Book Meme: Mel’s Day One

The Book Meme Challenge:

The Best Book You Read Last Year.

The best book I read last year was . . . Beowulf! In the original Old English!

I had read Beowulf before in translation, and was rather unimpressed with it: the stilted rhyme ad rhythm and seeming analogous tale. But in the original language, where there are over thirty different words for ‘man’ all with specific shades of significance, this work came alive.

I love this language. The words – or “symbols” – in Old English are so very close to the meanings – or “things” – that it feels like magic spoken in this language must come true. Avery word feels like onamonapeic. This is a language that does not lie, is seeming simple, yet has a wealth of poetry and a union of the visible and invisible worlds in each word.

For instance, the word “modgeþanc,” found in Caedmon’s Hymn, is usually translated as “purpose” or “thought” but is really much more complicated. It is a word that mean both “thought” and “intention” of the heart and courage. The placement of this word in the hymn indicated that the world is held in existence by the very “thought” and deliberate purpose of God’s heart. Think of the wealth of theology here, all in one word!

And in Beowulf there are many instance of this beautiful use of language, telling a story that becomes at once utterly real and powerful, and a developing a portrait of humanity that in many respects is still true today.

This edition, edited by George Jack, really helps to get a grasp of the language without relying on an immediate translation. It has a short list of words to memorize, and then heaving glossing on each page.

Amazing how much it changed my opinion of Beowulf!


One thought on “Book Meme: Mel’s Day One

  1. Excellent, bravo! That’s how I intend to read Beowulf when I return to it; I’ll just have to brush up on my Old English first a bit. Great example with “modgeþanc” — I see I shall have to take another look at Caedmon’s Hymn also!

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