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SAGA OF BEOWULF
(Rewritten for Children & Young Adults
RETOLD FROM THE ANCIENT EPIC
BY STRAFFORD RIGGS
DECORATED BY HENRY PITZ
Originally Published By
D. APPLETON-CENTURY COMPANY Incorporated
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The Saga of Beowulf
Typographical arrangement of this edition
© Abela Publishing 2010
This book may not be reproduced in its current format in any manner in any media, or transmitted by any means whatsoever, electronic, electrostatic, magnetic tape, or mechanical ( including photocopy, file or video recording, internet web sites, blogs, wikis, or any other information storage and retrieval system) except as permitted by law without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Abela Publishing acknowledges the work that
Strafford Riggs did in translating and publishing
The Story of Beowulf
in a time well before any electronic media was in use.
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33% of the net profit from the sale of this book
Will be donated to charities.
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JUST as Conrad's character Singleton, in The Nigger of the Narcissus, sat in the fo'c'sle reading, so, on board the Gulf of Akaba, off Cape Verde, I saw Old Man Seastream with a tattered copy of Beowulf, which, by some strange chance, had been sent down to the ship as suitable reading for sailors. Off the lonely island of Fernando Naronha, Seastream and I fell into talk just after the third mate had twitted the sailor for reading "them kindergarten fairy tales."
Seastream was in a mood of quiet defensiveness. "There isn't," he said, "much more than a story of how the hero killed Grendel, then Grendel's mother, which was more frightful, then the fiery dragon with only one true man to help. But the tale is a fine one if you get the spirit of it; and it gets me. That's what it does--gets me."
Strange that I should look back over crowded years to remember that remark. Seastream, unschooled, not only brought me to Beowulf but with his unconsidered words made me see something that should be obvious to all of us, though it is not. It is that what we would see introduced into the life of a nation must be first introduced into the schools, or in other ways carried into the world of youth.
History tells us that the Beowulf epic was forgotten for nigh upon a thousand years and might have been irrevocably lost had not a solitary manuscript been discovered. If some grain of superstition be allowed us, I should hold that among the high gods sits one encharged with the care of literary treasures, so that nothing is utterly lost, but merely forgotten by men because purposely hidden until the proper time arrives when the world is ready to receive, just as the Rosetta Stone, and the tale of Hasisdra, and the monoliths at Tiahuanaca, and the litany scratched on the bricks at Ur were hidden; for had they been found earlier, vandal hands might have marred them. Carrying this belief down to to-day, I like to think that in these days when knighthood is at low ebb, and when the desire for acquisition looms large in the thoughts of men, someone in that workaday hive of New York chanced to hear a whispered word of that guardian god of literature, so bethought himself, or herself, that a tale of heroism, of faith in self, of courage, of patience, of forbearance might find readers in a world too much involved in trivialities. For it certainly seems marvelous to me that this book should appear at this moment, quite as marvelous as that it appeared out of the dark in the nineteenth century when, as now, waves upon waves of broken hopes and desperate efforts dashed against the ship of state, dangerously threatening. For the marvel of that appearance I am grateful as the sailor is grateful for the light. That gratitude is touched with high happiness because the someone who thought to bring a new Beowulf into the world should have found, as illustrator, one whose soul seems "sticht to the starres," whose discernment is rare, who has dared in originality, whose enthusiasm is contagious.
CHARLES J. FINGER
WHICH TELLS something of the youth and early manhood of Beowulf, how he heard of the monster GRENDEL, and of Daneland.
WHICH TELLS of Beowulf's reception among the Danes, his encounter with GRENDEL., and with GRENDEL'S MOTHER.
WHICH TELLS of how a DRAGON appeared in Geatsland, and how Beowulf and Wiglaf destroyed it, and how sleep came to Beowulf.
IWHICH TELLS something of the youth and early manhood of Beowulf, how he heard of the monster GRENDEL, and of Daneland.
ONCE upon a time, in the far north of what is now called Europe, there was a kingdom known as Geatsland, and its ruler was named Hygelac. It was a harsh country, with high mountains and narrow valleys, and it had a long seacoast with many harbors and inlets, and the men who lived there were famous for their bravery, on both sea and land.
Like their neighbors the Danes and the Frisians, the Geats were warlike, and for the greater part of every year Hygelac and his warriors were engaged in fierce battles with various tribes, who would enter the territory of the Geats, to steal cattle and lay waste the fields of grain, and burn the farms of his retainers.
There were other foes, too, to be dealt with. The great caves along the coast were inhabited by all manner of evil monsters that lived partly in the sea and partly upon the land, huge serpents with scales of brass, that patrolled the coast and devoured fishermen when they could be taken by surprise at their nets.
In Geatsland were vast forests where loathsome beasts made their homes in the hollow trunks of dead trees and prowled only by night, feeding upon sleeping pigs and young rabbits and other innocent animals. It was not safe to travel in those woods after dark, and the wandering minstrels who went from place to place in the country-side were careful not to be caught in their ghostly depths.
But for the most part the sea-monsters and the forest terrors kept to their own lairs and seldom invaded the more populous districts. Only when an incautious farmer or fisherman had been foully killed by one of them did the lords of Geatsland wage war upon the strange inhabitants of the coastal caves and the forest fastnesses.
Now, for many years Hygelac ruled over his people with a stern but kind hand. Beside him was his queen, named Hygd, and called the Wise and Fair. About the king and queen were gathered the finest lords of the land. All were valiant warriors whose courage had been tried in many battles. They were tall like the trees of their forests, and broad like the stout beams of their boats, and each man had the strength of ten. They were yellow of hair; their eyes were deep-set and burned blue like the sea; on their arms and around their necks were great circlets of beaten gold; and upon their heads they wore helmets decorated with the horns of bulls or the black wings of ravens.
In battle these lords were fierce and terrible, and their war-cries froze the blood of their enemies. But in their own halls, in times of peace, they often dropped their warlike mien and sang and laughed and fondled their dogs and played jokes upon one another like children.
When they gathered in the great drinking-hall of the king, the minstrels would come among them after they had eaten; and with horns of ale passing from hand to hand, these lords of Geatsland would listen to songs of other lands and to news of the world which lay beyond their own frontiers. They heard the stirring story of Sigmund, that great hero; or learned how this king was warring with that or how a terrible dragon had destroyed a whole army of brave fighters.
Sometimes Hygd the Wise and Fair would call upon one or another of the assembled company and beg him to recount some particular deed of valor which he had performed in the past; and often Hygelac conferred with his warriors on some point of warfare or on the building of new boats which would better withstand the fierce gales of the winter seas.
And the younger men listened, their blue eyes wide with eagerness, to the tales of bravery and battle, and struck one another upon the knee, vowing themselves to great deeds when they became older, or boasting of their youthful exploits and feats of strength.
AMONG the number of youths who were in thrall to Hygelac was Beowulf, his nephew. Like so many great heroes of old, Beowulf was the son of his king's sister. As a small boy, Beowulf had shown such strength of body that Hygelac had early named him one of his thanes. So his mother and father gave him up, and young Beowulf went to live with his uncle, to learn the arts of war and the handling of ships.
For several years he led a lonely life, for so great was the strength of his limbs that even among those men of vast vigor he was a youth to be marveled at. As the years slipped by and he grew to manhood, he became more and more sullen in his strength, and his companions dubbed him "The Silent." His movements were clumsy. He tripped over his sword. He broke whatever he touched. The other youths laughed at him for his awkwardness, but in secret they envied the immense spread of his shoulders and the terrible swiftness of his stride when he hunted in the forests.
When he was sixteen years of age, Beowulf was challenged by one of his companions, Breca by name, to a swimming race in the sea. He accepted the challenge because he had been called lazy, and in his heart he was angry that his strength had never truly been tried.
For five days and five nights he and Breca fought the waves of the sea, until Beowulf reached shore victorious. Later, when he was accused of cowardice in this race, he told the true story of those black nights in the water, and what he related then was to go down in song as a famous legend.