Sóþlíce we gesáwon hys steorran on east-daéle

BL_cotton_Nero_DIV_f27r_lindisfarne1. Eornustlice ðá se Haélend ácenned wæs on Iudeiscre Bethleem, on ðæs cyninges dagum Herodes, ðá comon ða tungol-wítegen fram east-dæle to Hierusalem,

2. And cwaédon, Hwær ys se, Iudea cyning ðe ácenned ys?
sóþlíce we gesáwon hys steorran on east-daéle, and we comon us him to ge-eadmédenne.

3. Ðá Herodes ðæt gehýrde ðá wearþ he gedréfed, and eal Hierosolim-waru mid him.

4. And ðá gegaderode Herodes ealle ealdras ðæra sacerda, and folces wríteras, and áxode, hwær Crist ácenned waére.

5. Ðá saédon hí him, On Iudeiscere Bethlem; wítodlíce ðus ys áwriten þurh ðone wítegan,

6. And ðú, Bethleem, Iudea land, wítodlíce ne eart ðú læstþ on Iuda ealdrum; of ðé forþ-gaéþ se here-toga, se ðe recþ mín folc Israhel.

7. Herodes ðá clypode on sunder-spraéce ða tungel-wítegan, and befran hí georne hwænne se steorra him æteowde.

8. And he ásende hí to Bethlem, and ðs cwæþ, Faraþ, and áxiaþ geornlíce be ðam cílde, and ðonne ge hyt gemétaþ, cýdaþ eft me, ðæt ic cume and me to him gebidde.

9. Ðá hí ðæt gebod gehýrdon, ðá férdon hí. And
sóþlíce! se steorra, ðe hí on east-daéle gesáwon, him befóran férde, oð he stód ofer, ðær ðæt cíld wæs.

10. Sóþlíce ðá, ða tungel-wítegan ðone steorran gesáwon,
[hig] fægenodon swýðe myclum gefean.

11. And ganggende into ðam húse, hí gemétton ðæt cíld mid
Marian, hys méder; and hi áþénedon hí, and hí to him gebaédon. And hí untýndon hyra gold-hordas, and him lác
brohton, ðæt wæs gold, and récela, and myrre.

The Christmas story from Matthew 2, c. 995, taken from Joseph
Bosworth, The Gothic and Anglo-Saxon Gospels in parallel columns
with the versions of Wycliffe and Tyndale
(London: John Russell
Smith, 1865), p. 6.

Posted to the Medtextl list by Jim Marchand, Dec. 20, 2004. Professor Marchand observes: “Bosworth is positive this is translated from the Vetus Latina and not the Vulgate. Note the occasional
disambiguation, e.g. Hierosolim-waru “Jerusalemites” for Hierusalem.”

Neal Stephenson and Beowulf

Neal Stephenson, one of my favorite authors, was interviewed by Slashdot. Stephenson is best known for his
SF, especially for Snowcrash and The
Diamond Age
. His recent work, including a mammoth trilogyThe
Baroque Cycle
, has brought him to the attention of people who might not ordinarily read SF. Stephenson has also written In the Beginning was the Command Line, a very readable treatise on the nature of computer interfaces.

In the Slashdot interview, Stephenson draws a distinction between two types of modern writers and, in an extended analogy, compares them with Dante, who had wealthy aristocratic patrons, and to the Beowulf poet.

Regarding the Beowulf poet Stephenson says:

But I doubt that Beowulf was written on commission. Probably there was a collection of
legends and tales that had been passed along in an oral tradition—which is just a fancy way of saying that lots of people liked those stories and wanted to hear them told. And at some point perhaps there was an especially well-liked storyteller who pulled a few such tales together and fashioned them into what we now know as Beowulf. Maybe there was a king or other wealthy patron who then caused the tale to be written down by a scribe. But I doubt it was created at the behest of a king. It was created at the behest of lots and lots of intoxicated Frisians sitting around the fire wanting to hear a yarn. And there was no grand purpose behind its creation, as there was with the painting of the Sistine Chapel.

I take Stephenson’s point about the difference between modern “commercially successful” fiction writers (Beowulf writers like Stephenson) and the Dante-like “literary fiction” writers who do something else to earn a living. But I think his underlying model is wrong—and Stephenson is definitely wrong about Beowulf.

The scop who first created the work in something like the form we have today was a professional poet. He composed for pay, in the form of beer, gold, horses, and a place by the fire. A lot of what he wrote would have been the kind of oral formulaic stuff that only the subject of the praise liked to hear; typical praise poems meant to honor a king or lord, like Widsith refers to. The
scribe who created British Library, Cotton Vitellius A.15 (the only Beowulf manuscript) was also a professional, though likely his
profession was that of a monastic scribe, and he copied an earlier manuscript, one we no longer have. The basic plot of Beowulf and his fights with Grendel, Grendel’s mom, and a dragon—sure, that’s the stuff of oral legend, but Beowulf is a lot more than that. In fact Beowulf was a lot more than that at least from the first time it was written down. Beowulf is a highly self conscious work for all its traditional memes and formulae.

Even if we ignore what we know of scribal practice and the function of the scop, and the transmission of tales oral and textual, and just look at Beowulf itself, Beowulf is a thematically coherent and carefully structured work, though it sometimes seems to have more in common with the modern anthology than the epic. Beowulf is not something “created at the behest of lots and lots of intoxicated Frisians sitting around the fire” for a number of reasons—among them the fact that the Frisians are the villains of the piece, and, that while the poem features Denmark and parts of the Netherlands, it was definitely composed for an Anglo-Saxon (English) audience.

I’d also take exception to Stephenson’s statement that “there was no grand purpose behind its creation,” since I suspect that there was, given the thematic constants. The poet is making a point about the nature of life and the idiocies of feuds. I should also probably point out that as much as I personally like Beowulf, we have no proof (other than the fact that someone wrote it down at least twice, a time consuming and expensive practice not engaged in lightly), that the poem was similarly valued by the Anglo-Saxons. We don’t really know what value the poem had to the scribe who first copied it, or the scop who created it. It may have been seen as arty, rather than “a good read,” though the two are not mutually incompatible—as Stephenson’s own work demonstrates. We only have one very damaged manuscript of Beowulf.

Stephenson’s analogy really doesn’t work if you think about it closely because it’s based on a flawed model. If you look at the poets who had patrons, they tended to have other sources of income. Chaucer was the Customs Inspector (and likely worked in various other secret capacities for the crown), yet had to send begging poems for payment. Gower was a wealthy property owner, trained in the law courts, with close ties to court. Lydgate was a monk at Bury St Edmunds. Spenser was a civil servant, and was given the paltry sum of 100 pounds for Fairy
Queen
, only after requesting the
promised payment a second time. Shakespeare, who would seem to have had patrons royal and monied, was primarily a business man; he was a part owner of the theater his plays were performed in, and a litigious landowner. The first professional writer I can think of was Christine de Pizan, who supported herself and her son by her writing after the death of her husband. In other words, Stephenson needs to look towards post-printing-press writers for his models—I’d suggest Dickens and Ruskin, perhaps. And I’d like to point out that the canon changes with time (and The Norton Anthology) so it’s likely that Stephenson will be in the 2050 edition, just as Dickens has been in all of them.

More on the Yogh

You’d be amazed at how hard it is to find information about the yogh. First, I’ve managed to learn that Unicode 4.0 Latin Extended B does indeed have both an upper and a lower case yogh, a yogh is that not an ezh. Take a look, if your browser supports Unicode 4.0 characters: an uppercase yogh Ȝ or U+021C and a lower case yogh ȝ or U+021D. And there are even Mac OS X fonts that support yogh as part of the Unicode character set (I particularly like Junicode). That’s the good news.

The problem is that the only word processor (versus text editor) for Mac OS X that supports the complete Unicode character set, and by “supports” I mean I can use Insert from the Character Palette, or hex encode the character, is Nisus Writer Express. Microsoft Word X does not, since the character is a Unicode character; neither MarinerWrite nor AppleWorks 6.x support Unicode only characters. The problem with Nisus Writer Express is that it doesn’t support footnotes, and the more esoteric formatting dissertations require. Mellel looks promising though, and I have hopes for true Unicode support in Microsoft Word 11. My ultimate plan is to create a custom keyboard layout, so I can easily access the characters I need. But I’m still going to check out LaTex.

Another Sutton-Hoo?

Archaeologists in Prittlewell, Southend, Essex, England have found a seventh century Anglo-Saxon royal tomb, complete with grave goods. The burial is being compared to the 1939 Sutton Hoo finds, though that included a ship as well as the king and grave-goods, so the comparison seems a bit excessive. You can see pictures of the grave-goods here, including gold and glass ware. All that remains are the grave-goods, which makes identification a bit difficult, but it’s still quite a find.

Tolkien on Beowulf

There’s a SlashDot story that links to a story about the discovery by Professor Michael Drout (yes, he of the Wormtalk blog) having brought to light an unpublished and hitherto unknown translation of Beowulf by Tolkien. Drout has already edited and published Beowulf and the Critics.

I can see, from the SlashDot story and other things I’ve seen on and off line about Tolkien and Lord of the Rings, in part because of the films, that I need to write an FAQ about Tolkien and languages, particularly the Celtic ones. Give me a couple of days, and I will.