Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Wyruld-Cyninga (I'm a Double BA!)

I graduated from college!

I finished Bachelors of Arts degrees in both Medieval Studies and English (British Literature), with a minor in Art History (because I'm not hardcore enough for the Art History major - seriously, it's a super tough major at Truman). To celebrate this achievement, I decided to paint an applicable portion of the Old English epic, Beowulf, onto my graduation cap. I chose Beowulf because it not only represents my English degree, but also the Northern European focus of my Medieval Studies degree, plus, I had just finished a course where we spent the entire semester translating the 3182-line poem from the original Anglo-Saxon. What I didn't expect, was that this project would take about 10 hours, keeping me up until 3 A.M. on the morning of my graduation.

I chose the very last sentence of the poem, its last three lines:

cwæðon þæt he wære   wyruld-cyninga,
manna mildust   ond mon-ðwærust,
leodum liðost   ond loft-geornost.

They said that of  all the kings in the world,
of men he [Beowulf] was the mildest and most beloved,
to his kin the kindest, and most eager for praise.

I painted these lines, and several preceding lines, on my cap based on a high resolution scan of the original manuscript page, available for free online, published by the British Library. This part of the Nowell Codex (the manuscript in which Beowulf covers folios 132r - 201v, dated to roughly 1000 AD) is heavily damaged, but it was still incredibly valuable and fascinating to get to work with a scan of the actual manuscript so that my finished product might be a more accurate representation of the original. For instance, the manuscript is not divided into metered lines, as in most translations and transcriptions, so I reflected this aspect with my painting. The orthography is also significantly different from Modern English.

This sentence gives a good picture into the contemporary culture of Anglo-Saxon England, especially with the phrase "most eager for praise." Today, living with the goal of earning other people's praise may sound self-righteous or arrogant, but in a highly community-focused culture (such as Beowulf's) where reputation was everything, it makes perfect sense. In general, decent people will praise that which is decent and good, so by being "most eager for praise," Beowulf would have been striving to live honorably and nobly.

This sentence means a lot to me because it is not only a highly honoring eulogy for the legendary monster and dragon-slaying king, Beowulf son of Ecgtheow, but it is also a standard worth striving for even today. Though the poem was not a Christian poem, this sentence exudes qualities I want to display in my own life. I strive to live such that the love that Christ showed to me by paying a debt I owed but could never pay would overflow from me in the form of a love and kindness for all people. I can't earn this redemption, but I want to glorify God with my life, thereby living such that I'll earn His praise and one day He'll say to me "well done, my good and faithful servant."


  1. Hi Deanna,
    Thanks for your cool articles and congratulations on your BA BA!
    Since you just finished translating all of Beowulf, would you mind terribly if you looked over a short list of OE words our Australian re-enactment group is trying to compile?

    1. Hi Ben!
      (Sorry for my delayed reply here!) I'd be happy to help out if I can! Is this something that can be done over email? Mine is dml1466 (@) Truman.edu

  2. I like your blog. I first read your post on how to make medieval shoes.

    I would describe people who are eager for praise as "self-conscious or egotistical." Self-righteous is more like being vindictive.

    I have a newfound interest in medieval history!