Sunday, September 10, 2006

Beowulf as Antetype of Christ: Addendum

(Image from Wikipedia)

In preparing for my lecture in Medieval Literature this week, I re-read the first 661 lines of Beowulf. and noticed something that fits with my typological interpretation of the hero Beowulf as an antetype of Christ.

In lines 86 through 169, the demonic monster Grendel is introduced and described by the narrator as a malignant, God-cursed fiend out of hell who wreaks destruction on the pre-Christian Danes in his hatred against the court poet for singing of the Almighty's great acts in creating the world.

In lines 170-178, the Danes react by taking counsel in their high meetings and even by seeking help at their pagan shrines, which the narrator comments upon in lines 178-188.

Here's the text of lines 170 through 188, borrowed from Benjamin Slade's transcription at Steorarume, along with a translation slightly adapted from the same site -- and note that I use a right slash to indicate the midline caesura of Old English poetry:

Þæt wæs wraéc micel / wine Scyldinga,
That was great misery / for the Friend of the Scyldings,


módes brecða. / Monig oft gesæt
a breaking of his spirit. / Many often sat


ríce tó rúne· / raéd eahtedon·
the mighty at counsel; / pondered a plan,


hwæt swíðferhðum / sélest waére
what by strong-minded men / would be best,


wið faérgryrum / tó gefremmanne·
against the sudden horror, / to do;


hwílum híe gehéton / æt hærgtrafum
sometimes they pledged / at holy temples


wígweorþunga· / wordum baédon
sacred honouring, / in words bid


þæt him gástbona / géoce gefremede
that them the soul-slayer / would offer succour


wið þéodþréaum· / swylc wæs þéaw hyra·
from the plight of the people; / such was their habit:


haéþenra hyht· / helle gemundon
the hope of heathens; / on hell they pondered


in módsefan· / metod híe ne cúþon
in the depths of their hearts; / the Creator they did not know,


daéda démend· / ne wiston híe drihten god
the Judge of deeds, / they were not aware of the Lord God,


né híe húru heofena helm / herian ne cúþon
nor yet they the Helm of the Heavens / were able to honour,


wuldres waldend. / Wá bið þaém ðe sceal
Glory's Wielder. / Woe be to him who must,


þurh slíðne níð / sáwle bescúfan
through dire terror, / thrust his soul


in fýres fæþm, / frófre ne wénan,
into fire's embrace; / hope not for relief,


wihte gewendan· / wél bið þaém þe mót
or to change at all; / well be he who may


æfter déaðdæge / drihten sécean
after death-day / seek the Lord


ond tó fæder fæþmum / freoðo wilnian.
and in his Father's arms / desire peace.
Borrowing from the online Old English dictionary of Bosworth and Toller, I've altered Slade's translation a bit. In line 177, he translates "gástbona" as "demon-slayer," by which I suppose that he means "one who slays demons" (though he might mean "demon that slays"). I take "gástbona" to mean "soul-slayer." More oddly, Slade translates "freoðo wilnian" in line 188 as "yearn towards Nirvana," a rendering that must be part of Slade's attempt to find Indogermanic parallels to Hindu beliefs. I translate "freoðo wilnian" as "desire peace."

Anyway, what I find interesting -- for my Beowulf as Christ-antetype -- is that after the poem's description of Grendel as a fiend from hell who attacks the Danes after hearing their song about the Almighty's creative acts, after the Danes' despair and attempts to placate Satan, after the narrator's promise that those who seek the Father will find peace, the hero Beowulf enters the poem in lines 194 and following, intent upon finding, fighting, and defeating Grendel.

As Grendel is a type of Satan, so is Beowulf a type of Christ.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home