Zénaïde A. (Zénaïde Alexeïevna) Ragozin.

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

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less to say it is nothing of the kind. The
notice was not inviting, and nobody paid
much attention to it. One hundred years
later, in 1807, Sharon Turner mentioned
the poem in his History of the Anglo-
Saxons, and even attempted a translation
of a few extracts, with but indifferent
success, owing to the then still very imper-
fect knowledge of Anglo-Saxon versifica-
tion and poetic language. Still, the poem

Note on the "Beowulf" 325

was now treated with respect, and the
study of it was taken up conscientiously,
by some even enthusiastically.

But the students encountered difficulties
which they would have been spared a hun-
dred or even eighty years before : the
original manuscript the only one was
no longer intact. It had been badly in-
jured in a fire which broke out in the Cot-
tonian Library in 1731, destroying 114
volumes and damaging 98 others, " so as to
make them defective," in the words of the
report ; and among these " defective " ones
was our folio. Numerous leaves were
scorched, and of these, again, many chip-
ped off in the course of time, doing away
with many ends of lines. The loss, of
course, is irretrievable, but fortunately not
so great as to impair materially the sense
and the value of the whole. Strangely
enough, the same fate, only worse, over-
took the first attempt at an edition of the
poem. The Danish scholar, Thorkelin,
had brought home two complete copies of
it, for purposes of study and translation.
During twenty years he gave the work

326 Beowulf

much time, off and on, and had the poem
almost ready for the press when, in 1807,
his house was burned down during the
bombardment of Copenhagen by the
English, and his edition of the " Beowulf
perished, with most of his books How-
ever, the two manuscript copies having
fortunately escaped destruction, Thorkelin
had the extraordinary courage to do the
work over again, and in 1815 came out the
first edition of the " Beowulf," the first
printed text, with a parallel Latin transla-
tion and indices. Since then scholars have
done their duty by this noble monument
in every way except making it popular.

Coming now to the discussion of the
poem itself, the peculiarity which strikes
us most at the first reading is that, while
it is avowedly the national epic of the
Anglo-Saxons and one of the oldest mon-
uments of the Anglo-Saxon language, the
hero is a Goth, and the action takes place

1 A very complete survey of the critical and philological work
done on the " Beowulf " up to date will be found in the Intro-
duction to Professor John Earle's literal prose translation (with
notes) published at Oxford in 1892.

Note on the " Beowulf" 327

in Denmark and in Sweden. Yet the
scenery described is that of a part of
Northumbria, in England, which can be
identified to this day, and some of the
names of the locality are said to tally with
those in the poem. It would seem, there-
fore, that the Angles and Saxons, who
were near neighbours of the Danes in the
German mother-country, brought the story
over to the British Island and it was re-
told in literary poetic form before the
Danes came over as pirates and conquer-
ors. Had the poem been written after
this event, a Swedo-Danish hero could
hardly have been adopted by the subju-
gated Anglo-Saxons, nor could the Danes
have been mentioned with such absolute
absence of animosity.

Another not only peculiar but highly
puzzling feature is that there are two
Beowulfs : the second king of the Skyld-
ing dynasty (also called Beow), Beowulf
the Dane ; and the hero of the poem, Beo-
wulf the Goth, who comes over the sea,
with a picked band of Goths, to deliver the
Skyldings from a most untoward visitation.

328 Beowulf

What makes this thing stranger still, is
that the poem begins with a glorification
of the warlike Danes, leading us to expect
that it is their national hero whose exploits
we are to be called upon to admire. In-
stead of which, the Danes appear only in
the not very admirable role of people who
endure an intolerable nuisance passively
for twelve years, unable to rid themselves
of it a fact which is duly brought home
to them by their deliverer in a moment of
legitimate irritation. The reason for this
curious incongruity lies almost certainly in
the alterations which the old story under-
went, as all epic stories did in the pro-
gress of oral transmission, and even in the
first written attempts, which were often
cast and re-cast before they reached their
final form. Originally, the second Beo-
wulf was certainly a Dane and a Skylding.
As such, he would quite naturally and
properly be named after the ancestor who
is held up as a model prince in the pro-
logue. The latest criticism detects in the
poem itself traces amounting to intrinsic
proof that such was the case. It was nat-

Note on the "Beowulf" 329

ural that Beowulf, himself a Skylding,
should be the champion and deliverer of
his people and house, and, after the death
of the aged king, should be called to the
throne by the country for which he had
laboured and fought. Gothland is evi-
dently, to use the clever French phrase,
"dragged in by the hair" ; by whom and
for what reason, is immaterial to the mere
reading of the story, But a genealogical
connection between the two Beowulfs is
felt as an imperious necessity, and the ab-
sence of it is a glaring inconsistency which
it would be hopeless to attempt to smooth
over or explain away for the benefit of
youthful readers, whose exacting logic in
such things is proverbial. Wherefore the
expedient has been resorted to in the
present volume of making the second Beo-
wulf a Skylding by his mother an expe-
dient innocent enough, since we are not
told who was his mother ; and why could
not a royal daughter of Denmark be mar-
ried to a royal thane of Gothland ?

As to the authorship of the poem, it is
of course obscure. But the latest criticism

33 Beowulf

shows good reason to ascribe it to a high
Church dignitary possibly Hygeberht,
Bishop of Litchfield statesman and
courtier at the time of the great Offa II.,
King of Mercia (mentioned with great, but
not servile praise in Lay II.), who in the
second half of the eighth century gathered
the entire Heptarchy under his overlord-
ship. The few historical touches betray
the man versed in the affairs of more
countries than his own. 1

1 For the very interesting development of this hypothesis, as
well as for other points of exhaustive research and criticism,
see J. Earle's Introduction, already alluded to.

Professor Earle's version has been fully utilised in the present
volume, even to the extent of frequently making use of its
wording, where it was not too archaic or literal for ordinary
reading purposes.


Aeschere .
Balmung .
Bechlaren .
Breca .
Brunhilde .
Dankwart .
Eckewart .
Etzel .
Hela .
Helferich ,
Heremod ,












Ger / -n6t.



Gun x -ter.









33 2 Key to Pronunciation

' Hrethel .

* Hrothgar .

* Hrunting .
Hygd . .
Hygeberht .
Nibelungs .
Siegmund .
Skyldings .
Ute .
Weohstan .
Wolfhart .


. Hroth'-gar.
. Hrunt'-ing.
. Higd.
. Hig'-e-bert.
. Hig'-e-lac.

. r-sen-stlne.
. Krim-hil'-dcL

. Nag'-ling.
. N'i'-be-lungs.
. Orr'-te-vine.
. Ru'-di-ger.
. S'ig'-frid.
. Sig-lin'-da.

. Skild'-ings.
. Thri'-tho.
. Tron'-ya.
. Un'-ferth.
. U'-ta.
. Val-kir'-ya.
. Wel'-the-6.

. Wig'-laf.
. Volf'-hart.

. Wulf-gar.
. ' Kzan r -ta.

H to be aspirated.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14

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