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Beowulf and the Succession When Beowulf returns to the court of Hygelac, he has, among the rewards heaped on him, four items of battle-gear presented to him by Hrothgar—standard, helmet, sword and chain mail. As he calls for them to be brought into the hall so that he, in turn, may present them to Hygelac, he reveals a fact of which the narrator has not previously apprized us; that Hrothgar has required him to make known the history of the battle-gear. To Hygelac he announces: 'Me ois hildesceorp Hroogar sealde, snotra fengel; sume worde het, bast ic his aerest 6e est gesaegde; cwseQ past hyt haefde Hiorogar cyning, leod Scyldunga lange hwile; no oy aer suna sinum syllan wolde, hwatum Heorowearde, peah he him hold waere, breostgewaedu. Bruc ealles well!' (2155-62) 'The wise ruler, Hrothgar, presented me with his battle-garb; he commanded m e in one speech that I should first tell you about his gracious gift. He said that King Heorogar, the prince of the Scyldings, had it for a long while; nevertheless he would not give it, the breast-armour, to his son, bold Heoroweard, faithful to him though he was. Make good use of it all!' By implication, Heorogar's failure to pass on his battle-gear to his son Heoroweard was conduct out-of-the-ordinary. Most particularly, it appears, Heoroweard might have been expected to inherit the corslet, the "breastarmour ", to which Beowulf's reported account suddenly narrows down. And when, as Beowulf lies mortally wounded, he laments to Wiglaf that he has no son (no "guardian of the inheritance") to whom he can bequeath his corslet, it confirms the impression that Heorogar's action was a departure from established custom, a custom that Beowulf himself would honour if he were able (2729-51). Heoroweard, in fact, would seem to have been denied an inheritance not only of great intrinsic value—since ancient battle-gear was prized above all other—but one that was rightfully his by virtue of ties of blood and customary form. Furthermore, the bequest of regal armour is elsewhere given particular significance. In his dying speech, Beowulf formally grants Wiglaf possession of his helmet and golden collar, together with a ring and his corslet, and it appears to m e that, in so doing, he invests Wiglaf, the last of his kinsmen, as his successor to the kingdom: 'Nu ic on maSma hord mine bebohte frode feorhlege, fremmaS gena leoda pearfe; ne mseg ic her leng wesan. i Dyde him of healse hring gyldenne bioden pristhydig, begne gesealde, geongum garwigan, goldfahne helm, 40 S. Hollis beah and byrnan, het hyne brucan well—: 'pu eart endelaf usses cynnes, Waegmundinga; ealle wyrd forsweop mine magas to metodsceafte, eorlas on elne; ic him aefter sceal.' (2799-816) 'Now that I have paid for the hoard of treasures with the life allotted me, you must attend to the people's needs henceforth; I can remain no longer!'... The valiant prince took the golden collar from his neck, presented to the thane, the young spear-fighter, gold-adorned helmet, ring and coat of mail, bade him make good use of them. 'You are the last left of our race, the Waegmundings; fate has swept away all my kinsmen, courageous warriors, as destiny decreed; I must follow them.1 Beowulf's investiture of Wiglaf, it may be observed, is already implicit in his earlier lament to him for the lack of a son to inherit his corslet (2729-32), and it is in the light of this we should regard the description of Wiglaf as he obeys Beowulf's instruction to examine the hoard he has won from the dragon. The poet says he heard Wiglaf: hringnet beran, brogdne beadusercean under beorges hrof. Geseah 6a sigehreoig, ba he bi sesse geong, magopegn modig maooumsigla fealo, gold glitinian grunde getenge. (2754-58) . . . carried his ring-mail, the woven battle-shirt, beneath the roof of the barrow. Then as he went along the bank, the brave young thane, exulting in victory, saw many a precious jewel, gold glittering lying on the ground.... Whose corslet does the poet mean, Wiglaf's own, or the corslet...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
pp. 39-54
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-03
Open Access
No
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