Monday, February 26, 2007

And the Academy Award for best Early Medieval addition to a famous Latin Text goes to...

Why, it's that perennial favorite, Boethius, translated into English by none other than his Royal Highness King Alfred the Great! (I'm ignoring issues of authorship here -- "Alfred" is just a construct anyway -- and a rather annoyingly pious one at that, if Asser and Bernard Cornwell can be believed.)

The addition in question? Well, in my most carefully considered opinion, it's the addition of the "Wagon Wheel" to the very end of the OE Boethius. Alfred's translating the explanation that Boethius tries to go through of the spheres, and in essentially discarding most of Boethius' explanation, he comes up with the the first tripartite social hierarchy explanation. At this point, I would like to interrupt my speech to thank Karl, one of the eminent bloggers at In the Middle for pointing out this stunning moment in Chapter 39 to me when I was still back in Chapter 33, wondering if anything interesting would ever happen again.

The Excerpt in Question:

Swa swa on wænes eaxe hwearfiað þa hweol & sio eax stint stille & byrð þeah ealne þone wæn, <&> welt ealles þæs færeltes; þæt hwerfð ymbutan & sio nafu next þære eaxe sio færð micle & orsorglicor þonne ða felgan don, swelce sio eax sie þæt hehste god þe we nemnað God, & þa selestan men faren nehste Gode, swa swa sio nafu færð neahst þære eaxe, & þa midmestan swa swa ða spacan. forðæmþe ælces bið oðer ende fæst on ðære nafe, oðer on þære felge. Swa bið þæm midlestan monnum; oðre hwile he smeað on his mode ymb þis eorðlice , oðre hwile ymb ðæt godcundlice, swilce he locie mid oðre eagan to heofonum, mid oðre to eorþan. Swa swa þa spacan sticiað oðer ende on þære felge oþer on þære nafe, middeweard se spaca bið ægðrum emnneah, ðeah oðer ende bio fæst on þære nafe, oðer on þære felge. swa bioð þa midmestan men onmiddan þam spacan, & þa betran near þære nafe, & þa mætran near ðæm felgum; bioð þeah fæste on ðære nafe, & se nafa on ðære eaxe. Hwæt, þa þeah hongiað on þæm spacan, <þeah> hi eallunga wealowigen on þære eorðan; swa doð þa mætestan men on þæm midmestum, & þa on þæm betstan, & þa betstan on Gode.

and the translation (pretty stilted) of it in The Whole Works of Alfred the Great (ed. Giles. NY: AMS Press, Inc, 1969, Vol 2 p. 522):

As on the axle-tree of a waggon the wheel turns, and the axle-tree stands still, and nevertheless supports all the waggon, and regulates all its progress; the wheel turns round, and the nave being nearest to the axle-tree goes much more firmly, and more securely than the fellies [the outer part of the wheel] do; so that the axle-tree may be the highest good, which we call God, and the best men go nearest to God, as the nave goes nearest to the axle-tree; and the middle class of men as the spokes. For of every spoke one end is fixed in the nave, and the other in the felly. So is it with respect to the middle class of men. One while he meditates in his mind concerning this earthly life, another while concerning the heavenly: as if he should look with one eye to the heavens and with the other to the earth. As the spokes stick, one end in the felly, and the other in the nave, and the spoke is midward, equally near to both, though one end be fixed in the nave and the other in the felly; so are the middle class of men in the middle of the spokes, and the better nearer to the nave, and the most numerous class nearer to the fellies. They are nevertheless fixed in the nave, and the nave on the axle-tree. But the fellies depend on the spokes, though they wholly roll upon the earth. So do the most numerous class of men depend on the middle class, and the middle class on the best, and the best on God.

I really don't like that translation, but since I don't have time to fix it it will do. There you have it -- tri-partite social divisions. Alfred's also setting out pretty solidly not only what he thinks rulers should be (note the "one while" meditating on heaven and "another while" on earthly things) -- but also that he's very nearly constructing the image of himself that the preface to the Boethius conveys, and that Asser's Life also gives. I'm brewing more thoughts about all of this, but in the meantime...big meeting with my adviser tomorrow, and so I'll leave it with Alfred's Boethius for tonight. It's telling, I think, that the first "King of the English" (self-styled, of course, and was there even such a thing in that time?) would expend his art (to borrow the Tolkienian phrase from Monsters and the Critics) on making clear the social hierarchies of men, and their proper relation.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

Fear of the Known is a Lurking Stranger

Those of you who might once have been into the X-Files might remember that as part of the vintage Mulder monologue ending an episode about a necrophiliac serial killer. I was into memorizing monologues at the time, so I still happen to remember what Fox said on the occasion (the perils of having a good memory -- apologies if I screw it up, don't have time to search online):

That boy next door, Donny Faster, unremarkable younger brother of four older sisters, extraordinary only in his ordinary-ness, could grow up to be the devil in a button down shirt. Scientists say that fear of the unknown is an irrational response to the excesses of the imagination, but the fear of the known is a lurking stranger, and the sound of footfalls on the stairs, the fear of violent death and the primitive instinct to survive are as frightening as any X-File, as real as the acceptance: It could happen to you.

That said, I give you something a friend of mine had up on an away message, via another blog I've never read, called "Spare Room": a trailer for a film that will scare least, in New Zealand.

Fear of the known indeed.


Monday, February 05, 2007

It's official

I have a date more or less set for my pre-oral, written exam. It'll be at the end of March. I'm ready to get it over with. I will also be spending the week before at home in North Carolina (since my school rather conveniently has spring break that week), so that will be nice too. Minimum of stress, maximum of puppy dog time with my baby Allegra dog. Allegra is technically the family dog, and we've had her for 12 years now (since I was 12, actually), and she lives with my parents back in NC, because if she ever faced 13 degree temperatures with below-zero windchills, she'd simply refuse, with all 10 pounds of her, to set foot outside a heated room, and would probably spend all of her time sitting in front of the radiator. Allegra's an Italian Greyhound, with ancestors who no doubt ripped up royal carpets, when not being adored -- and she both knows and owns her royal lineage. Eventually I'll share a picture of her here -- she's the sweetest dog in the world.

Not to suggest a bias.

Anyway, with a little under two months to the pre-oral, and one month to the orals exam, I thought it was time that I actually mention some of what I've been reading. Nothing too reflective today -- mostly I just want to avow the incredible source of information that is English Historical Documents, vol. 1, ed. Dorothy Whitelock. I'd originally planned only to consult it, with little coming of the perusal. Lo and behold, I've found myself enchanted in the first three hundred pages -- 100 of a great historical introduction, and 200 of chronicles. It's outdated to be sure -- but where else can one find all of this amazing information, and such fascinating stories of England during the time of the Danelaw? Fabulous.

In other news, I completed the section on Grammar and Etymologies for my orals list with my reading of Raymond Williams last week. I am much pleased. From my reading of Isidore, I found some really fascinating ideas about language, which was what I was paying special attention for, so that was a plus. What I didn't expect, however, were the moments of really sensing how much there was thought to be, to borrow a phrase from Will S -- in a name. Technically I knew this -- but it's just so present in the text, that I was honestly quite surprised. One of the more interesting moments was from the section about God's names -- about his ninth name, the Tetragrammaton:

VII.i.16: Ninth, the Tetragrammaton, that is, the ‘four letters’ that in Hebrew are properly applied to God—iod, he, iod, he—that is ‘Ia’ twice, which when doubled forms the ineffable and glorious name God. The Tetragrammaton is called ‘ineffable’ not because it cannot be spoken, but because in no way can it be bounded by human sense and intellect; therefore because nothing can be said worthy of it, it is ineffable.

That's from the Barney, et al translation -- just out this year, in fact (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006). Highly recommended read. And that's all from those of us up here freezing next to the Hudson. Hopefully by the time I post next it'll be warmer.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Old English Happenings in New York: The ASSC

So those of you who have perused my links to the side, under the topic of legitimate procrastination, may have have found the link to the ASSC website -- the Anglo-Saxon Studies Colloquium. Formed by four professors at four tri-state universities -- Kathleen Davis, from Princeton; Hal Momma, from NYU; Stacy Klein, from Rutgers; Patricia Dailey, from Columbia -- the ASSC has, for two and a half years now, been sponsoring Old English lectures and workshops at each of the four universities, open to the public and aimed at fostering a new forum for professors and graduate students interested in Anglo-Saxon literature.

Through my time in NYC, the ASSC has had a lot of really fascinating and thought provoking events. Most recently was a two-day pairing of events in New Brunswick, at Rutgers. Elaine Treharne gave a talk on the Ideology of Early English, followed by a workshop the next day on Manuscripts. Treharne recently started teaching at Florida State.

More to the point of this post, I wanted to mention the third annual graduate conference being sponsored by the Colloquium. This conference is, traditionally, a graduate student organized and oriented conference, from the topics under discussion to the people discussing them, and this year's organizers have done an amazing job. The topic is Echoing Anglo-Saxon England: Continuities, Encounters, Influence, and the response to the call for papers was really great, and it's definitely reflected in the schedule. With topics ranging from Anglo-Saxon pedagogy to Ezra Pound to Dan Beachy Quick, the topics look intriguing and it should be a really thought-provoking conference. Those in the New York area should definitely try to attend. It's taking place this year at Columbia University, on February 16th. More information can be found at the website, which I've linked to in this post.

This isn't the only conference the ASSC has held, nor the only one that its been involved in. Last year's Kalamazoo featured a panel organized by the ASSC, and there was also the International Anglo-Saxon Futures Conference organized by Clare Lees at King's College last March. You can access other past events of the Colloquium here, including a roundtable discussion on subjectivity in the Wanderer and a conference last year on friendship and community in Anglo-Saxon England.