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‘Beowulf is My Name’
A Warrior Be #13: Impressions of Beowulf
© 2020 James LaFond
Lines 332-370 of John McNamara’s translation
Wulfgar the Wendel, Hrothgar’s Herald greats the leader of the men sitting on the bench resting their shields and butting their spears:
“From what place do you bear these gold-plated shields,
these grey shirts of mail and sheltering helmets,
this stock of battle-shafts?”
Shields, mail and spears, the weapons of the battle band, are noted by the bard, and Wulfgar brushes aside notions of the brother war and opens the brother door—which is the common way for culturally similar warrior bands to interact when not brought to the battlefield for combat.
Beowulf names himself at last, waiting until he reaches the last person between he and the king he seeks audience with, making first sure to claim the status for he and his men of “drinking-bowl companions” to king Hygelac, indicating that the entire band of men are personal companions of the King of Geats and from the highest war-caste.
Wulfgar refers to the Dane King as a “giver of great rings,” [1] meaning a gift-binding ruler who practices grace before making commands. The communal spirit of the war-band is deeply etched in Wulfgar’s message to Hrothgar, which I quote in full here as this speech closes Section 5 and serves, in my mind, as the social linchpin of Beowulf as an Аrуаn epic with a communal ethic:
Lines 361-370
“To us from far over the sea’s expanse
men have come from the homeland of the Geats.
The warriors call their chief comrade-in-arms
Beowulf by name. They bid that you may grant,
my generous lord, that with you they may
have concourse with words. Do not refuse this request
in the answer you give, gracious Hrothgar!
Dressed in their war-gear, they appear worthy
of the honor of earls. Their chief is especially strong,
who led these warriors to our land.”
Not only is the band armed as a collective of honorable equals repeatedly, but Wulfgar, who in future ages would be demoted by stages from advisor, to announcer to messenger, [and now press secretary] is strongly advising the king in public on a matter of the most severe gravity. Much of the conduct in this and the previous section is pre-hierarchal. However, in the public intercourse to come we will see the growth of hoard-holding plotters seeking their personal gain at their folk’s and their king’s expense and witness a poetic interpretation of the fate of kingless peoples to come.
-1. Band is related to bounds, bound, binding, rings and even bandana and bandit as strands threading down through language and time regarding the binding of men to one another through the symbols of rings, bracelets, arm bands and even the interlocking rings of the mail armor worn by warriors and chiefs in the middle ages. The rings of silver and cold worn as arm bands and broken off as gift and money are here too referenced. The warband, from where the very word Аrуаn descends, is a term of brotherhood based in wondering and war.
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