February 02, 2011

Wrecker of mead-benches

El Cabrero is having fun here with Beowulf lately, although you'll also find links and comments about current events. If you like this kind of thing, check earlier posts.

If one were to make a list of the qualities of a good political leader these days, the ability to wreck the drinking halls of his foes might not make it to the top of the list, but it sure did in the opening lines of Beowulf. That was one of several attributed to an early king of the Spear-Danes.

Just for fun, here are the opening lines in the original Anglo-Saxon:

HWÆT, WE GAR-DEna in geardagum,
þeodcyninga þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon!
oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum,
monegum mægþum meodosetla ofteah,
egsode eorlas, syððanærest wearð
feasceaft funden; he þæs frofre gebad,
weox under wolcnum weorðmyndum þah,
oð þæt him æghwylc ymbsittendra
ofer hronrade hyran scolde,
gomban gyldan; þæt wæs god cyning!

Did everybody get that?

Seriously, though, it's hard to recognize that as English apart from a few words, although it was just that in second half of the first millennium AD. It still might have been if a certain Norman called William the Bastard didn't become William the Conqueror. The alphabet was a bit different, as you can tell. For example the thing that looks like a weird letter p had a th sound. I haven't got around to figuring out the other ones yet.

Here's Seamus Heaney's version of the same passage:

So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by
and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns.

There was Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes,
a wrecker of mead-benches, rampaging among foes.
This terror of the hall-troops had come far.
A foundling to start with, he would flourish later on
as his powers waxed and his worth was proved.
In the end each clan on the outlying coasts
beyond the whale-road had to yield to him
and begin to pay tribute. That was one good king.

Scourging, wrecking, rampaging, collecting tribute. A "god cyning" (good king) indeed.

(My favorite phrase from the original is "hronrade," which means "whale road," i.e. the sea. I'm thinking about referring henceforth to the muddy river I grew up around as "the carp road.")

SAD BUT PREDICTABLE. Some conservatives are re-writing the narrative of the Great Recession by--you guessed it--blaming the poor.

POST-MASSEY. Will Alpha be any better? Here's Ken Ward's take on it. My guess: it would be hard to be worse.

DOING MORE FOR THE WORKING POOR. Here's a call for a state earned income tax credit.

UNCERTAINTY about Republican efforts to repeal health care reform has left many Americans in a tough spot.

GETTING REAL. Still, West Virginia is getting ready to implement reform (probably). The state insurance commission is proposing creating a state insurance exchange. Meanwhile a major expansion of Medicaid is on the horizon.

FILLING IN THE TRICERATOPS FAMILY TREE. A newly discovered ancestor of the three horned dinosaur weighed in at around 15,000 pounds and had a skull eight feet long.


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