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Readings from Anglo-Saxon Prose: ∆lfric's Preface to the Latin Grammar

28 February 2015

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

Following on from my post on Anglo-Saxon medicinal recipes, here is another small excerpt from the corpus of Old English/Anglo-Saxon literature. ∆lfric was an abbot of the late 10th century who produced numerous works in Old English, including a translation of a Latin grammar by the Late Antique writer Priscian. Below is my translation from the original Old English of ∆lfric's preface to that work, including commentary notes.

Translation

I ∆lfric wanted to translate this little book into English concerning the science that is called grammatica [grammar]. Then I translated the two books on the 80 discourses,* because grammar is the key that unlocks understanding of the books. And I thought that this book could help young children for beginning the science, until they should become of greater understanding.

Thus it befits every man who has any good skill, that he should use it for the benefit of other men, that he should entrust the burden that God entrusts to him to some other man, that the property of God should not lie idle, and he thus be called a bad servant and be bound and thrown into darkness, as the Gospel says.** It befits young men that they learn some wisdom, and it befits the elderly that they teach some reason to their young, for through teaching faith is maintained. And every man who loves wisdom is blessed, and he who wishes neither to teach nor to learn, even if he be able, then his understanding grows cold from the holy teaching, and he departs little by little from God.

How will wise teachers come among God's people, unless they learn in youth? And how can belief be thriving if the teaching and teachers fall away? It is now time therefore for the servants and monks of God to take heed that the holy teaching should neither grow cold nor fall away in our days, just as it happened in England now for a few years, as no English priest could arrange or think of a letter in Latin,*** until the archbishop Dunstan**** and the bishop ∆Ģelwold***** built up the teaching in monasteries. Thus I am not saying that this book can benefit much for teaching, but rather it is an introduction to either language, if it pleases anyone.

I now bid by God's name, if anyone wants to copy this book, that he correct it well by example, for I cannot help it if any of it is brought to error through untruthful writers, and that is his responsibility, not mine. A bad writer creates much evil, if he does not wish to correct his error.

Notes

*- Homilies by ∆lfric

** Imagery from Matthew 25:30, as part of the Parable of the Talents.

*** The language of the church.

**** Archbishop of Canterbury from 960 CE until his death in 988. He helped revive monastic life in the tenth century following devastation inflicted by Viking raids.

***** Bishop of Winchester (c. 963-984 CE). 

 

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