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.
The battle-famed king, bulwark of his earls,
ordered a gold-chased heirloom of Hrethel's
to be brought in; it was the best example
of a gem-studded sword in the Geat treasury.
This he laid on Beowulf's lap
and then rewarded him with land as well,
seven thousand hides, and a hall and a throne.
Both owned land by birth in that country,
ancestral grounds; but the greater right
and sway were inherited by the higher born. (2190-2199)
Beowulf and King Hygelac (whose father, Hrethel, owned the sword described in this passage) are both lords – they both "owned land by birth in that country," Geatland. However, Hygelac has a slightly more prestigious family, so he has the right to be king over Beowulf, even though they're about equally rich.
"Order my troop to construct a barrow
on a headland on the coast, after my pyre has cooled.
It will loom on the horizon at Hronesness
and be a reminder among my people –
so that in coming times crews under sail
will call it Beowulf's Barrow, as they steer
ships across the wide and shrouded waters." (2802-2808)
The building of barrows, or huge mounds of earth filled with treasures, is a traditional way for Scandinavian and European tribes in the Middle Ages to commemorate great men and women after their deaths. You can think of barrows as a combination of tomb and memorial. Beowulf's Barrow is going to be built on top of the spot where his funeral pyre burned.
"So this bad blood between us and the Swedes,
this vicious feud, I am convinced,
is bound to revive; they will cross our borders
and attack in force when they find out
that Beowulf is dead." (2999-3003)
Blood feuds were, sadly, a traditional part of early medieval culture, too. Every time a man from one tribe kills a man from another tribe, it's possible that the revenge killings will eventually escalate into a full-scale war. At the end of Beowulf, a Geatish messenger predicts that, with the strong king Beowulf dead, another blood feud will break out between the Geats and their rival tribe, the Swedes.