January 24, 2011

Monsters and mead halls

I've been spending time with the poem Beowulf lately (see last week's posts) and plan to unpack it a bit here over the next stretch. Here's the basic outline of the plot:

Hrothar, king of the Spear Danes, is a successful ruler who builds the Mother of All Mead Halls, which he calls Heorot. Mead halls were important amongst the warrior kingdoms of the North Sea as places for lords, their retainers, and others to spend long winter nights in drinking, feasting, and all that.

The local monster Grendel is not amused (imagine having to listen to a bunch of drunken proto-Vikings every night) and raids the hall, eating lots of people. Suddenly Heorot is not the hottest hangout.

After a while, a young warrior from Geatland (probably southern Sweden) comes with his posse and vows to kill the monster. Hrothgar welcomes them and the Geats settle in for the night.

Grendel kills one Geat but Beowulf pounces and applies an armlock that tears off the monster's arm (for judo buffs out there, I think it was a variation of ude garami). Grendel is fatally wounded and goes back to his home beneath a swamp to die.

There is much rejoicing...until Grendel's mother (who does NOT look like Angelina Jolie in the poem) comes the next night and kills one of Hrothgar's advisers. Beowulf goes to the haunted swamp the next day and swims down to do battle with her, eventually killing her and bringing back Grendel's head as a trophy, It takes four people to carry it.

After more rejoicing and gift giving, Beowulf and pals go home. He eventually becomes king over the Geats and rules successfully and peacefully for 50 years until someone stirs up a dragon by discovering its hoard of treasure. The dragon wreaks havoc and the aged Beowulf vows to kill it in single combat. That doesn't work out too well but he finally succeeds with the help of Wiglaf, a young retainer. He is fatally wounded however.

The Geats give him a fitting funeral, but the poem ends on a sombre note. Now that their king is gone, the Geats are likely to be raided and conquered by others. You may have noticed that you don't find Geatland on any contemporary maps, so they were probably on to something.

That's just an overview. There's a lot more interesting stuff, about which more later.

COMPETITION may be the new magic word.

A PRIVATE CIA? Apparently.

CLIMATE CHANGE threatens a number of animal species.



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