Saturday, February 24, 2018

Hrothgar's Sermon: A Translation

The following is a translation of Hrothgar’s sermon from lines 1700-84 of the Beowulf poem. This translation was made using the critical text in Klaeber 2008, and aims to preserve the word-order of the Anglo-Saxon text as much as possible in Modern English. The section divisions are my own, intended to accompany a close reading of the text.

More than Politeness (1700-7a)


“That man may indeed say, he that truth and right upholds among the folk, remembers all from long ago, old guardian of the homeland, that this warrior was born the better man! Your fame is established over far regions, my friend Beowulf, among every people. You hold it with patience, strength with mind's wisdom. I shall perform to you my friendship, as we two earlier spoke.

The Trouble with Heremod (1707b-23a)

You shall prove a long-lasting comfort to all of your people, a help to warriors. Heremod was not so to the sons of Ecgwala, to the Honor-Scyldings; he did not grow to their pleasure, but became slaughter and killing to the people of the Danes. He cut down, swollen with rage, his table-companions, his shoulder companions, until he alone turned, famous prince, from the joys of man—although mighty God had blessed him with strength, exalted him with vigor, over all men had far advanced. Yet there grew to him in his heart a bloodthirsty breast-hoard; he gave no rings to the Danes for honor. Joyless he lived on, so that he suffered the misery of strife, a long-lasting affliction to his people. You teach yourself by that, see manly virtue! Wise with many years, I have recited this story for you.

Where the Rot Sets In (1723b-57)

It is a wonder to tell how mighty God to mankind through generous spirit wisdom deals out, land and lordship; he owns control of all. Sometimes he allows the mind-thoughts of some man of famous family to move about in desire, gives him earthly joy in his homeland to hold, stronghold of men; makes to him as subject the regions of the world, broad kingdom, so that he in his unwisdom may not conceive the end of it. He dwells in plenty, and not a whit do illness or old age hinder him, nor does evil care darken his mind, nor enmity anywhere, world-hatred, shows, but for him the world goes as he wishes. He does not know it worse, until to him from within the measure of arrogance grows and flourishes, when the guardian sleeps, the keeper of the soul; the sleep is too strong, bound with cares; the slayer is very near, he that with shaft-bow wickedly shoots. Then it happens that in his heart, beneath the helm, strikes the bitter shaft—he does not know how to protect himself—with dark, evil counsels of the wicked spirit. That which he long possessed seems too little; he hoards angry in thought, in pride does not give at all the plated torcs; and he then forgets and neglects what is ordained to come, because to him before God gave, the Ruler of Glory, a share of honors. It afterwards happens, in the end, that the bodily home, transitory, crumbles; fated to die it falls. Another seizes it to himself, he who ungrudging deals out treasures, the ancient wealth of noblemen, heedless of fear.

Edwenden Comes for All (1758-84)

Guard yourself against wicked hostility, dear Beowulf, best of warriors, and choose the better part: eternal gains; do not think of arrogance, glorious champion! Now is the flower of your strength, for a time; afterward at once it shall be that illness or the edge of the sword will deprive you of strength, or fire's grasp, or flood's whelm, or gripe of sword, or flight of spear, or terrible old age, or the brightness of your eyes will fail and dim. Soon, noble warrior, death will overpower you. So I the Ring-Danes a hundred half-years ruled under the sky, and protected them from war, from many nations across this Middle-earth; from spears and swords, so that I could not count to me any adversary under the sky's expanse. But to me for that, in my homeland, a sudden reversal [edwenden] came, grief after joy, when Grendel became, old enemy, my invader. I bore continual persecution there, mind-grief great. For this be the Ruler thanked, eternal Lord, in that I while I live I am able to gaze with eyes upon that bloodstained head after old strife. Go now to seat, experience the joy of the feast, O honored in war, and between us two shall a multitude of treasures be shared, when it is morning." 

Currently reading: Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction, by Benjamin Fortson
Current Audio Book: Heretics, by G.K. Chesterton
Currently Translating: The Old Saxon Heliand

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