Beowulf on Steorarume

Diacritically-Marked Text of
The Battle
at Finnesburh

facing a New Translation
(with explanatory notes)

edited & translated by

from Lambeth Palace MS 487/489 [non-extant],
original destroyed, text from Hickes' Thesaurus
Die Schlacht
bei Finnsburg:

Text mit diakritischen Zeichen
mit paralleler Übersetzung
von Hugo Gering,
 bearbeitet von

English Introduction
The fragment of Old English poetry known as the Battle of Finnesburh survives only in George Hickes's Thesaurus of 1705 which attributes the poem to a single leaf found in a manuscript in the Lambeth Palace library, thought to be either Lambeth Palace MS 487 (a 13th-c. collection of Old English homilies) or Lambeth Palace MS 489 (an 11th-c. Old English homily book). Unfortunately, Hickes rather poor scribal accuracy has required a less conservative system of emendation than is usual. The Finnesburh Fragment is of particular interest as a lay of the battle of Finnesburh is sung by a gleeman at Hrothgar's court (Beowulf ll.1067-1158).
  Between the account of Finnesburh given in Beowulf and the Finnesburh Fragment printed here, we may construct a rough idea of the story of the battle: Hnaef, along with sixty loyal men of the Half-Danes (?-Danish settlers in Jutland?), visit King Finn of Frisia. Finn's wife, Hildeburh, is Hnaef's sister (both Hnaef and Hildeburh are children of Hoc), seemingly given to Finn in marriage in order to settle an earlier feud. During Hnaef's visit, the Frisians mount a surprise attack upon the hall where the Half-Danes are resting. Jutes (OE eotan), a West Germanic tribe who later settled in Kent, also appear to be somehow involved in the action, at least from the testimony of the Finnesburh lay in Beowulf , though it is unclear whether the Jutes fight on the same side as the Frisians, or on the same side as the Half-Danes, or first with one and then with the other, though the first scenario seems most likely.
  The Finnesburh Fragment opens after the Half-Danes are already under attack from the Frisians, but before Hnaef is slain. The Danes take up positions at the doors to the hall - Sigeferth and Eaha (or Eawa?) at one, and Ordlaf and Guthlaf at the other, supported by Hengest. Garulf and Guthere are the two Frisian warriors named in the poem - one of them, though it is not clear which, cautions the other not to be too rash in attacking and then calls out to ask who is guarding one of the doors, being answered by Sigeferth. Garulf and Guthere may be blood relations of some sort, and Garulf is additionally referred to as 'Guthlaf's son', though whether this Guthlaf is identical to the Danish Guthlaf (thus the battle would pit father against son) or not is not made clear. The fragment breaks off before either Hnaef or his nephew, son of Finn and Hildeburh, are killed in the fighting. The last of the fragment mentions a wounded warrior, probably a Frisian, and a folces hyrde , probably Finn, who inquires about the battle.

  The Finnesburh Fragment has the Danes hold off the attackers for five days without any Danish casualties, but from Beowulf's Finnesburh lay we know that before the battle is over both Hnaef and Finn's and Hildeburh's unnamed son lay dead. The battle having been fought to a stand-still, one of the sides, most likely the Frisians, offers a treaty. Finn latter swears to give the Half-Danes equal place in his hall, equal honour and equal gifts, and promises that the Frisians will not taunt them by reference to the battle, so long as the Danes swear fealty to Finn. Thus an extraordinary circumstance arises in which the Danes pledge service to Finn, the killer of Hnaef, rather than avenging death of their lord. Hengest, who has become the leader of the Danes since Hnaef's death, pledges the Danes to Finn. The bodies of Hnaef and Finn's son are laid on a pyre under Hildeburh's direction, who thus sings a death-dirge for both her brother and her son.
  Hengest--who seems, since he takes up de facto leadership of the Danes, to be a Dane himself, though Hengest (and his brother Horsa) are recorded as the leaders of the Jutish settlement of Kent--broods through the winter, thinking often of his homeland and whether he can bring it about that he may avenge Hnaef's death. Finally Hengest takes up a sword (named Hunlafing? or is given a sword by Hunlaf's son?) and leads an attack on Finn and the Frisians. Finn is killed, the Danes ransack the palace for treasure, seize Hildeburh and bear her back home with them.
   In Beowulf the recounting of the lay of Finnesburh occurs just before a number of speeches by Wealhtheow in which she attempts to secure her sons' future; the poem darkly hints at the future bad faith of Hrothulf, Hrothgar's nephew, and his treachery towards her sons. The strong emphasis on Hildeburh within the Finnesburh lay invites comparison between the position of Hildeburh, as a 'powerless' and unsuccessful peace-weaver and Wealhtheow's own future failure to avert internecine struggle amongst the Scyldings. Hildeburh's plight perhaps is an even closer parallel to the plight of Freawaru, Hrothgar's and Wealhtheow's daughter, when she is given in marriage to Ingeld in order to attempt to settle a feud between the Heathobards and the Danes. Beowulf predicts (ll.2025-2072) that Freawaru too will suffer in the failure of this peace-weaving, when Ingeld is incited against the Scyldings.

  To return to the Finnesburh Fragment, our extant fragment may be from a rather late telling of the story, as Van Kirk Dobbie claims that there are metrical irregularities (p. xviii-xix) which resemble those found in the 10th/11th-c. poem Battle of Maldon, though one could imagine an earlier, 8th-c. date based on the content. The brevity of the poem is such that dating is even more uncertain than usual. In its complete state, the Battle of Finnesburhwas likely somewhat longer, perhaps spanning two or three hundred numbered lines, narrating the entire story from the arrival of Hnaef in Friesland to the death of Finn. 

Deutsche Einleitung
Über die Finnsage s. oben die [Beowulf -]Anmerkung zu V. 1068ff. - Das vorliegende Bruchstück schildert den Beginn des Überfalles, den der Friesenkönig Finn gegen seine Gäste (seinen Schwager Hnäf und dessen Gefolge von sechzig Streiten) ausführte, indem er in der Nacht die Halle, die ihnen eingeräumt war, angriff. [Hugo Gering]

Vielen Dank an Dr. Johann Köberl für deutsche Sprachkorrekturen, usw.