The Background of
Beowulf's Gloomy Thoughts*1)
In this paper I shall examine the cause of Beowulf's sense of guilt and his 'gloomy thoughts.' I believe the major cause of his guilt is his realization of his unfaithfulness to the heroic code of revenge. This interpretation will be supported by an examination of the sub-text of revenge and kinship in the words of the poet and Beowulf. Beowulf's reflections lead him beyond the conventions of pre-Christian Germanic ethics that have governed his actions so far, to a greater consciousness of spirituality.
2. The cause of Beowulf's 'gloomy thoughts'
The poet's more intimate account of Beowulf's state of mind comes after the Dragon's devastation of Geatland and immediately precedes the fight with the Dragon. This passage in which Beowulf's ‘gloomy thoughts' are described and his subsequent reflections are crucial for revealing Beowulf's inner mind and his own assessment of his life. In a number of ways, this picture of Beowulf's mind is disturbing, mainly because of the pessimistic tone:
wende se wisa, Þæt he Wealdende
ofer ealde riht ecean Dryhtne
bitre gebulge; breast innan weoll
þeostrum geþoncum, swa him geþywe ne wæs.(Beo: 2329-32)
[the wise man supposed that he had bitterly angered the Ruler, the eternal Lord, contrary to the ancient law; within him his breast was troubled with gloomy(dark) thoughts, which was not customary for him]
The widely accepted interpretation of these lines, suggested by Klaeber, is that 'Beowulf did not yet know the real cause of the dragon's ravages'(Klaeber 1950: 211). Consistent with Klaeber's cautious approach to this passage, the poem makes no direct mention of Beowulf's breaking any such laws. Many critics tend to regard the passage above as Beowulf's evidence of belief that the Dragon is a punishment sent by God. Granting that Beowulf is a guilty man, John Gardner tries to set up a circle of cause and effect with reference to the death of Ongentheow, whom he regards as an innocent victim of Hygelac. According to the divine law of this poem, by which Ongentheow will be avenged, Gardner suggests that 'Beowulf dies, because when Ongentheow was murdered, he was there, fighting in the foremost.' However, this image of a ‘tainted Beowulf' owing to his direct involvement in the death of Ongentheow is ruled out by the actual scene of Ongentheow's death, in which Beowulf appears to have been present. The text here contradicts Gardner's reading of the scene as 'fighting in the foremost'(Gardner 1975: 21). Beowulf says:
Þa ic on morgne gefrægn mæg oðerne
billes ecgum on bonan stælan
þær Ongentheow Eofores niosað;
guðhelm toglad, gomela Scylfing
hreas [heoro]blac; (Beo: 2484-88a)
[Then, in the morning, as I have been told, one brother revenged himself on his kinsman's slayer with the edge of the sword when Ongenteow met Eofor; the warhelm split and the aged Scylfing Ongentheow fell, pale from the sword]
This passage, describing the death of Ongentheow, is narrated by Beowulf himself in the form of a recollection before he fights the Dragon at the end of the poem. Most important of all, it should not be forgotten that Beowulf knows of the death of Ongentheow through hearsay: this reason for his knowledge is clearly shown by 'in the morning, as I have been told.' This passage makes clear that Beowulf was not there when Ongentheow fell. The tendency to assume that Beowulf was present at the scene of the death of Ongentheow by showing that either he witnessed the scene, or he himself was directly involved in the battle with Ongentheow as part of Hygelac's army, is affected by the following passage a few lines on:
Næs him ænig þearf,
þæt he to Gifðum oððe to Gar-Denum
oððe in swiorice secean þurfe
wyrsan wigfrecan, weorðe gecypan;
symle ic him on feðan beforan wolde,
ana on orde, (Beo: 2493b-98a)
[There was no need for him that he(Hygelac) should have to seek among the Gifthas or Spear-Danes, or in the Swedish realm, a less good warrior, to purchase him with treasure. I would go before him in the marching host, alone in the van]
3. The meaning of ealde riht
As for ealde riht, in Beo 2330a, two possible assumptions can be made: either ealde riht is introduced for metrical reasons; or ealde riht is used to suggest textual or contextual meanings. Although scholars have been aware of the importance of ealde riht, their attempts to explain this phrase have not been rigorous. Both Klaeber and Wrenn take the same view of eald as BT (s.v. eald), in its senses of 'old, ancient, time-honoured, exalted, great, long-lasting, of noble antiquity.' When these base meanings of eald are combined with riht ('what is right, law', accepted by Klaeber, Wrenn and BT), the denotative meaning of ealde riht can be surmised as a valuable morality, inherited from generation to generation, commonly accepted by the members of a given society as their ethical principle. Wrenn thus assumes the ealde riht may refer to 'Natural Law' (Wrenn 1973: 183). This metaphorical interpretation seems to coincide with Klaeber's interpretation of a Christian meaning in this phrase (Klaeber 1950: 211). Though I do not exclude a symbolic dimension in the interpretation of the poem, it is difficult to see how 'Natural Law' fits the context. As regards the nature of ealde riht, I presume the poet was quite conscious of the social background of the poem, that is the code of the comitatus. In this respect, Charles Donahue is probably right to regard ealde riht as a law which requires the warrior to sacrifice all even his life if necessary, for his lord, but which does not require the king to make such a sacrifice (Donahue 1975: 32-3). However, Donahue believes that Beowulf had done nothing contrary to the ealde riht, with reference to Christian law (Donahue 1975: 32-3). The warrior code suggested by Donahue and many other critics pervades the theme of Beowulf and seems to be the most suitable concept of the ealde riht. Yet in my view of the poem, Beowulf appears to breach the warrior code and feels some degree of guilt when he examines his conscience in keeping with the ealde riht, if this is understood as an ethical principle passed on from generation to generation in heroic pagan society. Hence the study of ealde riht and its relation to the heroic code is of great importance. A proper appreciation to the meaning of ealde riht may show how far Beowulf was faithful to this code. Throughout the poem the moral precepts binding each member of heroic society are often presented with the formulaic use of swa sceal and swylce scolde. This use of sculan, meaning 'must,' 'to be obliged to' is expressive of 'Ethical Obligations' or 'Categorical Imperatives,' according to John C. McGalliard, and is introduced from the outset to establish a moral obligation (McGalliard 1978: 246). The contents of swa sceal sentences expounding ethical obligations may be to a large extent equated with the nature of ealde riht, 'ancient law,' in Beowulf. Also, considering the poem's heroic pagan background, it is reasonable to infer that ealde riht has something to do with the comitatus.
Throughout the poem, Beowulf seems not to be presented as a breaker of old law or of the code of heroic society or ethical obligations set out by the swa sceal syntax. However, readers are confronted with contradicting accounts in which Beowulf is said to violate a certain law, ofer ealde riht (Beo: 2330a). Thus the question arises as to whether or not Beowulf was faithful to the ethical obligations enforced by heroic society. Among other ethical obligations, the ideal bond of kinship works as a vital force to maintain the heroic society. Within the poem kinship and its obligations are treated almost as a maxim by the poet, who praises Wiglaf's loyalty to Beowulf with the following words:
sibb' æfre ne mæg
wiht onwendan þam ðe wel þenceð (Beo: 2600-2601)
[nothing can ever set aside the bonds of kinship, for a man who thinks rightly]
The kinship between Beowulf and Wiglaf is here implied, and Wiglaf's subsequent actions towards Beowulf illustrate the poet's maxim. In this respect, it is not easy to explain Beowulf's deeds towards his lord Hygelac. As Brodeur rightly observed, Hygelac is the central figure in Beowulf's actions and thinking both in part one and part two (Brodeur 1959: 78-84).
As regards ethical obligations, this time loyalty to one's lord, some doubt may arise if we follow the poet's accounts in which Beowulf alone escapes the battle against the Frisians by swimming away whilst ignoring the death of his lord Hygelac at the hands of the enemy:
Þonan Biowulf com
sylfes cræfte, sundnytte dreah;
hæfde him on earme (ana) þritig
hildegeatwa, þa he to holme (st)ag. (Beo: 2359b-2362)
[Thence Beowulf got away by his own strength, used his power of swimming- alone he had on his arm thirty battle-dresses, when he plunged in the sea]
This escape scene leads some critics to believe that Beowulf was not wholly faithful to the code of the comitatus-- the principle of revenge-- when they ask how Beowulf manages to preserve his honor while fleeing the scene of his lord's death in battle. Tacitus's account of a lord-retainer relationship in Agricola and Germania (A.D. 98) is crucial to this argument:
[And to leave a battle alive after their chief has fallen means lifelong infamy and shame. To defend and protect him, and to let him get the credit for their own acts of heroism, are the most solemn obligations of their allegiance (Mattingly 1970: 113).]
Many of these points are exemplified in Beowulf. Wiglaf sharply rebukes Beowulf's followers for retreating and not aiding their lord:
Deað bið sella
eorla gehwylcum þonne edwitlif! (Beo: 2890b-91)
[Better is death to every one of noble birth than an inglorious life!]
Thus both Tacitus and Wiglaf commonly praise loyalty even unto death in battle. A similar ethic of revenge is found in young Beowulf, when he resolves to take action to avenge the loss of Æschere on behalf of adopted Lord Hrothgar:
Ne sorga, snotor guma! Selre bið æghwæm,
þæt he his freond wrece, þonne he fela murne. (Beo: 1384-95)
[Sorrow not, wise man. Better is it for each one of us that he should avenge his friend, than greatly mourn]
At this point Beowulf makes his adherence to the revenge ethic clear. This manifesto is immediately proved by the quick action. Martin Camargo suggests, Beowulf is not required to risk his life because Æschere is not regarded as his lord; thus the code of allegiance between Beowulf and Æschere does not apply (Camargo 1981: 122). It remains controversial as to whether Beowulf is obliged to avenge Æschere, for one of two possible reasons: the first is that, as Beowulf killed Grendel, he is responsible for Grendel's mother's ensuing murder of Æschere; the second is that the newly established lord-thane relationship between Beowulf and Hrothgar obliges Beowulf to avenge Hrothgar's loss. Whether or not either of these analyses is correct, Beowulf promptly acts to accomplish the revenge of which he alone is capable.
This prompt action at the risk of his life stands in sharp contrast with his later escape from the scene of his lord Hygelac's death. Charles Moorman suggests that 'we should have expected Beowulf to have died at Hygelac's side, and it may well be that his flight is the violation of an ealde riht of the comites which he recalls and laments at the end of his life' (Moorman 1967: 15). Beowulf's breach of the revenge ethic would not be completely unforgivable, because he later repays Dæghrefn for the death of Hygelac. But it must be accepted that Beowulf's escape goes against our expectation that he should die at Hygelac's side and against the strict heroic code. Nobody can be sure of his faithfulness to the code of revenge. Most of all, the scene of Beowulf's flight by swimming appears to be in sharp contrast to Beowulf's own proclamation on his faithful service towards Hygelac:
symle ic him on feðan beforan wolde,
ana on orde, ond swa to aldre sceall
sæcce fremman, þenden þis sweord þolað, (Beo: 2497-99)
[I would always go before him in the marching host, alone in the front, while life lasts, I shall do battle, as long as this sword endures]
Without any hint of doubt, Beowulf's own statement here perfectly fits the code of the comitatus, in which he is supposed to die at the side of his lord as a result of his heroic resolution to fight 'while life lasts.' However, this statement, which Klaeber regards as of 'true heroic note,' seems to lose its credibility when confronted with Beowulf's flight scene (Klaeber 1950: 214). However, it should be borne in mind that this seeming inconsistency results from the confrontation of the poet's description and Beowulf's statement. In many cases Beowulf's emotions are hidden, so we are to a large extent obliged to rely on the poet's perception of Beowulf's inner mind. Such is the case of the poet's comment on Beowulf's so-called þeostrum geþoncum, 'gloomy thoughts,' in Beo 2332a with reference to ealde riht. The poet's statement on Beowulf's flight may be regarded as a token of unfaithfulness to the heroic code in the light of Beowulf's strong verbal commitment shown above.
Let us see how the poet treats Beowulf's flight from Frisia. This is how he responds to Beowulf's escape by swimming from the battle in which Hygelac is slain:
þonan Biowulf com
sylfes cræfte, sundnytte dreah;
hæfde him on earme (ana)þritig
hildegeatwa, þa he to holme (st)ag.
Nealles Hetware hremge þorf(t)on
feðewiges, þe him foran ongean
linde bæron; lyt eft becwom
fram þam hildfrecan hames niosan!
Oferswam ða sioleða bigong sunu Ecgðeowes,
earm anhagan eft to leodum; (Beo: 2359b-68)
[Thence Beowulf had got away by his own strength, using his power of swimming alone, he had on his arm thirty battle-dresses, when he plunged in the sea. No need had the Hetware to be exultant about their fight on foot, when they carried their linden shields forward against him; very few escaped with their lives from that daring warrior, to seek their own homes. Thus the son of Ecgtheow swam back to his people over the sea's expanse, a wretched solitary wanderer]
Here, in the first half of this passage, Beowulf is shown to have extraordinary swimming skill, and he is praised for his proficiency in swimming (Klaeber 1950: 211). Also, the poet comments on Beowulf's successful defence against his enemies: Nealles Hetware hremge þorf(t)on feðewiges, þe him foran ongean linde bæron, 'The Hetware, who, bearing their shields, went forth against him, had no cause to boast about their fight on foot' (Beo: 2363-65a). So far the poet's attention is solely focused on Beowulf's defence against his enemies as he fights his way through them towards the sea. But it should not be forgotten that this scene of defence has nothing to do with the defence of his lord, but is an effort to avoid the loss of his life. However, in the last two lines 2367-68, the poet's response to Beowulf's escape changes drastically as he calls Beowulf, who swam across the sea, earm anhaga, 'a wretched solitary wanderer' (Beo 2368a). Beowulf is here characterized with a formulaic phrase from exile poetry such as in Wanderer 1 and 40 (Bliss 1969: 37-40). His lord is dead, and he is alone on the sea, far from home. However, there is a clear difference in the image of the 'lonely wanderer' between the exile poetry and this scene in Beowulf. Since, in exile poetry, the heroic code of allegiance is not a prime factor in the image of the 'lonely wanderer,' the ethic of revenge does not come to the foreground. Conversely, the image of a 'lonely wanderer' in the scene of Beowulf's escape is evoked immediately after the death of Hygelac, who is associated with Beowulf in terms of allegiance; Beowulf is thus bound to the ethical obligation revenge. In this context the image of a 'lonely wanderer' in this scene from Beowulf should be understood differently. As the metre shows, in earm anhagan eft to leodum (Beo 2368) earm alliterates with eft with an alliterative emphasis that is apparently designed to increase the semantic function. Thus earm, 'wretched,' is more clearly defined as the quality of the 'solitary one.' Anhaga appears nowhere else in Beowulf except for line 2368a. In the poem here an image of loneliness and separation is conceived by the use of an. This intense image of loneliness suddenly produces a sense of negative feelings of dejection, distress, misery and sadness when anhaga is incorporated with earm. In this combination, earm is probably used to define Beowulf's inner state of mind. The state of a lonely swimmer, Beowulf, whose moral principle is firmly rooted in his now failed duty to avenge the death of his lord, is fittingly reflected in earm. As the poet said that Beowulf had already cut through the enemy, earm is used differently to focus on his spiritual state- the shame caused by his failure to share the death of his lord, thus breaking the principle of allegiance. The poet, who is well aware of the poem's pagan background of the ethic of revenge, intends to convey the sense of guilt pressing on Beowulf's mind through the use of earm, 'wretched,' denoting a spiritual crisis resulting from his failure to die with his lord. In this context the sense of earm is regarded as the verbal confirmation of the poet's perception of Beowulf's consciousness.
With the same context the phrase ofer ealde riht, 'against the ancient law' (Beo 2330a), may be regarded as the poet's verbal confirmation of Beowulf's spiritual conflict, which is possibly motivated by breaking a code inherited within heroic society (ealde riht).
4. Beowulf's Spiritual Awakening:
Reflection of Hrothgar's Precepts
To return to the scene to which I allude at the beginning of this paper, upon receiving the Dragon's savage attack Beowulf sinks into unwonted dejection:
breost innan weoll
þeostrum geþoncum, swa him geþywe ne wæs.
[within him his breast was troubled with gloomy thoughts, which was not customary for him]
Here the words swa him geþywe ne wæs prove that this kind of gloomy mood in Beowulf is exceptional, especially at the time of a possible subsequent battle against his enemy. It is probable that nowhere else in the poem are we closer to understanding Beowulf's character or inner state of mind. This scene provides an insight into a completely different aspect of Beowulf's character. Also, this gloomy mood is characteristically described with expressions with the sense of 'heart surged, welled,' often used to imply intense fluctuation of emotion in the poem. Besides, Beowulf's emotion here is further characterized by 'gloomy (dark) thoughts.' This expression of mood, with reference to the color black, occurs previously in 'Hrothgar's sermon,' in which man's prosperity is described with litotes, the emphatic use of the negative particle ne:
ne him inwitsorh
on sefa(n) swerceð, ne gesacu ohwær
ecghete eoweð, ac him eal worold
wendeð on willan; (Beo 1736-39a)
[no grievous malice darkens his spirit, no enmity anywhere reveals its murderous hate, for the whole world goes according to his will]
In the case of Heremod, Hrothgar extracts the moral that a man's life seems in his favor until a sudden change of fortune. Most significantly, man's prosperity is expressed as the opposite of an image of blackness. The opposite meaning of 'no grievous malice darkens his spirit' is that when a man's fortune declines to the point of its nadir, his spirit darkens. Thus Beowulf's dejection scene is described with the image of blackness. Therefore, since the meaning of sweorcan, 'become dark, become grievous' (Beo 1737a), in Hrothgar's moral exhortation coincides with þeostre, 'dark, gloomy' (Beo 2332a), in Beowulf's mood, it is possible that Beowulf is aware that his fortune has declined. It also seems certain that on these two occasions the image of the color black is intended to signify a negative aspect of the human mind. However, I do not think this is all that the image of the color black is used for in these cases. These two occurrences of the black image are united with each other in hinting at a sort of spiritual awakening to a new experience of life. This common feature is strongly supported by the two words, sweorcan, þeostre which are used on two occasions and are closely related with each other in terms of the implications of their meaning.
With regard to the hints of a spiritual awakening, four major common features may be found between Hrothgar's moral exhortation and Beowulf's 'dark thoughts.' The first is the use of the image of darkness, which has already been discussed. The second is the implication of oð þæt, 'until' (Beo 1740a). In Hrothgar's moral exhortation, which is mainly focused in lines 1722b to 1768, his moral principle is centred on the motif of edwenden, 'change, reversal.' This can be found in the use of oð þæt, following immediately after the image of the color black, and introducing new aspect of life, marking the end of the period of man's prosperity whilst hinting at the reversal of fortune owing to the growth of pride and the failure to acknowledge God's bounty upon him:
he þæt wyrse ne con-,
oðþæt him on innan oferhygda dæl
weaxeð ond wridað; þonne se weard swefeð,
sawele hyrde; (Beo 1739-42a)
[he knows nothing of a worse thing, until a portion of overbearing pride grows and flourishes in him, while the ward and the soul's guardian sleeps]
Likewise, the motif of edwenden, with reference to oð þæt, occurs again in the course of Beowulf's life. We are told that Beowulf's 'dark thoughts' result from the Dragon's attack after his successful fifty year reign. This sudden change in Beowulf's fortune is also described with reference to oð þæt:
he geheold tela
fiftig wintra wæs ða frod cyning,
eald eþelweard-, oðþæt an ongan
deorcum nihtum draca ric[i]an, (Beo 2208b-11)
[he (Beowulf) ruled it well for fifty winters- when he was a king old in wisdom and a veteran guardian of his people,- until a certain dragon in the nights began to have power]
Here, a dramatic change in Beowulf's fortune is suggested by the introduction of 'until,' which Hrothgar also uses to indicate change in his sermon.
The third common feature is the use of passages showing the discovery of a new meaning in life. This new meaning seems to entail a spiritual awakening. Two key sentences suggest this. The first comes from Hrothgar's sermon, in which a man's pride, arrogance and greed are reflected in his attitude towards material possessions: þinceð him to lytel, þæt he lange heold, (Beo 1748) [what he had held for a long time seems to him too little] Here, an image of possessions is created in order to represent man's corrupted, degraded state. As in the case of the image of darkness in Beo 1737a, the opposed state can be inferred as a corollary: for a virtuous man what he had held for a long time seems to him too much. Hrothgar's ability to perceive the faults of materialistic man shows how he himself has gone beyond the material to a more spiritual state of mind. This realization of the emptiness of pride and material possessions is made manifest in Beowulf's description of the old father's mind:
þuhte him eall to run,
wongas ond wicstede. (Beo 2461b-62a)
[everything seems too spacious for him, both fields and dwelling-place]
This statement and that of Hrothgar's quoted above, are similar in syntax, choice of words and in actual content. Most important of all, these two passages are set against the common context of a reversal of fortune. Hence they suggest an experience which draws one's attention to a new aspect of life. As in the case of Hrothgar's moral exhortation, the unknown old father might feel that 'what he had held for a long time seems to him too little' until he loses his son by a sudden violent death, whereupon he feels instead that 'everything seems too spacious for him.' After the death of the unknown father's son it seems inconceivable that the old man could, as Hrothgar's degraded man did, think of what he had as too little. However, it should not be forgotten that this spiritual realization is not voiced by the old father himself but by the speaker Beowulf, who appears to act out his psychology through this discourse. In this way, there is another reason for suggesting that the old father's new spiritual state is that of Beowulf.
The fourth common feature is the relationship between the nature of Godes leoht, 'God's light' (Beo 2469b) in Beowulf's description of Hrethel and ece rædas, 'the eternal counsels' (Beo 1760a) in Hrothgar's exhortation to Beowulf. At the end of Beowulf's description of Hrethel's solitary sadness, Beowulf tells of Hrethel's spiritual awakening, when he turned away from the concerns of the world to God:
He ða mid þære sorhge, þe him to sar belamp,
gumdream ofgeaf, Godes leoht geceas;
eaferum læfde, swa deð eadig mon,
lond ond leodbyrig, þa he of life gewat. (Beo 2468-71)
[Thus he gave up the joys of men, with that sorrow in his heart, when that grief befell him, he chose Godes light; when he departed from life he left his sons lands and the stronghold of their people, as a prosperous(blessed, happy) man]
Here, the nature of Hrethel's choice, geceas, 'choice' (Beo 2469b) is dependent on the meaning of Godes leoht, 'God's light.' Scholars tend to interpret Godes leoht geceas as a Christian euphemism for 'he died' (Wright 1975: 85). However, I believe that a literal rather than figurative rendering is more appropriate because the sense of 'chose' suggests Hrethel's voluntary decision (Chickering 1977: 197). The meaning of 'God's light' can be inferred from the context, which places 'God's light' in contrast to the concerns of the world. Therefore, choosing 'God's light' can be equated with the abandonment of worldly concerns. Hrethel's withdrawal from the worldly matters is clearly shown in gumdream ofgeaf, 'gave up the joys of man' (Beo 2469a). Immediately after this, Hrethel is said to choose 'God's light,' which suggests he turned away from worldly matters to a new spiritual view of life. Hrethel's turning to spirituality follows the precepts of Hrothgar's advice to Beowulf ond þe þæt selre geceos, ece rædas, 'choose for yourself the better part, the eternal counsels' (Beo 1759b-60a). That 'better part is contrasted with the mutability of physical strength and worldly success:
Hit on endestæf eft gelimpeð,
þæt se lichoma læne gedreoseð,
fæge gefealleð; fehð oþer to,
se þe unmurnlice madmas dæleþ,
eorles ærgestreon, egesan ne gymeð.
Bebeorh þe ðone bealonið, Beowulf leofa,
secg betsta, ond þe þæt selre geceos,
ece rædas; oferhyda ne gym,
mære cempa! (Beo 1753-61a)
[And yet at the end of life it shall come to pass that this transitory body crumbles away and falls as preordained. Another man succeeds him, who gives out ornaments and ancient possessions of this earl, he is not troubled with terror. Be on guard against such evil rancor, dear Beowulf, best of men; and choose for yourself the better part, the eternal gains. Do not set your mind upon arrogance, renowned champion!]
An old and wise man who has experienced much joy and sorrow, and who has recently suffered greatly, thus makes a heartfelt plea to a young man of extreme promise to recognize the transitory nature of life. Hrothgar's advice is best interpreted as a call to go beyond the concerns of the world, which are subject to constant change. Hence from their contexts, both Godes leoht, and ece rædas, 'the eternal gains' (Beo 1760a) can be seen as transcending worldly matters. Hrethel's transformation is significant because his inner mind reflects that of Beowulf. Hence Beowulf's own spiritual awakening is revealed through his description of Hrethel.
Another similarity is found in the use of geceas, 'chose' (Beo 2469b) and geceos, ‘choose' (Beo 1759b). I believe that this repetition of this verb is contrived by the poet, who wishes to highlight Beowulf's turning to spirituality. The use of 'choose' also emphasizes the role of a man's will in bringing about such a change. Beowulf's use of 'chose' referring to the new state of Hrethel's mind reflects Beowulf's acceptance of Hrothgar's exhortation to 'choose' spiritual value. The close similarities between Hrothgar's sermon and Beowulf's spiritual awakening suggest that the poet intends us to see Beowulf's development of character as an actual manifestation of Hrothgar's precepts.
Beowulf's reflections prior to the fight with the Dragon reveal a major change in his moral view. Until now he has followed Germanic morality. But at this point, Beowulf adopts a more spiritual morality which replaces worldly concerns and pride with concerns for God and the ancient law. These are the same values which Hrothgar emphasized in his sermon to Beowulf. Beowulf's recollection of Hrethel's turning to spirituality highlights his own spiritual awakening.
(Hankuk University of Foreign Studies)
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The Background of Beowulf's Gloomy Thoughts
The passage describing Beowulf's 'gloomy thoughts' and Beowulf's subsequent reflections are crucial for revealing his inner mind and his own assessment of his life. Many critics tend to regard this passage as Beowulf's evidence of belief that some sin of his own may have brought on his tribe's catastrophe; in other words that the Dragon is a punishment sent by God. I believe Beowulf appears to breach the warrior code and feels some degree of guilt when he examines his conscience in keeping with the ealde riht. The denotative meaning of ealde riht can be surmised as a valuable morality, inherited from generation to generation, commonly accepted by the members of a given society as their ethical principle. Beowulf alone escapes the battle against the Frisians by swimming away whilst ignoring the death of his lord Hygelac at the hands of the enemy. I believe the background of Beowulf's 'gloomy thoughts' is based on his realization of his unfaithfulness to the heroic code of revenge. On receiving the Dragon's attack Beowulf adopts a more spiritual morality which replaces worldly concerns and pride with concerns for God and the ancient law.
Key words: ealde riht, comitatus, revenge, heroism, swa sceal, Godes leoht.
*1) This work was supported by Hankuk University of Foreign Studies Research Fund of 2003.