deed and uphold his joys!
Here every earl to the other is true,
mild of mood, to the master loyal!
1230Thanes are friendly, the throng obedient,
liegemen are revelling: list and obey!”[6]
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
1235by many an earl[7] 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
1240beds and bolsters.—One beer-carouser
in danger of doom[8] lay down in the hall.—
At their heads they set their shields of war,
bucklers bright; on the bench were there
over each atheling, easy to see,
1245the 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
1250their sovran king.—They were clansmen good.[9]

  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 jewelry, 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. Usually 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.
  3. 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 vv. 2355, 2914.
  4. 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 narrative 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” has 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.
  5. Or, perhaps, “thou art heartily welcome to these treasures I have given thee,” as Gering translates.
  6. Literally, “Do as I bid.”
  7. Litotes for “all.” The fatal stroke hovered over them all, though only one was actually stricken.
  8. Literally, “ready to go [sc. to death], and fey,” on the verge of death, and a marked man.
  9. 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:

    Ever must heroes 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.