Beowulf: Hall Chapter 41

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XLI. THE MESSENGER’S RETROSPECT.

{The messenger continues, and refers to the feuds of Swedes and Geats.}

“The blood-stainèd trace,       of Swedes and Geatmen,
The death-rush of warmen,       widely was noticed,
How the folks with each other,       feud did awaken.
The worthy one went then,[1.]       with well-beloved comrades,
Old and dejected,       to go to the fastness, — 5.
Ongentheo earl,       upward then turned him;
Of Higelac’s battle,       he’d heard on inquiry,
The exultant one’s prowess,       despaired of resistance,
With earls of the ocean,       to be able to struggle,
‘Gainst sea-going sailors,       to save the hoard-treasure, — 10. — 2960.
His wife and his children;       he fled after thenceward,
Old ‘neath the earth-wall.       Then was offered pursuance,
To the braves of the Swedemen,       the banner[2.] to Higelac.
They fared then forth,       o’er the field-of-protection,
When the Hrethling heroes,       hedgeward had thronged them. — 15.
Then with edges of irons,       was Ongentheow driven,
The gray-haired to tarry,       that the troop-ruler had to,
Suffer the power,       solely of Eofor:

{Wulf wounds Ongentheow.}

Wulf then wildly,       with weapon assaulted him,
Wonred his son,       that for swinge of the edges, — 20. — 2970.
The blood from his body,       burst out in currents,
Forth ‘neath his hair.       He feared not however,
Gray-headed Scylfing,       but speedily quited,

{Ongentheow gives a stout blow in return.}

The wasting wound-stroke,       with worse exchange,
When the king of the thane-troop,       thither did turn him: — 25.
The wise-mooded son,       of Wonred was powerless,
To give a return-blow,       to the age-hoary man,
But his head-shielding helmet,       first hewed he to pieces,
That flecked with gore,       perforce he did totter,
Fell to the earth;       not fey was he yet then, — 30. — 2980.
But up did he spring though,       an edge-wound had reached him.

{Eofor smites Ongentheow fiercely.}

Then Higelac’s vassal,       valiant and dauntless,
When his brother lay dead,       made his broad-bladed weapon,
Giant-sword ancient,       defence of the giants,
Bound o’er the shield-wall;       the folk-prince succumbed then, — 35.

{Ongentheow is slain.}

Shepherd of people,       was pierced to the vitals.
There were many attendants,       who bound up his kinsman,
Carried him quickly,       when occasion was granted,
That the place of the slain,       they were suffered to manage.
This pending,       one hero plundered the other, — 40. — 2990.
His armor of iron,       from Ongentheow ravished,
His hard-sword hilted,       and helmet together;

{Eofor takes the old king’s war-gear to Higelac.}

The old one’s equipments,       he carried to Higelac.
He the jewels received,       and rewards ‘mid the troopers,
Graciously promised,       and so did accomplish: — 45.
The king of the Weders,       requited the war-rush,
Hrethel’s descendant,       when home he repaired him,

{Higelac rewards the brothers.}

To Eofor and Wulf,       with wide-lavished treasures,
To each of them granted,       a hundred of thousands,
In land and rings,       wrought out of wire: — 50. — 3000.

{His gifts were beyond cavil.}

None upon mid-earth,       needed to twit him,[3.]
With the gifts he gave them,       when glory they conquered;

{To Eofor he also gives his only daughter in marriage.}

And to Eofor then gave he,       his one only daughter,
The honor of home,       as an earnest of favor.
That’s the feud and hatred,       –as ween I ’twill happen,– — 55.
The anger of earthmen,       that earls of the Swedemen,
Will visit on us,       when they hear that our leader,
Lifeless is lying,       he who longtime protected,
His hoard and kingdom,       ‘gainst hating assailers,
Who on the fall of the heroes,       defended of yore, — 60. — 3010.
The deed-mighty Scyldings,[4.]       did for the troopers,
What best did avail them,       and further moreover,

{It is time for us to pay the last marks of respect to our lord.}

Hero-deeds ‘complished.       Now is haste most fitting,
That the lord of liegemen,       we look upon yonder,
And that one carry,       on journey to death-pyre, — 65.
Who ring-presents gave us.       Not aught of it all,
Shall melt with the brave one,       –there’s a mass of bright jewels,
Gold beyond measure,       grewsomely purchased,
And ending it all,       ornament-rings too,
Bought with his life;       these fire shall devour, — 70. — 3020.
Flame shall cover,       no earlman shall wear,
A jewel-memento,       nor beautiful virgin,
Have on her neck,       rings to adorn her,
But wretched in spirit,       bereavèd of gold-gems,
She shall oft with others,       be exiled and banished, — 75.
Since the leader of liegemen,       hath laughter forsaken,
Mirth and merriment.       Hence many a war-spear,
Cold from the morning,       shall be clutched in the fingers,
Heaved in the hand,       no harp-music’s sound shall,
Waken the warriors,       but the wan-coated raven, — 80. — 3030.
Fain over fey ones,       freely shall gabble,
Shall say to the eagle,       how he sped in the eating,
When, the wolf his companion,       he plundered the slain.”
So the high-minded hero,       was rehearsing these stories,
Loathsome to hear;       he lied as to few of, — 85.

{The warriors go sadly to look at Beowulf’s lifeless body.}

Weirds and of words.       All the war-troop arose then,
‘Neath the Eagle’s Cape,       sadly betook them,
Weeping and woful,       the wonder to look at.
They saw on the sand then,       soulless a-lying,
His slaughter-bed holding,       him who rings had given them, — 90. — 3040.
In days that were done;       then the death-bringing moment,
Was come to the good one,       that the king very warlike,
Wielder of Weders,       with wonder-death perished.
First they beheld there,       a creature more wondrous,

{They also see the dragon.}

The worm on the field,       in front of them lying, — 95.
The foeman before them:       the fire-spewing dragon,
Ghostly and grisly,       guest in his terrors,
Was scorched in the fire;       as he lay there he measured,
Fifty of feet; came forth,       in the night-time,[5.]
To rejoice in the air,       thereafter departing,— 100. — 3050.
To visit his den;       he in death was then fastened,
He would joy in no other,       earth-hollowed caverns.
There stood round about him,       beakers and vessels,
Dishes were lying,       and dear-valued weapons,
With iron-rust eaten,       as in earth’s mighty bosom, — 105
A thousand of winters,       there they had rested:

{The hoard was under a magic spell.}

That mighty bequest then,       with magic was guarded,
Gold of the ancients,       that earlman not any,
The ring-hall could touch,       save Ruling-God only,
Sooth-king of Vict’ries,       gave whom He wished to, — 110. — 3060.

{God alone could give access to it.}

[6.](He is earth-folk’s protector)       to open the treasure,
E’en to such among mortals       as seemed to Him proper.

— NOTES —

[1.] For ‘góda,’ which seems a surprising epithet for a Geat to apply to the “terrible” Ongentheow, B. suggests ‘gomela.’ The passage would then stand: ‘The old one went then,’ etc.
[2.] For ‘segn Higeláce,’ K., Th., and B. propose ‘segn Higeláces,’ meaning: Higelac’s banner followed the Swedes (in pursuit).–S. suggests ‘sæcc Higeláces,’ and renders: Higelac’s pursuit.–The H.-So. reading, as translated in our text, means that the banner of the enemy was captured and brought to Higelac as a trophy.
[3.] The rendering given in this translation represents the king as being generous beyond the possibility of reproach; but some authorities construe ‘him’ (2996) as plu., and understand the passage to mean that no one reproached the two brothers with having received more reward than they were entitled to.
[4.] The name ‘Scyldingas’ here (3006) has caused much discussion, and given rise to several theories, the most important of which are as follows: (1) After the downfall of Hrothgar’s family, Beowulf was king of the Danes, or Scyldings. (2) For ‘Scyldingas’ read ‘Scylfingas’–that is, after killing Eadgils, the Scylfing prince, Beowulf conquered his land, and held it in subjection. (3) M. considers 3006 a thoughtless repetition of 2053. (Cf. H.-So.)
[5.] B. takes ‘nihtes’ and ‘hwílum’ (3045) as separate adverbial cases, and renders: Joy in the air had he of yore by night, etc. He thinks that the idea of vanished time ought to be expressed. [6.] The parenthesis is by some emended so as to read: (1) (He (i.e. God) is the hope of men); (2) (he is the hope of heroes). Gr.’s reading has no parenthesis, but says: … could touch, unless God himself, true king of victories, gave to whom he would to open the treasure, the secret place of enchanters, etc. The last is rejected on many grounds.

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