XIX

BEOWULF RECEIVES FURTHER HONOR

          A beaker was borne him, and bidding to quaff it
          Graciously given, and gold that was twisted
          Pleasantly proffered, a pair of arm-jewels,
          Rings and corslet, of collars the greatest
5       I've heard of 'neath heaven. Of heroes not any
          More splendid from jewels have I heard 'neath the welkin,
          Since Hama off bore the Brosingmen's necklace,
          The bracteates and jewels, from the bright-shining city,
          Eormenric's cunning craftiness fled from,
10      Chose gain everlasting. Geatish Higelac,
          Grandson of Swerting, last had this jewel
          When tramping 'neath banner the treasure he guarded,
          The field-spoil defended; Fate offcarried him
          When for deeds of daring he endured tribulation,
15      Hate from the Frisians; the ornaments bare he
          O'er the cup of the currents, costly gem-treasures,
          Mighty folk-leader, he fell 'neath his target;
          The corpse of the king then came into charge of
          The race of the Frankmen, the mail-shirt and collar:
20      Warmen less noble plundered the fallen,
          When the fight was finished; the folk of the Geatmen
          The field of the dead held in possession.
          The choicest of mead-halls with cheering resounded.
          Wealhtheo discoursed, the war-troop addressed she:
25      "This collar enjoy thou, Beowulf worthy,
          Young man, in safety, and use thou this armor,
          Gems of the people, and prosper thou fully,
          Show thyself sturdy and be to these liegemen
          Mild with instruction! I'll mind thy requital.
30      Thou hast brought it to pass that far and near
          Forever and ever earthmen shall honor thee,
          Even so widely as ocean surroundeth
          The blustering bluffs. Be, while thou livest,
          A wealth-blessèd atheling. I wish thee most truly
35      Jewels and treasure. Be kind to my son, thou
          Living in joyance! Here each of the nobles
          Is true unto other, gentle in spirit,
          Loyal to leader. The liegemen are peaceful,
          The war-troops ready: well-drunken heroes,
40      Do as I bid ye." Then she went to the settle.
          There was choicest of banquets, wine drank the heroes:
          Weird they knew not, destiny cruel,
          As to many an earlman early it happened,
          When evening had come and Hrothgar had parted
45      Off to his manor, the mighty to slumber.
          Warriors unnumbered warded the building
          As erst they did often: the ale-settle bared they,
          'Twas covered all over with beds and pillows.
          Doomed unto death, down to his slumber
50      Bowed then a beer-thane. Their battle-shields placed they,
          Bright-shining targets, up by their heads then;
          O'er the atheling on ale-bench 'twas easy to see there
          Battle-high helmet, burnie of ring-mail,
          And mighty war-spear. 'Twas the wont of that people
55      To constantly keep them equipped for the battle,
          At home or marching--in either condition--
          At seasons just such as necessity ordered
          As best for their ruler; that people was worthy.

Footnotes

  1. Treasure, material goods, and gift giving play an important role in this culture. The poet takes a moment to reaffirm the importance of this collar by interrupting his story to tell his audience its story. Since possessions and treasures were highly valued, each item of value has its own story, which helps create continuity for the poet’s audience. Since Higelac (also transcribed as Hygelac) dies wearing it, we know that Beowulf will present it to him eventually. This detail reminds the audience of Beowulf's loyalty to his king.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. The poet uses the concept of fate to foreshadow the death of one of the warriors at the feast. For those living during Beowulf's time, when a man is fated to die, he will die, and there is no action the man can take that will alter his fate; this is why the man is “doomed unto death,” giving the end of this section an ominous tone.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. The poet's choice of using Weird, or Fate, and cruel destiny in this passage foreshadows conflict that will shortly come to Hrothgar's hall. Essentially, this passage is saying that the people feasted and enjoyed themselves, unaware of the struggles and hardships that will come to them. Interestingly, this word choice omit's any reference to the Christian God, the poet preferring to use the pagan concept that controls the lives of humankind.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. Notice how Wealhtheow reasserts her earlier wishes directly to Beowulf in this passage by reminding him that he is now considered an official protector of Hrothgar and Wealhtheow's two sons, and that he shouldn’t do anything that would jeopardize her son's right to Hrothgar's throne. Even though Wealhtheow's speech to Beowulf is friendly and polite, this last line is a command that Beowulf would have understood clearly.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. To better describe the gifts bestowed upon Beowulf to his audience, the poet alludes to the tale of Hama, a heroic character in Germanic legend. Hama entered the castle of King Eormenric, a very oppressive Goth leader, and stole a priceless gold necklace, once thought to have belonged to the Norse goddess Freyja. In order to escape Eormenric's vengeance, Hama spent the rest of his life in the safety of a monastery.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. They are "worthy" because, as warriors in a society always at war, they are always prepared for battle even when, as here, they have no reason to believe an attack is imminent. Their experience tells them that life is always hanging by a thread, and when that thread is cut by a monster or a human enemy, they must be ready to fight for themselves and their king.

    — Owl Eyes Reader