Thursday, April 04, 2019


Shameful Acts

Letter to Brother Edward, attributed to Ælfric (ca. 950-ca. 1010), tr. Charles Barber, Joan C. Beal, and Philip A. Shaw, The English Language, 2nd ed. (2009; rpt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 132-133:
I also say to you, brother Edward, now that you have asked me about this, that you are all behaving unrighteously in abandoning the English customs which your fathers practised and loving the customs of heathen men who do not allow you to live, and in doing so you make clear by those vices that you despise your race and your elders, when, as an insult to them, you dress yourselves in the Danish way, with uncovered neck and blinded eyes. I will say no more about this shameful way of dressing, except that books tell us that he who practises heathen customs in his life, and dishonours his own race with them, will be excommunicated. I also ask you, brother — because you are in the countryside with women oftener than I am — that you should say something to them, if indeed you can say it to them for shame; it shames me greatly that I should say it to you. I have often heard it said (and it is terrible but true), that the rustic women will often foully drink and even eat on the toilets at their feasts; but it is a shameful deed and a great folly and an outrageous shame that anyone should ever be so dissolute that he should stuff his mouth with foods up above while the filth goes out the other end, and he drinks both the ale and the stink, so that he thus fulfils his wicked greed. I cannot, for shame, describe the shameful act of anyone eating on the toilet as disgustingly as the act itself is disgusting, but no one who is any good ever ought to do this.

Ic secge eac ðe, broðor Eadweard, nu ðu me þyses bæde, þæt ge doð unrihtlice þæt ge ða Engliscan þeawas forlætað þe eowre fæderas heoldon and hæðenra manna þeawas lufiað þe eow ðæs lifes ne unnon, and mid ðam geswuteliað þæt ge forseoð eower cynn and eowre yldran mid þam unþeawum, þonne ge him on teonan tysliað eow on Denisc, ableredum hneccan and ablendum eagum. Ne secge ic na mare embe ða sceandlican tyslunge, buton þæt us secgað bec þæt se beo amansumod þe hæðenra manna þeawas hylt on his life, and his agen cynn unwurþað mid þam. Ic bidde eac þe, broðor — forþamðe þu byst uppan lande mid wimmannum oftor þonne ic beo — þæt þu him an þing secge, gif ðu for sceame swaþeah hit him secgan mæge; me sceamað þearle þæt ic hit secge ðe. Ic hit gehyrde oft secgan (and hit is yfelsoð) þæt þas uplendiscan wif wyllað oft drincan and furþon etan fullice on gangsetlum æt heora gebeorscipum; ac hit is bysmorlic dæd and mycel higeleast and huxlic bysmor þæt ænig man æfre swa unþeawfæst beon sceole þæt he þone muð ufan mid mettum afylle and on oðerne ende him gange þæt meox ut fram, and drince þonne ægðer ge þæt ealu ge þone stenc, þæt he huru swa afylle his fracodan gyfernysse. Ic ne mæg for sceame þa sceandlican dæde þæt ænig mann sceole etan on gange swa fullice secgan swa hit fullic is, ac þæt næfre nedeð nan ðæra manna ðe deah.
See Mary Clayton, "Letter to Brother Edward: A Student Edition," Old English Newsletter 40.3 (2007) 31-46.

Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


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