In this article I consider the debate over whether line 1520b ought to be read as the emended “hond sweng” or the scribal “hord swenge.” It is a small point philologically but it raises interesting cultural and literary questions about the attitude of the Beowulf poet to arms and armour, to aggressive and defensive war gear, and to swords in particular. It has widely been assumed that swords are important in Beowulf and yet, the question of what their significance might be has received very little attention. Throughout the poem the hero is plagued by breaking, melting, and failing swords. He borrows, finds, and is given swords but unlike other English and Germanic heroes he is never identified with a single, great sword. I suggest that this is because, ultimately, Beowulf is conceived as a hondbana, a designation which has implications for what kind of a hero he proves to be.
- Beowulf, swords, hands, heroic ethos, textual criticism