The Oldest English Epic/Chapter 1/Beowulf 16
1050And the lord of earls, to each that came
Then song and music mingled sounds
- Man-price, wergild.
- Beowulf’s. The same combination of fate and courage as above, v. 573.
- 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 his 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 support among scholars. Finn, a Frisian chieftain, who nevertheless has a “castle” outside the Frisian border, marries Hildeburh, a Danish princess; and her brother, Hnæf, 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. Hnæf 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, Hnæf. 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 Hnæf fell, “that is to say, an event which precedes the story told in the Beowulf,” and is noted in these introductory lines (vv. 1069 f.).—In the Widsith, Hnæf 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. 33, Hun ruled the Hætweras, a tribe of Franks now apparently subject to Finn the Frisian. Another reading makes Finn slay Hengest with a sword “Hunlafing.” 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.
- Usual litotes; she had good cause to complain. The “enemies” must be the Frisians; the original word is “eotens,” “ettins,” monsters; but it is elsewhere used in speaking of Frisian men.
- Battlefield.—Hengest is the “prince’s thane,” companion of Hnæf. “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 Hnæf 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 Ælfred’s Laws. “With the advice of my Witan, I order. . . .”
- 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 privilege for the poet; and the dirge of the mother and sister doubtless dwelt chiefly on the tragic intensity of the double loss.
- Reading gūthrinc = gūthhring, “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. . . .
- The high place chosen for the funeral: see description of Beowulf’s funeral-pile at the end of the poem.