Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Nægling

Nægling is the name of one of the swords used by Beowulf in the Anglo-Saxon epic poem of Beowulf. He receives it after defeating Grendel and Grendel's Mother. The name may well mean "nailer", that is it drives like a nail in to its enemy. However it is also possible that it refers to jeweled nails on its hilt. If this is so it would correspond to the Nagelring, a sword from the Vilkina saga, said to be the best sword in the world. Beowulf wins the sword from a fight between the Geats and Frisians. The sword does not survive Beowulf's final encounter with the dragon, snapping in two. An important note is that the sword breaks not because of the dragon's strength, but rather the force the hero himself puts behind it.

Nægling forbærst,
geswác æt sæcce sweord Bíowulfes,
gomol ond grǽgmǽl. Him þæt gifeðe ne wæs
þæt him írenna ecge mihton
helpan æt hilde; wæs sío hond tó strong

The idea of a sword failing for the hero at a crucial time has parallels in other Germanic works such as in the Volsunga saga and Gesta Danorum. However this is especially true in the Gunnlaugs saga, where the author goes at pains to show that it was the hero and not the foe who broke the sword. Furthermore, in Germanic tradition, exceptional swords may often use words such as old, ancient, or ancestral. However this may not always fit the story of the hero, such as when the sword is forged for him. In Naegling's case, the sword has more of a literary characteristic than a specific ancestral lineage, as is evident from its name. Nevertheless the sword is described as being gomol ond grægmæl (old and gray) Nagling.

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