The other night, I came upon an episode of Vikings on TV. It’s a show I’m totally interested in watching, but haven’t gotten a chance to properly start yet. I got kind of sucked into it (so now I’ve seen an episode out of order – heaven forbid!*), mostly because of the blood and gore…and the very attractive (albeit hidden under a lot of dirt and blood) men.
Before long, I found myself thinking about Beowulf.
You may not guess this about me, but I’m a bit of a Beowulf nerd. How did I get this way?
Let me tell you. (This is how blogging works, right?)
In the second year of my undergrad degree, I decided to sign up for an Old English Literature course. Honestly, I didn’t know much about what I was signing up for, aside from the following:
(A) I am a language lover, and I wanted to know more about Old English and just how different it is from what we speak now, and
(B) It sounded like an epic – and potentially soul-crushingly difficult – adventure.
SPOILER ALERT: My soul is fine. And happy! And it sort of understands some Old English!
The course was a full-year, the first half being primarily devoted to learning the language, and the second half to actually starting to read text in Old English (we always had translations as well, of course – I’d have been pretty lost otherwise). The text we were focusing on was Beowulf, though we read a lot of other poetry and another full-length saga as well.
Old English was one of the most challenging courses I took during my English degree, but it was also one of my favourites. Yes, I loved the stories we were reading, but also, I loved our professor.
Professor Fox (yes, that is his real name, and yes, as a matter of fact, he is a fox, but shut up, that’s not what I’m here to talk about) was – is – the biggest Old English nerd I’ve ever met in my life. On the first day, he looked like a five year old in a candy store while he explained to us that we were about to have the best year ever learning about Beowulf.
“It’s great! It’s amazing! It’s EPIC! There’s blood and guts and MONSTERS! MONSTERS, you guys!”**
I was sold.
It was soon apparent that the twinkle in Professor Fox’s eyes on the first day of the course was no act. Every single class, he was just as excited about Old English as the day we started. And every single class, there was at least one point in the lecture where he would stop and – with an ear-to-ear grin on his face – say something along the lines of, “Seriously, guys! How COOL is that?!” or, “How NEAT! Right?!”
And he was right! Old English is super interesting stuff! Beowulf is an amazing story – one that can be read and re-read and interpreted on so many levels. Its language is like Shakespeare in the sense that one word can change everything depending on the reader and how they see it. And don’t even get me started on Old English poetry! There are feminist poems from like, the 9th century, guys. Seriously, how cool is that? It’s cool!
Sometimes – a lot of the time – Professor Fox would run out of time at the end of his lectures. When this happened, he would glance at the clock and literally start panicking. He’d start pacing the room going, “Oh no! Oh no! Five more minutes and I have so much cool stuff to tell you guys! What do I do? What do I do?!”
Also, on Halloween, he came to class dressed as a hobbit/viking sort of thing. And he taught the entire hour dressed like that.
I learned so much from my Old English class, but the thing I learned above all else is this: passion is contagious. When you love what you do so much that you are genuinely excited to do it, it not only shows, it spreads. You intrigue, excite, and inspire.
I think we should all strive to to do that in life, no matter what our field of work is.
Now, go read Beowulf. Don’t watch the movies – they’re terrible. The Seamus Heaney translation, while a bit wacky (he’s Irish, what do you expect?), is super accessible and fun.
*Inside joke with myself – I am so totally unconcerned with “spoilers,” I can’t even tell you.
**I paraphrased that, and in doing so, I think I toned down the excitement a bit, but you get the point.