Printer Friendly

Pride and Prodigies: Studies in the Monsters of Beowulf - Manuscript.

This book falls into two equally interesting halves. The first section consists of a series of essays which focus in different ways on how monsters, monster-slayers, and the monstrous are associated with the sin of pride in certain Anglo-Saxon, insular, and Old Icelandic texts. Not all of the chapters in this part of the book are, strictly speaking, 'studies in the monsters of the Beowulf-manuscript'. A succinct account of the manuscript and its contents is followed by a discussion of the interplay between the physical and the psychological world in Beowulf, an examination of the influence on the poem of insular traditions concerning the kin of Cain, and (as background to The Letter of Alexander to Aristotle) an account of the Alexander-legend in Anglo-Saxon England and elsewhere. In addition, Dr Orchard includes discussions of two other sources with similar preoccupations: the Liber monstrorum, perhaps best known for its reference to King Hygelac, and the Old Icelandic Grettis saga Asmundarsonar. The author's investigation of parallels between the narrative patterns of the latter text and Beowulf is more detailed than any similar study undertaken to date. In a series of appendices which form the second half of the book, Dr Orchard provides complete editions of the Latin and Old English versions of The Wonders of the East and The Letter of Alexander to Aristotle, and of the Latin text of the Liber monstrorum, with a full apparatus of manuscript variants for each text, and facing translations of the Old English versions. For the Liber monstrorum, both a translation and a helpful list of sources and analogues are provided.

The book is a product of wide reading in an impressive range of sources - works written in Old English, Latin, Middle Irish, Welsh, and Old Icelandic - and the author considerately provides translations of all passages cited from Latin or vernacular texts. I have noticed only occasional slips: p. 35, for 'never . . . did he come upon a harsher fate', rendering naefre he . . . heardran haele, healdhegnas fand, read 'never . . . did he with worse luck encounter hall-retainers'; p. 43, for 'just as water had stirred the floods', rendering swa aer waeter fleowan, flodas afysde, read 'just as previously waters had flowed, the driven floods'; p. 43 n. 78, for 'the very waters shall burn, from their rising until their fall', rendering ardebunt ipsae aquae ab ortu usque ad occasum, read '. . . from sunrise to sunset'; p. 64, in Genesis A 1518-20 the phrase besmiten mid synne should be construed with beodgereordu, not ge; p. 64, for 'collusion', rendering preuaricatio, read 'sin, transgression'; p. 82, for 'the children of brother and sister', rendering geswysterna bearn, read 'the children of sisters' (i.e. cousins); p. 125, for 'even though he captured [the place] with a great loss of the inhabitants', rendering theh dhe he hie mid micle forlore thaes folces begeate, read '. . . with a great destruction of the troop' (i.e. 'loss of his own men'); p. 145, for 'of the clash of damage and helmets', rendering jalms . . . hjalma . . . angrs, read 'of the clash of the grief of helmets' (= of the clash of the weapon, = of battle); p. 145, for 'dangerous (as it is)', rendering) ytum hoettr, read 'dangerous to men'; p. 158, for 'I now see that we are dealing with a troll, and not with any man', rendering nu se ek at her er vidh troll at eiga, en ekki vidh menn, read 'I now see that we are dealing here with trolls and not with men'; p. 166, for 'at his shoulders', rendering i joxlum, read 'in his jaw-teeth/molars': pp. 186-7 ([section] 4), for 'they run far away', rendering fleodh hy feor (the variant reading in the V text), read 'they flee quickly', to agree with radhe hi fleodh in the facing text; pp. 188-9 ([section] 6), for 'from the high ground into the earth', rendering ofdune on eordhan, read 'down into the earth' (cf. p. 176 [[section] 6] sub terram); pp. 190-1 ([section] 9) for 'they are so swift that one would think that they were flying', rendering hi beodh to tham swifte thaet dha men wenadh thaet hi fleogende syn, read '. . . that men think that they are flying'; pp. 192-3 ([section] 13), for 'as certainly as they catch a person they devour him', rendering cudhlice swa hwylcne mann swa hi gefodh, thonne fretadh hi hine, read 'indeed, whatever person they catch they devour'; pp. 202-3 ([section] 37), for 'to the middle kingdom of hell', rendering on helwara rice mid (with tmesis of on mid), read 'into the midst of the kingdom of hell'.

More significant are the few cases where a questionable translation has a direct bearing on one of the author's arguments. I am puzzled, for instance, by his interpretation on (p. 128) of Epistola Alexandri [section] 21 (cf. p. 212) as an account of an attack of giant bats. The Latin reads ante lucanum deinde tempus caelo pestes venere candido versicolores in modum ranarum, cum quibus mures Indici in castra pergebant vulpibus similes. Dr Orchard translates this, 'Then at the time before dawn, from a clear sky there came some pests multicoloured like frogs', and he observes, 'The Epistola clearly describes the attack of shiny flying mouse-like creatures as big as foxes; one assumes that large bats are intended.' It is odd that the author of the Epistola should be so oblique here, when he refers unambiguously to vespertiliones only two sections earlier (p. 211, [section] 19; correctly rendered hreathemys by the Old English translator, p. 236). Dr Orchard himself admits that 'all suggestion of an airborne threat is entirely lost' if the word caelo is omitted from the passage (as it is in some English manuscripts). In fact, the threat of an airborne invasion is eliminated as effectively if the phrase caelo . . . candido is not taken to mean 'from a clear sky', but is recognized as an ablative absolute meaning 'the sky being clear, under a clear sky'. It is also worth noting that (as the author's own translation indicates) the first-mentioned pests are not themselves 'mouse-like creatures as big as foxes', but are merely accompanied by large mures Indici (perhaps giant rats; cf. Hans Zinsser, Rats, Lice, and History (Boston, 1934), 192 ff.).

As part of his discussion of lupine imagery in Beowulf on page 75, Dr Orchard translates the term heorowearh, used of Grendel at Beowulf 1267, as 'savage wolf', and the compound grundwyrgen, applied to his mother at line 1518, as 'she-wolf of the depths'. (Cf. p. 39 where Kemp Malone's rendering of the phrase niccra eardung & wearga in Blickling Homily 16 is adopted: 'dwelling-place of water-monsters and wolves'.) Eric Stanley, however, has pointed out recently that Old English wearg (unlike its Old Icelandic cognate vargr) never had a sense 'wolf', but meant merely 'criminal, felon, accursed one' ('Wolf, my Wolf!', in Old English and New. Studies in Language and Linguistics in Honor of Frederic G. Cassidy, ed. J.H. Hall, N. Doane, D. Ringlet (New York, 1992), 46-62; see esp. p. 52 and pp. 56-7 n. 16).

On page 160, Dr Orchard observes quite correctly that Hallbera and Hallbjorn, the children of Ulfr inn oargi in the opening genealogy of Egils saga, have 'bear-names'. But it is incorrect to translate these names 'Half-she-Bear' and 'Half-he-bear' respectively, since the first element of both is not halfr but hallr 'rock' (see Jan de Vries, Altnordisches etymologisches Worterbuch, 2nd edn (Leiden 1962) s.v. hallr).

More problematic is Dr Orchard's observation in his 'Postscript' (169) that the Old Icelandic word draugr, which he says is used in skaldic verse 'in the plain sense "(heathen) warrior"' is 'the same term' used in Old Norse prose and present-day Icelandic for 'revenant, ghost'. The two words, though homonyms, have quite distinct etymologies (see De Vries, op. cit., s.vv. draugr 1, draugr 2; cf. John Lindow, Comitatus, Individual and Honor, University of California Publications in Linguistics 83 (Berkeley, CA, 1975), 83-96, esp. 94f.). Many (though not all) scholars now accept Gustav Neckel's hypothesis that the poetic term was originally a nomen agentis formed from unattested North Germanic *drjuga (cf. OIcel drygja, OE dreogan 'to do, perpetrate, perform; suffer, endure'; see Neckel 'Altnordisch draugr in Mannkenningar', Beitrage zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur, xxxix (1914), 189-200; cf. Rudolf Meissner, Die Kenningar der Skalden (Bonn, 1921), 264-5) rather than a tree-heiti (used in kennings of the type 'tree of weapons' = 'warrior'; cf. Sveinbjorn Egilsson, Lexicon Poeticum Antiquae Linguae Septentrionalis (Copenhagen, 1854-60), and Finnur Jonsson, Lexicon Poeticum Antiquae Linguae Septentrionalis: Ordbog over der norsk-islandske skjaldesprog, 2nd edn (Copenhagen, 1931) s.v. draugr). However, it is by no means proven that poetic draugr itself ever had a base sense 'warrior' (though Lindow, op. cit., 86-7, toys with the idea as a possibility); rather, the word is used as a base-element in kennings for warrior of the type orlygis draugr (Bragi, Ragnarsdrapa, st. 8): 'draugr (probably "perpetrator") of battle'. The prose word draugr does occasionally appear in verse in the normal sense 'revenant, undead inhabitant of a burial mound' (for example, in the verse cited by Dr Orchard on p. 145), and it is certainly not out of the question that the two words could have been associated in the mind of a Norse poet (cf., for instance, Roberta Frank's remarks on the kenning dolga thrudhar draugr in the poetic inscription on the Karlevi stone, in Old Norse Court Poetry. The Drottkvaett Stanza, Islandica 42 (Ithaca, NY, 1978), 129). In fact, Edith Marold has even argued that Bragi's kenning orlygis draugr should be interpreted 'ghost/spectre of battle' (Kenningkunst: Ein Beltrag zu einer Poetik der Skaldendichtung (Berlin, 1983), 104-5). But Dr Orchard's suggestion 'that the word represents a demonization of pagan warriors, who begin as positive heroic figures, and end up as the bogey-men of folklore' is harder to accept.

There are on the whole fewer typographical errors than one might expect to find in a book of this kind: p. 27 for typefied read typified; p. 55 for lod read lof; p. 66 for slipende read slipendne; p. 68 for sacriligeous read sacrilegious; p. 81 for gewsysterna read geswysterna bearn; p. 82 for seggn read seggan; p. 102 for mischeivous read mischievous; p. 104 for incororates read incorporates; p. 107 (and p. 266 [[section] 1.13]) for magnituidinem read magnitudinem, p. 117 for griffins read griffins; p. 122 n. 50 for insturabilis read insaturabilis; p. 126 for nec ignium compositis ardoribus read nec ignium tardatur compositis ardoribus; p. 128 for necebant read nocebant; p. 135 for lead read led; p. 141 for heftisax read heptisax; p. 160 for Ulfr read Ulfr (twice); p. 160 n. 152 (and p. 332) for Lehman read Lehmann; pp. 162-3 for vita read vita (three times); p. 163 for hon read hon; pp. 175 and 183 for 87v read 87r. In chapter 6, the Icelandic character Q is frequently misprinted as > (and once as o in osongvinn, p. 152). And on p. 252 the fragmentary first word of Cotton Vitellius A. xv 130v is omitted without comment (cf. S.I. Rypins (ed.), Three Old English Prose Texts in MS Cotton Vitellius A. xv, EETS, o.s. 161 (London, 1924), 48 n. 1).

These are very minor faults, however, and do not detract seriously from a book which is well-written, entertaining, and erudite, and which will make an indispensable addition to any library of Beowulf-studies.

DAVID McDOUGALL University of Toronto
COPYRIGHT 1997 Oxford University Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:McDougall, David
Publication:Notes and Queries
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1997
Previous Article:The Poetic Art of Aldhelm.
Next Article:Byrhferth's Enchiridion.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters