Turns Out We’ve Been Misinterpreting the First Line of Beowulf
Since it was first translated and published by Scandinavian linguist Grímur Jónsson Thorkelin in 1815, most new translations of the text have interpreted the very first word of the classic ancient text, “hwæt” (sounds like cat), as a sort of interjection or interruption — kind of like shouting “Hey!” at somebody to get their attention. As a result, it gets turned into “Listen!”, “Ho!”, or in Seamus Heaney’s most recent translation of the text, “So.”
However, according to a new paper by Dr George Walkden, it’s not meant to sound like that at all. The interrogative pronoun  “hwæt,” he argues, is not meant to be a standalone piece of information but instead informs the rest of the line — sort of like an exclamation mark that goes at the beginning of a sentence rather than the end. So as a result, “Hwæt! We Gar-Dena in gear-dagum, þeod-cyninga,  þrym gefrunon, hu ða æþelingas  ellen fremedon!” does not translate to “Listen! We have heard of the might of the kings,” it translates to “How we have heard of the might of the kings.”
Read on

Turns Out We’ve Been Misinterpreting the First Line of Beowulf

Since it was first translated and published by Scandinavian linguist Grímur Jónsson Thorkelin in 1815, most new translations of the text have interpreted the very first word of the classic ancient text, “hwæt” (sounds like cat), as a sort of interjection or interruption — kind of like shouting “Hey!” at somebody to get their attention. As a result, it gets turned into “Listen!”, “Ho!”, or in Seamus Heaney’s most recent translation of the text, “So.”

However, according to a new paper by Dr George Walkden, it’s not meant to sound like that at all. The interrogative pronoun  “hwæt,” he argues, is not meant to be a standalone piece of information but instead informs the rest of the line — sort of like an exclamation mark that goes at the beginning of a sentence rather than the end. So as a result, “Hwæt! We Gar-Dena in gear-dagum, þeod-cyninga,  þrym gefrunon, hu ða æþelingas  ellen fremedon!” does not translate to “Listen! We have heard of the might of the kings,” it translates to “How we have heard of the might of the kings.”

Read on