Saturday, 29 May 2010

Caedmon's Hymn, Slight Return

If there is such a construct as "the curve", and assuming that getting ahead of it (to become a stray, outlying dot on a graph) is a desirable thing, then I have evidence that I may have pulled a nose clear of it. Here is Exhibit A, the photo-finish:

That, my friends, is page 4 of this week's TLS. Does something about that illustration look familiar? And if I tell you that the subject matter of the article by Tom Shippey is the Old English translations of Boethius' De Consolatione Philosophiae, and that it includes some amused and ironic comments on the Anglo-Saxon character, as betrayed in certain telling mistranslations, do you have a certain feeling of déjà vu? Well, suit yourself, but I certainly did.

Here is my favourite bit:
"Wisdom is the highest virtue", says one of the OE version's additions, and the view conforms to both what Asser says of Alfred and to Anglo-Saxon preoccupations generally. But they had their own views about wisdom, and sometimes failed to recognize other people's. There is an OE version of The Distichs of Cato [...] but the translator repeatedly failed to understand his Latin text, or rejected its counsels as evidently unwise. For example, he reacts oddly to the familiar advice to "seize Occasion by the forelock, for she is bald behind". Perhaps unable to grasp the image, he writes, truthfully but inappositely, "many a man has plenty of hair but goes bald suddenly".
OK, I'm not really claiming that the TLS represents the cutting edge of contemporary thought, and I accept that, on one level, this is rather like saying, "Last week I was whistling Beethoven's 5th and I'm damned if this week Radio 3 didn't play Beethoven's 7th! Call me Mr. Zeitgeist!" But, even so...



sEAN bENTLEY said...

Wonderful cryptic photo! Well, I'll call you Mr. Zeitgeist if you'll return the favor, as I too had a blog post quite recently invoking that Hendrix song.

Mike C. said...


I looked at your blog to see what you meant, and noticed you have an ancestral connection to Ampthill, as do I -- my maternal line is almost entirely derived from that cluster of villages on the Herts/Beds border (including the wonderfully named Dorcas Goops). No Bentleys that I know of, but lots of Dilleys, Grummits, Pettifers and Kendalls.