26 March 2012

First Half of Fitt XXXVI: Wiglaf to the rescue!

Here we begin a new chapter in the story by introducing Wiglaf, one of the dozen men Beowulf had taken with him to the dragon's den. When he sees that Beowulf is struggling against the greater power of the dragon, Wiglaf is filled with memories of gifts and favours his family had received, and feels bound by duty and love to take support him.

We learn a little of Wiglaf's background then: his father is Weohstan, a Scylfing (Swede). Weohstan had slain Eanmund, the son of Ohthere, who was himself the brother of King Onela. However, Onela did not pursue revenge on Weohstan, but allowed him to keep Eanmund's armour and weapons. Weohstan held onto them for many years, until he passed them on, in some form of public ceremony, to Wiglaf himself.

Wiglaf is, at this time, an untested fighter. However, the poem makes clear that he is brave and loyal.

Wiglaf begins a speech to the other men, reminding them of their oaths and urging them to join him in an attack on the dragon. The rest of the speech will be in the next posting.


He was called Wiglaf, Weohstan's son,
a shieldbearing friend of the Scylfing folk,
Aelfhere's kinsman. His king, he saw,
hurt from the heat under the helmet's mask.
His mind remembered many favours,
the wealthy estate of the Waegmundings,
and each one's folk rights, as his father had held,
then could not hold back. His hand seized the shield
of yellow linden. He lifted his old sword
that all recognize as Eanmund's,
Ohthere's son, slain in battle,
unwanted, an exile, by Weohstan's hand
and a broadsword's blade. He brought to his kin
a bright bronze helm, a byrnie of rings,
an old sword of the Ettins. Onela returned
the war clothing that his kinsman wore.
He made no mention of manslaughter
though a blow brought down a brother's son.

He minded the treasures for many seasons,
sword and byrnie, till his son was able
to fight a good fight, as his father had done.
Then, with Geats watching, he gave equipment,
countless, all kinds, then came to his end,
wise as he parted.
                               This was the first time
the young champion charged into battle
to act as he ought for his honoured lord.
Neither unmelted mettle nor remaining strength
would fail the fighter, as his foe discovered.
when each would face the other in combat.

Then Wiglaf spoke inspiring words.
Sad to his soul, he said to his friends:
"I remember a time of taking mead,
"when we swore to save our sovereign lord,
"there, in the beer hall, to our breaker of rings,
"we would pay him back for our battle gear
"if need for our aid ever arose
"for helms and hard swords. Hence he chose us.
"out of the army of his own free will
"as fit to earn fame, and found me these treasures
"because he counted us as keen spearmen
"helm-bearers with heart, though he had intended
"that the lord take on this task alone,
"the folk's defender perform this deed
"because out of all men he has earned most fame
"for daring deeds."
                              "The day has now come!
"Our noble master has need of the might
"of loyal fighters. Let us go forward
"and help our leader while heat surrounds him
"aggressive and grim. God is my witness,(...)"

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