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 Post subject: BEOWULF
PostPosted: Tue Aug 12, 2008 6:53 am 
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Hey guys, I've been reading thru Beowulf recently and have found some very interesting lines. Keep in mind this is a Poem that was written in the 8th century about events that happened in the 6th century.

So what's so interesting? Beowulf and his Geats are decribed as wearing Iron Breastplates over ringed mail. This flies in the face of historians who claim that Plate armour disapered after the fall of the Roman Empire (5th century) and didn't resurface until the late 13th century when single plates protected joints and grieves to protect the shins. Breastplates are said to have only made a reappearance in the 14th century.

So what then are we to assume? Perhaps that 8th century writers remember Plate Armour from hundreds (400+) of years earlier and attributed it to the Heroes of the poem, or that plate armour (especaialy Breastplates) did indeed survive in the north to atleast the 6th century?

I find this extremely fascinating, and found myself wondering, if one was to play a campaign set in the 6th century and decided that the elite warriors did indeed have breastplates (or iron) what stats would one use?

Cheers & God Bless!

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"It was hard-fought, a desperate affair that could have gone badly; if God had not helped me, the outcome would have been quick and fatal" (115) ~ Beowulf after defeating Grendle's Mother.


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 Post subject: Re: BEOWULF
PostPosted: Tue Aug 12, 2008 7:44 am 
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Well, I am certainly no expert on the period, but I am always very reserved as to new interpretations. The point is that you ar enot the only one to have read Beowulf; in fact, specialists of Anglosaxon culture and know Beowuld and itsinterpretations by heart.

My first reservation is to the very word “breastplate”. This is a translaton of some Anglosaxon word, and it need not necessarily be a correct translation. Especially in regard to technical terms, which require very specialized knowledge, translations are often way off the mark. So before getting all excited, get yourself a translation with ample annotation and see what the commentator says about the breastplate-thing there.

My second reservation, even if the term “breastplate” is correct, would be that it can mean a lot different things from a proper cuirass. Look at these reconstruction drawings of warriors from Italy of the 5th and 4th centuries BC:

Image

Breastplate alright, but still a far call from plate armour. So the term “breastplate”, even if translated properly, can mean a lot of different things, and as long as you don’t know what exactly what the author is referring to, I see little point in statting out the breastplate from Beowulf.

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 Post subject: Re: BEOWULF
PostPosted: Tue Aug 12, 2008 12:58 pm 
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Firstly I'd like to apologize for using the word Breastplate, the actual word used in the tanslation is Corselet and it is translated from the Old English word Guðbyrne. Now Guð simply means War or Battle, however the tricky part is the word Byrne.

Byrne as far as I can tell is always translated as Corselet, and a Corselet is a Breastplate that connects to a backplate. However later uses of the word Byrnie (not Byrne) refer to Mail.

Now usually I would simply consider Guðbyrne to mean mail, however the passage that it is taken from:

STONE-BRIGHT the street:1 it showed the way
to the crowd of clansmen. Corselets glistened
hand-forged, hard; on their harness bright
the steel ring sang, as they strode along
in mail of battle, and marched to the hall.

seems to imply it is worn over the ring-mail, however if one takes the original:

Stræt wæs stanfah, stig wisode
gumum ætgædere. Guðbyrne scan
heard hondlocen, hringiren scir
song in searwum, þa hie to sele furðum
in hyra gryregeatwum gangan cwomon.

and translates it word for word (this is the best I could do):

Street was stone-paved, road wisode
Heroes together. War-Corselet shone.
Hard hand-locked, ring-mail bright
Song with skill, when he spared hall at first
With follower fierce-Geats progress (together?)

The BOLDED text is untranslated.

Then it seems to loose this implication. Yet still in other places it is translated as Corselet (Breastplate).

I'll keep looking into it I guess.

Cheers!

PS: Note that in the Word for Word translation the fourth line reads Song with skill (Skill here is Dative), when he spared hall at first. This line is very different from the often translated texts which merge this line with the next, implying the warriors sing as the march to the hall. However when taken by itself it seems to imply that the Armour was a gift that was given to Beowulf when he first saved a hall, and the deeds are sung about with skill. *Shrugz* it is often hard to translate directly, as I'm not skilled with the differences in word-order.

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"It was hard-fought, a desperate affair that could have gone badly; if God had not helped me, the outcome would have been quick and fatal" (115) ~ Beowulf after defeating Grendle's Mother.


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 Post subject: Re: BEOWULF
PostPosted: Tue Aug 12, 2008 2:03 pm 
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No need whatsoever to apologize.

But if you want to look into the meaning of the term “Guðbyrne” in Beowulf, I can tell you how to go about a proper text analysis (you know that this is a main part of how I earn my living):

First, you have to compile all passages from Beowulf containing the word “Guðbyrne”, and then you have to compile all passages containing possible synonyms like Byrne alone, or ringmail, or whatever other terms are used for body armour. You have to do both from the original text, not from a translation. When you have got these passages, you can start to compare them. Does a pattern in the usage of the terms emerge? In what instances does the poet use one term and when another? Does he use “Guðbyrne” differently from “Byrne” and other terms for body armour, or does he use them interchangably? That’s the only way to find out what exactly the poet means with the word “Guðbyrne” – and the result may well be inconclusive.

But to be honest, I doubt that this effort is worth it. Beowulf is the holy cow of scholars of the Vikings and Anglo-Saxons, and it has already been sieved through word for word by hundreds or more probably thousands of properly trained full-time scientists. The possibility that this army of scientist has missed something even middling important is a very remote one – though it does of course exist.

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My real name is Michael; use it, if you like.


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