Episode 5: Elaine Treharne

When I read Old English, “The Battle of Maldon” or Beowulf or any of these texts, I read resilience and even in times of successive conflicts, which we have now, there’s an ability to be resolute and to seek to overcome that we would do well to emulate.
Elaine Treharne

Our newest episode is a conversation with Professor Elaine Treharne, an expert of medieval literature and Director of Stanford’s Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis.  

Transcript: Episode 5, Elaine Treharne

We got to talk with Elaine about her research and writing, her political and scholarly development, and above all about the beauty and fascination of early medieval literature.  Our key text is the famously enigmatic poem generally known as “Wulf and Eadwacer,” translated here by Elaine:

“Wretched” (Wulf and Eadwacer)
Authorship unknown

For my tribe it’s like being given a tribute.
They’ll want to consume him if he comes on that crowd.
It’s not like that for us.
Wulf’s on one island, I’m on the other.
Fast-bound is that island, surrounded by fen.
They are murderous men there on the island.
They’ll want to consume him if he comes on that crowd.
That’s unlikely for us.
I traced the wide travels of Wulf in my wonderings
when it was rainy weather, and I sat weeping.
Then he, battle-hardened, laid arms about me.
That was pleasure for me; still, there was pain for me too.
Wulf, my Wulf, my wonderings of you
made me sick—your seldom comings,
my mourning mind—not the missing of meals.
Can you hear, Eadwacer? Wulf will carry our wretched whelp to the woods.
That may easily be split apart what was never spliced, the riddle of us both together.

In Old English:

Leodum is minum     swylce him mon lac gife.
Willað hy hine aÞecgan     gif he on Þreat cymeð.
Ungelic is us.
Wulf is on iege,     Ic on oÞerre.
Fæst is Þæt eglond,     fenne biworpen.
Sindon wælreowe     weras Þær on ige.
Willað hy hine aÞecgan     gif he on Þreat cymeð.
Ungelic is us.
Wulfes Ic mines widlastum     wenum dogode
Þonne hit wæs renig weder,     one Ic reotugu sæt.
Þonne mec se beaducafa     bogum bilegde:
Wæs me wyn to Þon;    wæs me hwæÞre eac lað.
Wulf, min Wulf,    wena me Þine
seoce gedydon,    Þine seldcymas,
murnende mod,    nales meteliste.
Gehyrest Þu, Eadwacer?     Uncerne earmne hwelp bireð wulf to wuda.
Þæt mon eaÞe tosliteð     ðætte næfre gesomnad wæs, uncer giedd geador.

In the closing of the podcast, Elaine describes how this poem still speaks to us today, and what such literature can tell us about being human.


Here are a few links for exploring further the books and subjects in the episode:

Information on the Exeter Book

“The Wife’s Lament” in translation

Living through Conquest: The Politics of Early English, 1020-1220 by Elaine Treharne

The Myth of Nations: The Medieval Origins of Europe by Patrick J. Geary

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

A review of Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve

The history of Tryweryn

The controversy over a recent performance of Julius Caesar


You can follow Elaine on Twitter: @ETreharne