Literacy, Royal Power, And King-Poet Relations

August 26, 2017 | Author: wulfwodensson2718 | Category: Beowulf, Anglo Saxons, Poetry
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Literacy, Royal Power, and King-Poet Relations in Old English and Old Norse Compositions Author(s): Robin Waugh Source: Comparative Literature, Vol. 49, No. 4 (Autumn, 1997), pp. 289-315 Published by: Duke University Press on behalf of the University of Oregon Stable URL: . Accessed: 07/10/2013 06:26 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .

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FALL 1997 Volume 49, Number 4



Literacy, Royal and




Old Old

Norse English and Compositions IN

OLD NORSE WORKS,kings often steal acts of praise from

the poets who normally offer these judgements. The motivation for these thefts comes from a tradition of competitiveness within and Scandinavian societies: most characters in Anglo-Saxon sagas and heroic poems, especially in compositions that seem to come from an oral tradition, compete constantly with one another and with characters from the past.' The verbal combat between political leaders and poets in Old Norse works provides a useful case

study of this general competition. This king-poet competition appears to have three consecutive stages, which trace a decline in the social influence of court poets, and of oral poets in general, as the kings of Anglo-Saxon England and Scandinavia come to use the and powerful technique of writing to extend newly introduced their dominance.2 ' By competitive tradition, I mean competition between poems and individuals in any possible combination. I realize that a reader of Beowulf might object, for instance, that a mighty warrior who acts and a wise king who rewards cannot compete because, as aspects of a poetic tradition, they are "characters"-necessary for the purposes of a heroic work, but not "real" people who can actually do combat. In contrast, I argue that combat pervades all existence. Since Beowulf is based on oral poetic tradition, and since competition is essential to this tradition (Ong 43-5; Waugh, "Word" 359-86), everyone competes with everyone in oral society: kings, heroes, anybody-whether real or imaginary. Therefore, the fact that Hrothgar adopts Beowulf (946b-950) in no way disengages competition between the two. I use the Klaeber edition of Beowulf and refer to all Old English poems by line numbers in the text. Unattributed translations are my own. I would like to acknowledge the helpful suggestions from anonymous reviewers of this article. 2 I do not mean to imply that certain events in the sagas and in Beowulf actually

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Old Norse compositions have more direct evidence of this decertain Anglo-Saxon cline than Anglo-Saxon ones. Nevertheless, records describe rulers first connecting their power to objects, and then connecting it to written texts. Certainly, evidence shows a virtually immediate interest in books as objects (Bede 1.25); however, rulers and other nonclerics do not demonstrate sure knowledge of the content of these texts until later (4.26; Asser 23). This growth of knowledge occurs at the same time as an increase in royal political power, which rulers consolidate by using books among other agents (Bede 2.5). The records thus suggest that English society passes through phases of kingship and of the king-poet relationthat occur more obviship that are similar to the developments in the I of in the these identify stages developments ously sagas. in to estabthe order and a few later compositions Beowulf sagas, lish a chronology of king-poet relations that will help increase our understanding of these Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse works, of competition, and of the transition between orality and literacy. I In the early medieval north, kingship falls into three stages of orality, object literacy (with episodes of new object development: literacy), and content literacy.3 Although the earliest stage of kingship (c. 450- c. 600 in England and on the continent; to c. 1000 in Scandinavia) evades full description because records of tribal societies in general and of Northern Europe in particular during the first few hundred years after the Roman period are lacking, field studies of political leadership and of poetic practice in contemporary oral societies help us to be more confident in the necessary guesswork (Opland, "Imbongi Nezibongo" 185-208). Two kinds of guesses are involved: those based on the vestiges of oral traditions and those based on written still present in literate societies, of leaders and poets from oral societies, records and descriptions often records that are limited, distanced, and prejudiced. An exthe first kind of "evidence" is the power over naming example of hibited by later-than-oral kings, which suggests that ancient rulers probably had some control over the community's use of language. took place. In addition, I acknowledge the dangers of using a much later, far-removed body of literature such as the Icelandic sagas to make points about Beowulf. Yet researchers constantly discover connections between the two cultures in terms influences and aesthetic of trade, ideas, behaviors, (Chaney 4-5). Essentially, "the family sagas carry on the heroic tradition of Germanic poetry" (Andersson, Icelandic 65), though not slavishly (Andersson, "Displacement" 593). I refer to the sagas by page numbers in the Islenzk Fornrit editions. "I mean these stages of kingship to be observations of trends that one may see in the requisite records and not, say, a general theory of kingship. I outline all three stages, but concentrate on the second one because it needs more definition than the more conventional categories of "oral"and "literate."

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"Evidence" of the second kind confirms this power. Written accounts depict oral societies as imagining that their gods would exercise control over language (Chaney 23; Tacitus 10). Early chieftains descended from these gods, according to several genealogies (Sisam, "Anglo-Saxon" 308), and the records suggest that this sacredness demanded ritualistic praise to help insure the tribal king's good fortune, which was tied to that of his community (Chaney 11-3; 11 n9). Power (and therefore reputation) resided in his body. Some evidence exists that kings were sacrificed in order to produce good harvests (Gregory 3.30; Snorri 1:31-2), thus renewing their lives in the eyes of the population. Power manifested itself in oral acts: Offa gains success once his ability to speak finally appears in a miraculous fashion (Saxo 4.106-7, 113-7). In Beowulf Hrothgar creates Heorot with words, plays the harp,4 and seems to recite (78b-9, 2107-8; cf. Procopius 4.6.33). Despite the sketchy outline of oral society, it seems likely that the population at large retains much power, as does any poet who connects a ruler's fame (as bards recorded it) to a supposed immortality (Bloomfield and Dunn 122), and who memorizes the traditions of the oral community. Since most people cannot remember all of the rules of a society all of the time, periodic assemblies would be necessary, assemblies in which the king has an advisory power only, and where (likely) a designated individual (the chief? a scop?) or individuals recites the requisite traditions in order to affirm the society's laws and taboos (Bede 2.5, 13; Tacitus 11, 12; Wormald 136-8). The rules may then encompass all of the people at any such gathering.5 But this public event is inevitably a slave to the fallibility of voice, the selectiveness of memory (Biuml 246-51), and the passage of time. While someone is speaking the leader's power, it lives as an oral thought. Outside of such action, much "political" thinking and activity rely on the memory of the individual, which often clashes with the memories of others. During the second stage of kingship, c. 600- c. 800 in England, like peodcyninga in the ruler gains prominence, as compounds Beowulf (2a) suggest.6 Bede and other historians show that, as 4The (king's?) treasure at Sutton Hoo contains a small harp. Beowulf s presentation of Danish society is suspect as "history" because the poet likely composes the work hundreds of years after the supposed events of the poem's story, but he is probably aware of oral traditions and written ones (Brodeur 2-6), and he certainly seems to present the Danes prior to the sermon scene as an oral society. The poet's perspective on oral society in early Scandinavia, although distant, is a viewpoint nearer to this society than a modern one can ever be. 5 I am thinking of the Icelandic althing, founded in 930 (Ari 1:6-7). I consider the period from the settlement of Iceland (c. 874) to the arrival of Christianity in that land (999) as roughly similar to the period of tribal societies in Anglo-Saxon England. 6I realize that I use Beowulf to demonstrate two successive periods and, actually, I see the poem as depicting (so far as a literary creation can) all three stages of

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tribes and chiefdoms grow into kingdoms through military success, the war-band's loyalty to the chief increases his social influence. Once nobility through "associates" gives way to nobility through "genealogy," the leader's individual reputation can flourish (Stock 26; Bede 2.5). Like the Roman emperor, a sovereign becomes a "paternal authority" who possesses the distancing attributes of "prophetic knowledge" and 'justice" (Wolff 71).7 Now the royal interpretation of events can go against the majority's and nevertheless hold sway, even if the prince's thoughts are influenced by untrue reports (Egils saga 35). And a king's new distance would cause some people to perceive him as omnipotent. This second stage of kingship corresponds to the beginnings of literacy. The texts that the Christian missionaries bring to England and Iceland embody a new technology (plus a new technology for language), a new history (plus a new history of language), and a new god. A book owner may partake in these three new powers, which might, to a person unfamiliar with t hem, seem to be inseparable. Writing helps to make a ruler's sacredness into a totem outside of the ruler's person: when the missionaries offer their precious artifacts as gifts to kings, the value of these objects, like a in the psychological self, confire a l'autre reel son development obscure autorite (with this "other" as the king [Lacan 2:168]). This extension increases royal political control,8 as for example in Oldfs saga Tryggvasonar, where Snorri Sturluson describes the effects of the king's Christian evangelism upon three unbelieving spokesmen at a local assembly. Olkifr urges the unsympathetic gathering to accept Christianity and declares that anyone who speaks against he thus explicitly connects the him should expect punishment; new religion to his political power. Then, kingship. Perhaps the poet holds his attitudes toward oral tradition due to, in some difficult to establish. For measure, the poem's date of composition-notoriously many years, most experts on Beowulf considered it to be one of the earlier surviving Old English poems, composed in or around the early eighth century (Chambers 329). In the 1970s and 1980s, as the so-called Anglian and Mercian forms (Klaeber lxxxviii-xci) became less sure as indicators that the poem had gone through many manuscript copies, critics began to suggest later dates (up to 1000) as well as early ones (Chase). R. D. Fulk finds convincing linguistic evidence for c. 685-825 as the most likely period of composition (381-90), which allows me to place Beowulfs composition within the period of increasing royal power. SI discuss the king as a type of the paternal figure because of the strong association between royalty and fatherhood that occurs everywhere in the historical record. My understanding of this father figure owes much to Jacques Lacan. 8

The first manuscripts from Christian missionaries contribute to this political change, but runic inscriptions also play a role in the king's increasing influence. Runes and their origins are not fully accounted for, but texts in this ancient alphabet appear to have had a psychological force, and runes seem to have been able to transfer meaning over great distances (Grettis saga 249-51). We know little about runes, but some participation of them in the political life of the community is certain: they express value, possession, and memorial in many cases (Page).

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en er konungr lauk mali sfnu, dist6o upp si af b6ndum, er einna var snjallastr ok fyrst var til 1ess tekinn, at svara skyldi 6Olfi konungi. En er hann vildi til mils taka, pi setr at honum h6sta ok prongva sva mikinn, at hann fekk engu oroi upp komit, ok sezk hann nior. Di stendr upp annarr b6ndi, ok vill si eigi fallask lita andsvgrin, 16tt inum fyrra hefoi eigi vel til tekizk. En er si hefr upp mil sitt, Pi var hann svi stamr, at hann fekk engu oroi upp komit. T6ku Pi allir at hlaja, er d heyrou. Settisk Pi b6ndi nior. Di st6o upp inn prioi ok vill tala f m6ti 61ifi konungi. En er si t6k til mils, var hann svi hiss ok rimr, at engi maor heyroi pat, er hann talaoi, ok settisk hann nior. Di varo engi til af b6ndum at maela i m6ti konungi. En er boendr fengu engi til andsvara vio konung, Pi varo engi uppreist 1eira til m6tstqiu vio konung. (Snorri 1:305) (when the king had finished his speech, one of the farm owners stood up, who was the most well-spoken, and who had been settled upon as the first who would give answer to King 61ifr. But when he wanted to begin his speech, a cough seized him, and so great a shortness of breath that he could not make a word come out, and he sat down. Then another farmer stood up, who wished that there be no failure to answer, although the previous [speaker] had not fared well. But when he took up his speech, he became such a stammerer that he could not make a word come out. All those who heard this began to laugh, and the farmer sat down. Then the third stood up to make a speech against King 6lifr's, but when he began to speak, he became so hoarse and husky that nobody heard what he said, and he sat down. Now there was nobody among the farmers to speak in response to the king, and since no farmer would offer an answer to him, there was no rising of their rebellion against the king.)

O1ifr has a magic power that cancels the oral abilities of his enemies almost as if he were physically attacking their speech organs. The Christian message, which the king here delivers orally although it comes from written texts, apparently gives him this (now royal) power.9 The arrival of literacy and the ensuing transition between orality and literacy are thus catalysts in the development of second-stage kingship. I call this kind of transitional period "object literacy," which occurs (c. 600- c. 800 in England, c. 1000- c. of the technology of 1300 in Iceland) just after the introduction to and this a while technology grows in significance writing society that inscripfor the society."' Object literacy is an understanding tion on an object embodies information that otherwise exists only within memory and may be conveyed only through speech. The 9 One might note that Hrothgar's sermon, which he delivers from a distinguished royal position similar to Olifr's, contains some of the most homiletic material to appear in Beowulf For other examples of oral aggression, see Waugh ("Word" 359-86). 10M. T. Clanchy writes about documents existing primarily as "symbolic objects" rather than understandable texts, but he places the period of transition between orality and literacy late in English history (203-8; Wormald 134). I call the earlier part of this transition period "object literacy" because the word "symbolic" brings up associations that are too variable and individual. Of course, primary contact with a new written language may not make the majority of the population literate, and certainly not immediately. And I do not mean to turn the shift from orality to literacy into a kind of Rousseauist myth concerning the origins of some kind of social construct (Derrida 144-178). For instance, I doubt that a period of pure orality has ever existed; very few cultures offer no evidence of any graphic representation.

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object-literate person knows that an inscription may involve more than the object itself, and that the inscription may or may not merely name or represent the object upon which the text occurs (Clanchy 203-8). This person understands the inscription's power to communicate and that this power relates to the social cohesion of the community. Records of object literacy are the artifacts that have only the runic alphabet, the futhorc, written upon them. Since the alphabet itself is unlikely to be the "name" of the object, the object's "meaning" is perhaps its ability to embody a mode of expression (Wilson, plate 4a)." The Beowulf-poet seems to present a movement from orality to hands to object literacy during the transfer from Beowulf's of the sword hilt which Beowulf (1651-99), Hrothgar's giants' from the mere as a relic of the with Grendel's mother. brings fight Before this scene, the poem seems to depict the main characters as only verging upon literate knowledge. For instance, Michael R. Near notes "the near complete absence of the acts of writing or how reading in the poem" (323), and the poet emphasizes the word 78bHrothgar expresses power through (Beowulf spoken 9). In the hilt scene, however, most of the major characters make contact (apparently) with more than one written language (167798a). This encounter imitates the points of contact between rulers and new written languages in such records as Bede's History (1.25, 29, 33), though such an episode in Beowulf is not of course a "historical" event. The law codes of the tribal kings (c. 500- c. 700) provide more solid evidence of object literacy than Beowulf can and show how this new instrument increases a ruler's power. I prefer to call these law codes examples of "new" object literacy because they embody, for these transitional societies, a new inscribed language rather than the introduction of inscribed language itself. Under Roman influence, the king saw proclamations of law as extremely powerful political acts that allowed him to underline his social influence through the use of a new technology for expressing that influence: Latin script, and, on the continent, Latin language. The proof that this introduction of new script produced a different understandof the texts themselves) from content ing literacy (understanding becomes clear from an examination of the early tribal law codes: ... gives the impression that its "Much barbarian legislation like a to into that looked was writing purpose simply get something written law code, more or less regardless of its actual value to and enforcement of judges sitting in court." "The pronouncement law remained essentially an oral process" (Wormald 115). Thus, continental laws appear in Latin, a language that the population probably could not understand, and some written laws are "non"

Perhaps these kinds of objects were aids for teaching.

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(135; Drew 53). Their content does not sense" or contradictory matter. "The fact of their existence" as objects does (WallaceHadrill 37). The population perceived these objects as deeds of the king, and a code such as fEthelberht's "must first and foremost have struck [its] readers as a form of kingly literature" (37; Bede 2.5) with "political" and "ideological" purposes more important than any legal purposes (Wormald 135, 131). A new technology expresses the ambition of the prince and furthers his fame. For example, after the first Frankish laws, the manuscripts of later law codes for the Franks normally contain much royal information: even, in one case, pictures of kings king-lists, royal genealogies, (Wormald 130, 134-6). The codes record 'just that fraction of custom that seemed enough to satisfy royal pride in legislation" (Wallace-Hadrill 37; Wormald 129), a pride that appears in acts that imitate those of Roman emperors in order to gain quasi-imperial status.12 Inscribed objects, such as manuscripts of law codes, act as repositories of royal power, continue after death as political events and inheritances, negate the need to bring much of the society together to restate the political situation, and are less personal, less recalcitrant objects than the memories of poets, lawyers, and other subjects. A written work may preside over disputes instead of an individual's memory of the oral record; neither populace nor even monarch need to be present. Dominion may now reach beyond memory (Isidore 1.3.1; IEthelred, "Charter" 530; to of writing, according Clanchy 203-5). The new technology Wormald, allowed the king to obtain a power over law that previously had belonged to other figures (Wormald 138). With this increase in royal power, changes in the king's perception of his role mean changes also for the poet. The early chieftain's established poets, who normally produced his panegyrics, were tied to him (Wolff 71), but these bards were not tied to any particular subject matter, because oral verse had a variety of ceremonial and spiritual functions, and served community needs (Beowulf 867b-97), not just royal ones. As the king's power increases in the second stage, he increasingly dominates poetry's content with his patronage. In Germanic works from around the sixth century, NicolasJacobs finds that a "shift in emphasis" occurs "from straightforward epic" (20; panegyric to pseudo-historical from 15); subject-matter common to most of the northern Germanic tribes to exploits of royal ancestors and national heroes. A 12 Wormald also notes that kings reissue law codes when the content of the code requires "no substantive revision," that kings reproduce earlier law codes along with their own even when some laws supersede old ones, and that "all this legislation seems to occur at politically sensitive moments" (133). For example, King Edgar's law code appears while plague rages in the land (Robertson 29). "What is new is that the king, by causing [laws] to be written, makes them his own" (WallaceHadrill 44).

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similar development takes place c. 1000- c. 1300 in the Scandinavian countries, where chronicles of the lives of princes and of local saints become more prominent than in the past. Correspondingly, "eulogistic skaldic poetry, strong in the tenth and eleventh centuries, weakens in the twelfth" (Opland, Anglo-Saxon 165). When books commissioned by princes can represent truth, a skald's becomes truth-telling eclipsed. In all likelihood, he must produce more praise of the king's ancestors and warrior-exploits than a of and new previously; yet, during period second-stage kingship to a oral continues poet represent body of object literacy, any sets a royal pattern from his memory, and makes tradition, in the process. And, as the royal and interpretations judgements the must react to all of these, or somehow shifts, position king the tradition. change The clearest dramatization of the shifting of roles that both ruler and poet undergo during early second-stage kingship takes place during a king-poet meeting in Egils saga Skalla-Grimssonar, where the relationship between fame, poetry, and biography shows itself as quite complex.'" In the events leading up to the performance of Egill's head-saving poem, the hero, a poet of great reputation who has composed verses on many subjects and in many situations, insults King Eirikr and Queen Gunnhildr (171), then falls into their hands. They plan to execute him. His scandalous opinions demand revenge. However, Arinbjgrn, a friend of Egill and a courtier of the king, suggests that Eirikr spare the skald: "ef Egill hefir mclt illa til konungs, pd ma hann pat bwta i lofsordum peim, er allan aldr megi uppi vera" (180-1) ("if Egill has said bad things about the king, he can repay those with such praise that it will be recalled forever after"). One might think that the hero would lose his reputation by having to adjust his art to this unexpected task, and lose his honor over not having any choice concerning the content of his work, but these strictures only add to his challenge. For Eirikr the poem promises fame, because stanzas by a great poet like Egill will travel far and wide. While he speaks, Egill demands attention, ends any debate, and wins his life for the duration of the poem (185). No one can easily demand verbally a person's death during the course of a work that the king has agreed to hear. Time belongs to the skald. He mentions Eirikr's fame and praises him as a great warrior (185-92). But the irony is that the head-saving poem (despite its content) gives Egill more glory than the prince. The skill of this poet inspite of the situation outweighs the king's reputation, which pales in sigeven hints at this subversive agenda nificance; the composition '3 I also list Egill's experience with Eirikr at length because it might give some indication of what Beowulf's and Hrothgar's dealings would be like were Unferth not present in Beowulf

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with its references to the art of verse-making, and with its requests for silence (185-92)."4 The performance changes history despite the ruler's wishes that the poem not stand as a settlement for anyone wishing to exact revenge for Egill's past actions (193), because the skald's words, not Eirikr's fame, will earn immortality. The poet reverses his traditional court role into one entirely in his own favor. His function changes from providing praise to creating artfor art's (or head's) sake. His power is realized in his act of composition. But such triumphs over kings are rare in the sagas and in other records. Instead, the increasing power of monarchs means that they often express more power over poets than previously. Even in Egils saga, rulers occasionally criticize the skalds' versions of royal actions (180-1). Saga narrators sometimes seem to conspire with kings against poets: Snorri (c. 1210) says that stories told at court are likely to be more truthful than others (1:5). According to the narrator of Orkneyinga saga, poets in an earl's retinue are further down the social scale than the earl and the captains of the earl's ships (204). Sovereigns also direct their social authority and intellectual influence specifically at poetry and poets. In Gunnlaugs saga Ormstungu (c. 1260-1300), the title character asks King Olifr to call for silence and hear his poem. Instead the king momentarily silences Gunnlaugr 79). Likewise, according to the skald, certain actions of King Abalrair stop the poet's flow of verse (91-2, verse 16). O1ifr kyrra silences his poets by not engaging in battle (Snorri 3:206, 208), thereby starving them of their customary subject matter, and Earl Paill in Orkneyinga saga (c. 1200) has enough power to prevent the spreading of stories about St. Magn-is (122). In Beowulf just after contemplating the inscribed object that indicates the coming of object literacy to his society, Hrothgar, with a lengthy speech, silences the crowd in the hall (1699b), including the matchless hero, Beowulf, who does not reply to the sermon's warning (Hill 100). From this point in the poem, the court poet is conspicuous by his absence (Beowulf2458b, 3023b), and Unferth, the king's official spokesman, speaks no more (Klaeber 149). Further, there are slight hints in the poem that Hrothgar does not allow complete freedom to scops in the Danish realm. Jeff Opland notices that "harpers are confined to Heorot" under the king's eye, while "the performances in the hall differ from th [o]se [outside] in that they refer to the individual experience of one member of the community or to events that neither performer nor audience witnessed; outside the hall every performance refers to an event that both performer and audience shared in" ("Beowulf' 14True, Egill revises the oral tradition by producing a poem in praise of King Eirikr's deeds, but the hero, once safe in Aialsteinn's court, can return to his previous low opinion of Eirikr (194).

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461). Spontaneous poetry, including praise of Beowulf, occurs outside of Hrothgar's court. The apparent lack of muttering against the Danish king, despite the ravages of Grendel, may indicate that his control over scops is generally successful. In fact, Hrothgar seems to have very little interaction with him the in the difference between and scops-a major kings sagas, which often record a dialogue between king and poet over the king's reputation. This ongoing argument, which occurs among friends and allies as often as it occurs between enemies, is an essential motif of Old Norse literature: many pcettir describe the meetof an Icelandic skald and a ing, falling out, and reconciliation ruler (Harris 1-27). On the other hand, much of the conversation in Beowulf occurs between Hrothgar and Beowulf, and these talks seem to be, for the most part, amicable. the Nevertheless, in recalls the relaHrothgar-Beowulf relationship important ways tions between court poets and Icelandic rulers. Of course, Hrothgar's attitude towards Beowulf seems to be nothing like the opinions of the Scandinavian rulers concerning skalds. The Geatish hero is not a court poet, and his personality differs from that of the usually sullen Icelandic poets, particularly Egill in Egils saga. However, both Egill and Beowulf contact kings. Both share a desire for fame. Both mix warfare with verbal prowess. Beowulf, like Egill, travels abroad and gives accounts of his deeds to several courts. Also, one cannot be sure that Beowulf is not a court poet.'5 In the poem, an anonymous thane improvises a song (867b-74a), and there is no reason to suppose that Beowulf could not do the same. In fact, Beowulf's skills command much the same respect when he arrives at Hrothgar's court as do the poets' in several sagas.16 Special pleading aside, the main link between the hero-king relationship in Beowulf and the poet-king relationof these dealings.'7 Beowulf ship in the sagas is the competitiveness has enough assessments of kings-good, bad, and indifferent-to it contains the same kind of that dialogue concerning the suggest in Old narratives (Beowulf4-52, found the Norse king's reputation 15 He cannot be a poet like Egill, because Egill happened to live during a unique period when metres for complex short oral poems developed. Within the confines of his era, Beowulf's eloquence is perhapsjust as admirable as Egill's.

16 The earlier epic also does not carry the anti-royalist bias of the thirteenthcentury saga, and this fact must distinguish Egill from Beowulf. In his second visit to Abalsteinn, Egill tells the king not to remain silent (198) and almost usurps the royal voice. The hero surpasses princes again when he composes a superb praise poem in honor of his friend Arinbj9rn (258-67) who is a courtier, not a ruler. Despite Egill's public achievement, he comes from a farming family and returns to the farm at the end of his life. His story implies that one need not compete for the kind of influence that a king or an earl has, because Egill's verbal ability continues throughout his life, while the value of regal power remains ambiguous in this saga. 17 A few critics suggest a competition between Hrothgar and Beowulf (Jackson 31; Shippey 121, 124).

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901-15, 1709b-24a, 1931b-62), although this epic does not concentrate these opinions into the expression of any one poet and shields Hrothgar from any direct criticism. Without this protection, the Danish king's encounter with Beowulf would be similar to the king-hero exchanges in the sagas. For example, at a Scandinavian court in Gunnlaugs saga, the ruling earl receives a caustic suggestion from Gunnlaugr the poet that the earl try to avoid the same kind of death as his father's. The earl setti svd raudan sem bldo, ok ba6 taka f6 l etta skj6tt (69-70) ("blushed as red as blood, and man [Gunnlaugr] ordered that this thoughtless be seized at a the intervention of retainer saves the life of the once"). Only skald (70). Gunnlaugr seems to have a love-hate relationship with rulers. He even criticizes a king who does him nothing but honor (92; cf. 71). In Beowulf Hrothgar does not have to deal with any man as hostile as Gunnlaugr, but Unferth does: to banan wurde, "... Ou pinum broirum heafodmaxgum; PaesPu in helle scealt werhio dreogan, peah pin wit duge." (587-9;Jackson 12) (". .. you became the killer of your brothers, your close relatives; for this you must suffer damnation in

hell, though your intelligence is strong.") Beowulf's harsh words to the pyle restate the challenge that an outsider automatically brings to any court he visits, while the Danish ruler can have amicable relations with this visitor to his court because his spokesman, not he himself, offers and receives the that reputation demands and possible humiliations challenges (980-4a). When Beowulf contacts the Danish court, then, he contacts the pride of its monarch as surely as Egill contacts Eirfkr's. Like a traveller from Iceland, Beowulf is an "intruder" at the Danish court however, between (Jackson 27). There is no overt competition, Hrothgar and Beowulf. The hero's challenge to the Grendel family is one of the few occasions where one may strive, without presumption, to be a better warrior than the king: Hrothgar cannot defeat Grendel, removes himself from the heroic arena by his inactivity, and grants the control of Heorot to the young hero (658). Nor does Beowulf come to Heorot to vie with its creator, or to steal from the Danes the unusual heroic opportunity of fighting a monster; he responds to a need for help (199b-201) with apparently to Hrothgar reinselfless motives, and his constant deference forces the idea that Geatish success will not be a blot on the Danish record. Yet these sympathies do not short-circuit the ambition for renown. A hero who must choose between emotional ties and honor of heroic tales. Also, the essential competitiveis a commonplace ness of early medieval society extends to almost every individual

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and every situation, even if that situation is fictional. Since Beowulf's deeds must relate to the Danes' honor, his entry into the Danish hall provokes challenge, and he responds in kind. And, although the hero chastises Unferth, not the king, Unferth sits so close to his lord that one might consider the pyle almost an aspect of Hrothgar's personality (1165b-6a), an external representation of the king's renown, perhaps in a professional capacity at the king's behest. At the mere, for instance, Unferth makes sure that Beowulf carries a complex piece of Danish history into the fight with Grendel's mother by bestowing on him a gift that echoes Hrothgar's previous gift giving. This action ensures a Danish "presence" in the fight (the poet personifies the sword by giving it a lineage [1455-64]), and Hrunting represents (among other things) Beowulf's agreement with the Danes to kill Grendel's mother. Beowulf promises to use this sword in the encounter (1490b-1) and hence goes into his second great fight with the burden of the Danish reputation as well as of his own, with a material reminder of Unferth's magnanimity and of his challenge. II I feel at liberty to treat Hrunting symbolically because the poem continually invests swords, gifts, and treasures with extramaterial significance, as do the societies on view in Beowulf Critics have often noted the significance of material culture in the poem, but for the most part have not connected this "cult of the object" with kingly power or with the growth of literacy (Bjork 1002-3, 1005; Shippey 109-26; Raw 167-74), even though such connections help to clarify the dealings between Hrothgar and Beowulf in the hilt scene. Bede's History provides historical evidence for the association of power with objects, particularly for the association of the king with objects during early second-stage kingship: Gregory's instructions to replace the idols in heathen temples with altars and relics (1.30); Edwin's banner and royal drinking bowls (2.16; Saxo 5.169-171; Chaney 121-55);"1Hilda's necklace (4.23). Similarly, in Beowulf the gifstol seems to harbor an unnamed power: Grendel may not approach it (168-9). The cult of the object foretells object literacy and likely begins with expanded military success and the growth of farming. Rulers then have the power to give land, which marks space around any recipient (Stenton 234-5; Clanchy 203; Beowulf 5b, 78, 1087, 2196). In turn, the recipients realize the power of possession and of working the land for economic gain. Due to the nature of this kind of exchange, the poet during second-stage kingship becomes more dependent upon the king's good will than previously, for sometimes princes give land to scops is clear when an Anglo18 The perception of writings as being similar to objects Saxon will notes that one copy of the will should be stored with the king's collection of relics (Whitelock 464-7).

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and sometimes they take it away (Widsith 95b-6a; Deor 35-41).19 Reward becomes the explicit motivation for poetry. For example, the fierce and independent Egill, who has little use for rulers, nevertheless acts like a court poet on occasion. After fighting a battle for AOalsteinn in which Egill's brother dies, the hero sits in the king's court with his sword across his knees, constantly drawing the weapon out of its scabbard part of the way (Egils saga 143). At last he emerges from his black mood of silence and threatening gestures in order to accept a gift and so to succumb eventually to the court convention of material reliance on the king (144). Since any (as with society invests gifts with histories, rules, and procedures the sword examples in Beowulf 1807-12, 2190-4, 2610b-25a), the taking of a reward from a community's representative grafts a poet In Gunnlaugs saga, King onto that community's traditions. first from hears his court Gunnlaugr and asks his Sigtryggr praise court treasurer what kind of reward it would be, ... ef ek gef honum knQrrutva?"F6hiroirinn svarar:"Ofmikit er pat, herra," segir hann; "aorir konungar gefa at bragarlaunum gripi g68a, svero g68 e•a gullhringa g6oa." Konungr gaf honum klaeoisin af nfju skarlati,kyrtil hlabfibinn ok skikkjumeo igaetumskinnumok gullhring, er st658mrk. (76) (". .. if I gave him two trading ships?"The treasurerresponded, "Too great, my lord," and added: "Otherkings give costly gifts as rewardsfor a praise-poem,such as valuableswordsand rich gold rings."The king gave Gunnlaugrsome new scarlet cloth from his own clothing, an embroidered waistcoat, a cloak with the finest of fur linings, and a gold ring which cost one mark.) In this instance, the monarch respects tradition, but rewards as he pleases. The enormous potential gift illustrates Sigtryggr's power. The fact that he neither pays the poet too much, nor fully accepts the suggestion of his treasurer, establishes Sigtryggr's will. of service and Rewarded poets become part of a relationship payment for helping royal reputations. Egill composes a verse in praise of his new armband and produces another stanza in praise of Abalsteinn himself. The king further rewards him with gold and skikkja dfr, er konungr sjdlfr haf5i d0r borit (Egils saga 147) ("an expensive cloak that the king himself had worn before"). Princes frequently give suits of clothing (cf. Gunnlaugs saga 71 and 89), which often become issues in the war between king and poet, because the wearing of certain cloaks and other garments has social and perhaps ritual significance (Bede 2.10; Frank, Old Norse 141; Asser 180 nl). This kind of gift absorbs a poet and makes him into what the sovereign wants him to be: dressed for court; visibly in the king's debt; obviously a member of an individual lord's retinue. Like land, such rewards circumscribe a potentially damaging poet or hero and make him into a possession, another "inscribed" object '1 For all Old English poems except Beowulf I use the Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records. These two poems appear in ASPR 3, The Exeter Book.

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that restates a ruler's power. Since Egill's new suit of clothing is an old set of the king's (cf. Gunnlaugs saga 76, 89-90), the absorption is personal. Of course, one dilutes these individual connections when one travels to another court and gives the objects to someone else, as in Gunnlaugs saga (90), so kings who make such rewards are usually reluctant for the recipients to move on to other domains and to other subjects for poetry (83). Hrothgar, like these other kings, repays Beowulf with personal belongings (1899), including the saddle on which the Danish king rode to battle (1037b-41a), while Denmark apparently retains the relics of Beowulf's individual victory over the monsters. As power becomes associated with objects, especially inscribed ones, the sense of sight becomes more valuable to kings and to others. The composer of Beowulf frequently uses the verb sceawian ("to look at") to indicate the Danes', and particularly Hrothgar's, growing knowledge of the monsters (132b, 840b, 843b, 983b, 1391b, 1413b, 1440b, 1687b). Part of Grendel's terror comes from the baleful light in his eyes (726b-7). The poet uses the word eage ("eye") on only three occasions besides line 726b, each a description of royal power: the eyes that may not light upon Modthrith unless they belong to a masterful husband (1935b), Hrothgar's gratitude for the sight of Grendel's severed head (1781b), and this king's description of the onset of death. Revealingly, he interprets life's end as brightness fading from the eyes (1766b-7a). During the expansion of literacy, blinding becomes the preferred method of making a king or earl unfit to rule (Orkneyinga saga 142, 170, 173; Snorri 3:86-7, 287-8).20 According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Earl Godwine blinds King IEthelred's son Alfred in 1036 (C), most likely to destroy Alfred's candidacy for the throne. The cetheling seems to be good only for the monastery after this mutilation (1036). Two kings of Tara must also forsake their kingdoms after they each get blinded in one eye: an Irish saga tells of the wounding of Cormac mac Airt; a law tract reports that a bee stings Congal Caiech (Byrne 55, 113).21 Ethelbert's and King Alfred's laws demand a very large payment in compensation for an eye that is of 20 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry for 993 (E) notes that King AEthelred has AElfgarblinded (I use the edition of Plummer and Earle and refer to the Chronicle by date of entry, then manuscript designation, if necessary.) The text does not say why, although iElfgar's father, Ealdorman iElfric, betrayed the English army to the Danes and switched allegiance (992). The same king (apparently) has two other nobly born men blinded in 1006 (E). I contrast this focus upon the royal gaze with an earlier focus upon other aspects of the king's person, for instance the hair of the Merovingians (Gregory 2.9, 41; 3.18). The killing of earlier, sacral kings seems to have sometimes involved hanging, which would affect powers of speech more than powers of sight (Adam 4.27.259).

21 The saga states that a ruler of Tara should be a perfect physical specimen (Byrne 55).

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weord ("knocked out") (/Ethelbert 43),22 but only the later set of laws demands compensation specifically for the blinding of an eye, while the earlier one demands compensation gifsprcec awyrd weorp ("if the power of speech is harmed") (AEthelberht52; cf. Alfred 47-52, 71). (Both codes refer only to single eyes and do not mention exfor total blindness.) The eyes are associated with tra compensation and Christianity. A bishop has his tongue cut out and his literacy slit a knife in Orkneyinga saga (294), but the cleric miracuwith eyes recovers both faculties (295), as does Pope Leo III, accordlously to ing Anglo-Saxon Chronicle 797 (A). There are no blindings recorded in the Chronicle before this date, except for an interpolated reference to the supposed blinding of Eadberht Praen in 796 (F).23 A king or a priest needs his sight to establish the rule of the book. He must demonstrate direct knowledge of literacy. If the oral poet supports the community with his voice, the king does so "by the royal gaze" (Miller 151), like the gaze Hrothgar applies to the giants' sword hilt before he speaks (1687b). This piece of treaand emotions at sure, while it displays the powers, conventions, work in the king-retainer relationship, also draws attention to the powers of sight and literacy. Seth Lerer proposes that the manuscript of Beowulf actually conveys "two versions" of the Beowulf story: an oral one and a written one (199). One may perceive an apposition of these two when Hrothgar examines the text on the hilt (Beowulf 1687-99) because, significantly, the poet surrounds of Hrothgar's of the hilt with announcements the description (1687a, 1698b; Lerer 162, 163) and because, like speech-making an oral-heroic poem, the hilt offers a story (Lerer 181, 182, 199; Frantzen 186-8). In order to gain access to this story, one must carefully decipher an inscription with one's eyes, a private task that subverts the public immediacy of oral poetry. The physical context of this inscribed narrative contrasts with oral set-pieces such as the Finnsburg episode, and the new "truth" of written language now threatens to dominate Beowulf One story on the relic narrates the defeat of God's enemies 22For the Anglo-Saxon laws, I use the edition of F. Liebermann and refer to law codes by their royal names. 23 let him pytan ut his eagan. 7 ceorfan of his handa (Plummer and Earle 56). The word pytan is uncertain (56). This blinding would be an interesting case because other sources indicate that Eadberht was removed from his throne when he tried to take on the roles of king and Christian priest at the same time (Levison 18). The fact that this instance appears in the only manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle that is in both Latin and Old English also suggests the influence of literacy. However, I suspect that this "blinding" is the intrusion of events from Leo's legend into a nearby entry. One may note that the literate missionary Augustine, bringer of Christian writings (among other things), heals the blindness of an Englishman, according to Bede (2.2), and David Megginson tells me that some Old English manuscript manumissions put a curse of blindness upon the person who dishonors the document's agreement.

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(1688b-93) and another identifies the former owners of the giant sword (1695-7). Lerer notes that both of these texts relate stories of "control and power" (162). AllenJ. Frantzen proposes that the letters themselves have an association with power. He connects verbs of inscribing with those of cutting with a sword, so that the hilt 'juxtapose [s] the sword as a text, . . . with the sword as a weapon" (187; 184-7). According to Lerer, then, the entire hilt and sermon passage is about power in language (163-8; cf. Near 324). The phrase rihte gemearcod, / geseted ond gested ("rightly inscribed, set down, and said") (Beowulf 1695b-6a) draws attention to the rune writer's control over words. But the most obvious focus of attention is upon the man who holds the hilt. The possession of a written text, Lerer suggests, "separates" Hrothgar from the other characters (181). And, by concentrating on this object, the poetry the of from Beowulf's deeds and allows digresses subject-matter the king to appropriate history for himself. This appropriation begins with Hrothgar's ownership of (and therefore control over) a piece of history (the hilt). physical Beowulf, careful to continue the social cycle of gift giving, passes this "old heirloom" into Hrothgar's "control" (1684a-8a). The in to stress this of owners order the idea change poet emphasizes that the king will now administer the poetic and social situation. Both the content and the method of transmission of the hilt's story reinforce Hrothgar's dominant social position. He may now undertake the private, exclusive, and therefore powerful act of examthe story ining the words on his new possession. Appropriately, from an evil society far different about the giants describes Hrothgar's kingdom, where social order depends on the goodness of the monarch. 24 Symbolically, the hilt may also represent "good and evil.., sudden and extreme shift of power" (Irving 147), "God's justice" (Brodeur 212), "a trajectory for the [future] sword signs" in the poem (Overing 577), "a silent vehicle for a history of suffering, and violent separation" (Near 324), and "the past" estrangement, 3). Further, the hilt provides physical proof of the (Hanning events under the mere, and its fragmentary state recalls the body of Grendel (Lerer 179). For the poem's audience, this treasure possibly also represents a number of heroic virtues from the oral tradition that are now largely unknown (Hanning 5). Since the hilt encodes all of these values and is also a piece of writing, it provides a "law" (as Lerer notes [79]) for both oral and literate culture. Like the Frankish law codes, its existence as a political document matters more than its content, because Hrothgar uses the "politi24 Beowulfs audience might recognize the story as a biblical excerpt, and therefore link Hrothgar's control to his possession of a written text from a literate tradition (Lerer 163; Beowulf64-81a).

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cally sensitive moment" (Wormald 133) of his society's rescue and of Beowulf's triumph to take advantage of and "publish," through his sermon and royal authority, a "law code" that has fallen into his hands. The hilt is also a symbol of poetry. In Hanning's view, this object commemorates the past just as memorial verse does (Hanning 4In 5). specific terms, the hilt is connected to Beowulf itself by being an artwork and by being proof for Beowulf's deeds, just like the poem. Since the king grasps a symbol of Beowulf when the hero gives Hrothgar the hilt, Beowulf is in this scene symbolically handing over to the king control of his own praise-poem. The narrator thus draws attention to Hrothgar's possession of the hilt in order to stress the king's control over words, object, history, past, and in the form of the hilt. He dramatizes the poetic narrative-all of at the moment when this technology becomes genesis literacy an aspect of the early second-stage ruler's power. In fact, of the hilt Hrothgar's possession may represent control over both and because, poets poetry originally, a work like Beowulf was infrom its oral separable performer. The hilt scene and Hrothgar's sermon show the beginning of greater power for the king once he masters the technology of writing. By the time of the later "poets' sagas" (for example, the ones about Gunnlaugr, Hallfre6r, and Kormaikr, which appear approximately 100 years later than Egils saga), the dialogue between poet and prince over the latter's reputation has become more onesided. A skald remains an influence at court, but has lost prestige to the king, whose feelings have become more openly partisan. As court poet, the hero of Gunnlaugs saga serves a number of princes, almost all of whom maintain a dominant position during encounters with any skald. For example, Gunnlaugr wins one of his few duels only because King AMalra'r provides the Icelander with inside information about an adversary (72-3). King 01afr refuses for the moment to hear one of Gunnlaugr's poems, tells him to sit down (79), and decides which of two court poets will speak first (80). Like any retainer, a poet is not free to come and go as he pleases (74, 81, 83). Generally, the later poets' sagas do not treat traditional subject-matter like fame as thoroughly or as self-consciously as other sagas did; the skalds' sagas seem to have agendas that are more personal than the traditional attitudes of earlier a poet's saga concentrates on one compositions. Usually, character's worth to the community. Although this change is due in part to outside influences such as troubadour songs (Andersson, Icelandic 227), it primarily results from royalty's increasing strength. As opposed to the respectful control that verse receives in Beowulf and in the earlier sagas, poetry in the skalds' sagas now demands harsher restrictions. The later stories, as Jesse

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L. Byock observes, as alienated characters, depict poets " the and within court "outsider[s] society, more concerned with private feelings than with public deeds (194). Byock finds these sagas to be more "inward" and "psychological" than others (194; Gunnlaugs saga 58, 59): heroes fight less frequently, and more of their battle spirit is aborted or inglorious. Unlike Egill, these poets avoid resolving feuds (and so continue as outsiders), while little that they do contributes to society; rather, their constant barrages of "scurrilous, erotic, and insulting verse" (141) are "illegal" (195). Compared to Egils saga, skalds have clearly lost influence and status in these poets' stories, while the king has prospered. In Ivars pdttur Ingimundarsonar (probably a later work than Egils saga), King Eysteinn questions Ivar, a poet (2180), until he discovers the source of the Icelander's anguish (2181). Ivar finds that the only salve for his unrequited love is to do what Eysteinn proposes: to talk about the skald's love-object with the king (2182). The story presents this sovereign as a sensible and sensitive problem-solver. He first offers vast wealth, which shows his material power (21812); but he ends up serving as an emotionally superior outlet for the poet's acute and almost relentless passion. This tale and others search "for a psychological explanation of often tragic social deviants" (Byock 195; cf. Gunnlaugs saga 102), with the king as analyst. Rulers can also be deviants, but, unlike skalds, their royal office rarely allows alienation, and most of their activities have consequences for their society. Some princes gain sainthood. They personify social changes that remove responsibilities from skalds. The king may also usurp the poet's power by becoming a poet himself, like Hrothgar; then, a ruler cuts out the middleman between himself and the tradition.25 As skaldic verse declines, a and may conclude prince may feel the need for self-justification, that forms of biography different from traditional skaldic verse may be necessary to interpret his life. Orkneyinga saga reveals that some earls are fine poets (283). In Heimskringla, King Haraldr inn harbra`6i goes about making his reputation through poetry as well like his retinue of skalds. as through deeds (Snorri 3:199-201),just He composes verse, but retains his position as the prevailing judge of poetic worth: he remarks on the inferiority (in his view) of one of his poems, and makes a better one to make amends (3:187-8). He indicates in verse his desire for social dominance when he expresses jealousy of Einarr Dambarskelfir's large retinue (3:124). Haraldr compares Einarr's court to royal ones and suggests that only a king should be able to put together such a grand, physical "5 Hrothgar's performing skills show that he can assert a competitive poetic authority, and Bjork (998) proposes that the words scop and wordum wrixlan further connect Hrothgar with poetic art (Beowulf78b, 366a, 874a); however, the passage at lines 2107-8 is difficult (Clark 42; Opland, "Beowulf' 455-7).

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demonstration of power. This ruler's emotions are as competitive as those which skalds express, but his ego is wrapped up in his royal position. Hrothgar, like Haraldr, undertakes the royal usurpation of the poet's role by displacing Beowulfs narrative voice for such a lengthy period (Beowulf 1700-84), changing the tone of Beowulf to "an authoritative, generalizing (and inherently pessimistic) voice" that almost seems to master the poem (Hansen, "Hrothgar's" 55), and abruptly shifting the narrative from the attributes and illustrious deeds of the hugely successful hero to the subject of morality, when this topic does not seem suitable for the celebration of Beowulf's victory over Grendel's mother. Throughout this long speech, Hrothgar holds the hilt in his hand, so that he embodies a grasp of history which is poet- and prophet-like. But the content of the hilt's message does not get through, apparently, to the audience in Heorot, who receive only the Danish king's "exegesis" of this chosen text2"and so experience (at least in this case) only object literacy, even if they think they are receiving a transliteration of the text carved on the object. Hrothgar does not or cannot tell the story on the hilt. If he does not, this choice would demonstrate his power: his ability to read what he wants into the poetic record upon the occasion of his sermon. If he cannot decipher the story, the content of the sermon (an almost literate and philosophical response to history and to heroic life) would seem to suggest that mere possession of the object adds wisdom to Hrothgar's speechmaking, as if he were an anticipator of literacy and a portent of the arrival of second-stage, literate kingship. The topic of his speech is kingship: certainly an apt enough topic for the poem, for the occasion, and for a hero such as Beowulf to hear with appreciation. But Hrothgar's methods of explaining good leadership mark a vast change in the mood of Beowulf and add a competitive undertone to the sermon scene. The king skilfully adjusts the content of the poem's narration away from the Geatish hero and toward Danish history (1709b-19a), while he shifts attention away from action and toward his own function as a distributor of wealth (1719b-20a, 1749-50a). His argument that youthful success does not guarantee greatness in old age, when greatness really counts (1735-44, 1769-76; Palmer 18), promotes a kingdom and old age as virtues when these are among the very few attributes Beowulf lacks. The hero's ideals fade even more as the king stresses age for its own sake and speaks of wis-

dom, experience, and memory (1700-3a, 1723b-4a, 1776a; Kaske 432): faculties which remind the audience that oral evaluation and 26Overing claims that the king "insists upon the symbolicity of the object" during his speech (577), and Near also believes that the theme of the sermon connects with the hilt. He feels this "topic" to be "alienation" (325).

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poetic reputation are subject, largely, to the individual choices and biases of a poet who praises a hero-choices that the king is in a to make at this moment. position After his series of moral exempla, Heremod (1709b), the proud man (1729a), Beowulf (1758b), and himself (1769a), Hrothgar ends with the Almighty, an unreachable ideal. For the poem's audience, rulers probably had a more prominent place within the spiritual world that Hrothgar mentions than did heroes. In AngloSaxon thinking, "God is king, Christ lord" (Earl 55; Opland, AngloSaxon 146). The audience of Beowulf might also notice that this new attention to God corresponds with the story on the hilt. As Lerer notes, the king's sermon follows the hilt's narrative of evil overcome through divine intervention. This relic thus "posits a political and moral world where everything turns toward God's will ... and where the success of the king's own temporal rule echoes the benign power God wields over mortals" (173). The Danish king, then, in talking about rulers and God, has shifted the main topic of the poem from the foreigner Beowulf's acts and to a series of stories that reflect a moral concern with social stability and mastery of men. The poem seems to imply social approval for Hrothgar's version of kingship because his speech appears to have success with his audience. Beowulf is happy (1785a), offers no reply, and the feast goes on (1787-9a). One might wonder, in fact, whether or not Beowulf could reply in any way to a speech that deals with heroic ideals in such an unexpectedly moralistic fashion.27 The sermon is also successful in that its intervention into the heroic narrative of Beowulf seems to alter the course of the poem. Critics note the air of elegy that dominates the poem from the sermon on (Irving 196). Also, depictions of the scop disappear, almost as if the appearance of Hrothgar's (semi-)literate performance overpowers oral performances, at least in any need for royally sanctioned court: the mourners at Beowulf's funeral do not seem to be court poets (3169-82), and even the normal venue for a scop's performance disappears when Beowulf's hall is destroyed by flames, a fate that it shares with Heorot (2324-7a, 81b-5). The sermon seems to be an unmitigated triumph for Hrothgar, who asserts his reputation with a new technology and a new kind of kingship. III the narrative Although represents Hrothgar as a ruler at the as a start of the second stage of kingship, the Beowulf-poet, 27 Beowulf's next meeting with a king after leaving Heorot could be a kind of displaced reply to Hrothgar. All that the hero can muster on this occasion is a reiteration of his own great deeds to Hygelac and the court (2000-151). Most readers consider this king-hero meeting a relatively uninspired and repetitive part of the story. See Waugh ("Competitive" 202-22).

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Christian, probably had knowledge of the next step in royal development. In this third stage, the king takes over the laws and the social system, with the sanction of the church and its missionaries like Alcuin (Opland, Anglo-Saxon 88; Chaney 179, 186, 200, 226-7; Ullmann 24-5, 31; /Ethelred 10 [ed. Liebermann 1:270]). The church changes the content of the written object. In the monasteries, certainly, the content of a book had influenced behavior for some time, due to daily readings from the monastic rule. But, when literacy contacts secular society, its influence must parallel the influence of the secular authority. The law code of Alfred affords a perfect example of a secular object with changed content. It begins with quotations from Old Testament law and describes changes in this law throughout Christian history, a history that Alfred wishes to graft onto the history of his own kingdom (Alfred, El Pro 1-10, 11-49.6; Wormald 131-2, 138). In the third stage, poetry and law codes contain less glorification of the king and more promotion of the Christian message. Monarchs like Alfred extend and maintain political control through their law codes and other written works, though this process is neither easy nor total (Lerer 64, 84); the arrival of literacy does not halt the interregnal and religious wars of Anglo-Saxon England (Bede 2.20; Anglo-Saxon Chronicle746-757). Nevertheless, in psychological terms the king's power to name now comes "according to the Law" (Foucault 82), which is identique d un ordrede langage (Lacan 1:157). The laws of the king express moral and political theory and therefore extend the life of the political occasion beyond personal loyalty to the king, beyond the assembly, beyond books as cult objects. Every occasion may be a political occasion, and "the fidelis was now subjected, as far as his social and public life went, to the law as it was given to him, not the law as it was made by him" (Ullmann 9, 19-20). The laws become homiletic in tone (Chaney 201), and the citizen has no rights except for what the king allows. In Brian Stock's version of these events, "physical symbolism was replaced by property law; elaborate gift transfers gave way to the market economy; and the sacral element in kingship was balanced by a sense of administrative responsibility" (18).28 The third-stage king unites desire and law. His person, speech, and body, together with the importance of the inscribed object, pale in significance before the influence of his writings as rules. He, "in his proclamation, ... links space, rules, and language


a single

. . . experience.

At a stroke,

he creates


distance" (Foucault 81; Lacan 1:187) between writer and audience that writing always brings with it. The king is "consecrated" and 28The emergence of a society into the historical record bears more than an allegorical relationship to the development of the individual as described by Lacan (1:218-9).

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"inspirer" (Miller 151). His letter kills, as Michel Foucault describes it: "the law is a calculated and relentless pleasure, delight in the promised blood, which permits the perpetual instigation of new dominations and the staging of meticulously repeated scenes of violence" (151). Christianized morality and supposed royal ideals such as temperance try to disguise this violence. For instance, literacy means the promotion of models for kingship that appear in the written history of God's favor toward just and God-fearing rulers. Through written genealogies, Anglo-Saxon kings may now identify not only with pagan and mythical ancestors, but also with biblical forebears such as David, who rule with God's approval (Morris 25; Stock 17). A third-stage ruler has charge of the security of the church, in a role like a bishop's. This new charge supports his position at the top of the social hierarchy. Coronation rites imply God's approval for this position (Opland, Anglo-Saxon 88; Morris 13; Ullmann 15, with the divine gives the king even 29). The new relationship greater power than before. Any owner of a book gains status, while "there is no reference at all to the office of poet in the Old English laws" (Jacobs 12). In the third stage, the poet's role in society alters further when a royal conversion means that the poet must convert also or remove himself from the rewards of court (Opland, Anglo-Saxon 89; Earl 52). The scop must again modify tradition to include, for example, a Judeo-Christian genealogy in his usual praise repertoire. The king demonstrates his power over society by eventually replacing court poets with 'jugglers and minstrels," and the church eventually takes over part of the poet's role as historian (Opland, AngloSaxon 146, 166, 167). With a change in poetic content, the traditional poet becomes alienated and exiled.29 One could even argue that the ruler does not replace court poets with 'jugglers and minstrels" but with books. When the book depicted in Alfred's Metrical Preface to the Pastoral Care (Metrical Preface 11-6) begins to speak as a poet would, the power (of contentliterate people) to express the information in the book is clearly imminent: Si88an min on englisc AElfredkyning 29 This poet is not completely silenced, however. Some of the Christian didactic works in Old English depict (usually villainous) rulers who lose to poet-like prophets (Lerer 74, 134, 135; Daniel546a, 589-92). Deorcomments self-consciously on its narrator's status as an embattled poet, and seems to consist of a subversive revenge upon the prince. In each of its stanzas, the poem describes an occasion for suffering and/or duress. All seem to be illustrations of royal depravity and Deor includes one of the very few condemnations of a king in Old English heroic verse (21-26). The refrain suggests that political oppression will disappear-a welcome disappearance for a man who has been rejected by a lord (39b-41; Frankis 168; Condren 75; Hansen, Solomon 95). The king represents a law "impossible for the subject to obey" (Grigg 108).

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awendewordagehwelc, and me his writerum sende su6 and nor6. (11-3;Earl90-5;Sisam, Studies141) (Subsequently,Alfred the king translatedeach of my wordsinto English, and sent me to his scribes, south and north.) Later in third-stage kingship, this connection between oral poet as is unnecessary and object as information-giver information-giver becomes an accepted because the object's ability to communicate fact. Alfred's translations take me to my final point about Beowulf The Christian faith of the narrator and the possibility that the poem was written later than the period of second-stage kingship in England suggest that the Beowulf-poet might intrude knowledge of third-stage kingship into the poem; if, as I think, this poet means to depict the transition between orality and object literacy, between first- and second-stage kingship, the characters in Beowulf would be unlikely to betray knowledge of the content of any Christian text. However, the poet presents the king as literally in contact with the biblical story on the hilt, and Hrothgar seems to verge on the professing of Christian ideas during his sermon, where the moralizing, "traditional Christian imagery" (Irving 152; Klaeber 190-2), Augustinian and/or Gregorian focus on pride (Brodeur 210-1), and the possibly Boethian focus on fortune (Chickering 275-6) all suggest that the author means to show that, although the characters in the poem have an appreciation of texts only as intuitive understanding may lead to objects, this rudimentary, of the texts through content literacy and fuller understanding through the supposed social benefits of third-stage kingship."s Before this third stage, while rulers, heroes, and poets battle for fame with one another in Old English poems and Old Norse sagas, these conflicts cause an interplay of attitudes regarding reputation, and stories begin to examine heroic fame and the role of a The king's ruler from a sophisticated variety of perceptions. of the the influence at in praise-poet, as expense political growth well as other forces including the growth of literacy, lead to new directions for biography, poetry, and history and to altered ideals for individuals and their creations that are less overtly competitive than earlier ideals. Kings, heroes, and poets change. Memorial University of Newfoundland

O0One may note that the Alfredian translations include Boethius's Consolation, Augustine's Soliloquies, and Gregory's Pastoral Care. In addition to the sermon, the creation story that Hrothgar's scop narrates at the start of Beowulf (90b-98) contains biblical motifs.

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