Although sometimes the arguments smack of special pleading (Yrsa would hold a drinking horn; Wealtheow holds a cup; therefore the Beowulf poet intentiAlthough sometimes the arguments smack of special pleading (Yrsa would hold a drinking horn; Wealtheow holds a cup; therefore the Beowulf poet intentionally suppressed the horn in order to obscure their relationship?), overall this book offers some fairly persuasive arguments. There sure are a lot of parallels between Yrsa and Wealtheow, e.g. and perhaps too many for it to be coincidence. Perhaps in some sense Wealtheow IS Yrsa.
What I found disappointing about the book, though, was that I'm not sure what the IS means. Inspired by? Cognate with?
When Viktor Rydberg says that Volund IS Thjasse, he means that both are names for a character that pagans would have recognized as being identical, as synonymous as Aphrodite and Cytherea. When he says that Fridvelus IS Njord, he means that Saxo misunderstood or misappropriated Njord's myth and applied its events under a new (non-divine) name, but that we can use the deeds of Fridvelus to understand better the deeds, character, attributes, and mythology of Njord. Damico means that Wealtheow IS Yrsa in the latter sense, but she is unable or unwilling to make the extra leap that would let us learn about Yrsa (or Svava, or even Hrolf Kraki or Helgi) from Wealtheow. Everything different from what we'd expect about Wealtheow is apparently just a nonce fabrication of the Beowulf poet. So in the end I don't really know what to do with the information even if I were convinced of it.
Such a proposed identity is like saying that Orlando from As You Like It IS Rosader from Rosalynde. It's uncontroversial, but unhelpful. No one's reading of Shakespeare, or Lodge, has ever been enriched by this clear connection.
Strange to say, I probably would have enjoyed the book more if it had been crazier....more
The arguments in this book are not always persuasive, in a finalizing way; there're too many could bes, and not enough analyses and rejections of contThe arguments in this book are not always persuasive, in a finalizing way; there're too many could bes, and not enough analyses and rejections of contradictory theses -- in a word not enough control groups or rigor -- for me to feel like Newton has closed the book on the subject. But what's fascinating is the book that Newton has opened instead. (Not the definite conclusion but) the plausible possibility that a character from Beowulf could have sailed out of the poem and into the real world on an adventure that culminates in the composition of the poem itself is exciting on several levels: it's an answer to a critical riddle, a great heroic dynasty-founding narrative, and a Borgesian short story in outline, all at once....more