The purpose of digressions in Beowulf


Few other features are more characteristic of Beowulf than the use of many separate digressions and episodes. While some scholars have attempted to show that digressions, or some of them at least, contain something that is inappropriate to the main narrative and detract from Beowulf's poetic value, this article will argue that digressions and episodes provide a conscious balance and unity and, in fact, contribute to the artistic value of the poem. The scholar of Beowulf, Adrien Hello, divides the digressions and episodes into four categories: the Scyld episode; digressions concerning Beowulf and the Geats; historical or legendary digressions unrelated to Beowulf and the Geats; and biblical digressions. It is in this structure that we will explore specific digressions and determine their role in the poem.

Before inspecting specific digressions, it is important to provide a brief justification for their presence in general. As noted Hello, the poet deftly uses digressions to add to the color of the poem, serve as a flashback to a given situation, contribute to the interest and historical significance, provide a symbolic value that contributes to the poetry. effect and understanding of the poem, and to increase the artistic effect. In addition, digressions contain information about the hero's life. It is by digressing that the poet presents the values ​​and perspectives to understand. The action is after all that an action

In his division of digressions and episodes, Hello gives the episode Scyld his own category, probably because that is the longest digression of the main narrative of the poem, and perhaps because it raises so many questions. At first glance, the opening of the poem with Scyld and the genealogy of the Danish kings seems strangely out of place in a poem about Beowulf, a Geatish hero. But after other studies, a significant parallelism can be found between Scyld and Beowulf. First, Scyld and Beowulf came miraculously to free the Danes. Scyld, being the first liberator in the poem, prefigures Beowulf who comes later. A second touch of parallelism between the two kings is found in their youth without glory. Scyld was found a miserable and abandoned child and Beowulf is remarkable for his youth without glory. The striking reversal in their fortunes is clearly emphasized by the poet.

Hello emphasizes that another artistic purpose in this episode is the glorification of Scyldings. If the painful condition of Heorot had been the only introduction to Beowulf's mission, it might have created an impression of weakness on the part of the Danes. As we will see later, if the Danes had not been glorified at the beginning of the poem, Beowulf's greatness could have been diminished.

Finally, the striking contrast of the funeral scenes is endowed with a "symbolic value that increases the artistic value" and unity of the entire poem.The beautiful description of Scyld's funeral suggests a beginning and is the symbol of a glorious future.But On the other hand, the funerals of Beowulf symbolize the end of a glorious past while the future is appalling.

The episode Scyld allows the poet to use two of his favorite devices: parallelism and contrast.The contrast between Scyld and Beowulf is perhaps one of the most beautiful artistic achievements of the poem, and the parallelism between the two kings could well be summed up in the legendary epitaph of a cowboy as stated by JDA Ogilvy and Donald Baker: "Here lies Bronco Bill, he always did his best"

The next divisions categorizations of Hello concern the digressions concerning Beow Ulf and the Geats The first of this group we are going to examine is Beowulf's fight against the giants. This digression serves a double purpose: it allows the hero to boast, and she too, subtly, combines the hero with God. The immediate purpose of this mention of a glorious feat in the youth of Beowulf is to give us an illustration of his rare strength, and at the same time give a justification to his arrival at the Danish court. He also places Beowulf in the position of specialist monster fighting: "I came from the fight where I had tied up five monsters, destroyed a family of giants …". The art of boasting is important in an epic hero as he showcases his achievements and glorifies his name. As Victor Bromberg says, the name of a man is very important in epic poetry because it becomes equal to the sum of his accomplishments.

The second function of this digression is to surreptitiously ally Beowulf with God. When Beowulf opposes his strength to the giants, he unintentionally combines with the true God of Christianity. It gives dignity to the pagan hero who, without knowing it, is fighting on the right side after all.

In Ecgtheow's digression, we learn that Beowulf's father killed Heatholaf, a member of the mighty Wilfing tribe, and started quarrel from which the Geats can not protect him, and he fled to the court of Hrothgar. Hrothgar, therefore, pays his wergild to the Wilfings. Hello says that this digression serves two purposes: first, it creates a link between Beowulf and the Danes; second, it offsets the fact that the Danes accept the help of Beowulf

. The Unferth episode primarily serves to highlight the greatness of Beowulf. Despite the sinister accents of Unferth's reputation, the poet also portrays him as a distinguished thane. If Unferth had been reduced to a mere executioner, Beowulf's superiority over him would not have meant as much as she actually does. In his essay "Beowulf: Monsters and Critics," Professor J.R.R. Tolkien suggests that the conquest of Beowulf's Gentiles in his youth is called [in this digression] as an omen of the kind of hero we deal with. Beowulf's response to Unferth's critique also establishes him as a man to count with words as well as with his sword. So, from this digression, we learn Beowulf's qualifications to clean Heorot, and also that the hero is not just a great warrior, but a man capable of delivering a knockout in a battle of the future. ;mind.

Hello note that the first allusion in the poem to the fall of Hygelac gives us a fine example of a particular use of Beowulf's characteristic contrast. It is ironic that the first hint of the fall of Hygelac is evoked by the description of the treasures given to Beowulf by Queen Wealtheow after Beowulf's victory over Grendel. It seems that there are already some implications of the same nature as those to be encountered in the history of the Dragon where, as Bonjour remarks, the beauty of the Dragon's treasure is distinguished from the curse attached to it. . Here, the necklace is among "[the finest] under heaven", but Hygelac had it when he was killed.

Next, we will look at the digression on Beowulf's derogatory youth and the tragedy of Heremod in conjunction with each other. The tragedy of Heremod actually falls outside the structure proposed by Adrien Hello because it has nothing to do with Beowulf and the Geats directly. However, we will take Heremod's digression out of the proposed structure, as it provides such a significant contrast to Beowulf's derogatory youth.

The short digression on the derogatory youth of Beowulf is only an extra touch that contributes to the glorification of the hero. The gloomy youth increases the effect of his subsequent glorious deeds and renders them all the more remarkable by contrast. But this digression reaches its full effect when it contrasts with the tragedy of Heremod. In Hrothgar's speech to Beowulf, we learn that Heremod was a strong and valiant hero whose career was very promising, but that he later turned out to be a bad leader. Beowulf, on the other hand, is despised first, but he has now become a glorious hero. The tragedy of Heremod redefines, albeit negatively, what a good king should be. So we have a poor beginning (by Beowulf) followed by a prodigious rise contrasting with a brilliant promise (by Heremod) ending in an unfortunate fall.

The next digression to be examined concerns the death of Hygelac in Friesland and the return of Beowulf by swimming and his subsequent tutelage of Heardred. The poet tells us how Beowulf escapes from Friesland, where Hygelac is killed, swimming to his country with thirty or so armor sets on his arm. Obviously, this part of the digression serves to further glorify Beowulf's extraordinary abilities. Later, we learn that Beowulf rejects the offer of Queen Hygd's Geatish throne in favor of Heardred, the legitimate heir. Beowulf's refusal of the crown illustrates his moral grandeur. Here, the Geats present a striking contrast with the Danes. Ogilvy and Baker suggest that unlike Wealtheow, who is obsessed with the succession of his sons to the throne, Hygd asks Beowulf to take the throne in favor of his own son for the good of the people. This contrast is even greater when compared to the situation at the Danish court where Hrothulf seizes the throne of his uncle. The history of the Danish estate serves as an excuse: on one side we have a treacherous usurp, and on the other, a refusal to accept the crown out of sheer loyalty. With the glorification of Beowulf, this digression brings to the fore the theme of loyalty.

Looking for the Den of the Dragon, Beowulf makes a long speech in which he looks back on his life since the time when, at the age of seven, he came to the court of his grandfather, King Hrethel. The immediate purpose of Beowulf's long speech seems to be a pause so that the hero can muster strength and resolution by remembering a lifetime of valiant deeds. But this digression goes much further when we read in the anguish of King Hrethel about his eldest son, Herebeald, who is accidentally killed by his brother Hæthcyn. Accidental assassination suggests the inexorability of wyrd (fate), and on the other hand, the poignant lamentation of Hrethel prepares the dominant mood of the end of the poem (Hello 34). This "Christian" thematic acceptance of earthly misfortunes anticipates the logic of Beowulf's actions. He too will accept his destiny. Hello states that the appearance of wyrd here is of great importance because it gives us the note not only of the digression, but of all the end of the poem.

The speech of the last survivor is an elegy cut off from the same stuff: The deadly death has driven out many races of men. "Tolkien states that here the poet deals with an ancient theme: this man, every man and every man, and all their deeds will die.

In the short digression on Weohstan (Wiglaf's father) and his murder of Eanmund, we learn from the history of the l & # 39; The main purpose of this digression is to give us something of Wiglaf's pedigree, and to establish that Wiglaf is not ordinary, he is of the same blood as Beowulf. of Wiglaf's story is important, because if this part were played by any other Geat, Beowulf's heroic courage would seem to have been matched by an ordinary human.Moreover, there is a certain parallel between Wiglaf's loyalty to Beowulf and Beowulf's loyalty to Hygelac

The second digression which we shall see in this division again deals with the fall of Hygelac and the battle of Ravenswood. Since the Hygelac raid, the hostility between Franks and Geats has remained. The Swedes are not reliable either because the death of Beowulf is likely to revive their memory of the quarrel between them and the Geats. With the opening of this latest digression, Hello observes that the poet allows us to glimpse what the future holds for the Geats. It is clear that the author uses the messenger of Wiglaf as a means of foretelling the fate that awaits the Geatish nation.

The third category of digressions concerns historical or legendary digressions that are not directly related to Beowulf and the Geats. The first digression in this category concerns the fate of Heorot. Hardly had the poet described the glorious building of Heorot than he concluded: "he would wait for the ferocious flames of vengeful fire". The allusion is to the quarrel between Ingeld and Hrothgar. This illustrates another example of the poet telling his story with a kind of structural irony that alternates thrives with tragic events. Here, William Alfred remarks that Hrothgar is established as the heroic king of a faithful comitatus, but suddenly what begins as a description of Heorot's impressive halls breaks down into an account of his destruction by fire in a quarrel. On this point, Hello mentions that the inherent contrast between a harmonious situation and a brief indication of disaster adds to the impression of melancholy in which much of the poem is imbued.

After Beowulf killed Grendel, a scop improvises in Beowulf's honor and compares him to Sigemund and Heremod. Sigemund was a great monster killer and the greatest adventurer since the unfortunate Heremod. Beowulf, they say, is comparable to Sigemund. Sigemund and Heremod are produced to give us a standard of comparison for Beowulf. Hello presume that all this digression is certainly intended to congratulate the hero.

The next digression we are going to examine begins abruptly when Beowulf returns from Hrothgar's yard. We are given a description of the Hygelac yard before the arrival of Beowulf, and here begins the digression. The passage is devoted to a comparison between Hygd, Queen of Hygelac, and Modthryth, Queen of Offa, King of the Angles before their migration to England. At first glance, Modthryth may seem, like Heremod, to be simply a bad character introduced to increase the virtues of a good (Hygd) by contrast. Modthryth, however, is more complex than that. She begins as a cruel and tyrannical princess, but redeems herself once on the Anglican throne next to Offa. This opposition provides a link between this episode and the tragedy of Heremod. However, the respective careers of Heremod and Modthryth are exactly opposite. This digression serves several purposes: Modthryth serves as a leaf for Hygd; the link with Heremod once again underlines the theme of "abuse of power", and the beginning of Modthryth could also be seen as a parallel to the derogatory youth of Beowulf; an unsavory beginning that flourishes in a glorious end.

We will look at the Finn and Ingeld episodes together since the parallelism between the two is unmistakable. The episode of Finn is an account of a vendetta between the Danes and the Frisians. Hnæf's sister, Hildeburh, is a Danish princess married to King Finn of the Friesians in order to end the vendetta. The peace, however, is short-lived and the episode Finn points directly to the theme of the precarious truce between the two peoples. The prophetic narrative of the history of Ingeld by Beowulf suggests that the martial alliance between the Danish princess, Freawaru, and Ingeld, prince of the Heathobards will give similar results. Hello claims that the central theme of both episodes is exactly the same, that tribal hostility sweeps away any attempt at human compromise sooner or later. Indeed, this also turns out to be a central theme of the whole poem.

The last category to note is the digressions of biblical character. Because of their Christian element, the Canticle of Creation as well as the reference to the Giants' war against God and the allusions to Cain are all in the front row.

The Song of Creation appears almost simultaneously with the introduction of Grendel, "There he spoke that could connect the beginning of men far back in time, said that the Almighty did the earth .. . ". The Song of Creation goes back to the biblical account of Genesis. His immediate goal is pretty clear: it's a matter of contrast. The rare note of joy in the beauty of nature contrasts profoundly with the melancholy inspired by Grendel's dismal home

We will now look at the allusions to Cain and the Giants, and in doing so, it is important to note that the monsters are presented from two points of view. For the pagan characters, these creatures are eotenas [giants] and scuccan [evil spirits] – all the terms of Germanic demonology. But the poet, in his own voice, speaks to us about the true genealogy of Grendelkin: they are the monstrous descendants of Cain. This two-level representation of monsters places them on a level like the dragon that Sigemund killed, and on another level he has evil satanic connotations that the Bible invests in it. At this point, the new scripture and the old tradition come together.

It is said that the destruction of the Giants is engraved on the handle of the magic sword that allows Beowulf to kill Grendel's mother. Beowulf's fight is now felt to participate in the struggle between the powers of good and evil. We were told earlier that the two monsters were the same kind as the Giants, but as Hello shows, we now know that God himself really helps the hero by drawing his attention to the magical sword that portrays the God's own action against the cursed race. Now, it's almost as if Beowulf had been raised to the rank of God's champion. Beowulf, for all that he moves in the world of the primitive heroic age, is nevertheless [for a moment] a Christian knight.

Hello concludes that Beowulf, once in the position of a king, actually transcends the picture of an ideal king by sacrificing his life for his people, whose meaning is emphasized by the very contrast with the Hrothgar's own attitude towards Grendel. But Hrothgar is already the figure of an ideal king, so it now becomes easier to compare Beowulf to the Savior, the sacrificing king, the prototype of supreme perfection.

The scholar BJ Timmer sees the poem's form as a failure because of the poet's compromise in an attempt to glorify the pagan and Christian elements. John Leyerle echoes this point of view when he describes the theme of the poem as "the fatal contradiction at the heart of heroic society" in which the imperial code requires the hero the individual fulfillment and glory, then that society demands a king who realizes for the common good. But why should there be a necessary separation here? Should not a heroic individual realize for the common good? The poet Beowulf, rightly, does not do this separation.

In conclusion, it should be noted that, whether we admire digressions or not, we should recognize that they are part of the poet's method and not the results of ineptitude. Here, I agree with Hello that the links between the digressions and the episodes of the main story are extremely varied but, as we have seen, they are all relevant links that weave the main theme and its background in an elaborate tapestry. Theodore M. Anderson summarizes the significance of the digressions when he writes:

The poet drew his settings from the scenic repertoire of the older heroic

lay, but he tied the traditional scenes with a moralizing

commentary in the form of digressions, flashbacks, boastfuls, reflections

speech, and a persistent insistence on unexpected reversals – all tending

to emphasize the peaks and valleys of the human experience

A good dose of common sense should drive away any persistent belief, on the part of skeptics, that the poet's digressions are reckless or that They diminish the value of the poem. As we have seen in this essay, there are simply too many cases of prefiguration, cautious contrast, and parallelism for digressions to have been casually thrown into the mix. Thus, we will draw the conclusion that behind all the digressions lies a defined artistic design clear enough to allow us to agree with Hello that everyone plays a useful role in the poem. In other words, we have found that all digressions, to varying degrees, are artistically justified.


Source by Rick L. Huffman

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