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Sworn swords: the Germanic context of Beowulf 2064, aðsweord

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 March 2020

Benjamin D. Weber*
Affiliation:
Princeton University

Abstract

This article argues that the Beowulf-poet’s use of the word aðsweord, usually glossed as ‘sworn oath’ in Beowulf 2064 is a play on the words for oaths () and swords (sweord) intended to evoke the difficulty inherent in social mechanisms designed to end cycles of reciprocal violence. By tracing the idea of a ‘sword-oath’ as a means to secure peace through a number of Latin and Norse analogs, this article elucidates an important feature of Beowulf’s rhetoric in his speech to Hygelac’s court, showing how he contrasts his own heroic successes in defeating the Grendelkin with Hrothgar’s failure to cement peace between the Danes and the Heatho-Bards. The article thus offers a structural rationale for the Ingeld episode, which has often seemed repetitious to critics, and illustrates the value of criticism that focuses on the intersection of style, narrative logic and theme in Beowulf.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
© Cambridge University Press 2020

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