Rafting through Battlefields ["Dum Diane vitrea" Eighth Stanza] (Latin)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
An Opening Question
Pondering Love’s Dualities
Closing

{Enjoined in love’s embrace – along with that bird’s. Image found on Michael Delahoyde’s Courtly Love webpage.}

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Abstract

The poem wraps up with a brief meditation on the nature of love (possibly both physical and emotional).

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Translation

“Oh in how great the unreliable varying
of the spirit of love!
It is as a wandering raft upon the seas,
when free from anchor,
In flux between hope and fear, both dubious;
So goes the battle of Venus.”
(“Dum Diane vitrea” Stanza 8)

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Recordings

The entire poem will be recorded once it’s all been translated and posted.

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An Opening Question

As the cap on the bottle of wisdom that is this poem, this final stanza rings so true that some might call it cliché. All’s fair in love and war, love is a many faceted thing, etc, etc, etc. But there’s more to it than that.

The images that this stanza evokes are those of the unanchored raft (“ratis”), and a battle (or, more stiffly, “campaign,” (“militia”)). Both of these are set at the whim of chance, and no manner of preparation can bring complete success. Neither being incredibly knowledgeable about seamanship nor a well-seasoned veteran will grant you a 100% guaranteed survival or victory. And of course, so it goes with love.

But why the image of a raft and a battle? Why not double down on the same image, rather than invoking both?

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Pondering Love’s Dualities

Because, at least so far as my theory goes, this stanza cuts to the quick of the poem and the poet’s point for one final time. These images, at their most basic, are about the conflict of humans v. nature, and humans v. humans. Such a duality of imagery sets up the poem to make a point about the dual facets of love that seem to be the poet’s major concern.

If this was written by Abelard, than his feelings towards love (particularly if it was written *after* the business of Eloise was *ahem* cut off) would definitely be much more than something romantic or cynical. Though both are certainly present. What could be more romantic than comparing one’s feelings of love to an unmoored raft, and what more cynical than reducing them to something that can be worked through with a mixture of tactics, strategy and chance?

But the argument to be made about the poem being about physical and emotional love gets most of its steam from the adjective attached to battle – “Venus” (“Veneris”).

Without delving too deep into ancient meanings of the goddess Venus (or Aphrodite) – at my own peril, I admit – invoking this love goddess suggests a leaning much more to the physical side of things. First and foremost among my reasons for thinking so is the fact that whomeever the poet is, they are more than likely Christian, and so any pagan deity is going to be used as a simple reference rather than anything particularly deep.

Besides that, there is something of a tradition of referring to the journey of the Christian mystic to god as being adrift at sea (and, though it may not directly relate, Anglo-Saxons associated such journeying with the extremities of loneliness, something that might come into the emotional mix of vacillating love). Because there’s the possibility of the raft image making this religious reference, I think that it’s quite likely that the direct reference to Venus is included to balance the poem.

The placement of these images, then, takes on some extra meaning. After all, it’s definitely no secret that the majority of the poem has had connotations of physical rather than spiritual love, and so placing the spiritual before the physical in this the final stanza suggests that the spiritual must precede the physical. Or, at the least, it implies that it can in itself be a mooring for the fluxes in the physical aspect of love, if you can manage to find anchor.

What then, the poem ultimately says is that it’s necessary to love spiritually, or platonically, or just plain emotionally, before loving physically. This highlighting of the spiritual while closing with the physical is a convenient and brief way to excuse what has come before while keeping tongue firmly in cheek (just as Chaucer’s retraction does for The Canterbury Tales).

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Closing

That’s it for new entries for the rest of the month. Watch this blog on Tuesday 4 December, for the final “Dum Diane vitrea” entry (including recordings of it in Latin and English), and a special announcement about a major change coming to this blog.

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Blog Happenings for the End of 2012

Because I’m using National Novel Writing Month to launch myself back into writing my fantasy series, my blogging time has been short lately. So, instead of pushing through and getting out some sub-par entries, I’ve decided to put my blogs on hold for the rest of November.

However, I will be posting the entry for Stanza 8 of “Dum Diane vitrea” this coming Tuesday, while the final wrap-up entry for that poem will be posted on 4 December.

So, enjoy what’s posted here and over at A Glass Darkly for the rest of November, and watch for new content come December!

Oh, and if you’re interested, watch my Examiner.com video game blog for a new article every Saturday, plus an extra one this Monday!

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Spreading the Word [ll.2892-2899] (Old English)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Why so few Thanes?
More ‘Limits Lessening’
Closing

Looks like those knights have maille. Image found on iStockPhoto.

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Abstract

Wiglaf commands a messenger to go to tell the encamped Geats about Beowulf’s battle with the dragon.

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Translation

“Commanded he then that the battle work be
reported to those encamped on the cliff-edge, where the
noble warrior host sat sorrow-hearted the morning length of day,
the shield bearers, each entertained both possibilities:
that it was the end of the dear man’s days and that
the prized prince would return again. The messenger
kept little silent in his story, so that naught was left
unsaid, and so he spoke truth to them all:”
(Beowulf ll.2892-2899)

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Recordings

Old English:

Modern English:

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Why so few Thanes?

The first thing that comes to mind upon reading this passage is – if Beowulf had all of these shield bearers at his command, why didn’t he have all the Geatish warriors lay on the dragon at once? I can only imagine how poorly he’d do in Pikmin or in Little King’s Story.

Pitifully anachronistic references aside, it is a wonder why Beowulf wanted to travel only with 13. Sure, it could be said that he simply wanted to endanger as few as possible, but then you need to ask: Why 13 and not 3? Or, if there had been some hint of Wiglaf being the most valiant of the bunch, why not just the two of them with the thief as their guide?

However, as a poem that might’ve been used as a missionary tool, or that may have been hurriedly adapted from a pagan original by some deft bard, it makes sense that Beowulf travel with 13. After all, he’s he’s a Christ-figure (having survived the harrowing of the Grendels’ lair) and so to complete the analogy he needs 12 companions. One needs to betray him (the thief in this case, I suppose), and few need to prove true. In Beowulf only one the apostle analogues proves his mettle, but I’m sure that even when this change, or this narrative choice, was made, it was done to keep things interesting rather than boring its listeners with a thinly veiled Christian tale.

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More ‘Limits Lessening’

Stranger than any analogy, however, is this messenger that Wiglaf commands to go to the people. He’s clearly quick, and he’s clearly trained in the art of delivering messages (unless his heart and mind were so affected by the sight of Beowulf that he speaks truth to the people). It’s possible that it could be one of the cowardly thanes, but then, where did he come from? I’m not an early medieval military historian, by any means, but given the nature of communications then, it would make perfect sense to have a messenger in every military unit.

To hopefully suss this out a little bit more, let’s look back to lines 2878-2879 where Wiglaf says that he felt his “limits lessen”:

“…ongan swa þeah/ofer min gemet mæges helpan;”

“…I felt my limits/lessen when I strove to help our lord.”

Is it possible that just as Wiglaf found a previously unknown reserve of courage as he defended Beowulf, that the thane who delivers the news of the battle experiences the same?

If Beowulf, as we have it today, is truly a work that’s been influenced by early Christianity, as many believe it is, then this otherwise minor detail might be a major part of its Christianization. A major part of Christianity is the idea that everyone has freewill, and that one way to find your destiny is to essentially give that freewill up of your own choice so that you willingly accept “god’s plan.”

Wiglaf and this nameless messenger may not give up their freewill in doing what they do, but I don’t think it’s far from the mark to say that they both do what they’re supposed to do, and being part of the younger generation (which is almost always cast as defiant in literature), doing what these two do doesn’t come as naturally to them as it might to a young man with something to prove to kin that think he’s a good-for-nothing weakling.

Cutting right to it, then, I think that Wiglaf’s feeling his limits lessen and the messenger (assuming that it’s one of the cowardly thanes, and not some mysteriously a-horse messenger specialist) speaking freely to the gathered Geats are examples of two people finding their callings. Wiglaf is to be the battle leavings: something he can be as long as he goes to battle (if he wins, he survives and is a leaving, and if he loses he dies, and is an heirloom of the battle left to the crows and the sun). And the messenger…well…we don’t get enough information on him to be sure, but if there were certainty in analysis of English literature, science majors wouldn’t be so adverse to it.

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Closing

That wraps things up for both blogs this week.

Come Monday, a new short story will appear over at A Glass Darkly, and expect a movie review (title TBA), and Annotated Links entry on Friday and Saturday respectively. Here at Tongues in Jars, the usual Latin and Old English entries will be updloaded on Tuesday and Thursday.

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Of Sleep, Nature, and Maidens Bright ["Dum Diane vitrea" Seventh Stanza] (Latin)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Euphemisms and Implications
So What
Transformations
Closing

{Edmund Spenser’s Una with the lion and the lamb, a maiden bright indeed. Image found on Wikipedia}

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Abstract

Pure nature comes alive in this penultimate stanza.

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Translation

“As beneath a leafy canopy of trees,
it is so sweet to cease when the nightingale sings.
How sweet to play in the meadow grass
with a bright beauty of a maid,
if there be many fragrant herbs to breath
if there be a bed of roses on which to lay,
oh how sweet the nourishment of sleep
after being exhausted by the chase of Venus’ trade,
which instills such sleepiness.”
(“Dum Diane vitrea” Stanza 7)

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Recordings

The entire poem will be recorded once it’s all been translated and posted.

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Euphemisms and Implications

Where stanza four offered us a look at some quasi-natural imagery, this stanza brings it all back to pure nature. And, as was the case with previous stanzas, the poet’s lingering obsession seems to be on sleepiness after sex.

But, more importantly, the reference to sex is never made directly. “Venus’ trade” (“Veneris commercia”) appears as it did in stanza five, but that is, after all, a euphemism. However, the romp described throughout this stanza can be likened to a sort of Edenic experience, and things that have made their way into modern romance (such as the “bed of roses” (“torum rosa”), make the association between this sort of natural play and sex quite clear.

But so what? The connections are there, but why are they there? Matters of who wrote this poem aside, the question to tackle now is why this poem – up to this stanza – has been written quite clearly about sex in such an indirect way.

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So What?

The lack of direct reference to sex is definitely not suspect considering the poem’s medieval origin. It was only the most bawdy of broadsheets that would refer to sex directly, and even when Chaucer wants to emulate the style of the basest of the base with his Cook he doesn’t reference sex directly but uses the contemporary equivalent of our “fuck” (“swyve” (The Canterbury Tales, l.4422 (or II.iv.98, depending on your edition))).

So the euphemism via natural imagery and the idyllic setting are certainly not out of place. The connection to sex is essentially there because it’s how medieval poets spoke of such things.

After all, the last thing sex was supposed to be then (and some would no doubt argue still is to be in the eyes of the Catholic Church) was fun or pleasurable. People who shared the opinion of the Wife of Bath, that human genitals are there to use, come kids or not, were definitely in the vocal minority. Hence, the need for this sort of natural imagery to create an allegorical window between the subject of a poem like this and readers.

It could be argued that as readers themselves, writers and poets like the composer of “Dum Diane vitrea” would be aware of these sorts of double meanings, but things like poetry and fiction could be dismissed as frivulous entertainments with no deeper meanings (hence there being so much lewdness couched within them).

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Transformations

And what imagery it is! the poet here definitely describes something as any poet should: with brevity, depth, and affect. More importantly, however, is the fact that the image of a forest and a bright maid definitely contrast with the dusk and night imagery from poem’s first stanza.

This shift in tone reflects a shift in the poem’s subjects, from worn out daily toilers to rested and enraptured lovers. And, perhaps that is the poet’s point. That in the eye of the storm that is the everyday, there is to be found a moment of calm, quiet, sunshiny love that inspires poetry, frolics, and fine words.

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Closing

Check back here Thursday for Beowulf!

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Wiglaf’s Prognosticatings [ll.2877-2891] (Old English)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Wiglaf’s Learned Look at the Future
Early Thoughts on Early Medieval English Nationhood
Closing

{Wiglaf casts no runes, but peers into the future nonetheless. Image found on the Daily 23 blog.}

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Abstract

Wiglaf foretells of terrible times ahead for the Geats, but concludes on a defiant note.

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Translation

“I of life protection little could
offer him in the fray, and yet I felt my limits
lessen when I strove to help our lord.
It was ever weakening, when I landed sword blows
on the mortal enemy, the fire from his head then
grew sluggish. As he became desperate, too few rallied
around the prince, at the time of the beast’s final
thrashing. Now shall the sword-gifting and treasure
sharing, all the native-land joy of our people,
our hope, be subdued; each of us will have
our land-right become idle
among our people, afterwards princes from afar
will come seeking, driving us all to flee,
an inglorious deed. Death is better
to every warrior than a life of dishonour!”
(Beowulf ll.2877-2891)

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Recordings

Old English:

Modern English:

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Wiglaf’s Learned Look at the Future

Here Wiglaf’s rant becomes less about pure anger directed at the thanes (and perhaps redirected from himself, partially) to a bit of prognosticating.

He predicts that now the Geats are doomed because stronger neighbours will overrun them once it becomes known that the Geats have found great treasure and lost a greater leader. However, it’s not fair to pin nothing but prognostication onto Wiglaf’s words here, I think it’s fair to say that they’re simply predictions borne of observation.

Wiglaf has never fought in any battle before, but surely he’d have heard stories about them from his father, or from bards while at the court of Beowulf. With all the time the Geats spent in the meadhall it would be a wonder if their heads weren’t as full of tales as their bellies seem to be of mead and ale. So it’s safe to say that Wiglaf would know about the dangers of being without a powerful leader.

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Early Thoughts on Early Medieval English Nationhood

Anyway, the bigger thing here, at least, as far as I’m concerned, is the compound word “londrihtes” (l.2887). In modern English, this literally translates as “joy of land ownership” or “native land joy.”

The importance of this word, and its connotation appearing earlier in the use of words like “leodscip” (meaning “nation,” “people,” “country,” or “region”) is great. It suggests that the Geats, or the Anglo-Saxons who composed and refined and listened to and watched this poem, had more than just a concept of land ownership – they had a concept of their belonging to the land as much as they did of the land belonging to them.

What makes this so important is that it implies that they weren’t just roving bands of mercenaries, but felt some kind of connection to the land that they occupied, much in the same way that Wiglaf feels a connection to the land that he fears and predicts the Geats will be forced to flee. This isn’t a major aspect of the story, by any means, but its being mentioned and its being used as a threat of future doom buttresses its importance.

Follow me here. Earlier in the poem, speeches to inspire have involved the prospect of treasure or of glory of one kind or another. Even Wiglaf’s speech to the thanes involves reminding them of Beowulf’s generosity with his war spoils, themselves a kind of treasure (in the same way that an iPhone might be considered a treasure today – something ubiquitous that could also have a great deal of sentimental or personal meaning).

However, when Wiglaf starts his doom-saying about the entirety of the Geats he doesn’t say that their war gear will be snatched away, or even that they’ll lose the hoard of treasure – instead he says that they’ll be forced from the land. They’ll be forced to flee. In my mind, and I think, throughout this poem, this is the absolute worst thing that could happen to an Anglo-Saxon because it’s a form of exile.

Yes, the Geats will be forced to flee together, but they’ll still have to flee from the place that they call home. And if being exiled is such a big deal, and it can be expressed through a reference to land, then it seems to me that these Geats have at least some sense of living in a country – in Geatland.

That this is mentioned in this poem matters because its Anglo-Saxon creators wouldn’t waste their breath composing something meaningless. Even setting matters of structure and oratorial decoration aside, the word is there, and it comes at the climax of Wiglaf’s prediction. Therefore, the threat of land-loss must be things that strike a chord in medieval Anglo-Saxon minds. And if the notion of losing one’s country strikes a chord, then there needs to be a concept of even having a country for it to do so.

Thus, these references are important because they point to the importance of a nascent sort of nationalism that, admittedly needs to be expressed (or at least is only expressed as far as we can tell from surviving records/literature) through the story of another nation. It needs to be projected, in other words, which suggests that the nation doing the projecting might not be fully defined as yet, but nonetheless has some sense of nationhood.

Of course, for the reference to concepts of nationhood within Beowulf to suggest some nascent sense of nationalism, the poem would need to have been written (or at least first composed) around the time of Alfred the Great (ninth century) or earlier. All the same, there’s something to be said for the poem’s implications about nationhood.

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Closing

Tomorrow, watch for a review of The Room – it’s coming!

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