Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Zombies don't scare Hervor. Hervor doesn't scare Hervor.

I'm largely absent from blogging because I am down to the last several weeks of crunch-time on the Digital Hervararkviða (click here for the genesis of this project). The Facsimile layer is as close to finished as anything can be, and I am now working on punctuation for the diplomatic and normalized layers (as punctuation is essentially wholly absent in the original work), as well as a translation and introduction to the poem. The first draft is due to my advisers in a week or two.

I cannot resist commenting, however, on one of the differences between this version of the poem and the one that most people who have read it are likely to be familiar with: Christopher Tolkien's largely excellent 1958 edition of "The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise" (which you can find freely available online). Christopher Tolkien is mainly working from the R-text whereas I am working from the H-text. Without getting too much into the weeds, the two are quite different.

One of those differences comes in at Hervor's approach to her father's barrow. In Christopher Tolkien's edition it reads like this (translation his):

Now Hervor saw where out upon the island burned the fire of the barrows, and she went towards it without fear, though all the mounds were in her path. She made her way into these fires as if they were no more than mist, until she came to the barrow of the berserks.
Here's how that bit reads in the H-text:

hón sá nú hauga eldana ok haugbúa úti standa ok gengr til hauganna ok hræðisk ekki ok óð hón eldana sem reyk þar til er hón kom at haugi berserkjanna þá kvað hón...

And my translation:

She saw now the barrow-fires, and the cairn-dwellers standing outside, and unfrightened she went to the barrow. She waded through the fires there as if they were smoke, until she came to the barrow of the berserks. Then she said...

The word haugbúi (absent in Christopher Tolkien's text) literally means "howe-dwellers." In other words, the dead. And the dead here appear to be out standing around as the barrow-fires* burn above their graves. Hervor simply ignores them, and in fact walks right past them. Not only is she fearless, she "hræðisk ekki." We would translate this as "frightened not," as in "she is not frightened, she is not afraid."

But -isk is the 3rd person present singular reflexive mediopassive ending. Literally "frightens-herself not." Now, we would correctly understand this as meaning she is not frightened, or perhaps that she does not allow herself to be frightened.

But I am amused by the idea that even Hervor doesn't scare Hervor.

*Barrow-fires refer to the ancient belief, still found up to recent times, that on certain nights of the year fires will hover over places, especially graves, where treasure is buried. There are a surprising number of words in Old Norse for this.

Currently reading: The summa of St John of Damascus
Current audio book: The Two Towers, by JRR Tolkien
Currently translating: The Hervararkviða

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