Sunday, November 11, 2007

"What! Have we not heard of the glory..."

Kyung Hee University
Of the High Middle Ages
(Image from The Korea Times)

The big hand on the clock has just touched the hour mark, the little hand tells me that the hour is three, and the profound, outer darkness reminds me that this hour is late.

The great MEMESAK international conference has now been over for nine hours, although we participants -- having spent two days "fighting dragons and crossing swords" -- retired to the mead hall and, until only a couple of hours ago, jubilantly celebrated our victory over the forces of darkness that "from the moor under the misty slopes came."
What! Have ye not heard of the glory
Of we Medieval scholars, warriors of golden days --
How we wrought works of valor?
Sorry. I'm waxing Medieval. My excuse? This. I had the privilege of hearing passages from a new Beowulf translation, which opens with these lines:
What! Have we not heard of the glory
Of the Spear-Danes' kings in olden days --
How the princes performed deeds of valor?
Not a few times Scyld Scefing seized
The seats of banquet from many a tribe,
Mighty opponents, and terrified the earls.
Since the time when he was found a deserted infant,
He grew up in tender care, soared to the sky,
And prospered with unparalleled honor, till
All neighboring nations over the sea came
To obey and pay tribute to him: a good king he was!
These words flowed from the lips of Professor Sung-Il Lee, of Yonsei University, who has translated the entirety of that Old English epic. Over a cup of mead (or perhaps soju), I asked him how he had managed to outdo Seamus Heaney's translation:
So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by,
and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes' heroic campaigns.
There was Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes,
a wrecker of mead-benches, rampaging among foes.
This terror of the hall-troops had come far.
A foundling to start with, he would flourish later on
as his powers waxed and his worth was proved.
In the end each clan on the outlying coasts
beyond the whale-road had to yield to him
and begin to pay tribute. That was one good king.
So much for Mr. Heaney. In case you're wondering, the original Anglo-Saxon lines ran as follows:
Hwæt! Wé Gárdena in géardagum
þéodcyninga þrym gefrúnon·
hú ðá æþelingas ellen fremedon.
Oft Scyld Scéfing sceaþena þréatum
monegum maégþum meodosetla oftéah·
egsode Eorle syððan aérest wearð
féasceaft funden hé þæs frófre gebád·
wéox under wolcnum· weorðmyndum þáh
oð þæt him aéghwylc þára ymbsittendra
ofer hronráde hýran scolde,
gomban gyldan· þæt wæs gód cyning.
I've borrowed this original text from Benjamin Slade's great website Beowulf in Steorarume.

But you're still wondering how Professor Lee managed to render the Old English into excellent, modern lines of epic poetry that -- in my opinion -- far outdo Heaney's version. Over that cup of aforementioned sojumead, Lee explained that he had used the old dictionaries and critical texts of bygone scholars to ensure that he had clearly understood the original verse, and once he had done that for a few lines, he had "let the text possess" him and had proceeded to translate it. He had spent four-and-one-half months working from early morning till late at night without a break last fall and winter in this endeavor, and when he finished the last line at three in the morning in late February 2007, he opened for himself a bottle of soju, drank it all down, and literally "howled at the moon!"

That sounded a bit more like Grendel than Beowulf, but I toasted Professor Lee's admirable achievement, and he promised me a copy of the published text.

As for my own light-hearted presentation, which I had titled "Finding Myself Lost in Translation," people seemed to enjoy it, for they laughed a lot. I took that as a good sign, though they may simply have been laughing at me.

I should add -- last but not at all least -- that I finally met Mr. Gord Sellar, a man to whom I've been indebted ever since he came to my rescue online one fine day last year when an anonymous troll was plaguing these blog entries. Gord called the troll a "twit" and thereby helped rid Gypsy Scholar of an unwanted, gryndelig presence.

Gord can perhaps confirm whether the preposition "with" or "at" best describes how people were laughing during my presentation. Either way, thanks to Gord for his moral support during the conference and his immoral support during the postconference drinking...

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At 5:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

JK would ask, in all deference, would the scholar, by any chance have been wearing the same pate covering that he wore when last the scholar graced the blog's lead photo?

I am informed that your presentation did occasion some chuckling, however reports do not indicate guffawing. JK takes that as a good sign.

And, the scholar should be encouraged. He was invited to imbibe the sojumead was he not?

Perhaps it was the cap?


At 6:05 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, JK, people seem to take the cap seriously -- perhaps imagining some religious significance -- and never laugh about it (until I joke that it's meant to protect my head from cold, from heat, and from ridicule).

But there was outright laughter during my presentation. Fortunately, it coincided with my jokes.

I think...

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 12:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When will the new translation be published?

At 3:07 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, I asked Professor Sung-Il Lee about that, and he couldn't give a precise date. He's currently writing the introduction, but the preface has already been written by some Beowulf scholar from the States or England -- I forget which.

I hope for its publication sooner rather than later.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 7:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do hope you'll post information about purchasing this translation when it becomes available.

At 7:15 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Kangmi, I definitely shall . . . but I've so far heard nothing about that.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *


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