The meaning of Old English folcscaru and the compound’s function in Beowulf
Ever since Kemble (1840), buton folcscare (Beowulf, 73a) has been thought to mean ‘with the exception of the common land’. The Old English compound folcscaru is reliably attested in poetic texts in the sense ‘tribe, nation’; secondarily the meaning ‘province, land’ may have arisen, but nowhere does the compound convey the special sense ‘common land, commons’. It can be shown that a meaning in the area of ‘tribe’ makes sense at line 73 of Beowulf as well, but the genitive gumena refers to both folcscare and feorum. It is quite conceivable that the line provides a distant echo of ancient Germanic customs concerning limitations of royal authority as adumbrated in Tacitus’ Germania.
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