Thursday, August 14, 2008

Beowulf, part 3

     It is odd that Beowulf survives the massacre on the Rhine river and returns home and is accepted by the community in spite of the death of Hygelac.  The Heroic Code is clear - if your leader dies in battle, you must either avenge him or die trying.  So Beowulf must have done enough before fleeing that he is considered to have avenged Hygelac in spite of the fact that Theudebert survived the battle. 
     He is said to have saved 30 sets of armor and swam across the Rhine with these on his back.  This places a high premium on armor.  Indeed, normally after a battle, the victors strip the armor and weapons from the dead and these are their spoils.  They get to keep the armor of the man they killed.  And, since armor and weapons are expensive and scarce; they wear them and use them.   People remember swords and armor worn by warriors and this causes feud to erupt again when the person who killed a warrior wears this armor or bears the sword of someone they killed where a relative might see and recognize it.
     Armor is important.  This is one thing in the film The Thirteenth Warrior that does not ring true to the past.  Wulfgar and what remains of the thirteen slip into the cave of the Wendol to kill the mother and just discard their armor to be lost forever in a cave where they cannot retrieve it because they are making too much noise with it.    That is a feature of our throw away age where we cast something aside so casually.  They would not have done so.
     I have a habit of snorting at stuff like this in films.  My husband had to sit through 300 while I muttered 'Herodotus didn't say that.  That's not what happened.'  His answer was that he did not care what Herodotus wrote.  Blasphemy!  Beware anyone who wants to sit through a movie with me.


Tracy said...

Your point about armour is a good one - armour was very valuable.

What about heraldic shields? When did they start becoming important?

I think I could cope with sitting through a film with you! (A friend of mine is married to an antiques trader, and she has a similar problem watching BBC costume dramas with him, because he's always making comments about how that clock did not exist in that year, the chairs date from the wrong period etc)

The Red Witch said...

There is a part in Beowulf where he talks about a battle erupting at a feast over armor. Although a truce had been declared, when men saw armor and swords that had belonged to relatives worn by the people who had obviously killed them in battle, they flew into a rage and the truce did not hold.
I makes you wonder how people knew which side whoever they were fighting was on if people often wore the armor of a vanquished enemy. Obviously heraldic devices would not have been common then.
I think, but I would have to check, that heraldic devices would not have come in until the later Middle Ages when metal was more plentiful and people had the luxury of ceremonial gear. And it might have more to do with the tradition of the 'chivalric knight' but don't quote me on that.