Hwanan sio fæhð aras: Defining the Feud in Beowulf
The Heroic Age Issue 5 Summer/Autumn 2001
The Beowulf poet’s use of the term fæhð or feud differs from that of modern anthropologists-the poet uses the term to define any ongoing violent intra or inter social conflict, lending it irony and tragedy.
There have been a number of studies over the last twenty to thirty years seeking to explain the structural and thematic role of the feud in Beowulf. It has frequently been argued that the feuds between the various peoples and monsters in the poem–say for example that between the Danes and Heathobards discussed by Beowulf in his report to Hygelac after his return to the Geats–point out the tragic nature of the poem’s heroic world. Peace, it seems, is impossible in the world of this poem, and conflict breaks out repeatedly due to the heroic “economy of honor” that demands certain behavioral choices of its inhabitants. The geong cempa of line 2044 can no more ignore the inciting of the eald æsc-wiga than he can stop breathing the air, and so the effort to weave peace between Danes and Heathobards by a marriage of Freawaru and Ingeld is doomed in advance by a sort of social determinism.