The Oldest English Epic/Chapter 1/Beowulf 27

The Oldest English Epic by Unknown, translated by Francis Barton Gummere
BeowulfL XXVII


Came now to ocean the ever-courageous
hardy henchmen, their harness bearing,
1890woven 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
1895as 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
rose over Hrothgar’s hoarded gems.
1900A sword to the boat-guard Beowulf gave,
mounted with gold; 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.
1905A sea-cloth was set, a sail with ropes,
firm to the mast; the flood-timbers moaned;[1]
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,
1910keel 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,
1915who 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.
1920Then 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.
1925Haughty that house, a hero the king,
high the hall, and Hygd[2] right young,
wise and wary, though winters few
in those fortress walls she had found a home,
Hæreth’s daughter. Nor humble her ways,
1930nor 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
1935that lady full in the face to look,
but forgéd 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
1940proclaimed and closed. No queenly way
for woman to practise, though peerless she,
that the weaver-of-peace[3] from warrior dear
by wrath and lying his life should reave!
But Hemming’s kinsman[4] hindered this.—
1945For over their ale men also told
that of these folk-horrors fewer she wrought,[5]
onslaughts of evil, after she went,
gold-decked bride, to the brave young prince,
atheling haughty, and Offa’s hall
1950o’er the fallow flood at her father’s bidding
safely sought, where since she prospered,
royal, thronéd, rich in goods,
fain of the fair life fate had sent her,
and leal in love to the lord of warriors.
1955He, of all heroes I heard of ever
from sea to sea, of the sons of earth,
most excellent seemed. Hence[6] Offa was praised
for his fighting and feeing by far-off men,
the spear-bold warrior; wisely he ruled
1960over his empire. Eomer woke to him,
help of heroes, Hemming’s kinsman,
grandson of Garmund,[7] grim in war.

  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 Schücking, Englische Studien, xxxix, 108 f., seems a most happy solution of the problem 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 795, 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, Stevenson’s note to Asser’s Alfred, Capp. 14, 15, 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 The Banished Wife’s Complaint, an Anglo-Saxon lyric, is based on the story of Offa.

  3. Kenning for “wife.”
  4. Eomer, as below (conjecturally), v. 1960; or, as Gering suggests, Offa himself.
  5. Litotes for “ceased altogether.”—Offa is praised in the Widsith lay, v. 38.
  6. See the ideal of a good king at the opening of the poem.
  7. The genealogy of the Mercian Offa makes his ancestral Anglian namesake, Offa, the son of Wærmund.