« AnteriorContinuar »
Anyone who is familiar with the structure and rhythm of Anglo-Saxon poetry, would have little, if any, hesitation in deciding that these lines are not, and could not be, a copy of any original AngloSaxon verses; while a comparison of these two passages in Latin and Anglo-Saxon, apart from any other evidence, would show that they resemble each other so closely as to warrant the opinion that the Anglo-Saxon version is simply a translation of the Latin. Indeed, that this is the case, might almost be inferred from a comparison of the two passages in a modern English rendering:
"Now are we to praise the Maker of the heavenly Kingdom, the power of the Creator and His counsel, the deeds of the Father of Glory; how He, being the eternal God, became the author of all miracles, who first, as Almighty preserver of the human race, created Heaven for the sons of men, as the roof of the house, and next, the Earth."
Such is the English rendering of the opening lines of Cadmon's poem as given by Beda.
If, now, we compare this rendering with a literal translation of King Alfred's Anglo-Saxon version, the point which we are making will stand out in a very clear light:
Now must we praise
The Guardian of Heaven's kingdom,
The Creator's might,
Formed the beginning.
For the children of Earth
The Guardian of mankind,
We thus possess historic testimony, of the highest authority, that during Beda's boyhood a sacred poem on the subject of the "Fall of Man" had been produced by an inmate of the double monastery of the Lady Hilda at Whitby; a poem so remarkable as to have commanded, in after years, the notice of a cleric and critic as learned as the Venerable Beda, and of such poetic excellence as to have elicited his highest commendation.
It would seem inexplicable, if we did not know the history of this early age, how a literary work of such importance should have been allowed to sink into total oblivion; and even the manuscripts of the
poem have become wholly forgotten. Still such was the case. The incursions of the Danes, and the destruction of the monastic libraries which followed, added to the ignorance and indifference of AngloNorman ecclesiastics, and the ravages of time itself, led, as we know, to the loss of many valuable writings. It was not until the seventeenth century, as we have before seen, that the manuscript of a sacred poem, corresponding to the one described by Beda, was discovered by Archbishop Ussher. This manuscript was used by Somner in the preparation of his Anglo-Saxon dictionary, and was subsequently presented by the Archbishop to Francis Dujon, known to all the scholars of his day under the nom de plume of Junius.
This famous manuscript, the only one now known to exist in England, is in the Junian collection in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, a small parchment volume in folio, containing two hundred and twentynine pages, the first two hundred and twelve of which are apparently in the handwriting of the tenth century.
The illuminations, or rather drawings, which accompany the manuscript, do not reach beyond the ninety-sixth page, although in almost every succeeding page, to the very end of the volume, blank spaces, intended to receive illuminations, occur, show
ing that in the illustrations as well as in the text, the manuscript was left unfinished. In the whole series of fifty-three plates, the colouring of but one has been completed; the others being drawn simply in black and white, with a view, apparently, of being coloured later by the illuminator. Where colours have been introduced they are simply outlines in brown, vermilion, and green.
Junius, in the preface to the edition of this manuscript, which he published at Amsterdam 1655, does not hesitate to pronounce it a copy of the long lost poem of Cadmon described by Beda in his Historia; and he does so, and doubtless correctly, on the ground of the correspondence which exists between the Ussher manuscript and Beda's description, no less than from the structure and general characteristics of the language.
It is true that the opening lines of the Junian manuscript do not correspond verbally either with the Latin of Beda or with the Anglo-Saxon of King Alfred; but as we have before stated, Beda did not pretend to give more than the sense of the passage, and Alfred avowedly copied from the original of Beda. Hence, it is not strange, but only what we might have expected a priori, that the manuscript of the poem, if ever discovered, although it might not agree verbatim, would agree substantially, with
the passage as given by Beda and his translator, King Alfred. And this proves to be the case with regard to the Junian manuscript as the following comparison will conclusively show:
FROM KING ALFRED'S BEDA.
He ærest gesceop
FROM THE JUNIAN MS.
That we ródera weard
He is mægna spéd
Ne nu ende cymth
In this fragment, consisting of but eighteen short lines, we have the following epithets of the Deity, all of frequent occurrence in the so-called Paraphrase:—Heofon ríces weard; Éce Dryhten; Hálig Scippend; Mancynnes weard; Fréa Ælmihtig; and there is scarcely a single phrase that is not common