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‘The Way Was Cobbled’
A Warrior Be #12: Impressions of Beowulf
Lines 320-331 of John McNamara’s translation
The cobblestone way to Heorot’s hall indicated a rude form of civilization and further marks a contrast between the monstrous wanderer of the wastes and his victims.
These first dozen lines of Section 5 are dedicated to the martial minutia that academics so detest. Yet imagine an epic poem of today, if our civilization was besieged by some alien terror, not bosting of the hardware employed by the soldiers that fought back?
Of great interest to this reader is that the gear is half of it the same as the Homeric war kit and the other half different but not necessarily more effective. The spears and shields are effectively the same as are the helmets. The distinction over earlier ages is the armor shirts, a thing the poet waxes on:
“…The war-mail shone,
the bright iron rings linked hard by hand,
so the battle-gear sang…”
“…As the men sat on a bench, the mail rang out,
the battle-shirts of heroes.”
But in offensive weapons, with heavy shields and spears, the premier warriors of this age are armed the same as Achilles, down to the wood that composed the haft of his battle-spear. As well, note the importance of the spear to the sense of the band, of brotherhood and community, as it was a weapon that required high levels of cooperation and unit cohesion:
Lines 328-331
“…Their spears stood tall,
the weapons of warriors all gathered together,
a grove of ash-woods gray at their tips. That company
of iron
was honored with weapons.”
The spears are the weapons of a band, not of individual fighters, and these men are like their war-mail, hard-linked together “as one.” The language of the spear was the language of the war-fighter, of the men of the war-bands, the Aryans.
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