From Frank Herbert's Dune: The Litany Against Fear (Translated into Old English and Old Norse)

The Old Norse I rendered into lines of Málaháttr. (I originally wanted to do it into a Skaldic meter, but then I realized what a mess I was getting into.) The Old English version is rendered into the usual verse-line. I must say, it felt less jarring to render it into Old Norse than Old English. The mood of lines like this has plenty more precedent to build on in Norse. For the Old English, the scansion relies on an archaic value of symbel without vowel-parasiting.

"I shall not fear. Fear is the mind-killer...."

Old English

Iċ ne forhtiġe wiht.
 Fyrhtu biþ mōdbana.
Fyrhtu biþ smældēaþ
 þe mē on symbel dīedeþ
Swelte iċ unforht
 āne sīðe

Old Norse

Ekki mun ek óttask.
 Ótti er móðbani.
Ótti er smádauðinn
 er optliga deyðir.
Óttalauss dey ek
 einu sinni.

Here's the Norse version in runes. Against my better judgment.

Anonymous: Deor (From Old English)

This poem refers to stock characters — real and fictional — from Germanic lore. Some of the figures are now obscure, and most are not known directly from Old English versions of the story.

I originally included some thoughts about the dating of this and other Old English poems dealing with Germanic lore, but it mushroomed into a big honking piece of tl;dr, so I moved all that to this page on my other blog.

I have modernized many of the names, giving them forms that would be plausible as Modern English versions of the name. The biggest exception is Wayland, whose Old English name would actually have been Weeland had it survived into the modern period.

Wayland (Old English Wēland, Old Norse Vǫlundr, Old High German Wiolant) was a smith renowned for his metal working ability. He was forced to work for Nithad (OE Niþhad, ON Níðuðr) who hamstrung him to stop his escape. Wayland avenged himself by killing the king's sons, raping his daughter Beadild (OE Beadohilde, ON Bǫðvildr). Mathild and Geat are opaque. They appear to be famous lovers that met a tragic end, like Romeo and Juliet, or Layla and Majnun. The ablest guess is that they correspond to Magnhild and Gaute of a Scandinavian ballad tale recorded in the 19th century, but even if so the story as it was known to the poet's English audience may well have differed greatly from the version known from Scandinavia a thousand years later. Thedric is Theodoric, the Ostrogothic emperor who ruled in Italy from 493 to 526. Armenric is Ermanaric the Goth, another famous tyrant, known to us from Beowulf and Widsith. (I confected the form Armenric by positing that the vowel of Eormanric underwent pre-rhotic lowering to /a/ in Late Middle English and, as in most native words, failed to raise again in the Early Modern period. Eormanric -> Armenric just like feorr, deorc->far, dark.)

In coming up with a phonology for my audio recording, the question "what did this poem sound like when it was first composed?" does not afford a very useful answer. My bet would be that it was composed in some Anglian dialect, some time in the 8th or early 9th century, but that would just be guessing apart from being uselessly broad. It is much easier to imagine what this poem sounded like when it was read by an early reader of the Exeter book, whose proposed dates for compilation run from roughly 950 to 990. However old or new this poem (or song?) may be, somebody was copying it out in the late 10th century into an MS which wound up in the hands of Leofric the Bishop of Exeter. What you hear in my audio recording is my best guess at what the poem might have sounded like when read aloud by Leofric, i.e. pretty much the same pronunciation I used for the West Saxon version of Bede's Death Song. I posit, following Minkova and Hogg, that reduction of inflectional vowels to /ǝ/ at this point was largely complete, with perhaps sporadic differentiation in careful spelling-based pronunciation. The monophthongization of the "short" diphthongs is a done deal as well. The sounds spelled eo and ēo in normalized orthography are now /ø/ and /øː ~ øɵ̯/. I also effect the so-called "Late West Saxon Smoothing" of <ea> in various environments.

Audio of me reciting the original text in (Very) Late West Saxon

By Anonymnous
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

In Wormland, Wayland went through harrows,
The strongminded smith suffered in exile.
His soul-companions were sorrow and cold
In wintry exile. He ached for escape
When Nithad caught and crippled him,
And strung him down with severed sinews,
Binding a slave of the better man.

That passed in time. This can too. 

To Beadild's mind her brothers' deaths
Weren't as wounding as what she faced
Herself when she came to clearly see
That she was pregnant. That princess unmarried
Could not know what would come of her,
Tried not to recall the rape had happened.

That passed in time. This can too.

In a hundred songs we have heard the pang
Of Mathild and Geat who grew a bottomless
And baneful love   that banished sleep.

That passed in time. This can too.

We all know how Thedrick for thirty winters
Ruled the Mearings then reigned no more.

That passed in time. This can too.

We all have heard of Armenrick's
Wolfsick mind. He was one cruel king
Who ruled over the outland Goths.
His state was set in strung-up hearts 
As strongmen sat in sorrow-shackles
Awaiting the worst, wishing often
For a foe to liberate the land of their king.

That passed in time. This can too.

A man sits mournful, his mind ripped from joy,
His spirit in dark and deeming himself
Foredoomed to endure ordeals forever.
Then he may think how throughout the Midworld
The Wise God goes and works around:
Meting out grace, mercy and certain
Success to some, suffering to many.

Of myself I have this much to say:
I was songmaker for a time  to the tribe of Heden,
Dear to my master. "Deor" was my name.
For many seasons  I sang in that hall
To the heart of my king. But Herrend now
Has reaped the riches and rights of land
That guardian of men  once granted me,
Stolen my place  with a poet's skill. 

That passed in time. This can too.

The Original:

Wēland him be wurman  wræċes cunnade,
ānhȳdiġ eorl  earfoða drēag,
hæfde him tō ġesīþþe  sorge ond longaþ,
winterċealde wræce;  wēan oft onfond,
siþþan hine Nīþhād on  nēde leġde,
swoncre seonobende  on syllan monn.

Þæs oferēode,  þisses swā mæġ.

Beadohilde ne wæs  hyre brōðra dēaþ
on sefan swā sār  swā hyre sylfre þing,
þæt hēo ġearolīce  onġieten hæfde
þæt hēo ēacen wæs;  ǣfre ne meahte
þrīste ġeþencan,  hū ymb þæt sċeolde.

Þæs oferēode,  þisses swā mæġ.

Wē þæt Mæþhilde  monġe ġefrūnon
wurdon grundlēase  Ġēates frīge,
þæt him sēo sorglufu  slǣp ealle binom.

Þæs oferēode,  þisses swā mæġ.

Þēodrīċ āhte  þrītiġ wintra
Mǣringa burh;  þæt wæs monegum cūþ.

Þæs oferēode, þisses swā mæġ.

Wē ġeāscodan  Ēormanrīċes
wylfenne ġeþōht;  āhte wīde folc
Gotena rīċes.  Þæt wæs grim cyning.
Sæt seċġ moniġ  sorgum ġebunden,
wēan on wēnan,  wyscte ġeneahhe
þæt þæs cynerīċes  ofercumen wǣre.

Þæs oferēode,  þisses swā mæġ.

Siteþ sorgċeariġ,  sǣlum bidǣled,
on sefan sweorceþ,  sylfum þinceþ
þæt sȳ endelēas  earfoða dæl.
Mæġ þonne ġeþencan,  þæt ġeond þās woruld
wītiġ dryhten  wendeþ geneahhe,
eorle monegum  āre geṡċeawaþ,
wīslīcne blǣd,  sumum wēana dǣl.

Þæt iċ bi mē sylfum  secgan wille,
þæt iċ hwīle  wæs Heodeninga scop,
dryhtne dȳre.  Mē wæs Dēor nama.
Āhte iċ fela wintra  folgaþ tilne,
holdne hlāford,  oþþæt Heorrenda nū,
lēoþcræftiġ monn  londryht ġeþāh,
þæt mē eorla hlēo  ǣr ġesealde.

Þæs oferēode,  þisses swā mæġ.

Manuscript of Dēor in the Exeter Book:

Beowulf 2231-2266: Lament of the Last Survivor (From Old English)

Beowulf finds treasure in the hoard left by a man of a vanished nation, the last survivor of a people who lived in an even earlier age before the Migration Era in which the poem is set. 

The Beowulf poet alludes to a number of legendary episodes (often from stories that are now unknown apart from their oblique mention in this poem), and generally names the participants. Sometimes that's all he does. The audience would be expected to know, for example, who Hrothmund, Heorogar and Ecgtheow were (the former two names are completely unknown outside of Beowulf, and the latter only from Scandinavian legend). 

This larger narrative context gives especial point to the fact that the man figuring this digression here is completely anonymized. With no one left to carry on the tribe’s history, the whole heroic ideal of being made immortal through imperishable fame is meaningless. His name is dead, and so too should his story be. 

And yet, the story lives in this poem. We are hearing a story we ought not to be able to hear. Invited to consider how many tribes and nations have simply disappeared and left not so much as a name, our imagination allows us to remember what we cannot remember. 

The man himself has no use for the treasures of his nation now, and so decides to bury in a hoard. With no one left to talk to, he addresses himself to the earth as it receives his tribe's now-meaningless treasure. The episode prefigures the end of the poem, where the Geatfolk bury a hoard with their slain king. 

Lament of the Last Survivor 
(Beowulf 2231-2266)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

  That earth-house teemed with ancient treasures.  
In days long gone a forgotten man,
brooding and prudent, buried dear riches,
the heaped legacy of a highborn race,
in this undervault.  Vulturing death
had taken them all  in times gone by,
and left only one who walked there still,
the last survivor of a fallen tribe,
a friend-grieving watchman,  awaiting their fate,
hoping to relish  these rare hallgifts
in his brief last days. The barrow was ready
built on the plain  by breaking sea,
secured by hardcraft set on the headland.
That ring-keeper  carried inside
all the gold-plated  goods that he had
worth protecting.  His words were these few:
  "Hold now, O earth what heroes cannot,
the wealth of earls. Men of honor
first delved it from you.  Deathblow battle
has wrung them down, ruinous carnage
and mortal evil took every mortal
man of my clan. They quit this life
and its meadhall mirth. For me there are none
to bear a sword  or burnish the cup's
meadgold. My glory of men has left.
The hard helmet hasped in goldwork
must lose its hoop. The helm-shiner sleeps
who once burnished my battle-mask. 
The war-mantle that weathered brawls
through the burst of shields  and the bite of steel
decays with the warrior. The whorled hauberk
will wander no more on the warchief's shoulders
beside his braves.  No more brilliant harps'
tune of timber, no trained falcon
swooping the songhall, no swiftfoot horse 
pawing the courtgrounds. Plunder and slaughter
oust whole peoples out of existence."

The Original:

      þǣr wæs swylcra fela
in ðām eorðhūse     ǣrġestrēona,
swā hȳ on ġēardagum     gumena nāthwylc,
eormenlāfe     æþelan cynnes,
þanchycgende     þǣr gehȳdde,
dēore māðmas.     Ealle hīe dēað fornam
ǣrran mǣlum,     ond se ān ðā gēn
lēoda duguðe,     se ðǣr lengest hwearf,
weard winegēomor,     wēnde þæs ylcan,
þæt hē lȳtel fæc     longġestrēona
brūcan mōste.     Beorh eallġearo
wunode on wonge     wæterȳðum neah,
nīwe be næsse,     nearocræftum fæst.
Þǣr on innan bær     eorlġestrēona
hringa hyrde     hordwyrðne dǣl,
fǣttan goldes,     fēa worda cwæð:
Heald þū nū, hrūse, nū hæleþ ne mōston,
eorla ǣhte. Hwæt! Hit ǣr on þē
gōde beġeāton; gūðdēaþ fornam,
feorhbealo frēcne fȳra ġehwylcne,
lēoda mīnra,  þāra þe þis līf ofġeaf,
ġesāwon seledrēamas. Nāh hwā sweord weġe
oþþe forþ bere fǣted wǣġe,
drynċfæt dēore: duguþ ellor sceōc.
Sċeal se hearda helm hyrstedgolde
fǣtum befeallen: feormiend swefaþ,
þā þe beadogrīman bȳwan sċeoldon,
ġē swylċe sēo herepād, sīo æt hilde ġebād
ofer borda ġebræc bite īrena,
brosnaþ æfter beorne. Ne mæġ byrnan hring
æfter wīġfruman wīde fēran,
hæleðum be healfe; næs hearpan wyn,
gomen glēobēames, nē gōd hafoc
ġeond sæl swingeþ, nē se swifta mearh
burhstede bēateþ. Bealocwealm hafaþ
fela feorhcynna forþ onsended!

Beowulf 1-11: The Rise of Shield Sheafling (From Old English)

If I'm going to deal with Beowulf, I might as well just lay my cards on the table and come clean. Literary historians and historical linguists have taken to each other's metaphorical throats over whether Beowulf can or can't be dated securely as an early text. Surveying the battlefield from my vantage point in the cross-fire between two disciplines near to my heart and dear to my head, I cannot escape the conclusion that — on this point — the linguists are in the right. An early 8th century date seems about right.

Beowulf is an early poem out of a lost world. In a very important way, that was already true in turn-of-the-millennium Wessex. By the time the Nowell Codex was produced around 1000 AD, written Old English itself was probably a somewhat more "artificial" language than it had been in the pre-Alfredian period. The language of Old English verse in particular — and a poem like this especially — was rather removed from anybody's everyday speech. This poem, one of the oldest to have survived (and I think probably the oldest extant poetic text of any length), posed serious comprehension problems for the scribes copying it.

Imagine that our only source for the Canterbury Tales were a single manuscript copied out in 1600 by two scribes ignorant of the fact that final -e was once pronounced as its own syllable.

Assumptions about the undatability and geographic unplaceability of Beowulf — at least among literary historians — have basically allowed a great many scholars to read the text in a context of their choosing. The early date of the text, though, was never really questioned by actual linguists who have worked on it, and with good reason. Not only do many lines only scan properly if one substitutes Mercian forms, but the copyists either didn't care or didn't notice. Several able studies have shown that the scribes of our text were insensitive to the metrical principles that the actual poet/s operated with. Work on Late Old English meters suggests that the scribes would have understood poem's meter as a line of four conceptually equal accentual peaks, which is also how I translate it. Indeed, Beowulf's versification is unique in being sensitive to distinctions of vowel length in unstressed syllables. There is also exhaustively documented evidence that the scribes often had a hard time understanding what they were reading. They misread proper names that had not been common for two centuries, and sometimes found Anglian dialect forms baffling. All of this and more conspires to support one conclusion: the language of Beowulf is genuinely archaic, not the product of a late poet’s attempt to recreate an early style.

Everyone who deals with the Beowulf text must either decide which emender to trust, or use their own judgment as to which emendations to accept. I have done the latter, and for the opening passage here translated, two of my emendations are present in the Old English text as I give it. Neither of them finds much general favor these days in the literary side of Beowulf studies. One, though (a trivial deletion) is generally supported by linguists. The other, of greater consequence, is more circumstantial but also cooler.

My audio recording of the original text is not in the Late West Saxon of the surviving MS but —for a change of pace — in a hypothetical transposition into Mercian. This has a few auditory consequences, such as turning the famous initial hwæt into hwet. (I had to take a stand on the diphthong controversy, so a stand I took. I have pronounced the "short" diphthongs as rising diphthongs, as opposed to the "long" falling diphthongs. Because that's what the balance of evidence tells me they were.)

Alright, now that I've fired the prerequisite shots, let's get down to brass tacks and have a translation. I said it is a poem out of a lost world. A lot of translators for the past century have done their part to make it more accessible to people in this one. Let me try. I'll start with the famous first lines.

The Rise of the Shield Sheafling
Opening of Beowulf (1-11)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

HEAR! We have heard of hero glory,
of Speardane Kings,  the strength and deeds
of Clan Princes whose craft was courage.
How often Shield Sheafling shattered an enemy
horde in a swordcloud seizing meadhalls
of tribe after tribe, a terror to lords,
berserking the Earlings. In Ancient Denmark,
a sorry foundling,  he soon flourished
to heights under heaven hale with warglory
till every neighbor and outland tribe
beyond the whale-run yielded power,
praise and gold.  Good king in deed.

Audio of me reciting the text

The Original:

Hwæt wē Gār-Dena     in ġeārdagum
þēodcyninga     þrymm gefrūnon·
hū þā æðelinas     ellen fremedon·
Oft Scyld Scēfing     sceaðena þrēatum
monegum mǣġþum     meodosetla oftēah·
eġsode Eorle     syþþan ǣrest wearð
fēasceaft funden     Hē þæs frōfre gebād·
wēox under wolcnum·     weorðmyndum þāh
oþ þæt him ǣġhwylc     ymbsittendra
ofer hronrāde     hȳran scolde
gomban gyldan·     þæt wæs gōd cyning·


L5: Like Tom Shippey, I accept Wrenn's emendation of <eorl> to eorle rather than the standard eorlas. It's an emendation that is now out of general favor (note the skeptical note on p. 112 of the latest Klaeber edition). Though it does have its supporters, which appear to be growing in number. The connection with the Eruli about whom Jordanes report that they were expelled from Scandinavia by the Danes is compelling. Even if it didn't actually happen that way, legends telling of it were clearly known to Jordanes, and may have influenced lore about the Migration Era. I find the common restoration of <eorl(as)> unsatisfactory. It is hard to understand why a scribe would have written <eorl> if his exemplar had <eorlas>. Eorlas is a common form of a common word which would not be susceptible to enormous scribal troubles, whereas one can easily see how a scribe would have seen Eorle and thought it was simply an ungrammatical dative and "corrected" it to <eorl> instead. Slips even in common words do happen, despite the scribes' obvious care. But obscure proper names clearly gave the scribes great trouble at almost every turn, and I see no reason not to reconstruct one here, given that the manuscript form <eorl> is clearly corrupt and metrically faulty.

Also (and this is the important part) I just think it’s cool. It makes a cooler poetic line with a proper name as the culmination of a long clause. I pulled the form “Earling” in my translation pretty much out of my ass. It's a term that fits the orthographic, morphological and phonological patterns of inherited English vocabulary, it should work like an obscure proper name ought to. Basically I just did what felt right aesthetically. There is no need for medievalists need to treat these texts as museum pieces all the time. We are allowed to have fun. It is true that if one imagines these reconstructed Eorle as the Heruli (and assuming that these are the same Heruli as were later living around the Sea of Azov), then the beginning of this poem's back-story would have to be set in the early 3rd century AD, which doesn't really square with the timeline. Only five generations are described separating Scyld from Hroðulf, which hardly allows for enough of a gap between the era of Scyld and the early 6th century AD which (based on the mention of Hygelac's raid on the Frisians) would seem to be the time-frame in which our poem is set. But epic poetry does not have to be (and in fact almost never is) strictly faithful to actual chronology.

L9: I have excised <þara> from L9, as it is suspicious on several grounds. Not least the fact that it is a wildly unmetrical line, and requires þāra to be construed as an unemphatic function word. Such a construction conforms to later usage, and probably seemed natural to the scribes, but it is at odds with the general practice of the poem which treats se as a demonstrative pronoun. Moreover, minor words of this kind are precisely the sort of words that late Wessex scribes are known (based on other evidence) to have freely interpolated into the texts they transmitted. The archetypal half-line was probably a standard D-type verse consisting of a single word ymbsittendra. The Klaeber edition even says outright that þāra "is likely enough a scribal insertion", but leaves it in because "the stylistic rule is flexible...and emendation on the basis of meter is now largely avoided". It's my position that Beowulf's most influential editors have been far too conservative in their emendations. The "Dating Debate" is father to a generalized chronological agnosticism, which prompts uncertainty about how much or how little garbling one may expect in the text. 

Li Bai: Airs of Ancientry No.14 "Lament of the Empire's Conscript" (From Chinese)

Airs of Ancientry No.14 – Lament of the Empire's Conscript   
By Lǐ Bái
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original in a reconstructed Medieval Chang'anese pronunciation

At the border post ablast with sand
And grim with wind since god knows when 
Where leaves are felled on fall-tawned grass
From my tower I eye enemy terrain,
See weed-choked forts in wasteland abandoned,
The marchland towns where not a wall remains,
The whitebleached bones a thousand frosts have weathered
The jumbled barrows that brushwood invades.
Who was it brought this brute havoc?
Vaunting Northmen moved with violent bane,
So flamed with anger our emperor
Bade army-drums beat for a war.
His spring-gentle mind turned murderous weather, 
He sent out the troops and turmoiled the state
With three hundred  sixty thousand men
Now it's sorrow and tears of sorrow like rain.
It grieved us but no they make us go.
Can we work our farms in these wild acres? 
Till you've seen the boys serving at the border,
You don't grasp the pain  of a borderland gate. 
Today Commander  Li Mu is no more.
Frontier boys are just  jackal prey.

The Original: 



Venerable Bede: Deathsong (From Old English)

Death Song
Attributed to the Venerable Bede
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Before departing  on the compelled journey
Through death's narrows,   none is so clever
That he knows his own end and needn't think
On what judgment he'll get for good or evil,
Consider the soul's sentencing hereafter.

Audio of me reciting the text in Very Late West Saxon

Audio of me reciting the text in Old Northumbrian

I plan to write something up with further explanation of what you hear in these recordings, as part of my Voices of Earlier English series. Two points right now.
Point the first: yes, we do have evidence for that uvular R in Old Northumbrian. (In fact, the uvular R survived in Northumbrian English into the 20th century and is still not quite dead yet.)
Point the second: my reading of the West Saxon text aims at the sound of the language in the early 11th century, which is why you hear all that vowel reduction. One way of putting it would be that I tried to imagine how a pupil of Ælfric of Eynsham would have read this text. Another would be to cut the bullshit and admit that I chose this date in order to weasel out of having to commit myself to one or another position about the"short" digraphs ĕa ĕo in this dialect. The traditional explanation is typologically implausible, but has endured in the literature because all the alternative accounts raise problems of their own. The question, like the mystery of what name Achilles took when he hid among the women, has given a great many nerds something to do. I think I know what the answer is, but I'll save that for my VOEE post. Anyway, an 11th century date allows me to just take ĕa as having already merged with /æ/ in this dialect, and ĕo as having the late value of /œ/. Both of which are uncontroversial and don't cause problems.

The Original:

(West Sахon)

For þām nīedfere  nǣniġ wyrþeþ
þances snotora,  þonne him þearf sȳ
tō ġehycgenne  ǣr his heonangange
hwæt his gāste  gōdes oþþe yfeles
æfter dēaþe heonon  dēmed weorþe.


Fore þēm nēdfæræ  nǣnig wiorðit
þoncsnotora  þan him þarf sīe
tō ymbhycggannæ  ǣr his hionongǣ,
hwæt his gāstæ  gōdæs æþþa yflæs
æfter dēoþdæge dœ̄mid wiorðæ

Du Fu: Expressing What Struck Me (From Chinese)

Expressing What Struck Me
By Du Fu
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

The blades of war  are still not laid to rest 
 Where are my sister  where are my brothers today? 
I wipe away tears  like blood upon my breast 
 I comb my hair  strands fill my face with grey
Low is the land here  vast, the wilderness 
 Distant, the heavens  laggard, the twilight river
Sick and decrepit  how can I last much longer?  
 I'm sure I'll get  no chance to see you ever 

The Original:
(Medieval Chinese transcribed using a slight modification of David Branner's system)

遣興      khán3by hèng3
杜甫      duó1a  puó3c  

干戈猶未定,  kan1 kwe1 you3b3a dèing4
弟妹各何之。  dèi4 mèi1a kak1 ghe1 tsyi3d
拭淚霑襟血,  syek3 lwì3c tram3b kem3x hwat4
梳頭滿面絲。  sruo3b dou1 mán1 màn3by si3d
地卑荒野大,  drì3c pi3by hwang1 yá3 dè1
天遠暮江遲。  than4 ghwán3a muò1 kong2 dri3c
衰疾那能久,  srwi3c dzet3b né1 neng1 kóu3b
應無見汝時。  èng3 muo3c kàn4 nyuó3b dzyi3d

Al-Mutanabbi: On the Recapture of Al-Ḥadath (From Arabic)

A draft of this translation has been on my "unfinished" pile for over ten years. I now have managed to finish it. That draft was my first attempt at translating Classical Arabic verse, and at some point in the process I came up with a new verse-form that seemed fit for purpose, combining assonance with a four-beat alliterative meter (loosely based on Old English verse, though with many restrictions relaxed). I've never used that form since, and I don't know if I ever will.

The year is 954 A.D. Al-Ḥadath Al-Ḥamrā is a strategically important town on the Arab-Byzantine border, between Marˁaš and Malaṭiya, which depended for protection on a fortress built on nearby Mount Uḥaydib. After being captured and demilitarized in 950 by the Byzantines, it was retaken in October of 954 by Sayfu l-Dawla Abū Ḥasan Bin Ḥamdān, the Emir of Aleppo (whom I have seen fit to anglicize as Lord Ali the Realmsword) who set about refortifying it, only to be interrupted by the appearance of Byzantine forces under the command of Bardas Phocas. Before the end of the month, a decisive battle was fought around Mount Uhaydib. After a day of heavy fighting, Lord Realmsword with a small company of hardened men broke through the Byzantine line. Bardas' forces retreated, leaving members of his own family as prisoners. Lord Realmsword was then able to finish up the fortification of Al-Hadath, whereupon he had the pleasure of hearing his court poet Abū Ṭayyib Al-Mutanabbī recite the poem translated here in celebration of the occasion.

Audio of me reciting the text in Arabic

In Praise of Lord Realmsword on the Recapture of Al-Hadath
By Al-Mutanabbī
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
This translation is dedicated to Tahera Qutbuddin, in whose wonderful seminar I had the pleasure of reading this and other poems by Al-Mutanabbī and got some idea of how to translate him. 
Men of stature set high standards
 as noble men reach noble aims.
Resolutions measure the resolve of men
 who show what they're made of with what they make.
Great feats are small in great men's eyes
 though small men call their smallness great.(1)

Behold our commander Ali bin Hamdan,
 and see in him our Sword of State.
He wills that his forces
 show the force of his will
 though the task puts lance-honed legions to shame,
He expects of his men
 no more than himself
 but more than land-ruling lions can claim.
The long-lived vultures
 of  the vast drylands
 would pledge their lives to protect his blades.
They'd meet no harm though made with no talons
 since his sturdy arms of steel were made.

Does that Red City
 still realize her color,(2)
 whether cloudbursts brought her the blood or the rain?
Where first she drank of flashing stormclouds
 she drank of skulls the day he came.
While blade beat blade he built and braced her
 where she shook from the force of the Fates' brute waves.
She lay mad in the hold
 of an unholy spell
 that dead bodies broke at break of day.

Though Fate displaced her
 to a foreign creed,
 the strike of your swords restored her Faith.
What nights yield to you
 is yours forever.
 What they steal from you they soon must repay.
Plans you pass are verbs
 in the present now 
 having moved to past before men can negate them.
How could Greeks and Russmen
(3)  raze a stronghold
 raised with pikethrusts  for pillars and base.
No wronged man died nor wrongdoer lived
 when they called her to justice. The Judge was Fate.

They moved on you hauling such a mass of steel
 their coursers seemed legless crossing the plain.
When they flashed, their blades  all blended in
 with steel headgear and garments aglint with day,
An army crawling from east and west
 clamoring till the ears of Orion(4) ached,
A horde of tangled tongues and peoples
 with translators for every order relayed. 

Then that molten time melted fake mettle 
 till only war's metal and men remained
Every sword shattered that failed to shatter
 the bulwark of bloodwood and bucklers and mail
Every man who turned gutless in fear of gutting
 fled from the ranks of fighters that day. 
Where standing meant death you stood your ground
 as if on the sleeping eyelids of bane.
While wounded, fright-fouled warriors ran past you
 you fought with a smile and a shining face
and went beyond bounds of bravery and reason
 till they said you knew the Numen's ways.

I know how hawks  will hold birds down
 in a grip to gut  their grounded game.(5)
You squeezed the foe's wings on a squirming heart
 and dealt hard death to your downed prey
and skivered their skulls when you still hadn't won
 then their vitals and throats as victory came. 
You detested lances  and tossed them aside
 as the sword went spitting on the spear at close range. 

Let any who look for the light of conquest
 see it in the luster of lightweight blades.
You strewed them hard over Uháydib like dirhams
 strewn over a woman on her wedding day.  
You and your horses trampled hilltop nests
 where fodder galore before them lay.
The baby eaglets  thought you'd brought their mothers back
 not the sturdy wingfoot  steeds that raced
till they slipped and you had them slide on their bellies 
 across the earth like crawling snakes. 

Will the Domesticus(6) advance every day against you
 with coward neck fighting  his advancing face? 
Does he not sense the lion's  scent till he tastes it?
 Wildbeasts can sense a lion on the way. 
Our leader's brute sorties struck him hard 
 when his son, his wife's brother  and his son were slain.
He scampered as his troops helped him escape the swords
 which were busy hacking  their heads away. 
He got the message  of Mashrafi(7) steel
 to his men, though told  in the tongue of strangers. 
He was glad to surrender not in stupidity
 but after his losses even life was a gain. 
You are no mere king who conquers his peer(8)
     but the thrust of one God felling three-god pagans,
You have ennobled  all of Adnan(9),
  Pride of the Outlands(10) and all creation. 
The praise is yours for my pearls of verse:
 I just string them.  You set their shape.   
Your gifts(111) gallop with me through the grind of war
 so you bear no regrets and I no blame
Riding a steed whose feet  fly to battle
 as soon as it hears the howling fray.

Oh Realmsword forever  unsheathed and ready,
 held in no doubt nor held at bay.
Joy to skull-strikers, to stout men's deeds,
 to them that love you and Islam: you are safe. 
And why wouldn't God still guard your edge
 to behead his foes with you for a blade?


1 — The opening verses of this poem are proverbial and famous in Arabic as any line from Hamlet is in English. I have given a somewhat free paraphrase. A literal translation would be :

ˁalā qadri ahli l-ˁazmi ta'tī l-ˁazā'imu
wata'tī ˁalā qadri l-kirāmi l-makārimu
wataˁẓumu fī ˁayni l-ṣaġīri ṣiġāruhā
wataṣġuru fī ˁayni l-ˁaẓīmi l-ˁaẓā'imu

"Resolutions come in proportion to the worth of the resolute, and noble deeds/traits come in proportion to the worth of the noble. The small (deeds/traits) are great in the eye of the small, and great things small in the eye of the great."

2 — Hali l-ḥadaṯu l-ḥamrā'u taˁrifu lawnahā? (Literally: "Does Red Al-Hadath know her color?")

"Red" was a term that could be used for non-Arabs, especially Persians, Greeks or "Franks" (Western Europeans) who were seen as being of lighter complexion. E.g. Atānī kullu aswada minhum wa'aḥmar "Every one of them, Arab and not, came to me". A saying attributed to Muhammad has it that buˁiṯtu ilā l-'aḥmari wa-l-aswad "I was sent to the red and the black" of which the most straightforward interpretation is "to all mankind, Arab and not." The term Al-Ḥamrā' as a collective adjective may also be used to refer generically to foreigners, or to emancipated slaves.

Al-Hadaṯ Al-Ḥamrā' "Red Hadath" is the traditional appellation of the city. The color is — I think — being played on at multiple levels. She (the city is morphosyntactically feminine) is in the most obvious sense "red" after being soaked with blood. But she was also a "red" (foreign, Greek) city when under Byzantine rule, which she no longer is. She is now "red" (emancipated from bondage) now that Lord Realmsword has relieved her of foreign control. Despite her traditional appellation, she may not even know that she is now red in one sense, and was red in the other, so completely has she now been redeemed to her proper place under Islamdom.

3 — "Russmen." The original text uses the word Rūs which in Modern Arabic simply means "Russians." Anglophone commenters on this poem have usually translated it thus, and Arabic commentaries often leave the word unglossed as though its meaning were transparent. But the Arabic word Rūs, at this time, actually referred to Norsemen (specifically the Byzantine Varangian guard is probably what is meant.) Since English "Rus" is far too scholarly, and "Vikings" would be a bit misleading, I have used the term Russmen as a compromise. (I considered calquing off of Old Norse Garðmaðr and rendering the phrase as "Greeks and Garthmen" or the like. But somehow it felt a bit silly to go to such an extreme.)

4 — The original actually refers to Gemini, a different constellation. But makes for a more transparent image of an anthropomorphized stellar figure.

5 — This verse, like some others in my translation, does not have an exact counterpart in the original. But it served in English to make the image clearer. Al-Mutanabbī's description evokes the way a hawk pounces on larger types of prey. The predator holds its prey to the ground, delivering blows to the skull to dispatch it fully before slashing into the throat.

6 — Domesticus (or, rather δομέστικος) was Bardas' Byzantine military title, loaned into Arabic as dumustuq, which is the word Al-Mutanabbī uses.

7 — In poetry, good swords are often said to be "Mashrafi" after an obscure place called Mashraf. Nobody quite knows why, though everybody likes to guess.

8 — Literally "You are monotheism defeating polytheism (širk)". That Christians have in some sense diluted the principle of monotheism by worshipping a trinity was — as it still is — a commonplace of anti-Christian Muslim polemic.

9 — Adnan: the Northern Arabs are supposedly descendants of ˁAdnān.

10 — "Outlands" is my rendering of ˁawāṣim. The word has often been misread as meaning "capitals" which is its sense in Modern Arabic. The term ˁawāṣim here refers to a part of the frontier zone between the Byzantine Empire and the Empire of the Caliphs. The forward strongholds of this zone were called ṯuġūr "mouths", while those further rearward were called the ˁawāṣim "guardianesses". 

11 — Lord Realmsword had gifted the poet with some horses.

The Original:

عَلى قَدْرِ أهْلِ العَزْم تأتي العَزائِمُ   وَتأتي علَى قَدْرِ الكِرامِ المَكارمُ
وَتَعْظُمُ في عَينِ الصّغيرِ صغارُها وَتَصْغُرُ في عَين العَظيمِ العَظائِمُ
يُكَلّفُ سيفُ الدّوْلَةِ الجيشَ هَمّهُ وَقد عَجِزَتْ عنهُ الجيوشُ الخضارمُ
وَيَطلُبُ عندَ النّاسِ ما عندَ نفسِه وَذلكَ ما لا تَدّعيهِ الضّرَاغِمُ
يُفَدّي أتَمُّ الطّيرِ عُمْراً سِلاحَهُ نُسُورُ الفَلا أحداثُها وَالقَشاعِمُ
وَما ضَرّها خَلْقٌ بغَيرِ مَخالِبٍ وَقَدْ خُلِقَتْ أسيافُهُ وَالقَوائِمُ
هَلِ الحَدَثُ الحَمراءُ تَعرِفُ لوْنَها وَتَعْلَمُ أيُّ السّاقِيَيْنِ الغَمَائِمُ
سَقَتْها الغَمَامُ الغُرُّ قَبْلَ نُزُولِهِ فَلَمّا دَنَا مِنها سَقَتها الجَماجِمُ
بَنَاهَا فأعْلى وَالقَنَا يَقْرَعُ القَنَا وَمَوْجُ المَنَايَا حَوْلَها مُتَلاطِمُ
وَكانَ بهَا مثْلُ الجُنُونِ فأصْبَحَتْ وَمِنْ جُثَثِ القَتْلى عَلَيْها تَمائِمُ
طَريدَةُ دَهْرٍ ساقَها فَرَدَدْتَهَا على  الدّينِ بالخَطّيّ وَالدّهْرُ رَاغِمُ
تُفيتُ کللّيالي كُلَّ شيءٍ أخَذْتَهُ وَهُنّ لِمَا يأخُذْنَ منكَ غَوَارِمُ
إذا كانَ ما تَنْوِيهِ فِعْلاً مُضارِعاً مَضَى قبلَ أنْ تُلقى علَيهِ الجَوازِمُ
وكيفَ تُرَجّي الرّومُ والرّوسُ هدمَها وَذا الطّعْنُ آساسٌ لهَا وَدَعائِمُ
وَقَد حاكَمُوهَا وَالمَنَايَا حَوَاكِمٌ فَما ماتَ مَظلُومٌ وَلا عاشَ ظالِمُ
أتَوْكَ يَجُرّونَ الحَديدَ كَأنّمَا سَرَوْا إليك بِجِيَادٍ ما لَهُنّ قَوَائِمُ
إذا بَرَقُوا لم تُعْرَفِ البِيضُ منهُمُ ثِيابُهُمُ من مِثْلِها وَالعَمَائِمُ
خميسٌ بشرْقِ الأرْضِ وَالغرْبِ زَحْفُهُ وَفي أُذُنِ الجَوْزَاءِ منهُ زَمَازِمُ
تَجَمّعَ فيهِ كلُّ لِسْنٍ وَأُمّةٍ فَمَا يُفْهِمُ الحُدّاثَ إلاّ الترَاجِمُ
فَلِلّهِ وَقْتٌ ذَوّبَ الغِشَّ نَارُهُ فَلَمْ يَبْقَ إلاّ صَارِمٌ أوْ ضُبارِمُ
تَقَطّعَ ما لا يَقْطَعُ الدّرْعَ وَالقَنَا وَفَرّ منَ الفُرْسانِ مَنْ لا يُصادِمُ
وَقَفْتَ وَما في المَوْتِ شكٌّ لوَاقِفٍ كأنّكَ في جَفنِ الرّدَى وهْوَ نائِمُ
تَمُرّ بكَ الأبطالُ كَلْمَى هَزيمَةً وَوَجْهُكَ وَضّاحٌ وَثَغْرُكَ باسِمُ
تجاوَزْتَ مِقدارَ الشّجاعَةِ والنُّهَى إلى قَوْلِ قَوْمٍ أنتَ بالغَيْبِ عالِمُ
ضَمَمْتَ جَناحَيهِمْ على القلبِ ضَمّةً تَمُوتُ الخَوَافي تحتَها وَالقَوَادِمُ
بضَرْبٍ أتَى الهاماتِ وَالنّصرُ غَائِبٌ وَصَارَ إلى اللّبّاتِ وَالنّصرُ قَادِمُ
حَقَرْتَ الرُّدَيْنِيّاتِ حتى طَرَحتَها وَحتى كأنّ السّيفَ للرّمحِ شاتِمُ
وَمَنْ طَلَبَ الفَتْحَ الجَليلَ فإنّمَا مَفاتِيحُهُ البِيضُ الخِفافُ الصّوَارِمُ
نَثَرْتَهُمُ فَوْقَ الأُحَيْدِبِ كُلّهِ كمَا نُثِرَتْ فَوْقَ العَرُوسِ الدّراهمُ
تدوسُ بكَ الخيلُ الوكورَ على الذُّرَى وَقد كثرَتْ حَوْلَ الوُكورِ المَطاعِمُ
تَظُنّ فِراخُ الفُتْخِ أنّكَ زُرْتَهَا بأُمّاتِها وَهْيَ العِتاقُ الصّلادِمُ
إذا زَلِقَتْ مَشّيْتَها ببُطونِهَا كمَا تَتَمَشّى في الصّعيدِ الأراقِمُ
أفي كُلّ يَوْمٍ ذا الدُّمُسْتُقُ مُقدِمٌ قَفَاهُ على الإقْدامِ للوَجْهِ لائِمُ
أيُنكِرُ رِيحَ اللّيثِ حتى يَذُوقَهُ وَقد عَرَفتْ ريحَ اللّيوثِ البَهَائِمُ
وَقد فَجَعَتْهُ بابْنِهِ وَابنِ صِهْرِهِ وَبالصّهْرِ حَمْلاتُ الأميرِ الغَوَاشِمُ
مضَى يَشكُرُ الأصْحَابَ في فوْته الظُّبَى لِمَا شَغَلَتْهَا هامُهُمْ وَالمَعاصِمُ
وَيَفْهَمُ صَوْتَ المَشرَفِيّةِ فيهِمِ على أنّ أصْواتَ السّيوفِ أعَاجِمُ
يُسَرّ بمَا أعْطاكَ لا عَنْ جَهَالَةٍ وَلكِنّ مَغْنُوماً نَجَا منكَ غانِمُ
وَلَسْتَ مَليكاً هازِماً لِنَظِيرِهِ وَلَكِنّكَ التّوْحيدُ للشّرْكِ هَازِمُ
تَشَرّفُ عَدْنانٌ بهِ لا رَبيعَةٌ وَتَفْتَخِرُ الدّنْيا بهِ لا العَوَاصِمُ
لَكَ الحَمدُ في الدُّرّ الذي ليَ لَفظُهُ فإنّكَ مُعْطيهِ وَإنّيَ نَاظِمُ
وَإنّي لَتَعْدو بي عَطَايَاكَ في الوَغَى فَلا أنَا مَذْمُومٌ وَلا أنْتَ نَادِمُ
عَلى كُلّ طَيّارٍ إلَيْهَا برِجْلِهِ إذا وَقَعَتْ في مِسْمَعَيْهِ الغَمَاغِمُ
ألا أيّها السّيفُ الذي لَيسَ مُغمَداً وَلا فيهِ مُرْتابٌ وَلا منْهُ عَاصِمُ
هَنيئاً لضَرْبِ الهَامِ وَالمَجْدِ وَالعُلَى وَرَاجِيكَ وَالإسْلامِ أنّكَ سالِمُ
وَلِمْ لا يَقي الرّحم?نُ حدّيك ما وَقى وَتَفْليقُهُ هَامَ العِدَى بكَ دائِمُ

Leakages from an Alternate Literary History: Homer and Virgil in Old English

In an alternate (fictional) timeline, an Old English speaker ca. 850 AD took the liberty of translating Homer and Vergil into verse. The text survives of course only in a much later copy.. The translator bucks taboo and nativizes his material to the point of substituting Germanic gods for the mediterranean ones. The role of Zeus/Jupiter, for example, is given sometimes Wōden, and sometimes to Þunor. (Sometimes they appear together, or Þunor speaks on behalf of Wōden. The translator can do this because his version is not a literal one.) Various other characters are Germanicized. For example, Aeneas is given the name Wīdhere. 

Here are some fragments:

Odyssey 1.1-10

Hwæt! Ic þisne sang  be sīðfætum   
Beornes searuðoncles on sefan fand.
Ic oft gefrægn  on ealddagum
hū wearþ þes eorl  tō ȳðwræccan
geond grim midgeard   siþþan his gūðwudu
wǣpenwedere  on wælbedde
rancre hēahbyrge hearh rēafode.
Monigra mǣgþa  medubyrig sceawode,
moniges monnes  mynd gewiste
monge sorge  sinnihte þolode
lagumēðe on sefan. Ymb līfwraðe 
ealle hwīle   ond hāmcyme  
swǣsra gesīða   on seglrāde wāh.
Ac nā cūðe  nerian his gesīðas
worhte swā hē wolde.  Witlēast hiera
sylfre hīe swefde.  Sottmenn, hīe ǣten
hālige cȳ Sōles,  swegles wægnfrōwe,
þe him flæschordes  feorhcandla ofgēat.
Ūt of ēagum  sēo ūprodres
Dægcwēn ond ides ierre him āholode
hāmcymes dagunge. Hēr saga þisra,
Wōdnes godbearn,  wōþgāst Breohcwis,  
gal þæt hēahlēoþ eft  ūre tīdum.

Listen. In my soul I found this song of the journeyings of the shrewdminded man. I have often heard tell how in ancient days this noble man turned a wave-fugitive through the cruel Midworld after his war-wood
1, in weapon-weather on the gore-bed of battle, despoiled an overweening capital city's citadel. Many a people's mead-city he saw, many a man's mind he fathomed, and many a sorrow in evernight he endured sea-weary in his soul. All the while on the sailroads he warred he to save his life, and ensure the homecoming of his own dear comrades. But he stood no chance of saving his comrades, try whatever he did. It was their own witlessness did them in. Those fools ate the cattle of Sowilo3, the heavens' charioteeress, who put out the life-candles in their bodies. The Firmament's Dayqueen and Numen-lady in a rage plucked homecoming's dawn right out of their eyes. Here, tell us of these things once more in our time, Oh godchild of Woden, verse-spirit Breohcwis4, lift that great song again.

1— Guðwudu "warwood" is a poeticism found in the Finnsburg fragment, where it is assumed to mean "spear."In this timeline, at least, that is exactly what this quite old poetic stock phrase means. The translator has reporposed it to both refer to spears, and to the war-wooden Trojan horse. Of course, many alt-present day scholars aren't sure the pun is intended.

3 — The sun deity is a woman here, as per usual in Germanic, unlike in the Greek.

4 — Immediately after Johnson Grimmer's discovery of the Lowell Codex containing these translations, one of the first thing alt-present day scholars noticed was that the translator consistently substitutes the entity "Breohcwis" for the Graeco-Roman Muse. Generally they have sought, or simply assumed, a connection between this figure and Bragi, the Norse poetry god. They are, however, mistaken. This is the name of the alt-timeline Anglo-Saxon poetry god (well, originally goddess). But it is simply a compound of "prince" (*brag-) and "speech" (*kwiss-) and has no connection to the Norse god. Part of the difficulty recognizing the compound for what it is lies in the fact that one would normally have expected the form *Bregucwiss or the like, rather than Breohcwis. The name as given originates in Old Kentish (whence the diphthong), and underwent irregular development due to taboo-deformation. (The god was briefly and locally euhemerized into a saint on the Isle of Wight.) Even the West Saxon copyist who produced the Lowell Codex didn't know what the name was or meant. In this instance, Breohcwis is given an epithet using wōþ "poetry, song, exclamation" (cf. Lat. Vātēs) from the same root that yields Woden's name (compare Old Norse Óðinn vs. Óðr.) Alt-present day comparative philologists have made a great deal of hay over this, imagining it to reflect awareness of an ancient connection on the part of the translator. Some have even posited that this is a relic of a genuine pagan invocation to the poetry god. In fact, it's a complete coincidence. The translator was unaware of the etymological connection, and just did it because he thought it would sound cool.

Corresponding Greek passage:

Ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, Μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ
πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσε·
πολλῶν δ’ ἀνθρώπων ἴδεν ἄστεα καὶ νόον ἔγνω,
πολλὰ δ’ ὅ γ’ ἐν πόντῳ πάθεν ἄλγεα ὃν κατὰ θυμόν,
ἀρνύμενος ἥν τε ψυχὴν καὶ νόστον ἑταίρων.
ἀλλ' οὐδ' ὧς ἑτάρους ἐρρύσατο, ἱέμενός περ·
αὐτῶν γὰρ σφετέρῃσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὄλοντο,
νήπιοι, οἳ κατὰ βοῦς Ὑπερίονος Ἠελίοιο
ἤσθιον· αὐτὰρ ὁ τοῖσιν ἀφείλετο νόστιμον ἦμαρ.
τῶν ἁμόθεν γε, θεά, θύγατερ Διός, εἰπὲ καὶ ἡμῖν.

Aeneid 1.1-8

(There is a lacuna of several lines after this passage, due to fire damage. Lord Peter Pintle, who owned the Lowell Codex in the late 15th century, was an incorrigible pyromaniac. On March 5th 1492, while Lord Pintle was enjoying an evening performance by his live-in torch juggler, his 3-year-old ran headlong into the performer's knee. The torches went careening, and parts of this translation were one casualty of the ensuing fire. Another was Lady Pintle's dildo. Though this was not as much of a blow to her sex life as was the summary firing of the torch-juggler.)        

Ic secge sang secga and þæs ǣrbeornes
þe fram Trōian feorr fērde tō Eatules
Wǣgrimum, wyrdes  wræcmon ond sǣrinc.
Hine geon mearclond  ond mererāda þrēow
Mihtmōd ōsþrymmes.  Irregemynd Wælfrōwan
Feor in wælfǣhþe  wræc his bānhūs.
Wann eac beadugryras  oþþæt þā burh sette
and his cōfgodas gecorene bǣre
in Lǣdene lond  þanon Lǣdencynn,
Ealdras Alban and eaforan hiere
rison, and regnhēage  Rōmbyrge weallas.
Hwæt! Breohcwis wecþ  on breoste þā þing...  

A lay I sing of swords1 and of the original hero who from Troy set forth to Italy's wave-rims, fate's exile2 and seawarrior3. He through countrylands and the waveroads was thrown about by the fell passion of the Aesir powers4. Valfreyja's5 rage-memory in deadly feud harrowed the bones of his body far in exile. And war-horrors he weathered also, until he founded a city, and brought his dear household gods into Latium, whence rose the Latin race, the Elders of Alba and their sons, and the all-high6 ramparts of Rome. Attend! Breohcwis quickens in my breast the causes...

1 — This word could also be translated as "warriors, men." Secg as a feminine i-stem noun means "sword." As a masculine a-stem noun it is a poetic word for "warrior, man." Some in the alt-present day who don't feel comfortable with the idea of this kind of wordplay are unsure as to whether this word is meant to translate Latin arma or to refer to warriors.

2 — Other possible translations are "wretch, persecuted one." In the alt-present day, scholars have tried to read much into the translator's use of compounds with wræc-, attempting to tease out of it an idea about the translator's attitude toward Aeneas/Wīdhere. 

3 — Also translatable as "sea-raider." This word can be used to describe Vikings in attested OE. Alt-present day Scholars have wondered whether this suggests a complicated attitude toward the protagonist, and much has hinged on when the translation is dated to (some who opt for a later date have read sǣrinc as a negative word, implying ambivalence about a protagonist reminiscent of Norse invaders).

4 — Alt-present day scholars have been vexed by the word ōsþrymm. Like many words used by the translator, it is attested nowhere else in surviving OE. While a word like ærbeorn is transparently interpretable as "the first man, the original hero," it is not clear to scholars what the ōs- of ōsþrymm is to mean exactly. It is clearly a cognate of ON ǫ́ss, and the same element found in Saxon theophoric names. They therefore conclude that it is some form of pre-christian divine power, though they are unsure of the specifics. In fact, the translator himself (who was of course a Christian) did not have a very clear sense of it. It was the vague associations of the word ōs in his mind that in part motivated ōsþrymmes mihtmōd as a rendering vi superum. (The Ms. reads osþrymmas, which is clearly a scribal error, owing to the fact that the scribe was less devoted to declensions than he was to his wife. See below.)

5 — The translator renders Juno as Wælfrōwe (Slaughterdame, gore-woman, Our Lady Of The Slain), which is a morpheme-for-morpheme cognate to Norse Valfreyja, one of the names of the goddess Freyja in the Skáldskaparmál. In the alt-present day scholars don't know what to make of this, as they have no way of guessing that the translator was actually repurposing what had by his day become an epithet of the Virgin Mary when invoked as a protector in battle. The prayers in which it occurs were seldom written down, and were not long in use after the mid 8th century, so alt-present day scholars have no knowledge of them. In fact, even the scribe who produced the extant manuscript of this translation in the 900s (at the behest of his extraordinarily eccentric yet inexplicably wealthy father-in-law) did not know what this was, and assumed it to simply be a Pagan Goddess. The irony is that the brief tradition of addressing the Blessed Virgin as Wǣlfrōwe before battle only arose by syncretizing her with the war-goddess Sigewyn whose epithet this was.

6 — This use of the prefix regn- has puzzled alt-present day scholars. In fact, it is simply an archaism that the translator deployed for stylistic effect. 

Corresponding Latin passage: 

Arma virumque canō, Troiae quī prīmus ab ōrīs
Italiam, fātō profugus, Lāvīnaque vēnit
lītora, multum ille et terrīs iactātus et altō
vī superum saevae memorem Iūnōnis ob īram;
multa quoque et bellō passus, dum conderet urbem,
īnferretque deōs Latiō genus unde latīnum
albānīque patrēs atque altae moenia Rōmae
Mūsa mihī causās memorā...

By a strange series of events involving a crossbow, a bag of supposedly magical grain and a very temperamental astrologist from Limousin, the codex was briefly owned by a renegade monk from Fleury who — a week before being killed by the man he had stolen it from — penned the following lines of verse along the margins:

 Chant lays de guerra  e l'ome guerreian
 Lo prims de Troya q'en fayditz sobrastratz,
 Son azil quist en lo sol Italian.
 Molt fo per mar e terra trabaillatz
 Sotz lo poder  dels speritz celestiaus.
 Car fetz aici ab malcor immortal
 Iunon cruzela qe li volc maior dan

Aeneid 1.198-207

(The scribe was pissed off and distracted the day he copied this part, after having to deal with a surprise visit from a belligerently drunk cleric who wanted to baptize his dog. So it's no surprise that this is one of the places where the West Saxon copy betrays a few telltale traces of his Mercian antigraph.)

Wīdhere maðelode  wyrdes ānstapa 
"Ealdgesīðas! Ǣr wē onfundon
Earfoða on ȳðum. Yflu gē wyrsan
þolodon ealle.  Ende þisses
ēac giefþ ūs god.  Gē þe Sceorfþyrses 
cyrmendum clifum cāflīce nēalǣhton, 
þe Ēageotenes ecestānas wiþstōdon,
mōd hēr nimaþ,  and mānōgan
ālecgaþ eallne. Eaxlgesteallan,
ēaðe wē mægen  munan ēac þissa
wynnum and wordcræfte  in wīnærne.
Gomen æfter gyrnstafa  giefþ ūs Wōden.
Monigum þorh gelimpum  mislicum and þingum 
orleahtrum in þisse  eorðan sceattum,  
Lǣdene tō londe  ūre lād fundiaþ. 
Weoroldwefenda   Wyrda þǣr ūs ābīedaþ
on behātsande sīðlīce frið.
Þǣr is ālīeded   þāra Trōiāna   
rīce eftārīsan  in randgebeorh. 
þȳ healdaþ forð heortena fūse
uferran þingum. Biþ þæt mīn hāt."

So spoke Wīdhere, the Fate's earth-walker: Oh Long-standing comrades! We have been through hardships on the waves before. Worse woes than this have you all endured. God will send us an end to this too. You who who bravely drew nigh the shrieking cliffs of the Ripper-Troll (Scylla), who survived the pain-stones of the Eye-Eoten (Cyclops), take courage here and dispel vile terror now. My shoulder-comrades! This too may yet be a thing we look back on with delight and eloquent lays in the wine-hall. Woden shall give us joy after sorrow. Through many varied events/misfortunes, and dangerous/decisive crises/affairs in the regions of this earth our course holds on for Latin land. There the world-weaving Fates hold out to us peace at last (or: at journey's end) on the Promised Strand. There it is given to the Kingdom of the Trojans to rise again into a wave-buffered bulwark. So hold on, with ready hearts, for better/higher things/deeds. This I promise.

Note on Monsters:

Sceorfþyrs (Ripper-Troll) and Ēageoten (Eye-Eoten) are the translator's equivalents for Scylla and the Cyclops. Later alt-timeline scholarship has almost without exception assumed that he took these from native Anglo-Saxon lore and much ink has been spilled trying to identify them. In fact he just made them up for the purposes of translation, but — based on their occurrence in this translation — an elaborate lore was confected (especially by the Romantics) around these creatures as rough Germanic counterparts to Scylla and the Cyclops, and so in the alt-present day, they are reasonably well known as mythical English monsters. (This is not the only term the translator uses for Scylla. In his rendering of Book XII of the Odyssey, he uses the epithets wǣġfīfel 'wave-freak' and sǣhund 'sea-dog')

Corresponding Latin passage:

Ō sociī (neque enim ignārī sumus ante malōrum),
Ō passī graviōra, dabit deus hīs quoque fīnem.
Vōs et Scyllaeam rabiem penitusque sonantīs
accestis scopulōs, vōs et Cyclōpia saxa
expertī: revocāte animōs maestumque timōrem
mittite; forsan et haec ōlim meminisse iuvābit.
Per variōs cāsūs, per tot discrīmina rērum
tendimus in Latium, sēdēs ubi fāta quiētās
ōstendunt; illīc fās rēgna resurgere Troiae.
Dūrāte, et vōsmet rēbus servāte secundīs.

Aeneid 1.275-88:

(The text here is corrupt in one or two places. The penultimate line contains an unorthodox break across the caesura which also produces an internal rhyme.)

Wōden maðelode, woruldes hēahfæder:
Wynsum in geolhȳde  wylfes Rōmling
his cynn bewāt wyrcende Tīwsweallas
cwiðende Rōmwaran  be rihtnaman his.
Nāne mearce  mete ic þissum,
ac ēce onweald . Ēac swā Wælfrōwe
þe nū hranrāda   ond hēahwolcnu
ond werwegas þrīt   mid wælnīðe,
hyge sceal settan  sǣligre æhte,
ond dēoran ēac mē  dōmēadige Rōmwaran,
mǣrðes weorlddryhtnas, māþþumgiefan.  
Gewurðe min willa.  Weorðaþ þā hālgēar
þā Grēcþegnas  geþȳþ Trōia,
oþþæt gomban   gieldeþ Ealdfēond.
Cynrenes Trōiesces  Cāsere āwiexeþ,
hlīsan mid steorrum,  stōl mid gārsecgum,
ymbsettende. Swā hit sōðlīce agā.
Iūlius hē hāteþ on āre giūldæges....

"Thus spoke Woden, Worldfather Almighty: delightful in tawnhide of the she-wolf, Romulus shall take up his race, rearing the Walls of Tiw1 and naming by his true name the Romans. No boundary have I set for these, but unending weal over all. Even Valfreyja who now wearies the high heavens and the whale-roads and man-ways with her banewrath, shall set her thought to a better reckoning, and hold dear the judgement-prosperous renowned Romans, glory's worldlords, the treasure-givers. My will be done. As the holy years (?) come, so Troy shall enslave the thanes of Greece, and the Ancient Foe will be forced to yield tribute. A Caesar of Trojan stock shall spring forth, surrounding his fame with stars and his throne with the Oceans (lit: spearmen)2. So let it truly be. Julius shall be his name in honor of the Yule day3...

1 — Tīw is the god commonly equated with Mars. The day of the week known as Diēs Martis "Marsday" (cf. Fr. mardi) was Tīwesdæg, or Tuesday to Germanic peoples. Alt-present day scholars are correct to see this as a mechanical equation of the "tuesday" type.

2 — In Pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon mythology, the Ocean was apparently personified by a man with spears. Old English texts use gārsecg in the sense "Ocean" quite naturally, generally without note of its etymology. But gārsecg in the sense "Ocean" is always singular. Here the text uses the dative plural. Among alt-present day scholars, only alt-present Day Tolkien guessed the correct explanation: the translator is reviving a dead image for a dual sense, wherein Caesar's throne is literally guarded by spearmen, even as his rule is littorally bounded by the ocean's worldwater. Unfortunately Alternate Tolkien was a bit more eccentric than his counterpart in our timeline. And after witnessing the horrors of the (alt-timeline's) Anglo-Aragonese war of 1950, alt-Tolkien went off to join a neo-pagan druid cult in the breakaway Republic of Provença. Later 20th century scholars didn't take his insights as seriously as they should have.

3—   The translator has substituted for Virgil's fantastical etymology of "Julius" an equally fantastical Saxon etymology of his own. The disgruntled copyist (wondering if it really was worth agreeing to copy this silly thing for his father-in-law in exchange for his wife's hand in marriage) scribbled a note in the margin of the MS here: "satis absurditate imbutus videtur." Fire-damage due to Lord Pintle's juggling mishap has destroyed the corner of the page on which the scribe's maladjusted nephew scrawled a quote from Martial "in tuis nulla est mentula carminibus" with an appropriate drawing to remedy the situation so described.

 Corresponding Latin passage:

Inde lupae fulvō nūtrīcis tegmine laetus
Rōmulus excipiet gentem et Māvortia condet
moenia Rōmānōsque suō dē nōmine dīcet.
Hīs ego nec mētās rērum nec tempora pōnō:
imperium sine fīne dedī.   Quīn aspera Iūnō,
quae mare nunc terrāsque metū caelumque fatīgat,
cōnsilia in melius referet, mēcumque fovēbit
Rōmānōs, rērum dominōs gentemque togātam.
Sīc placitum. Veniet lūstrīs lābentibus aetās
cum domus Assaracī Phthīam clārāsque Mycēnās
servitiō premet ac victīs dominābitur Argīs.
Nāscētur pulchrā Troiānus orīgine Caesar,
imperium Ōceanō, fāmam quī terminet astrīs,
iūlius, ā magnō dēmissum nomen Iūlō.