reticence; the other, externalized public expression. But in Beowulf , these two senses of intimacy powerfully converge at moments when stories are shared and recited: moments in which knowledge is communicated through narrative and community is inwardly synthesized. It is in these moments of convergence between narrative and communal intimacy that a profound experience of joy tends to materialize in the poem.
The first such communal experience of joy is short-lived, destroyed almost as quickly as it is created. Set in motion by the construction of
This is the second time I have written about Beowulf . This is also the second time I have written about Beowulf in the weeks following and – now, as I revise this chapter – preceding the births of my two youngest children. Beowulf and babies. Beowulf and babies? The only easy connection I can make is alliterative. For scenes of childbirth and infant caregiving fall outside the narrative purview of the poem. Yet, in Beowulf 's opening lines, birth and childcare are brought to centre stage in the story of Scyld Scefing. A foundling of
story’ or as evidence of ‘upward’ social mobility, and I am grateful for the chances that have been given to me, for being able to follow pathways that were not always open to those who came before me. In many ways, I feel more at home in the library than in the workshop. The pleasure I take from reading and writing feels innate. My hands are soft, not rough and gnarled. But for working-class students and scholars, academic achievement can come at a cost. With success comes self-doubt. The sudden transition from working class to middle class, from manual labour to
narrative of giants, which is more closely connected to
the Grendelkin than to the Danes. Hrothgar ‘reads’ that hilt all
the same and, urged by an alien history, warns Beowulf through
the figure of Heremod against becoming monstrous to future
generations. Thus, the hilt might be seen as a self-reflexive literary device; it asks whether Beowulf itself is the story of an alien,
monstrous past. The hilt embodies a concern over how stories of
the present are conveyed to future audiences and, specifically, how
histories may be transformed by the kinds of artefacts that carry
creature's mother's attack. Hildeburh, a queen who has married outside of her own kin group in order to secure peace between Frisians and Healf-Denes, witnesses the breakdown of the peace that her marriage was supposed to ensure. In one of the most striking moments in this striking narrative, Hildeburh sets her own deceased son (‘selfre sunu’) (1115a) on her brother Hnæf's funeral pyre, ‘banfatu bærnan, ond on bæl don / eame on eaxle’ (to burn the bone vessel, and give to the fire, his uncle at his shoulder) (1116–17a).
Andreas is often described as a hagiography, its hero is not the stalwart soldier of faith one so frequently finds in Late Antique and early medieval passion narratives; any barely pubescent maiden saint found in the legendaries of Prudentius or Ælfric is tougher in the face of threats and torture. The anonymous poet of Andreas decorates his protagonist with heroic epithets, but they are savagely ironic. Here is a story of an apostle who is asked by God to rescue his friend Matthew from a distant Mermedonian prison, where the latter is to be slaughtered and cooked up
– from aversion to self-abasing admiration, from gratitude to resentment, from frustration to fascination’.
Alternately, the terms ‘intimacy’ and ‘intimate’ often circulate, in a supporting role, around and within the analysis of specific affects and their social fields. In Sara Ahmed's groundbreaking The
happiness , for example, we hear about the ‘intimacy of desire and anxiety’ as taught by psychoanalysis
Beowulf translations by Seamus Heaney and Thomas Meyer
of the culture from which the poem was drawn; perhaps they want to understand how the poem makes meaning – through imagery, language, poetic effects, and concepts – and what the poem means. Perhaps they simply want to follow the narrative of the poem, which after all involves heroes, journeys, and monsters, and in the process to be entertained. This reader may have never encountered the poem before and have little or no sense of the source language from which it has been translated; or the reader may be a student of, even an expert in, that source language. The
: material items, yes, but also bodies, buildings and environmental features.5 Such things anchor an
otherwise universal Christianity in a certain time and place. More
than this, a number of the books, relics, crosses and so on encountered in our texts play an active role in their narratives, displaying agency and altering the human world; they break out of their
roles as inert, background objects and become things. It is not
always easy to grasp the materiality –the distinctive thingness of
things –the decorative colours of a book, say, or the fibres of a
Troubling race, ethnicity, and masculinity in Beowulf
‘beadwe heard’ (battle-hard) (1539a) and ‘þa he gebolgen wæs, / feorhgeniðlan’ (then he was swollen [or enraged] by the life-enemy) (1539b–1540a). Although these also work as combat metaphors, the whole episode has been described as ‘a lengthy erotic double
entendre riddle fused into a longer narrative poem’, employed purposefully to paint Beowulf as full of a very masculine vigour, but also as a sexually engaged combatant.
But there is more at work here