eye of newt

things loom out of the murk and paddling cautiously towards them, we read well the warps and bends of light in the rippling data-flow, we make conscientious use of the incidental lenses that bubble up past us to read the waters well, and we make our approach unerringly. we can retrieve a sense of the past that is evidence-based and credible from the old texts. but we have to admit that current models of pre-renaissance history just aren’t always evidence-based or credible, and learn which bits to keep and which to discard.


crucethur = torture-box???!!!!! wyverne cracks a wobbly.

it is true o earthlings that wyvern(e)s when their danders are up make loud explosive noises and kick up a hell of a stink. with herman’s kind permission as his guest blogger, i now consent to publish this long withheld letter about the a/s text, the peterborough chronicle.

this was written in answer to a series of emails i got from an oxford scholar who thought my writings ‘very intelligent’ and therefore to be silenced.  he said he felt that unintelligent people who might believe what i said needed to be protected by him, in big-brother fashion, from the ‘danger’ of believing me because i make sense, instead of believing the traditional academic stuff which doesn’t.  here’s my reply (careful, it is still sizzling in places), slightly edited for the sake of appropriateness:

okay, you’re alarmed at the things i’m saying and their implications concerning the ‘official’ teachings of the hegemonies you see yourself as representing (if i’ve understood you correctly), and you want to know what the feic i’m doing, and perhaps why, and while the task is daunting – it’s taken me years of dedicated study to arrive at my starting points, so i don’t see how i can get you there from yours in a page or two of terse text – i can isolate single issues and present them to you in the form of questions; and i’ll ask you to respond to them directly and simply without going off your face or clouding the issue in comicalisations.

after all, you’re getting paid to perform this service for the public – the producing of knowledge – and you owe it to us to deliver it in a true and  intelligible form.  my questions have regularly been answered with rudeness, intentional cruelties and puerile vilifications, as a result of which my originally high esteem for academica has plummeted and i scarcely expect to meet with real intelligence there at all.

you yourself got where you are by agreeing wholeheartedly with everything you were taught, or knowing the exact limits within which you must keep your disagreements.  my own education has been interrupted often by a series of ‘nervous breakdowns’ triggered by shock reactions as i discovered to what extent the academics are wrong, and to what extent they expect me to sacrifice my own intellectual integrity for high marks and the goodwill of my professors.  i’m not delusional. the academics are.

consider the following exerpts from the laud (peterborough) chronicle, taken from the passage beginning “me dide cnotted strenges abuton here haeued…” down to “…y aeure it was uuerse y uuerse.”  i found it in david crystal’s the cambridge encyclopedia of the english language, with his “word for word” translation, which seems to be in line with current opinion.

“me  dide  cnotted strenges abuton here hæued and uurythen it ðat it

“one placed knotted cords      about  their  head   and twisted    it that it

gæde  to þe hærnes. hi diden heom in quarterne þar nadres and

entered to the brains. they put  them  in cell where adders and

snakes and pades wæron inne and drapen heom swa.”

snakes and toads   were    in     and killed   them   so.”

my questions and comments are:

  1. why is ‘me’ not ‘i’?  isn’t it more likely to be ‘i’ than ‘one’. if not why not?
  2. according to the lexicon, ‘their’ is not ‘here’ it is ‘heore’ or ‘hiere’.  here is ‘her’. so ‘her’ could be either ‘here’ or ‘their’ allowing for dialect difference.
  3. why is  ‘hæued’ not ‘haved’, on its way to becoming ‘had’?  i know you’ll refer me to the lexicography which shows only that in some text or texts somewhere ‘heafod’ has been translated as ‘head’, but besides being tautological, this doesn’t in this instance convince.  ‘haved’ is as etymologically likely, even if the instances of ‘heafod’ were correctly translated.  furthermore it makes more sense: ‘i had done/contrived knotted strings about here’.
  4. how the feic do you get that ‘hærnes’ means ‘brains’?  every other word so far has been translated into a current english word which it closely resembles.  why suddenly reach for such a bizarre choice of a word here?  the method would not have the desired effect. wire might, but not string. why not ‘harness’?  ‘uurythen it ðat it gæde to þe hærnes’ can then be ‘twisted it to enable it to go onto the harness’.  nets or snares of knotted string, looped into the horse’s harness ready for use.
  5. crystal’s ‘cell’ is a too specific translation of a fairly general word. ‘quarterne’ is ‘quarters’ or ‘corners’ without any difficulty (and i’d just like to mention here that the ‘–ne’ is a plural ending which occurs also in irish as –anna, and is apparently not understood to be that in translations of a/s texts i’ve studied.)  in view of the context that emerges when you stop twisting it into insanity, ‘quarterne’ can be translated best as ‘corners’.  they put them (the nets) in corners.
  6. the adders and snakes and toads were in these quarters where the nets were set up. pad = paddock = toad.
  7. why such a remove from the verb ‘drapen’ as ‘to kill’, when it makes sound sense to translate it into a much nearer modern english word ‘to trap’?

if you can answer each question plainly and calmly, please do, but if you can’t, or choose not to, preferring cutisms and comicalisations instead, don’t expect me to be impressed. (well, now he’d been very rude, explaining by way of apology that he was drunk at the time. he so often was.)

here’s my fairly literal proto-translation:

‘i haved did knotted strings here(abouts) and twisted it that it goed to the harness.  they did them (set them up) in corners where adders and snakes and toads were in, and trapped them so.’

now that’s sound gardening practice, and it clears up a nastily suppurating myth and gives us a glimpse of some real history – history so beautiful it glows.

here’s some more, in fact the very next few lines:

‘sume hi diden in crucethur, ðat is in an ceste þat was scort and nareu and undep, and dide scærpe stanes þerinne and þrengde thær-inne ðat him bræcon alle þe limes.’

the usual translation:

‘some they put into a torture-box, that is, in a chest that was short and narrow and shallow and they put sharp stones therein and pressed the man therein so that they broke all the limbs.’

(now this torture technique is also unlikely:  there are more effective ways of breaking limbs and this method would do all sorts of worse damage to skulls and ribs before it even touched the limbs.  face and belly and other soft body parts would also be much more noticeably damaged too. but close scrutiny shows very obvious ambiguities that are not and should be addressed in this kind of translation.)

my questions and comments:

  1. ‘crucethur’ occurs only this once in the whole of the surviving ‘old english’ literature. it’s only translatable as a torturebox if ‘þe man’ in this sentence is in the accusative case and not nominative. nothing distinguishes the two.  nothing tells us which is denoted by the word order of the sentence.  if it’s nominative, the ‘man’ does the pressing and the ‘crucethur’, which remains an untranslated word denoting an unidentified object or substance,  is pressed.  all other words have been translated by the nearest-sounding english word, so why go wild after this one.  lisping is common, although rarely discussed, but here’s a fine example of it.  –ur is a plural ending.  cruceth is crocus.  they were a major industry worldwide in the past as now, grown for their saffron dyes and as garden ornamentals.  so this important information about how they lived back then is lost to a macabre mistranslation of a key text.
  2. we have no dimensions for the box (ceste)– perhaps it was quite small- smaller than a breadbox. .
  3. limes’ is the object of the verb pressed (þrengde). the meaning of ‘limes’? well, not limbs, limes. that is, loams. loam is tilthy, cloddy garden soil, with good structure. a shallow box, a layer of gravel, crumbled lumps of loam, and crocuses. we’re looking at a propogation ‘flat’, as gardeners would call it, perhaps lined with half an inch of sharp gravel to ensure fast drainage with loam, lumps of (limey) earth, broken up or ‘crumbled’ to a medium tilth and pressed firmly over it to a depth of a couple of inches.  this would be as good a propagator today as it evidently was back then for forcing bulbs in, but still as useless for breaking people’s limbs in as they would have been back then.

so here’s my smoothish translation:

‘some, they put in crocuses, that is, in a box that was short and narrow and not deep, and put sharp stones therein: and pressed therein, (such) that they broke up all the loams/limes/lumps.’

once again, we’re seeing sane, sensible people doing sane, sensible things.

without going into details, here’s the rest of my translation of that excerpt, and when you’ve read it you’ll see why i’m not lusting after qualification in old and/or middle english from any university that flaps in my face the lexicon that lists crucethur as torturebox and hærnes as brains.  and why i haven’t much respect for the qualification when someone else waves it at me as if it means something other than that they’re committed to the back-teeth to entrenched falsehood with an obtuseness whose only virtue is that it keeps them on the right side of the shonky hegemonic pale. thank woden i’m beyond it!

the rest – proto:

‘in many of the castles were loaf and grain, which were rations that (for) two or three men . had to bring enough one.

that (item shown to interviewer and described here, but not named)  was so made, that is fastened to a beam and fixed a sharp iron, about the man’s trod (see oed : a trodden area surrounding a house) and halls (house), that they might not no-way-wards neither sit, nor lie nor sleep, but all that iron barred.  (in other words an iron-spike-tipped picket fence to keep out vagrants).

many dozen, they (the dusen) trapped with hunger. (being hungry, resorted to trapping small game?)

i neither know nor i cannot tell all the wonders nor all the pains (care, painstaking work) that they the workmen did on this land, and that lasted the 19 winters while stephne was king, and after, it was worse and worse. ‘

the whole excerpt in tidy fluent english:

‘i used to do knotted stringwork hereabouts, and twisted it in such a way that it could be attached to the harness. they set them up in corners where there were adders and snakes and toads and so trapped them.

some put in crocuses: that is, in a short, narrow box, not deep; and put sharp stones in them and packed (clods of) loam in such that they broke them (up).

in many of the castles there was bread and grain that were rations: each one was to bring enough for two or three men.

that (un-named thing) was made like that to be fastened to a pole, and set the sharp iron about a man’s house and yard, so that nowhere could anyone get through, not to sit or lie or sleep, but all that iron was withstanding.[i]

many people went trapping if hungry.

i don’t know and can’t tell all the wonder nor all the pains that the workmen took on this land, and that lasted the 19 winters while stephen was king. And after it was worse and worse.’

[i] This item suggests that this is a transcript from an interview, with the interrogator asking about objects that were actually there.