Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Fathers and Sons at War

Star Wars is a modern re-telling of a very ancient saga, although with many of the details changed.  History, legend and movies are filled with stories of fathers and sons who must unavoidably confront one another, and often fight to the death.

Original hand-written copy
of the Hildebrandslied from
about 820 AD.
This is the very struggle (though usually metaphorical rather than literal) that almost every man will face in life, and often twice.  Once with his father and once more with his son.

One of the oldest and most riveting versions of the father-son legend is the story of Hildebrand and Hadubrand.  It takes place in the time of Theoderic, King of the Ostrogoths and his struggle against Odoaker, the first "barbarian" king of Italy following the fall of Rome.  Etzel, aka Attila the Hun, looms large in the background of the saga as well.

Hildebrand and Hadubrand are casualties of this protracted war when Hildebrand is forced by Odoaker to leave his homeland (presumably in Schw√§bien) and take refuge with Theoderic in the east.  He and Theoderic engage in a 30-year running battle with the forces of Odoaker for control over Lombardy.

Meanwhile on the home front, Hildebrand has left behind a wife and young son named Hadubrand, who grows up mainly in the company of women.  As everyone knows, it takes a man to raise a man.  Only feminists, blind to their own confirmation bias (as is the case with every doctrine-identified group), insist that gender doesn't matter.

Theoderic the Great in battle
And so we find Hadubrand, an angry young man who hates his father for what he assumes was abandonment for personal glory and yet tells everyone who will listen how renown his father was as a warrior.

As fate would have it, Hildebrand and Hadubrand are destined to meet on the field of battle, possibly as Hildebrand attempts to return home.    But Hadubrand does not recognize his father and insists that Hildebrand has died in battle in some foreign land.  He is blinded by anger and determined to fight this "intruder."

Hildebrand, on the other hand, knows his son perfectly well. Though old, he is a formidable warrior, undefeated in countless battles, and carries vast experience, skill and wisdom. Can he protect his son and pass anything on that will help preserve Hadubrand?

Following is my original English translation from the new high German and referring closely to the original text.  (Not many people know I missed getting a BA in German by 5 general course credits . . . I was going to take an economics class or something, but never quite got around to it.)

I heard it told of the Challengers' lonely struggle;
Hildebrand and Hadubrand, standing betwixt two armies.
Father and son prepared their armor, straightened their battle garments,
And girt on their swords over their armor as they rode out to fight.

Hildebrand son of Heribrand, the older and more experienced man,
Spoke with few words inquiring of the other,
Who among the people was his father, or of which tribe he belonged.

"Name any one to me, then I will know the rest of your kin,
For known unto me are all great men of the realm."

Hadubrand son of Hildebrand spoke, "The people tell me,
The old and the wise, they that were alive at the time,
That Hildebrand my father was, and I am Hadubrand.
He rode away into the east, fleeing the wrath of Odoaker
And took up with Theoderic and his warriors,
Leaving in poverty his bride and infant son;
Without inheritence rode he into the east.

And Theoderic having no friend suffered my father's presence.
He angered Odoaker mightily and was Theoderic's most beloved warrior,
Always at the vanguard in battle, always yearning to fight.
Renown was he, the bravest of all,
Yet I know he lives no more."

Then spake Hildebrand, "Would to God that you never
Are brought to battle with your own kin!"
Then took he from his own arm the plaited mail,
Fashioned of royal gold, a gift to him of the King,
The Ruler of the Huns.

He said, "This give I you as a token of friendship."

Hadubrand son of Hildebrand spake,
"Our gifts will be exchanged by the speer,
Point against point!
You think yourself exceedingly clever, old Hun,
To tempt me with your words whilst launching your speer at me?

You are an old man and full of deceit.
Sailors told me that he fell in battle far in the west, over the ocean.
Hildebrand son of Heribrand is dead."

Then spake Hildebrand son of Heribrand, who was not dead,
"I see well from your armor that you have a good master,
And have never been banished of your realm.

God knows, though, that trouble comes.
I wandered abroad threescore seasons, summers and winters,
Where I was ever in battle.

If I could not be killed at the gates of some foreign fortress,
Will my own child smite me with the sword,
Cut me down with the blade, or make me to be his killer?
You could easily win from so old a man his armor
And rob his spoils - if your strength holds out."

Said Hildebrand more, "Even the faintest of the Ostrogoth
Would not refuse you battle, seeing as you lust so for it.
So let us commence and discover
Who will wear this armor and who must lay it down."

Then sent they both their speers of ash flying
Which impaled upon their shields,
And they rode hard against one another
And smote furiously until both shields were destroyed in pieces,
and ...

You may have noticed that the ending of the legend is missing.  The story was written on two pieces of scrap paper at the Benedictine monastery at Fulda, and if a third sheet ever existed, it is now lost these 1200 years.  If you were Hildebrand, what would you do?  Kill your son, or allow him to kill you in his anger?

Or is there a third option?

Yes, there is.  It is this option that comprises 98% of fatherhood.  Stay engaged as long as you physically can, thereby passing some of your skill and wisdom on to your son in spite of his resistance.  I like to imagine that Hildebrand resisted being struck down until he was sure Hadubrand's skill was up to the task of preserving him against a determined enemy.  That he gave no killing blow unless he was sure of Hadubrand's ability to defend against it.  This is indeed a narrow line to walk, even when the stakes aren't life and death itself.

Someday perhaps Hadubrand will realize that the man he fought was his hero, the legendary Hildebrand that he loved and hated, and that Hildebrand's life and final act was one of devotion to his son.

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