Friday, March 03, 2006

Beowulf Hobbyists of the World, Unite!

I found this site about Beowulf via Language Hat, and it opens with this charming paragraph:
These pages present work done by translators of Old English, and Beowulf
scholars. I am a Beowulf hobbyist (how nerdy can you get!) and not an expert on
Anglo-Saxon literature or translation. But I do own about 140 books on Beowulf
and related topics, and I have tried to present information that will help
others to get started in their studying of the poem.

I've got to admit, this is the first time I've heard of a "Beowulf hobbyist," but it is a trend I'd like to encourage. The only part of this that makes me hesitate is the professional hazard of history professors, who often complain that they find themselves accosted by history hobbyists with conversations running like this:

Hobbyist: What is it you do?
Prof: I'm a history professor at Local University.
Hobbyist: Really? That's great! I happen to be a bit of a history buff
Prof: (Uh oh)
Hobbyist: What do you think about Major Doe's decision to charge at the
Battle of Whatever against the orders of General Roe?
Prof: I don't really know anything about that.
Hobbyist: Come on, you can level with me. My great-granddaddy was in that
charge. I've studied every detail of that decision.
Prof: Really, I don't know much about it. I'm not a Civil War
Hobbyist (with disgust): You don't have an opinion on Major Doe's Charge?
And you call yourself a history professor?

I'm just afraid that one day I'll run into Syd Allan on a flight, and he'll ask my opinion of the translation of a particular hapax legomenon.


  1. I'm not a professor, but even I get this kind of stuff when people hear I studied English literature. One person kept grilling me about various theories of Shakespeare's "true identity" and seemed rather shocked to discover that I wasn't "up" on all the theories.

  2. I would have to classify myself as a Beowulf hobbyist, too, since (alas!) I didn't even read it in modern English till a few years ago. That led me to the much broader field of Germanic languages and literature. If all goes well, academic studies of the same will happen in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, don't worry, I have enough contacts with academia to know better than accost professors. :-P I do hope to interest more lay people in Germanic literature and language issues through my own blog, which is ultimately just my way of keeping my finger in the Black Forest cake of Germanic studies.

  3. After seven years as a very part-time adjunct, I'm still amused by how irked my students are by all the things I don't know, examples of which have included medieval embroidery, Celtic languages, metallurgy, neopaganism, Scottish history, regional developments in medieval agriculture, and the 40 most recent fantasy novels about Arthur and Guenevere. Heck, I once had a student who criticized me for not handing back papers according to a system that conformed with game theory. For every nut, though, I meet at least five students who have something new to teach me, and their interest in some obscure area of medieval life plus a little research guidance often leads to some pretty good papers.

    What's harder is disabusing students of their cherished myths about the Middle Ages--but that's a subject for another post entirely.

  4. Thanks for introducing this site. I've added it to my blogroll links under Old English.

    My pet peeve is that so many people still refer to "The Dark Ages." But that's more to do with my interests in history...

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

  5. I feel your pain. The most common question I'll get about economics is about next quarter's forecasts, or interest rates, or a good stock to buy. (As if I'd be sitting in an advance-purchase seat in coach with that information!)

    My usual response is something along the lines of "economics is sex, death, and why the lines are longest at the rollercoaster."