Science of the Social Credit Measured in Terms of Human Satisfaction
Christian based service movement warning about threats to rights and freedom irrespective of the label, Science of the Social Credit Measured in Terms of Human Satisfaction

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing"
Edmund Burke

Science of the Social Credit Measured in Terms of Human Satisfaction

Remembrance of the Past in Beowulf

by Michael Lane1
This essay was originally published in In Geardagum 2000.

The problem with current explanations of the fusion of Christian and heathen elements in Beowulf is they are just that --explanations. Their purpose is to show how the poet might have coped with a difficulty, and so they remain essentially negative. Therefore, by their very nature, they fail to help us understand the power of the poem. I propose to establish the source of this poem's power in its dynamic relationship to the past. This investigation then opens up an appealing resolution to the heathen-Christian problem.
    The poet of Beowulf is interested in three very old things. One is the pre-Christian, folkloric Scandinavian world, as represented by the story's setting. Another is the portion of the Bible that deals with "Universal History," that is, stories of the world in the time from Adam to Noah, when mankind was still a single community: Cain, giants, the Flood. The third is the thousand year old earth-hall in Beowulf and its cache of artifacts. I will argue that the first ten chapters of the Bible were the poet's handbook of Universal History. With this guide in hand, the poet could imagine his pre-Christian Scandinavian heroes not merely as "noble pagans" who reasoned their way to God by natural law, but as possessors of a living stream of memory from the putative common ancestor of all post-diluvian mankind, Noah. A precedent is found in Origen as to the possibility of salvation for pre-Christian heroes and peoples. According to this principle, Beowulf could become "like Abraham" by cultivating (as Abraham cultivated) the "generative principles" he possessed as an inheritance from Noah, seeds that through him could bear fruit and rejuvenate a whole people. In this manner, the earth-hall and its treasure fall into place as mystically tinged relics of an ancient people and thus a tangible link to Universal History. Mythically, the time the treasure was put in the ground takes us a third of the way back to the Flood, when dated by literal biblical chronology,2 and its giant manufacture ties it to the antediluvian Sethite and Cainite kings, of whom Noah was the last and greatest. As such, the earth-hall and its treasure are endowed with mysterious power, which the Germanic folk-memory calls luck. Beowulf gives his life to liberate this treasure from its usurper and so recover the precious luck of the past. But the legacy of Noah is too great to be the property of one nation: in its universality, it belongs to all. In the last act of their greatest king, the destiny of the Geatish nation is meant to be understood as fulfilled. The Geats offer this legacy to the world by erecting over it a high monument overlooking the sea. Then they pass from history.

The Hall and the Treasure

I begin with the treasure. Paul Beekman Taylor has called particular attention to the life-giving quality of treasure in Germanic tradition: "The fetish force in treasure is consecrated to both bringing forth and preserving life."3 Taylor reminds us that Anglo-Saxon poetry reveals and presumes a "conventional stock of etymological associations between treasure goods and the life forces which are understood to reside in them." For example, the dying Beowulf after expressing regret that he has no son, gazes on the treasure and makes this telling pronouncement:

Ic ðara frætwa
ecum Dryhtne,
þæs ðe ic moste
ær swylt-dæge
Frean ealles ðanc,
wordum secge,
þe ic her on starie
minum leodum
swylc gestrynan (2794-98)4

With these words I give thanks to God, the king of Glory, the Eternal Lord, for all the treasures [frœtwa] I stare at here, that I could acquire [gestrynan] for my people such a fortune.5

Gestrynan, as Taylor observes, carries the sense of "to beget, to engender," perhaps implying "Beowulf's regrets concerning the lack of an heir," but also suggesting how the poet may have understood "the direct object of the phrase - frætwa ['seed/treasure'] - since the nominal form of gestrynan is gestreon," which includes the idea of treasure as "something begotten, a blood strain."6 Beowulf has achieved symbolic progeny: "Beowulf is consoling himself with the notion that a treasure won is a benefit to a people comparable to, if not equal to, a son." The treasure's status is part of the extraordinary aura of the whole hall, itself a work of unusual scale and mysterious design. All by itself it provokes awe and contemplation:

þæt he bi wealle,
gesæt on sesse;
hu ða stan-bogan
ece eorð-reced
Da see æðeIing giong
seab on enta geweorc,
stapulum fæste
innan healde. (2715b-19)

[...] the prince went and sat, meditating wisely, on a seat by the wall; he looked at the work of giants, and saw how the stone arches, set fast on pillars, held up the huge earth-house from within.7

By desiring merely to gaze on this find before be dies, Beowulf is not reverting to a crude barbarism. Quite the opposite, he demonstrates a wise and knowing appreciation of history as the Beowulf-poet understood it. Beowulf, with full awareness, is gazing on the primeval world itself, a history of a lost time of heaven and earth, and godlike men (really, a history of eternal significance, "ece-eorð-reced" 2719, my emphasis). The poet and his presumed audience contemplate this history through Beowulf's eyes, pondering these mysterious relics that carry the touch of those legendary figures who made them (and those who wielded them for evil or for good). We should give Beowulf credit for at least as much awe as we ourselves might feel in the presence of the treasures of Sutton Hoo.
    Consequently, the hall and the treasure function in the story as a door that opens onto a nearly forgotten world: "Frea sceawode / fira fyrn-geweorc forman siðe" (2285b-86), "For the first time his lord looked upon men's work of old." The treasures will be with us for the rest of the poem. Consigned to the hero's tomb, a permanent edifice is raised over them. They are part of the foundation. The predicted end of the Geatish nation and the towering visibility of the monument on a bluff, where it can be descried by "weg-liðendum" (3158a),"travelers on the waves," strike a final note of continuance and universality.

Sacral Kingship

If the hall and its treasure are a door opening onto the past, is there any other hint in the poem as to what lies beyond that door? A clue may be found in the two other very old things that capture the poet's imagination. Taylor brings Old Norse language and culture (especially as relating to magic) to bear on Beowulf. Particularly valuable in that regard is the Noise concept of "sacral kingship," the idea that

the king's own body is not only a body politic, but a treasure and a fertile force, and when that force fails in its function, kingship fails. If the crops fail, the king has failed his office and must be removed [...] An 'unlucky' king vitiates the sacral gift of his office, and his body must atone [...] in order to restore the prosperity of his people [...] He must die and his genealogical line --which is susceptible of continuing the bad luck-- must be somehow cleansed.8

In the Danish line, Scyld succeeds his father Heremod, arriving "gratuitously on the waves" to save a people who have been aldorleas [lordless, lifeless], suffering from the effects of their last king."9 In this way, Scyld's patrimony becomes renewed and "is given a name ['Sheaf'] which carries the hope and promise of a new fecundity for a people deprived of a sacral king. The treasure borne with him incarnates a new luck."10 In the Geatish line, "Beowulf, like the winter earth protecting the seeds of spring growth, is characterized as a holder and transmitter of ar" (usually understood as "honor," but cognates include "fruitfulness, potency").11 Although Beowulf has no son, his power of sacral kingship does not die with him. Wiglaf is like a son to Beowulf, and so Beowulf "passes on to another generation the force of life in treasure which contains a people's ar."12

Universal History

We find the Creation story, followed only nine lines later by two sequential events: Cain's murder of Abel and God's destruction of Cain's descendants, the giants (91-98, 107-14). In connection with Grendel's sword, we again have God's destruction of the giants (by flood, cf. 1689-90) as the second of two sequential events. In this case, the first event, inscribed on the hilt, is "fyrn-gewinnes" (1689a), "the origin of ancient strife." Since Cain's murder of Abel could, with literal accuracy, be denominated "the origin of ancient strife," it does not seem unreasonable to infer that they are one and the same. Such an inference is strengthened by the further statement that the inscription told "hwam þæt sweord geworht" (1696b), ie, for whom that sword had been made; in other words, the inscription is a name. The name for the origin of strife would be Cain.13
    A further tantalizing possibility is suggested by a detail the poet has added to the story of Cain and Abel: namely that Cain killed Abel with a sword ('ecg-banan" 1262). Could the inscribed sword be, in the poet's imagination, not only an heirloom passed down through succeeding generations of Cain's descendants (and hence to Grendel), but also the very sword with which Cain slew Abel?14 At the very least, given its giant manufacture and its extreme antiquity, Grendel's sword is like the hall and its treasure.
    Significantly, Genesis 6 divides mankind into two great branches and tells how the men of one branch ("the sons of God") mated with women of the other branch ("the daughters of men"), producing the giants (Gen. 6:1-4).15 That the daughters of men refers to the descendants of Cain, or Cainites, and that the other great branch of mankind, the sons of God, is the descendants of Seth, or Sethites, is confirmed by the poem Genesis, in which God declares: "The tribe of Cain have not gone from my mind free men, for that family has sorely enraged me. Now the children of Seth renew the anger in me and are taking to themselves women as their mates from among my foes" (1255-58).16 In introducing the context of Cain and his descendants, who form one of the two great branches of mankind, the Beowulf poet necessarily evokes their counterpart, the other great branch of mankind, the Sethites. Noah was a Sethite, and all the nations (pagan and otherwise) were descended from him (Gen. 10.5).

    In this vein, there is a Norse analogue to the story of the Flood that destroyed the giants. Before the earth was formed, Odin and his brothers drowned all the race of frost-giants in the blood of Ymir, "except that one who escaped with all his household. Giants call him Bergelmir. He went up on to his ark with his wife and was preserved."17 Bergelmir is called "that wise giant" (Gylfaginning 7). What would have been the Beowulf-poet's attitude towards this "wise giant" story? I propose that the coincidence would have amazed him, and that he would have said to himself something like: "My heathen ancestors remembered, albeit imperfectly, the Flood and Noah! Come to think of it, they were there, in Noah's loins. If they remembered the Flood and Noah, they could have remembered Noah's God."18 Indeed, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle directly connects to Noah the same Danish royal house we see in Beowulf: "Beaw, the son of Sceldwea [Scyld], the son of Heremod, the son of Itermon, the son of Hrathra, who was born in the ark: Noah," etc.19
    In short, the Beowulf poet regards the biblical patriarchs from Adam to Noah as the ancestors of the Scandinavians. He accepts the biblical record as a record of real events, but he also believes that Noah told his children and grandchildren about the past and that they told their children and grandchildren, and so on and so on, all the way down to Wealhtheow and Ecgtheow, Hrethel and Hrothgar, and the Bard of Heorot. Thus, he reads back into his pagan heroes a dimly realized but profound variety of genuine and fruitful piety. The poet would have found in the Norse material a precious echo of an "original" lore whose pristine form (in his view) had been preserved in his own handbook, the Bible.
    This possibility is an improvement over Peter Farina's thesis that "the biblical legends in Beowulf have existed among pagan nations from time immemorial and may have existed among the Germanic races side by side with, but independently of, Jewish and Christian revelation."20 Farina regards parallels in mythology (including the Judeo-Christian) as the result of descent from a universal human mythology. He says that during the Great Migration, the Germanic races were exposed to many forms of this. Therefore, he rejects so-called Christian elements in the poem in favor of elements of a universal mythology. The "Christian" elements merely appear Christian because they were derived along a parallel line.
    Farina, however, misses a key thing, namely, the poet's own point of view. Even if, let us say, the giants and Flood of a universal mythology existed without Christian meaning in earlier tellings of the Beowulf story, in the hands of our Christian poet they take on Christian meaning. The point is that in the eyes of the Christian poet, the biblical version is the Universal History. If Bergelmir resembled Noah, it was not because both were derived from some archetypal forebear, it was because Bergelmir was a recollection of a real person named Noah, whose history was recounted by Moses. The Beowulf poet was too intelligent to make his protagonists flatly Christian. But he perceived a way that he could give universal (i.e., for him, Christian) significance to their heathen state.
    However, is there any Christian precedent for the Beowulf poet's implicit idea that pagans could have known God through their own folk-memory, going back to Noah? The answer is yes. Origen. in his Commentary on the Gospel According to John, discusses the expression seed of Abraham (to denominate the Jews, John 8.37). He argues that we all possess from birth "saving and holy seeds," which are "generative principles" of our forefathers. Some have more good seeds, and some have less, but all those who are "seed of Noah" have a chance, by cultivating the seeds, to become, effectively speaking, "like Abraham."21 According to Origen, "Sem, Noah, and the just men who preceded them" possessed "distinctive properties," or "generative principles," which the three brothers Abraham, Nachor, and Aron took up "in common germinally when they were born." The three brothers were equally seed of just men. However, only Abraham "cultivated the generative principles of all the just men before him that he had in himself" (my italics), adding to these "his own distinctive holy quality, [...] in which those after him who are called 'seed of Abraham' could participate." What then of those who are not of Abraham's seed, but who remain the heirs of his predecessors, going back to Noah (Danes, Geats, et al.)? Origin speculates that one of this sort may nevertheless "become such that, although he is not of Abraham's seed, he is like Abraham" and that he may "by cultivating the better seeds which were sown in himself, become another Abraham."
    The implication is that, in the poet's view, the pre-Christian Scandinavian heroes possess within themselves the seeds of just men, the cultivation of which may allow them to become "like Abraham." The revalorized seed, or luck, that Noah vouchsafed for the post-diluvian world is freely available: that is, dormant and in potential (it is seed capable of fruit). With this connection established, it is not difficult to imagine that the cultivation would be aided by knowledge orally transmitted. Consequently, the pagan heroes and peoples are not without hope for the hereafter. If to behold the hall and the treasure is to stand in the presence of the men of old who made them and used them, it may also suggest that Beowulf goes to join Adam, Seth, Enos, Noah, and the other just men whose seed in himself he has diligently cultivated (cf. Beowulf 28l9b-2820).22

    Accordingly, Taylor sees signs of God's favor in the poem's closing section, especially when Heaven swallows, or accepts, the smoke from Beowulf's pyre (cf. 3146, 3155). Taylor applies an axiom from the Ynglingasaga in Sharing Story 92f.: "With such riches as one had on the fire should one come to Valhalla. For noble men a mound should be raised in memory [...]. The higher the smoke rose in the air, the higher would [he] be in heaven who was burned."23
    The poet may have implied a further hint as to Beowulf's mystical-spiritual status and the disposition of his soul after death in three passages (three occasions, three gestures) where Wiglaf applies water to the dying body of his lord (2720-22, 2790f., 2854). Taylor has observed that the number three has its own mysterious and longstanding folkloric significance: "Ritual casting of water, like the Christian rite of Baptism, is a means of providing a magical protection against evil."24 Why would a Christian poet introduce into Beowulf's moment of truth something that so resembles a baptism? One explanation is that while Wiglaf is perhaps only trying to rouse his lord with a charm, the poet perceives God using him as an instrument to show a sign of Beowulf's spiritual merit. And what could such a sign mean except that Beowulf is not abandoned? The fact that Beowulf dies before the third pass could be a symbolic way of saying that Beowulf (in the poet's view) should be seen as "all but" a Christian. According to Origen, an "all but Christian" may be saved. Laving also makes a connection to flood and cleansing: it is not irrelevant that already in St. Peter, the voyage of Noah's ark has become an emblem of the sacrament of Baptism (1 Peter 3.21).25 Beowulf's defeat of the Worm means perpetuation of the seed Noah preserved, and so he is worthy of his own rising from the water to salvation.
    In this vein, the first two passes, as indicative of the first two Persons of the Trinity, are allegorically significant: after the first pass, Beowulf asks to see the treasure of the Sethites, who worshipped God the Father, and, after the second pass, he confers on Wiglaf the kingship (kingship being an attribute of the Second Person - Christ the King). Again, Beowulf seems to see himself fulfilling a generative duty and passing on a clean line of succession.26

Noah as Sacral King

The poet is operating from something like the following rationale, or Universal History: the immediate result of Adam's loss of "luck" was a loss of fertility in the earth: "Cursed is the earth in thy work," (Gen. 3.17, Douay-Rheims). We see Adam's "bad luck" perpetuated in Cain's line with the first murder and renewal of the curse: "When thou shalt till it, it shall not yield to thee its fruit" (Gen. 4.12). We see the bad luck perpetuated in Seth's line when his descendants mingle with the already luckless Cainites (Gen. 6.2). However, God determines to start a new line, with a new covenant, in the person of Noah. The ark is loaded not (like the earth-hall) with metals and jewels but with a living gene pool, "that seed may be saved upon the face of the whole earth" (7.3). When the waters subside, Noah raises an altar, whereupon follows the restoration of the earth's fertility: I will no more curse the earth for the sake of man" (8.21).
    This interpretation is confirmed in the poem Genesis, in which God declares to Noah just emerged from the ark, "For you a patrimony is once more extended" (1485). This patrimony is identified as "the contents of the ocean and the birds of heaven and the wild beasts and the earth all verdant and its teaming wealth" (1512-17), that is, the same dominion over created things that was given to Adam in the beginning. Like his descendant Scyld, Noah comes from across the water with the stain washed from his patrimony and carrying the promise of a new fecundity. Beowulf comes home, too, over water after the cleansing of Heorot. Such returns over water, writes Taylor, restore relation to the "ontological center from which luck emanates" - that is, God. 27

A Door Opens

The symbolism of the life-giving water would enrich with Christian meaning the theme of seed-luck-fertility in the poem to which Taylor has called attention, as well as the parallel theme (lent by a passage from Origen) of Beowulf's cultivating (watering) the seeds of Noah in himself. Beowulf and Wiglaf, in rescuing the treasure, rescue the fertility of a nation and also embody that fertility in their persons.
    If Beowulf and Wiglaf embody fertility, the Worm naturally enough, embodies the opposite, sterility. There is evidence that the Worm is to be understood as a former king, who, luckless and fleeing his own people, succeeded in cheating death at the price of a hideous transformation. Such a reading ties in with the concept of sacral kingship and enables Beowulf and Wiglaf in their own persons not only to renew and perpetuate into the future the luck of the Geatish nation, but also to liberate a fragment of mankind's ancient luck by destroying its luckless usurper. The feud that the Worm instigates with Beowulf is not his private cause but part of an age-old war. In keeping with homiletic literature of the period, the creature renews the age-old and fateful antagonism between God and the devil.28 As it stands, the Worm is an obstacle to the future in two ways. First, he holds hostage the luck represented by the treasure in the earth-hall. Second, the rules of sacral kingship necessitate an atonement by death before fruitfulness may be restored. The Worm's existence in the Geatish kingdom is a secret blight preventing fecundity. A worm ("wyrme" 2400), of course, suggests that which feeds on death. It is particularly distinguished by coils (2827, 2561, 2568), which entangle, lead in vain circles, and otherwise corrupt the human kingdom. However, Beowulf defeats the Worm, and in the final moment of his life opens a door onto the past. The treasure brings the nation, personified in Beowulf and Wiglaf, closer to Cain, the "origin of ancient strife"; however, by the same token, this wondrous treasure and hall affords a vista of the mysterious origins of the Sethite kings, the "sons of God," the "wise giants" of whom Noah was the greatest and last. Yet heroic gestures like those of Beowulf are recognized and accepted by heaven (as Origen reminds us) because lingering seeds of spiritual greatness may still be diligently cultivated.
    In this context, it is noteworthy that it is a giant-made sword in Wiglaf's hand that quells the Worm (2616, 2699-2702), whose fiery breath, hot enough to boil a stream, serves the function of a furnace, or forge, the workplace of Tubal-Cain. Wiglaf alone proves worthy to be the custodian of the sacral power residing in the giant-wrought hall and treasure. Wiglaf's taking refuge under Beowulf's iron shield after his own wooden one is burnt (2672-76) could be symbolic of this status. It is again Wiglaf who is deemed worthy to be the instrument of Beowulf's "all-but" baptism. Beowulf's discouraging of his men before the battle could be seen as a test, which only Wiglaf passes (cf. 2529-33, 2596-2668). Beowulf's self-incrimination (cf. 2327-3 1), his heartfelt conviction of having failed the Lord ("wende se wisa þæt he Wealdende / ofer ealde riht, ecean Dryhtne, / bitre gebulge" 2329-31a), lays the spiritual groundwork for some form of sacramental act, and we seem to have it, or some intimation of it, in Wiglaf's triple laving. Accordingly, we also see why the ashes and bones of Beowulf are precious in the poet's sight, perhaps even more important than the treasure. For that matter, if Beowulf is an implicit saint, then the monument enclosing his remains, with treasure taken from the earth-hall, represents a shrine.
    Conversely, to say only that the poet anachronistically makes his heroes Christian, or to say that they are "noble pagans" who infer the existence of God through natural law, or to say that they are calculatedly ambiguous, is, at best, to explain a perceived difficulty. These explanations do not account for the power we feel in this poem. On the other hand, the more likely possibility that the poet boldly makes Beowulf and Wiglaf and Hrothgar recipients of a living stream of memory from a common ancestor of mankind is dynamic and worthy of the poem, inasmuch as this principle integrates the legendary forbears of the Anglo-Saxons with the mysterious past before and just after the Great Deluge, and endows their actions with a universal significance. The folk-memory in their "seeds" is now supplemented by a tangible link to Universal History. To behold the hall and treasure through Beowulf's wise contemplation is to come into the presence of the progenitors of old who made them and used them, and set history in motion.
    Ultimately, the treasure's luck is continuous with the luck of Noah and Adam. This luck, when liberated, may again bring good to human beings. The implication of Beowulf's memorial high above the sea, which seafarers in the future shall call "Beowulf's Barrow" ("þæt hit sæ-liðend syððan hatan / Biowulfes biorh" 2806-7a), is that news of it shall go forth to the whole world (cf. 411f.). Indeed, the sea is appropriate as a site for a latter day hero of the Flood.29 Beowulf and the Geatish nation have won a great prize for humankind, not so much for themselves. Their exit from history, in the poet's view, is appropriate at this point. No nation lasts forever. The defeat of the Worm was the defining moment of the Geats' national history. In that hour they are vindicated and fulfill their destiny as new begetters of sacral luck. If they then must pass away (given the prognosis of the wailing seeress at the end), the luck they won will still bear fruit for the human kingdom in times to come. That is a kind of immortality.


1 Editor of Triumph of the Past, P.O. Box 29535, Columbus, Ohio 43229 USA;

2 2349-48 B.C. according to Fr. Geofrey Haydock, ed. The Old Testament of the Holy Catholic Bible (New York: Dunigan & Brother, 1859), 1227. More simply, one might say that a "thousand winters" is the poet's way of saying, "before the Flood." Indeed, by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle's genealogy, there would be only eight generations from Hrothgar back to Noah!

3 Sharing Story: Medieval Norse-English Literary Relationships (New York: AMS Press, 1998), 14 (the following quote is ibid, 19). Taylor adds that though "this fact has been long recognized in the study of the artifacts of Anglo-Saxon culture, it has not been sufficiently tested in the critical study of the poetry (14).

4 All citings are from Beowulf: A Dual Language Edition. Ed. Howell D. Chickering, Jr. (New York: Doubleday, 1977).

5 Translation in the block quotes is from Stanley Greenfield, A Readable Beowulf (Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1982).

6 Taylor, Sharing Story, 13, for this and the following quote. For more on treasure as mystical relic, see Robert Hanning, "Poetic Emblems in Medieval Narrative Texts," Vernacular Poetics in the Middle Ages. ed. Lois Ebin (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute, 1984) 4f., where he expands on the treasure-word laf: "The two basic meanings of laf are: (a) a survivor or survival, what is left from a once larger group or artifact, a fragment or relic; and (b) an heirloom, legacy, or inheritance, something bequeathed or left by one generation to another [... ]"; cf. Taylor, Sharing Story, 18.

7 John Pope, "The Existential Mysteries as Treated in Certain Passages of Our Older Poets," in Acts of Interpretation: The Text in Its Contexts, 700-1600, ed. Mary Carruthers (Norman: Pilgrim, 1982) 354, draws out the theme here of mutability/durability: As one meditating wisely, wis-hycgende, "Beowulf shares with the poet a wonder at something that pulls his mind away from his pain and his impending death, to admire the skill that made it and its power to endure. Instead of a lamentation over the mutability to which he himself is so painfully subject, we have admiration and awe at something time has not conquered."

8 Sharing Story, 54 (my italics)

9 Ibid., 66.

10 Ibid, 66; cf. 67: This luck "is confirmed later in his own son whose name - Beaw or Beowulf - carries the sacral agricultural legacy of his father (see n. 25]. In turn, this Beowulf's own son Healfdane ['Half-Dane'] carries the luck of his father along with the blood of another race [... ]. Scyld, then, atones for the bad blood/bad luck of Heremod"; cf. also 63: Finally, Healfdane's son Hrothgar "monumentalizes the family's concatenation of sacral 'luck' with the building of Heorot."

11 Ibid., 59.

12 Ibid.. 69. Beowulf's father's gift-giving function had lain idle because Ecgtheow found himself exiled on account of a killing. The restitution of the Waegmundings' hall, gift-throne, and native right (eþel-riht" 2198) to Beowulf on his return from Denmark (2190-99) suggests the theme of luck lost and regained. When, as king, Beowulf battles the Worm, "Wiglaf enters the fight alongside his lord in remembrance of the ar Beowulf had given him previously (2606a) associated also with a father's folcriht [common land]. In other words, Beowulf had restored to Wiglaf a paternal prosperity" (68f.). Taylor concludes: "Like a winter-bound seed, and like the young and feasceaft [bereft] Scyld, the sacral luck of the Geats, so lamented now, lies in wait to be actualized by a future hero. The poem begins with the story of Scyld who cleanses Denmark of the bad-luck heritage of Heremod, and concludes with Beowulf's purging of the malefic force of the dragon to restore the positive natural and social force of the dragon's treasure. Beowulf, like Scyld, mediates a future of potential, no matter how long it takes to achieve. His ar, figured in the barrow and poem which monumentalizes his accomplishment, survives him" (70).

13 A name would address Hilda Davidson's concern, The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England: Its Archaeology and Literature (Oxford: Clarendon, 1962) 137, "We know that runes could be inscribed on a hilt but nothing of the complexity suggested here."

14 Cain's great-great-great-great grandson, Tubal-Cain (the "second Cain"), is the inventor of metalworking (Gen. 4.22), whose art therefore attaches to the first Cain by association, as in Origen's statement, "The smith from Cain, manufacturer of brass and iron, is a servant to the hammer" (Catena 30; trans. John Clark Smith, vol. 97 of The Fathers of the Church [Washington: Catholic U. of America P, 1998]); cf. characterization of Grendel's sword as "old work of giants" "enta ær-geweore" 1679). Grendel and his parent still possess a negative form of the art (804-5, 1522-24, 1557-58, cf. "deofles cræftum" 2088). The second Cain, interestingly enough, belongs to exactly the same generation as Noah, being his sixth cousin, and their fathers have the same name, Lamech. The Cainite Lamech's boast that his death will be avenged with a "seventy-seven fold vengeance" upon his killer (Gen. 4.24, Douay-Rheims) may allude to his son's possessions of superior metal weapons (cf. Bernard Orchard et al., eds., A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture [New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1953]).

15 The commingling of the lines could have begun as early as Enos's generation, and I think the poet takes giants to be antediluvian human beings in general (the reduction in man's life-span at Gen. 6.3 coinciding with a reduction in stature). According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "Palestine seems to have been inhabited about the fourth millennium B.C. by a population which may be called, without insisting upon the meaning of the word, aboriginal. This population is designated by the general name of Nephilim [giants]." (1909 ed., s.v. "geography." 6:432). Although the Flood effectively destroyed the giants as a race, there is no reason the poet could not have imagined that a few stragglers escaped. Grendel, carrying Cainite blood in his veins, would be a survival of a near-extinct branch of mankind (rather as we think of Neanderthal).

16 S. A. J. Bradley, ed and trans., Anglo-Saxon Poetry (London: Dent, 1982). St. John Chrysostom gives the same interpretation, in Homilies on Genesis 22.8; trans. Robert C. Hill, vol. 82 of The Fathers of the Church (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1990). The manuscript of Alcuin's Interrogationes et Responsiones in Genesin identifies them with the descendants of "Cham" and "Sem" respectively (Interrogatio 96, PL 100: 526), which, as it is unlikely to be Alcuin's mistake (Cham and Sem having no descendants before the Flood), looks like a copyist's error for Cain and Seth.

17 Snorri Sturluson, Edda, trans. Anthony Faulkes (London: Dent, 1987), for this and the "wise giant" quote that follows.

18 I still remember my own amazement (once upon a time), when, knowing the Genesis story, I first read the story of the Greek hero of the flood, Deucalion, in Bullfinch's Mythology. Scholars have become so accustomed to parallels in different mythologies, that they forget how impressive they are and the kind of awe they would instill in a Christian scribe and poet.

19 Ã853 from p. 64; G. N. Garmonsway, ed. and trans. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (London: Dent, 1972): 21f.

20 "The Christian Color in Beowulf: Fact or Fiction?" University of Southern Florida Language Quarterly 20 (1981): 21f.

21 Commentary on the Gospel of John 20.13, trans. Ronald Heine, vol. 89 of The Fathers of the Church (Washington: Catholic Univ. of America Press, 1993), for this and the following quoted matter from Origen.

22 Beowulfs soul rises towards the doom of the just: him of hreðe gewat / sawol secean soð-fæstra dom." The poet's way of assimilating Universal History implies possible associations: e.g., the Beowulf-poet may have interpreted Valhalla as a Germanic recollection of Heaven or Purgatory. Significantly, just before Beowulf descends to face Grendel's mother, he asks (in the event of his death) that Hrothgar perform the office of a father (cf. 1478f.). Perhaps Hrothgar is supposed to pray for Beowulf's soul; if so, Beowulf pictures himself in Purgatory, the only realm of the dead where prayers of the living might avail. Bede speaks of Purgatory where he writes that some souls "are taken after death by the flames of purgatorial fire and severely punished. Either they are cleansed of the taint of their vices by a long trial in this fire, or thanks to the prayers, alms, fasting, tears, and eucharistic offerings of their faithful friends, they are delivered from punishment and allowed to enjoy the repose of the blessed" - PL 94: 30D; qtd. in Jacques LeGoff, Birth of Purgatory, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1984), 102f.

23 Cf. the favor shown Noah, likewise indicated by smoke, "The Lord smelled a sweet savor" (Gen. 8.21); cf. as well the rejection of Cain's offering (4.5).

24 Here I quote from Taylor, "Some Ritual Charms in Beowulf"' Journal of Popular Culture 1 (1967): 278; cf. Sharing Story, 82.

25 Baptism also connects with John the Baptist. John ate honey, and Beowulf's name ("Bee-wolf") establishes him as a honey-eater. Honey, of course, is a symbol of the fertility of the Promised Land. Perhaps we should also think of the honey-ale that is so prodigally consumed in the poem.

26 Hence the generative power of sacral luck is related to, and renewed by, heroic acts and sacrifice on behalf of suffering people, carried out in the context of heaven's struggle with its primary adversary, the devil (see n. 28).

27 Sharing Story, 69.

28 Cf. Raymond P. Tripp, Jr, in "Bad Breath at the Barrow, Beowulf 2288a: Stonc ða œfter stane: The Implications of a Homiletic Perspective," In Geardagum 20 (1999): 11-12: These, awoc, 'awoke,' geniwad, 'renewed,' and stonc, [2287-88] as 'rose up,' all signify a 'rising up and coming into being,' something of a diabolic epiphany, and, therefore, constitute a unified series. The wroht wœs geniwad / stonc ða œfter stane, [2287b-88a] which follows the dragon's awakening, echoes the sweg up astag, / niwe geneahhe (782b-83a), 'The tumult rose up, erupting once again,' which describes Grendel's waking, to renew the ancient warfare against goodness. In acknowledging the common signification linking awoc, geniwad and stonc, and its narrative and thematic anticipation in astag, we can see more clearly that the waking of the actual but indisputably symbolic dragon is the renewal of strife, which does rise up again like smoke from the smoldering fires of hell. From this point of view, we can also confirm that these summary half-lines together refer to the same event, namely, to another eruption of what Marijane Osborne has called the 'great feud' between God and his adversaries, of which there has been an immemorial succession"; cf. Osborne's "The Great Feud: Scriptural History and Strife in Beowulf," PMLA 93 (1978): 973-81. See also Tripp's More About the Fight with the Dragon (New York: University Press of America, 1983), 33f., 39f., 103, 369-79, and 409-11.

29 Moreover, perhaps Wiglaf himself is a Noah-figure. As such, he would preserve a remnant in exile so that one day they may come home. In that case, the eyes of the travelers on the waves will peer through weather and darkness, searching for the beacon on "Hrones-næsse" ("Whale's cliff") to guide their ship to safe port. Is it too far-fetched to suggest that "Beowulf's Barrow" is itself their ark?