Monday, December 14, 2015



Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. wretch, sense A.1: "One driven out of or away from his native country; a banished person; an exile." Perhaps only in Old English (wrecca, wræcca). The OED notes, "The Middle English instances are doubtful; they may be contextual uses of sense A.2," i.e. "One who is sunk in deep distress, sorrow, misfortune, or poverty; a miserable, unhappy, or unfortunate person; a poor or hapless being."

Michael Alexander, The Earliest English Poems: A Bilingual Edition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970), p. 83 (introduction to Wanderer and Seafarer):
Exile is the theme of the more personal poetry of Anglo-Saxon England, as it is of ancient Chinese poetry. An exile (wraecca, also meaning 'wretch, stranger, wanderer, pilgrim, unhappy man') is the protagonist of all the Old English elegies.
J.R.R. Tolkien, Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014), p. 293:
wrecca means in origin an 'exile', a man driven out from the land of his home — for any reason: crime, collapse or conquest of his people or princely line, economic pressure or the desire for more opportunity, and often (if he was of high birth) dynastic struggles among members of the 'royal family'.
Scott Gwara, Heroic Identity in the World of Beowulf (Leiden: Brill, 2009), p. 74:
Often translated "exile" or "fugitive," OE wrecca is related to a host of Old English nouns and verbs with meanings of "force" or "misery," that is a man "driven" or "expelled" (from his people) and consequently "suffering" in exile. In fact, a verse from Maxims I attributes misery to isolation in general, and confirms the duality of OE wrecca as "exile" and "wretch":
Earm biþ se þe sceal      ana lifgan,
wineleas wunian;      hafaþ him wyrd geteod. (172a-3b)

He who must live alone, dwell friendless, will be wretched; destiny is decreed for him.

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