Tuesday, September 8, 2015


Old English Wisdom


Eleanor Parker tweets as A Clerk of Oxford and also Old English Wisdoms. I would like to be known as a boccræftig, a learned person; but alas! It is not to be so. In lieu of that, with Parker's permission, I have extracted a few Old English quotes from her tweets. All the translations are her own. The comprehensive list of "proverbs, maxims, and other miniature bits of wisdom and advice from Old English poetry and prose" is here.

As one poem says, Gleawe men sceolon gieddum wrixlan (wise men should exchange sayings), so I'm sharing some with you.

From Durham Cathedral, MS B. III. 32...

Geþyld byþ middes eades.
Patience is half of happiness.

Hwilum æfter medo menn mæst geþyrsteð.
Sometimes men are thirstiest after drinking mead.

Ne mæg man muþ fulne melewes habban and eac fyr blawan.
No one can have a mouth full of flour and also blow on a fire.

From The Seafarer from the Book Exeter...

Stieran mon sceal strongum mode, ond þæt on staþelum healdan.
One must steer a strong mind, and keep it steady.

From Widsith also from the Book of Exeter...

Sceal þeodna gehwylc þeawum lifgan.
Every ruler ought to live virtuously.
(Would that King Alfred the Great could rise from his grave and admonish our politicians!)

From Maxims I from the Book of Exeter...

Swa monige beoþ men ofer eorþan, swa beoþ modgeþoncas.
There are as many opinions as there are people on earth

From Solomon and Saturn II...

Bald bið se ðe onbyregeð boca cræftes.
Bold shall he be who tastes of the skill of books.

And my favorite one is from the poem Deor...

Þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg.
That passed away; so will this.

So why the picture of King Alfred the Great up top? "Alfred ... is closely associated, in history and legend, with teaching, translation, and the tradition of English 'wisdom.' Among his other achievements as king, Alfred arranged for the translation of—or perhaps even translated himself—a range of religious and philosophical texts into [Anglo-Saxon or Old] English, many of which have interesting things to say about how wisdom is to be gained and used."


0 comments: