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‘The Brave One’
A Warrior Be #8: Impressions of Beowulf
Lines 189-204 of John McNamara’s translation
The poet has shifted empathy away from Grendel and towards the beleaguered Hrothgar, the grim sentiment established in the tale of twelve wicked winters reinforced in the opening lines of Section 3
Lines 189-93
“Because of this horror, the son of Healfdane
seethed with sorrow, nor might the wise hero
put aside woe. That struggle was too strong,
hateful and long-lasting, which had come on the people, [0]
dire wrack and ruin—the greatest of night-evils.”
Epic poetry, at its best, places more emphasis on developing compassion for the antagonistic and the protagonist. The composer of Beowulf shows himself as Homer’s equal, with Grendel and Hrothgar empathetic analogues to Achilles and Priam.
Enter the hero, with sustained grace and a reluctance to rush into his naming. Though every listener knows who he is, the poet structures the introduction so that the listener knows that monster-hunting made is name.
He is a thane of Hygelac the Geat, and he has heard the tales of Grendel.
This Geat is the strongest man known, honored for his might until the day he would die.
He ordered a “wave-traveler” prepared for the voyage to seek the besieged Dane king “over the swan-road.”
He first consulted the wise men of his folk, whose cherished hero he was. [1]
They sought omens, [2] sanctified the quest over the sea and “urged on the brave one.”
This section of the poem holds many parallels with more ancient epics, particularly of Gilgamesh and the Iliad, yet has its own higher altruism, different in kind from the precocious curiosity of Gilgamesh and of the lonely ferocity of Achilles. Is that higher state derived from an eldritch source or has it come into the north with Christianity?
Notes
-0. Infers episodic, guerilla warfare and the demoralization of the ‘conventional’ confrontational warrior when faced with the skulking manhunter. This sounds like a description of Vietnam from the perspective of an NCO who learned his trade in WWII.
-1. Unlike the elders of Uruk, the city, who beg Gilgamesh not to risk himself on the forest quest, the elders of the Geats, of this far less cultivated folk, urge him on.
-2. Surely any priest who happened to be visiting from Rome when this heathen gaff sung out had to have groaned under his breath and readdressed his mead cup.
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Add Comment
Ruben ChandlerApril 22, 2020 8:44 PM UTC

hit enter before ready but please, by all means, you are welcome to it. i think the blood feud, entering the western (I mean, wtf do we call it James, Norse, we'll kick this around for hours I see, and remember on my bucket list is an affordable edition in pidgin, these ocean goers will get it, they're not yet gelded). so, please.
Ruben ChandlerApril 21, 2020 11:05 PM UTC

Many have equated Beowulf with the origin of the blood feud, even in it's watered down Christianised form. For some reason it was felt worthy enough of church attention to attack it's form, From the shadowy, misty times and enchantments, indeed the very casting of the glamor that becomes this tale, the questions of bravery and manhood themselves come to the forefront of this mighty tome. The true sense of glamor as a power, and as something one can cast over one and all is redolently palpable throughout this work, a lingering lost magic of spirits and sprites, somewhere on the edge of the great hunt, which many still fear on an overlong walk home anywhere at night in Germany and nearby countries. I know I seriously looked up during muffled noises in the dark as a boy in Wiesbaden.
responds:April 22, 2020 1:54 PM UTC

Will use this in the book with your permission.

Thanks so much.