The Oldest English Epic/Chapter 1/Beowulf 01
|←Beowulf: Prelude||The Oldest English Epic by , translated by Francis Barton Gummere
Now Beowulf bode in the burg of the Scyldings,
- If glæde is adverb, read:
Haughty Healfdene: hardy and wise,
though old, he graciously governed the Scyldings.
The name “Halfdane” means that his mother was foreign born.
- “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 Sæwela’s queen.”
- Heorogar’s reign, noted below, vv. 465, 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.”
- 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 described, Hrothgar sat in the south or chief high-seat, and Beowulf opposite 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 comment will be found in the excellent notes in Mr. Clark Hall’s translation of Beowulf, p. 174.
- Fire was the usual end of these halls. See v. 781, below. One thinks of the splendid scene at the end of the Nibelungen, of the Nialssaga, 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 Hrothgar’s hall was burnt,—perhaps in the unsuccessful attack made on him by his son-in-law Ingeld. See vv. 2020 fl., 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 ff.
- A skilled minstrel. The Danes are heathens, as one is told presently; but this lay of beginnings is taken from Genesis.
- 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 standing, so that all Christian Englishmen might read about him. “Grendel” may mean one who grinds and crushes.
- 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 Eddic Poems, tr. Schofield, p. lxxiv.
- 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 apocryphal book of Enoch, noted by Kittredge, Paul und Braune’s Beiträge, xiii, 210, who accounts for this tradition that Cain was the ancestor of evil monsters.