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‘Hope against the Dread’
Lines 371-398 of John McNamara’s translation of Beowulf
Again, the modern academic and reader in general sees the heraldic recitation of lineage as an upper class conceit, despite the fact that in the age covered by the poem, one’s social standing was determined as much by deed as lineage, these two generating the narrative tension in the feud between Achilles and Agamemnon and also between parties in this later epic. However, in the age of muscle-powered warfare, just like in modern combat sports, who your daddy or uncle was matters. Once I took Curtis to the Loch Raven Boxing Team gym and as soon as they found out who his uncle was, the coaches having known his uncle as a stand-out pro, his good treatment was assured as well as the tenor of his test.
Hrothgar states that he knew Beowulf as a lad, knew the quality of his father and mother, recalls that seafaring men have spoken of how Beowulf has the strength of thirty men in the grip of one mighty hand. Further he declares that “The holy God,” [1] has sent him to battle Grendel and his terrors and bids that Wulfgar bids him and his company welcome.
Wulfgar emerges and announces that the king, declared as victorious even though beleaguered [2] knows of the family and fame of Beowulf:
“and that you brave men who have come to him
Over the sea-surgings are welcome here.
Now you may go wearing your war-gear,
with heads under helmets, in to see Hrothgar.
You shall leave here at rest your battle-shields,
and your wooden spears, while words are exchanged.”
These men are still armed and would be wearing a dagger, knife or sword, these being side-arms.
-1. This wording suggests other gods and speaks of a correction of either a heathen tale for a Christian audience or of a king recently emerged from heathen cosmology into its Christian successor.
-2. Much as a prize-fighter who may have lost his last fight is announced giving credit to all his past achievements in the ring.
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