The Finn Episode in Beowulf

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Beowulf has just killed Grendel and hung that infamous claw in the hall of Heorot. Everyone under King Hrothgar’s rule is celebrating Beowulf’s triumph. In the midst of the celebration a court singer begins to sing about the glory of the former Danish people many years ago. The song chronicles a battle between the Danes and the Frisians. The leader of the Frisians, Finn, engages in battle and ends up with most of his army being defeated. However, Finn ends up killing Hnaef the leader of the Danes. Hengest, successor to Hnaef, makes peace with Finn and the rest of the Danes end up living with the Frisian people. An important part of this episode to note is that the wife of Finn, Hildeburh, is also the sister of Hnaef. Hnaef and Hildeburh’s son were both killed in battle and their burial is described in grotesque detail. A member of the Frisian tribe gives a sword to Hengest who has long debated this newly forged allegiance with the Frisians. Hengest decides to take revenge and wages war once again. It’s unclear who exactly kills Finn, but he is murdered by a member of the Danish people. Hildeburh is taken captive and is brought back to her homeland with the Danes (lines 1065-1161). Thus ends the story that scholars refer to as the “Finn episode”.

Around ninety lines, the Finn episode is mysterious and its intention is unknown. The singer could just as well have started singing “He’s a Jolly Good-Fellow”. Why does the singer stop and sing something so dark in the middle of celebrating Grendel’s death? What point is the author of Beowulf trying to make with this seemingly unrelated story? Some think that this episode is “regarded as the main point of the story in Beowulf” (Klaeber 544-549). However, others have ar...

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... A.G. “Design and Motive in the Finn Episode.” Essays and Studies. University of California Press. (1943): 239-242. Print

Camargo, Martin. "The Finn Episode and the Tragedy of Revenge in Beowulf." Studies in Philology. 78.5 (1981): 120-134. Print.

Drout, Michael. "Blood and Deeds : The Inheritance System in Beowulf." Studies in Philology. 104.2 (2007): 199-226. Print.

Green, Alexandre. "The Opening of the Episode of Finn in Beowulf." PMLA. 31.4 (1916): 759-797. Print.

Gummere, Francis. "Beowulf : Gummere's Translation." Harvard Classics. 49. (1910): n. page. Web. 6 Dec. 2011. .

Klaeber, Fr. "Observations on the Finn Episode." Journal of English and Germanic Philology. 14.4 (1915): 544-549. Print.

Malone, Kemp. "The Finn Episode in Beowulf." Journal of English and Germanic Philology. 25.2 (1926): 157-172. Print.
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