Beowulf ctd

In the second half of the Finnsburgh poem Hengist waits until spring and better weather for sea journey. Then he takes his revenge, starts the battle in which he kills the king and carries the queen off to Denmark. Not a very uplifiting ending.

When the song is ended, the queen addresses the king, saying that while Beowulf is a great guy and so on, he shouldn’t adopt him as he should think about his own family first. His nephew Hrothulf will be a good king and a kind uncle to her sons (which is heavily ironic, because he’ll turn out to be quite the opposite).

It’s remarkable how often in Beowulf the power goes from uncle to nephew, not from father to son. We are going to see more examples of it later on. Many scholars think that Beowulf bears traces of earlier matrilineal tradition, where the possessions and power went from a man to his sister’s sons, pretty much like in the Trobriand Islands. It’s an ancient mode of thinking, going back to the times when people didn’t realize men’s role in the conception. Or, as the Roman law says, “Mater semper certa est”.

Beowulf reflect the situation when the succession is not defined by the laws of paternal primogeniture. So If you’re used to it from your history studies, the situation in Beowulf is rather strange. Hrothgar has two young sons, so they should be considered his successors, Even if he dies before any of them reaches maturity, Hrothgar could be the regent at best. (Of course we know how it worked out for Richard III and princes in the Tower.) Instead, what Wealhtheow is saying sounds like “I know you will die before your sons become of age” (not very tactful) or she does not consider them as successors at all and realizes that after Hrothgar’s death she and her children will be at mercy of whoever becomes the next  king of Danes.




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