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‘Laughter of Heroes’
A Warrior Be #19: Impressions of Beowulf
Lines 607-641 of John McNamara’s translation
“Then there was joy for the giver of treasures,
Gray-haired and battle-brave. The chief of the Bright-Danes,
Protector of his people, now counted on help,
For he heard in the hero a resolute purpose.”
The qualifications of the Heroic Age King were hence:
-giving [opposite of the high medieval and early modern and classical potentates of antiquity who primarily took, like modern governments]
-wisdom
-proven courage in battle
-commitment to protect
-connections, reciprocal military relationships with confederate chieftains, necessary for a society without intensive agriculture and mass slave economics to maintain autonomy against enemies
The adoration of the King for his Queen is shown in her adornment, her being trusted with hospitality duties reflecting the essentially diplomatic marriage.
The Lady of the Protector and Giver, the King, then serves all of the men from the communal cup:
-First her King,
-Second the men
-Third the youths
-And finally the guest of Honor, the hero, Beowulf.
This demonstrates lateral social bonds, not a hierarchal pyramid demonstrated by Agamemnon’s behavior in The Iliad, making the Epic of Beowulf reflective of earlier technological and social times than the epics of Homer. To book end the study of the Age of Heroes from undocumented, primal times, down through the chronology of the West, the development, rise, decline and extinction of the hero king should be traced like so:
-1. Beowulf and Hrothgar
-2. Herakles, the Labors of and the Fury of
-3. Achilles and Agamemnon, The Iliad
-4. Odysseus, The Odyssey
-5. Aeneis, The Aeneid
-6. Gilgamesh, the Epic of
-7. Charlemagne, The Song of Roland
-8. Arthur, the Death of Arthur
Beowulf then takes the queen’s hands and declares his pledge to her, to answer her prayers to God, and binds himself within to battle the divine on behalf of man with God as judge: [0]
“I was determined, when I set to sea,
seated in a sailing-boat with my band of warriors, [1]
that I would completely fulfill the wish
of your people, or fall in the fight,
in the grasp of Grendel. I shall perform
great deeds of valor, or I shall see
the last day of my life in this mead-hall.”
Notes
-0. The modern mind only conceives of the divine as beneficent, while the ancient mind saw the divine as having maleficent and beneficent aspects. In the heroic age, heavenly powers may bestow the abilities of angels upon heroes to act on behalf of their people as an indirect intercession.
-1. Warriors, not soldiers, free men bound by honor, not slaves bound by force
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