Beowulf Tradition and Customs Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Line). We used Seamus Heaney's Beowulf: A New Verse Translation, published in 2000 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
This formal boast by Beowulf the Geat
pleased the lady well and she went to sit
by Hrothgar, regal and arrayed with gold. (639-641)
You might get irritated when people around you make boasts, but for Beowulf and the warriors around him, doing so is an important traditional part of their culture – it's the way they tell each other what their qualifications are without passing out resumes.
Meanwhile, a thane
of the king's household, a carrier of tales,
a traditional singer deeply schooled
in the lore of the past, linked a new theme
to a strict metre. The man started
to recite with skill, rehearsing Beowulf's
triumphs and feats in well-fashioned lines,
entwining his words. (866-873)
Immediately after Beowulf's fight with Grendel, the Danish minstrel begins composing a song, using established poetic clichés, about his great deeds. The spontaneous composition of new ballads celebrating local heroes was traditional in medieval Scandinavian culture. The bard probably knows a set series of phrases that fit the meter of his song, and he jumbles them around, adding details of the most recent hero's activities, in order to sing about "a new theme."
Then Halfdane's son presented Beowulf
with a gold standard as a victory gift,
an embroidered banner; also breast-mail
and a helmet; and a sword carried high,
that was both precious object and token of honour. (1019-1023)
Geatish and Danish warriors are constantly giving one another rich gifts of gold and armor. Kings might give these to their "thanes," or lords, in thanks for their service; thanes might give them to kings in order to bring them honor in glory; warriors steal them from one another in battle.