Thursday, January 27, 2011

The boring day which should have been the second day of school...

Well, at least it had the good grace to snow enough to make the snow day worth it. Marginally worth it. There is one consolation though. I get to spend the whole day lounging around and translating the first 52 lines of Beowulf. (Once I work up enough energy to leave my dorm and go to the library, that is.)  On a more cheerful note, my Astronomy professor sent a bunch of reading to do since we can't meet, and he has yet to assign books, and I am even more certain that this class is going to be FUN.

In the mean time, I'm drinking a cup of tea (yum) and listening to my Nordic Roots CDs, which seems very appropriate with the weather as it is outside the window.

Ah well. I expect I will be wishing for sunglasses on this planned expedition to the library, especially as I've lingered so long this morning that the sun is completely up and out of any clouds....

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

First day back...

...and they've already declared tomorrow a snow day. I am officially disappointed. I was really looking forward to the first meeting for my Ancient Astronomies class, and curious to see how much Music Theory I was going to annoy me, and now, I'll have nothing to do. :-(  I suppose I should be grateful, because it gives me a chance to see how much Latin I've forgotten, and to translate those 52 lines of Beowulf... but still!! This is a vexing turn of events. On the plus side, the view out my window is kind of pretty!

Beowulf class should be the best thing since... well... last semester's Tolkien class, and if I can manage to keep up with the translation, this should be epic. Small class + Professor Drout + Anglo-Saxon = AWESOME, no matter WHAT.

Well, I should probably go back to my Latin homework. I have the same professor I've had for the last year and a half and taking comedy with her should be heaps of fun because she has this wonderful dry sense of humor... if the actual language itself doesn't kill me first... That saying

"Latin is a dead language, as dead as it can be,
First it killed the Romans, and now it's killing me"

is sadly appropriate. I am not amused. At least, not yet. I also can't seem to be able to escape "The Comedy of Errors" as Plautus' Menaechmi is, in fact, Shakespeare's inspiration. So if Latin itself doesn't kill me, the Menaechmi might.

In other news, reigning Horse of the Year, Zenyatta, is going to be bred to Bernardini.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Some favorite quotes

Let the randomness continue! These are some of my favorite quotes. I don't know who said some of them, unfortunately. If you know, let me know!

"I mean, consorting with Sauron to learn how to make shiny things? Didn’t anyone learn anything from the Númenor debacle or the whole Morgoth in Valinor business?" ~Me

"You don't get mail in epic land!" - Professor Michael. Drout

"This is the worst plan in the history of anything!" - M. Drout on the planning of the Quest of Erebor

"You insulted my grandfather three hundred years ago, so I'm going to kill you now!" - M. Drout on the nature of ancient grudges.

Q: Why was Severus Snape standing in the middle of the road?
A: So that no one could tell what side he was on.

"it's like staring at a lemon and thinking you could have sworn you got an apple out of the refrigerator..." ~ Penny
..."and then having the lemon squirt you in the eye" ~ Me

We're going to that holding cell that holds seven mice and a squirrel." -Dianne on our microscopic holdig room at Avery Fisher Hall

"It's going to rain from now to the end of the world, so we'll be taking the ark." -Dianne on our mode of transportation to AFH.

"What've you been up to?"
"Dating Beowulf" ~a friend and I

"Are you serious?"
"No! Thaddaeus is Sirius."
(Depending on who it is) ~ My friends and I

"We'll all eat Baloney and get food poisoning." J-L
What about Babylonian food poisoning?" - Allegra

"Well, free falling from the hanging gardens of Babylon, while choking on a iocaine laced grape, while suffering from Babylonian food poisoning, while being bested in a sword fight by a giant Spaniard who is forcing you into marriage against your will." - Me, Allegra and Jean-Luc.

“Nature abhors a hero. For one thing, he violates the law of conservation of energy. For another, how can it be the survival of the fittest when the fittest keeps putting himself in situations where he is most likely to be creamed?”

"When life comes at you too fast, hold up a STOP sign and pray there is no accident."

"No one appreciates my drapery!! *sob*" Tyler the evil overlord of evilness.

"Nostalgia is like grammar lessons, the present tense and the past perfect."

"If you think you're too small to be effective, you've never been in the dark with a mosquito."

"I don't understand the presumption that we banished princesses cannot refuse a glossy apple from an old hag. We do read, after all." ~ from the opening of a VERY, VERY bad retelling of Snow White I started a while ago. It will NEVER see the light of day.

Friday, January 21, 2011

In which I argue against the Professor with great fear and trepidation.

Let the randomness begin!

So this is perhaps not the best essay that I have ever written, and it goes against the grain to disagree with Tolkien, given his great understanding of Anglo-Saxon England and its culture, as well as his knowledge which far exceeds mine. However, with that said, I deeply believe what I have written. Here follows a paper written for my Anglo-Saxon Lit. class at college. The translations are all my own

Ofermod or “Northern Courage”?
The Tragedy of the Heroic Germanic Code in Anglo-Saxon England

“Hyge sceal þy heardra, heorte þy cenre,
mod sceal þy mare þy ure mægen lytlaþ.”

“Mind shall be harder, heart be bolder,
spirit be greater though our strength sinks”
“The Battle of Maldon” (lines 312-13).

So spoke Byrhtwold, Byrhtnoth’s retainer, in what is perhaps the single most famous line of Anglo-Saxon poetry. Scholars had long considered both speech and “The Battle of Maldon” to be a celebration of “northern courage” until J.R.R. Tolkien argued that Byrhtnoth as a superior, and as the commander of a battle troop, had a moral obligation to his men under which “northern courage” had no place. In other words, he had no business letting the Vikings cross the river. Unlike earlier scholars, Tolkien saw the poem as a criticism of Byrhtnoth.
While I do think that Tolkien raised some very important points, and that there is a level to which Byrhtnoth’s’ ofermod drove his deeds too far, I also believe that there an extent to which this ofermod driven action might only seen as a bad thing because they lost. It is likely that had they won, this action would have made him a hero.  This same ofermod would have made the warriors famous and their deeds celebrated. Furthermore, I believe Byrhtnoth was caught in a double bind, and that the poem is a celebration of northern courage that recognises that the very system it loves is also fatally flawed.  
Tolkien argued that the doctrine of “Northern Courage” only “appears in this clarity, and (approximate) purity, precisely because it is put in the mouth of a subordinate” for whom “personal pride was … at its lowest, and love and loyalty at their highest” (Tolkien 144). Byrhtnoth, on the other hand, as the leader of these men ought to have made their lives his first priority and not let the Vikings come ashore unchallenged. However, I do not see “Maldon” as a criticism of Byrhtnoth in allowing the Vikings to cross the river, but rather a criticism that
Þa se eorl ongann for his ofermode
aliefan landes to fela laðre þeode.

“The ealdorman then undertook, for his excessive pride,
to allow too much land to the loathsome people” (89-90).

The issue does not seem to be that he allowed the Vikings to cross at all, but rather that he allowed them too much land” when they did cross. It is also highly doubtful that the Vikings would have been so intimately acquainted with Byrhtnoth himself that they could devise such a plan as they did:
“ongunnon lytigian þa laðe giestas,
bædon þæt hie upp-gangan agan mosten…”

“The abominable enemies undertook to use guile,
demanded that they be permitted passage to shore… ” (86-87).

Rather, it seems to imply that the Vikings knew that any Anglo-Saxon commander would become recklessly “honourable” when taunted thus, and therefore their request was calculated to be insulting enough to warrant such a response.  Such a reading would rely on “northern courage” as a thriving and widespread system of behaviour that encompassed kings and leaders as well as their thanes. While this view does not exonerate Byrhtnoth from sacrificing the lives of his men, it may perhaps explain why only two lines out of more than three hundred focus on Byrhtnoth’s choice to let the Vikings cross, and why the greater part of the poem details instead how bravely the men fought around the body of their fallen lord.
Tolkien, fresh from the horrors of World War I, argued that Byrhtnoth had no right to let the Vikings cross, unchecked, before engaging them in battle, “northern courage” or no. He said:
“ [T]his element of pride, in the form of the desire for honour and glory … tends to grow,
to become a chief motive, driving a man beyond the bleak heroic necessity to excess – to chivalry.
‘Excess’ certainly, even if it be approved by contemporary opinion, when it not
only goes beyond need and duty, but interferes with it” (Tolkien 144).

might fight on level terms, the Vikings were not only stacking matters in their favour (but when have they not), they were also implying that Byrhtnoth and his men were not honourable. It is this last, I believe, that causes Byrhtnoth to act in his ofermod for it has been previously established that “her stent unforcuþ eorl mid his weorde,” or that “here stands an undisgraced ealdorman with his troop” (line 51).
Byrhtnoth can either refuse to let the Vikings pass and continue the fight as it was before, hoping that the Vikings will not sail away, or he can do what he does in the poem, let the Vikings cross and fight a “fair” fight. If he does the former and wins, he and his men will live in the knowledge that the fight was neither strictly “honorable” nor “fair”, even if the whole world praises them for turning aside the Viking threat. For, as Tolkien says, they expect everyone to behave honourably, “even if there [are] no witnesses” (Tolkien 144). Perhaps it is this idea that leads Byrhtnoth to jeopardize his “one object, the defence of the realm from an implacable foe” and leads to, as it turns out, “the ruin of his purpose and duty” (146).
It is easy to say that Byrhtnoth’s actions were “stupid” or “irresponcible” or any other negative term, but our society has so many different “norms” and places so much less emphasis on honour than did the Anglo-Saxons, that we cannot judge them on our terms. Perhaps even Tolkien, who probably could understand the Anglo-Saxon mind set better than anyone else in our time, was so – understandably – influenced by his times and his own experiences, that even he could not fully understand their society as it existed.
Perhaps Byrhtnoth was irresponsible and foolish to let the Vikings cross, and whether he was or not, he lost the battle. Perhaps the poem is a criticism of his actions, or of “northern courage”, or perhaps it is a poem that celebrates this “northern courage” even while seeing its flaws. A poem that can, like “Njal’s Saga”, offer a clear sighted critique on the culture it loves without passing judgement on those caught in the heroic tragedy of “northern courage”, for the poet dwells less on Byrhtnoth’s ofermod than he does on the fierce pride of Byrhtnoth’s retainers.

“Ic þæt gehate, þæt ic heonan nylle
fleon fotes trym, ac wille furðor gan,
wrecan on gewinne minne wine-dryhten.”

“I vow that I will not, from this place,
flee one foot’s tread, but will further go
to avenge in battle my ealdorman and friend”
(lines 246-8).

“… fram ic ne wille,
ac ic me be healfe minum hlaforde,
swa leofum menn licgan þence.”

“… I will not from hence,
for I desire to lie beside my lord,
to lie dead with the dearest of men”
(lines 371b-319).

 Tolkien, J. R. R. Tree and Leaf: Including the Poem Mythopoeia; The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth
Beorththelm’s Son. Paperback ed. London: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2001. Print.