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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.

Quote #1

They stretched their beloved lord in his boat,
laid out by the mast, amidships,
the great ring-giver. Far-fetched treasures
were piled upon him, and precious gear.
I never heard before of a ship so well furbished
with battle tackle, bladed weapons
and coats of mail. The massed treasure
was loaded on top of him: it would travel far
on out into the ocean's sway. (34-42)

One of the first scenes in Beowulf is the funeral of the Danish king Shield Sheafson. Buried at sea, the proof of Shield's greatness and his following among his people is the literal boatload of treasures sent out to sea with his body.

Quote #2

They marched in step,
hurrying on till the timbered hall
rose before them, radiant with gold.
Nobody on earth knew of another
building like it. Majesty lodged there,
its light shone over many lands. (306-311)

There are no points for subtlety or tastefulness in medieval Scandinavian warrior culture. If you're wealthy, you show it by encrusting your hall with gold, so that every visiting warrior and every member of your tribe knows exactly how rich you are, all the time. Ostentatiously displaying wealth is the way these guys communicate.

Quote #3

"Finally I healed the feud by paying:
I shipped a treasure to the Wulfings
and Ecgtheow acknowledged me with oaths of allegiance." (470-472)

Wealth isn't just a mark of status for the Danes and the Geats; money can also buy them out of blood-feuds and wars. If a member of one tribe has killed a member of another, he can prevent a war or bring about a truce by paying a "blood price" for the man who was killed. Of course, sometimes this isn't enough to soothe the feelings of the man's family, and war happens anyway…

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