14 December 2014
The Role of Alcohol and Drinking In Beowulf
The drink and the feast were dynamic to the life of the warriors of Beowulf’s realm. The have-at-it of food and drink as they were prescribed surely played key roles in that of social relationships throughout the story. Beverages of the adult persuasion played key roles in both establishing and maintaining social adequacies. Alcohol worked as the social lubricant, so to speak, but also served as a barrier. Alcohol in medieval literature was both the catalyst for mass discourse, as well as the poison for the poignant hero or the annoying antagonist.
In yonder day poetry, the feast was the call-to-all community beckon; and in Beowulf, it was…show more content… Direct references to Beowulf drinking alcohol can first be found on line 628 of Beowulf when Beowulf “accepts the cup” from Wealhtheow during the first feast after the monster’s death. Again we find references to Beowulf’s drinking in lines 1019 to 1023: “Then Halfdane’s son presented Beowulf / with a gold standard as a victory gift, / So Beowulf drank his drink, at ease; / it was hardly a shame to be showered with such gifts / in front of the hall-troops.”
However, even before the first feast after the monster’s death, drinking is negatively written about when Unferth taunts Beowulf at the first feast. Beowulf translator, Seamus Heaney, translates line 530 of the epic as Beowulf saying to Unferth: “Well, Unferth, you have had your say about Breca and me, but it was mostly drink that was talking.” It seems that references to being “drunk” have stronger negative connotations than that of just “drinking” or enjoying drinks. Similar to today, it is alright to enjoy one’s self, but not to be a “drunkard.”
There are several parts of the story where drinking is expounded upon. In addition to Beowulf’s and Unferth’s back-and-forth and Wealhtheow’s offering of the guest cup that we have detailed above, we are given to the details and the importance of drink. Heorot is directly referred to as a “wine hall” in line 994. This is important