Monday, 25 January 2010

Speak like a Saxon #25: Yarrr, fighting?

It's easy to think that the Anglo-Saxons and the vikings didn't often see eye to eye. There were lots of nasty things said, involving damnation and probably mothers, but it wasn't always swords and blood and daggers at dawn...

In 867, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Parker and Laud Manuscripts, for those who are interested) has this to say:

In this year, the same host [That's the vikings] went into Mercia [the Midlands] to Nottingham, and there took winter quarters [i.e. they camped out]. And Burhred, king of Mercia and his councillors begged Athelred, king of Wessex, and his brother Alfred [the Great one, of cakes fame] to help them fight the host; and then in 868 they proceeded with the West Saxon armies into Mercia as far as Nottingham, and there came upon the host in the fortification, but there was no serious fighting, and the Mercians made peace with the host.*

How did they do it? Possibly bribery, possibly a bit of slanging insults around...Imagine the scene (you can reproduce this in your office for a bit of fun):

Alfred: 'If you're friendly I'll give you money' - Gif þu freonde sie, giefe þe gafol ["yif thoo frey-ond-uh see-uh, yee-eff-uh thee gaf-ol"]

Viking [this is actually Old Norse]: 'You are wretched in respect to your shield fortification!' - Vesall ertu þinna skjaldborgar ["Ves-all errr-too thin-na skjald-borr-garr"]**

Alfred: 'Yer mum..' -
þine modor... ["thee-nuh mow-door"]

Viking [in Old Norse]
: 'Whatever' - Vera má at svá sé ["Vair-ah maw at svaw say"] (Well, technically this means 'it may be that is so', but that's not so snappy)

...at which point Alfred, in a huff, turns on his heels and hands over some gold for good measure. The vikings, thinking this is a pretty good wheeze and keen on getting some more money, stay for a bit longer...



* The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, ed. and transl. G. N. Garmonsway (1953)

**this Old Norse comes from a story called Hrolfs saga kraka


Saturday, 23 January 2010

Speak like a Saxon #24: happiness

Ask most people and they'd say they'd rather be happy than sad. What's the key to happiness? Some might say love or friends or peace or God. What did the Anglo-Saxons think? Lots of the literature talks about how misleading and short-lived the things of the world are. Like cake. Once you've eaten your cake, it's gone (ok, maybe the Anglo-Saxons didn't specifically mention cake, but I like it). Or fancy clothes: they wear out. So, they key for the Anglo-Saxon was God. After all, Jesus said "I have come that men may have life, and life in it's fullest" (John 10:10). Sounds like a pretty happy thing to me.

Here are some phrases that an old archbishop, Wulfstan, said to his people:

'This world is in haste and nears its end' - ðeos woruld is on ofste and hit nealæcð þam ende ["they-oss wor-uld iss on off-stuh and hit ney-ah-lack-th tham end-uh"]

'Let's love God' - Uton God lufian ["oot-an God luff-ee-an"]

'Let's claim the glory and happiness that God has prepared' - geearnian us þa mæðe and þa myrðe þe God gegearwod ["ye-ey-ar-nee-an us tha may-r-thuh and tha moor-thuh they God ye-yay-ar-wod"]

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Speak like a Saxon #23: Saturday night

I had a great Saturday night: an excellent concert by a wonderful orchestra that had the audience toe-tapping along. What might the Anglo-Saxons have done of a dark and rainy Saturday night?

'I drink beer' - Ic drince beor ["Itch drink-uh bey-or"]

'I listen to a harpist' - Ic hiere hearpestre ["Itch hee-air-uh hey-arp-es-truh"]

'I write a poem' - Ic write leoð ["Itch w-reet-uh ley-oth"]

'I woo the woman' - Ic awogie wifman
["Itch a-wo-gee-uh weef-man"]

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Speak like a Saxon #22: snow

I used to think snow was fun. The way it lands on your nose; how slippery it is and it's nice to throw at people. Now, with a bruised coccyx and wet feet, I'm with the Anglo-Saxons. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the outside world is a scary place! It's nice to look at, but going out in it takes real courage, will-power and faith. There's a poem about a man who goes out to sea as a pilgrim, giving up his life of pleasure on land to seek out the Lord. Try out some of his words...

For expressing your discomfort after you've just trudged into work through the snow and the slush:

'My feet were all oppressed with cold' = calde geþrungen wæron mine fet ["kald-uh ye-thrung-en where-on meen-uh fait"]

When it's really nasty out there and you don't hear the boss ringing your mobile:

'I couldn't hear a thing except the roaring sea' = þær ic ne gehyrde butan hlimman sæ ["there itch ney ye-hoord-uh but-an hlim-an say"]

When you get lost in the park by the pond:

'I lived sorrowfully in the ice-cold sea all winter' - ic earmcearig iscealdne sæ winter wunade ["Itch ey-arm-kay-ar-iy ees-kay-ald-nuh say winter wun-ad-uh"]

When you're soggy and cold, because:

'Hail showers fell' - hægl scurum fleag ["hay-ul skoor-um fley-ag"]