In case we should feel too optimistic about the future, the minstrel launches into a song on death in the family. Well, there is nothing that enlivens the story like a dead body. The story as told in Beowulf is fragmentary, undoubtedly because it was such a well-known story that the Anglo-Saxon audience could fill in the blanks. What we know from other sources is that Hnaef, a Danish prince, comes to visit his sister Hildeburh, who is married to the king of the neighbouring nation. During the visit, a fight breaks out, and as a result both Hildeburh’s brother and son are slain. The moment when the minstrel picks up the story is when Hildeburh’s husband manages to make some kind of fragile truce with Hengist, the leader of the Danes after Hnaef’s death and they can start the preparations for the funeral. The pyre with the bodies of Hildeburh’s brother and son is burning, and the crackling of the bodies is accompanied by the keening of the queen.
it’s a rum choice for a song celebrating the victory, and what makes it even stranger is that the song is about the terrible results of what initially was meant to be a friendly family visit. (Next time you’re griping about an obligatory visit to your in-laws, just be happy it doesn’t end like this one). These situations when a body of armed men from a neighbouring tribe comes for a visit are always charged, as we have seen in the previous episodes when Beowulf arrives at Heorot. Not unlike in these mafia movies, when two quarrelling families decide to celebrate their reconciliation with a big dinner – everyone is very jolly, but there is all this tension brewing underneath and you’re just waiting for something terrible to happen. Is a guy with a machine gun going to jump out from the cake? Or is there a gun hidden in the toilet cubicle? Or is somebody just going to flip out because of a joke that he found offensive?
All I meant to say: isn’t there in the OE corpus a raunchy song about Frisian girls and their big butts or something of that sort? Because surely that would be more appropriate. Or perhaps there was one in the early versions of Beowulf, but it got censored out by the monastic scribe.