Digression In Beowulf

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The Stories of Sigemund and Heremod: An Essential Digression in Beowulf
It is not surprising that the Danes show immense admiration for the efforts of Beowulf so soon after his slaying of Grendel. Prior to his arrival at the Hall of Heorot Hrothgar's kingdom had been terrorized by the monster for twelve grueling years. The people were in need of a savior who could reverse their fate. Beowulf emphatically pronounces his "awesome strength" that had helped him in triumphs of the past. In what seems to be one of the more obvious signs of devotion towards Beowulf, one of Hrothgar's thanes, the "carrier of tales" presents an elegiac lay directed at the warrior in front of the audience in attendance at the hall. As noted by R.E. Kaske, the passage
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The first example of this is when we learn that Sigemund, accompanied by fellow warriors "killed giants" with "conquering swords". The question raised then is that concerning Beowulf's battle-tactics. When full of youthful exuberance and naivety he was able to decisively defeat Grendel alone with nothing but his own bare hands. If we take the layman's story to be an accurate sketch of Beowulf's future, however, we begin to wonder if his ability to fight will severely diminish as he grows old. In the stanza that follows, the singer immediately shifts his focus from that of heroic action to that of death. Continuing with the hopeful tone, we learn that "Sigemund's glory grew and grew" (Heaney 885). This growing admiration which exists even after his death is a result of his victorious slaying of a dragon. In contrast to the previous image of Sigemund in battle with his comrades, he kills the dragon by the strength of only his hands. For these valiant efforts against the monster he is rewarded with all the treasures of the hoard. It is never made clear what exactly is included in the treasure, but we can assume that it is more metaphorical than tangible. Since we already know that Sigemund's name was remembered greatly even after his death, it is possible that the treasure symbolizes and constitutes the many heroic traits a warrior can possess. After Sigemund's triumph his "name was known everywhere...he was utterly valiant and venturesome." (Heaney 898-99). While the Sigemund lay is characterised by praise, glory, and success, the story of King Heremod (Sigemund's predecessor) is characterised by a reversal of tone back to that of doom and hopelessness. These two separate stories constitute a significant litote. That is to say the poet strategically places a positive

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