Handout: Ethics and Moral in Beowulf: the Paroemial Approach.   Richard L. Harris, University of Saskatchewan    heorot@sasktel.net
"The Currency of Proverbs," a Session of the Early Proverb Society, 50th ICMS, Kalamazoo, MI, 15 May 2015.

BACKGROUND TO THE THEME OF THIS PAPER:
“Fixed, often rhythmically balanced, expressions of this sort . . . can be found occasionally in print, indeed can be ‘looked up’ in books of sayings, but in oral cultures they are not occasional. They are incessant. They form the substance of thought itself. Thought in any extended form is impossible without them, for it consists in them.”  Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy, 1982 p. 35.

I contend that there was a body of folk-wisdom, not yet in metrical form, a body which can be sensed as
a living, pulsing, gnomic background to all Germanic poetry—not just verse specifically intended as didactic.     Carolyne Larrington, A Store of Common Sense, 1993 p. 18.

Beowulf
reflects an attitude towards sentential expression similar to that which must have motivated the redactor of Hávamál, or the Anglo-Saxon scribe who copied Maxims II in front of a version of the Chronicle. That attitude may be described in brief as a respect for and appreciation of the uses of traditonal wisdom.  Although it has at times been called into question, there is no real reason to doubt the ancient origin of gnomic poetry in Germanic. The existence of gnomic poems in both Old English and Old Norse, the embracing of sentential expression by the studiously antiquarian Beowulf-poet, and the near absence of such expressions in Old English Christian narrative poetry all argue for a pre-Christian flowering of the genre.   . . .   A pre-existing generic frame may absorb material from any source, and in the case of proverbial material, sources are especially nebulous.    Susan Deskis, Beowulf and the Medieval Proverb Tradition, 1996, p. 140. 

My adoption of the term paroemial cognitive patterning was meant to address perceived reflections of an ancient background of communal wisdom in particular passages of [saga] narrative where there is neither utteranceof, nor the least explicit allusionto its formulaic encoding in proverb texts.

Richard Harris, “On the Decline of Paroemial Cognitive Patterning in Some Later Icelandic Sagas,” Old Norse Discussion Group, MLA, Chicago, 10 January 2014.

SOME THOUGHTFUL MOMENTS IN BĒOWULF, WITH NORTHERLY GERMANIC ECHOES:

A.  Bēowulf, reporting to Hygelac on the Danish court, predicts the failure of the alliance marriage of Frēawaru to Ingeld of the Heaðobards:
ll. 2029b-31.  Oft seldan hwær / æfter leodhryre lytle hwile / bongar bugeð, þeah seo bryd duge!
and ll. 2063-66.  þonne bioð abrocene on ba healfe / aðsweord eorla; syððan Ingelde / weallað wælniðas, ond him wiflufan / æfter cearwælmum colran weorðað.
The paroemial patterns:
The pragmatic realities of vengeance undertakings:
TPMA 2.   50.
BLUT/sang/blood  8. Blutnächte sind die jähesten Nächte  Nord. 32 Þat er fornt mál, at blóðnætr eru hverjum bráðastar Das ist ein altes Sprichwort, dass die Blutnächte für jeden die jähesten sind VÍGA-GLÚMS SAGA 15, 2 (= JÓNSSON, ARKIV 43. JÓNSSON 18). 33 Þvíat blóðnætr eru bráðastar Denn Blutnächte sind die jähesten VATNSDŒLA SAGA 24, 1 (= JÓNSSON, ARKIV 43). 34 Blóðnætr aru bráðastar Blutnächte sind die jähesten BISKUPASŒGUR I, 142 (→ JÓNSSON, ARKIV 43).

TPMA 10.   120.
SCHLAGEN/battre/to hit 16. Die Hand freut sich nicht lange am Schlag Mlat. 217 credo euenturum uobis, quod uulgo dici assolet, ferienti interdum breue percussionis gaudium fore, nec diu manum ictu exhilarari solere Ich glaube, es wird für euch herauskommen, was man allgemein zu sagen pflegt, dass für den, der schlägt, manchmal die Freude des Schlagens kurz sei und sich die Hand nicht lange am Schlag zu freuen pflege SAXO GRAMM. 137, 25. Nord. 218 Þat er mælt, at skamma stund verðr hönd höggvi fegin Das wird gesagt, dass die Hand sich (nur) kurze Zeit am Schlag freut NJÁLS SAGA 42, 9 (= JÓNSSON, ARKIV 196. JÓNSSON 82). 219 Mun hér sannaz þat sem mælt er, at skamma stund verðr hönd höggvi fegin Das wird sich hier deutlich zeigen, was man sagt, dass die Hand sich (nur) kurze Zeit am Schlag freut NJÁLS SAGA 99, 9 (= JÓNSSON, ARKIV 196). 220 Nú er svá orðit, sem mælt er, at skamma stund verðr hönd höggvi fegin Nun ist es so gesprochen, wie es gesagt wird, dass die Hand sich (nur) kurze Zeit am Schlag freut NJÁLS SAGA 134, 3 (= JÓNSSON, ARKIV 196). 221 Stutta stund verdur hond hoggi feigenn (Nur) kurze Zeit freut sich die Hand am Schlag KÅLUND 88 (= JÓNSSON, ARKIV 196).

1. ETHICS OF KINSHIP OBLIGATIONS:
The paroemial patterns:
ÍF VII.  82. 260. Þá mælti Grettir: “Berr er hverr á bakinu, nema sér bróður eigi.”
TPMA 2.  128.  BRUDER/frère/brother  1. Ein Bruder ist wertvoll und von grossem Nutzen 1.3. Wer keinen Bruder hat, ist nackt (ungeschützt)  Mlat. 9 Nudum habere tergum fraternitatis inopem, referebat (scil. Ericus) Er (Ericus) rief, dass der Bruderlose einen ungeschützten Rücken habe SAXO GRAMM. 135, 19.  Nord. 10.11 Berr er hverr á bakinu (NJÁLS SAGA: at baki), nema sér bróður eigi Jeder ist am Rücken nackt, ausser demjenigen, der einen Bruder hat GRETTIS SAGA 82, 13 (= JÓNSSON, ARKIV 25. GERING S. 6. JÓNSSON 22). NJÁLS SAGA 152, 5. 12 Fratribus orbatus est pro nudo reputatus. – Bar ær brodherløss man Jemand, der seiner Brüder beraubt ist, wird als nackt angesehen. – Ein bruderloser Mann ist nackt LÅLE 395. Variiert: Nord. 13 Opt kømr mér Mána brúþar (H.s.: bjarnar2) Í byrvind Brœþraleyse; Hyggjomk umb, Es hildr þróask Oft kommt mir der Mangel an Brüdern in den Sinn (wörtl.: in den Fahrtwind der Mondbraut [des Mondbären]); ich denke darüber nach, wenn der Kampflärm anschwillt EGILL, SONATORREK 13, 1 (→EGILS SAGA S. 305).
Sígrdrífumál:
Ek.  II.  SDM. 22. 312.  “Þat ræð ek þér it fyrsta,/at þú við frændr þína/vammalaust verir;/síðr þú hefnir,/þótt þeir sakar geri;/þat kveða dauðu, duga.”

Bēowulf, dying, on his treatment of kinsmen:
ll. 2739-44a.
“Ic ðæs ealles mæg /feorhbennum seoc gefean habban; /for ðam me witan ne ðearf waldend fira / morðorbealo maga, þonne min sceaceð / lif of lice.”
Bēowulf to Hygelac, on how a kinsman should behave:
ll. 2163-9a.
Hyrde ic þæt þam frætwum feower mearas / lungre, gelice, last weardode, / æppelfealuwe; he him est geteah / meara ond maðma. Swa sceal mæg don, / nealles inwitnet oðrum bregdon / dyrnum cræfte, deað renian / hondgesteallan.
TPMA 5.   452. HAUS/maison/house 5. Bewohner und Verhältnisse im Haus 5.3.2. Was man im eigenen Haus nicht hat, bringt man nicht nach aussen  Nord. 148 Satt er et fornkveðna: án er ills gengis, nema heiman hafi Wahr ist das Sprichwort: “Man is ohne schlechtes Gefolge, wenn man es nicht von daheim mitbringt” GÍSLA SAGA 31, 7 (= JÓNSSON, ARKIV 142). 149 Satt er þat, er mælt er . . . án er illt um gengi, nema heiman hafi Es ist wahr, was man sagt: . . .  HŒNSA-ÞÓRIS SAGA 6 S. 18 (= JÓNSSON, ARKIV 142). 150 Án er illt gengi, nema heiman hafi NJÁLS SAGA 17, 4 (= JÓNSSON, ARKIV 142. JÓNSSON 55).
Wīglāf observes the claims of kinship, stays with Bēowulf in his need:
ll. 2599b-2602.
Hiora in anum weoll /sefa wið sorgum; sibb æfre ne mæg /wiht onwendan þam ðe wel þenceð.
Paroemial patterns of fratricide:
Hávamál:

Ek. I. HVM. 89. 45.  “Bróðurbana sínum/þótt á brautu mæti,/húsi hálfbrunnu,/hesti alskjótum,/ -- þá er jór ónýtr,/ef einn fótr brotnar --,/verði-t maðr svá tryggr/at þessu trúi öllu.”
How Unferth treated kin, and the apparent significance of this:
Bēowulf accuses him of killing his brothers:
ll. 587-9. “þeah ðu þinum broðrum to banan wurde, / heafodmægum; þæs þu in helle scealt /werhðo dreogan, þeah þin wit duge.”
The narrator, noticing Hrōþgār and Hrōþulf still love each other, remarks next that Unferð is admired in the court despite the fratricides:
ll. 1165b-8a. Swylce þær Unferþ þyle / æt fotum sæt frean Scyldinga; gehwylc hiora his ferhþe treowde, / þæt he hæfde mod micel, þeah þe he his magum nære / arfæst æt ecga gelacum. 
Wealhþēow assures Hrōþgār of the continued loyalty of relatives:
ll. 1180b-7. 
“Ic minne can / glædne Hroþulf, þæt he þa geogoðe wile / arum healdan, gyf þu ær þonne he, / wine Scildinga, worold oflætest; / wene ic þæt he mid gode gyldan wille / uncran eaferan, gif he þæt eal gemon, / hwæt wit to willan ond to worðmyndum / umborwesendum ær arna gefremedon.”

2. ETHICS OF HONOUR: OATHS, INTEGRITY AND COMITATUS:

1.  Hrōþgār, honouring the oath:
ll. 80-81a.
  He beot ne aleh, beagas dælde, / sinc æt symle.  
The paroemial patterns:
Sígrdrífumál:
Ek.  II.  SDM. 23. 312.  
Þat ræð ek þér annat,/at þú eið né sverir,/nema þann er saðr sé;/grimmar limar/ganga at tryggðrofi;/armr er vára vargr.
The Wanderer: 
ll. 70-72.  Beorn sceal gebidan, þonne he beot spriceð, oþþæt collenferð cunne gearwe hwider hreþra gehygd hweorfan wille.
Hrōþgār recalls his men’s oaths to protect Hēorot from Grendel:
ll. 480-4.  Ful oft gebeotedon beore druncne / ofer ealowæge oretmecgas / þæt hie in beorsele bidan woldon / Grendles guþe mid gryrum ecga.
(Instances in which Bēowulf declares or remembers his oaths:
Bēowulf’s boast regarding the levelling of odds in the fight with Grendel, hand to hand fighting:
ll. 433-441.  “Hæbbe ic eac geahsod þæt se æglæca / for his wonhydum wæpna ne recceð. / Ic þæt þonne forhicge (swa me Higelac sie, / min mondrihten, modes bliðe), / þæt ic sweord bere oþðe sidne scyld, / geolorand to guþe, ac ic mid grape sceal / fon wið feonde ond ymb feorh sacan, / lað wið laþum; ðær gelyfan sceal / dryhtnes dome se þe hine deað nimeð.”
Bēowulf recalls his youth with Breca, and their bēot competitions:
ll. 535-8. “Wit þæt gecwædon cnihtwesende / ond gebeotedon (wæron begen þa git / on geogoðfeore) þæt wit on garsecg ut / aldrum neðdon, ond þæt geæfndon swa.”
Bēowulf reaffirms his boast promise to kill Grendel or die trying:
ll. 636-9. “Ic gefremman sceal / eorlic ellen, oþðe endedæg / on þisse meoduhealle minne gebidan.”
Bēowulf again affirms his commitment to the level playing field:
ll. 681-7. “Nat he þara goda þæt he me ongean slea, / rand geheawe, þeah ðe he rof sie / niþgeweorca; ac wit on niht sculon / secge ofersittan, gif he gesecean dear / wig ofer wæpen, ond siþðan witig god / on swa hwæþere hond, halig dryhten, / mærðo deme, swa him gemet þince.”
Bēowulf remembers his bēot as he engages Grendel:
ll. 758-60a.  Gemunde þa se goda, mæg Higelaces, / æfenspræce, uplang astod / ond him fæste wiðfeng; fingras burston.
Bēowulf’s last bēot:
ll. 2510-5, 2524b-8. 
Beowulf maðelode, beotwordum spræc / niehstan siðe: “Ic geneðde fela / guða on geogoðe; gyt ic wylle, / frod folces weard, fæhðe secan, / mærðu fremman, gif mec se mansceaða / of eorðsele ut geseceð.”
“Nelle ic beorges weard /forfleon fotes trem, ac unc furður sceal /weorðan æt wealle, swa unc wyrd geteoð, /metod manna gehwæs. Ic eom on mode from /þæt ic wið þone guðflogan gylp ofersitte.”)
Wīglāf reminds Bēowulf’s comitatus members of their oaths:
ll. 2633-38a. "Ic ðæt mæl geman,  þær we medu þegun, / þonne we geheton ussum hlaforde / in biorseleðe us ðas beagas geaf, / þæt we him ða guðgetawa gyldan woldon / gif him þyslicu þearf gelumpe, / helmas ond heard sweord.”
Wīglāf upon the comitatus’ neglect of Bēowulf’s gifts and their oaths:
ll. 2862-2876.
Wiglaf maðelode, Weohstanes sunu, / sec, sarigferð (seah on unleofe): / "þæt, la, mæg secgan se ðe wyle soð specan / þæt se mondryhten se eow ða maðmas geaf, / eoredgeatwe, þe ge þær on standað, / þonne he on ealubence oft gesealde / healsittendum helm ond byrnan, / þeoden his þegnum, swylce he þrydlicost / ower feor oððe neah findan meahte, / þæt he genunga guðgewædu / wraðe forwurpe, ða hyne wig beget. / Nealles folccyning fyrdgesteallum / gylpan þorfte; hwæðre him god uðe, / sigora waldend, þæt he hyne sylfne gewræc / ana mid ecge,   þa him wæs elnes þearf.
Wīglāf remembers the gifts and kind treatment he received:
ll. 2602-8. Wiglaf wæs haten Weoxstanes sunu, / leoflic lindwiga, leod Scylfinga, / mæg ælfheres; geseah his mondryhten / under heregriman hat þrowian. / Gemunde ða ða are þe he him ær forgeaf, / wicstede weligne Wægmundinga, / folcrihta gehwylc, swa his fæder ahte.
Wīglāf prefers to die rather than return with weapons given by Hrothgar:
ll. 2651b-6a.
God wat on mec / þæt me is micle leofre þæt minne lichaman / mid minne goldgyfan gled fæðmie. / Ne þynceð me gerysne þæt we rondas beren / eft to earde, nemne we æror mægen / fane gefyllan,   feorh ealgian / Wedra ðeodnes.

3. ETHICS OF KINGLY LEADERSHIP
Among other passages in Saxo:
5. O-R Liber quintus. 117. III. 14. "Qui enim maiorum exemplis obviat, transfugam ac defectorem se probat." Tum Ericus: "Sapiens a sapientiori erudiri debet. Discendo enim doctrina proficit, dogmate disciplina provehitur." Contra Frotho: "Quid mihi exemplaris documenti hæc tua superfluitatis imitatio dabit?" Ad hæc Ericus: "Tutius regem fides parvula quam ingens vallat perfidia." PF Book V. 131-2. In a lengthy exchange Erik responds to Frothi's complaint when he repeatedly throws away the food served him:
"Whoever opposes traditional customs declares himself a rebel and deserter." "A wise man must be educated by a wiser.49 Teaching assists learning and sound doctrine enhances teaching." "What marvellous lesson will this over-affected style of yours teach me?" "A king is more stoutly defended by a small measure of loyalty than widespread knavery." 

WORKS USED AND CITED.

Manuel Aguirre, “‘Beot’, Hybris, and the Will in Beowulf,” SELIM 6 (1996) 5–31. 
Theodore M. Andersson, “Displacement of the Heroic Ideal in the Family Sagas, Speculum 45 1970 575-593.
Shirley Arora, “The Perception of Proverbiality,” Proverbium 1 (1984) 1-38.
Susan Deskis, “Beowulfand the Medieval Proverb Tradition. Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 155. Tempe 1996.  See especially Ch. 5, “Warnings and Advice,” which studies proverbs and sentences which “provide directives for individual behavior.” p. 105.
Stefán Einarsson, “Old English Beot and Old Icelandic Heitstrenging,” PMLA, 49 (1934) 99-103.
Richard P. Honeck,  A Proverb in Mind. The Cognitive Science of Proverbial Wit and Wisdom. Mahwah, NJ 1997.
Carolyne Larrington, A Store of Common Sense. Gnomic Theme and Style in Old Icelandic and Old English Wisdom Poetry.  Oxford 1993.
Neal R. Norrick, How Proverbs Mean. Semantic Studies in English Proverbs. Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs 27. Berlin, NY & Amsterdam 1985.
Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy. The Technologizing of the Word. London 1982.
M. C. van den Toorn, Ethics and Moral in Icelandic Saga Literature. Assen, Holland 1955.
Stephen D. Winick, “Intertextuality and Innovation in a Definition of the Proverb Genre,” Cognition, Comprehension and Communication: A Decade of North American Proverb Studies (1990-2000), ed. Wolfgang Mieder. Baltmannsweiler 2003, 571-601.  [Revised second chapter of S. D. Winick, The Proverb Process: Intertextuality and Proverbial Innovation in Popular Culture. Diss. University of Pennsylvania 1998.]
TPMA = Thesaurus Proverbiorum Medii Aevi. Lexikon der Sprichwörter des romanisch-germanischen Mittelalters. Kuratorium Singer.  Vols. 1-13 & Quellenverzeichnis Berlin & New York 1995-2002.