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1.5: Judith

  • Page ID
    7727
  • Author unknown

    At least late tenth century, possibly earlier

    Old English / Anglo-Saxon

    Like Beowulf, the only copy of the poem Judith is found in one manuscript— the same manuscript as Beowulf. Unlike Beowulf, this poem is not the only extant version of the story. The Book of Judith was removed from the Protestant Bible during the Reformation, but remains in the Roman Catholic Bible and Eastern Orthodox Bible. It is no coincidence that Judith and Beowulf are next to each other in the manuscript; as described in the poem, Judith is a female version of Beowulf, albeit a decidedly more Christian one. There may be “shield-bearing warriors” (11) all around her, but it is Judith who wields the sword against Holofernes as a warrior for God. Holofernes may be an Assyrian general, but both he and the Hebrew maiden Judith are described in ways that the Danish Beowulf or the Anglo-Saxon audience for the poem would recognize: Holofernes is a “gold-friend of men” (22), and Judith is awarded her fair share of the spoils of battle just like any other warrior. The poem is written in alliterative verse, with two half-lines separated by a caesura (pause). Like Beowulf, the poem has kennings (such as the “gold-friend” mentioned above—the lord who gives his retainers gold); like The Dream of the Rood, some of the half-lines are short (following the standard rhythm), and some of the half-lines are hypermetrical (adding extra syllables). At 348 lines, the Anglo-Saxon poem is only a fragment of the complete story found in the Biblical version, which takes a far less heroic tone than the poem (the Biblical story makes Holofernes far less dangerous and Judith far less brave). In the poem, Judith’s war-like attributes are balanced with repeated descriptions of her as a holy woman. Judith’s beauty may be described in a vaguely pagan way as “elf- brilliant” (14), but the poem’s Christian emphasis on her holiness as a handmaiden of the Lord takes this Old Testament figure and paints her as the warrior-version of a New Testament saint.

    1.6.1 Selections from Judith

    Part I

    [The glorious Creator’s] gifts doubted she [not]

    Upón this wide earth; then found she there ready

    Help from the mighty Prince, when she most need did have

    Of grace from the highest Judge, that her ’gainst the greatest terror

    The Lord of Creation should shield. That Father in heaven to her

    The Glorious-in-mind did grant, for thát firm faith she had

    Ín the Almighty ever. Then heard I that Holofernes

    Wine-summons eagerly wrought, and with all wonders a glorious

    Banquet had hé prepared; to thát bade the prince of men

    All his noblest thanes. Thát with mickle haste

    Did the warriors-with-shields perform; came to the mighty chief

    The people’s leaders going. Ón the fourth day was that

    After that Judith, cunning in mind,

    The elf-sheen virgin, him first had sought.

    Part II

    They then at the feast proceeded to sit,

    The proud to the wine-drinking, all his comrades-in-ill,

    Bold mailèd-warriors. There were lofty beakers

    Oft borne along the benches, alsó were cups and flagons

    Full to the hall-sitters borne. The fated partook of them,

    Brave warriors-with-shields, though the mighty weened not of it,

    Awful lord of earls. Thén was Holofernes,

    Gold-friend of men, full of wine-joy:

    He laughed and clamored, shouted and dinned,

    That children of men from afar might hear

    How the strong-minded both stormed and yelled,

    Moody and mead-drunken, often admonished

    The sitters-on-benches to bear themselves well.

    Thus did the hateful one during all day

    His liege-men [loyal] keep plying with wine,

    Stout-hearted giver of treasure, untíl they lay in a swoon,

    He drenched all his nobles [with drink], as if they were slain in death,

    Deprived of each one of goods. Thus bade the prince of men

    The sitters-in-hall to serve, untíl to children of men

    The darkening night drew nigh. He bade then, filled with hate,

    The blessed maiden with haste to fetch

    To his bed of rest, laden with jewels,

    Adorned with rings. They quickly performed,

    The attendant thanes, what their lord them bade,

    Mailed-warriors’ prince; like a flash they stepped

    Into the guest-room, where they Judith

    Wise-minded found, and quickly then

    The warriors-with-shields began to lead

    The glorious maid to the lofty tent

    Where the mighty himself always rested

    By night within, to the Saviour hateful,

    Holofernes. There wás an all-golden

    Beautiful fly-net around the folk-warrior’s

    Bed suspended, só that the hateful

    Was able to look through, the chief of warriors,

    Upon each one that therein came

    Of the sons of heroes, and on him no one

    Of the race of men, unless the proud some one

    Of the strong-in-war bade to him nearer

    Of warriors for counsel to come. They then to him at rest brought

    Quickly the cunning woman; went then the stout-in-heart

    The men their lord to tell that the holy woman was

    Brought to his chamber-tent. The famous then in mind

    Was glad, the ruler of cities; he thought the beautiful maiden

    With spot and stain to defile: that Judge of glory would not

    Allow, the Keeper of honor, but him from that deed restrained

    The Lord, the Ruler of hosts. Went then the devilish one,

    The wanton [warrior-prince], with [mickle] band of men,

    The baleful his bed to seek, where hé his life should lose

    Quickly within one night; he had then his end attained

    On earth ungentle [end], such as before he wrought for,

    The mighty prince of men, while ín this world he was,

    While he dwelt under roof of the clouds. Then fell so drunk with wine

    The mighty [chief] on his bed, as if he knew no rede

    Within his place of wit; the warriors stepped

    Oút from the chamber with mickle haste,

    The wine-filled men, whó the oath-breaker,

    Hateful folk-hater, had led to his bed

    For the very last time. Then was the Saviour’s

    Glorious maiden earnestly mindful

    How she the terrible most easily might

    Of life deprive before the lustful,

    The wanton, awoke. The wreathed-locked took then,

    The Creator’s handmaid, a sharp-edged sword

    Hardened by war-strokes, and drew from its sheath

    With hér right hand; then Keeper of heaven

    By name she gan name, Saviour of all

    Dwellers-in-th‘ world, and this word she spake:

    “Thee, God of Creation, and Spirit of Comfort,

    Son of the Almighty, will I [now] pray

    For thine own mercy to me in my need,

    Trinity’s Glory. To me greatly now then

    My heart is inflamed, and my mind is sad,

    Sorely with sorrows oppressed; grant, Lord of Heaven, to me

    Victory and faith without fear, that I with this sword may be able

    To hew down this dealer of murder; grant [too] my safety to me,

    Strong-hearted Leader of men; ne’er in this world had I

    Of thy mercy more urgent need: avenge now, mighty Lord,

    Glorious Giver of honor, that I am so angry in mind,

    So heated within my breast.” Hér then the highest Judge

    Quickly with courage inspired, as doth he [ever] each one

    Of dwellers here [upon earth], who him for help to them seek

    With rede and righteous belief. Then roomy in mind she became,

    The holy one’s hope was renewed; then took she the heathen man

    Fast by his own [long] hair, with hands him towards her she drew

    With marks of contempt, and the baleful one

    With cunning laid down, the loathsome man,

    As she the accursèd most easily might

    Wield at her will. Struck then the curly-locked

    The hostile foe with shining sword,

    The hateful-minded, that half-way she cut

    The [evil one’s] neck, that he lay in a swoon,

    Drunken and wounded. Not yet was he dead,

    Thoroughly lifeless; struck she then earnestly,

    The maiden brave-minded, a second time

    The heathen hound, that his head rolled off

    Forth on the floor: the foul corpse lay

    Lifeless behind, went the spirit elsewhere

    Beneath the deep earth, and there was disgraced,

    In torment bound ever thereafter,

    Surrounded with serpents, with tortures encompassed,

    Strongly enchained in the fire of hell

    After his death. He need never hope,

    Enveloped with darkness, that thence he may go

    Out of that worm-hall, but there shall he dwell

    Ever for ever without end henceforth

    In that dark home, of hope-joys deprived.

    Part III

    Then had she gained glorious honor,

    Judith in war, as God to her granted,

    The Ruler of Heaven, who gave to her victory.

    The cunning maid then quickly brought

    The army-leader’s head so bloody

    In that [very] vessel in which her attendant,

    The fair-faced woman, food for them both,

    In virtues renowned, thither had brought,

    And it then so gory to her gave in hand,

    To the thoughtful-in-mind to bear to their home,

    Judith to her maid. Went they forth thence,

    The women both in courage bold,

    Until they had come, proud in their minds,

    The women triumphant, out from the army,

    So that they plainly were able to see

    Of that beautiful city the walls [fair] shine,

    Béthulía. Then jewel-decked théy

    Upon the foot-path hastened to go,

    Until glad-minded they had arrived

    At the gate of the wall. The warriors sat,

    The watching men were keeping ward

    Within that fortress, as before to the folk,

    Sad in their minds, Judith had bidden,

    The cunning maiden, when she went on her journey,

    The stout-hearted woman. Then again was she come,

    Dear to her people, and then quickly ordered

    The wise-minded woman some one of the men

    To come to meet her from out the wide city,

    And hér in haste to admit within

    Through the gate of the wall, and this word she spake

    To the victor-folk: “To you can I say

    A thought-worthy thing, that no longer ye need

    Mourn in your minds: your Creator is kind,

    Glory of kings: that ís become known

    Wide through the world, that to you is success

    Glorious at hand, and honor is granted

    For [all] those sorrows which long ye suffered.”

    Glad then were they, the dwellers-in-borough,

    After they heard how the holy one spake

    O’er the high wall. The host was in joy.

    To the fortress-gate the people hastened,

    Men, women together, in troops and heaps,

    In crowds and throngs, hurried and ran

    To meet the Lord’s maid by thousands and thousands,

    Both old and young: to each one became

    Of men in the mead-city his mind rejoiced,

    After they knew that Judith was come

    Again to her home, and then in haste

    With reverence théy allowed her to enter.

    Then bade the clever, with gold adorned,

    Her servant-maid, thoughtful-in-mind,

    The army-leader’s head to uncover,

    And it as a proof bloody to show

    To the city-folk how she speeded in war.

    Then spake the noble one to all the folk:

    “Here ye may clearly, victory-blessed warriors,

    Chiefs of the people, upón the most hateful

    Heathen hero’s head fix your gaze,

    On Holofernes deprived of life,

    Who chiefest of men wrought murders for us,

    Sorest sorrows, and that yet more

    Would he increase: but God him granted not

    A longer life, that hé with woes

    Might still afflict us. Of life I deprived him

    By help of God. Now I every man

    Of these city-dwellers will [earnestly] pray,

    Of shield-bearing warriors, that ye yourselves quickly

    Hasten to fight; when the God of creation,

    The glorious King, shall send from the east

    Bright beams of light, bear forth your shields,

    Boards before breasts and coats-of-mail,

    Bright helmets [too] among the foes,

    To fell the folk-leaders with shining swords,

    The fated chiefs. Your foes are now

    Condemned to death, and ye glory shall gain,

    Honor in battle, as to you hath betokened

    The mighty Lord through mine own hand.”

    Then the band of the brave was quickly prepared,

    Of the bold for battle; stepped out the valiant

    Men and comrades, bore their banners,

    Went forth to fight straight on their way

    The heroes ’neath helmets from the holy city

    At the dawn itself; shields made a din,

    Loudly resounded. Thereat laughed the lank

    Wolf in the wood, and the raven wan,

    Fowl greedy for slaughter: both of them knew

    That for them the warriors thought to provide

    Their fill on the fated; and flew on their track

    The dewy-winged eagle eager for prey,

    The dusky-coated sang his war-song,

    The crooked-beaked. Stepped forth the warriors,

    The heroes for battle with boards protected,

    With hollow shields, who awhile before

    The foreign-folk’s reproach endured,

    The heathens’ scorn; fiercely was thát

    At the ash-spear’s play to them all repaid,

    [All] the Assyrians, after the Hebrews

    Under their banners had [boldly] advanced

    To the army-camps. They bravely then

    Forthright let fly showers of arrows,

    Of battle-adders, óut from the horn-bows,

    Of strongly-made shafts; stormed they aloud,

    The cruel warriors, sent forth their spears

    Among the brave; the heroes were angry,

    The dwellers-in-land, with the loathéd race;

    The stern-minded stepped, the stout-in-heart,

    Rudely awakened their ancient foes

    Weary from mead; with hands drew forth

    The men from the sheaths the brightly-marked swords

    Most choice in their edges, eagerly struck

    Of the [host of] Assyrians the battle-warriors,

    The hostile-minded; not one they spared

    Of the army-folk, nor low nor high

    Of living men, whom théy might subdue.

    Part XII

    Thus then the thanes in the morning-hours

    Pressed on the strangers unceasinglý,

    Until they perceived, those who were hostile,

    The army-folk’s chiefest leaders,

    That upón them sword-strokes mighty bestowed

    The Hebrew men. They thát in words

    To their most noted chiefs of the people

    Went to announce, waked helmeted warriors

    And to thém with fear the dread news told,

    To the weary-from-mead the morning-terror,

    The hateful sword-play. Then learnt I that quickly

    The slaughter-fated men aroused from sleep

    Ánd to the baleful›s sleeping-bower

    The saddened men pressed ón in crowds,

    To Holofernes: they only were thinking

    To their own lord to make known the fight,

    Ere terror on him should take its seat,

    The might of the Hebrews. They all imagined

    That the prince of men and the handsome maid

    In the beautiful tent were [still] together,

    Judith the noble and the lustful one,

    Dreadful and fierce; though no earl there was

    Whó the warrior durst [then] awake,

    Or durst discover how the helmeted warrior

    With the holy maid had passed his time,

    The Creator’s handmaid. The force approached,

    The folk of the Hebrews, courageously fought

    With hard battle-arms, fiercely repaid

    Their former fights with shining swords,

    The old-time grudge; was óf the Assyrians

    By thát day’s work the glory diminished,

    The pride brought low. The warriors stood

    ’Round their prince’s tent strongly excited,

    Gloomy in mind. They then all together

    Began to groan, to cry aloud

    And gnash with their teeth,—afar from God,—

    Showing their anger; ’twas the end of their glory,

    Of joy and valor. The earls were thinking

    To awaken their lord; they did not succeed.

    Then at last and too late was one so bold

    Of the battle-warriors that to the bower-tent

    He daringly ventured, since need him compelled:

    Found he then on the bed lying deadly-pale

    His [own] gold-giver of breath bereft,

    Of life deprived. Then quickly he fell

    Astounded to earth, gan tear his hair,

    Excited in mind, and his garments too,

    And this word he spake to the warriors [brave],

    Who saddened there were standing without:

    “Here is displayed our own destruction,

    The future betokened, that it is to the time

    Now amongst men almost arrived,

    When wé our lives shall lose together,

    In battle perish: here lies with sword hewn

    Our lord beheaded.” They then sad-in-mind

    Threw down their weapons and sorrowful went

    To hasten in flight. They fought on their tracks,

    The mighty folk, till the greatest part

    Of the army lay, in battle struck down,

    On the victor-plain, hewn down with swords,

    To wolves for pleasure, and to slaughter-greedy

    Fowls for a joy. Those who lived fled

    The shields of their foes. Went on their tracks

    The Hebrews’ host, honored with victory,

    With glory ennobled; them took the Lord God

    Fairly to help, the Lord Almighty.

    They bravely then with shining swords,

    Stout-hearted heroes, a war-path wrought

    Through heaps of their foes, hewed down their shields,

    Cut through their phalanx: the warriors were

    Enraged in battle, the Hebrew men;

    The thanes at that time were much delighted

    At the combat with spears. Here fell in the dust

    The highest part of the chiefest number

    Óf the Assyrians’ princely nobility,

    Of the hateful race; very few came

    Alive to their homes. The nobly-bold turned,

    Warriors retiring, among the slaughtered,

    The smoking corpses; it was time to take

    For the dwellers-in-land from the loathsome ones,

    Their ancient foes deprived of life,

    The gory booty, the shining trappings,

    Shields and broad swords, brown-colored helmets,

    Precious treasures. Gloriously had they

    On thát folk-place their foes overcome,

    The defenders of home their ancient foes

    With swords put-to-sleep: behind them rested

    Those who in life were most hateful to them

    Of living races. Then all the people,

    Of tribes most renowned, for one month’s space,

    The proud twisted-locked, bore and carried

    To that bright city, Bethulia [named],

    Helmets and hip-swords, hoary byrnies,

    War-trappings of men adorned with gold,

    More precious treasures than any man

    Of the cunning-in-mind may be able to tell,

    All that the warriors with might had won,

    The bold under banners on the battle-place

    By means of Judith’s [most] clever lore,

    The moody maid’s. As meed for her

    From that expedition, they brought for herself,

    The spear-strong earls, of Holofernes

    The sword and gory helm, likewíse the byrnie broad,

    Adorned with reddish gold, all that the warrior-chief,

    The brave, of treasure had, or individual wealth,

    Of rings and jewels bright; thát to the lady fair,

    The wise-in-mind, gave théy. For all that Judith said

    Glory to the Lord of hosts, who honor to her gave,

    Fame in realm of earth, and meed in heaven too,

    Reward in the glory of heaven, because true faith she had

    Ín the Almighty ever; now at last she doubted not

    Of the meed which long she yearned for. For that to the dear Lord be

    Glory for ever and ever, who made both wind and air,

    The heavens and roomy lands, likewíse the rushing streams,

    And joys of firmament too by means of his mercy mild.

    1.6.2 Reading and Review Questions

    • Why is Judith able to defeat Holofernes so easily? In what ways does she fit the definition of an epic hero, and in what ways doesn’t she?
    • What do you think that the golden net around Holofernes’ bed might symbolize, and why?
    • Research how Anglo-Saxons viewed elves. Why might they have used the description “elf-brilliant” for her?
    • What are some examples of understatement in the story, and why are they there?
    • How does the depiction of religion in Judith compare to the depictions of religion in Beowulf and The Dream of the Rood? What might be the reasons for any differences?
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