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A Measure of Immortality

Rachael E. Barkie

“No wise of thee have I heard men tell such terror of falchions, bitter battle” (13).In these words to Unferth, Beowulf provides the audience with the clearest possible understanding of the importance of his swimming contest with Breca. Unferth broughtforth the swimming contest as a means of embarrassing Beowulf, having already deemed the other man a threat. He sought to strike at Beowulf’s pride, where true damage might be dealt. When sitting in the banquet hall filled with Geatish men, Unferth says, “Are thou that Beowulf, Breca’s rival, who emulous swam on the open sea, when for pride the pair of you proved the floods, and wantonly dared in waters deep to risk your lives? […]In swimming he topped thee, had more of main! Him at morning-tide billows bore to the Battling Reamas, whence he hied to his home so dear beloved of his liegemen, to land of Brondings, fastness fair, where his folk he ruled, town and treasure. In triumph o’er theeBeanstan’s bairn {8b} his boast achieved” (12). Unferth’s challenge to Beowulf is clear, but his plan backfires.

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