day169This week’s word – the last of our September animal series – is delayed this week due to scribal illness, but I have other exciting things to share!

Lo,I have, this very day, while buried in the depths of the Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru, completely finished my prose translation of Judith! It’s been a year’s worth of work, painstakingly accomplished alongside dissertation research, conference presentations and travel, various academic workshops, poem writing, poem reading, teaching, and linguistic study – both the process of translating and the actual translation itself have proved invaluable to the poetic adaptation of Judith that I’m creating, and I don’t mind saying that incredibly pleased it’s been completed at last. In celebration, I bring you the ridiculously awesome video below, and a preview of my translation of the prayer Judith prayers before she beheads Holofernes. I’ll speak much more about my adaptation/translation project in April, for National Poetry Month (which is technically a US thing, but I like to remember the customs of my people here in this new land).

 Judith’s Prayer

Creator God                heaven’s guardian
I cry to you            for compassion.
My heart is                     grown heavy,
swollen hot with                      sorrow’s poison.
Give me a charm        for this grief.
What words                              will banish fear?
What herbs will          weaken sorrow?
I have no spell for what                     holds me still.
Holofernes waits like            a hungry wolf —
I must seem like               such easy prey.
He will fall to my                  hand, or I will fall to his:
this is the way of fate.
What I ask of you                           Maker of All,
is only this:
a hero’s mettle, a warrior’s          strength of mind.

….and now for something completely different. 🙂

Anglo-Saxon Word of the Week: Wundenlocc

A detail from Artimesia Gentileschi’s ‘Judith and Her Maidservant’.


This week’s word is inspired both by an adjective from the Anglo-Saxon poem, and by Chapter 10 of  the Vulgate Book of Judith, which contains a description of Judith adorning herself before going to  Holofernes’ camp that we don’t see in the incomplete poem. Wundenlocc  is a compound of the  verb windan, meaning to wind or twist or curl, and locc, which, as you might have guessed, translates  as locks of hair. There is some debate about whether wundenlocc, which appears three times  in Judith and once in Riddle 2, refers to hair that is braided, or hair that is curled. For more  information on this debate, you can find Dr. Megan Cavell’s excellent short article from Medium  Aevum, wherein she discusses both possible translations and what connotations the sexual content of  both the riddle and the Judith poem may lend the word, here.

In Chapter 10 of the Book of Judith, Judith discards her widows’ clothing and dresses in her finest  robes and jewels, clothing she wore when her husband Manasses was alive, and “made herself beautiful  enough to beguile the eye of any man who saw her” (Judith 10:4). While the description of Judith’s hair  as braided or curled is entirely the creation of the Anglo-Saxon poet, the Book of Judith does tell us  that she dressed her hair before going out to ensnare Holofernes.


Anglo-Saxon Word of the Week: Byrnwiggende

We're uncertain what a byrnie looked like, but it could have been a mail shirt, or mail-covered leather jacket.

We’re uncertain what a byrnie looked like, but it could have been a mail shirt, or mail-covered leather jacket.

Wes þu hal!

Finally getting back to some text translation today, after time away for travel, conferences, and end-of-term marking frenzies – and I discovered a neat thing I wanted to share. I came across the word byrnwiggende today. A wiggend is a warrior or soldier, and the word is commonly seen in descriptive compounds – rondwiggende, for example. Rond or rand is technically the margin or the edge of something, but it was usually used to denote the edge of a shield – so rondwiggende might get translated as sheild-warrior or shield-bearer.

All of that I knew – but what on earth was a byrn? The Clark Hall dictionary gave me corselet, and that’s a familiar enough armour term, but I didn’t really like the word. I tried the online Englisc Onstigende Wordbōc, to see if it would give me anything different – and it gave me the Modern English word byrnie – at least, they said it was Modern English. I’d certainly never heard of it, so I threw it into google, and out popped the image on the left – something I would indeed have termed a corselet. Or maybe even just a maille shirt. According to Fighting Techniques of the Medieval World (Bennet, M., et al): 

There is some dispute among historians as to what exactly constituted the Carolingian byrnie. Relying… only on artistic and some literary sources because of the lack of archaeological examples, some believe that it was a heavy leather jacket with metal scales sewn onto it. It was also quite long, reaching below the hips and covering most of the arms. Other historians claim instead that the Carolingian byrnie was nothing more than a coat of mail, but longer and perhaps heavier than traditional early medieval mail. Without more certain evidence, this dispute will continue.

A section of the Bayeux Tapestry - could those soldiers have been wearing byrnies?

A section of the Bayeux Tapestry – could those soldiers have been wearing byrnies?

There you are, then; a new word for me in both languages. Call them shield-bearers, mail-wearers, or men-at-arms – a good leader was lost without good soldiers.

Anglo-Saxon Word of the Week! : twēogan

August Reidel's Judith
I had intended for this to be a Monday thing, but I’m honestly never prepared to  do anything but  brace for impact when Monday rolls around, so from here on out,  ASWotW will be a Wednesday  feature!

This week’s word is a verb:  twēogan.

Twēogan is a slightly irregular (meaning it doesn’t conjugate quite the same as  other verbs of its type) verb that means ‘to doubt’.

It’s pronounced tway-o-gahn, with the accent on the first syllable. The line over  the e indicates syllable length – the e in this word is a long vowel.

It conjugates like this*:

ic twēoge – I doubt
þū twēost – thou doubt
hē/hēo twēoþ – he doubts
wē twēogaþ – we doubt
gē twēogaþ – ye doubt (you plural. Y’all, if you’re from my neck of the woods.)
hīe twēogaþ – they doubt

ic twēode
þū twēodes; twēodest
hē/hēo twēode
wē twēodon
gē twēodon
hīe twēodon

*For the moment, I’ve decided to stick to just present and past tense conjugation in indicative mood only.

I chose twēogan as the ASWotW because it appears in the opening lines of Judith:

gifena in ðys ginnan grunde.         Heo ðar ða gearwe funde
mundbyrd æt ðam mæran þeodne,         þa heo ahte mæste þearfe,
hyldo þæs hehstan deman,         þæt he hie wið þæs hehstan brogan…

It is, in fact, the first recorded word we have in the poem, because the beginning is missing. From the context of the rest opening lines, it’s easy to surmise that the poet is saying Judith doubted not the gifts she had received from God, but the poem’s very first sentence begins, literally, in doubt.