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Islanddawn
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PostSubject: Beowulf   Sat 09 Nov 2013, 04:33

A University of Manchester lecturer has discovered that the famous first line of English language’s oldest epic poem has been misinterpreted, ever since it was popularised almost 200 years ago.

http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/11/2013/first-line-of-beowulf-misunderstood-for-200-years

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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Sat 09 Nov 2013, 16:21

Islanddawn,

yes translation is such a difficult thing. Not only you have to decypher the concept of the word in the text to translate. But you have to seek also what the meaning of that word was in that particular time and how it was understood by the average people (and not by an elitary group)?
I give examples of what I mean.
In the time on the BBC board I read during holidays  a novel from Evelyn Waugh: "Sword of Honour" and read there about a man's "breast" (Dutch: borst) but when I used it without reference someone said that it was only used in the context of women. Checked the date of the work and see now that it was from 1965. Quite a change in some thirty years...
I studied in the time some Russian and it seems that the aristocratic female elite had a nearly other language (a women language) where the words had another meaning than their equivalent words in common Russian. Of course one has some singularities in English too between the Queen's English and some "vulgar" English I presume?

And then after this difficult exercise one has to do the same with the word one has to take as translation...
And then try to understand the context of the whole sentence which has to be translated to try to translate the idea which was behind that sentence to match the same feeling as the original...

Quite an exercise in my humble opinion...

Kind regards and with esteem,

Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Sat 09 Nov 2013, 19:23

Paul :
It gets (much) worse when the original and the "translation" (perhaps "rendering" or "interpretation" is too - so not only meaning but metre and rhyme also need to be accommodated.
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Sun 10 Nov 2013, 19:20

Gil,

yes, as from a song tekst to translate and needing the same melody...

Kind regards from your friend Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Sun 10 Nov 2013, 19:23

OOPS and I forgot the dubbing for the German films and those Germans want that the lips are in synchronisation with the translation. Don't know if it is still the case...? Too expensive perhaps...

Regards, Paul.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Mon 11 Nov 2013, 09:50

Dr George Waldken may be quite correct in his assertion. However I cannot help but think that his "correction" simply serves to prove that a historical linguist does not a poet make.

I grew up with Irish poetry as a constant element in my basic education, both in the original tongue and as English translation. While this might not have taught me much by way of historical linguistics (well, maybe to a small extent), it most certainly taught me the difference between translation based on an appreciation of the original author's intent and that based on a transliterative slavery to the written word. Having read Dr Waldken's comments regarding the absence of exclamation marks in Saxon English, as if this in itself deprives the opening line of Beowulf of a requirement for emphasis, it strikes me also that the good doctor might benefit immensely from expanding his studies to include oral transmission of poetry in a pre-literate society. When an audience invites emphasis it will be provided.

He knows Beowulf as a written text. In its original medium however it was more than a poem - it was in fact one side of a dialogue. That is a very different thing indeed.
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Mon 11 Nov 2013, 16:18

Exactly, Nordmann.

And it was that what I thought when I wrote in my reply to Islanddawn:

"And then try to understand the context of the whole sentence which has to be translated to try to translate the idea which was behind that sentence to match the same feeling as the original..."

Kind regards and with esteem,

Paul.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Tue 12 Nov 2013, 08:41

It is not just a question of translation with Beowulf, Paul. I admit I am not very familiar with the poem and its history but I feel the arguments concerning Homer's "Iliad" apply here too.

For a start it's not really Homer's "Iliad" - he just happened to be the first guy to record in writing an epic that had been centuries in the making through oral tradition. And there are two points that I recall being made by classical scholars relating to the "Iliad" which I feel equally apply to Beowulf.

One concerns the motive for its transfer to the written word. In both cases this may have been a fear on the part of the writer that the epic was in fact in danger of disappearing. Recent cultural change (in Britain what could even be termed a cultural upheaval) had diminished the relevance and popularity of each story for its respective audience and the writer in each case seems to have been moved primarily to preserve the piece for posterity. While this is an admirable motive and one for which we have many reasons to be grateful for that which it produced in both cases, it does not however represent automatically a motive to produce a definitive version of the story. This is more evident in the case of Homer - his "Iliad" is written almost as a shorthand version with events running at breakneck pace to the detriment of their dramatic impact, something we can be fairly certain would have been the opposite to their rendition in oral form. There are also some slight inconsistencies where the narrator has accommodated two alternative sequences of events, proof that the poem came from the oral tradition but also proof that the author's motives rested with preservation rather than narrative integrity (the exact same has happened with the Irish epic "An Táin"). Beowulf shows less inconsistencies of this nature, but enough acceleration of pace at certain points in the narrative to indicate that the author here too was intent on recording the details of the story sometimes at the expense of their true dramatic import.

The other point that is often raised with regard to Homer concerns his writing style. This too shows inconsistencies and is used to indicate the often tortuously complicated route by which ancient writing reaches us today. Redaction and embellishment by unseen hands have obviously played a role in this sequence of events. With Beowulf there is an assumption that its earliest written instance was that of the Nowell Codex, though of course that is simply the oldest surviving instance and the Codex in question is - in the context of its other content - quite visibly a composite of earlier works now lost. We cannot say therefore with certainty that the style of the author or the language used matches that which was even first recorded, let alone the oral style of narration preceding both.

Unlike a work that originated on a page therefore the "job" of the translator in each case above, when making the work relevant, meaningful and entertaining to a modern audience, is not to faithfully cog the received text or even pay too much respect to the structure. It is primarily to honour the works' oral roots. The oral tradition does not imply poetry recitation as we understand it today, however well performed, but a far more dynamic evolution of narrative with input from all sides all the time. The adventure within the story is matched, and probably even excelled, by the adventure of the performance, a communal event on a par with theatre but with everyone within the auditorium a player. A "translation" therefore, using whichever written version as source, will sell the original short if it does not emulate the thrill of that interaction on which the story itself depended for its development, strength and ability to survive.

Personally I thought Seamus Heaney did a good job in that regard with "Beowulf", whatever reliance he placed on an erroneous "Hey, Listen here!" at the start. Moreover - and this is where classical purists will send the hounds after me - even terrible renditions of the "Iliad" such as that awful Brad Pitt movie a few years ago correspond much more to the true origins and point of the pre-Homeric narrative than umpteen scholarly "translations" have even scratched at achieving.


Last edited by nordmann on Fri 27 Dec 2013, 09:55; edited 1 time in total
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Meles meles
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Tue 12 Nov 2013, 09:40

I don't know about Beowulf, but I always thought the Iliad wasn't originally 'recited' but was rather always 'sung', accompanied by a lyre. As such the Iliad and other epic Greek poems are really (and etymologically) the lyrics of songs.

In performance, was Anglo-Saxon poetry recited or sung?
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Tue 12 Nov 2013, 10:06

Why wouldn't it be sung, especially if there was a lyre handy? The "song" inference is drawn from the "ad" in "Iliad". However it would be a mistake to think of it as a song in the modern sense. It would be better to think of it as an invitation to improvise - that which Plato himself termed "divine enthusiasm" - which permeated much of the creative process in Greek culture, from art to philosophy, throughout that civilisation's formation. Plato's version might have been penned with music in mind - but that is not to say that this was a rule by any means, even when rendering his version.

The "mantinades" in Crete echo this tradition. I have been privileged to be present in rural tavernas when locals have employed the technique to wax lyrical about everything from falling behind in their mortgage repayments to the birth of Zeus. The interchange between "song" and "recital" is as fluid as the various sentiments expressed. The important thing is not the style but the communal participation. Lyres were of course welcome, but not obligatory.
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Tue 12 Nov 2013, 10:10

Sean nós singing in Ireland retains this emphasis on the improvised and personalised lyrical content. I imagine if Beowulf was ever sung then this is roughly the manner in which it would have been delivered.

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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Tue 12 Nov 2013, 13:25

Overseas posters may not have seen this one;

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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Tue 12 Nov 2013, 14:10

Not Beowulf, but the oldest surviving complete ode,the Seikilos Column has recently been played, or more accurately an interpretation thereof

http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/music/ancient-seikilos-column-brings-worlds-oldest-song-back-to-life/story-e6frfn09-1226754073689
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Tue 12 Nov 2013, 14:29

"Interpretation" is the correct term, right enough. The "musical notation" indicates - even according to Armand D'Angour and Michael Levy who have written the tune - simply cues for when the musical pitch should rise or fall. In fact this form of notation has little in common with modern musical notation at all and everything in common with the old-fashioned "cadence" symbols one learnt when studying rhetoric to help deliver effective speech. Winston Churchill was a keen user of just such notation when preparing a speech.

While it is clever to use such an ancient source to inspire the form of a piece of lovely music hopefully redolent of the age of the source itself, it is going way too far to pretend that what has been produced is more recreation than it is simple imagination.
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Tue 12 Nov 2013, 15:00

Meles meles wrote:
I don't know about Beowulf, but I always thought the Iliad wasn't originally 'recited' but was rather always 'sung', accompanied by a lyre. As such the Iliad and other epic Greek poems are really (and etymologically) the lyrics of songs.

In performance, was Anglo-Saxon poetry recited or sung?

Benjamin Bagby gets it right - the poem recited (or performed rather), but accompanied by the odd thrumming on what I believe is a lyre(?). Bagby's  "interpretation" is superb, I think. I've posted this link before, but I make no apology for giving it again. This makes me go all shivery, like loopy Philippa Langley in the Richard III car park:




PS Don't know what all the fuss is about with the opening "hwaet". Heaney's translation - "so" - is exactly right.


Last edited by Temperance on Tue 12 Nov 2013, 15:27; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Tue 12 Nov 2013, 15:08

I rather agree with Nordmann.  Any attempt to argue how a particular passage should be rendered in modern English is perfectly valid (and potentially very interesting) from a linguistic perspective, but is of significantly less value when trying to reconstruct how the poem might originally have sounded when performed.  This is because, as Nordmann says, the poem almost certainly had an oral history as well as a written one. 

The thing about the oral tradition is that it often gives the reciter significant leeway.  If I ask you to drive from Galway to Paris via Hull, you have any number of ways of doing that.  You might hammer across to Dun Laoghaire, get the ferry to Holyhead, hammer along the A55 and ultimately the M62, get the ferry to Rotterdam and drive via Belgium.  Or you might head from Hull to Calais.  It matters not, provided you get to each of the three points.

Similarly, when telling an epic like Beowulf, the reciter has to cover certain bases, but otherwise can riff away to their heart's content.  In order to keep them on track, most reciters used certain mnemonic and linguistic tricks.  In Greek epic, for example, Achilles is always "fleet footed", seas are always "wine dark" and dawn is always "rosy fingered".  It is possible to spot similar stock phrases in the insular tradition and these are indicative of an oral stage of the work.  Another trick is the use of the triad - things often happen in threes or multiples of three (even today, there was an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman) as that makes them easier to remember.  

So, what the earliest extant written version of Beowulf represents is not a definitive text over which we need to pore to extract every nuance of original intended meaning, but one of many stages of one of many iterations of a poem that just happened to be written down when others weren't.  It becomes tempting to see that version as the uncorrupted original, but to do so is to miss the point and to fall into the classic trap of believing that information has greater validity simply by dint of having been written down.

So, if we can free Beowulf from the shackles of a non-existent authoritative version, we can also, I think, free it from the shackles of being performed in a certain way.  The reciter has a lyre?  Great - strum away as you recite.  The reciter has a voice which sounds like Dylan gargling hardcore?  Just speak it, then.  The reciter has a hollow tree trunk and a stick?  Let's do a percussion version.  And so on.

Regards,

AR
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Tue 12 Nov 2013, 15:18

Spoken like a true Saxon mate!
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Tue 12 Nov 2013, 15:50

Temperance wrote:


PS Don't know what all the fuss is about with the opening "hwaet". Heaney's translation - "so" - is exactly right.
Possibly to modern ears, and again it is merely another interpretation which is not the point. The point is to try to understand it as it would have been in the original.

Beowulf’s first line: ‘Listen! we have heard of the might of the kings’  or 'So! we have heard of the might of kings' should in fact, says Dr Walkden, be read as ‘How we have heard of the might of the kings’.

There is a subtle difference, and one which changes the tone of the piece completely.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Tue 12 Nov 2013, 15:53

Thank you for putting me right, ID. Smile 

Depends what you mean by "so" - and how you say it. It's a subtle little word. Just get rid of the exclamation mark.


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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Tue 12 Nov 2013, 15:55

Yes, and what on earth is the original version? That's the point!
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Tue 12 Nov 2013, 16:02

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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Tue 12 Nov 2013, 16:02

Thank you for putting me right, Temp. Smile 

None the less Heaney's translation of 'so' was still based on the accepted thought of the meaning, which is misleading. According the new research anyway.
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Tue 12 Nov 2013, 16:03

Quite so!  There is no original version available to us.   There is an earliest written version, but that is not the same thing as an original.

True Saxon that I am, I shall now report to my tattoist before getting tanked up on ale and laying waste to Shropshire.

Regards,

Arise Northumbria!
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Tue 12 Nov 2013, 16:05

EDIT: Crossed posts there, ID.

Walkden's a bundle of fun, isn't he? Sort of chap my husband would deal with by saying: "You're right there, George. Another pint?"

Reading his paper doesn't exactly make one go all shivery; his brilliant analysis reminds me of a forensic pathologist's autopsy report. But then he's a linguistics expert, not a poet. They don't do shivery in the Department of Linguistics at Cambridge or Manchester - and quite right too.

But I'd rather shiver with Heaney or Bagby any day (not the point, I know).

PS Heaney does not put an exclamation mark after his "So". Just a full stop - which is interesting.




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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Tue 12 Nov 2013, 16:20

Arwe Rheged wrote:
Quite so!  There is no original version available to us.   There is an earliest written version, but that is not the same thing as an original.
Which is why possible mistakes in translations of what has survived are important in our attempt to understand how it may have been. It means a re-think and not merely accepting one interpretation because 'it sounds right', which is never a bad thing.
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Tue 12 Nov 2013, 19:01

I don't speak Anglo-Saxon or Old English and it's many years since I scratched the surface of Middle English at school (Canterbury Tales)  so cannot claim to be as erudite as some of my fellow-posters on this thread.  From my limited knowledge of foreign languages I am aware that there is sometimes more than one way of translating a particular word.  The "new" translation is food for thought though I personally prefer to enjoy "Beowulf" and such works for themselves (in translation of course as I obviously can't read the source material).  No doubt University scholars of the subject will examine the evidence for the  "new" translation in depth.
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Tue 12 Nov 2013, 20:44

Re: Message from Nordmann 12 Nov. 9h41.


Thank you very much for the reply Nordmann.

I completely understand the "gist" (in Dutch: "gist" is yeast...I suppose the English "gist" has to be translated in Dutch by "kerngedachte" (main idea)?) of your message and it fits with the thinking of the message of Arwe Rheged a bit further in this thread today.

BTW:

I have to confess that I never heard of "Beowulf" Embarassed 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beowulf
I see more and more that there is a big gap between our continental culture here in Belgium and surroundings with the Anglo-Saxon one. Perhaps people from Britain and Ireland aren't aware of it? I wonder how Nielsen's cultural "luggage" is compatible with the Anglo-Saxon one? But yes as I see now Beowulf and the Danes...
Don't worry too much nevertheless: Shakespeare made it to us and we studied Hamlet at school...

Perhaps that modern scholars in Belgium today know more about Anglo-Saxon culture? I, as an oldie, am more grown up with Dutch and French cultural items and to be honest as our history is also interwoven with the German/Austrian Habsburg history some knowledge of German culture too...

I am also grown up with difficulties of a growing Flemish nationalism in Belgium (and as a reaction a growing Walloon nationalism) with had its roots in the end of the 19th century...and at a certain point there were "some" affinities with the Irish movement...but I am nearly sure that apart of some populist slogans most of the people of the Flemish national movement didn't know that much about the real Irish cultural background...it is only recently that that Irish/Gaelic hype is emerged at the continent...at least on my personal first sight...yes we have also such dark (fill in what you more need...)... Irish pub in Bruges...

No, our Beowulf, and that knows every kid (at least from my age Wink  ) is "Van den Vos Reinaerde" Dutch, French and German...even a bit English...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reynard

But I learned nevertheless something new today from the wiki:
Even that misused by some Dutch collaborators during WWII...
"Antisemitic version[edit]
Van den vos Reynaerde (About Reynard the Fox) was an anti-Semitic children's story, written by the Dutch-Belgian Robert van Genechten, and named after the mediaeval Dutch poem. It was first published in 1937 in Nieuw-Nederland, a monthly publication of the Dutch national socialist movement NSB. In 1941 it was published as a book.[3]
The story features rhinoceroses, neushoorn in Dutch (literally, "nose horn"), referring to the perceived typical Jewish nose. One of them is called Jodocus, which refers to the Dutch word for Jew, jood, pronounced somewhat like the "Iod-" in Iodocus. The story also features a donkey, Boudewijn, occupying the throne. "Boudewijn" happened to be the Dutch name of the contemporary Belgian crown prince. This is a reference to the Belgian Nazi leader Léon Degrelle, leader of the Rexist-movement ("Rex" is Latin for "King"). In the story, Reynard rounds up and kills most of the rhinoceroses, including Jodocus.[4]
Van den vos Reynaerde was also produced as a cartoon film by Nederlandfilm in 1943.[5] The film was mostly financed with German money. While lavishly budgeted, it was never presented publicly, possibly because most Dutch Jews had already been transported to the concentration camps and the film came too late to be useful as a propaganda piece, possibly also because the Dutch collaborationist Department of People's Information, Service and Arts objected to the fact that the fox, an animal traditionally seen as "villainous", should be used as a hero.[6] In 1991, parts of the film were found again in the German Bundesarchiv. In 2005, more pieces were found, and the film has been restored. The reconstructed film was shown during the 2006 Holland Animation Film Festival in Utrecht and during the KLIK! Amsterdam Animation Festival in 2008, in the Netherlands.[7]"

Kind regards and with esteem,

Paul.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Wed 13 Nov 2013, 06:54

Bagby plays an Anglo-Saxon harp. I found some information about this interesting instrument here:

http://www.tha-engliscan-gesithas.org.uk/archives/the-sound-of-the-sutton-hoo-harp


This early musical instrument,  called by the Anglo-Saxons a hearpe, is what we call today a round lyre. The triangular frame-harp came into use much later in the Anglo-Saxon period.

This pan-Germanic hearpe or lyre, the most famous example of which is the Sutton Hoo harp, is the musical instrument associated with the early Old English poetry, such as Beowulf. It is a simple yet very elegant musical instrument; aesthetically pleasing in its rounded shape.

This six-stringed instrument, light in weight and not too large in size would have been easy for the travelling scop to carry from place to place. The hollow sound-box looks alarmingly shallow, being no more than 25mm in the case of the Sutton Hoo harp, but it can produce a sound appropriate in volume for the germanic mead-hall.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Wed 13 Nov 2013, 07:56

Bagby is using his imagination as much as he is using the harp.

This cautionary note from Jessica Lovett:

"There is much speculation about the role music played during the recitation of poetry, and unless a definitive non-fictional anglo-saxon source discussion is discovered on this topic, it will remain speculative. There is some evidence that poets would recite heroic ballads and histories while accompanying themselves with a harp or other stringed instrument, but it is in the form of fictional references. Fiction, while definitely shown to reflect aspects of social practice, does not provide the details so sought after in this debate. However, considering the increased ability of the voice to project while singing, performances for large companies would (hypothetically) be better understood if the poet used a singing or chanting tone. Still, as there is no source which survives that instructs performers in this style or that even discusses it extensively, nothing is certain. The separation of poetry and music is a relatively modern phenomenon: there is no real reason to suppose that anglo-saxon musicians would not recite, or that poets would not sing – but there is also no real proof or way to determine which situations would call for a combination of spoken word and musical accompaniment, and which require a completely musical performance."

Jessica Lovett, University of Toronto: Anglo Saxon Music 500-1066

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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Wed 13 Nov 2013, 08:25

Islanddawn wrote:

Beowulf’s first line: ‘Listen! we have heard of the might of the kings’  or 'So! we have heard of the might of kings' should in fact, says Dr Walkden, be read as ‘How we have heard of the might of the kings’.

There is a subtle difference, and one which changes the tone of the piece completely.

Only if you go along with George Walkden who has chosen to translate "hwæt" as "how" - even though in the 140 other cases he himself used to justify his assertion that this interrogative pronoun plays the role of an informative addition to the exclamatory power of the sentence the word is translated normally as "what" (and one does not need to be an historical linguist to see why).

Which brings us back to sticking exclamation marks in to (hopefully) keep the original sense of the sentence recorded in the Codex;

Hwæt! We Gar-Dena in gear-dagum, þeod-cyninga, þrym gefrunon, hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon!

George's assertion is interesting, but ultimately it is contradicted even by his own subjectively assembled research. Both he and Seamus Heaney were motivated by a dissatisfaction with the existing popular translation, and that's fair enough. However I credit Seamus's solution with a bit more honesty in its application, and definitely with superior literary merit than Dr Walkden's.

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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Wed 13 Nov 2013, 09:09

Islanddawn wrote:
Which is why possible mistakes in translations of what has survived are important in our attempt to understand how it may have been. It means a re-think and not merely accepting one interpretation because 'it sounds right', which is never a bad thing.
I'm not sure that follows.  Reconstructing an original text from later texts is best achieved through having a number of the later texts to hand.  One can then look out for both differences and similarities and then, using various linguistic and philological (?) techniques, one can possibly raise an argument as to how a lost original (or, at least, a lost earlier iteration) might have looked.  John Koch did this very cleverly with his reconstruction of Y Gododdin in 1997 and similar techniques have been employed to allow historians to be reasonably confident that there was once a now lost set of insular northern annals covering the late sixth and seventh centuries in Britain.

The "hwaet" argument apears to be less about synchronising various versions of a text and more about trying to extract meaning from one text.  That is fine, but without a comparative exercise of the sort postulated above, it gets us no closer to uunderstanding what an original or earlier version might have looked like.  It simply tells us what this particular version was supposed to look like, which I concede is valid in its own terms.

I suppose one could argue that the "hwaet" might itself be indicative of an oral stage - it has a sort of "listen up!" or "are you sitting comfortably?" quality to it.

Regards,

AR
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Wed 13 Nov 2013, 09:23

Arwe Rheged wrote:
... it has a sort of ..."are you sitting comfortably?" quality to it.

I now have a vision of all those great hulking warriors, not at their mead-benches, but sitting nicely in a semi-circle on the floor, dear little faces all upturned and eager for the story... Smile 

Only joking - I take your point.

Warning re too much enthusiasm for Bagby's harp also noted.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Wed 13 Nov 2013, 10:08

Rare image of an actual recital ...

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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Wed 13 Nov 2013, 10:43

Arwe Rheged wrote:

I'm not sure that follows. 
Because you missed the operative word, attempt.
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Wed 13 Nov 2013, 12:16

I don't follow that rebuttal. Surely AR's point is that the "attempt" based on one extant text is a departure from normal practice in these matters, and as such is a very valid point. Far from missing the word, his response addressed it.
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Sat 16 Nov 2013, 05:21

The status of hwaet in Old English by George Walkden, with links to the article from University of Manchester.

http://www.medievalists.net/2013/11/04/the-status-of-hwaet-in-old-english/
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Sun 17 Nov 2013, 11:46

At no point does Walkden address why "hwæt" should prove such a versatile word in its application (as his theory rests upon accepting) and still remain relatively rare in Saxon speech, translating as "what" in almost every other circumstance. Nor does he attempt to justify the semantic obscurity of his own opening line when such obscurity is markedly absent from the rest of "The Life and Death of Scyld", the opening stanzas of the Beowulf saga and obviously imported in antiquity for the purpose of grounding the saga in a historical context understandable to its early audiences. For any self-respecting poet to open with a new and unique semantic meaning for a word which already has a proven usage with regard to losing its interrogatory function when placed outside the metric logic of the sentence would seem a very strange thing to do indeed. Such verbal revolutionism might have a role once the recitation is underway, to begin with it however strikes me as just a little too revolutionary indeed.

Of course the reason he is remiss in addressing these apparent anomalies might well be that doing so would be to invite criticism of his assertion regarding the semantic and metric function of the opening word. Now there's a thought ...
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PostSubject: Re: Beowulf   Sun 17 Nov 2013, 16:23

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