Beowulf [ll.2409-2419] (Old English)

Introduction
Section Summary
A Word Wanted
A Difficult Word
Speculation on Hengest and Horsa
Closing

Introduction

Thursday is here again, and so I’ll continue with my work on Beowulf.

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Section Summary

The next section of my Beowulf translation covers line 2409-2419: The part at which the thrall is forced to guide Beowulf and his eleven chosen warriors to the place where he found the stolen cup that Beowulf believes is the cause of the dragon’s rage. They reach the cave (hleaw, 2411) and discover that it is full of wondrous treasures (“wraetta ond wira,” or “wrought and wound,” as I translate it, 2413).

But, they also know that the treasure’s guardian is the dragon and, as the poet points out, no man is able to extract that treasure cheaply because of the dragon’s eagerness to guard it (“gearo guð-freca gold-maðmas heold” 2414) (2416). The passage ends when Beowulf sits down on the cliff-top overlooking the sea and wishes all of his warriors health and luck (haelo abead, 2418). For he already seems to know that his loan of days is due.

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A Word Wanted

I always have a lot of fun with this language. Maybe it’s because the expression seems so fancy free or because it’s from a time before there was really a formalized register and diction that could be learned in school (since English wasn’t taught in school back then, it was just the common tongue – what people spoke to communicate with each other. Latin, Celtic, and probably even some Old French would have been used for business, since native Old English speakers would trade with those peoples).

Whatever the case, this degree of enjoyment tends to turn me onto a word that should still be around in one form or another.

In the case of this passage, the word that I want to see come back is heorð-geneat (hearth-companion). The origin of the term probably came from the practice of those fighting wars/feuds together sitting down and talking/eating/relaxing by a fire. The same sort of bonding happens today with MMORPGS or online forums. Flickering lights still help us to bond with one another.

But not too many people actually sit around fires on a regular basis. Sure, some people go camping, and maybe some use wood furnaces to heat their living space. But, it’s generally not a daily occurrence to wind up beside friends in front of a roaring blaze. But, it is a daily occurrence for people to bond while playing MMORPGS and other such online games (sorry TV, but high speed internet and wi-fi have done to you what you did to radio).

So, as a modernized version of heorð-geneat, I propose that we bring in the term connection companion. Or, for short, conn-comp. Think about it.

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A Difficult Word

Within the passage the only word completely unfamiliar to me was “unhiore,” on line 2413. The word translates as terrible, a shuffle that is easy enough, but it’s parts are a little bit curious to me.

A hearty little particle, “un” meant then what it still means now – a negation of what follows (such as unsure for not sure). The rest of the word, “hiore,” as best as I can figure is a variant of “hearra,” meaning lord, master, or it is a variant of “heorra,” meaning “hinge, cardinal point.”

The latter actually makes a little bit more sense to me, since something that is “not a hinge/cardinal point” would mean that it is not tied into the world in an extremely structured way (perhaps not subject to wyrd/fate like everything else).

Basically, this combination makes the word “unhiore” seem like it refers to an anomaly in the system. Such a variation is a truly terrifying thing when your system is there to help navigate life in a world full of strife. Especially since that strife was not of the life-choice kind we face today (seriously think through grad school if it be among your choices, oh ye bright eyed senior undergraduate) but of the wayward sword cutting open an artery kind.

Of course, this interpretation of “unhiore” is primarily supported by my trusty Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary.

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Speculation on Hengest and Horsa

Since we’re in the realm of speculation already, here’s some more.

While looking up “yð-gewinne” (“wave-strife”) I came across the word “yð-hengest” (“sea horse,” a kenning for “ship”). This got me thinking.

Recently I listened to the Anglo Saxon podcast by frederic and he mentioned that Gildas calls only Hengest and Horsa by name among all of those Angles called in by the king of the Britons to help fend off the other Celtic tribes. On the podcast frederic noted that these names translate as horse and mare respectively. But what if Gildas meant yð-hengest instead of just Hengest? Then it would be ship and mare.

Further, what if this is an old saying signifying men and supplies? Or families and rations? I mean, it’s clear that the Angles didn’t just bring two guys and a few ships over when they came, there were much more than that coming to the Britons’ aid.

Old English idioms like this are notoriously difficult to figure out because there are so few sources, but I think that this could be something. I mean, until England became the major super power, English was just a bunch of dialects that at times could pose some difficulty to each other.

Hundreds of years earlier, when the only permanent media was the written word, idiom would have traveled at a snail’s pace and probably would have taken years, if not decades, to work its way into everyday use between dialects.

So maybe horse and mare or ship and mare is an example of a dialect from Gildas’ region. Already clear is that ships are super important to Anglo-Saxons – they can be treasure houses, the means to travel for adventure and conquest, and potentially the final resting place for warriors. But what are horses to them? A means of transit? A thing to gamble on?

Maybe if I can establish what a horse *was* to the Anglo-Saxons of 800-1100 AD, then I can write more about what a mare by itself might signify beyond the animal. And what something like “ship and mare” might mean.

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Closing

Anyway, with that question, and that quest, I leave off with Beowulf until next Thursday. Leave any suggestions, contentions or comments in the text box below.

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The Second Verse of "Tempus Adest Floridum" (Latin)

Translations
Wrestling with Words
Liberties Taken
Closing

Translations

Alright, So here’s the translated verse that I did today. First, in the original, and then in my more artful, more free translation.

The meadows are full of flowers, these begin appearing.
Where these are brought for all to see, plants with pleasure.
Grasses and shoots, put winter to rest.
In time the spring gets strong and increases.

The meadows are full of flowers, as they start appearing.
These are brought where all may see, plants their pleasure bringing.
Grasses, shoots both rising through, making winter turn in.
Spring growing strong in due time, bringing renewed bird din.

If you want a refresher on the original Latin song, check it out here.

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Wrestling with Words

So there it is, but it wasn’t as easy as the first verse. This one had a few words that really threw me. “incunda” (which I take as a form of “incoho,” meaning to begin, start upon, turn to) was especially tough since I don’t really know how to fit it into the sentence. Nor am I entirely sure of its meaning. But, given the context, it seems to be the best fit.

The other two words that gave me trouble, “aspectu” (to look at/sight/catch sight of) and “delectu” (joy, take pleasure in, etc.), weren’t so difficult to define, but instead were tough to place within the sentence. This difficulty arises for me because I’m not entirely familiar with all of the verb forms once things get as complicated as passives in tenses other than the past and simple present.

However, I am sure that they are verbs since there aren’t any Latin nouns or adjectives that end with a “u” after being conjugated. There are “u” stem words, as there are in Anglo-Saxon, but those have “u” in the stem and do funny things with that. They don’t tend to keep the “u” in anything but the nominative case. And besides all of that, the rules of one language tend not to apply to another in such a direct way.

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Liberties Taken

In any case, those discrepancies in tense make for a bit of an awkward translation which I’ve tried to smooth over in the dolled up version. This led me to a few liberties in my quest to come out with something that rhymes, and these are most noticeable in the last four lines.

Instead of winter just being “put to rest” I’ve changed it to winter being forced to “turn in.” A kind of synonym for put to rest, but with more of a shift-worker kind of tone. And given the regularity of the seasons, it seems like that’s appropriate since I’m working with a traditional personification of the seasons.

In the final couplet of the poem, I mixed it up a bit, and actually replaced the statement about the “increases” of spring with a line about the birds returning. This helps make the whole verse singable to the original melody and completes the rhyme pattern of ABCB for each four lines. I also think that the side by side combination of “bird” and “din” makes for a neat aural pun on the word “burden.”

After all, spring is coming back and so work does need to resume in a medieval agrarian society: the land needs to be cleared of the debris that winter leaves behind, fields need to be tilled and planted, and animals need to be transitioned from winter treatment to summer treatment.

Winter was also no walk in the park for those in the past (and those still without indoor heating/plumbing or refrigeration today), but the workload was comparatively less field-based, or at the least more household-based.

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Closing

Of course, if you take issue with any of my generalizations here, or if you want to suggest an interpretation of one of the words with which I struggled feel free to do so in the comments.

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Beowulf – In Media Res [ll.2401-2409] (Old English)

Introduction
Background to the Project
Old English Appreciation
Section Summary
Two Words
Closing

Introduction

Today I’m breaking out the glittering armour, gift from the ring-giver, a tight-knit coat in the battle-storm.

Yep. Today’s entry is the first about Beowulf.

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Background to the Project

It’s a project that started in my third year of studying for my BA, though it didn’t really take off until just after I had finished that degree. I’m using the bilingual edition of Seamus Heaney’s translation that has the Anglo Saxon original on the left and the poet’s translation on the right (an online version of the original can be found here).

Heaney’s arrangement is great, but the running glossary in George Jack’s student edition is even more helpful – when I borrowed it from the library for a graduate class I barely used my dictionary.

However, now that Jack’s edition is back in Victoria and I’m over in Ontario, I make good use of my copy of the Fourth Edition of the Anglo-Saxon Dictionary as edited by Hall and Meritt. If I can’t find a word in the dictionary then I’ll usually look it up in the website Old English Made Easy’s dictionary.

The weight of this project hasn’t crushed me just yet, but it is something that has provided an ongoing struggle. Not just because of the size of the poem, but because its use of multiple adjectival clauses can really cloud sense and make things seem obtuse.

However, when things get grammatical, my Magic Sheet is never out of sight. This handy little chart from the English Faculty at the University of Virigina summarizes the declensions and conjugations of everything in Old English, so it’s super useful.

So armed, I’ve been able to translate 5/6 of the poem over the years and once I’m finished my plan is to bring a consistent voice to the whole thing (possibly by re-writing), type it up, and try to get it published. A bold move perhaps, but this is something that I’m passionate about. Maybe it’s just a bunch of barbarians hitting each other (and monsters) over the head with pointy sticks to some, but to me it’s a piece of grand old art.

And it’s something that’s fun to translate.

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Old English Appreciation

Sure, the grammar can get sticky and there are points that scholars still contend to this day (was Beowulf swimming until nightfall to get to the bottom of the mire? Why does the Danish bard sing such a sad song after Beowulf’s victory?). But there’s a joie de vivre in the poet/scribes’ language that isn’t really present in a lot of Modern English.

And no, I’m not a snob. I think that Middle English (Chaucerian English) and Early Modern (Shakespearean English) are just as lovely. But when all of the grammarians stuck their fingers in the delicious hot pie that was English in the 17th and 18th centuries they sucked a lot of life out of it. They set it up to become a reliable and powerful lingua franca for all, but they made it a little bit dull in the process.

Now when somebody drops a consonant and replaces it with an apostrophe people are all up ins. And slang is slang. Before the grammarians came about (I’m looking at you Samuel Johnson) all of English (all the dialects) were pretty slang-laden. It’s just the way that the language was.

And it was grand.

Not so great for national or international communication maybe, but the plays, treatises, and poems that remain are all excellent examples of what a language can do.

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Section Summary

Anyway, I don’t want this entry to be fully derailed by a rant. Right now I’m working through the scene where Beowulf fights the dragon, so I’m really sticking to the story-telling principle of starting in media res.

But, true to most modern novels, I’m starting just where the action is picking up – Beowulf has just gotten his band of 11 fellow Geats together and has compelled the slave that brought him the dragon’s cup to guide them the the lizard’s lair.

All of this happens in lines 2401-2409.

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Two Words

Two words really struck me in section:

First, “gebolgen” on l. 2401. It reminds me of the “Gáe Bolga,” the mysterious, foot-held spear that Cuchulain was trained in by the warrior woman Scáthach, and with which he killed his friend and rival Ferdiad in the Táin Bó Cuailnge.

The other word that caught my eye was “meldan,” from l.2405. This one means finder according to Heaney. The dictionary definition is “tell, reveal, accuse” – but I’m guessing that Heaney let his translation lean on “cwom” (come) the combination of which with “tell, reveal, accuse” suggests a kind of giving – like coming with tales or news, things which are only useful if given.

Plus, a shiny cup from a whole pile of treasure would indeed be welcome news to any Geat (or Anglo-Saxon listener).

Though, I do admit that combining words in this way is kind of like trying to stretch a single ox hide over an acre of land.

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Closing

If you’ve got any suggestions/corrections for me, leave them in a comment. I’ll be back next week with Beowulf’s arrival at the cave.

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First Verse of "Tempus Adest Floridum" (Latin)

Introduction
Translations
Word Issues
Liberties Taken
Closing

Introduction

So this song, “Tempus Adest Floridum,” is the origin of the tune for “Old King Wenceslas.” However, as you’ll notice from the title and from the song’s content it has nothing to do with old King Wenceslas.

You can find the full song in its original Latin here.

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Translations

First my literal translation:

The time for flowers now is come, for the flowers rise up.
Spring in all things, the likeness/copy of nature.
This which ice had attacked, has recovered warmth.
We all see this weeping, by great work.

And my dolled up translation (with some rhyme):

The time for flowers now is come, for the flowers now arise.
All things now are of the spring, nature’s likeness is in all eyes.
This which winter once had attacked, has regained its fire;
We all see winter’s weeping, since spring has perspired.

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Word Issues

The issues that came up for me during this translation were relatively minor, just a few issues with words not being in my Collins Pocket Gem dictionary. The words in question?

“Vernales” (an adjective meaning “of Spring” was the worst); “Cerno” (ere, crevi, cretum; a verb meaning to see, discern, understand, perceive, etc.); and “fleo” (ere, evi, etum; a verb meaning to weep, cry, lament, mourn for) were close seconds since I had to twist things around to make good sense of it all.

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Liberties Taken

Obviously, I took some liberties with the second use of “hoc” (“this”) to bring in Winter again, but I like the personification of the seasons to which this song gives rise.

It isn’t direct personification, necessarily, but the conceit definitely helps to make the translation more fun. And, since the original image seems to be that of icicles dripping (hence weeping), making winter the weeper seems appropriate.

The conquest of spring also makes it a more joyous song, even if that joy is derived from conquest.

Though I must admit that a pop song about Spring coming in and ruining Winter’s shit might be fun as well, the cycle of nature can be pretty brutal after all.

“Transpire” could also have worked as the final word of the verse, but I think that spring is generally a wet season, and “perspire” is a wetter word. It also implies that much more effort was used, and if a season is going to be made to weep I imagine that even another season is going to need to break a sweat.

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Closing

So that’s verse one of “Tempus Adest Floridum.” Expect verse two next week.

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Salvete! Wæs hæl!

Introduction
Purposes
Wrap Up

Introduction

This blog is a platform from which I’m going to be writing, gushing, and otherwise working through the sense of my various translation projects. Currently I’m working on a translation of Beowulf from Anglo-Saxon, and another of the thirteenth century song “Tempus adest Floridum” from Latin.

Two old and gone languages might seem a little, well, anachronistic in this internet-set age of ours, but as Facebook offers its site in Latin and other blogs for old languages exist, there is definitely a readership for the thoughts and meanderings of a wit as he moves meaning from one language and into another.

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Purposes

Of course, to reach the conclusion that there is an audience for this sort of thing I’m applying an idea that I’ve always tried to keep firmly in mind: that among a finite number of people with access to print media there’s definitely a sizable audience for anything from a slightly more finite number of genres and forms.

To put it more simply, there are a lot of people in the world, and somewhere out there there’s got to be a solid 5000 of them interested in what I have to say or the stories that I have to tell. Scale that number up or down as you please.

However, the primary purpose of this blog is to give me a space to write about my own reactions to what I translate. These will definitely include bits where I wax academical, but there will also be bits where I just laugh at the literal translation of a word, or sit in wide-eyed wonder at how a perfectly awesome word did not make it into casual Modern English.

I might even flex some alumni muscle and pull out etymologies from the Oxford English Dictionary Online (hereafter the OEDO) to show these words’ journeys if they’ve been traced.

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Wrap Up

So, as you might guess, what I write here is going to generally be scholarly but with a more casual tone than that which you’ll find in an academic journal or book. I’ll be keeping the long sentences, though.

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