Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Speak like an Anglo-Saxon #8: Nativity Special

Our friendly Anglo-Saxons were quite civilised, really. The Christmas story which we know so well was a popular one with our ancestors too - there are translations of it from Latin into Old English from really early on.

Thinking about staging a properly traditional Nativity Play? Some familiar bits:

Narrator: þa hine þa to Bethlem comon – Then they came to Bethlehem. [‘tha hee-nuh tha toe Beth-lem kom-on’]

Narrator: ond þa cende hio sunu – And then she gave birth to a son. [‘ond tha ken-de hee-o sun-oo’]

Narrator: ond hio mid claðum hine bewand ond on binne alegde – And she wrapped him with swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger (not a ‘bin’, although it sounds a lot like it!). [‘ond hee-o mid clath-um hee-nuh be-wand ond on bin-ne a-lay-de’]

Angels: Wuldor sie Gode on heanness ond sybbon eorðan þam mannum þe godes willan sien – Glory be to God in the highest and peace on earth to those men who are in God’s favour. [‘wool-door see God-e on hay-ah-ness ond sib-bon ay-orth-an tham man-um thay god-es will-an see-en’]

Props might be a bit of a difficult point. Fair enough, sheep are quite easy to get hold of and tea-towel substitutes wouldn't be too hard. Camels for the wise men might be tricky, though - for a start Anglo-Saxons were confused about what camels were. They weren't too sure of the difference between camels and elephants...

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Speak Like an Anglo-Saxon #7: Entertainment

No TV... but even worse, no internet. No Facebook. No Email. No BBC news website. No DVD-nights. No cinema. No Wii. No radio. No CDs. No Scrabble... The list goes on. But our Anglo-Saxon ancestors didn’t just sit round twiddling their thumbs all evening, whilst the wind (and other things) howled outside. Oh no. “In the good old days, we had to make our own amusements”... I bet you’ve heard that one before. Well, it’s true. Story-telling and music seem to have been pretty big back then. Not much has changed, then...the difference was that back then you didn’t just get to loaf around in front of Corrie listening to your iplayer. Instead you’d be listening to some geezer in your hut. Chances are you even knew him. Heck, that geezer might have to be you now and again. The stories and poems which survive are pretty impressive. They probably survive because they’re impressive. We don’t really know whether your average Anglo-Saxons sat in their hut of an evening telling each other bits of Beowulf as we know it today. There was probably quite a lot of harp-twanging and making-it-up going on. So, a few rules of thumb if you’re called on to do a party piece:

1) The world is generally a miserable place. Everybody dies eventually. Lots of people die sooner. Metal goes rusty and wood rots. How about a refrain along the lines of:

Eala! Nis þis lif lang – Alas! This life is not long.

2) The countryside is horrible. You might’ve had to camp out under a tree once. That was horrible. It was rainy and cold and miserable:

Ceald is se regnscur se fealleð on me­ – Cold is the rain-shower which falls on me

3) If you’re doing poetry, it all gets a lot more complicated. There were rules, man. Rules. You’ve got metre, alliteration and a load of other fancy things to think of. Might be better to cadge some lines from other poems, whack them together in a different order and hope no-one notices. So, some useful lines of poetry:

Hwær cwom mearg? Hwær cwom mago? Hwær cwom maþþumgyfa?– Where is the horse? Where is the friend? Where is the treasure-giver?

þa wearð afeallen þæs folces ealdor – Then the leader of the people was cut down (pretty bad if he’s paying your wages)

ða hine heowan hæðene scealcas – Then the heathen warriors cut him down (happened quite a lot)

Wulf is on iege, ic on oþerre – Wulf is on one island, I’m on another one (long distance just doesn’t work)

bengeato burston ðonne blod ætspranc – wound-gashes burst when blood gushed out (mm, nice and gory)