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‘Sent by God’
A Warrior Be #2: Impressions of Beowulf
Lines 12-25 of the translation by John McNamara
Lines 12-16
“And then to the king a lad was born, [1]
A son in the hall, who was sent by God
As relief to the Danes; for their ruler well knew
The distress of his people while long without a leader
Before his coming…”
The above passage demonstrates the responsibility of a king being the provision for a successor, unlike an Alexander who spitefully wishes for his patrimony to be warred over by lesser men who shall fear and raise his image the higher in memory even as his empire falls.
God is also named Lord of Life and Ruler of Heaven, keeping with long held Aryan traditions also reflected in the Roman tradition of Jove.
Beow, the prince of the Danes gives generous gifts while his father ruled, so that the men he favored with gifts would stand by him on the passing of his father the king. This is the oldest tradition of chieftains and was even maintained by such savages as the Mongols into the High Middle Ages. For such a patronage system to function, there must be a deeply shared honor code otherwise, gift-giving will devolve into payment, bonding and bribery.
The poet then reminds the listeners on line 25 that by deeds of honor [including gift-giving] “shall a man prosper among all the peoples.”
That final statement suggests a wide-ranging war-band culture with shared honor code and that the tale of old being told reflects a pan-heroic ethos, which on line 19 is suggested as being the “nations of the North.”
Fame and glory are important notions to such an honor system and this reputation would be cemented and perpetuated in the mead-halls by the tale-telling scalds.
Notes
-1. McNamara used boy, but boy meant nothing but slave, so I use lad, even if it was anachronistic, as I suspect both terms are
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