Zénaïde A. (Zénaïde Alexeïevna) Ragozin.

Siegfried, the hero of the North, and Beowulf, the hero of the Anglo-Saxons online

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quity that it has never been possible to
decide exactly how much was history and
how much myth.

The father of the race, Skyld of the
Sheaf, was great in the memory of his
people. With his nobles his ethelings
he had wrested lands and glory from many
a neighbouring tribe aye, and many a
distant one, too ; the dread of him fell on
the bravest warriors ; he waxed great un-
der the sun, he flourished in peace, till
that every one of the neighbouring peo-
ples over the sea was constrained to obey
him and pay tribute ; and the world said
of him when he died, " That was a good
king ! "

Yet Skyld was not born to the crown.
In fact no one knew anything of his birth
and parentage. He was sent, it was said,
just when the country had need of a de-
liverer and leader. He had come one
day, so the story ran, over the sea, in a
beautiful ship, a new-born infant, bedded
on sheaves of wheat, when the Danish



Prologue 215

people were in sore distress because of
the wickedness of the man who was, at
the time, king over them.

This man's name, Heremod, went down,
unforgotten, but unhonoured, through
many a generation, a by-word for bad
monarchs. He was, in everything, the di-
rect contrary of what a good ruler ought
to be. He used his power, not for his
nobles' benefit or pleasure, but to deal
them wanton harm and even death. For
his ungovernable temper grew on him,
until, in his furious fits, he would strike
and kill, though it were his closest follow-
ers, his companions at the board and in
the battle. In his soul there grew a
bloodthirsty passion, and he suffered the
penalty of his evil doings in the estrange-
ment of his friends, the settled dislike of
his people, until at last they would stand
his presence no longer, and he wandered
forth alone, away from all human society,
and was never heard of more. It was
then that Skyld, the mysterious found-
ling, the Heaven-sent, seized on the gov-
ernment, brought order and plenty into



216 Beowulf

the land, and won love from his people,
respect from his foes.

A son was born to King Skyld in
his prime, a beautiful child, whom God
sent for the people's comfort and solace
Beowulf, sole heir to the throne. From
his earliest years he was full of promise,
a model of what a young chief should
be while still in his father's care
always ready with gracious words and
open hand, so that in his riper age will-
ing comrades in return were ready to
stand by him in war, and men gladly
did his bidding. Then, surrounded and
assisted by devoted friends who grew
up with him, he was enabled to perform
deeds which filled the world with praise
of him.

As for Skyld, he departed, in the ful-
ness of time, ripe in honours and years,
to go into the Master's keeping. His
faithful comrades then carried him forth
to the shore of the sea, as he himself had
ordered. The black, heavy earth should
have no part in him ; the sea had brought
him, the ever-moving, many-hued ; the



Prologue 217

sea should bear him hence, after his long
years of power.

There at anchor rode the ship, glisten-
ing fresh, outward bound, fit for a prince.
Down they laid their illustrious dead, the
dear chief of the land, dispenser of boun-
ties, on the lap of the ship, by the mast.
There was great store of precious things ;
ornaments from remote parts, weapons of
rare worth, mail armour finely wrought,
and harness glittering in silver and in
gold ; a multitude of treasures, which were
to pass with him far away into the watery
realm. Furthermore they set by him the
royal banner, gold-broidered, high over his
head. As its folds unfurled and glittered
in the breeze, it told the skies, and the
sun, and the stars of night, that a King
went forth into the world, on his last voy-
age. They set the helm, and gave him
over to the ocean, sad at heart, with tear-
dimmed eyes, and silent in their mourn-
ing. And Who received that burthen

o

no man under heaven, be it priest or chief-
tain or wise seer, can ever tell or know.
Thus Skyld of the Sheaf was honoured



218



Beowulf



in death after the manner of the mighty
dead of oldest times among the strong-
hearted sons of the North. From the
Unknown he came and into the Unknown
was borne away.





LAY I

GRENDEL

I

HEOROT

THEN Beowulf of the Skyldings sat in
the seat of his father, loved of his
people, for a long time famous among the
nations, and was succeeded in turn by his
son. The royal race of the Skyldings
prospered greatly, and when the crown
came to his grandson Hrothgar, its great-
ness seemed assured for all time. Hroth-
gar was a youth of goodly parts ; brave
and ambitious in war, yet delighting in
the gentle works of peace, a born com-
mander always. So that his brothers and
cousins gladly took him for their leader,

219



220 Beowulf

and a young brood of devoted clansmen
grew up around him, valiant in battle,
merry companions at the board. With
these he did some mighty deeds, winning
renown and riches, when they were young
together, and as together they grew old,
he loved to sit with them at the feast, en-
joying well-earned rest, rehearsing the
toils and joys of the brave old days, and
listening to sweet minstrelsy from the lips
of God-inspired bards.

Now Hrothgar was very wealthy and
his comrades were too many for an ordi-
nary hall, even that of a king's palace.
So he bethought him of having men build
for him a great banqueting-hall, greater
than the children of men had ever heard
tell of, that he might spend there happy,
careless days, dealing out freely to old
and young the goods that God had blessed
him with.

The fame of the work spread rapidly
and widely, and more than one tribe curi-
ously watched its progress. It came to
an end with a quickness which surprised
all men, and there the fair structure stood,



Heorot 221

towering aloft into the blue air, the great-
est of all hall buildings, a gathering place
for happy men, defying destruction except
from the irresistible might of fire. It was
called Heorot- -Hart-hall because of the
noble crown of antlers which ran round
the eaves of the building, and the open-
ing banquet was an event long remem-
bered in the land, from the bountiful
hospitality dispensed by the King and the
wealth of gifts, in rings and other precious
things, which he gave away with almost
reckless lavishness on this occasion.




II

GRENDEL

BUT there was one apart from all this
joy who was consumed with malice
and with hatred, who vowed to turn the
joy into direst grief, the shouts of glad-
ness into moans and wails, ere many days
had come and gone. True, no human
wight was he, but one of the unholy brood
of monsters, accursed of God, who dwell
in moors, fens, and swamps, remote from
God-fearing men, ever bent on doing hell's
work of harm and destruction the unblest
posterity (so wise men tell) of Cain, the
first shedder of innocent blood.

To this Grendel, this outcast creature,
dwelling in darkness, it was torture un-
bearable to hear the sounds of rejoicing
day by day, as they came, borne by the

232



Grendel 223

wind to him, across the moor the tender
sighing of the harp, the ringing song of
the minstrel.

Once, one skilled in holy song told of
the creation of the world : how the Al-
mighty made the earth, radiant with
beauty, and the waters that encompass it,
delighting in His work ; and how He or-
dained the sun and the moon, for light to
the dwellers on the earth, and made the
woods beautiful with boughs and leaves ;
and how He put life into all the things
that breathe and move.

Grimly the wicked one hearkened to the
strain, which fed his unholy fury until it
craved for slaughter, fell, immediate.

He set out that very night, as soon as
darkness descended, made straight for
the lofty hall. He did not much fear de-
tection, for he knew that after such a
carousal the warriors would be overcome
with sleep. And truly, there they lay, in
the hall itself, with their weapons by their
side, yet helpless as unarmed women. He
went, and, in their sleep, seized and killed
thirty of the thanes ; then hied him back



224 Beowulf

to his moor with the war spoils, yelling
with fierce joy.

Then was there a great cry in the grey
morning. The voice of weeping was
raised where but now the song of gladness
had filled the air. Dazed and woe-begone,
the King sat in his high place, and wept
for his thanes. But when, the very next
night, Grendel returned and committed
even greater murder, and again and
again after that, terror seized on them all.
Men kept in close hiding from nightfall
to break of day, then gradually left their
own well-appointed homes, sleeping in
barns or in the open, away from dwell-
ings, wherever they thought they could
best bestow themselves for safety ; but
naught availed to save. For twelve win-
ters' space the baleful fiend warred single-
handed against the Skyldings and their
friends, till all the best houses stood de-
serted. Unbounded were the sorrows of
that dreadful time, unspeakable the dis-
tress, and the fame thereof was carried to
foreign lands in ballads and moving tales.
Men dared not go within miles of the
fated moor ; so travel was stopped, trib-



Grendel 225

ute remained unpaid ; for the foul ruffian,
a dark shadow of death prowled about
and lay in wait. Of night he continually
held the misty moors ; and no one knew
what way the hellish birth moved in his
rounds, for never was the monster seen of
man. As to Heorot, the richly decorated
hall, Grendel made that his headquarters,
and occupied it every dark night. Only
he was never able to come near the throne,
because it stood on a consecrated spot,
and was hallowed by priestly benison.

A great affliction, heart-breaking, was
this that had come on the Skyldings and
their friends. Many a time and oft did
the best and wisest sit in council, seeking
what were best be done in these awful
straits. So sorely were they bested, that
they forgot at times that they were Christ-
ians, and more than once craved help
against the goblin visitant from the old
heathen gods, vowing sacrifices at their
secret shrines.

Thus was King Hrothgar perpetually
tossed with the trouble of that time, and
not all his wisdom availed to ward off the
evil.



Ill



A FRIEND IN NEED

THERE lived at that time among the
Goths, at the right hand of their King,
Hygelac, a young thane, his cousin, of the
name of Beowulf. He was, as his name be-
tokened, one of the Skylding race, but only
in the female line. Young as he was, he
had won for himself a name of wide re-
nown as a hero of high achievement and
the mightiest among all the men of his time.
Now, this brave thane, in his distant
home, heard of the misdeeds of Grendel,
and his heart ached for the aged King, the
evening of whose days was clouded over
by such unheard-of tribulation. He made
up his mind to help, and sued to King
Hygelac for permission to undertake the
venture with a few picked comrades. His
friends of the King's council and board

226



A Friend in Need 227

praised the gallant youth to the skies.
They egged on his daring spirit, they took
omens and consulted signs on his behalf ;
but they did not begrudge him the advent-
ure, wise men that they were, even though
he was dear to them.

Beowulf ordered a good ship to be made
ready for him, to take him over the road
that swans travel. 1 He selected fourteen
champions among the Goths, the keenest
he could find, and went to sea with them,
having made sure of a skilful, experienced
pilot, who knew the shallows and the
deeps. Like a bird the good ship, tight-
timbered, slender-necked, sped before the
wind, and made such way that on the next
day already the eager voyagers saw land,
gleaming cliffs, hills towering, headlands
stretching out to sea : the passage was
ended. Lightly the ethelings sprang
ashore, made fast the ship, shook out their
garments, saw to their arms, and gave
thanks to God for that their seafaring had
been easy.

1 Literally true : the North Sea is the " path of the swans"
and to this day wild swans abound on the coast of Norway.



IV



THE WARDEN

WHILE Beowulf and his friends were
busy with their landing, thinking
only of the work before them, the Skyl-
dings' warden, he whose duty it was to
guard the sea-cliffs and report any stran-
gers that hove in sight, espied them from
his high watch-place. Moved by curiosity
as much as by duty, he rode down to the
beach in great excitement, brandishing a
powerful, huge lance, and demanded, in no
gentle terms, to know the strangers' errand
and nationality, before they could be al-
lowed to proceed any farther into the land
of the Danes.

Beowulf at once stepped forth and spoke
up for all, with a dignity and courtesy which
shamed the rude officer into more manly

228




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The Warden 229

behaviour. He gave a full account of him-
self, then concluded :

" We have come with friendly intent to
visit thy lord. We have a great message
to him ; nor is there, to my mind, any need
to keep it dark. For it is no secret that
the Skyldings are in great tribulation be-
cause of a mysterious fiend, who has been
vexing them for years with his nightly de-
predations. Now I can teach Hrothgar the
remedy, and bring back better times. This
I say in all sincerity of heart."

To this speech the warden replied in
greatly altered tones :

" I gather from what I hear that this is
a friendly band come to visit the lord of
the Skyldings. But it is a faithful ser-
vant's part to question sharply and to gain
certainty on all points before he commits
his lord. Keep your arms and march on :
I will guide you. Likewise will I com-
mand my kinsmen thanes honourably to
keep against every foe your vessel here
on the beach."

Upon this invitation the troop gaily left
their ship riding safely at her anchor, and



230 Beowulf

eagerly pressed forward, until their eyes
beheld the far-famed hall, Heorot the gold-
roofed, most renowned of all mansions un-
der the sky. Then the warden pointed
with his hand to the road which led straight
to it, wheeled round his horse, and spoke
a parting word :

" It is time for me to go. May the all-
wielding Father graciously keep you safe
in adventures ! As for me, I must hie me
back to the shore, to keep my watch against
foes from the sea.'




THE ARRIVAL

THE road was stone-paven, and so
straight, there was no need of a guide.
Beowulf and his band marched up to the
Hall in grim, warlike guise, their burnished
corslets shining, the iron rings of their
mail shirts clanging loud. When they
reached the mansion, the weary men set
down their broad shields, leaning them
against the wall, and seated themselves in
silence on the bench before the entrance,
after stacking their spears together, ready
to their hand. Thus they waited in dig-
nified silence for somebody to come from
King Hrothgar and challenge them.

Very soon an officer appeared and put
the customary questions, to which he
added some respectful compliments :

231



232 Beowulf

" I am," he said, " Hrothgar's herald
and esquire. Never saw I foreigners of
loftier mien. I think that ye have come
to visit Hrothgar, not from desperate fort-
unes, but bound on some high undertak-
ing."

To which the proud leader replied with
gallant bearing :

" We are Hygelac's own table-fellows.
My name is Beowulf. I will myself ex-
pound mine errand to thy lord, if so he
deign to admit us to his presence."

The officer, Wulfgar by name, hastened
forthwith to where Hrothgar sat, old and
hoary, and bent with grief, amid his de-
spondent warriors, and not only told of
the valiant guests from the land of the
Goths and their petition, but advised him
to give them a friendly reception. In the
deep distress of these sorry times, it
seemed as though any change must be for
the better, and every stranger must bring
hope.

The sad old King brightened at mention
of Beowulf's name, whose father he had
known in the dear departed days of golden



The Arrival



233



youth, and whose own renown he pleasur-
ably recalled.

" This son," he said, " I mind him well.
I knew him when he was a page. He has
grown into a valiant campaigner. It is
said that he has thirty men's strength in
his handgrip. Surely God of His grace
hath sent him to us in our great need.
Bid him and his men, one and all, into my
presence straight, with every martial hon-
our. Say to them, moreover, in words,
that they are welcome."




VI



THE RECEPTION AND THE PLEDGE

WULFGAR, nothing loth, took the
royal message to the waiting
guests and ushered them into the royal
presence in full warlike equipment, helm
on head, sword on hip. Beowulf, tall and
commanding, his corslet of cunningly link-
ed mail shining as a network of lights,
took his stand before the King, and, with
firm eye and becoming assurance, spoke
thus at length of what was nearest to his
and the Danes' hearts :

" To Hrothgar hail ! I am King Hyge-
lac's cousin-thane. Many a deed of daring
was mine in youngsterhood. All that ye
suffer here from Grendel became known
to us in Gothland. Seafaring men told us
how that this hall, this most princely fabric,

.234



The Reception and the Pledge 235

stands useless and empty each night, as
soon as the star of day is hidden from
view. Then did my people, the wisest
and best among them, urge me that I
should visit thee, O royal Hrothgar. Be-
cause they knew the strength of my arm
of their own knowledge : time and again
they had seen me return from the field
battered by foes, but never beaten ; five
monsters I bound on land, and in the
waves I slew many a nicor 1 in the night-
time. And now I am bound to champion
thy quarrel, O King, single-handed,
against Grendel, the evil giant. But one
petition I have, which thou, O Shelter of
the Danes, wilt not refuse to one who is
come from far to serve thee : it is that I
may have the task alone- -I and my band
of earls to purge Heorot. And as I
have learnt that the terrible one, out of
sheer boastfulness, despises the use of
weapons, so I too will forego them, and
bear not sword, nor spear, nor broad

l " Nicors " are mischievous water-sprites, who delight in
making trouble for ships and sailors. The feminine in Ger-
man is " Nixe," the beautiful water-maiden who lures mortals
down into her watery abode.



236 Beowulf

shield to my battle with him ; but with
handgrip alone will I meet him, foe to
foe, and him of the two whom the Lord
doometh, let grim Death take for his own.
" Should the doom fall upon me," Be-
owulf went on, "thou wilt not, O King, be
put to the trouble of building a mound
over my head. For if all tales of Grendel
be true, he will bear away the gory corpse,
to feast on it in his lonely moor. But this
do thou for love of me ; send to Hygelac
the matchless armour that protects my
breast - it is a work of Weland, cunning-
est of smiths, and such are not made now-
adays ; meet gift from a departing friend."




VII

THE FEAST

TO this speech, manly and heroic, Hroth-
gar made reply in many words for
age is not sparing of its breath in words.
He gave thanks to the God-sent young
champion ; he went back to the deeds of
his youth, in company with his brothers
and many brave comrades long dead ; he
dwelt on the horrors of these latter years.
Then, at length bethinking himself that
the wayfarers must be a-weary and a-
hungered, he said to the chief :

" But now sit thee down to the banquet
with thy fellows, and merrily share the
feast as the spirit moves thee."

A table was promptly cleared for the
Goths. Thither they went, and sat in the
pride of their strength. A thane at-

237



238 Beowulf

tended to their wants, going from one to
the other with a mighty ale-can of hand-
some workmanship. Again and again he
poured out the golden ale. At times a
minstrel's voice rose in Heorot, ringing
and clear, and there was right brave merri-
ment and good-will in this mixed company
of Goths and Danes.

Yet was there one eye that gleamed
not with merriment and good-will, one head
that hatched no friendly thoughts, because
the heart swelled with malice and envy.
Unferth it was, the King's own story-teller,
who sat at his feet, to be ready at all times
to amuse him. He broached a quarrel-
some theme an adventure in Beowulf's
early youth, the only contest in his record
the issue of which, though hard fought,
might be called doubtful. For this Un-
ferth was an envious wight, whose soul
grudged that any man should achieve
greater things than himself.

" Art thou not," he began tauntingly,
" that same Beowulf who strove with Breca
on open sea in a swimming match, in which
ye both wantonly exposed your lives, and



The Feast 239

no man, either friend or foe, could turn
you from the foolish venture ? A se'n-
night ye twain toiled in the realm of the
waters, and, if I err not, he outdid thee
in swimming, for he had greater strength.
Wherefore I fear me much thou mayest
meet with sorry luck if thou darest to
bide here for Grendel for the space of a
whole night."

Beowulf, though angered, controlled his
temper and replied with great coolness :

" Big things are these, friend Unferth,
which thou hast spoken ; evidently, good
ale has loosened thy wits. Yes, - Breca
and I used to talk between ourselves when
we were pages, and brag each of his prow-
ess, being but youngsters, and so we made
up the foolish match between us, and hav-
ing made it, we stuck to it. Drawn sword
in hand we went into the water : we meant
to guard ourselves against sea-monsters
and water-sprites. Five nights we kept
close together, then the flood parted us.
It was a dark night, freezing cold, and a
fierce wind from the north came dead
against us, the waves running rough and



240 Beowulf

high. One spotty monster dragged me
to the bottom ; but I did not lose my grip
on my sword and despatched the mighty
sea-brute. I know not how many more I
fought and killed : it was a grewsome
night. At last, light broke in the east,
and the waves grew calmer, so I could see
the headlands, and the sea cast me up on
the shore. I escaped with my life, though
worn and spent, and never heard I of
harder fight, or of man sorer distressed.
Anyhow, it was my good luck that I slew
with the sword nine nicors. So many
less were left to play havoc with seafaring
ships. Therefore, methinks I may rightly
claim that I have proved more sea-prow-
ess, endured more buffetings from waves,
than any other man."

Thus Beowulf told of his youthful prank.
Then turning upon Unferth with flashing
eye and clouded brow

" Of a sooth," he cried, " I say to thee,
Unferth, that never had Grendel, the foul
ruffian, made up such a tale of horrors,
wrought such disgrace in Heorot, if thy
spirit were as high as thou wouldst claim



The Feast 241

for thyself. But he has found out that
he has not much to fear from the mighty
Danes ; so he takes blackmail, and slaugh-
ters and feasts at his ease. But now the
Goth shall ere long show him another kind
of spirit, and when the light of another
day rises over the world, then shall all
who choose walk proudly into the hall,
with head erect."

This speech, so brave and cheery, glad-
dened the old King's heart, and even the
Danes applauded it, although it held a
bitter sting : they took it as a well-de-
served hit at the unmannerly Unferth.
So laughter greeted Beowulf's words,
music sounded again, jolly drinking-songs
filled the hall ; and none seemed to re-
member although at heart none forgot
it- -that night was coming on, and what
it was to bring.

And now, behold ! Hrothgar's royal
consort, Oueen Wealhtheow, well versed

Sw'

in ceremonies and courtly lore, entered
the hall, resplendent in cloth of gold, to
honour her husband's guests with a
gracious word and a draught of sweet

16



242 Beowulf

mead from her own royal hands. Her
stately greeting took in all the men in the
hall ; then she presented the beaker with
graceful obeisance to her lord, wishing
him blithe at the banquet, and happy in
his liegemen's love. Then she went the
round of the hall, to elder and younger,
and to each she handed the jewelled cup,
until she came to where Beowulf was
sitting among the young ethelings. With
befitting dignity she greeted the leader of
the Goths, as he stood before her, thank-
ing God with wise choice of words that her
heart's desire had come to pass. He,
the hero of many battles, took the beaker


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Online LibraryZénaïde A. (Zénaïde Alexeïevna) RagozinSiegfried, the hero of the North, and Beowulf, the hero of the Anglo-Saxons → online text (page 10 of 14)