OETG #3 – 8 November: intertextual suggestions

Upon the third OETG meeting, we tackled a passage of The Panther which presented us with a rather striking image of the ‘striking animal’. Lines 38 – 39, in fact, go as follows:

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These ‘three nights’ of the þeodwiga’s sleep cannot but prompt a parallel with Christ, and indeed the following lines do everything to encourage it:

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The panther’s rise from slumber is associated with Jesus’ resurrection, consecrating this ‘marvellous beast’ to godly grace. However, the use of ellenrof complicates this understanding; here a substantive, it is translatable, according to Bosworth-Toller [http://www.bosworthtoller.com/009244], as ‘remarkably strong, powerful, daring, brave’, but it is its intertextual significance that really is worthy of attention. It is used, for instance, in Beowulf, in reference to Beowulf himself and to Wulfgar, both warriors renowned for their valour, thus evoking a prototypical warlike figure whose pluck and might seem hardly in accord with meekness, a feature which most would nowadays associate with Jesus Christ. The characterisation of the panther in this sense is suggestive of a superimposition, whether conscious or not, of different hues of meaning which may make a modern reader uneasy.

screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-13-02-30
Detail from f. 139v of Cotton MS Vitellius A XV, where line 358 of Beowulf can be read. Note ellenrof, spelt as ellen rof, in the middle.
 This tendency to attribute to a same object seemingly discordant features is proper of other examples of Anglo-Saxon poetry, which share The Panther’s somewhat conflicting imagery, from The Dream of the Rood to Beowulf itself. This curbs a translator’s usual struggle for fluency and uniformity.

Perhaps, however, it is not really a question of reconciling two spirits, or of seamlessly weaving these suggestions in a coherent text. Rather, it is a challenge, in translating Old English poetry, to be able to acknowledge and integrate the disparate echoes which give depth and complexity to a text. It is a matter of discussing it in a dialogic, or dialectic, manner. What do you think? Will you discuss the text with us?

Antonio Lenzo – OETG 2016-17

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