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Set in a time when men were knighted for achieving great feats, and great the feats of Beowulf were.

by John William Sutton

Dismissed by the Kings Earls as clumsy, lazy and a sluggard, he was also shunned by his peers for his strength and prowess with the sword and spear. On hearing of the monster Grendel, he announced his intention to sail for the Daneland to prove his worth and prove his accusers wrong. And this he did, killing not only the monster Grendel but also its evil moster-mother.

On his return home he was proclaimed the greatest hero of the North by the very same who condemned him sic. In time he becomes king of Geatsland and an extended period of prosperity follows, ended only by a flame-breathing, steam belching dragon. Once again our hero sallies forth.

Beowulf - Wikipedia

The dragon is defeated but this time so is our hero. Beowulf was written in England, but is set in Scandinavia. It has variously been dated to between the 8th and the early 11th centuries. It is an epic poem told in historical perspective; a story of epic events and of great people of a heroic past. We deliver to destinations all over the world, and here at Abela, we have some of the best rates in the book industry.

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In the unlikely event there is damage please contact us before returning your item, as you may have to pay for return shipping, if you have not let us know. Michael J. Enright, in the first chapter of his book Lady with a Mead Cup , discusses the place of women in the political society of the Germanic warband, making special reference to those scenes in Beowulf involving Wealhtheow [4]. Enright argues that, because she always offers the cup to Hrothgar first, Wealhtheow is an extension of and a support for his kingly power.

He cites another Old English poem, Maxims I, that seems to confirm this argument. The section that he cites discusses the nobleman's ideal wife, how "at mead drinking she must at all times and places approach the protector of princes first, in front of the companions, quickly pass the first cup to her lord's hand.

The order of serving is then directly tied into the rankings within the warband.

The Story of Beowulf

This argument makes sense in reference to the scenes in question: in the second scene, Wealhtheow serves Beowulf after Hrothgar as a representation of his newly earned status within the band. Hygd, the other woman who plays the role of hostess in Beowulf , has a much smaller part. She is described as moving through the hall, carrying the cup, but no order is given for her rounds The poet does not say whether or when she delivered to cup to Hygelac or to Beowulf. Considering the above argument for the importance of order in the cup-distribution, it seems that the lack of that information in the case of Hygd is just as important as the information included at Heorot.

In the scenes involving Wealhtheow, Beowulf is a stranger in a rival hall, so it is necessary for Hrothgar to show his power. The poet illustrates this power through the passing around of the cup, and Beowulf knows that, because the king receives the cup first, he is the master of the hall. However, because Beowulf has returned to his own hall and to his own lord, there is no need for Hygelac to show that he is the master. These examples of Wealhtheow and Hygd show them as instruments of the kings in the hall.

Enright does disservice to them, however, by focusing only on their function as extensions of their husbands.

Although he concludes that Wealhtheow's position as cup-bearer and supporter of the king gives her some power within the structure of the warband, Enright argues against her and other women in her position having a significant influence on politics. He does not take seriously enough the words spoken by Wealhtheow to Hrothgar and Beowulf during the celebration of Grendel's death lines and Instead, she asks him to take Hrothulf Hrothgar's nephew as his heir, to hold the kingdom for her sons In this act, Wealhtheow is actively protecting her own interests, and the poet gives no indication that her words were ignored or not accepted into consideration by Hrothgar [6].

Her words to Beowulf reflect the same concerns. First, she urges him to accept the gift she has just given him, a ring beag , illustrating her own graciousness and generosity [7]. She then praises his deeds and urges him to be kind to her sons, reminding him of the truth and loyalty that exist in Heorot. Her final words illustrate her self-confidence: "the troop, having drunk at my table, will do as I bid" Again, the poet gives no reason for us to believe that her demands will go unheeded [8].

Hygd also held at least some political power, and this is shown most clearly when she attempts to deliver the kingdom of the Geats to Beowulf following Hygelac's death on the battlefield, in effect passing over her own son, Heardred. The poet says, "Hygd offered him [Beowulf] the hoard and kingdom, rings and royal throne; she did not trust that her son could hold the ancestral seat against foreign hosts, now that Hygelac was dead" Perhaps she is acting as an extension of her husband's power as she does during the cup distribution in the hall , doing what he would have wished her to do.

However the poet does not say that she is acting on anyone's authority but her own - apparently it is Hygd and Hygd alone who does not believe her son is strong enough to hold the kingdom. Janemarie Luecke has examined historical and anthropological evidence and concludes that the social arrangement in Beowulf , though patrilineal, dimly reflects the matrilineal the bloodline descending through the mother's line and matrilocal the household centered around women as opposed to men organization of early Germanic society [9].

Stephen O. Glosecki in an article reprinted in this issue agrees that there are many references in Anglo-Saxon sources in general, Beowulf in particular, that may "persist as reflexes of a totemic system in which the basic exogamous group was both matrilineal and matrilocal" [10]. The lineage is traced through the women: a man belongs to his mother's line, and his son belongs to 'his' mother's line, not his father's.

This would create a system of inheritance quite different from the later medieval system of primogeniture. In the totemic system, "if the father bequeathed his ancestral wealth and status upon his son, this patrimony would pass out of his own natal clan and into the matriclan of his affines" [11]. To avoid passing his ancestral wealth into another family, then, the father must choose another male relation related to his own mother through another female relation. The closest relation in this case would be the son of a sister this relationship will be dealt with in greater detail in the next section , and, although referred to many times as the son of his father, Ecgtheow, Beowulf is also the son of Hygelac's sister.

Return then to Beowulf and Hygd, and take into account the possibility of a reflexive totemic system. One can suggest that Hygd wishes to keep the kingdom in her husband's family, not because she or her deceased husband doubted the abilities of Heardred, but because the totemic system prescribes that it should be so. Let us now move from a discussion of relations within a group to that of relations between groups. A good place to begin this discussion is with an examination of the term "peaceweaver" and its use in Old English literature. It is commonly believed that the term freothuwebbe , "peaceweaver," is most often applied to women given in marriage in order to secure peace among enemy or rival peoples [12].

Freothwebbe , however, is only used three times in the Old English corpus, and Larry M. Sklute has thus concluded that the term "does not necessarily reflect a Germanic custom of giving a woman in marriage to a hostile tribe in order to secure peace. Rather it is a poetic metaphor referring to the person whose function it seems to be to perform openly the action of making peace by weaving to the best of her art a tapestry of friendship and amnesty" [13].

Using this definition, in their courtly functions both Wealhtheow and Hygd can be called freothuwebbe [14] , and in fact Wealhtheow is referred to using a similar term, frithu-sibb folca , peace-pledge of the nations. Although Sklute does not see a difference in the way the terms freothuwebbe and frithu-sibb are used in Beowulf , John Hill describes a distinction hinging on the second element in the compounds, "weaving concord in contrast to kinship peace alliance.

Though I use the modern English term "peaceweaver" for Hildeburh and Freawaru I want it to be clear that I am referring to their functions as frithu-sibb , women given in marriage as a peacekeeping force between rival groups. The story of Hildeburh is told by a scop in Heorot following Beowulf's defeat of Grendel She was the daughter of the king of the Danes and was married off to Finn, king of the Jutes.

In one respect she succeeded in her duty: she had at least one son, a representation of the mingling of the blood between the two tribes [16]. Unfortunately the match did not keep the tribes from fighting, and Hildeburh ended up losing her son, brother, and husband, and was taken back to her people, the Danes.

Beowulf’s world comes to life in new book

Far from being simply a geomuru ides mournful woman, , Hildeburh and her position of being pulled, as it were, between two loyalties, is central in the story. The scop narrates the story in relation to her: the story begins and ends with her, and she is mentioned in the middle. Except perhaps for Hengest, the story tells us more about Hildburh's viewpoint than that of anyone else. Reading from an anthropological point of view, Hildeburh's story illustrates the conflict between the peaceweaver's marriage tribe and birth tribe, and an answer at least within the society of the poem of which one was to take precedence.


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After the first battle, the one in which Hildeburh's son and brother are killed, the scop says, "blameless she was deprived of her dear ones at the shield-play, of son and brother; wounded by spears they fell to their fate. That was a mournful woman" The poet does not mention any grief resulting from the death of her husband, nor does he register any wish on her part that the murders of son and brother not be avenged.

This indicates Hildeburh's continuing close relationship to her birth people [17]. If Hildeburh's loyalties were naturally with her people, then she would naturally mourn for those folks who shared her blood. Also, at the end of the story, Hildeburh returns to her people leodum - that is, the Danes.

Although she was married into a non-Danish tribe we do not know for how long - at least long enough to have a child of fighting age , she is still considered a Danish queen, and the Danes still think of her as one of their own [18]. The story of Hildeburh offers a doorway into discussion of an issue near to that of matrilocality and matrilinity mentioned above in relation to Hygd: that of the closeness between a woman's sons and her brother SiSo-MoBr.

This issue is discussed in detail by Rolf H. Bremmer, Jr. Throughout Beowulf , the poet emphasizes this special relationship. Hildeburh is the one sister and mother in Beowulf who is active as the connection between her male sibling and child. Through this action, Hildeburh emphasizes that her son is hers, not her husband's. Her son is to be associated with his uncle, her brother, and the Danish people. Freawaru plays a much smaller role in the poem than Hildeburh [20].

After Beowulf returns to Hygelac he tells a story of perceived insult and revenge surrounding the marriage of Hrothgar's daughter to Ingeld, son of Froda, king of the Heathobards, whom the Danes have defeated in the past. The plan of marriage is clearly one of peaceweaving Beowulf's description of Freawaru is fairly incidental to the story; she mainly serves as a way of introduction to the conflict. He tells how she went about the court, offering the cup to warriors [21].

He then describes what he fears the outcome of her marriage will be. At the feast following the wedding, an aging warrior will recognize the Heathobard treasures being carried by the Danes and will urge the younger thanes to battle, and not even the finest bride will be able to stop them