The End of Honour: An Anglo-Saxon Screed

Given the response to Allen J. Frantzen’s crash-and-burn misogynist tirade (don’t actually read this unles you have to) and the resulting #femfog scandal now making the rounds on Twitter, I thought it fitting to open 2016 with a meditation that, in spite of all that’s been said in a debate too large to summarize here, Kalamazoo’s famous International congress on Medieval Studies is hosting not one but two full panels “in honor of Allen J. Frantzen.”

This fascinates me for several reasons, not least of all because Frantzen is a particularly powerful/influential Anglo-Saxonist, and because “honour” as such (I default to the Canadian spelling) is such a key concept in the literature and culture of pre-Conquest Anglo-Saxon England that I’m a little baffled that well-read medievalists can hold such an interesting understanding of the concept of honour, how it operates, and how it is earned as to keep these panels on the list.

Maybe I’ve read an entirely different corpus of Old English than everybody else; but I recall a literature with some important things to say about the meaning of honour. In honour of that (har har), I offer my response to the #femfog debacle in verse below. Anglo-Saxon poetry has a long and rich history of profiding “best-practices” advice for men to follow. Judging by what I’ve read tonight, we need that now more than ever.

 

The End of Honour

Two manners of men are fated to fortune:
The first wins his fame for the boon of all folk,
With good heart he reckons; free with his respect,
He is repaid in kind. His kinfolk who prosper
Sing praise of his kindness; and pray when he comes
To his rest (soon enough, we all sleep without snoring)
That his work and his memory, the wealth of his mind
Shall not fail in their fame, forgotten in death,
But live on in the light of glory as long
As humanity’s memory will ever endure.

The second of men, the sadder in mind
Is given to vitriol; vile in his gall,
He speaks only hatred. His wisdom is spent
Who weaves cowardly words to curse at women,
Who, whelmed in his vanity, vexed and unworthy,
Envenoms the work of his wits with such vileness
As poisons with pride what once brought him worth.
All people who suffer the pain of his scathing
Should reckon his words no worse than the rain:
The blast of his storm in the bloom of his strength
Will wither and weaken, when winter has fled,
To ripples, then silence—like rain on the sea.

Deprived in his dotage, alone with his loathing,
The scather of women shall have one reward:
A barrow to keep him, bereft of his kinfolk,
Where wretched he reckons the end of his age.
Awaiting his wyrd, forlorn and quite friendless,
In #femfog—cloud of his mind’s making—well cloaked,
The wretch shall soon perish and pass beyond reckoning.

No mound will be raised to his might: no renown
Will linger for long when the loathed soul has left him.
So shall a good man, who is shrewd in his mind,
Preach not in his pride of fear and of falseness,
Nor shudder in fear at good women’s shadows,
Who, wise in their counsel and kind in their ways,
Are needed as never before in a field
Still topped by such tyrants in their dying days.

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