19 November 2011

XXX. Beowulf Continues his Speech to Hygelac

With this fitt, we're coming very close to catching up with where I am in the translation. That will slow down the postings of new fitts, although I could keep up new postings with discussions of the time, culture, poetic form, and so on. I'm still continuing in the translation, though. At the moment, I'm writing about the dragon.

In this fitt, Beowulf continues speaking to his king, Hygelac, about the probable disaster when King Hrothgar attempts to make peace with his enemies the Bards (or Heathobards) by marrying his daughter to one of their princes. Grudges will be harboured, he says, and shared, until a Scylding in the wedding party is murdered.

Then, that point made, Beowulf switches abruptly to the story of Grendel's attack on Hrothgar's hall. For the first time, we learn the name of the Scylding warrior who was eaten by Grendel: Hondscio. He also describes a strange article of clothing on Grendel, a pouch, which Grendel tried to stuff him into. He recapitulates his fights with Grendel and Grendel's mother. After each struggle, he says, King Hrothgar rewarded him. He mentions this not only as a comment on Hrothgar's virtues but to introduce the subject of the next fitt, in which Beowulf gives these awards to his King.

There is much that I should comment on in this section, even though it is largely material that we know from earlier. For example, there is the meaning of Hondscio's name, why the name has been omitted from the story until now, and the nature and significance of Grendel's pouch. Enough for now, though. Here is the translation.


“before they led headlong to ruin
“their lives and loved ones in linden play.        2040
“Then a drinker speaks who spies ring treasure
“an old fighting man, remembering all,
“men killed by spear. His spirit is fierce.
“Forced by his grief, he finds a youth
“to tell him his heart, to tempt the mind,
“to spur savage war; he speaks these words.

“‘Look there, my friend, is that the sword,
“‘the one your father wore to the fight
“‘below his mask on his last battle?
“‘That iron cost dear. The Danes slew him there.    2050
“‘and kept the shambles when the counterblow failed,
“‘and the heroes fell, the fierce Scyldings.
“‘Now the son of one who slew that day,
“‘proudly attired, treads on the floor, 
“‘boasts of murder and bears the treasure
“‘that is your own by all that's right.’

“So he enrages and raises the past
“with trenchant words till the moment
“Freawaru’s man, for his father’s deeds,
“sleeps from a sword’s bite, stained with his blood,    2060
“released from life. Lightly, the other
“leaves there alive for land he knows well.
“Then they are broken, by both parties,
“the earls’ sworn oaths. Then Ingeld will feel
“blood lust welling, and love for his wife
“become colder from cresting grief.
“So I have little faith that Heathobards
“will honour their treaty with the trusting Danes
“with a long friendship. But let me say
“more about Grendel to give you all,            2070
“giver of treasure, that happened that day
“in hand combat when heaven’s jewel
“glided to Earth. The angry guest,
“awful in evening, entered to visit
“where, safe and sound, on sentry duty,
“we held the hall where Hondscio sank
“fated to fall, the first to be killed,
“the girded hero. Grendel took him
“to murder by mouth, that much-praised thain.
“The dear man's body was bolted down,        2080
“and instantly, though empty-handed,
“life's blood on teeth, intent on evil,
“he hoped to go from the gold-hall,
“but with terrible strength, he tested mine,
“held me in hand. There hung a pouch,
“queer and capacious, cunningly fashioned.
“Every part was artfully worked
“with devilish skill of dragon skins
“and, into it, me, an innocent man
“the rash raider was ready to push            2090
“as he had others.  He had no success
“because I rose erect in anger.
“It would take too long to tell how that scourge
“I repaid in kind for his cruelties.
“In that place, my prince, your people gained
“glory from my action. He got away
“and enjoyed his life a little while,
“but part of his right side rested behind,
“his hand in Heort. From here, the wretch
“sad-hearted sank to the sea bottom."           2100
“The Scylding's friend, for this fierce struggle,
“repaid me with gifts of plated gold,
“many treasures, when morning came
“and we sat at table to sate ourselves;
“we had song and glee. The grey-haired Scylding
“told us a few of the tales he knew.
“At times, he was pleased to take up the harp,
“wrung tunes from old wood. At times, gave us songs
“true and tragic. At times, odd stories
“he related truly, the large-hearted king.        2110
“At times, age-bound, he turned again,
“the grey fighter, to grieve for his youth.
“his fighting strength. It filled his heart,
“wise from his winters, when he recalled it.
“Here we relaxed the whole day long,
“taking pleasure until the night
“returned to men.
                                      "Then the time had come;
“to avenge her grief, Grendel's mother
“set out sadly. Her son was dead
“from the Weders' hate. That horrible woman        2120
“avenged her child, vanquished a fighter,
“audaciously. Life departed
“from old and learned Aeshere there.
“They could not even, come the morning,
“the death-weary Danish people,
“burn his body or bed on his pyre
“the much-loved man. She moved with his corpse
“in the fiend's embrace, under beck water.
“That was, for Hrothgar, the hardest grief
“laid on that lord for the longest time.        2130
“Then the lord invoked me by your very life;
“worried, he wished, in the water's rage
“I perform a deed, face the danger,
“and win glory. He would give rewards.
“I met in the mere, as many know,
“the hate-filled horrid holder of the deep
“There, hand to hand, we held our grip.
“Currents ran crimson. I cut off the head
“of Grendel's dam, in that deep hall,
“with awful edges. No easy thing            2140
“to leave there alive. It lay with fate,
“but the heroes' ward once more gave me
“heaped-up treasures, Healfdene's kin.”

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