Epic of Beowulf


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Significance of Scyld Scefing

Scyld Scefing often deprived his enemies, many tribes of men, of their mead-benches. He terrified his foes; yet he, as a boy, had been found a waif; fate made amends for that. He prospered under heaven, won praise and honor, until the men of every neighboring tribe, across the whale’s way, were obliged to obey him and pay him tribute. He was a noble king! (BEO 4-11).

At first glance to any reader, the above passage that opens Beowulf may seem perplexing. Why is this poet rambling about some other great ruler? In fact, another 50 or so lines are dedicated to this Scefing character. Wasn’t this poem titled Beowulf? It appears that the poet of Beowulf is rambling, ranting unrelated events and apparently digressing from the main topic. However, even though no concrete conclusions or links are presented between Scefing and Beowulf, the reader learns soon enough that the seemingly digressive poet had in truth, slyly and with all intention inserted some indirect indications in the tale of Scefing. As the poem reaches its finale, the reader recognizes in an epiphany the sophisticated construction employed by the poet in the weaving of Scefing as foreshadowing of Beowulf.
In retrospect, Scefing is essentially Beowulf himself. It is stated that Scefing is a warrior, a conqueror, gifted the spoils of his enemies as he defeated them. Beowulf was interested in the spoils and trophies of war in a similar fashion, always mindful to bring a piece or two of any recently dominated monsters back with him for display purposes. In addition, the poet mentions the pure prosperity, praise, and honor of Scefing; and in parallel form, the reader is exposed to the wealth, recognition, and reverence for the hero Beowulf. From the double victories over Grendel and his mother to the final battle against the dragon, Beowulf retains his status and his persona as a hero, a definite king and without a doubt a noble one. As the reader recalls Scefing was also described as a noble king, the pieces and reasoning of the previously digressive tangent rapidly falls into place.
“Then Scyld departed at the destined hour, that powerful man sought the Lord’s protection. His own close companions carried him down to the sea, as he, lord of the Danes, had asked while he could still speak'; (BEO 26-30). This is the exact sequence of events which happens to Beowulf, his “destined hour'; being the fatal wound inflicted by the dragon.

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In a corresponding fashion with Scefing in the opening lines of the poem, Beowulf describes his last requests in the final lines. Both Scefing and Beowulf are buried with heaps of priceless treasure, the spoils of their victories. The poet describes the ship in which Scefing is buried to be decorated with &#8220;many treasures and adornments from far and wide&#8230;countless treasures&#8230;great ornaments&#8230;golden banners&#8230;'; (BEO 36-49). Beowulf&#8217;s funeral rites are also saturated with riches and treasure, &#8220;then the wagon was laden with twisted gold, with treasures of every kind&#8230;'; (BEO 3127-3134). The reader is forced to appreciate the artistic merit in which the poet had in effect, told the story of Beowulf twice over, the first time discretely, the second in a common parallel.
The mourning for both the heroes Scefing and Beowulf are also similar. Scefing&#8217;s men are depicted as &#8220;hearts grieving, their minds mourning'; (BEO 49-50), and true to the consistency of the forewarnings, some 3000 lines later, Beowulf&#8217;s men are portrayed &#8220;mingled with weeping&#8230;the heart&#8217;s cup overflowed; they mourned their loss, the death of their lord.'; (BEO 3139-3142). It is in this way through Scefing that the poet of Beowulf constructs a subconscious omen of all that will happen to Beowulf. Though it may seem unattached and displaced to interrupt the narrative, especially at the opening, the inserted narrative does in fact contribute to the overall development of the overall poem. Interestingly enough, the sense of foreboding doom is created from the use of Scefing &#8211; the reader questions why a death has occurred as early as some 40 lines into the poem. Without doubt the effect of reaching the finale of Beowulf is likewise of a slow yet stringent acid eating away layer consistently after layer, unknowest to the object being corroded until too late.
The main relevance of these interjected stories is beheld in the poet&#8217;s ironic technique of mining these digressions in a precise and unswerving manner to contribute to the bigger picture. In addition to being an accurate omen, the tale of Scefing is integral to the setup of an atmosphere of doom. The reader gets a gut feeling from the beginning that somehow, Scefing is not simply embedded accidentally. Yet at the same time, the apparently arbitrary abstract manner in which the story Scefing is inserted seems to whisper, &#8220;just ignore me, I&#8217;m nothing, just a small digression.';


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