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Re: New Beowulf

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  • Ted Sherman
    ... The Battle of Maldon is approximately 350 lines, whereas the Finnsburg fragment is only about 35-40. Why wouldn t a retelling of a Bible story count?
    Message 1 of 27 , Feb 29, 2000
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      "David S. Bratman" wrote:
      >

      > > some of the fragmentary pieces: Battle of Maldon (simply glorious) and
      > > the Finnsbug Fragment.
      >
      > I know the last two, and they're very short (though good), and I thought
      > Cynewulf's poems were short too. Exodus (which I also know slightly,
      > because Tolkien wrote about it) is much longer, but it's a retelling of
      > the Bible story, so perhaps it doesn't count. (OTOH, who's to say that
      > Beowulf isn't a retelling of something lost? It probably is, come to that.)

      The Battle of Maldon is approximately 350 lines, whereas the Finnsburg
      fragment is only about 35-40. Why wouldn't a retelling of a Bible story
      count? Genesis B contains material based on Genesis, but it also
      contains material that John Milton likely used in Paradise Lost. It's as
      literary as one can get. Refashioning earlier texts was common
      throughout the Anglo-Saxon period--and later.

      >
      > > Yes, I knew Tolkien didn't count the Arthurian cycle because of its
      > > non-native elements as well as its "Celtic air." The problem, however,
      > > is with the whole notion of how to define "English." The English
      > > are/were an amalgam of native British (read Celtic), Roman soldier
      > > immigrants, Germanic invaders, Norse and French invaders, etc. The
      > > Celtic air is in the atmosphere of England, just as the Germanic air and
      > > French air are.
      >
      > Dorothy Sayers liked to make that point: that the English were not only a
      > mongrel nation, they were uniquely proud of it. That's not how Tolkien
      > viewed things, though. He felt there was a pure Anglo-Saxon strain which
      > he wished to isolate. As Americans, with our melting pot, we're used to
      > things being naturalized as soon as they step off the boat. Many
      > Europeans view things differently (one reason for the xenophobic politics
      > that look so strange to us). "How many years does it take to make a
      > steward a king, if the king return not?" "Few years, maybe, in other
      > lands. In Gondor ten thousand years would not suffice."
      >
      Frankly, I don't see the point of the latter quotations. JRRT might have
      wished to isolate a "pure Anglo-Saxon strain" but he needn't have tried.
      There wasn't one. Just when the "English" did begin to develop into
      their own people and own country, they would be disturbed from Outside.
      Those disturbances came from the Vikings, the Normans, and later the
      Flemish, Italians, Dutch, etc., from the late Middle Ages on. King
      Alfred was probably the closest one could come to a "pure Anglo-Saxon"
      but his entire life--almost--was spent confronting the Danes.

      > > Good point, David, about the Brut being in ME, but keep in mind that
      > > there isn't a clear break between Old and Middle English. And much
      > > material now in OE was originally written in Latin: Bede's History,
      > > Nennius, Gildas, etc.
      >
      > A fairly clear break, I think, as far as creative literature is concerned,
      > there being a long gap without much except the Ancrene Wisse, which I
      > believe is clearly ME, though certainly early ME. As for the Latin
      > stuff, precisely because it's in Latin it's not OE literature in the
      > language sense, except insofar as the translations are literature.
      > (Which they are: after all, King Alfred translated Boethius, who wasn't
      > English by nationality let alone language, and that's considered a
      > masterpiece of OE literature.)
      >
      No, not really. There is much early creative material, it's just not
      very popular today, nor is it studied or read much because of its
      didactic and hagiographic elements. There are early ballads and lyrics,
      and a few of the romances (Havelock the Dane comes to mind) are rather
      early. Alfred's Boethius is considered a masterpiece of OE literature
      precisely because Alfred rendered it into English. Just as Bede's
      History is a masterpiece. There are also the riddles, chronicles,
      saints' lives and numerous other works that were translated into OE that
      are masterpieces of OE prose and/or poetry.

      BTW, when I mentioned the break between OE and ME, I was referring more
      to the language. Parts of the island probably retained OE well into the
      late 12th century, if not the early 13th. The earliest datable document
      in ME is the entry for the year 1135 in the Peterborough Chronicle of
      the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

      > > Again, I don't know (and I could easily be wrong) that the Norman
      > > Conquest is the cause for there not being more and later copies of much
      > > OE material. The Normans didn't necessarily lay waste to the monasteries
      > > and scriptoria in their conquest of England; they did, however, replace
      > > English abbots and bishops with French ones.
      >
      > I didn't mean that the Normans destroyed things, but by taking over and
      > putting the cultured use of the English language on ice for a couple
      > hundred years, they severely reduced the impetus to make more copies.
      > Considering how very few manuscript copies were made of anything
      > pre-Gutenberg, in any country, and how very fewer of them survived the
      > vicissitudes of the centuries, any marginal difference can be vitally
      > important.
      >
      But copies were being made in the ME period; just look at one of the
      volumes in the Index of Middle English Verse to see how many works were
      copied. There are numerous copies of Monmouth's History, and they were
      all copied in the ME period. There are redactions and redactions of
      numerous works, making the lives of us textual editors interesting.
      Again, while numerous manuscripts and tales/poetry undoubtedly were
      destroyed during the centuries, it is quite amazing, really, that we
      have the number of manuscripts that do survive from the OE and ME
      periods.

      Ted
      --
      Dr. Theodore James Sherman
      Department of English, Box X041
      College of Liberal Arts
      Middle Tennessee State University
      Murfreesboro, TN 37130
      615 898-5836; FAX 615 898-5098
      tsherman@...
      tedsherman@...
    • WendellWag@aol.com
      In a message dated 2/28/00 6:43:17 PM Eastern Standard Time, ... Huh?
      Message 2 of 27 , Mar 1, 2000
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        In a message dated 2/28/00 6:43:17 PM Eastern Standard Time,
        ERATRIANO@... writes:

        > And some antlered lord tales. Why is this figure so elusive?

        Huh?
      • David S. Bratman
        ... I expect because it s not fully naturalized, as Tolkien said of the Arthurian material. Whether it s a re-telling doesn t count. You d have to ask
        Message 3 of 27 , Mar 3, 2000
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          On Tue, 29 Feb 2000, Ted Sherman wrote:

          > Why wouldn't a retelling of a Bible story
          > count? Genesis B contains material based on Genesis, but it also
          > contains material that John Milton likely used in Paradise Lost. It's as
          > literary as one can get. Refashioning earlier texts was common
          > throughout the Anglo-Saxon period--and later.

          I expect because it's not fully naturalized, as Tolkien said of the
          Arthurian material. Whether it's a re-telling doesn't count. You'd have
          to ask Tolkien, really; he, not I, was the one who originally said there
          was no real Anglo-Saxon mythology, and surely these major OE texts didn't
          just slip his mind.

          > > He felt there was a pure Anglo-Saxon strain which
          > > he wished to isolate. As Americans, with our melting pot, we're used to
          > > things being naturalized as soon as they step off the boat. Many
          > > Europeans view things differently (one reason for the xenophobic politics
          > > that look so strange to us). "How many years does it take to make a
          > > steward a king, if the king return not?" "Few years, maybe, in other
          > > lands. In Gondor ten thousand years would not suffice."
          > >
          > Frankly, I don't see the point of the latter quotations. JRRT might have
          > wished to isolate a "pure Anglo-Saxon strain" but he needn't have tried.
          > There wasn't one. Just when the "English" did begin to develop into
          > their own people and own country, they would be disturbed from Outside.
          > Those disturbances came from the Vikings, the Normans, and later the
          > Flemish, Italians, Dutch, etc., from the late Middle Ages on. King
          > Alfred was probably the closest one could come to a "pure Anglo-Saxon"
          > but his entire life--almost--was spent confronting the Danes.

          The point of the quotation is that, by analogy, mere residence in a
          country doesn't make one part of an ethnic group. What you say shows
          that there was no time when the Anglo-Saxons had Britain quietly all to
          themselves. This is reflected in LOTR when Frodo bristles at the notion
          of the Nazgul wandering around in his own Shire. "But it is not your own
          Shire," says Gildor. "Others dwelt here before hobbits were; and others
          will dwell here again when hobbits are no more. The wide world is all
          about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it
          out."

          So you can't write about hobbits without including their relationship
          with other peoples, and indeed Tolkien doesn't. But that doesn't make
          hobbits any less of an individual, separable people with their own
          traditions and their own customs. And the same is true of the
          Anglo-Saxons. However much time they spent interacting with French and
          Germans, and however many Celts and Vikings were also occupying Britain,
          the Anglo-Saxons were their own people with their own ethnic identity (as
          we'd say today), and the heart of England, the land Tolkien loved, was
          their own country, even though it hadn't always been, and even though
          others might also claim it as their own. (It's not incompatible.)

          > > A fairly clear break, I think, as far as creative literature is concerned,
          > > there being a long gap without much except the Ancrene Wisse, which I
          > > believe is clearly ME, though certainly early ME. As for the Latin
          > > stuff, precisely because it's in Latin it's not OE literature in the
          > > language sense, except insofar as the translations are literature.
          > > (Which they are: after all, King Alfred translated Boethius, who wasn't
          > > English by nationality let alone language, and that's considered a
          > > masterpiece of OE literature.)
          > >
          > No, not really. There is much early creative material, it's just not
          > very popular today, nor is it studied or read much because of its
          > didactic and hagiographic elements. There are early ballads and lyrics,
          > and a few of the romances (Havelock the Dane comes to mind) are rather
          > early. Alfred's Boethius is considered a masterpiece of OE literature
          > precisely because Alfred rendered it into English. Just as Bede's
          > History is a masterpiece. There are also the riddles, chronicles,
          > saints' lives and numerous other works that were translated into OE that
          > are masterpieces of OE prose and/or poetry.

          But they're not major works of the _native OE creative imagination_ the
          way that Beowulf is (even if what we have is a retelling). That's the
          difference. I wouldn't allow my love for the Silmarillion, or the
          History of Middle-earth, or Farmer Giles of Ham, to blind me to the fact
          that LOTR is Tolkien's single outstanding masterpiece; nor does this
          other stuff take away from Beowulf's unique status.

          > BTW, when I mentioned the break between OE and ME, I was referring more
          > to the language. Parts of the island probably retained OE well into the
          > late 12th century, if not the early 13th. The earliest datable document
          > in ME is the entry for the year 1135 in the Peterborough Chronicle of
          > the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

          No language break is is perfectly sharp, either chronologically or
          geographically, but those between OE and ME, and ME and Modern English,
          are sharper than most. In any case the OE/ME evolution was long over
          before the 14th century which was the time of all the major ME literary
          masterpieces. (Yes, I know there was plenty of other literature. I'm
          talking about outstanding masterpieces.)

          > But copies were being made in the ME period; just look at one of the
          > volumes in the Index of Middle English Verse to see how many works were
          > copied. There are numerous copies of Monmouth's History, and they were
          > all copied in the ME period. There are redactions and redactions of
          > numerous works, making the lives of us textual editors interesting.
          > Again, while numerous manuscripts and tales/poetry undoubtedly were
          > destroyed during the centuries, it is quite amazing, really, that we
          > have the number of manuscripts that do survive from the OE and ME
          > periods.

          The glass is half-full! No, the glass is half-empty!

          It would be a lot fuller if the OE literary, linguistic and ecclesiastical
          traditions hadn't been so severely disrupted by the Normans. We can be
          delighted with what we have, and still note there could have been a lot
          more. In particular, as Tolkien noted, there are many OE legendary
          figures (Wayland the Smith comes to mind) of whom we know nothing but
          their names and a few scraps, but of whom mighty epics were perhaps once
          told. No way to be sure.

          If there's any distinctively native English mythology that Tolkien
          ignored when he made his complaint, it's Robin Hood. But not only is
          Robin Hood ME and not OE (thus irrelevant to Lisa's original comment),
          but the literature consisted of ballads and other short works, didn't
          receive any full-scale treatments until the 19C, and unless you count
          Howard Pyle still lacks IMHO a good one.

          David Bratman
          - not responsible for the following advertisement -
        • WendellWag@aol.com
          In a message dated 3/3/00 6:18:11 AM Eastern Standard Time, ... So Tolkien wasn t really English, but German like his ancestors (or some of them anyway)?
          Message 4 of 27 , Mar 3, 2000
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            In a message dated 3/3/00 6:18:11 AM Eastern Standard Time,
            dbratman@... writes:

            > The point of the quotation is that, by analogy, mere residence in a
            > country doesn't make one part of an ethnic group.

            So Tolkien wasn't really English, but German like his ancestors (or some of
            them anyway)?
          • David S. Bratman
            ... Man, I m getting it from both sides this week, aren t I? If by his German ancestors, you mean the ones who _weren t_ Anglo-Saxons, and who were responsible
            Message 5 of 27 , Mar 3, 2000
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              On Fri, 3 Mar 2000 WendellWag@... wrote:

              > > The point of the quotation is that, by analogy, mere residence in a
              > > country doesn't make one part of an ethnic group.
              >
              > So Tolkien wasn't really English, but German like his ancestors (or some of
              > them anyway)?

              Man, I'm getting it from both sides this week, aren't I?

              If by his German ancestors, you mean the ones who _weren't_ Anglo-Saxons,
              and who were responsible for the name Tolkien, please refer to Letter 95
              ("For barring the Tolkien (which must long ago have become a pretty thin
              strand) you [CT] are a Mercian or Hwiccian on both sides"), Letter 44
              ("Though a Tolkien by name, I am a Suffield by tastes, talents, and
              upbringing"), and Letter 165 ("I am neither `foolhardy' not German,
              whatever SOME [emphasis added] remote ancestors may have been. They
              migrated to England more than 200 years ago, and became quickly intensely
              English ... I am in fact far more of a Suffield"). In other words, the
              German side was a tiny strand in his ancestry, which would never have
              been noticed had it not been the line that provided his surname. In any
              case they did naturalize, and it was thus more than mere residence.

              If by his German ancestors you mean the fact that the Anglo-Saxons
              originally came from Germany, that's reductionist. The point of my
              quotation about Gondor and the 10,000 years was that it takes time to
              naturalize, a long time. But England isn't Gondor, either, and 1500
              years is surely long enough.

              David Bratman
              - not responsible for the following advertisement -
            • WendellWag@aol.com
              In a message dated 3/3/00 7:20:01 AM Eastern Standard Time, ... I m sorry if that came out sounding nasty. I didn t mean it as an attack on you. An attack on
              Message 6 of 27 , Mar 3, 2000
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                In a message dated 3/3/00 7:20:01 AM Eastern Standard Time,
                dbratman@... writes:

                > Man, I'm getting it from both sides this week, aren't I?

                I'm sorry if that came out sounding nasty. I didn't mean it as an attack on
                you. An attack on Tolkien, possibly, but not on you.

                I was referring to Tolkien's German ancestors, who were 1/64 of his ancestry
                (or was it 1/32 or 1/128?). There are Americans who make a big deal of what
                country their ancestors immigrated from, even if they immigrated over 200
                years ago. There's something a bit odd about an Englishman making a big deal
                about his ethnic identity. It's not as odd as an American making a big deal
                about his ethnic identity, but it's odd nevertheless.

                Maybe my testiness about this comes from having a two-year argument in the
                letters column of _Amon Hen_ (the Tolkien Society quarterly newsletter) about
                the "Englishness" of _The Lord of the Rings_. There are some T. S. members
                who think that the appearance of any American voices in a movie version of
                the book would be utter heresy.

                Wendell Wagner
              • Ted Sherman
                David, I also was not attacking you, or JRRT; this is just an instance where I think he was wrong (thankfully, there are very few times where I disagree with
                Message 7 of 27 , Mar 3, 2000
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                  David,

                  I also was not attacking you, or JRRT; this is just an instance where I
                  think he was wrong (thankfully, there are very few times where I
                  disagree with him).

                  Ted

                  WendellWag@... wrote:
                  >
                  > From: WendellWag@...
                  >
                  > In a message dated 3/3/00 7:20:01 AM Eastern Standard Time,
                  > dbratman@... writes:
                  >
                  > > Man, I'm getting it from both sides this week, aren't I?
                  >
                  > I'm sorry if that came out sounding nasty. I didn't mean it as an attack on
                  > you. An attack on Tolkien, possibly, but not on you.
                  >
                  > I was referring to Tolkien's German ancestors, who were 1/64 of his ancestry
                  > (or was it 1/32 or 1/128?). There are Americans who make a big deal of what
                  > country their ancestors immigrated from, even if they immigrated over 200
                  > years ago. There's something a bit odd about an Englishman making a big deal
                  > about his ethnic identity. It's not as odd as an American making a big deal
                  > about his ethnic identity, but it's odd nevertheless.
                  >
                  > Maybe my testiness about this comes from having a two-year argument in the
                  > letters column of _Amon Hen_ (the Tolkien Society quarterly newsletter) about
                  > the "Englishness" of _The Lord of the Rings_. There are some T. S. members
                  > who think that the appearance of any American voices in a movie version of
                  > the book would be utter heresy.
                  >
                  > Wendell Wagner
                  >
                  > ------------------------------------------------------------------------
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                  --
                  Dr. Theodore James Sherman
                  Department of English, Box X041
                  College of Liberal Arts
                  Middle Tennessee State University
                  Murfreesboro, TN 37130
                  615 898-5836; FAX 615 898-5098
                  tsherman@...
                  tedsherman@...
                • David S. Bratman
                  ... Americans tend not, however, to make a big deal out of ancestors who were only 1/64th of their ancestry, unless it s something rare and special. I know
                  Message 8 of 27 , Mar 3, 2000
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                    On Fri, 3 Mar 2000 WendellWag@... wrote:

                    > I was referring to Tolkien's German ancestors, who were 1/64 of his ancestry
                    > (or was it 1/32 or 1/128?). There are Americans who make a big deal of what
                    > country their ancestors immigrated from, even if they immigrated over 200
                    > years ago. There's something a bit odd about an Englishman making a big deal
                    > about his ethnic identity. It's not as odd as an American making a big deal
                    > about his ethnic identity, but it's odd nevertheless.

                    Americans tend not, however, to make a big deal out of ancestors who were
                    only 1/64th of their ancestry, unless it's something rare and special. I
                    know people who are 1/64th Amerind, and proud of it.

                    Tolkien didn't make a big deal out of his ancestry: these are three
                    letters over an entire lifetime! But to the extent that he did, it was
                    1) to correct the misapprehension, from his name, that he was German; 2)
                    because he loved his homeland and felt a special connection with it.
                    There's nothing wrong with that: here in California, people whose
                    ancestors have been here for a whole hundred years feel a special sense
                    of connectedness which they hold over those of us who've only been here
                    for 30 or 40 years; and we, in turn, who can remember Silicon Valley
                    before it was called that, and when it was full of orchards, have
                    something over the dot-com weenies.

                    > Maybe my testiness about this comes from having a two-year argument in the
                    > letters column of _Amon Hen_ (the Tolkien Society quarterly newsletter) about
                    > the "Englishness" of _The Lord of the Rings_. There are some T. S. members
                    > who think that the appearance of any American voices in a movie version of
                    > the book would be utter heresy.

                    I agree with them!

                    David Bratman
                    - not responsible for the following advertisement -
                  • Berni Phillips
                    ... Hmmph. Surely they would agree to let Americans voice the orcs! Berni David Bratman is not responsible for the following message: (Just kidding, dear!)
                    Message 9 of 27 , Mar 3, 2000
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                      ----------
                      >From: "David S. Bratman" <dbratman@...>

                      >On Fri, 3 Mar 2000 WendellWag@... wrote:

                      >> Maybe my testiness about this comes from having a two-year argument in the
                      >> letters column of _Amon Hen_ (the Tolkien Society quarterly newsletter) about
                      >> the "Englishness" of _The Lord of the Rings_. There are some T. S. members
                      >> who think that the appearance of any American voices in a movie version of
                      >> the book would be utter heresy.
                      >
                      >I agree with them!

                      Hmmph. Surely they would agree to let Americans voice the orcs!

                      Berni
                      David Bratman is not responsible for the following message:
                      (Just kidding, dear!)
                    • David S. Bratman
                      ... What, I _am_ responsible for the following message? DB
                      Message 10 of 27 , Mar 3, 2000
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                        On Fri, 3 Mar 2000, Berni Phillips wrote:

                        > David Bratman is not responsible for the following message:
                        > (Just kidding, dear!)

                        What, I _am_ responsible for the following message? <g>

                        DB
                      • Ted Sherman
                        ... David, Your comment about the orchards brought back a flood of memories of the Santa Clara Valley when it still have more orchards than concrete. I can
                        Message 11 of 27 , Mar 3, 2000
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                          "David S. Bratman" wrote:
                          >
                          >and we, in turn, who can remember Silicon Valley
                          > before it was called that, and when it was full of orchards, have
                          > something over the dot-com weenies.
                          >
                          David,

                          Your comment about the orchards brought back a flood of memories of the
                          Santa Clara Valley when it still have more orchards than concrete. I can
                          remember looking down over the valley from Skyline or the Saratoga Gap
                          and seeing blossoms--plum and apricot--from the Santa Cruz foothills to
                          the Mt. Hamilton range.

                          Thanks for the jolt to my memory!

                          Ted
                          --
                          Dr. Theodore James Sherman
                          Department of English, Box X041
                          College of Liberal Arts
                          Middle Tennessee State University
                          Murfreesboro, TN 37130
                          615 898-5836; FAX 615 898-5098
                          tsherman@...
                          tedsherman@...
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