Beowulf Wealth 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 cup was carried to him, kind words
spoken in welcome and a wealth of wrought gold
graciously bestowed: two arm bangles,
a mail-shirt and rings, and the most resplendent
torque of gold I ever heard tell of
anywhere on earth or under heaven. (1191-1196)
The exchanges of wealth between different kings and warriors can become extremely complex. In this passage, Beowulf is given gold, armor, and other rewards by King Hrothgar. After sailing home to Geatland, Beowulf presents some of these rewards to his own king, Hygelac. In return, Hygelac gives Beowulf another set of treasures from his own stockpile. Why so many different exchanges? It helps to solidify the alliances and relationships between all three warriors.
Hygelac the Geat, grandson of Swerting,
wore this neck-ring on his last raid;
at bay under his banner, he defended the booty,
treasure he had won. Fate swept him away
because of his proud need to provoke
a feud with the Frisians. He fell beneath his shield,
in the same gem-crusted, kingly gear
he had worn when he crossed the frothing wave-vat.
So the dead king fell into Frankish hands.
They took his breast-mail, also his neck-torque,
and punier warriors plundered the slain
when the carnage ended; Geat corpses
covered the field. (1202-1214)
It's interesting to trace this history of the golden torque, or necklace, in Beowulf. Given to Beowulf by Hrothgar, it is then presented to Hygelac, who will die wearing it. Beowulf will then bestow what seems to be the same torque (although we're not completely certain, since the first torque gets stolen by the Franks at one point) on his only faithful follower, Wiglaf. Along with the golden torque, symbolizing kingship, goes glory – but also suffering and doom.
The old lord gazed sadly at the gold.
"To the everlasting Lord of All,
to the King of Glory, I give thanks
that I behold this treasure here in front of me,
that I have been allowed to leave my people
so well endowed on the day I die." (2793-2798)
As he dies, Beowulf seems to feel conflicted about the treasure that he has won from the dragon. On the one hand, he is glad that he's leaving a great deal of wealth to the Geat people, which should lend power and authority to their nation. On the other hand, he looks at the gold "sadly," suggesting that he doubts whether it was worth sacrificing his life for it.