Friday, November 09, 2007

The Ultimate Beowulf Question

From a reporter today:

"Is it possible in three sentences to sum up the debate over when Beowulf was written?"

(she knew I would start maniacally laughing at this point)

You know, I used to be a journalist, so I took up the challenge. I'm hoping that the reporter (who is very good and thorough and, and who had actually read this entire series of posts about the dating of Beowulf) will be able to polish my answer and that it will make the article.

But I had a student in the office when the email came in, and I showed it to her, and she laughed and laughed...

(Today in Anglo-Saxon we descended into "Philological Hell" based on a few comment on the runes on the Ruthwell Cross. That led to different European writing systems of the early Middle Ages, which led to questions about why the Anglo-Saxons used thorn and eth instead of th, used sc to indicate the sh phoneme, and used the rune wyn for w. That led us to the Merovingians in Beowulf and Shippey's excellent article. We also got deletion of intervocalic h, loss of w -- or the difficulty Latin scribes had with the Germanic w phoneme and their various ways of representing it--and finally, that Alcuin's name should be pronounced "Alc-win" but never will be. Really, really fun. Monday we do some corpus work on Maldon and ofermod.)


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Steve Muhlberger said...

I rather think you should have reconstructed your 3-sentence answer and shared it with your faithful readers (who could compare it with your four-part summary).

Andrea said...

I always thought it was pronounced "Alc-win."