Hwaet is the first word which starts Beowulf.
Beowulf is a vibrant poem dating back from – as a written source – the late 10th century. Hence before the Conquest.
Some take it to be Northumbrian initially, others East Anglian. Some, fewer believe it was sung at Edwin’s court in Eoforvic/York or Ad Gefrin (burnt down at least three times)… It is unique and deserves the just praise it has gathered over the centuries.
Tolkien believed the poem as to be still so full of the energetic memory of a pre-Christian world that he must have been composed no more than a few generations after Britain had been fully Christianized.
Now Britain benefited from three kinds of Christian proselytism.
A native one through the Romano-Britons which were to become known later as the Welsh. These people had no kindness toward their Saxon invaders. To this day, the Gaelic Sassenach/Saxon is not a friendly word.
A Pictish one through the Irish/Scoti (yes, Scotland). Columba, Colum Cille would visit Scotland and at one point reaching Iona would establish a firm base for his missionary work. Having visited Iona (where MacBeth is buried too) after crossing through the Isle of Mull coming from Oban (following Columba’s steps in reverse), I have gained a solid respect for him and the people who lived in 563 up to 685 (one of my character will depart from Iona for a brilliant destiny). Regardless of destiny, the sky was low, it was cold, the water freezing and the sea rough. It snowed when we got back to Oban. We were in luck!
Anyhow, going back to my not-yet-British not-yet-Christians : the Irish way was rough…
The last way as in the latest way to become a Christian was through Kent and a marriage between a pagan Jutish warlord’s son to a Christian Merovingian princess and much later to be canonized Augustine of Canterbury of very strict Roman as in Papal obedience.
I shall spare you the difficulty of getting the three versions of Christianity to agree. What is important today is that the monks would record in writing the poems. Why would they?
A warrior would be – true – of noble birth and fight battles. When he did not fight. he would be at the side of the King as a companion in the Royal Hall… where they would recite/listen to poems and tales of glory while playing the luth. Yes, a true warrior could sing, play the luth and use his sword/seax and shield…
Not all monks were Italians like Augustine or Paulinus who would later convert the son-in-law of our previously pagan and now converted warlord’s son. Most monks would be Saxons and some could have been warriors themselves like Benedict Biscop of Jarrow or sons of warriors like Wilfrid of Ripon. These tales, legends would have been part of their daily routines. Approved by their society. Honour, blood-feud, weregeld were part of their social DNA. Importantly in time of active Christiniazation, a warrior society would have had trouble relating to the mis-adventures of a poor Jewish carpenter.
The Pagan tales were spiced up with Christian morals. Beowulf is cremated. Unlike a Christian. Yet in his noble attitude, in his desire to help alleviate the plight Heoroth suffers, is almost on par with a Christian knight. Tales of humane glory recorded by humble monks.
We are here. Hwaet. Hear. Listen. Attend. Depending on the elegance of the translating pen.
A fantastic tale nobody has been able to copy.
The following links are from – in my personal opinion – the most poetic and true version of the poem. No Hollywood star in golden stilettos, no rewriting though G Butler version was honourable. An animated version sailing close to the wind of the poet.
Hwaet. Beowulf of the Geats/Goths. Hrothgar of the Danes.
Hrothgar gave Roger! Beowulf remains unique. As a hero should be.
Watch in six parts.
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