Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Lord's Prayer in Old English

Because of dynastic disputes, broken promises and outright greed, the Norman Duke William The Bastard (afterwards known as The Conqueror-it was a VERY BAD idea to refer to his illegitimate status or his relatively poor and non-noble mother as he tended to break things and hurt people) claimed the English throne and successfully invaded in 1066, putting an end to Anglo-Saxon hegemony at the Battle of Hastings. A new number of French and Latin words and phrases were introduced into the English language and it was slowly transformed to what we know today. Old English aka Anglo-Saxon fell out of favor.

What is less well known is that William's victory at Hastings was a close thing. His knights faced the ancient Anglo-Saxon infantry shield wall battle line which they found themselves quite unable to break. Victory only came when the Normans feigned a total retreat. Thinking that they had won, the Anglo-Saxons broke formation to chase after the fleeing Normans only to get the surprise of the millennium when the knights reversed course. The Normans rode down and slaughtered the dispersed and disordered infantry. The Anglo-Saxon King Harold Godwinson had sussed out the trick and was apparently furiously trying to get his men re-organized when he was killed by an arrow to the eye. The rout began in earnest though true to their oaths Harold's house guard stayed to fight over his body and died to the last man.  

Bad luck for the Anglo-Saxons.
I took a few college classes on Northern European literature where they did indeed have us read Beowulf. One of my professors got a kick out of declaiming in Old English. Listen to the Lord's Prayer in Old English below. If King Harold had won and everything else in history had pretty much stayed the same, perhaps everyone in today's English speaking world would sound like this. To me it has the sing-song qualities of Swedish with the guttural tones of German. It is funny to occasionally hear words that sound English.

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