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Beowulf: a regime of enforcement
By Frank Battaglia
Paper given at The 1st Global Conference (2012)
Abstract: Marking alliances at the highest levels of Germanic society, Migration Period Scandinavian gold bracteates increasingly are viewed as a ‘political medium.’ 329 D-forms of the 1000-plus bracteates depict a defeated monster. If ever we would expect monster stories to have been current in Germanic Europe, it would have been then. So we may look for the origin of the Beowulf poem in the period of D-bracteate production and circulation. Because continuation of society required the death of such creatures, we may conceive the stories as rationalizing a regime of enforcement on which were based many early Germanic kingdoms.
Eliminating opposition might provide control, but divine descent gave the elite a special claim to authority. Divine favor warranted the shift of religious practice from natural places to ‘constructed sacred sites at new centres.’ Gudme, Funen, the earliest Scandinavian kingly hall may have preceded this development.
Eleven ceramics from the area, probably contemporary with the hall, incorporated crushed, burnt, possibly-human bone as temper, likely a vestige of the ritual endo-cannibalism of early Danish farmers, acknowledged even by Cambridge Ancient History. Another such vestige is a human shoulder blade ritually treated at Forlev Nymølle, the Danish fertility site in use for six centuries until 400 C.E. that dramatically exemplifies veneration like that recorded of the dísir.
Besides fertility religion, Grendel and his mother represent an alternative gender order being suppressed in the poem. Beowulf, like Sigemund, avenged nìî, manhood-challenging insult (attested in 6th century Gaul, later elaborated as an institution, with scorn poles as well as a type of poetry, then forbidden in Old Norse society). The poem sketches permissible behavior for elite women. Advisories are provided [sèlre…wrece… êonne…murne] for a newly normative hyper-masculinity that would first be formulated in law under apparently ethnic labels.