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Products for grant FT-53596-05

Verbs of Perception in Old and Middle English
Thomas Klein, Idaho State University

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Stanc æfter stane (Beowulf, l. 2288): Philology, Narrative Context, and the Waking Dragon (Article)
Title: Stanc æfter stane (Beowulf, l. 2288): Philology, Narrative Context, and the Waking Dragon
Author: Thomas Klein
Abstract: In line 2288a of Beowulf, the dragon does something denoted by the verb stincan: "Þa se wyrm onwoc, / wroht wæs geniwad; stonc ða æfter stane, / stearcheort onfand feondes fotlast...." (ll. 2287-9) ("When the serpent awoke, anger was renewed; it stonc then æfter stone, the stout-hearted one discovered an enemy’s footprint."). These lines describe the dragon’s reactions to its growing awareness of the theft from its hoard, but there is no philological consensus on the meaning of the verb form “stonc.” It might mean something like ‘smelled’ or ‘sniffed,’ a meaning for which it is difficult to find precedent elsewhere in Old English. On the other hand, it might mean ‘leapt’ or ‘moved quickly,’ a sense which is hinted at by a number of apparent cognates in Old English and several North Germanic languages. Though it appears innocuous, the line is important because it conditions our perception of the dragon as a creature, rather than simply an elemental force. In the article, I first consider the linguistic evidence for the meaning of the verbal form stonc; I then look at the line in its narrative context and there find reason for preferring the meaning ‘sniffed’. My consideration of the crux is an occasion to advocate for the importance of controlling linguistic and etymological evidence with close analysis of narrative context.
Year: 2007
Primary URL:
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Journal of English and Germanic Philology 106.1 (January 2007): 22-44
Publisher: University of Illinois Press