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‘The War-Band Leader’
A Warrior Be #10: Impressions of Beowulf
© 2020 James LaFond
Lines 258-285 of John McNamara’s translation
Challenged by the coast guard in a tactful manner “the chief among those seamen made answer,” and assigns his lineage, naming his king first and then his father and that his sire was well-known among the “wise of the earth.”
He then goes on to honor Hrothgar as the protector of his people and to offer his help as a champion against evil, hatred and the darkness of the enemy-stalked night, in a manner that brings to this reader’s mind a race war, an ethnic struggle beyond the bounds of the ethics common to the speaker, he who he addresses and to the audience so addressed by the poet, admitting first that he does not know what kind of enemy he is volunteering to face and yet pledging his aid boldly:
Lines 275-279
“a mysterious hate-dealer, with terror displays
unthinkable evil during dark nights,
humiliation and slaughter. So for this I seek
to counsel Hrothgar in heart-felt friendship,
how the wise and good king, may overcome
the fiend—”
Tactfully offering alliance, the as yet unnamed chieftain then closes with wisdom from his “word-hoard,” reminding us that the chief of a war-band is counted on as the counselor of his men, his king and his allies: [1]
Lines 283-285
“Or else ever after he will suffer distress,
a terrible fate, while towering on high
the best of halls will remain without joy.”
Many, indeed most scholars, from our age in which enemies never speak across the battle lines and advice does not go up the chain of command down which dictates rush without consideration, have put forth that such addresses in ancient literature between warriors standing before a possible or certain clash, are pure literary convention. This reader has often assented to this. And though, the exact words of some ancestral chieftain are unlikely to have been preserved in such, it is equally unlikely that these men without uniforms, who have not read manuals written by their enemies, who had not seen the enemy leader give a speech on video or hear him rant or wax elegant over the radio, would not want to know something about the man he might come to blows or bonds with. Thucydides was adamant that such speeches were given.
Might the introduction by the ring announcer before a prize-fight be a legacy of such introductions?
-1. Hrothgar is recognized as “protector of his people” essentially as Alexander [Protector-of-men]
Where Western Warriors Wend 2
a warrior be
‘The Grim Ones’
behind the sunset veil
honor among men
riding the nightmare
when you're food
buzz bunny
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