Wealhtheow, Grendel’s mother, and Hygd: The women in Beowulf

Introduction
Synopsis
The Original Old English
My Translation
A Quick Interpretation
Closing

Aethelflaed, the anglo-saxon woman who wasn't queen but fought off vikings.

An image of Aethelflaed, fighter of vikings and the daughter of King Alfred the Great and Queen Ealhswith. Image from https://younghistorian7.wordpress.com/2014/03/18/a-look-at-some-anglo-saxon-queens/


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Synopsis

The poet takes a break from Beowulf here to share a few details of Hygelac’s kingdom with us.


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The Original Old English

“Het þa up beran æþelinga gestreon,
frætwe ond fætgold; næs him feor þanon
to gesecanne sinces bryttan,
Higelac Hreþling, þær æt ham wunað
selfa mid gesiðum sæwealle neah.
Bold wæs betlic, bregorof cyning,
heah in healle, Hygd swiðe geong,
wis, welþungen, þeah ðe wintra lyt
under burhlocan gebiden hæbbe,
Hæreþes dohtor; næs hio hnah swa þeah,
ne to gneað gifa Geata leodum,
maþmgestreona.”
(Beowulf ll.1920-1931a)


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My Translation

“Then it was commanded that the prince’s treasure be carried up,
ornaments and plated gold. It was not far from there
for him to go to the treasure bestower,
Hygelac, son of Hrethel, he who dwelled within
his own home, living near the sea-cliff with his companions.
The building there was magnificent, the king was of princely fame,
one exalted in the hall, along with Hygd, his young queen,
a woman wisely accomplished, though she had lived
within the enclosed stronghold for but a few winters,
daughter of Haereth. Yet she was not bent down by vanity,
she was not sparing in gifts to the Geatish people,
she gave a great many treasures.”
(Beowulf ll.1920-1931a)


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A Quick Interpretation

So far there have been two major women in this poem. And they are definitely at opposite ends of the spectrum of good/bad.

First, we met Wealtheow, the queen of the Danes. She was a woman who came from a group that Hrothgar or his family must have enslaved, based on her name. Despite these origins, the poet suggests that she’s a good queen who embodies all the best qualities of courtly women: quietly powerful, dominant in the hall, and a master of social niceties.

Next, we met Grendel’s mother. She is pretty much the opposite of Wealhtheow. After all, she’s supposed to be a monster. So instead of Wealhtheow’s happily fitting into a courtly setting and really shining, Grendel’s mother runs her own hall, answering to no one, and brutally striking out at those who attack her and her kin.

Now the poet introduces us to Hygd, the wife of Hygelac. The first thing we learn about her is that, much like Wealhtheow, she’s likely from a foreign people. After all, the poet notes that Hygd fits right in with the Geats, “though she had lived/within the enclosed stronghold for but a few winters” (“þeah ðe wintra lyt/under burhlocan gebiden hæbbe” (ll.1927-1928)). So Hygd is certainly a woman who wields her courtly power well and justly. Though there is a bit of a creepy note in mentioning how young she is.

Marrying women off when they would still be considered “girls” today was common practice in earlier societies, but that fed into the very purpose of marriage back then: cementing business and political deals. Love could be a factor, but more often than not I think it was hoped that it would come about after the vows were exchanged. Hence the steady popularity of love stories like those of Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Iseult, or Lancelot and Guinevere. People were hungry for the idea of relationships built on love, even if they ran against whatever political or mercantile interests were at stake.

There’s also the issue of how Hygd fits into Hygelac’s court. She’s introduced along with the building and the talk of treasures. She’s introduced as Hygelac’s wife, sure, but there does seem to be a note of her being something Hygelac owns. Though in both Wealhtheow and Hygd’s cases there’s a sense that these women are able to create a great deal of power. And yet, there’s a hint of danger that lingers around women. In fact, the poet seems to be trying to strike a balance between good women and evil women, since the following passage describes the vanity and vice of Modthryth.

But, what do you think of the women in Beowulf? Is the poet trying to balance them out (and definitely not doing so with the men)? How does Hildeburh from the Finnsburgh section of the poem (ll.1068-1158) figure into this balance? Leave your thoughts in the comments!


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Closing

Next week, the poet tells us the story of the wicked queen Modthryth.

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Author writes novel series called: The Women of Beowulf

Though there are women in the poem Beowulf, they’re entirely on the sidelines. Wealhtheow, the queen of the Danes, has a few lines, but she’s quite tightly sewn into her diplomatic role of peaceweaver. Otherwise, women are mothers or sisters or daughters, and they generally have few to no lines of dialogue. And yet they’re present in the poem’s asides about morality and honour, but none of them take centre stage.

Donnita L. Rogers has changed the state of women in the world of Beowulf by writing a series of novels called The Women of Beowulf. This series tells a story that shares its setting with Beowulf but that follows a priestess named Freawearu.

A character with the same name appears in the poem, but she, like her mother Wealhtheow, is a peaceweaver, a daughter married to the son of a rival group’s leader in an effort to foster peace between the two groups. So the connection to Beowulf via Freawearu seems tenuous.

But Rogers isn’t writing an adaptation of the epic poem. Instead, she’s taking another look at the scenario of the poem and its setting through the lens of the powerful women active in it.

Though Rogers released the first book in this series, Faces in the Fire back in 2013 and wrapped it up in 2015, it could still prove an interesting read. You can find a full review of Donnita L. Rogers’ series here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/annie-martirosyan/beowulf-women_b_10638604.html

What do you think of the idea of using an old story’s setting and some of its characters to tell a new tale? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Further thoughts on Wealhtheow, Beowulf tries to pick her up? (ll.620-630)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
What’s Wealhtheow, Heorot’s layout, Beowulf’s fierceness
Two Compounds and a Dialogue Tag
Closing

The lady of Heorot serving Hrothgar. It looks genial enough.

The lady of Heorot serving Hrothgar. It looks genial enough.

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Abstract

Wealhtheow makes her way to Beowulf, who graciously takes of the mead she offers before addressing her formally.

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Translation

“Then went about that Helming woman
to each section of the noble and the young,
she offered/offering the costly vessel,until the time came
that to Beowulf she, the ring adorned queen
of distinguished mind/heart, bore the mead cup.
She greeted the Geatish man, thanked god
with wise words, that he her will fulfilled,
that she could find consolation in any living warrior
against that sin. He partook of that cup,
the fierce fighter, from Wealhtheow,
and then sang the one ever ready for war;”
(Beowulf ll.620-630)

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Recordings

Old English:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}

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What’s Wealhtheow, Heorot’s layout, Beowulf’s fierceness

Where to start? This passage has a lot happening in it. Since choosing just one to write on this week would mean skimming over some curious speculation, let’s just go through the major points.

For the curious, these are Wealhtheow’s position in light of her being referred to as “ides;” what we can deduce about the layout of Heorot’s interior from this passage; and Beowulf’s being referred to as, basically, “bloodthirsty.”

I know I touched on this last week, but what, exactly, is Wealhtheow?

Up to this point in the poem she’s been introduced as Hrothgar’s queen and her name makes it abundantly clear that she is likely in that relationship for the sake of political expediency rather than any strong, all-conquering love.

Later in this passage she’s also referred to as a queen. So that makes it pretty clear.

But before that, in line 620 Wealhtheow is referred to as simply “ides.”

This word translates to “virgin;” “woman,” “wife,” “lady,” or “queen.” I get that this is probably just here for the alliteration of the line (phonetically the Old English reads: “iumb-eh e-o-deh tha e-dez hel-min-ga”), but even so, using that word simply for alliteration’s sake feels like a stretch. Almost as much a one as my reading into this word.

Though, alliteration and overreaching aside, I think there’s something sane and kind of obvious at work in the use of “ides.”

At this point in the poem, the poet puts his focus squarely onto Wealhtheow. As such, it’s possible that a vague word like “ides” is used here to reflect the variety of perceptions the men in the hall have of her. Some see her as mother, others as their lord’s wife or queen, and to others still she was a woman or a lady, possibly even a virgin (at least figuratively, unless the apparent marital strife between them is about more than Hrothgar being able to raise his sword against Grendel).

Of course, it’s hard to say how the person who wrote or composed Beowulf worked. Did they ever come up with an alliteration before a line was written out, or even have a sense of which letter would be that’s line’s sound and then build the line out from there?

Perhaps with this line in particular the poet/scribe may have simply wanted to use “i” or “ides” (or “eode”) here and then built outward.

Whatever the case, figuring out just who Wealhtheow is as a person is made even more difficult by the line below describing her as having a “distinguished heart.” Is she an incredibly early expression of the idea of a noble savage? Did the Anglo-Saxons maybe consider the Celts in the same way that later Europeans considered First Nations?

Onto the arrangement of the hall. Line 621 states that Wealhtheow “went about the hall to the experienced and the young alike” (“duguþe ond geogoþe dæl æghwylcne”). What’s unclear about this line is whether those in the hall are all young and experienced (kind of a strange combination) or if the experienced sit together and the young do the same.

My guess is that it’s more the former, mostly because it makes sense that these two words represent two distinct groups and because the Geats’ needing to be let into some sort of inner chamber to see Hrothgar suggests that rank (won through experience, and therefore, age) is reflected in where your seat is.

I think that these divisions of young and experienced aren’t as you might expect, though. I don’t think “young” denotes someone who has not been alive for very long. Instead, I think that it refers to someone young in the way of battle. Why? Because the word that I’ve translated as “experienced” is also commonly used to describe or denote warriors. As such I think the poet is working in a dichotomy and though young and experienced could be seen as opposites, I think it’s a very specific sort of “young” that the poet has in mind.

Besides, Beowulf himself at this point in the story can’t be more than 20. Yet he is, at least according to his own stories, vastly experienced. Again, there are probably some in Hrothgar’s retinue that aren’t grey about the temples but have nonetheless seen plenty of combat. So it looks to me like Heorot’s seating reflects the Danes’ various skill levels.

After Wealhtheow has thanked Beowulf (for his boasts, at this point), the poet launches into a description of the warrior before he breaks into a speech.

For the most part this description of Beowulf seems fitting except that in the first part of line 629 Beowulf is described as a “fierce fighter”. The original word for “fierce” is “wælreow” which means “cruel, fierce, savage, blood-thirsty.”

Why is Beowulf characterized by such an adjective as this?

I suppose it’s possible that the poet is exulting in Beowulf’s deeds in combat or is trying to give the impression that Beowulf has seen this attractive (“ring adorned” (“beaghroden” (l.623))) lady and is trying to puff himself up to impress her.

Even so, using a word that carries “bloodthirsty” among its definitions seems like overkill to me. Unless, the word “wælreow” started off with more positive connotations (maybe as another way to refer to berserkers?) but then slowly deteriorated over time. Though, perhaps this is also part of Beowulf’s puffing up for Wealhtheow, maybe his animalistic nature is expressed sexually as well as in battle? Or maybe her thanking him has revved him up to fight Grendel?

What do you think about anything I’ve raised in this section? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

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Two Compounds and a Dialogue Tag

Although I mentioned it in the above section, the word that seemed a bit extreme to describe Beowulf’s fierceness, “wælreow” bears further investigation.

This word is one of my favourite types of words – a compound. As a such, what are its parts?

Well, there’s “wael” meaning “slaughter” or “carnage” and there’s “hreoh,” meaning “rough,” “fierce,” “wild,” “angry;” “disturbed,” “troubled,” “sad;” “stormy,” or “tempestuous.”

Interestingly, though I don’t think it’s the exact same word, there’s also an entry in the Clark Hall & Meritt dictionary for “hreoh” (“hreow”) that defines it as “sorrow,” “regret,” “penitence,” “repentance,” “penance;” “sorrowful,” or “repentant.”

Combining these two words obviously intensifies the sense of carnage and wildness that both convey. Yet, it’s curious that “wael” is a word that just describes something like a scene while “hreow” conveys a little more emotion, reflecting perhaps on the state of mind that a person is in to create a scene that could be described with “wael.”

Bringing the other possible meaning of “hreow” into the picture makes things even more curious since a slaughter that a warlike person regrets or is sorrowful over suggests that they were not themselves in their rage.

Perhaps, as I suggested in an earlier entry, Beowulf’s fighting style or battle prowess somehow relates to the practice of going berserk. If so, here, as Beowulf primes himself for his fight with Grendel, we see him starting to get into his battle frenzy.

And no doubt, Beowulf would fight in a battle frenzy. One example doesn’t make a strong case, but one of the central players in Celtic myth, Cuchulain entered into a battle frenzy in which his entire body convulsed and became grotesquely changed. Maybe Beowulf does the same or is feared for being capable of doing the same?

Another compound word worth mentioning from this week’s passage is “wisfæst” (l.626)

It’s the simple combination of “wis” meaning “wise,” “learned,” “sagacious,” “cunning,” “sane,” “prudent,” “discreet,” “experienced” and “fæst,” meaning “fast,” “fixed,” “firm,” “secure;” “constant,” “steadfast,” “stiff,” “heavy,” “dense;” “obstinate,” “bound,” “costive;” “enclosed,” “closed,” “watertight;” “strong,” or “fortified.” The word “fæst” might also mean “reputable” or “standard.”

That “wis” and “fæst” combine to simply make “wise” is incredibly straightforward. Though, I think the modern English word “wise” loses some of the original’s oomf.

After all, it’s not just the word wise, there’s a sense that the wisdom that the compound describes is something tried and true, a sort of wisdom not born merely of experience, but also from those who have gone before. Although there’s no mention of learning or reading, I get the sense that it could be the sort of wisdom that comes from instruction and experience. Or, if “reputable and standard” work as defintions of “fæst,” wisfæst” could be a sort of common sense – suggesting that even in the early medieval period those who had such sense weren’t so common and were this considered wise.

Though maybe it’s because Wealhtheow doesn’t seem to get high off of her own supply that she and her common sense seem indeed marvellous. Though, again, what exactly is her position and character?

Lastly, I just want to bring up the word “gieddan” (l.630).

It’s not a compound word, but it is one that hasn’t shown up in the poem before.

It’s another word for “said,” basically, though its dictionary entry offers “speak formally, discuss, speak with alliteration, recite, sing.” The implication of this word’s use being that what Beowulf is about to speak formally (maybe even musically?).

The word fits perfectly with line 630’s alliterating “g” sounds, but I still like to think that the poet expresses the idea that Beowulf is about to speak (before, weirdly, using the formulaic “Beowulf spoke, son of Ecgtheow” in next week’s first line) by saying he’s about to speak formally to round off the image of this young (possibly still teenaged) Beowulf seeing the lovely Wealhtheow and puffing himself up to attract her attention.

What do you think is up with Wealhtheow? Is she just Hrothgar’s queen and nothing more? Or is she somehow working behind the scenes, keeping the Danes going?

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Closing

Next week, Beowulf sings to Wealhtheow an assurance of his boast about beating Grendel and she goes to sit with Hrothgar, fully contented — for the moment.

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On the "dealings of Venus" ["Dum Diane vitrea" Fifth Stanza] (Latin)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
A Flick of the Tongue
From the Other Side of the Bed
A Lament for Love
Closing

{A modern take on an ancient goddess of an ancient emotion. Image found on tribe.net.}

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Abstract

In the name of Venus, post-coital sleepiness is described.

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Translation

“After the smooth-tongued dealings of Venus
fatigue the mind’s wealth.
This wonderful new mist swims
and settles in the eyelids.
Oh, how favourable the shift from love to slumber,
Yet how a kiss gives new rise to love!”
(“Dum Diane vitrea” Stanza 5)

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Recordings

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

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A Flick of the Tongue

The word “blanda” can translate as things like “charming” or “flattering,” but given the fact that this poem is essentially about sex I could hardly resist going with “smooth-tongued.” For, so often are the dealings of Venus done with a smooth tongue, or those dealings make a tongue to be smooth.

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From the Other Side of the Bed

At any rate, this section of the poem seems at first like it could be the last. However, there’s a suggestion that, despite the onset of sleep, the desire for love continues to burn in the speaker and possibly in his partner as well.

What’s curious about this stanza, though, is that it repeats the previous verse’s theme to some extent. Where last week, we delved into the three images that were used for post-coital sleepiness, they were associated with their own mythological figure: Morpheus – a Greek god.

On the other hand, this week we have the Roman version of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. So is it possible that these two stanzas are working on a kind of call and answer basis? Or did last week’s give the male’s sense of sleepiness after sex while this week’s gives the female’s? It’s hard to tell without looking forward to next week’s, but there’s one more thing to look at before we close for this week.

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A Lament for Love

The final couplet of this week’s stanza begins with the same words as verse three (“quam felix,” “how favourable”).

Given that stanza three is one in praise of sex, and that this week’s stanza refers specifically to an antique deity in charge of sex and matters of the heart, what can be said about these two stanzas?

The closing image of stanza three is of sore open eyes being joys of love, and here the final image is that of the love-generating kiss.

So are there the seeds of a love lament in here, since we’re being pointed toward a comparison of the propagation of love with love’s seeing and revelling in things that could be considered worn out? Or is this final line just a confirmation that when things wear out it’s love that perpetuates our need for them?

At the very least, this subtle hint towards a comparison of these two things suggests some hesitancy about love on the speaker’s part, lending some credence to the idea that the infamous Abelard wrote this poem.

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Closing

Come Thursday we’ll hear and look into Wiglaf’s opening words to the cowardly thanes. Watch for it!

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Fading Light, Rising Passion ["Dum Diane vitrea" Second Stanza] (Latin)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Sleeping on It
Setting Speculation in a Bed of Structure
Closing

{The evening star, shining bright within the embrace of coming night. Image found on NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day webpage.}

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Abstract

Some action parallel to that of the previous stanza occurs, as the evening star fades.

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Translation

“As the light of the evening star fades,
Charm’s humour is given to
The drowsy dew of fleeting passion.”
(“Dum Diane vitrea” Stanza 2)

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Recordings

Watch for the recordings of the whole poem once its translation is fully posted (around November 20).

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Sleeping on It

Time is a tricky thing to pin down when it’s not referred to with a clock reference.

All the same, this brief stanza looks like it’s about the point in a typical night when people would rise from sleep for a brief period to do some night activities. This dual-phase sleep practice goes back to the pre-artificial light days, when people would go to bed around sunset, wake around midnight and then go back to bed two hours later until day break.

It might sound a little useless to sleep in bursts like this, but aside from the practical purposes (like guard shifts), sleeping in two phases seems to make the mind more perceptive and to really help cognition (just ask any regular napper).

More to the point for our poem, with this bi-phasal sleeping pattern in mind this stanza describes the influence of Venus, the evening star (“Hesperus”) on the people as they sleep. This stirs their passions and their loins as “the drowsy dew of fleeting passion” (“roris soporiferi
mortalium generi”) falls upon them.

To be more direct, the couples in the poem have sex – one of the many things that people would do during their nightly two hour vigil. And an activity that’s quite perfectly suited to that time between sleeps. After all, you’d be out working all day and probably a little to weary and weighted to be in the mood for sex before sunset, but after that initial rest, your mind would be relaxed, your loins would be fired,and you’d be ready for it.

So perhaps the action of last week’s stanza wasn’t so much about the power of palour to assauge the woes of a person’s public life and to soothe them as it was simply about the moon rising (since it would be the middle of the night) when people woke after their first shift of sleep.

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Setting Speculation in a Bed of Structure

As per how these two stanzas work together, this one doesn’t seem to be moving anything forward, rather it just describes another act that goes on during the action of the first stanza.

As Diana rises in the moon and the stars come out, the evening star fades and its influence over the sleepers is complete as they awake and are ready to consummate the desire of their hearts.

Structurally, it’s also likely that this stanza would work as the first chorus of this poem as a song. After all, it is from the “Carmina Burana” – a collection of such songs. Further, this stanza’s brevity also suggests that it’s a chorus.

Yet, however “Dum Diane vitrea” develops from verse to chorus to verse to chorus and onwards will need to be seen next week.

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Closing

Leave your thoughts on my theories in the comments for today’s entry, and check back here on Thursday for how the poet portrays Wiglaf’s immediate reaction to Beowulf’s death.

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Moon Love ["Dum Diane vitrea" First Stanza] (Latin)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Liminal Evening
Sister to the Stars
Lifting the Cloud of Unloving
Closing

{The moon and stars looking ready for a night out. Image found on NASA’s “Astronomy Picture of the Day” website.}

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Abstract

The poem begins like so many days: with the dawning of the sun as a stand in for love.

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Translation

“When Diana’s glassy torch rises late
And is kindled by her rosy brothers,
A pleasant breath of wind lifts
the etheric cloud from all couples;
Thus she softens emotive power
And immoveable hearts, which
Towards the pledge of love she sways.”
(“Dum Diane vitrea” Stanza 1)

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Recordings

Since this is a poem, it will be recorded as a whole and then posted as a whole once it’s been completely translated. Once that happens, and all of the individual stanzas have been posted, an entry will be dedicated to looking at the poem as a whole. This entry will also include a complete recording.

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Liminal Evening

What is “Diana’s glassy torch”? Is it the final light of evening? Or is it the way that the sun reflects from the curvature of the earth so that we can still see some light even though the sun’s already set. Whatever it is, it makes it clear that this stanza is about a liminal moment.

That is, this moment is one between two set, concrete points of time – the day and the night.

Yet, even with this stanza’s liminality established, what is it that causes this cloud that’s apparently settled over couples to lift?

As far as can be told from this stanza, it’s just the switching over from day to night.

The most relevant aspect of this transition seems to be that it’s a move from the outward show of day toward the private and unknown night.

The reference to Diane’s mysterious brothers (or allies, “fratris”) supports this interpretation, after all, only when night has fully arrived do the stars emerge.

And that’s just what her brothers are – the stars.

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Sister to the Stars

For, Diane is the moon and her glassy torch is the moon as it sheds its pale light, so her rosy allies are the stars. Why they’re described as being rosy is unclear, unless it used to have a meaning along the lines of self-luminescent. A person with rosy cheeks is usually blushing, and a rose itself is red – a colour that is vibrant enough to pull in human attention.

With all of that out of the way, just what is the cloud that settles over couples?

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Lifting the Cloud of Unloving

Since this cloud is dispelled as the moon rises and the stars come out, it sounds likely to be the troubles of the day. The moon, accompanied by the stars gives such a different atmosphere that it changes the context of perception and allows people to forget their troubles.

Perhaps, along with factors of wealth and work, this is also why palour was sought after among women in classic ideas of beauty – just as Diane’s pale light could inspire lovers to come together, so too could the palour of a young woman be considered a palliative against the troubles of the day. Maybe such paleness was also important because it helped to wash away whatever troubles a husband/lover experienced in the public sphere.

Th public/private binary is definitely an interesting thing to apply to this poem since it already invokes the binary of night and day (through implication), but it’s also problematic.

Medieval life wasn’t exactly one that leant itself to privacy – walls were thin, roads were narrow, and small towns banded together not to be cliquey and such, but because it was necessary for survival and protection.

As a result, private/public would be better represented as public/less-public, in that at least around the house (most) people wouldn’t be intentionally watching you.

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Closing

Next week’s stanza continues along the way of love and calls on a lot of night imagery, so perhaps we’ll see all of these ideas come into play again then. In the meantime, leave your own thoughts in the comments, and watch for Beowulf’s final farewell on Thursday.

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Fortune Beguiled? ["O Fortuna," Third Stanza] (Latin)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Final Notes
Sorrow maybe made Joyous
Closing

{Lady Fortune likes to greet those she favours with a fist bump – for obvious reasons. Image found on Doctor Michael Haldane’s Translation Homepage.}

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Abstract

The poem’s speaker finally gives in under the crushing weight of Fortune, and laments, calling all others to join him.

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Translation

Ah Fortune, you do invert
My health and my power,
Ay do you torture me with desire and weakness.
Now without hindrance let us strike
The chord in time, lament loudly with me,
For Fortune foils even the fortunate.
(“O Fortuna”, 3rd stanza)

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Recordings

Latin:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}

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Final Notes

Once more, the translation above is not entirely literal – but that’s just not my modus operandi.

Though the most altered line is the final one. Not that the original Latin (“quod per sortem sternit fortem”) doesn’t come out to something similar when translated literally, word for word (“which by fortune overthrow the strong”). It’s just that the above translation dwells less on the words of the original and attempts to delve more into the sense of those original words.

The basic idea is that Fortune treats everyone equally, regardless of their merits. What better way to express that in English than to match “Fortune” with “fortunate”? Plus, though not necessarily a quality in thirteenth century Goliardic poetry, the alliteration is also very English.

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Sorrow maybe made Joyous

Now, although this poem ends on a pretty down note, one phrase is curious. In the original Latin it is “mecum omnes plangite,” in the above translation it’s “lament loudly with me.” What’s interesting here is that, though it’s framed by the sorrowful “lament” the speaker calls for everyone to come together to lament Fortune’s tyranny.

But, what usually happens when a bunch of people get together (even medieval people)? A cracking party ensues – of one sort or another.

So it might be something that’s coming from looking a little too deep, but including the call for everyone to come complain with him suggests that the speaker is aware that Fortune is not the only thing that runs in cycles.

It could be that he’s trying to start some kind of spirit boosting gathering, even if it’s just a bunch of monks getting together and moaning about their misfortunes. Unless they’re all Dominicans, chances are one will tell a joke or relate a misfortune that another will chuckle at, and things will go up from there.

Or, of course, they’ll reason that this Fortune stuff is all pagan nonsense and go off to read the loose-parchment copies of the story of Christ jousting against Satan that they’ve hidden in their bound books of theology.

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Closing

Come Thursday, Wiglaf is in the dragon’s hoard and does some hoarding of his own – while the poet ornaments his tale with a brief meditation on the dragon.

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