Bergman on war and revolution
Monday, 30 September 2013
Sunday, 8 September 2013
Thursday, 5 September 2013
I was reading Thomas Malory's Tale of King Arthur (1470) and noticed an obvious similarity between Arthur's words and those of Byrhtnoth in The Anglo-Saxon poem "The Battle of Maldon" (composed c.10th-11th).
Malory's passage refers to 12 messengers from the emperor of Rome who ask King Arthur to pay tribute (trwage) while the Battle of Maldon, written about 500 years earlier, describes a similar exchange between the messenger of a foreign invader (VIkings) and a native (Anglo-Saxon) who is asked for tribute of gold and who says in reply that they shall receive only a tribute of spears. I wonder whether Malory copied the poem or whether the "tribute of spears/swords" is just a recurring meme in medieval storytelling. It's very cool either way.
"Ryght so com In to the courte 12 knyghtes that were aged men whiche com frome the Emperoure of Rome. And they asked of Arthure trwage for hys realme othir ellis the emperour wolde destroy hym and all hys londe. 'Well' seyde kynge Arthure, 'ye ar messyngers there fore ye may sey what ye woll othir ellis ye sholde dye Þer fore. But hys ys myne Answere I owȝe the emperour no trewage noÞer none woll I yelde hym but on a fayre fylde I shall yelde hym my trwage that shall be with a sherpe spere othir ellis with a sherpe swerde And that shall nat be longe by my fadirs soule Uther!"
The Battle of Maldon:
Þa stod on stæðe, stiðlice clypode
wicinga ar, wordum mælde,
se on beot abead brimliþendra ærænde to þam eorle, þær he on ofre stod
"Me sendon to þe sæmen snelle,
heton ðe secgan þæt þu most sendan raðe
beagas wið gebeorge; and eow betere is
þæt ge þisne garræs mid gafole° forgyldon,
þon we swa hearde hilde dælon.
Ne þurfe we us spillan, gif ge spedaþ to þam;
we willað wið þam golde grið fæstnian.
Gyf þu þat gerædest, þe her ricost eart, richest
þæt þu þine leoda lysan wille,
syllan sæmannum on hyra sylfra dom
feoh wið freode, and niman frið æt us,
we willaþ mid þam sceattum us to scype gangan,
on flot feran, and eow friþes healdan."
Byrhtnoð maþelode, bord hafenode,
wand wacne æsc, wordum mælde,
yrre and anræd ageaf him andsware:
"Gehyrst þu, sælida, hwæt þis folc segeð?
Hi willað eow to gafole garas syllan,
ættrynne ord and ealde swurd,
þa heregeatu þe eow æt hilde ne deah.
Brimmanna boda, abeod eft ongean,
sege þinum leodum miccle laþre
þæt her stynt unforcuð eorl mid his werode,
þe wile gealgean eþel þysne,
Æþelredes eard, ealdres mines,
folc and foldan. Feallan sceolon
hæþene æt hilde.
Modern English Translation:
Then stood on the shore, stoutly calling out
a Viking messenger, making speech,
menacingly delivering the sea-pirate's
message to this Earl on the opposite shore standing:
"I send to you from the bold seamen,
a command to tell that you must quickly send
treasures to us, and it would be better to you if
with tribute buy off this conflict of spears
than with us bitter battle share.
No need to slaughter each other if you be generous with us;
we would be willing for gold to bring a truce.
If you believe which of these is the noblest path,
and that your people are desirous of assurance,
then pay the sea-farers on their own terms
money towards peace and receive peace from us,
for we with this tribute will take to our ships,
depart on the sea and keep peace with you."
Byrhtnoth spoke, his shield raised aloft,
brandishing a slender ash-wood spear, speaking words,
wrathful and resolute did he give his answer:
"Hear now you, pirate, what this people say?
They desire to you a tribute of spears to pay,
poisoned spears and old swords,
the war-gear which you in battle will not profit from.
Sea-thieve's messenger, deliver back in reply,
tell your people this spiteful message,
that here stands undaunted an Earl with his band of men
who will defend our homeland,
Aethelred's country, the lord of my
people and land. Fall shall you heathen in battle!