This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.



Saturday, 8 February 2014

Saturday Rave: Beowulf.


Vikings


I can't tell you who wrote Beowulf.

I can't even say whether it was written at all, because some say it was passed on through word of mouth, developing gradually as it went, and not written down for hundreds of years.

The oldest version we have of Beowulf dates back to...well, we don't know that, either, but between 600 and 1000 AD. The English it uses is so old and strange it's hardly recognisable as English at all.

This is the beginning:

Hwæt we garde-
 na ingear dagum, þeod cyninga
 þrym ge frunon huða æþelingas elle
 fremedon.
   
 Lo! We, of the Spear Danes in days of yore, of those great kings, of their power heard, how those princes deeds of valour accomplished.

 Or, more comprehensibly:

Lo! Long ago we Danish warriors heard about the glorious kings, and how the princes did brave deeds.

In Seamus Heaney's translation it comes out as:

So. The Spear-Danes in days done by
And the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes' heroic campaigns.
        
So: what is Beowulf about? Basically, it's an account, in highly juicy language, of three huge and powerful monsters, and the hero Beowulf's fight to the death with each of them, one by one.

Beowulf was first read to me by my teacher Mr Casey. I was eight, and utterly bored by it. I still think that Beowulf was an odd choice to read to a group of eight-year-olds. The boys loved it, though.

And, do you know something? I bet they still would.

Word To Consider Today: hwæt. At the beginning of an Old English story this word means, oi, you lot! or Listen up! or Lend me your ears!




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