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Beowulf Tradition and Customs Quotes

How we cite our quotes:

Quote #1

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.

Quote #2

"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.

Quote #3

"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.

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