OETG #4 – 22 November: The Fire-Breathing Devil

In the penultimate session this semester, the religious allegory of The Panther poem seems to come to a climax.

dreams dragons devils old english

In these lines, God, the ruler of mirth and joy, is juxtaposed against the dragon (devil) that is the origin of evil. One point of discussion arising from this section, and an idea that has intrigued me since I started translating Old English is how close can you or should you stay to the original? Line 55 has the word ‘dreama’, and to a modern reader, we automatically want to translate that to ‘dream’. However, the Old English meaning is more like joy, ecstasy, happiness, mirth. Calling God the ruler of ‘Dreams’ keeps the sound of the original, but is then losing the intended meaning. Oh, translation dilemmas.

The other thing I found really interesting about this extract, is the word ‘dracan’ which the Bosworth-Toller tells us means either dragon, serpent or the devil (although it explicitly references ‘dracan’ from line 57 to mean the Devil). Choosing ‘serpent’ keeps the poem in line with the animal subject, the Panther, however if we take this allegorically, as Bosworth-Toller has, it is intriguing that the medieval writer imagines the devil as a dragon. The poem seems to have a focus on creation and destruction, but it seems ambiguous here who is the Creator. We would assume God, but He doesn’t seem to take ownership of the ‘other created things’, perhaps showing His humble nature. However as the dracan is the ‘origin of poison’, we see how the Devil is rooted in destruction, or anti-creation, if there is a difference.

ealda-feond

We had an interesting discussion about fyrnum teagum, as fyrnum conjures ideas of fire and hell, again linking back to the fire-breathing Devil. However, fyrnum also means ancient, which resonates with ealda. ‘Ancient bonds’ implies that this battle between good and evil is eternal, and will continue, despite the amount of suffering both sides endure. Are we reading too much into this Christian allegory though? Does this poem call upon religion to make sense, or is it demanding us to question its own origin: who is the Creator of this poem and who or what are they battling against?

By Serena Cooke, undergraduate, King’s College London English Department.

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