From the Widhere Manuscript: Virgil in Old English

El hecho es que cada escritor crea sus precursores. Su labor modifica nuestra concepción del pasado, como ha de modificar el futuro. En esta correlación nada importa la identidad o la pluralidad de los hombres.  
The fact is that every writer creates his own precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past, as it must modify the future. In this correlation, the identity or plurality of men is of no importance. 
   — Borges "Kafka y sus precursores" 
Through a series of events I am not yet at liberty to recount, some fragments (transcriptions of a lost early modern copy) of an otherwise lost Old English manuscript — which I dub the "Widhere Manuscript" after the name it gives to its version of the hero Aeneas — have come to my attention.

Apart from an account of the funeral of Alaric the Visigoth, and a lament on the Sack of Lindesfarne, the fragments consist largely of free translations of Greek and Latin verse. That fact in itself is not surprising, even if knowledge of Greek was rare. The attested OE corpus already includes a good deal of verse translation (such as Boethius and the Psalms), including a number of amplifying verse paraphrases of texts that were originally in prose.

Unlike most other Old English verse-translators, this translator rendered verse of a patently non-Christian nature. There are fragments of Horace, Ovid, Semonides of Amorgos, Virgil, Apollonius of Rhodes and Tyrtaeus. The translator took a domesticating view of his material, turning Roman gods into Germanic gods (or perhaps turning Germanic gods into Roman gods) as readily as the Romans did with Greek gods. But the equations are not mechanical. In the Aeneid and Odyssey fragments, the role of Jupiter is sometimes given to Wōden, and sometimes to Þunor. Sometimes they appear together, or Þunor speaks on behalf of Wōden.

I transcribe the first of the Aeneid fragments below.

Two of the divine beings named are mentioned nowhere else in OE literature, and it is only Old Norse that allows us to securely recognize Braga as a poetry god. Terms like ærbeorn and osþrymm are attested nowhere else in OE either. The fragment here is abbreviated in one place, relative to the Latin original (the result is that Aeneas himself is presented as being the one to build the walls of Rome.) The prosody suggests this is a late text indeed, and the punning on secgan and secg (and two different meanings of the latter) is curiously playful. The ostentatious paganism, transforming a respected Classical work into a vehicle for deities that were diabolized in the translator's society is a strange show of antiquarianism.

I cannot shake the sense that this is the work of a deeply eccentric mind. It is difficult to imagine what drove him to such an odd literary performance. The potential audience for a work like this would have been small indeed. But then, translators sometimes do strange things. I'd say it might seem unimaginable. But that's not true. You can play some quite strange tricks on your imagination.

Lēoþ iċ seċġe  seċġa ond þæs ǣrbeornes
se þe fram Trōian sīþ  āsette tō Eatules
Wǣġrimum, wyrdes  wræcmon ond sǣrinc.
Hine ġeon mearclond  ond mererāda þrēow
Ōsþrymmas mihtmōd.  Irreġemynd Wælfrōwan
Feor on wælfǣhþe  wræc his bānhūs.
Wann ēac wīġgryras  tō þæs þe hē weall stealde
Rōmebyriġ ond lǣdde Lǣdenlonde his godas.
Hwæt! Brāga wecþ on brēoste þā þing...

Below is my (necessarily tentative) literal translation of the fragment:
A lay I sing of swords1and of the original hero who from Troy set forth to Italy's wave-rims, fate's exile2 and seawarrior3. He through countrylands and the waveroads was thrown about by the fell passion of the Aesir powers. Valfreyja's raging memory in deadly feud harrowed the bones of his body far in exile. And war-horrors he weathered also, until he set the rampart of Romeburg, and led his gods into Latinland. Attend! Bragi quickens in my breast the causes...
 This word could also be translated as "warriors, men." Secg as a feminine i-stem noun means "sword." As a masculine a-stem noun it is a poetic word for "warrior, man."
 2 Other possible translations are "wretch, persecuted one."
 3 Or "sea-raider"
 There are any number of possible translations of translations for þa þing. Possibilities include Motives, issues, matters, questions, points and more besides. 

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