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A bēot is Old English for a ritualized boast, vow, threat, or promise. The principle of a bēot is to proclaim one's acceptance of a seemingly impossible challenge in order to gain tremendous glory for actually accomplishing it.
Anglo-Saxon warriors would usually deliver bēots in the mead hall the night before a military engagement or during the battle itself. For example, a typical warrior may boast that he will be the first to strike a blow in a battle, that he would claim a renowned sword from an enemy warrior as spoil of battle, that he will slay a particular monster that has been wreaking havoc on a town or village, and so on. Bēots were usually accompanied by grand stories of one's past glorious deeds. Although other cultures and times might disdain boasting as a sign of arrogance, or sinful pride, the pagan Anglo-Saxons highly regarded such behavior as a positive sign of one's determination, bravery, and character.
The Old English word bēot comes from earlier bíhát meaning ‘promise’. The original noun-form of bēot corresponds to the verb bi-, be-ˈhátan. A shifting of the stress from bíhát to bi-ˈhát, on analogy of the verb, gave the late Old English beˈhát, from which the Middle English word behote derives.
Structure of a bēot
- Pledge - The individual pledges to endeavor a specific challenge
- Speculation of outcomes - The individual predicts two possible outcomes—success or failure—and elaborates the effects of either outcome.
- Commissioning to a higher power - The individual commissions the outcome of the challenge to a higher power (e.g. God, fate).
- Einarsson, Stefán (1934). "Old English Beot and Old Icelandic Heitstrenging". PMLA. 49 (4): 980. doi:10.2307/458120. JSTOR 458120.
For these and other instances of different meaning, see the dictionaries. They give three chief meanings: (1) a threatening, menace; (2) danger; and (3) boasting promise. It seems that the third one is the most usual, and logically the meanings would seem to have developed in the order: promise—boasting—threatening—danger.
- Clark Hall, John R. A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary. Cambridge University Press, 1960, p. 42.
- Einarsson, 1934, p. 976-978
- Einarsson, 1934, p. 978-979
- Einarsson, 1934
- http://oed.com/view/Entry/17815?redirectedFrom=beot# Retrieved 06FEB2011.
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- Einarsson, 1934, p. 975-976, "In both instances we have to do with a solemn promise to carry out a feat—a fight—under very difficult circumstances, partly self-imposed to add glory"
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