July 30th, 2017


That's tellin' 'em

The old philologists were not known for having mouths stuffed with meal. Even in Jakob Grimm's time, he noted that no scientific discipline was more merciless to error. Philologists were sharp in their commentary, and they did not spare each other's feelings when they discussed each other's work.

J.R.R. Tolkien was the last of the great philologists of old. His commentary could be very sharp, but when criticizing others he often did so with a disarming humor. I've been reading a bit in Tolkien's translation and commentary on Beowulf, published in 2014. I found a passage I had marked with a smiley face in the margin. It is a classic of Tolkien scholarship:

So here, as far as can be discovered, Geotena is not the correct form of any Germanic or tribal name; and the question is, which known name will explain the scribal Geotena most credibly. A great deal of ink has been spilled on that question. But to my mind most of it had been better left in the bottle, and can now be washed out, since it has been used largely in aid of what can only be described as the 'Jutish lunacy' -- 'the Géatas are the Jutes'. Once you admit that queen-bee into your bonnet it will lay a hive of maggots there. I will not enter here into a discussion with those to whom this sad thing has happened. Even so, a great deal may be said. I will attempt to give a summary of the chief points.