Moses Encourages the Israelites (Exodus, Line 124) AFTER seven introductory lines, the Old English poem Exodus focuses on Moses as the Israelites’ leader to the Promised Land. The following lines are taken from the description of the Israelites’ approach to the Red Sea: Hæfde foregenga fyrene loccas, blace beamas; bellegesan hweop in þam hereþreate, hatan lige, þæt he on westenne werod forbærnde, nymðe hie modhwate Moyses hyrde. Exodus, ll 120–1241 The quoted passage offers various textual problems that have been dealt with by editors and commentators.2 Thorpe’s translation is still acceptable in its main aspects: ‘Had their harbinger fiery locks, pale beams; a cry of dread resounded in the martial host, at the hot flame, that it in the waste would burn up the host, unless they zealously Moses obeyed’.3 Tolkien’s posthumously published rendering differs in some aspects, but it is definitely also worth quoting: ‘Fiery locks that vanguard bore and gleaming rays of light; with hot fire and blazing terror he made threat against that embattled array that he would in the wilderness burn to nought their host, unless with hearts of courage they hearkened to the words of Moses’.4 In commentaries on line 124 it is usually mentioned that hyrde (line 124b) as a plural in the subjunctive exhibits loss of final -n, which would not be exceptional.5 Tolkien also points out that ‘since hyran in the sense ‘obey’ takes the dative, we should have Moyse’.6 Irving and Lucas consider Moyses as indeclinable,7 but a dative Moyse is reliably attested, e.g. Moyse sealde (Andreas, line 1513b) ‘to Moses He gave’.8 The analysis of the line is thus faced with not insignificant grammatical irregularities, and it is certainly permitted to inquire whether the verse line allows being parsed in a different way. If we assume that the nominative singular Moyses functions as the subject of the conditional clause introduced by the conjunction nymðe ‘unless’, then hyrde will represent the predicate and hie modhwate ‘them, bold ones’ could be the accusative object. The main problem consists in identifying the verb occurring in the preterite subjunctive hyrde. We can definitely rule out hieran ‘hear’. From the general context, a verb in the semantic range of ‘encourage, exhort, drive on, extol’ may be expected. In Andreas, we find the following sequence of imperatives: cyð þe sylfne, / herd hige þinne, heortan staðola (Andreas, ll 1212b–1213) ‘make yourself known, harden your resolve, fortify your heart’.9 The weak verb OE herdan/hierdan is to be explained as based on the adjective heard ‘hard’, the reflexes of Gmc. *hardijan- are herdan in Anglian and hierdan (hyrdan) in West-Saxon.10 Consequently I suggest that hyrde at line 124 of Exodus represents the preterite subjunctive of herdan/hierdan ‘encourage’. The syntax of the clause is transparent: nymðe hie modhwate Moyses hyrde means ‘unless Moses encouraged them, the bold ones’,11 with the word-order pattern OSV (object–subject–verb).12 The clause is intended to underline the leadership function of Moses. The Egyptians Drown in the Red Sea (Exodus, Lines 482–487a) Section.clviii. of Exodus deals with Pharao and the Egyptian host pursuing the Israelites. The Israelites are granted safe passage through the Red Sea whereas the Egyptians drown in the returning waters: Flod famgode, fæge crungon, lagu land gefeol, lyft wæs onhrered, wicon weallfæsten, wægas burston, multon meretorras, þa se mihtiga sloh mid halige hand, heofonrices weard, on werbeamas. Exodus, ll 482–487a13 At line 487a, on has been inserted because the ‘MS. reading lacks one metrical syllable in this half-line’.14 Recently Anlezark dealt with this passage and discussed various attempts at restoring the text.15 Anlezark’s paper concentrates on interpreting werbeam as ‘beam of a dam’, which seems quite possible.16 The metrical problem, however, is not immediately affected by the way in which werbeamas (line 487a) is analysed. As a half-line werbeamas would be one syllable short. Emendation of the manuscript readings should generally be avoided unless absolutely necessary. I think that in this particular case the manuscript reading is not really in need of an emendation. If we tentatively move weard into the first lift of line 487a, weard werbeamas, a metrically regular D-verse with double alliteration, results. Line 486b will then consist solely of heofonrices. In A-verses without anacrusis, the first syllable is often prosodically long (e.g. hyrnednebba, Exodus, line 161b), but instances of a short syllable in the first lift are by no means unknown, for example sunu Noes (Genesis, line 1240b), Evan stondan (Genesis, line 548b). Therefore heofonrices is an acceptable A-verse at line 486b. The verse-line mid halige hand heofonrices has instrumental function and can be translated as ‘by the holy hand of the heavenly kingdom’. It is conceivable that hand in mid halige hand heofonrices has rather an abstract meaning in the area of ‘power’.17 The passage is probably intended to indicate that Moses’ actions were divinely guided. The subject of the clause introduced by þa (line 485b)18 is se mihtiga … weard, and werbeamas is the direct object belonging to the predicate sloh. With regard to the subject of the clause, it may be noted that the distance between se mihtiga and weard, somewhat disturbing at first sight, can perhaps be accounted for: in Old English, the weak adjective preceded by the demonstrative pronoun may have substantival function, therefore se mihtiga ‘the mighty one’ may be read as the subject of the clause, and weard ‘guardian’, two half-lines further on, stands in apposition.19 Lines 485b–487a can be translated as follows: ‘then the mighty one, with the holy hand of the heavenly kingdom, the guardian smashed the dams’. Footnotes 1 Quoted from G. P. Krapp (ed.), The Junius Manuscript (New York, 1931), 94. 2 The assumption that <bellegesan> (line 121b) represents a compound bēlegesa ‘flame-terror’ is acceptable. Various suggestions are discussed by Krapp, Junius Manuscript, 203. 3 B. Thorpe (ed.), Caedmon’s metrical paraphrase of parts of the holy scriptures in Anglo-Saxon (London, 1832), 185. 4 J. R. R. Tolkien, The Old English Exodus. Text, translation, and commentary, edited by J. Turville-Petre (Oxford, 1981), 22. 5 L. Bloomfield, ‘OE Plural Subjunctives in -e’, Journal of English and Germanic Philology, xxix (1930), 100–13. 6 Tolkien, Exodus, 45. 7 E. B. Irving (ed.), The Old English Exodus, edited with introduction, notes, and glossary (New Haven, 1953), 118, and P. J. Lucas (ed.), Exodus (London, 1977), 197. 8 R. North and M. D. J. Bintley (eds), Andreas. An Edition (Liverpool, 2016), 199. 9 North, Andreas, 182. 10 The reflexes of Gmc. *hardijan- are discussed by Riecke; see J. Riecke, Die schwachen jan-Verben des Althochdeutschen. Ein Gliederungsversuch (Göttingen, 1996), 435. 11 In his note on line 124, Blackburn considers the possibility that hyrde ‘may mean ‘embolden’, ‘encourage’ (from heard ‘bold’)’ and points out that Exodus xiv, 13, 14 is likely to provide the background for the Old English poet’s formulation; see F. A. Blackburn (ed.), Exodus and Daniel. Two Old English Poems Preserved in MS. Junius 11 in the Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford, England (Boston, 1907), 42. 12 The word-order pattern OSV is regular in subordinate clauses introduced by OE nymðe, e.g. ætrihte wæs/ guð getwæfed, nymðe mec God scylde (Beowulf, ll 1657b–1658). 13 Krapp, Junius Manuscript, 104. 14 Krapp, Junius Manuscript, 214, with discussion of this emendation. 15 Many proposals consist in inserting a word in line 487a, so that heofonrices weard can function as line 486b. Since heofonrices weard is a formulaic expression this interpretation is certainly tempting. But Irving, Exodus, 62, offers Weard werbeamas as line 486a and inserts [God] to represent the second lift in line 485b: heofonrices God is a formula occurring in Old English Christian poetry. 16 D. Anlezark, ‘Old English Exodus 487 werbeamas’, N&Q, cclx (2015), 497–508. 17 Apart from ‘hand’ in the concrete, Bosworth-Toller, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (Oxford, 1898), 507, glosses the meaning of OE hand as ‘side, power, control’. The phrase on hand gan means ‘to submit, surrender’. Therefore for mid halige hand, a rendering like ‘by the holy power’ would seem acceptable. 18 Theoretically þa can function as an adverb meaning ‘then’ or as a conjunction meaning ‘when’. 19 Theoretically instances like se hearda Higelaces þegn (Beowulf, line 2977), may be understood as ‘the stern one, Hygelac’s thane’ or ‘the stern thane of Hygelac’. H. Osthoff, Zur Geschichte des schwachen Adjectivums. Eine sprachwissenschaftliche Untersuchung (Jena, 1876), 145–7, dealt with these constructions in historical perspective; on these problems see also B. Mitchell, Old English Syntax (Oxford, 1985), §134. © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: email@example.com
Notes and Queries – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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