The Heroic Age

Issue 5

Summer/Autumn 2001

Beowulf and the Wills: Traces of Totemism?


Notes and Bibliography


This paper began as a presentation on the wills at the 1991 Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, where Phillip Pulsiano included it in a session called "Anglo-Saxon Orphans: New Approaches to Neglected Texts." For such support I am grateful to Phillip and also to Jill Frederick, Geoffrey Russom, and Elaine Treharne. Recently, the advice of John M. Hill has been indispensable. Unless otherwise attributed, translations of Old English are mine.


1. Part of my purpose in this paper is to reexamine aspects of the outmoded argument for "the matriarchate," proposed by German scholars well over a century ago, starting with Bachofen(1897). A Darwinist evolutionary theory proposing patterned stages in social development, Bachofen's argument-that matriarchy precedes patriarchy, which then gives way to cognation-exerted its most profound influence in the writings of Karl Marx. Via such writers as Bastian, Tylor, and Frazer (and, one might add, Joseph Campbell), this nineteenth-century notion has influenced medieval studies ever since, if only subliminally for the last generation or two. The theory has been rejected, by American if not by English Anglo-Saxonists, but never fully refuted. A detailed history of the dispute appears in Murray (1983:12-32). Milestones in the study of Anglo-Saxon kinship structure can be found in the works by Grønbech (1931), Lancaster (1958), Phillpotts (1913), and Seebohm (1911). Ausenda (1935) also explores Germanic kinship structure. Learned but less reliable are works such as those by Shore (1906) and Gummere (1901, 1930). Gummere's book is deemed "excellent" by Klaeber (1950:clxxvi) in my text for this paper. Murray engages the extensive German scholarship throughout his book (in turn, Ausenda engages Murray). Contrasting the geschlossene or feste Sippe, "closed or fixed kin group," with the wechselnde Sippe, "open or shifting kin group," Murray (1983:16, n. 12) notes that "examples of the traditional teaching can be found everywhere in German (and many non-German) historical works, legal and otherwise." Murray (1983:16) also indicates that "patterns of reckoning relationship are reflected in the terms Schwert-, Ger-, or Speermagen, the sword or spearkin, composed of male relatives of the male line, and Spindel-, Spill-, or Kunkelmagen, the spindle kin, consisting of females or those related through a female; another classification was current which simply divided the Magschaft, or kindred, into Vatermagen and Muttermagen, relatives whose relationship was mediated through one's father and mother, respectively." By 1920 Aron (1920:6) could say that "the literature on the subject has grown to . . . 437 titles." In his day he could assume widespread acceptance of Das Mutterrecht: "we have shown that matriarchy must have existed among the Germans centuries before Christ in a purer form than Tacitus and Germanic hero-lore give evidence of" (Aron 1920:72). Such confidence in social Darwinism and suppositional reconstructions of "Urgermanentum" (Phillpotts 1913:256) would be impossible today. Treating "the Cycle of Beowulf," Aron (1920:50) could also unreservedly "quote Gummere's excellent comments on these passages" (including lines 2367-70a): "it is clear that Beowulf is expected to succeed his mother's brother on the throne," a presumption that I find probable, prehistorically, though not at all clear by the time of the Anglo-Saxons. Further, according to Gummere (1930:138; and Aron 1920:50), "when Hygelac is slain, Beowulf shall marry the widow and rule over the realm, an expectation clearly founded on precedent custom, which cares little for the fact that Hygelac has left a son." Though worthy of reconsideration, Gummere's "precedent custom" is anything but clear.

2. One might argue that modern scholarship informed by hindsight puts us in a better position to survey the past than those who actually lived it. It is as though we were looking back over many ranges from a high pass, while the Saxon, if he bothered to look back at all, would see his valley pathway swallowed by close woods, not far from the sound of water.

3. Thus it may be most accurate to speak of "fratrilateral" rather than agnatic or bilateral succession among the royal families of these proto-historical Germanic nations. As argued below, I suspect that the prehistoric pattern was cognatic in the obsolete sense, i.e., "matrilineal," with mother intermediating between heirs, specifically between her brother and her son. Whereas the term cognatic was formerly opposed to agnatic or "patrilineal," nowadays it is used strictly as a synonym for bilateral. This ambiguity must be kept in mind, however, when exploring the older secondary sources. For help with this galaxy of anthropological terms, see the glossary in Schusky (1972:89-93). This book remains the best introduction to the formal study of kinship. In the present context, the following entry in Schusky (1972:91) is especially noteworthy: "MATRIARCHATE: Rule of the family by the mother; no strictly matriarchal peoples are known." My own studies confirm this assertion, although matrilineal arrangements, as in the Crow kinship system (Schusky 1972:33-38), are common.

4. The lack of regular succession rules made dynastic strife inevitable throughout the Anglo-Saxon period. A recent treatment of this topic can be found, with relevant bibliography, in Stafford's book. She writes that "throneworthy is a highly charged political term . . . a claim rather than a title, and those who used it . . . were making political bids as much as stating inheritance rules" (Stafford 1997:83). Further, "indeterminacy hung over the inheritance prospects of royal males" (Stafford 1997:84). It seems likely that the array of conceivable heirs was at least as complex in Germania as in the turmoil of Anglo-Saxon England, where migration, conversion, serial monogamy (Stafford 1997:66), internecine warfare, interregnum, and invasion prevented any final resolution of the inheritance pattern throughout the entire period. The vexed issue of succession finally brought the period itself to a violent end, fomented by strife among rival claimants, a Norwegian, a Norman, and two Godwinsson hopefuls whose claim was based mainly upon Cnut's advancement of their capable father and-for Harald though certainly not for Tostig-the rumor of Edward's deathbed selection.

5. One could consider feudalism itself a medieval adaptation of Roman law, or rather of the Late Roman manorial system. Outmoded romantic views, dominant at the end of the nineteenth century, envisioned not only the ignis fatuus "the matriarchate" (see n. 1; Schusky [1972:72] discusses "earlier anthropologists who saw great differences between matriliny and patriliny. Much useless debate occurred over which came first"). The romantic view also saw Germania as a confederation of free warrior-farmers, mutually committed in the Mannerbund, untrammeled by the repression of feudalism. Wisely, Phillpotts (1913:256) cautioned against such idealizations of arcane and undoubtedly ruthless times: "We must therefore beware of regarding the Icelandic commonwealth as a new Germania of Tacitus, miraculously appearing in the Northern seas to show us what Urgermanentum was really like. Anglo-Saxon England is almost equally suspect from this point of view." Utopian visions of a free Germania necessarily overlooked the extensive slave trade, endemic in all the medieval Germanic kingdoms, a major impetus for Viking raids. Manumission of slaves is quite common in the Old English wills-to occur, of course, after the death of the testator. And while it may be valid to oppose odal to feudal landholding in the Early Saxon Period, archaeologists continue to unearth, in field boundaries and elsewhere, clear evidence of manorial subdivision on Late Saxon estates.

6. See also Eliason (1978). The Geatish throne, for some reason resisted by the hero, is now conveyed as a virtual fief bestowed by Heardred's killer, Onela, upon whom King Beowulf, following his anachronistically feudal preferment, eventually wreaks vengeance, thus exacerbating the Hrethling/Scylfing feud that darkens the end of the epic with that mood of impending doom.

7. The inclination nowadays is toward a post-Alfredian provenance for the poem-see Chase (1981)-rather than Whitelock's "Age of Bede." While I find Niles's Anglo-Danish argument most convincing, I also suspect that distinctions like "Anglo-Danish" may have more to do with British politics than with social realities in that attractive archipelago, which probably had vastly more permeable borders and a much less monolithic culture than we have been taught to envision ever since the historiography of Bede. That is, Anglo-Saxon and later Scandinavian immigrants probably were closer in language and culture than we have been taught, as suggested by Moulton. The very nature of the English national epic suggests this: geographically, a "Swede" fights trolls in "Denmark," but nonetheless is enshrined as England's folk hero. In any case, I beseech Aeolus to confine these winds in his bull-hide bag for now. Since the current essay looks past Anglo-Saxon practice for a glimpse of prehistoric possibilities, the year that saw quill scrape parchment is immaterial here.

8. Hill (1995:5) looks "to historical analogues in northern Europe and France, as well as to near past and present societies on the Pacific rim, in Southeast Asia (especially the so-called 'house societies'), among North American Indians, and elsewhere. What matters is similarity of social organization, not ethnic background or geography." Like Hill (1995:5), "my anthropological procedure in general is analogical, comparative, cross-temporal, and opportunistic. I look to ethnographies for societies organized in ways that recall details of the social and cultural world of Danes, Geats, and Swedes in Beowulf." Here and elsewhere I use the term tribal in reference to Hill's "house" or "face-to-face" societies, a category that includes the premigratory Angles and Saxons, Norse and Frisians. Broadly (recent political developments engendered by the American clearances notwithstanding), tribe specifies a premarket, preindustrial, and often preliterary culture, usually organized in small, contiguous, frequently factitious kin groups, where family is indistinguishable from polity. Cf. Glosecki (1989:2): this examination of Germanic society "cannot be accomplished without reference to unrelated tribal cultures that have been closely studied in modern times. Such comparisons by no means imply that the Norse and Netsilik, for instance, had identical folkways or any historical connection." With Ausenda (1995:40), "I would like once more to underscore the fact that there is no 'comprehensive model' . . . that applies to all pastoral societies whether past or contemporary."

9. Quotations in this paragraph appear in Schusky (1972:15).

10. Phillpotts (1913:esp. 1-9, 205-44) devotes much of her book to an analysis of the laws, with particular regard to wergilds, where she tends to ascribe "to Danish influence passages which show a slightly greater degree of kin-solidarity" (Phillpotts 1913:242). See also Lancaster (1958:239-47, 360-62). A convenient list of the key legal codes, chronologically arranged, appears in Rivers (1975:209, n. 5). Equally interesting is Klinck (1982). The classic study is that by Pollock and Maitland (1898). The wills receive attention below.

11. See Murray (1983:16): one school of thought "defines the shifting kin group as Blutsverwandten, Verwandtschaft, or Magschaft, the whole circle of an individual's blood relations. The word Sippe . . . has to be applied to both these conceptions, although its primary and original meaning applies only to the agnatic lineage (feste Sippe or Geschlechtsverband)." Here Murray pinpoints the origin of a persistent ambiguity that blurs the meaning of sib, a synonym for the more precise term clan, "a compromise kin group based on a rule of residence and a rule of descent. A unilocal rule of residence combines with a unilinear rule of descent. Some affinal relatives are included and some consanguineal kinsmen excluded" (Schusky 1972:90).

12. As with the continuum of sound change, a subtle but ongoing process, cultural change constantly surrounds us too, although we tend to regard our own institutions, like our own phonology, as some kind of fixed standard, a touchstone for analyzing other systems. In the social ferment of the last few decades, some American parents have adopted the practice of giving children dual, occasionally hyphenated, surnames, thus introducing cognate variants to a traditionally agnatic nomenclature.

13. This, too, is the thesis of Murray's book: "there is no evidence for the idea that the society of the ancient Germans was rooted in a clan or extensive lineage structure" (Murray 1983:8; cf. 6-7, 11-12, 14-17, 27, 29; yet his admission on p. 14 is compelling: "it cannot be said that the debate was ever completely settled"). Loyn (1973:204-205) acknowledges the bilateral nature of the attested system: "both paternal and maternal kin participated in the composition group."

14. Matrilineal descent concerns kin reckoning, primarily. The term 'matriarchy' has no real validity in attested human cultures (see n. 3). Often in matrilineal societies, such as that of the Tewa, the eldest sister of the clan may be a prime dignitary; however, it is her eldest brother who has the real political power (Dozier 1966). Should we therefore speak of an "avuncu-archy" rather than a "matriarchy"?

15. Ausenda (1995:15-18, 39) also discerns corporateness in the Germanic fara, "clan." One of my underlying assumptions is that the Anglo-Saxon meaning of family-and even more so the putative early Germanic meaning-was not the same as ours. Though not fully recoverable, its limits and emphases fell in different places, distinguishing some kinfolk (e.g., eam, "mother's brother" versus fædera, "father's brother") and blurring others together (e.g., nephew and grandson, both called nefa). Murdock's (1960:1-2) observation is astute: "The term 'family' is ambiguous. . . . The nuclear family will be familiar to the reader as the type of family recognized to the exclusion of all others by our own society. Among the majority of the peoples of the earth, however, nuclear families are combined, like atoms in a molecule, into larger aggregates." In full-scale totemic systems, for instance, lineages (similar to "families" in our limited sense) are grouped in clans ("extended families," roughly; also called sibs) that may in turn be gathered in phratries; the phratries may then be assembled into moieties (roughly "halves"). Various sorts of sections and subsections may also figure in such "larger aggregates," with fixed rules of exogamy ("seeking a wife outside one's kin group") established to prevent illegal marriage (broadly "incest," but such family groups often include individuals bearing no consanguineal relation to one another, in our sense of the term; yet exogamic practice still proscribes marriage between members of the same clan, phratry, moiety, etc.). For concise elaboration, see Schusky (1972:53-75).

16. See, e.g., Phillpotts (1913), Lancaster (1958), and Loyn (1973:201-205).

17. Cf. Lancaster (1958:237): "the mægð need not have been an extensive group." No doubt the kindred varied radically in size. As Phillpotts (1913:217-18) shows, the laws do allow for the mægleas, "kinless," man, whose plight, dreadful to the Anglo-Saxons, is immortalized in The Wanderer. Yet, while the kindred need not always have been large-and its size, like quantities of wealth, was no doubt a measure of one's fortune back then-it could not, on the other hand, have been small in a confrontation with the city of London.

18. This power can hardly have resided elsewhere than in the comitatus relationship romanticized in Beowulf. There is no doubt that patriarchal military solidarity contributed to the cohesiveness of the mægð, as Spolsky argues. Her chart of kinship terms is extremely useful (Spolsky 1977:238). Even more detailed are the lists of consanguineal and affinitive kinship terms assembled by Lancaster (1958:235 and 248, respectively), who also schematizes the kindred with genealogical diagrams.

19. In the celebrated Cynewulf and Cyneheard entry ("in the Parker chronicle, entered for the year 755, although Cynewulf dies in 786" [Hill 1995:14-15]; the chronicle is two years behind events, also, which would make the correct entry year 757), we see the conflict of loyalties dramatized in a realistic account: when offered quarter by their kinsmen among the attacking army, the defenders declare that they could never follow their lord's enemies. Battle ensues, and the defenders fall with their lord, kinsmen against kinsmen. Apparently, life imitated art in Anglo-Saxon warfare.

20. Here he must be responding directly to Phillpotts (1913:243): "the whole case for kinship-solidarity in England really rests on the not very frequent occurrence of the word mægð in the laws." This misrepresents the case, though, since other evidence can be marshaled, too. I should emphasize that my argument is not at all for clans and totems still extant in Anglo-Saxon England, but rather for strong reflexes of a clan system that continued to color early English art and culture. Further, to fathom this art and culture we need to acknowledge its prehistoric foundation.

21. The proverbial kin loyalty of this period was both manifested in and maintained by feuding, bequeathing, marriage negotiations, and compurgation, as well as the elusive rights and obligations implicit in the mysterious abstraction folcriht.

22. There is no question that Ecgtheow is the hero's father. An important detail here, not noted by Spolsky, is that in line 373 the poet uses ealdfæder in a C hemistich with a vowel in the following head-stave: wæs his ealdfæder Ecgðeo haten, "was his old-father Ecgtheow by name." That is, the poet's diction is determined more by prosody than by semantic accuracy: he needs the compound's initial diphthong to meet the demands of vocal alliteration. But what we might see as imprecision, semantically, is not that at all. To the poet, the distinction between "father" and "grandfather" is so minimal that the two terms are virtual synonyms, interchangeable for the sake of his metrics. This proves the point made above: the reflexes of a matrilineal kinship system were still strong enough in the poet's day to exert their influence upon patrilineal and patrilateral kinsmen. Differences between father figures just did not matter that much yet in Anglo-Saxon England, a situation reinforced by everyday life, where grandfathers, fathers, uncles, brothers, and their male progeny ate, worked, fought, and attended meetings together all the time. There was as yet no dispersal of the extended, much less the nuclear, family. And in the Crow system one can literally say that a father is a father's brother is a father's sister's son is a father's sister's daughter's son (this expands Schusky's [1972:33] more technical equation: "Fa=FaBr=FaSiSo=FaSiDaSo"). Or at least this is as close as Modern English can come to describing a relationship pattern beyond the pale of our lexicon.

23. Goody interprets such blurring of some distinctions and sharpening of others as a function of the universal incest taboo, a determining factor in kinship arrangements. Goody (1972:25) writes that so far as terminology is concerned ...

the number of roles distinguished within each generation tends to be maximal in the terms for an individual's own generation and for the first ascending, that is, the parental generation. In the second ascending generation, that of the grandparents, the most widespread systems are marked by a merging of terms, disregarding lineal and sometimes sexual distinctions. . . .

The same feature is even more marked in the grandchildren's generation, so that in alternate generations to an individual's own, kin tend to be reduced to a single category.

24. A concise account of the Crow as opposed to the Omaha (patrilineal) system appears in Schusky (1972:28-44). Lounsbury (1964) is the definitive treatment.

25. It is wrong to jump to the conclusion, though, that matrilineal clan members ignore their links with father's kindred. This is a common misconception, clarified by Murdock (1960:15-16):

An earlier generation of anthropologists completely misunderstood rules of descent, assuming that they meant a recognition of certain genealogical ties to the exclusion of others, e.g., that a matrilineal people is either ignorant of, or chooses to ignore, the biological relationship of a child to its father. . . . It is now known that the Hopi and most other societies with matrilineal descent do not deny or ignore the relationship of a child to its father and his patrilineal kinsmen. . . . Descent, in fine, does not necessarily involve any belief that certain genealogical ties are closer than others, much less a recognition of kinship with one parent to the exclusion of the other. . . . It merely refers to a cultural rule which affiliates an individual with a particular selected group of kinsmen for certain social purposes such as mutual assistance or the regulation of marriage.

26. It is difficult to determine whether an agnatic system intervened. Certainly there is no "evolutionary" need for an "agnatic stage" of societal development. But cultural transformation itself is a regular, predictable phenomenon, though not governed by any fixed rule anthropologists can discern. Anglo-Saxon kinship seems to afford an example of "the change of particular lineal organizations as the descent system becomes bilateral" (Schusky 1972:73).

27. Recognizing the Crow pattern in Old English nomenclature confirms Hill's (1995:43) assertion that "the father's-brother's son can become a father." By extension, so can father's-sister's son, father's-sister's-daughter's son, etc.

28. E.g., Old High German óheim, Old Frisian ém, Middle Dutch oem.

29. E.g., æem, æm, hem, eyme, eme, em, attested in Arthurian works from Layamon's Brut to Malory's Morte D'Artur.

30. Traces of goddess-worship, as in the mysterious cult of Nerthus, suggest prehistoric prominence of sacral women. The merwif seems to reflect a mythic underworld "tooth mother," too.

31. Cf. Hill 1995:41: "Hygelac is his maternal uncle (eam), lord, and great kinsman."

32. Here too I touch upon the Indoeuropean background of MoBr, a topic beyond the limits of this paper. My conclusions do not wholly concur with those of Spolsky (1977:235), who suggests "that PIE awyos (OE eam) denoted, at least in several dialects of PIE a set of older men in the mother's patrigroup."

33. The anthropological material on this topic is extensive, e.g., Goody (1959); Lowie (1970); Malinowski (1971); Radcliffe-Brown (1965); Richards (1971); and Schusky (1972:8, 30, 37). My own main source is Lévi-Strauss (1967:46), who covers the anthropological background and proposes his own theory, which sees the avunculate as a basic component in human kinship reckoning: "this elementary structure, which is the product of defined relations involving four terms, is, in our view, the true 'atom of kinship'." A classic study is A. R. Radcliffe-Brown (1965), "The Mother's Brother in South Africa," first published in the South African Journal of Science and later reissued. As Bremmer (1980:21-22; see n. 36) writes "although his explanation has been proved wrong and his representation of the facts was misleading, he greatly advanced upon Bachofen in that he discarded the evolutionary scheme in which the special relationship was considered as a survival of matrilineal times." I too discard "the evolutionary scheme," but feel that the evidence still suggests prehistoric matriliny in the Germanic record, though not in the "evolution" of human society as a whole, which is far too complex to be explained by clockwork quasi-Marxist "stages."

34. In popular usage the term totem is generally misconstrued. Like "evolutionary matriarchy," totemism also has a checkered past in twentieth-century cultural anthropology. We tend to equate the totem with the animal guardian of an individual; but guardianship is not the main significance of the totem. Primarily, the totem is a kinship sign-a group-related symbol that associates the individual with his or her lineage. Indeed, a wealth of secondary lore usually attaches itself to totems, which often function as major classificatory devices in societies where they appear. But such lore is secondary to the role of the totem as a delineator of kin groups. For this basic definition I return to the etymon of totem, an Ojibwa word first recorded in the eighteenth century by the explorer John Long (1791). Lévi-Strauss (1963:18) analyzes Ojibwa ototeman, parsing its morphemes to extract the meaning "he is a relative of mine," which strikes us as strange in reference to a wolf or a bear. Correctly, he places the totem in a "collective naming system . . . not to be confused with the belief . . . that an individual may enter into a relationship with an animal which will be his guardian spirit." To indicate the animal guardian the Ojibwa used another word, nigouimes, unrelated, morphologically, to their kinship term ototeman. So we too should distinguish between the totem, a kinship sign with other folk implications, and the nigouimes, "animal guardian," a personal vehicle of spirit power. The former is public and group-related, the latter individualistic, sometimes wholly private. The latter receives attention in Glosecki (1989). In turn, I consider shamanism another Germanic "symptom" of totemism, a type of kinship system that often occurs alongside shamanic modes of healing and harming.

35. Once again, Schusky (1972:37, regarding Malinowski's Trobrianders) is illuminating:

In some contexts a "father" is like a stranger or an outsider, but he is also like the American father who cares for his children and lavishes affection upon them. Unlike an American son, however, the maturing boy discovers he belongs to a group different from his father. He begins learning many duties, restrictions, and concerns for pride that unite him with his mother's group but necessarily separate him from his father and his group.

As a boy matures the MoBr becomes a more important figure, and this male separates a boy even further from his father. The child begins to learn that he is regarded as a "stranger" in his father's village; his "own" or proper village is the one occupied by MoBr. In the village of MoBr a young man finds property rights, opportunity to succeed in office, and a future career. His natural allies and associates are the group associated with MoBr. In this circumstance, MoBr and his group increase authority over him, demand many services from him, and grant or withhold permission over a number of actions. Mother's brother will even determine in large measure whom ego will marry. Correspondingly, the authority and counsel of the father and his group decrease.

36. The mother's-brother/sister's son bond has been pointed out often enough to be common knowledge in Beowulf studies. Yet no satisfactory explanation of its origin and function has been given so far, as Bremmer suggests. He also cites commentary (Bremmer 1980:23, n.12) on the subject by Gummere, Seebohm, and Spolsky (see n. 1). Shippey (1978:22-23) suggests that SiSo regularly inherited from MoBr in preliterary Germanic society.

37. Bremmer (1980) cites the text as "no. 47"; but it is listed as Riddle 46 in Krapp and Dobbie (1936:205).

38. It is true that incest complicates this example, since Lot's sin blurs the lines between father and grandfather, sister and mother, sister and aunt, brother and cousin.

39. Since Bremmer (1980) lists the specific avuncular passages in Beowulf and the wills, the rest of my paper highlights key examples to avoid covering the same ground twice. Bremmer also quotes the avuncular locus classicus, ch. 20 of Tacitus' Germania, which emphasizes the closeness of the bond between MoBr and SiSo.

40. Cf. Rivers (1975:213):

There are eight laws indicating the state's prohibition of remarriage by widows within one year of their husbands' death. . . . A widow who remarried within this allotted time was to lose her morning-gift and all property which she inherited from her deceased husband, even if she was married against her will. The severity of this violation was extended to the husband the bereaved wife married, since he must forfeit his wergeld to the king. Nor were widows to be consecrated as nuns too hastily after their husbands' deaths. The reason for all this frowning on urgency is a simple one. If widows married or entered the convent within the first year of their husbands' death, the king lost the heriot tax, a principal source of revenue.

41. Another complex issue, quite volatile in the past few decades of Old English scholarship, the role of noblewomen occupies me in another project, where I mainly agree with Stafford (1997) and Fell (1984).

42. The issue of widows' rights is also complex. See Klinck (1982) and Rivers (1975).

43. The morning-gift issue is related to the controversy regarding dower or "bride-price" and dowry, a topic covered by Stafford (1997:66-67). Essentially, the dower does not equal purchasing of the bride, as some argue (e.g., Klinck 1982:109-10). Instead, it is a compensation of the bride's family for the loss of a valuable member. It is also rather like a deposit assuring good treatment of the wife by her husband's family: if ill-treated, she can return to her kindred who may then keep the dower. Even more, though, both dower and dowry in Anglo-Saxon England are public expressions of the status of the groom and bride, or of each family's impression of its own status. The greater the dower, the more prestigious the groom. In the context of premarket culture, we cannot apply modern ideas about "buying and selling" when it comes to these marriage arrangements. For an anthropological explanation of the bride-price, see Murdock (1960:19-21).

44. Phillpotts (1913:262-64) mentions continental examples of "these supernumerary heirs," who have been listed among the traditional causes of the Viking expansion as well as the nineteenth-century Norwegian emigration to North America.

45. Niles (1998:499) eloquently expresses this syncretic aspect of the epic in his review of Davis (1996): Beowulf demonstrates "the ability of literature to absorb changes that affect society as a whole, assimilating non-native elements to entrenched patterns of thought and giving expression to these new syntheses in symbolic form." It seems that the converse appertains equally: entrenched pattern assimilates to innovation, too. The avunculate gives way to primogeniture.

46. Bremmer's suggestion that MoBr and SiSo were traditional comrades-in-arms seems credible, with the uncle as master-, the nephew as apprentice-warrior. With nydgestealla, cf. hondgestealla, "hand-companion," lindgestealla, "linden[-shield]-companion," both applied to the relationship between Hygelac and Beowulf (lines 2159a, 1973a; Bremmer 1980:33, n. 55). These compounds have the shape of a formulaic epithet for the uncle/nephew. It seems equally likely that, as Klaeber (1950:251) notes, in Finnsburgh Fragment 18-21 "the Frisian Guðhere tries to restrain the impetuous youth, Garulf-perhaps his nephew, cp. Nibel. 2208 ff., Walthariaus 846 ff.-from risking his life 'at the first onset.'" Thus the master and MoBr Guðhere attempts to teach battle-sense to his apprentice and SiSo Garulf. Tragically, the traditional mentor fails, though. In true epic vein, Garulf seems glad to earn glory with a heroic death.

47. Elsewhere in his article, he argues for other putative MoBr/SiSo pairs, such as Heardred and Hererice (Bremmer 1980:29), Hygelac and Swerting (Bremmer 1980:30).

48. This runs counter to Hill's theory that Wiglaf "is Beowulf's kinsman on his father's people's side." Although no final criterion of male relatedness, Hill's case would be served by alliteration between the names Ecgtheow and Waegmund, which does not occur. Citing Irving (1989:115), who also doubts Wiglaf's succession, Hill (1995:182, n. 13) argues against the inference that Wiglaf is Beowulf's heir), a likelihood supported by the hero's own, albeit clouded, accession to the Geatish throne as well as by the possible veiled influence of matrilineal patterning in the epic's prehistory.

49. Hill (1995:182, n. 13), on the other hand, believes that "Beowulf's free gifts . . . honour Wiglaf even as they express close kinship." For different reasons, Eliason (1978:101, 104) also doubts the avuncular connection and Wiglaf's succession.

50. Evans (1986:85) reads the carved faces as evidence of ancestor veneration.



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