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Old English poetic compounds.

Much good work, based on new thinking, is being done on Old English metre, and Jun Terasawa's Nominal Compounds in Old English. A Metrical Approach [Anglistica, XXVII (Copenhagen: Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1994). Pp. x + 138] is a valuable contribution, important not only for metrists of Old English but also for lexicographers in that he has found metrical criteria for distinguishing compounds from genitive phrases, for example, helle bryne (Judith line 116) which, like Grein long ago, he regards as a phrase. He states clearly where certainty is not gained, as in some adjective + noun compounds or phrases like heah cyning, which, at Phoenix line 129, all editors after Thorpe have regarded as a compound, not a phrase. In the process of his careful analysis the author is able to deal with greater certainty than had been achieved hitherto with problems of syllabicity, such as Klaeber signals by subpuncting vowels in what look like unstressed syllables but are metrically unsyllabic, He establishes varieties of metrical practice in the poems. Of course, the author has found that his metrical criteria cannot help much with similar problems in rhythmical prose. He indicates towards the end of his book that other Germanic languages might be surveyed, perhaps with comparable results. That may be too much to hope for in the case of Old Saxon and, even more, Old High German, the alliterative metre of which is less tight than that of Old English, so that a wider range of syllabic structures might have seemed acceptable. Analysis of non-alliterative verse, like that of Otfrid, would probably not yield results as definite as those Professor Terasawa has so interestingly set forth in this volume. He provides evidence that the Old English poets may have distinguished compounds from phrases, though their scribes did not; and his work reinforces the well-established view that the scribes deviated from the metrics of their poets in matters of syllabicity. No scholar of Old English can afford to ignore this major contribution. It is very well indexed in three appendices plus two indexes, so that anyone seeking information on a nominal compound, when discussing a textual problem in the verse, can find quickly what careful analysis has revealed about it.

E. G. STANLEY Pembroke College, Oxford

The Clarendon Press has published George Steiner's inaugural lecture as Lord Weidenfeld Visiting Professor of European Comparative Literature; it was delivered on 11 October in Oxford and is entitled What is Comparative Literature? [pp. 19; [pounds]4.50]. His first answer is 'all literature'; comparison, the awareness of resemblances and differences is central to our responses and always has been. As they did in Alexandria so they did in Nether Stowey, and Weltliteratur was a coinage of Goethe. But it is in our own time that the subject has become professionalized. Steiner speaks of this as a 'characteristically American scenario' but also instances the contributions made by Russian and East European scholars.

Inevitably he has much to say about translation, throwing out ideas on such matters as the revelations about language made by successive translations of major works - the hundred or so into English of Homer, for example - and the puzzling fact that minor writers may cross linguistic and cultural frontiers which are barred to some of the greatest.

The aims which he sets out are intimidatingly large, especially in relation to the domain of Neo-Latin and to the role of language and the tradition of a language in relation to philosophy; 'What pressures', he asks, 'did his native Spanish, his acquired Dutch and Hebrew exercise on Spinoza's choice and construction of a marmo-really timeless Latin, of a Latin that infers the Greek of Euclid?'

Steiner ends with reflections on the sad state of the world and especially the decay of European concord in those matters with which he is concerned, but with appropriate thanks to the generosity which has established his chair so that 'Duns Scotus and Erasmus are invited back'.

DOUGLAS HEWITT Pembroke College, Oxford
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Author:Stanley, E.G.
Publication:Notes and Queries
Date:Dec 1, 1995
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