Printer Friendly

The Phoenix, lines 240-2 and 407-9.

1. Lines 240-2 of the Old English poem, The Phoenix, have come in for a great deal of comment:

thonne braed weorthedh eal edniwe eft acenned, synnum asundrad.(1)

Editors and lexicographers hold braed to be a by-form of braede and translate it as 'flesh', but, as has recently been shown by M. Griffith, braed for braede occurs nowhere else, and braede means 'roast meat', not 'flesh'.(2)

If emendation has to be resorted to, a solution with minimal change would be to read blaed, 'breath, spirit, (vigour of) life', for braed.(3)

Lines 230-42 contain four sentences introduced by thonne, 'then', which describe the successive stages of the rebirth of the Phoenix. In the first three there is a description of his physical restoration from a small worm to a full-grown bird, the size of an eagle, in brightly coloured plumage. In the fourth, it seems to me, is described how life is breathed into his body, which has remained inanimate up to then: 'Then the spirit is entirely renewed, born again, set apart from sins.'

The allegorical interpretation of the Phoenix story in the latter part of the poem should be borne in mind. The lines under discussion may well look forward to 518-21:

thaer tha lichoman leahtra claene gongadh glaedmode, gaestas hweorfadh in banfatu thonne bryne stigedh heah to heofonum.

[There bodies cleansed from sins will move with glad hearts, souls will return to their bodies when the fire mounts high to the heavens.]

How blaed became braed is difficult to guess. It looks more like an error due to mishearing than one due to misreading, but, to the best of my knowledge, Anglo-Saxon scribes never worked from dictation. Perhaps a copyist in a moment of abstraction anticipated the r of weorthedh.(4)

A connection has been assumed to exist between braed and gebreadad/gebredade at 372 and 592.(5) I see no reason why gebredad should not simply be the past participle of bredan 'to breed, hatch'. (The strange-looking spelling gebreadad had better be altered to gebredad.) Only present-tense forms are on record, but the principal parts ought to have been bredan, bredde, gebreded (beside the contracted form gebredd).(6) Also, there are quite a few examples in The Phoenix of a for e in unstressed syllables.(7)

The phrase gebredad weordhedh eft of ascan (372-3) would then mean 'he is generated anew from the ashes', and a possible translation of fuglas scyne, beorhte gebredade (591-2) might be 'beautiful birds (scil. the Blessed), splendidly regenerated'.

2. Lines 407-9 do not make sense as they stand. They occur in a passage describing the disobedience of our first parents, and run as follows:

Wurdon teonlice tothas idge agaeld aefter gylte. Haefdon Godes yrre, bittre bealosorge.

By changing the punctuation and substituting aglaec for ageald some sort of sense can be provided. Thus:

Wurdon teonlice tothas idge; aglaec aefter gylte haefdon, Godes yrre bittre bealosorge.

This might be translated: 'Their teeth became grievously active; they suffered misery after their sin, God's anger, bitter anguish.' Godes yrre, bittre bealosorge is, of course, an explanatory amplification of aglaec.

Bosworth-Toller's Dictionary translates the hapax legomenon idig queryingly as 'busy, active', Holthausen in his Altenglisches etymologisches Worterbuch translates it 'fleissig', and Grein-Kohler's Sprachschatz defines it as 'avidus' with a query. ON idh 'occupation, work', idhja 'work, task', idhja 'to do, perform', and idhinn 'diligent' are adduced in support of these interpretations. H.D. Meritt, following up a suggestion by C. Brett, takes idge to be a transposition of igde, equivalent to ecgede 'edged'.(8)

The proposed reading, aglaec aefter gylte haefdon, parallels and varies a phrase which is found a little earlier (404-5): him bitter weardh yrmthu aefter aete 'bitter sorrow came upon them after the eating'.

The emendation yields relatively good sense but is, admittedly, somewhat weak from the palaeographical point of view. Still, aglaec and ageald have letters in common and the same general shape, and the corruption may have arisen in two or more stages.

3. The next sentence lines 409-11, reads:

thaes tha byre siththan gyrne onguldon, the hi thaet gyfl thegun ofer Eces word.

These lines pose no problem really, but the information given by Blake in his glossary is somewhat misleading. He gives 'in respect of which, because of which' as the meaning of thaes, and 'in that' as the meaning of the.

The sentence is capable of two interpretations. (1) thaes ... the is a correlative construction, 'therefore ... because'; thaes, being pleonastic, need not be translated: 'Their descendants have afterwards been grievously punished because they ate that food against the Eternal One's command.' (2) The verb of the principal clause, onguldon, has a noun clause as its object; the noun clause is anticipated by a demonstrative pronoun, thaes (the genitive of paet(9)), to which it is in apposition: 'Their descendants have afterwards been grievously punished for this, (namely) that they ate that food against the Eternal One's command.'

As it seems doubtful whether the could introduce noun clauses, the first explanation is perhaps to be preferred.(10)

BENGT LINDSTROM Uppsala University

1 The Phoenix, ed. N. F. Blake (Manchester, 1964).

2 'Old English braed, 'flesh": A Ghost Form?', N&Q, ccxl (1995), 7f.

3 For a discussion of the etymology and the several meanings of blaed, m., see J. Hoops, 'Angelsachsisch blaed', Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, xxv (1924), 109ff.

4 Possibly there is another instance of anticipation at 513: lifes gaest in mistake for lifes gaest 'the spirit of life'.

5 See Blake's notes to 240 and 592.

6 See A. Campbell, Old English Grammar (Oxford, 1959), [sections]748, 751 (3).

7 See Blake, 6.

8 Fact and Lore about Old English Words (Stanford and London, 1954), 90.

9 For an exhaustive list of the Old English verbs with a genitive object, see B. Mitchell, Old English Syntax (Oxford, 1985), [section]1092.

10 See Mitchell, [section]1957.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Oxford University Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Lindstrom, Bengt
Publication:Notes and Queries
Date:Mar 1, 1996
Previous Article:Treasures and convention in Old English verse.
Next Article:Old English estas 'relishes' in the Flintshire Domesday.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters