Beowulf

Lines 1925–2210

Summary Lines 1925–2210

Beowulf is clearly skeptical about the power of marriage to heal the anger and hatred generated between blood enemies. His dire predictions about the marriage of Hrothgar’s daughter, Freawaru, to an enemy clansman, Heathobard, reveal his belief that the desire for vengeance will always overcome the peace that intermarriage attempts to establish. The events of the Finnsburg episode, in which the marriage-tie was quickly violated and the bride returned to her kinsmen, seem to validate this sentiment. In any case, this detail about the engagement of Hrothgar’s daughter and its political context is one of several new elements that Beowulf’s retelling introduces, keeping the story from becoming too repetitive.

Beowulf’s pessimistic speculations about this union add to the discourse on treasure that has been running throughout the poem. His argument that some ancestral item will catch a family member’s eye and renew the feud seems valid—we have seen that many items of treasure, such as the various swords and the necklace that Wealhtheow gives Beowulf, are in fact heirlooms, loaded with symbolic and memorial significance. Thus, Freawaru, as a peace-pledge, is pitted against treasure, which has the potential to rekindle bad memories and feuds.

In his retelling of his experiences in Denmark, Beowulf emphasizes the treasure that he has won as much as the poet does in his narration of the events. Throughout Beowulf, a tension manifests itself between the pagan regard for treasure as a symbol of personal valor and the Christian conception of treasure as a symbol of sinful greed. As we have seen, treasure is directly related to success in war and an accumulation of treasure signifies an accumulation of honor. Most important, the treasure must continue to be redistributed. In this sense, Hrothgar is a good king because he is such a generous “ring-giver” and Beowulf a good retainer because he gives Hygelac and Hygd more than half of his rewards. The poem’s Christian undertones, however, focus on earthly possessions as unimportant. For example, after Beowulf slays Grendel’s mother, Hrothgar advises Beowulf to “[c]hoose . . . the better part, / eternal rewards,” warning him, essentially, not to rest on the laurels of his conquests (1759–1760).

This section also further develops the image of the mead-hall as an important element in Anglo-Saxon warrior culture. Hygelac’s hall in Geatland proves just as magnificent and just as important a place of sanctuary and reward in a world where danger lurks on every horizon as Heorot, the great hall of the Danes. In the mead-hall, boasts can be made, jokes can be exchanged, and the idea of doom can be postponed. It is in the mead-hall that warriors can revel in the glory and the reputations that they risk such peril to win.

The ceremonies in Hygelac’s hall seem to reflect a growing intimacy between Beowulf and the king, his uncle, as well as a growing respect for a warrior who had previously been undervalued, as we now learn for the first time: “[Beowulf] had been poorly regarded / for a long time” (2183–2184). Thus, the retelling in the mead-hall of Beowulf’s heroic deeds—a retelling that may seem anticlimactic to many readers—is an important political moment for Beowulf and an important step in his advancement from warrior to ruler.