Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Drout's Beowulf Basics

Michael Drout has a very timely post entitled "Beowulf Basics" over at Wormtalk and Slugspeak. At the risk of gushing, I think his post demonstrates exactly what academic blog posts can do: Drout gives a once-over-very-lightly view of Beowulf for a curious public, backed by his own erudition.

Posts like his are going to be very important in the next month for directing people to accurate resources about Beowulf, rather than vapid freshman papers on the subject.* To that end, I want to encourage all the Wordhoarders out there to link the phrase "Beowulf Basics" to Drout's post. If you look to the sidebar on the right, you'll see I've already put a permanent link to Beowulf Basics -- a pretty usual move for me, since those links are usually devoted to entire websites.**

My only point to add to Drout's post is about the title of my own blog. Every Anglo-Saxonist will right away understand the reference in "Unlocked Wordhoard," but sometimes I forget that it's specialized knowledge; over the past week, several people have asked me what it means. So, here 'tis:

"Unlocked Wordhoard" is a reference to an Old English (the language of the Anglo-Saxons) poetic image that we find a few times in the extant literature, and one of those times in Beowulf itself. You can see the lines in the original Old English, followed by the translation in Modern English, from lines 258-259 of the poem. The reference to "noblest of men" and "leader of the warrior band" is not, alas, a reference to me; it is a reference to Beowulf, the first time he speaks in the poem.

Anglo-Saxonists (people who study Old English literature, like me) all know this image; it's a favorite. The idea is that you have a big locked chest filled with your words, and when you speak, you open that hoard and give them to those around you. I suspect the ideal man was silent and stoic most of the time (hence the locked wordhoard), but when he finally did speak, his words were powerful and meaningful, like treasures from a hoard.

Drout's Beowulf Basics won't give any new information to specialists, but for most of the world out there, he has unlocked a hoard of useful and timely information about Beowulf. I would encourage others to link to it.

*These freshman papers usually start something like this: "In today's society, many people have many different points of view about Beowulf. This paper will examine some of those different perspectives..." At this point, my eyes begin to bleed.
**That makes two permalinks to Drout over there. I oughta start charging him a nickel a hit.


  1. Those of us late medievalists who teach Beowulf are also fond of the "unlocked wordhoard" image. Well, at least I know I am. I also just like the idea of a hoard of words (locked or not) and whenever it hits those points in the semester (midterm and the final weeks, usually) when I'm so tired I can't find the words to say what I want in class, I often just throw up my hands and say, "I'm sorry, the wordhoard seems to be empty."

    In conclusion*, I love the wordhoard image.

    *Yeah, that's a reference your footnote about student papers.

  2. Anonymous12:10 AM

    Hey Dr. Nokes, this is John Jackson, now over in California. Have you heard about Knott's Berry Farm's new haunt, "Beowulf: Labyrinth of Darkness?" I copied the link below. I don't know much about it, as I just saw a commercial about it a few minutes ago. But I thought you'd be interested to hear. Hope all is well!

  3. There's also the wonderful, and related, "unlocked his battle runes".