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‘Wielded Words’
A Warrior Be #3: Impressions of Beowulf
Iines 26-52 of the translation by John McNamara
Scyld, still strong, passed away at his fated time. This concept is overtly heathen, as is the Nordic sea burial of the king, which is a returning to his “foundling” journey, for, as a child, he had been sent overseas as a poor orphan to return and save his folk from the chieftains. And in death he repeats this journey. This is a profoundly heathen element, whispering of possible reincarnate life, as the dead is returned to orphan status as he was as a child and also seems to be fulfilling an intercessional role on behalf of his folk as he floats into an eternity unsure.
On lines 29-and 30 we have an indication that as the King’s powers waned, he would step aside for the prince, who would then “wield words,” as the ruler. The paranoia implicit in republican and democratic systems of governance, both types being oligarchic, generally prevents the ruler no-longer in power staying so close to the levers of that power. However, primitive kingship can function with the retired king in respect and repose. However, as the Macedonian style of kingship that sees the king slain on behalf of an ascendant prince [probably on the orders of the queen] the reader can sense that kingship is doomed in its earliest phase, with the enemies of the king [namely the oligarchs and the queen] already arrayed for his demise. This fact does point to the wisdom of a waning king handing over power to his son.
The wealth of far off lands brought back as treasure, whether through tribute, trade of plunder accompanies the king into his funerary boat. There is, however, no maiden sacrifice.
The prologue ends with:
“Next they set over him a golden standard,
high over his head, and et the tide bear him off,
out over the ocean. Sad were the people,
mindful of mourning. Nor, to speak truth,
do any men know—among wise advisors, those heroes under the heavens—who received that cargo.”
In the final passage, the cosmology of the heathen Nordics lingers yet again as the unexplained—something taboo in Christian theology of that age, for its strength was that it was the faith that explained down to the minute detail of one’s suffering why sorrow had descended and what the sufferer’s fate would be—dependent directly upon his actions of faith and contrition. In medieval Christian terms, the final line churns with the uncertainty, mystery and menace of the heathen cosmos. Even the king’s fate in the afterlife remained uncertain.
End Prologue
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