Questioning the Validity of Some Notes by Prominent Old English Scholars
Sung-Il Lee (Yonsei University)
The interpretative observations made by the scholars of fame are often taken
to be absolutely true so much so that most students will consider it an act of
heinous treason or sacrilege even to question their truthfulness. To respect the
foregoing scholars’ achievements is one thing; to question the truthfulness of
what they have said another. When misinterpretation of a certain passage or
phrase occurs in an influential book, such as A Guide to Old English or
Beowulf: An Edition, both edited by Bruce Mitchell and Fred C. Robinson, the
students will not notice it, nay, not even question whether what the editors say
is correct or not, because for them these books are like the Holy Bible, the
authority of which is not to be challenged.
The two books mentioned above continue to be the standard textbooks for
‘Introduction to Old English’ and ‘Beowulf,’ the two introductory courses in
Anglo-Saxon studies in many graduate programs. For this very reason, we must
not remain blind to the blunders the renowned scholars have made in them: the
misinterpretations suggested by them can persist for a long time, thus
influencing the students’ approach to the works involved.
In this paper, I wish to call the reader's attention to three instances of
misinterpretation of words or phrases that appear in the notes on Beowulf, and
one on The Wife’s Lament, all by prominent scholars of Old English poetry.