Provide critical commentary upon the poetic diction, style, meaning and context upon lines 17-41 of "The Battle of Maldon".
This Old English poem's primary stylistic feature is alliteration. It is therefore, called alliterative verse. Because of this, word choices (perhaps less in the particular translation) were sometimes made with this goal of alliteration in mind. End rhyme is occasional but the alliteration is the main technique.
Stylistically, this is an epic poem and could also be called a eulogy (for Byrhtnoth). Like Beowulf, this poem celebrates leaders and heroes (namely Byrhtnoth and his loyal followers). In these lines, Byrhtnoth is organizing and rousing his men for battle. A Viking messenger tells the English that if they pay a fee (treasure), the battle will be called off. Byrhtnoth angrily replies that the Vikings will receive payment in the form of war: spear-points and war-gear (weapons).
Often, the stressed words are the nouns and verbs. The alliterative words are also stressed. In this translation of lines 20-21, the alliteration joins words "firmly," "fists" and "fearing nothing" to join words indicating the loyalty and determination Byrhtnoth instructs his men to fight with:
. . . and the right way to raise their shields
firmly in their fists, fearing nothing!
The alliteration, when present, dictates the stressed syllables and this in turn forms the rhythm and diction of the poem. The meaning of this section shows Byrhtnoth's leadership, courage, and perhaps even arrogance. This arrogance may be his tragic flaw, but in spite of that, the poem is an homage to Byrhtnoth and loyal soldiers, as well as a criticism of those who abandon the fight. It is an epic poem of praise for a fallen leader (therefore, also a eulogy) and the alliteration and stresses are intended to emphasize heroic qualities and the scene itself.