A quick explanation

Thursday came and Thursday went, and there was no Beowulf to be seen here. So I thought I’d offer a brief explanation as to why.

Running out of Buffer

The main reason why I missed this past Thursday’ post is because I didn’t realize that I was out of backlog.

Between my creative writing (trying to complete one project, while planning a short story collection for Kindle Unlimited) and freelancing, this blog fell between the cracks. It’s not something I like to admit, but I’m probably spinning too many plates and let the Beowulf plate fall to the floor.

I’m building up the buffer again today, but that buffer is not going to be the sole source of posts on this blog.

Podcast Editing

I’ve recorded and am in the middle of editing the first episode of the Beowulf talk show. This episode features an interview with Paul Begadon of Woodkern.net. You can find one of his essays about Beowulf here to get a sense of his take on the poem.

I am also, pretty much every week, in the middle of editing episodes of the podcast Fanthropological. This is a pop culture project all about different fan communities. If you’re curious about some light sociology/anthropology about more modern topics, check it out!

Plugs for other things I’m doing aside, editing audio takes quite a bit of time (1 hour of audio takes about 3 hours to edit, at least in theory). So working on these episodes (each one is about one hour and 30 minutes before editing) every week eats up a fair bit of my time.

Second Wind

So, to get a little dramatic, I’ve been a bit like the hero in an action movie who is surrounded by thugs. But, rather than advancing on me one by one, the circle of thugs has closed around me until they left me bruised and bloodied.

I’m back up on my feet now, though, and ready to keep going with this blog.

Thanks for hanging with me and reading along!

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Update: The translation’s done, now what?

This is the first page from the Beowulf manuscript, in Old English.

The first page of the original Beowulf manuscript, in Old English. Image from http://bit.ly/2jdxSdW.

Last week I finally posted the last part of my Beowulf translation. So I think that this is a pretty good opportunity to get into what happens next on this blog.

More Translations?

First off, for ease of reading and as a means to improve my translation, I’m going to start posting larger bits of Beowulf here next week. In total, I’ve broken the poem down into 15 pieces, and each of these will get onto this blog before I bring them together, do some final editing, and start bringing together an ebook version of my translation.

Once that ebook is out, I’d love to do more translations. Particularly of other epic poems like The Aeneid or some of the more obscure medieval Latin epic works.

Yes, those would all be translations from Latin, and Latin isn’t exactly Old English, but I might also do some other Old English translations.

The Old English Judith, for example, is kind of like a miniature epic story, and some of the shorter poems would be interesting to tackle. But none of these are Beowulf (there is only one, after all 😉 ), so I’ll likely be starting another blog for those projects.

But getting into works other than Beowulf is a matter for the distant future. What non-poetry stuff is coming up soon?

Interviews

Earlier this year I mentioned putting together interview posts. So far I haven’t done any work on these, but I definitely want to get going on it soon.

If you’ve been inspired by Beowulf or have a lot to say about it, please reach out to me at nsczach at gmail dot com. I have a short list of people to contact for a brief Beowulf chat, but I’m interested in hearing as many stories about the impact Beowulf has had on people as I can.

Beowulf in (Pop?) Culture

Even though I’ve already covered a few topics related to Beowulf on this blog, there’s still a lot to the world of Beowulf. I’m talking adaptations, translations, even a Beowulf festival in Woodbridge Suffolk! It might not be mainstream, but there’s actually a subculture of Beowulf fans out there.

And I want to gather information about that subculture here on this blog. I want to make it less of a blog and more of a hub.

Reality

But.

My life right now is cobbled together from various projects. Fiction writing, podcasting and audio editing, streaming, this blog, and the seemingly never-ending search for gigs or work that can both keep my bank account in the black and leave me enough time to follow my passions. Needless to say, I don’t have as much time for this blog as I’d like to.

With that said, I think that it’s most realistic to continue with one post a week on this blog for the foreseeable future. But my hope is that I’ll be able to rotate between the three topics mentioned above.

Admittedly, over the next month I might lean a little heavily on poetry posts, but I’m going to try to get an interview or culture post into the mix as well.

Thanks for reading this update, and for (hopefully 😉 ) keeping up with my translation.

If you’ve got any suggestions for this blog, please feel free to share them in the comments. And feel free to give this post a like if you liked it, and follow the blog if you feel it’s follow-able.

A Blogger’s Beowulf in 2018

A ruined medieval castle that Karl Julius von Leypold drew and that is featured on A Blogger's Beowulf for its 2018 updates post.

An illustration by Carl Julius von Leypold entitled “Winter View of the Courtyard of a Medieval Castle in Ruins”. Image from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Karl_Julius_von_Leypold_-_Blick_auf_einen_winterlichen_Innenhof_einer_mittelalterlichen_Ruine.jpg

Wow. It’s been almost eight (8!) weeks without a Beowulf translation post.

First off, sorry for leaving this site silent for so long.

My only excuse is that between work, the podcast I’m a part of (as co-host and editor/producer (http://podcast.fanthropological.com/ is where you can find that, by the way)), the holiday season, and my life in general I just haven’t had the time to sit down, type up my translations, and then come up with a commentary for them.

So what’s happening with A Blogger’s Beowulf?

Well, for the rest of January, nothing.

But for a good reason.

The Grand Plan

My grand plan is to make time to type out the remaining 200 or so lines of my translation. Once that’s done I can get the rest of the standard translation entries ready to go for February. So, from February 1, 2018 and every Thursday following that you can come back here to continue through my translation of Beowulf.

But that doesn’t mean that I’ll be done with this site when those run out.

I’ve already put a lot of time and energy into my translation and these posts so I want this site to get a little more attention in 2018. To accomplish this, I’m going to bring the Beowulf news entries back in a meaningful way. I’m currently thinking interviews with big time Beowulf fans and creators who have been―and still are―inspired by the ancient epic.

In terms of the poem itself, I plan to use this site to slowly release drafts of a final version of my translation. It’s my grand scheme to put these pieces together and release that full version (maybe with or without my commentary) in at least digital form by the end of 2018.

2018

So, what can you expect out of A Blogger’s Beowulf in 2018?

Right now, a weekly posting schedule is ideal for me. So only expect the translations for the first few months of the new year. But once those have finished I’ll be trying to alternate between polished chapters of the poem and the more “news”-style posts (think interviews, and reviews of Beowulf-inspired media).

So for the start of 2018 I’ll be fettered by frost locks (much like the world outside here in Kitchener). But the heat of a new year will thaw those chains and see this site reach for new heights.

If you’ve got some thoughts on these plans, or if there are people you’d like to see me interview/write about for this site, please let me know in the comments or at nsczach@gmail.com!

Why was this week quiet?

Beowulf fights Grendel as depicted by Santiago Garcia and David Rubin's graphic novel adaptation of Beowulf.

Beowulf battles Grendel in Santiago Garcia and David Rubin’s Beowulf. Image from http://bit.ly/2jVrgOn.

So, you might have noticed that I missed both posts this week. Even the promised translation post. Sorry about that.

The reason why I missed posting here at all this week is a combination of work being incredibly busy and a lingering cold taking root in my throat and chest. Thankfully, work will slow down this coming week, and I’m feeling better already. So, I can’t quite promise two posts this coming week (I’ll have to do something big when the news post comes back — maybe check out Beowulf’s appearance in Once Upon a Time to see how he’s been adapted 😉 ), but I will be trying to get a translation post out. I have roughly another 800 lines to post up here, and they aren’t going to post themselves!

Beowulf: Musical theatre as character exploration

Currently out from writer/director Aaron Sawyer at the Red Theatre is a musical simply (and a little confusingly) called Beowulf. The trailer on the show’s website grabbed my attention as tightly as a man with the strength of 30 could. But, not being able to jet down to Chicago and watch it myself, I’m only able to write about it based on reviews from Third Coast Reviews and The Chicago Reader.

Sawyer’s adaptation of Beowulf is quite an original take, though its focus isn’t anything too new. The basic premise is that Beowulf and Grendel’s mother have been trapped together for all time by Odin. Simple enough. But their past together has not been erased. Grendel’s mother grieves for the loss of her son, and Beowulf questions his heroism as the two become romantically entangled.

These details make this show sound like quite a romp indeed, but it’s definitely playing off of themes that exist in the original poem.

Grendel’s mother is definitely charged with sexual energy in the poem itself. After all, she is the controller of dangerous femininity (giving birth to monsters, wielding a concealed dagger, overpowering Beowulf and landing on top of him (almost fatally)). And she’s certainly contrasted with the much more socially constrained queen Wealhtheow. Wealhtheow is portrayed as nothing but demure, though there are hints of her own desires for Beowulf but she never acts on them.

Grendel’s mother on the other hand acts on her desires for Beowulf so vehemently that she comes very close to killing him. I mean, she pounces on him and then tries to stab him with a dagger. An act of fury, to be sure, but it’s hard for me to not see the symbolism in what she does while on top of him. The dagger she pulls out is pretty phallic as a symbol. Stabbing is a form of penetration. And a female stabbing a male while on top of him seems (at least to me) like a pretty clear metaphor for male rape; a thing no doubt circled by shame and sorrow in the Anglo-Saxon society from whence Beowulf came.

But, interestingly enough, (and maybe this is where Sawyer got the idea for making Grendel’s mother the focus of his play and Tolkien got the idea for having fewer women in the Lord of the Rings trilogy than you could count on both hands), Beowulf never shows much interest in Grendel’s mother.

In fact, he never really shows much interest in any woman. He’s just concerned with glory and heroism (as he is in that trailer).

But maybe Beowulf’s apparent asexuality is part of the bigger picture of the poem. In keeping with medieval ideas of males somehow being closer to god than females, perhaps part of Beowulf’s manly virtue is that he’s beyond all that icky sex stuff. Even when we see him rule his own people there’s no real indication that he’s ever been married or had children. There’s not even any explicit mention or clear implication that he had some kind of mistress.

Ultimately, it sounds like Sawyer’s Beowulf is one that, though it strays pretty far from the source material in terms of story, keeps very close to its characterization of Beowulf and of Grendel’s mother. As goofy and incoherent as Jack Helbig of the Chicago Reader says it is, I think those elements are built into Sawyer’s premise. How else but farce could locking Grendel’s mother and Beowulf in a room turn out? As such, I think this take on Beowulf would be worth seeing just to get a glimpse of two of Beowulf‘s most interesting characters.

The changing words of Beowulf (and language, too)

This is the first page from the Beowulf manuscript, in Old English.

The first page of the original Beowulf manuscript, in Old English. Image from http://bit.ly/2jdxSdW.

After I told people I was studying English in university a strange change came over them. They would start listening to me a little more closely. They would hang on my every word for a few minutes after learning that fact. And they would point out any grammatical mistakes I’d make while speaking.

Sometimes these corrections would take me aback. But I can’t say that I blame those who would, jokingly, jump down my throat when my verbs and subjects didn’t agree or I threw an “ain’t” into what I was saying to blend in with the people around me. When I was in university I was the person those who learned of my major became. I was a grammar Nazi.

That is, until I learned about things like Old English and Middle English, and the joy of learning to read languages that were different enough from Modern English to be unintelligible at first look, but that were familiar enough to grasp with a mix of knowledge and intuition. Exposure to these things, and even to the idea that the Latin ancient people spoke changed over time, really made me realize that spoken English doesn’t need to be “perfect”. Neither does written English.

In fact, correctness just comes down to authorial intent and audience. After all, language is most correct when it’s a medium for clear communication between people, so knowing your audience and tailoring your language to make your meaning as clear as possible for that audience is the best way to make it “correct”.

Anyway, the fact that languages change is something that’s pretty well known in general. As Tristin Hopper points out in this article from The National Post, things written around the second world war have totally different uses of words like “queer” and “ejaculate”. Underscoring the article’s point that all languages adapt to what modern speakers need to say about modern life, even the word “humbled” has changed from something with negative connotations to something that gets paired with “honoured”.

Where Beowulf fits in with all of this is that it stands as a marker of the starting point for English. But, it’s also something that even now is constantly changing since our understanding of it is based on best guesses rather than the insight that a native speaker could bring to it. I was pretty shocked to learn that the first word of the poem “Hwaet!” may mean “How” rather than my dearly enjoyed “Listen!” as I read Hopper’s piece.

Ultimately, if you like a language, no matter what your age, you should definitely study it. Even if it’s a dead language like Latin or Old English, there’s likely still more for us to find out about them, and there are still useful insights to pull out of old stories and poems and expression. I’d say this is especially true if the stories and written expression of today don’t speak to you. After all, one of the reasons I went into English after finishing high school was to learn more of the medieval stories that were in seriously short supply throughout my high school run.

If you could learn any language, which language would you want to learn? Why?

When Beowulf tackled supercomputer tech

A Beowulf cluster supercomputer at McGill  University

Image from http://bit.ly/2j1HN7N. Copyrighted free use.

In my searching for a Beowulf story to cover this week, I discovered one of the ways in which the poem carries on in secret. Through a simple search for “Beowulf” I came across the website for Project Beowulf. On the “History” page of this site, it’s explained that the company specializes in multi-node computing, particularly the kind known as “Beowulf Clusters”. Multi-node computing refers to the connection of two or more commercial grade computers to create a single virtual supercomputer, and these are called “Beowulf clusters” when connected in a community-sourced, and DIY way (as defined by Wikipedia).

Reading deeper into this matter, I discovered that this style of virtual supercomputer construction was invented by Thomas Sterling and Donald Becker, in 1994 while the two were working for NASA. After that point in his career, Becker went on to found Scyld Computing Corporation, a company that specializes in Linux-based Beowulf supercomputing.

Despite the fact that Becker’s company is another reference to Old English culture (a “scyld” was a bard or poet of the time), according to Becker in this interview with Joab Jackson of GCN.com, it was actually Thomas Sterling who came up with the name. In his own words, Sterling was something of an Anglophile, and the line ‘Because my heart is pure, I have the strength of a thousand men.’ This line only appears in some translations, but it resonated with what the two wanted to do: create a supercomputer that anyone could build, and which would therefore lead to the formation of a community around its further development. So “Beowulf” fit.

I find this connection to Beowulf especially interesting because it’s a subtle way in which the poem’s legacy carries on. Sterling may have been a fan of Beowulf, but it doesn’t seem that it was just enthusiasm that led them to the name.

Like the heroic protagonist of the poem’s having the strength of 30 men, Beowulf clusters contain the power of several individual processors. They’re also able to undertake heroic feats of scientific computing, answering questions that science conjures up just as Beowulf was able to destroy the monsters which the actions of humanity stirred to life.

Beowulf is a great name for such supercomputers, and a fantastic reference that gives the ancient poem a subtle presence in our lives. After all, back in 2005 Beowulf clusters made up over half of the supercomputers on the annual list of the top 500 supercomputers. Even more recently, the ease of these clusters’ creation has allowed at least one person to build a supercomputer out of inexpensive raspberry pi processors, and Thomas Sterling, the co-creator of the Beowulf cluster is still working with it to push the boundaries of High Performance Computing (HPC).

Although I’m not much of a tech guy, and really only know a thing or two about simple programming languages like HTML, this connection between Beowulf and the modern world might just be my favourite to date. It feels like an in-joke that I can easily smirk at when it’s tossed across the cafeteria table even if I wasn’t there when it happened.

What do you think of naming modern inventions after ancient characters and stories? What’s your favourite example of a new thing having an old name?