Blogging Beowulf: Fit XVIII, Lines 1192-1250

This fit finishes up the celebratory feasting with more gifts. In particular, Beowulf receives a precious necklace. There is an allusion to the death of Hygelac, the king of the Geats, which will happen in the future. And the Danes settle in for the night in the mead-hall with some foreshadowing of more death to come.

Beowulf is given this wonderful and famous necklace, which according to other tales, once belonged to the goddess Freya. More recently it was in the possession of Eormanic, the king of the Goths, who serves as is an archetype for the tyrannical ruler in Norse sagas. The necklace is stolen by a man named Hama and it eventually comes into possession of the Danes, who give it to Beowulf, who will give it to his queen Hygd, who will give it to her husband, Hygelac, who will take it on a raid against the Frisians where he will be killed. This sequence is interesting in that it demonstrates the Anglo-Saxon attitude toward inheritance and gifts. Precious objects have a history and do not permanently belong to people, who can only brūcan þenden hie mōte, or use them while they can, a phrase that is repeated throughout the poem. Wealth and worldly things are fleeting.

There is an enigmatic reference in line 1201 where it says that Hama, after stealing the necklace from Eormanic, ġeċēas ēċne ræd, or chose eternal counsel. It may be a reference to entering a monastery, which Hama does in some versions of the tale. Or it could be some reference to having chosen to be a thief he has chosen his fate. No one is really sure.

Wealhtheow speaks more words of praise for Beowulf. There is more feasting until Hrothgar departs for his apartment and rest. The rest of the Danes settle down to sleep in the mead-hall, as they used to before the predations of Grendel. (We find out later that Beowulf and the Geats are given their own apartment to sleep in.)

The poet makes a point of telling us that the Danes go to sleep with weapons and armor at the ready, as good soldiers do. There is some irony in this as they are not prepared for what is to come. As it says in lines 1233b-1235:

                              Wyrd ne cūþon,
ġeosceaft grimme,      swā hit āgangen wearð
eorla manegum,      syþðan æfen cwōm.

(                              They did not know fate,
grim fate,      as it would happen to come to pass
for many a man,      after evening came.)

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