Hwaet! or Hwaet…?



A Manchester professor of linguistics has put the cat among the academic pigeons with his new claim that the word Hwaet, perhaps the most famous opening word of any work in the English language, has been mistranslated. He claims that the usual reading of the word, variously given as ‘Attend!’ ‘ Hear Me’! ‘Indeed!’ or as merely ‘So!’ in Seamus Heaney’s acclaimed (see below) 2000 translation, should not appear as a stand alone exhortation to the audience but as an integral part of the following sentence. Instead of  ‘So! The Spear-Danes in days gone by…’ it should read ‘So the Spear-Danes in days gone by…’ I must say that I like it. It is far less grand than the current translations, perhaps a touch more accessible for the masses and that can only be a good thing. Poor old Beowulf has been the subject of ‘fashionable’ translators for almost two centuries now and it would be good to get a more user friendly translation in circulation. I have to admit that I don’t really like the Heaney translation with its Hibernicisms. Why translate an ancient work and introduce words which themselves need translating into the text? Perhaps we could hit back with Brian Boru running up the apples and pears!

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Historical Novelist
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