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Posts Tagged ‘Old English’

Grendel is introduced without much ado, just an accumulation of negatives – darkness, impatient, endure – followed by a contrast with the bright Hall of Hrothgar, the music of the bard.

Ða se ellengæst         earfoðlice
þrage geþolode,         se þe in þystrum bad,
þæt he dogora gehwam         dream gehyrde
hludne in healle;         þær wæs hearpan sweg,
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swutol sang scopes.

Ða se ellengæst  

Then a strong/powerful monster.  Ellengaest is compound word.  Ellen = strength, gast = spirit.  It’s similar to giest (guest) and is tempting to see it as a race memory of a time when a guest (or strangers) could be a mysterious threat.

                                                   earfoðlice
þrage geþolode,         se þe in þystrum bad,

                                                  Impatiently

[a] time endured, he that in darkness dwelt,

þæt he dogora gehwam         dream gehyrde
hludne in healle;

That he [on] days each rejoicing heard (That he heard on each day rejoicing)

Loud in [the] hall;

                                 þær wæs hearpan sweg,
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swutol sang scopes.

                                There was [the] harp sound,

[and] Sweet song [of the] bard.

It’s interesting to wonder what Grendel’s state of mind was before he heard the sweet sound of he harp.  He dwelt in darkness, it seems, but was he enduring a time impatiently before that? 

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After the telling us of Scyld’s departure we get a relatively long and detailed description of his funeral.  It’s interesting to contrast all these details with the brief description we had earlier of his up-bringing.  We heard he grew in strength under heaven and perhaps that he was fated for greatness, but now we zoom in close to just how a good funeral was performed.  You almost expect þæt wæs god īcþēnung (funeral) at the end.  No?  Ok, just me then.

Another thing is the lack of religious references.  Until know we had some stuff about God sending people Beowulf (mk I), and giving him worldly honor.  But to be fair, none of this is directly aimed at Scyld.  His people, sure, and Beowulf, yes.  But Scyld, only indirectly.

Even though it’s clear (made clear later) that the narrator is conscious of describing the event of an earlier time, a pre-chritian time, he is happy to attribute various events and abilities to God, but it’s almost as if Scyld himself was outside of that influence.

þær æt hyðe stod         hringedstefna,
isig ond utfus,         æþelinges fær.
Aledon þa         leofne þeoden,
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beaga bryttan,         on bearm scipes,
mærne be mæste.         þær wæs madma fela
of feorwegum,         frætwa, gelæded;
ne hyrde ic cymlicor         ceol gegyrwan
hildewæpnum         ond heaðowædum,
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billum ond byrnum;         him on bearme læg
madma mænigo,         þa him mid scoldon
on flodes æht         feor gewitan.
Nalæs hi hine læssan         lacum teodan,
þeodgestreonum,         þon þa dydon
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þe hine æt frumsceafte         forð onsendon
ænne ofer yðe         umborwesende.
þa gyt hie him asetton         segen geldenne
heah ofer heafod,         leton holm beran,
geafon on garsecg;         him wæs geomor sefa,
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murnende mod.         Men ne cunnon
secgan to soðe,         selerædende,
hæleð under heofenum,         hwa þæm hlæste onfeng.

It’s a long section, compared to my normal posts, but I don’t think it makes sense in fragments.

Literal:  There at the harbor stood the curved prow of the a ship.  Icy, and ready to sail, It was a hero’s vessel.  They laid their dearly loved Lord, the ring giver, on to the ship.  They placed that famous man by the mast.  There were many precious things, brought from far oat lands.  I have not heard of a more beautifully equiped ship.  There were battle weapons and battle dress, swords and mail coats, and a multitude of precious things, all to travel far with him across the sea.  (Certainly more wealth than when, as a child and alone, his people cast him to the seas).  They raised a golden standard above his head and gave him to the ocean.  They had mournful hearts and minds.  No man, councilor in the hall, or hero under heaven could say  truthfully who received that cargo.

The last line, I think, add more to that lack of religious comment.  Is it just – who salvaged all that loot?  Or who got Scyld’s soul?  Did he in fact die in the final sense, or is he one of the prototype once and future kings, like King Arthur sailing of to Avalon after receiving his mortal wound from Mordred?

Also you can see the change in focus, the amount of detail.  The ice on the ship, the curve of the prow, the items of treasure to go with Scyld.

Initially we get:

þær æt hyðe stod         hringedstefna,

There at [the] harbor stood [the] ringed prow,

isig ond utfus,         æþelinges fær.

Icy and ready to set out, prince’s/hero’s vessel.

Aledon þa         leofne þeoden,

Lay down, he, [the] dearly loved Lord,

beaga bryttan,         on bearm scipes,

[The] ring giver, into [the] ship’s possession,

mærne be mæste.         þær wæs madma fela

Famous by [the] mast    There was precious things many

of feorwegum,         frætwa, gelæded;

Of distant paths, treasures, brought;

So far so good, then the narrator can’t contain his distance, so excited by the details, and goes from second person (We know the Danes of old) to first person:

ne hyrde ic cymlicor         ceol gegyrwan

Not  heard I [of a] more beatiful  ship equiped

Getting the finer points of a hero’s send off was clearly important and likely went down well around the mead benches.  Probably like watching a retrospective of Bill Shankly.

Then some description of the gifts:

hildewæpnum         ond heaðowædum,

Battle weapons and battle dress

billum ond byrnum;         him on bearme læg

Swords and mail coats;  On his bossom [they] laid

madma mænigo,         þa him mid scoldon

Precious things [a] multitude [there of],  That him with must

on flodes æht         feor gewitan.

To [the] river/tide’s possession far go.

Then there’s a reminder of Scyld’s humble beginnings. And again – as in that was a good king –  there is the understatment, the dark or wry humor at the begnning of this passage.  When it talks about his current (funereal) gift are not at all less then those he had when he was a child (ie the current gift are a loft, when he was a child he had nothing).  So loving detailed description of arms and gold, and honor done to a great man, then a joke and a that Scyld was a self-made man:

Nalæs hi hine læssan         lacum teodan,

Not at all they him less gifts provided,

þeodgestreonum,         þon þa dydon

Peoples treasures than those did

þe hine æt frumsceafte         forð onsendon

Who him at beginning forth sent away

ænne ofer yðe         umborwesende.

Alone over wave being a child.

Then back to the last rites of the funeral.  More treasure, more sadness.  The end summary of the Shankly documentary.

þa gyt hie him asetton         segen geldenne

Then further for him erect standard golden

heah ofer heafod,         leton holm beran,

High over [his] head   [and] allow [the] sea [to] bear [him],

geafon on garsecg;         him wæs geomor sefa,

[and they] Gave [him] to [the] ocean (spearman, sea);  they were mournful [of] heart,

murnende mod.

Mournful [of] mind.

Then the strange ending.  The statement that no one know what really happened to Scyld or to Scyld’s funeral ship.

Men ne cunnon

Man [does] not know,

secgan to soðe,         selerædende,

[to] tell in truth, [or] counsellor in hall,

hæleð under heofenum,         hwa þæm hlæste onfeng.

[or] Hero under heaven [by] whom that/the freight [was] received.

So we have the founding of the Scylding dynasty, the heroic past of the Danes and a sense of what is important, what makes a good king, and how to morn him.  This comes back at the end of the tale, when we have the funeral of a slightly different hero.

Oh yes, and how did I translate it?  H’m.  Tricky this one and subject to change.  I didn’t like the first person narration and kept it to the second.

On the wave,
Caked with ice,
Stood a hero’s ship.
There they placed Scyld’s body,
And with golden tribute
Made his shroud.
There never was
A vessel so equipped:
Bright steel,
swords and mail,
And glorious gifts
Lay around that mast.
Nor was this less,
Than his own people
Provided him:
As a child,
They sent him over seas.

But on this ship,
His latest home,
They set a golden standard.
Then gloomy of heart and mind,
They gave him to the sea.
And the truth of that last voyage,
No wiseman, nor hero under heaven,
Can say who gained that cargo.

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After the brief lesson on how a young man or prince must behave, we resume the back story with the passing of Scyld:

Him ða Scyld gewat         to gescæphwile

felahror feran         on frean wære.

Hi hyne þa ætbæron         to brimes faroðe,

swæse gesiþas,         swa he selfa bæd,

þenden wordum weold         wine Scyldinga;

leof landfruma         lange ahte.

Literal:

So then Scyld departed, at the appointed time, still strong, to be with the Lord.  His beloved companions carried him to the sea, as he had asked, while he ruled, this protector of his people; the dear king had ruled a long time.

Like his birth and upbringing, Scyld’s departure seems equally mysterious and driven by fate.  You see here also the first reference to the dynasty he founded:

þenden wordum weold         wine Scyldinga;

While [he gave] words of command, protector [of the] scyldings;

Scyld’s people become the Scyldings.  It seems common practice to take on their kings/rulers name.  As in the Wuffings, the East Anglian tribe under king Wuffa (ca 570AD).  The Wuffings themselves are linked to Beowulf (or at least to the Geats) by the Sutton Hoo burial ship, and its strong connection to Scandinavian buried practices.

I tried this a few different ways, playing around with order and the hints that Scyld went of his own volition (still active/strong).  I think I kept the hint, but avoided any direct mention.

But the hour came,

When Scyld departed.

And to the sea’s cusp

His dutiful companions took him;

Long had he ruled.

After this the mystery deepens as the myth grows.

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The prologue of Beowulf continues by introducing Scyld Scefing, the ancestor of the Danes.  It goes on to describe his origins, rise to power, the founding of his dynasty (his son is called Beowulf – no relation to the hero of the poem) and his death.

Oft Scyld Scefing         sceaþena þreatum,

monegum mægþum,         meodosetla ofteah,

egsode eorlas.

Literal – Often Scyld Scefing enemies troops, many nations, mead benches take away, terrify warriors/heros.

Here we see the herioc values (we get told so later).  Scyld was one tough Dane.  He emptied the mead benches of many an enemy nations hall.  That is he has killed a lot of enemies, leaving their halls empty.  And a king without retainers (again, we’ll see this later) is a deeply fear and shameful state.  And not just for the king.  A man without a lord, a leader is a man without home or fortune.

Another Anglo-Saxon poem, the Wanderer, has this type of masterless man as its narrator.  A moody and brooding poem, it details the emptiness, the loss an loneliness of a man in this fallen state.  Something deeply felt by the warrior class of the time.

The name Scyld Scefing is sometimes updated to Shield Shieving or variations thereof.  I won’t bother, but it’s helpful to note it, in passing since it’s a easy way to get the pronunciation across.  The “Sc” in Old English has the “Sh” sound of modern english.

My translation goes like this:

Like Scyld Scefing,

Despoiler of armies and mead halls,

Terror of warlords.

Two whole sentences translated!

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Hwaet!

Stepping from the light of the fire into darkness… Or using a number of concise Anglo-Saxon dictionaries and some online teaching resources, my plan is to work my way through the Old English epic of Beowulf, documenting my translation as I go.

My main purpose is to teach myself Anglo-Saxon, or improve my limited knowledge.  But I also want a stripped down translation, shorn of christianity – if possible – and with an austere feel; something direct, but not just a literal translation.

Meter and alliteration are, at this point, optional.

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