Chapter XVI

AND THE LORD of warriors gave to each of Beowulf's fellow voyagers a precious gift, an heirloom, and ordered that the blood-price be paid in gold for the one whom Grendel had killed—and he would have killed more of them, had not the Providence of God and Fate—along with the valor of man—barred his way. The Ancient One ruled mankind then as he does now and always. Therefore, it is always best to have prudence and insight of mind. He who long sojourns through war-filled days in this world will have much of both pleasure and pain.

Then did the song and music mingle together in the presence of Healfdene's war-prince, and harpsong of the hero's ballad was heard as Hrothgar's bard invoked joy in the mead-hall and on the ale-benches by playing the song of that sudden raid on the Finnish sons: “Hnaef the Scylding, Healfdene's hero, was doomed to fall in the Frisian slaughter.”

“Hildeburh had no cause to value her enemies' honor! She lost both loved ones at the shield-clashing; both son and brother were innocent. Fate took them; they were stricken by spears, and she was mournful. None doubted why Hôc's daughter bewailed her fate when dawn came and she saw them lying under the sky, her kinsmen murdered, where she had 'till now enjoyed the world's blessings.

“Finn's own liegemen were also cut down by war, and few were left on the battlefield; he could no longer raise weapon or wage war on Hengest and rescue his band's remnants by might from the king's thane. He offered Hengest a pact: The Danes would have another hall and throne, and half the power should go to those in Frisian lands. When time came for tribute, Finn, Folcwald's son, would favor Hengest's folk by day with rings, even honoring them with as much treasure, jewels, and beaten gold as he in his own mead-hall honored his Frisian folk. Thereupon they plighted a treaty of peace on both sides. Finn swore to Hengest upon his honor to rule the woeful remnant by wise law, governing them nobly so that no man among them would break the treaty—they now followed the slayer of their ring-giver with minds full of malice and mourning, forced to do this, as was their fate. Should any Frisian with the taunt of a foe recall this murderous hatred to mind, the sword-edge would seal his doom. The oath was sworn, and heaps of ancient gold were brought from the hoard.

“The stalwart Scylding, best among the warriors, lay upon his funeral pyre. On the fires were clearly seen the bloody hauberks, the gilded swinecrests, the iron boars and the many princes slain by the sword; many had fallen in battle. Hildeburh gave orders that her own son's body should be committed to the flames at Hnaef's pyre, his bones burning at his uncle's side. The woman wept in woeful lamentations, and the war-hero soared in flames. The largest of death-fires climbed to the clouds, roaring over the hillock: heads melted, gashes burst, and blood gushed out of the body's wounds. The doomfire, that greedy demon, devoured them all, those spared not by war; the springtime bloom of both folk was gone.”


  1. An excellent example of *personification*, the poet uses it to give the fire human qualities which add to this emotional scene in the tale. Additionally, personifying the fire as a demon is much closer to the pagan than the Christian belief system.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. Pagan funeral rights included burning the corpse while Christians believed the only proper funeral was burial. This image would have drawn a sharp line for the poem's audience between their new religion, Christianity, and the old pagan beliefs.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. This sentence exemplifies the literary device litotes, or understatement. In this case Hildeburh, Hôc's daughter, actually had every reason to hate intensely her enemies because they killed her son. However, the use of this device downplays the overall meaning because it uses a negative word in an affirmative sentence instead of a negative verb in a negative sentence.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. One of the more advanced societies in the time period known as the “Dark Ages," the Frisians were an early medieval tribe of people who occupied parts of what are the modern-day nations of Denmark, the Netherlands, and northern Germany. They traded with silver coins instead of bartering and engaged in maritime trade from the Baltic region to England. They were often rivals of the Franks, who lived to the southwest of their lands.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. In a typically Scandinavian / Anglo-Saxon style, Hrothgar's storyteller performs another story for the audience, known in the poem as "the Finnsburg Fragment" or "Fight at Finnsburg." The story he shares doesn't include much detail beyond summarizing main events, which is likely an indication that the audience would be familiar with it.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. This is the Hengest of "Hengest and Horsa" fame who was invited into England by Vortigern to help him fight the Picts (a northern tribe from what is now Scotland). Hengest and Horsa are considered the founders of the Anglo-Saxon race in England.

    — Stephen Holliday