|Grendel © John Howe|
There was just something about the word aglæca -- 'awesome opponent, ferocious fighter' as the DOE defines it -- that seemed familiar. From the first time I encountered it in Beowulf, it rang a bell. There the poet most frequently uses it to describe Grendel or the Dragon as, according to the gloss in Klaeber, 'one inspiring awe or misery, formidable one, afflicter, assailant, adversary, combatant' (italics original):
ac se æglæca ehtende wæs,
deorc deaþscua duguþe ond geogoþe
seomade ond syrede;
but the æglæca was after them,
a dark death shadow, warriors old and young
he lay for and ambushed;
Elsewhere we find it used of Satan or sundry devils, in a way that combines their characteristic wretchedness and hostility:
Satan seolua ran ond on susle gefeol,
Satan himself ran and fell into Hell,
(Christ and Satan 711-12)And:
scinnan forscepene, sceaðan hwearfedon,
earme æglecan, geond þæt atole scref
for ðam anmedlan þe hy ær drugon.
They turned black,
spirits transformed, the devils wandered,**
the wretched aglæca, through that horrid pit
because of the pride they had formerly shown.
(Christ and Satan, 71-73)
|Beowulf and the Dragon ©John Howe|
Næs ða long to ðon
þæt ða aglæcean hy eft gemetton.
It was not so long
before the æglæca met each other again.
So, clearly, the word describes a fierce opponent who inspires awe and is sometimes also seen as wretched. This would all certainly apply to Grendel, Satan, and the devils, if not to Beowulf and the Dragon. Now, as I said, there was always something about this word that seemed familiar, but it wasn't until the other night that I made the connection and realized of whom it made me think. Both because of the harsh, guttural sound of the word and the qualities of those it describes, aglæca reminds me of Uglúk, leader of the Uruk-Hai in The Two Towers.
I am quite well aware that this suggestion is entirely circumstantial. It may well be completely wrong. I haven't been able to find any direct evidence, but it seemed an intriguing possibility that I thought worth mentioning. I would welcome any evidence, for or against, as well as notice of any scholarly treatment I may have missed.
**Here is one case in which all those who wander are indeed lost.