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‘Keeping Watch against Giants’
A Warrior Be #20: Impressions of Beowulf
Lines 642-709 of John McNamara’s translation
“…For the king knew the monster
was bent on battle in the high hall,
once men might not see the light of the sun,
with night growing dark over all the earth,
and shapes of shadows came gliding along,
dark under clouds.”
In this reader’s mind this reflects an insurgency, a conquered folk, rising up by night to loot and murder against a force that out-powers or out-numbers them, very reminiscent of Heathen Uprisings in New England in the 1600s and African Uprisings in America from 2014-2020. I would be inclined to an understanding that such savage night fighting was a a remnant of the indigenous hunters of Europe finally conquered by the Aryans, after resisting Anatolian conquest for some 1500 years, the Basques being the last apparent remnant of these folks.
Hrothgar warns Beowulf to “guard against fierce foes” indicating that Grendel represents an aboriginal insurgency, as well as, as shall be seen, the displeasure of God.
The king addresses himself to the foreign prince, “warrior to warrior,” and offers great rewards for success, marking this epic as a kind of prototype for mercenary service, rewarded on merit, not by wages.
Further, the leaving of the hall by the inhabitants, the leader of which has been declared “battle-brave” and a “warrior” to be guarded by a small, elite band of warriors, does suggest the narrative of the hero facing the monster alone, rather than going hunting him or banded together in main force, as an ambush stratagem used as part of a counter-insurgency effort.
To “now have and hold this best of dwellings” as the assignment of just arrived warriors, reminds this reader of the fact that in 2015, The Raven’s Stadium was protected against rioters and purgers not by local police, but by military contractors, and that the Towson Courthouse was garrisoned by police from the Essex Precinct while those of the Towson Precinct worked the roadways.
On the seventh line of the first verse of book 20, taking us to 670, Beowulf’s “band of heroes” are described as “keeping watch against giants.” This is of interest as many early civilizations describe the race of men before them, especially in Homeric Epic, as being giants compared to the heroes of their time, and of course the heroes are amongst among men. In Colonial South Africa and Plantation America, we see that the common soldier is 5’ 6”, like the ancient Greek hoplite, that his officer is a couple inches taller, and that the enemy tends to stand six-feet tall. Here we have grain-fed soldiery, mixed-grain-meat-fed officers and meat-fed aborigines. It is common knowledge that races that displaced the Neanderthal 30,000 years ago, and who resisted the Anatolian grain eaters, and finally perished against the grain-meat-fed Aryans, stood six feet tall in the Paleolithic Era. These giants, I suggest, were indigenous hunters rebelling against the conquering Aryans just as the Wampanoag, Shawnee, Sioux, Maori and Zulu would all described as meat-fed giants by those who fought them.
“Truly, the prince of the Geats firmly trusted
In the force of his strength and the favor of God.”
This Aryan sentiment of strength under God as opposed to begging and praying like a woman, like the queen had, would persist via the cult of chivalry and the crusading movements of the High Middle Ages and Early Modern Era.
Beowulf then boasts, which is always bad in modern ethics, but has as its root, a self-dedication to sacrifice oneself in battle:
“I do not suppose myself any less battle-bold,
Or less strong in the struggle than Grendel himself,
So I will not put him to sleep with a sword,
To rob him of life, though I readily could.”
Beowulf goes on to say that it would not be fair for him to use war science against Grendel, that to truly prove his superiority and the favor of God, he must fight Grendel as Grendel fights, bare-handed. Likewise, the frontiersmen of North America defeated their tribal foes by copying their methods and leaving their cannon at home, and the U.S. military in Vietnam had better results using small units of light infantry in South Vietnam, rather than with their WWII style bombardments of North Vietnam. This is another indication of the epic having as its origin an indigenous uprising against Aryan conquerors.
The fact that God is the power who judges men and that then, “in the dark of night came the shadow-glider,” is crowned with an acknowledgment that God is served by evil:
“It was known to the men
that the dread demon could not throw them
down into darkness when God did not wish it.”
As reflected anciently in the Book of Job and in Puritan New England in the sermons of Increase Mather, when heathens attack Christians, it is here regarded as God’s will, a result of his judgement having found man wanting.
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