'Juliana,' 719: the this gied wraece.
Editors and translators of this passage are agreed that the antecedent of the relative clause the this gied wraece in 719b is 718 gehwone, 'each', in the phrase monna gehwone gumena cynnes, 'each man of the race of men'. The following published translations, one early, the other recent, exemplify this interpretation:
Ich bitte der Menschen jeglichen, der dieses Lied wird lesen, der Leute jeden, dass er meiner angelegentlichst bei meinem Eigennamen geistesmutig gedenke . . .(2)
I pray each person of humankind who recites this poem that, diligent and magnanimous, he will remember me by name.(3)
The purpose of this note is to suggest that the antecedent of the relative clause is not gehwone but 718 ic, 'I', the subject of the principal clause.
The question of the grammar of 719 wraece provides a convenient focus for discussion. This form evidently represents some part of the Old English wrecan, 'to utter',(4) a strong verb of Class V; but which part? In standard West Saxon, wraece (with long stem vowel) might be any of the following: (1) second person singular, preterite indicative; (2) first person singular, preterite subjunctive; (3) second person singular, preterite subjunctive; and (4) third person singular, preterite subjunctive. The context, however, does not easily accommodate any of these four interpretations. One can see why neither (1) nor (3) has ever been suggested: although it is clear that Cynewulf is making an appeal for remembrance in this passage, the fact that the sentence continues with thaet he . . ., 'that he' (720), is enough to show that there is no direct address; wraece cannot be a second person verb. Of the two remaining possibilities, (4) seems very unlikely, if not impossible.(5) As stated above, all scholars who make their opinions on the matter clear identify the indefinite pronoun gehwone, 'each', in 718 as the antecedent of the relative clause, making wraece third person singular; but although the verb might well be subjunctive under these conditions,(6) it is very doubtful if it could be preterite as well. If it were, the meaning (from 718b) would be: 'I pray each man of the race of men who (might have) uttered this story, that he . . .', whereas the context would be much more accommodating to a present tense verb (in the subjunctive), pointing to possible future recitations: 'I pray each man . . . who utters (or may utter) this story, that he . . .'. The possibility that wraece is present tense will be considered below.
Of the four interpretations listed earlier, the only one remaining is (2): that wraece is first person singular, preterite subjunctive. A first person verb would mean that the relative clause depends, not on gehwone, 'each', but on ic, 'I', in 718. It might be objected that as the phrase monna gehwone gumena cynnes intervenes between ic and the relative clause, gehwone has the stronger claim to be the antecedent; but relative clauses do not always immediately follow their antecedents in Old English.(7) However, against (2) is the difficulty of justifying either the preterite or the subjunctive if ic is the antecedent '. . . I, who [might have] uttered this story, pray . . .').
Another four possibilities are available for consideration if we are prepared to accept wraece as a phonological variant of West Saxon wrece, or an error for it:(8) (5) first person singular, present indicative; (6) first person singular, present subjunctive; (7) second person singular, present subjunctive; and (8) third person singular, present subjunctive. We may rule out (6) on the grounds that the subjunctive would be impossible to explain if the verb were also first person singular and present ('. . . I, who may utter this story, pray . . .'). We may also dismiss (7) for the same reason that (1) and (3) have already been eliminated: the continuation of the sentence with thaet he in 720 argues strongly against direct address. This leaves (5) and (8). The latter is the interpretation favoured by all editors and translators today,(9) and seems to offer an easy and straightforward interpretation ('I pray each one of the race of men that may utter this story, that he . . .' etc.). However, it is questionable if the meaning of the Old English verb wrecan was broad enough to cover the recitation by one person of another's original poem, as interpretation (8) implies. It is certainly true that no other occurrence in Old English of wrecan in this general sense carries any suggestion that verbatim repetition by one person of another person's composition (or, indeed, of his or her own composition) is involved; on the contrary, in most of its occurrences the verb quite clearly denotes the utterance of an original poem.(10) It is important not to be influenced here by the modern English translations usually given to the verb wrecan, such as 'utter' and 'recite': the question is not whether someone could utter a poem by another person - obviously they could, particularly if they had access to a written text of it(11) - but whether wrecan would have been the right word for that activity. The crucial issue seems to be whether or not the verb was so strongly associated in Anglo-Saxon minds with the utterance of original compositions that it would have seemed an inappropriate word for the repetition of an existing composition. It must have been doubt on this point which led Ettmuller and Grein to replace wraece with sprece, 'should speak', and raede, 'should read' (both third person singular, present subjunctive and referring to possible future readings) respectively in their editions of Juliana.(12)
Whether or not (8) should be eliminated is no doubt a matter of opinion. If it is, we are left only with (5) to consider: that wraece is first person singular, present indicative. This seems to me easier to defend than (8). One possible objection to it - that it makes the relative clause too distant from its antecedent ic - has already been answered during discussion of interpretation (2); but the chief attraction of (5) is that it raises no difficult questions about the semantic range of wrecan. If it is Cynewulf himself who is the verb's subject ('I, who am uttering this story, pray . . .), the meaning of wrecan is not unduly stretched beyond the normal limits of the general sense which we are faced with in this passage. The only difference is that it is here being used of composition in a literate rather than oral milieu. Cynewulf retains most of the older meaning and his usage is unlikely to have created any difficulty for his readers.
PETER ORTON Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London
1 Text from G. P. Krapp and E. V. K. Dobbie (eds), The Exeter Book, The Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records, III (London, 1936; rep. 1961), 133.
2 C. W. M. Grein, Dichtungen der Angelsachsen stabreimend ubersetzt, II (Gottingen, 1859), 66.
3 S. A. J. Bradley, Anglo-Saxon Poetry (London, 1982), 319.
4 See J. Bosworth and T. N. Toller, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (1898), s.v. wrecan, meaning 1b, 'to drive out (words), to express (in words), utter, recite'. This meaning of wrecan is discussed in more detail below.
5 There has been little discussion of the grammar of wraece. For a recent account of scholarly opinions, see B. J. Muir, The Exeter Anthology of Old English Poetry (Exeter, 1994), II, 486. C. W. M. Grein originally replaced wraece with raede, 'should read' (third person singular, present subjunctive; see n. 12 below) and translated the passage accordingly (see above, n. 2); but later, in his Sprachschatz der angelsachsischen Dichter (Cassel and Gottingen, 1861-4), II, 741, Grein accepted wraece, translating it as 'recitiert' ('recites'), as if it were present tense, though he lists the form as preterite subjunctive. Grein's later note in 'Zur Textkritik der angelsachsischen Dichter', Germania. Vierteljahrsschrift fur deutsche Alterthumskunde, x (1865), 416-29, at 423, reads: '720: vraece', with no indication that the vowel is long, which probably means he thought it was present tense. F. Holthausen, in his review of Strunk's edition of the poem, Literaturblatt fur germanische und romanische Philologie, xxviii (1907), 10-13, at 11, was explicit: he interpreted wraece as a form of wrece, present subjunctive, 'da das Prat. unberechtigt ist'. R. Woolf (ed.), Juliana, 2nd edn (London, 1955), 55, n. to 719, followed suit, rejecting a preterite as 'not syntactically possible' in the context. The form is now universally accepted as present tense (see below).
6 See B. Mitchell, Old English Syntax (Oxford, 1985), II, [section] 2399: adjective clauses with an indefinite pronoun like gehwone as antecedent may contain subjunctive verbs under certain conditions. Here, a subjunctive wraece might be defended on the grounds that Bidde, the verb of the principal clause, is part of a 'volitional expression' (ibid., [sections] 2391, 2400).
7 See Mitchell, Old English Syntax, II, [section] 2289. Comparable in some ways is Beowulf 2022-3a, quoted by Mitchell, where the relative clause tha ic Freaware fletsittende nemnan hyrde ('whom I heard those sitting in hall name Freawaru') has as its antecedent dohtor, 'daughter', two lines earlier; but whereas there the antecedent is sufficiently identified by agreement in gender between dohtor and the relative pronoun tha, both feminine, in Juliana 719b the test of gender agreement cannot be used because the poet employs the genderless relative particle the.
8 In the Northumbrian dialect, the e of the stem of the present system of strong verbs of Class V is sometimes replaced by the ae of the preterite; see A. Campbell, Old English Grammar, [sections] 327, 743. If wraece is not a Northumbrianism but a copying error, however, it is difficult to guess why the error should have been made.
9 See n. 5 above.
10 See Christ and Satan, 35; Andreas, 1548; Seafarer, 1; Order of the World, 12; Vainglory, 15; Wife's Lament, 1; Beowulf, 873, 1065, 2154, 2446, 3172; Menologium, 70. There are no examples in the prose. This meaning did not develop in cognates of wrecan in the other Germanic languages. It might have developed in Old English by metaphoric transfer from the commoner meaning: 'to drive out, expel' (Bosworth and Toiler, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, s.v. wrecan, meaning 1a).
11 Ch. 23 of Asser's Life of King Alfred describes (or rather implies) this procedure, though in unusual circumstances. As a boy, Alfred is attracted to a book of English poetry shown to him by his mother. She offers it as a prize to whichever of her sons can learn it the fastest and recite it to her. Alfred, still unable to read but noted for his ability to memorize poems recited by others (ch. 22), takes the book to his teacher, memorizes it with his help and recites it to his mother. See W. H. Stevenson (ed.), Asser's Life of King Alfred (Oxford, 1904; rep. 1959), 20. The text seems to imply at one point that Alfred himself 'read' the book in the normal way: magistrum adiit et legit, 'he went to his teacher and read it'; but cf. Stevenson's commentary, p. 221 and footnote 3, where it is suggested either that the text is corrupt, or that the teacher, not Alfred, may be the subject of legit. In any case, much suggests that the role of Alfred's teacher was to read the poetry out loud to his unlettered pupil. Once it had been memorized, Alfred presumably made no further use of the book itself when he recited it.
12 See C. W. M. Grein, Bibliothek der angelsachsischen Poesie, II (Goettingen, 1858), 70; L. Ettmuller, Engla and Seaxna Scopas and Boceras (Quedlinburg and Leipzig, 1850), 178. Grein later decided that emendation was inappropriate; see n. 5 above.
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|Publication:||Notes and Queries|
|Date:||Dec 1, 1995|
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