Ruth Sierra's English Lit Comp Blog: Beowulf's Questions
Unferth begins by asking Beowulf whether he is the same person who had in his he had committed such an unpardonable act as the slaying of his relations. . The fact that he is in a foreign land does not detract him from setting issues right. Throughout the poem, similarities between personal relationships then and to be like Beowulf and Wiglaf, noble and courageous, or like Unferth and Grendel. In the Old English epic poem Beowulf, Unferth or Hunferth is a thegn (a retainer, servant) of the Unferth makes fun of the young Beowulf's foolish decision to have a swimming (or rowing) contest in the North Sea, ignoring all advice, and.
If he is, then he must have had the shared swimming adventure with Breca in his youth. Hrothgar and his thanes, far from restraining Unferth, watch the drama in approving silence — the identity of the stranger is established beyond doubt — Unferth with his presence of mind had done his liege-lord a great service!
Beowulf is not a super-hero but a mortal — an extraordinary mortal no doubt, but a mortal all the same, who has had his inglorious moments and is as vulnerable as anyone else.
Foils: Beowulf and Unferth by Iman Omer on Prezi
He is also immature, in that he is willing to risk his life in perilous seas only to achieve something so mundane and vainglorious as fulfilling a boast. Little could be expected, insinuates Unferth with relish, from someone who indulged in such childish pranks, least of all victory against monsters. Upon these postulates, Unferth warns his countrymen not to trust Beowulf too much with the Grendel affair. Unferth is actually playing a double game — one for the Danes and one for himself.
Very calmly and very cleverly, Unferth the speaker par excellence warns Beowulf not to boast too much as he was wont to do because he was not as great as he thought himself to be, at least not at this point.
Unferth had very specifically said that Breca had defeated Beowulf in a swimming competition. The poet too, in his contrast of the conditions of the two contestants at the end of the race, seems to support the fact. He first accuses Unferth of being drunk, thereby hinting that a man under the influence of liquor will say anything, cast malicious aspersions which need not be taken seriously. He then successfully draws the attention of the audience away from the immediate accusation of failure by digressing to narrate in extra-vivid detail his adventures in the sea.
This efficacious distraction provides Beowulf the platform to go on the offensive. The fact that he is in a foreign land does not detract him from setting issues right. Secondly, it shows his presence of mind. Physical strength alone did not make a good warrior; the ability to think fast, to strategize on the spot were added assets.
Thirdly, it also shows his ability to remain calm under pressure. Schuking puts this admirably: The test of man is above all his relationship to the irascible impulses. He must be continens in ira [continent in wrath]. To show him as such was perhaps the main reason for the insertion of the Unferth episode in the epic. Unferth had thought that his discrediting of Beowulf in public would make Beowulf an object of ridicule in the Danish court and shame him, and he would thereafter flee from the place in embarrassment.
The result is just the opposite. Beowulf is now more than ever determined to prove himself.
If he failed, Unferth would have the last laugh. It is this consideration which elicits the steely resolve from him: A similar assurance is made to Queen Wealhtheow a few lines later.
One may recall that in the story when Beowulf first comes to the land of the Danes, he is accosted on the coast by an officer in charge of security of the cliffs. Wulfgar is more cautious than the officer, and it is decidedly more difficult for Beowulf to get past him.
The third encounter is with none other than Unferth and it is the toughest of all. Unferth is definitely not as courteous as the other two. Thus Beowulf, who had come to Denmark to battle Grendel, has already faced three instances of agon before he is made welcome in Heorot. These three episodes may be said to correspond to the three fights of Beowulf in the story. At lineUnferth impugns Beowulf, bringing up the story of Beowulf's swimming-contest with Breca the son of Beanstan. Unferth makes fun of the young Beowulf's foolish decision to have a swimming or rowing contest in the North Seaignoring all advice, and declares that he lost.
He ends by predicting a bad result if Beowulf dares face Grendel. Beowulf answers the challenge by boasting that he is the strongest swimmer in the world, and entertains the company with a tale about how, in that contest, he swam the North Sea in full armor while carrying a sword, killed nine huge sea-monsters who dragged him to the ocean floor, and was carried by the currents to the shore of the land of the Finns.
Beowulf says that he has never heard of anyone else having such a great sea-fight as he had; and then adds particularly that he has never heard such stories told of Unferth, and in fact the story people tell about Unferth is how he killed his brothers, for which, Beowulf predicts, Unferth will be tormented in Hell despite his cleverness.
Unferth silently concedes defeat and the feast continues. Change of heart lines [ edit ] After Beowulf kills Grendel, Unferth seems to have a change of heart. When Beowulf hangs up Grendel's torn-off arm at the door of Heorot, the poet says that "no man was more silent than Ecglaf's son", and that he made no more boasting speeches. The poet goes on to say that everyone knows of Unferth's courage and fealty, "though he did not show mercy to his kin in sword-play.
As Beowulf arms himself to enter the mere, Unferth lends him his sword, Hrunting. The poet says that Unferth "did not bear in mind" his earlier challenging insults that he had spoken "when drunken", but acknowledged that Beowulf was "the better sword-fighter. Parting lines [ edit ] The morning after the celebratory feast on the occasion of Beowulf killing Grendel's mother, Beowulf and his people prepare to return to their home. Beowulf returns the sword Hrunting to Unferth, praising the weapon and its owner: This is Unferth's last appearance in the poem.
Analysis of Unferth in Beowulf[ edit ] Unferth's presence in the poem has been a point of much scholarly debate.
A Comparison Between the World of Beowulf and Modern America
It is noticed that Unferth's brief remarks against Beowulf's youthful risk-taking is "a masterpiece of invective" and yet there is no reprimand for it, which suggests that it may have been part of Unferth's duties or practices to make a visitor defend his reputation.
Rosier, relying on Latin glosses in other Old English writings, interpreted the word to suggest something villainous or scurrilous.
A Comparison Between the World of Beowulf and Modern America D espite numerous cultural and technological advancements, life in modern America continues to bear resemblance to the Anglo-Saxon world. Although it may take time and some loss of pride to admit it, since characteristics of human nature have stayed the same, from work place to personal relationships, the similarities between the two worlds are uncanny.
C omitatus, an agreement between a lord and his thanes, may seem a little strange at first. However, a closer look reveals a striking similarity between that code and today's work place. T he Anglo-Saxon standards of a good leader can be further seen in the modern American political process.
People tend to favor and vote for candidates who seem to offer the greatest rewards, such as tax cuts or needed legislation. Furthermore, those who support a candidate expect favors in return if that candidate is elected, just as gifts and bribes have become a way of retaining loyalty and trust.