February 04, 2011

Not your average mead hall

The theme at Goat Rope these days is Beowulf, that first surviving Old English epic. If you like this kind of thing, please click on earlier posts. You'll also find links and comments about current events below.

As I mentioned earlier, there are some direct references to the Bible in the poem. Most of these are to early chapters in Genesis. Anglo-Saxons were fascinated with the Cain and Abel story and they liked the parts about giants in the earth and the Great Flood.

There may also be some indirect biblical references. The story of the building of Heorot, the mother of all mead halls by Hrothgar, king of the Spear-Danes, could be an allusion to the tower of Babel story. The whole raiding/pillage/tribute thing was going pretty good for this king:

To Hrothgar was given such glory of war,
such honor of combat, that all his kin
obeyed him gladly till great grew his band
of youthful comrades.

As often happens, powerful rulers like to create architectural monuments to their power. And among the North Sea raiding peoples, any self-respecting lord needed to have a drinking hall where all he could get the band together for drinking and reveling.

(I'd be pretty much down with the program, although I'm not a real mead fan.)

Anyhow, Hrothgar decides to build a truly grand mead hall. As the poem goes,

It came in his mind
to bid his henchmen a hall uprear,
a master mead-house, mightier far
than ever was seen by the sons of earth,
and within it, then, to old and young
he would all allot that the Lord had sent him,
save only the land and the lives of his men.
Wide, I heard, was the work commanded,
for many a tribe this mid-earth round,
to fashion the folkstead. It fell, as he ordered,
in rapid achievement that ready it stood there,
of halls the noblest: Heorot he named it
whose message had might in many a land.

Here he doled out rings and goo-gaws with the best of them, gift giving being the preferred way of ensuring the loyalty of his retainers.

But as often occurs in myths and legends, such ambitious efforts often come to naught. A shadow of doom hangs about the place. It is destined to be the scene of terrible carnage from the monsters and of still worse from family strife.

But that will keep till next time.

THE STATE OF WORKING AMERICA has just been released by the Economic Policy Institute, which has been publishing these every other year or so since 1988. My short summary of the latest edition: not that great.

EXTREME WEATHER. Get used to it. Better yet, do something about climate change.

JOBLESS CLAIMS dropped last week, although not enough to dent the unemployment rate.

WHITHER PROGRESSIVES? Here's what Barbara Ehrenreich suggests. I don't always agree with her but generally find what she has to say to be interesting.


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