Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Genesis XXV (The Tower of Babel)

Likewise from the descent of Ham was born many human tribes.
From that wide-folk, a great generation was begotten.
Then a great many sons and daughters were born of Shem
in the world’s realm, of free-born children, for many winters
before the Lord of Hosts chose the old man for slaughter-rest.
In that tribe were good men, of those one was named Eber,
the son of Shem. From that earl was born an uncountable people,
who all noblemen now earth-dwelling call the Hebrews.
They departed then for the east, leading their possessions,
their cattle and food. The people were resolute—
brave warriors seeking a roomy land, until they,
in a great host, arrived where they, a folk traveling,
the children of nobles firmly seized a homeland. (1637-54)

They settled then in Shinar, wide and broad, the people’s chieftains
with their men, dear in their year-days, the green fields, the fair earth.
Forward from them, there was a multitude of all good in the time
of their days and a growing abundance. Then many man,
a proud noble with his kinsman, bade one another that they,
for their own glory, should construct a city before their numbers
must soon be scattered across the bosom of the earth, the tribe of people
on a land-search, and raise up a tower as a beacon unto the heaven-stars. (1655-67)

After that they sought the field of Shinar, just as those exceedingly powerful
counselors of the people were accustomed to do for their pleasure.
The men sought their advice for their labor and their sin,
until for their pride and their folly, they revealed their skill,
creating a city and rearing a ladder up to the heavens,
erecting with strength a stone wall over what is proper to men,
eager for honor, the heroes with their hands. Then came Holy God
observing the work of the generation of men, the sheltering fastness
of warriors and that beacon of the heirs of Adam together,
which was built up to the stars, and for that unreadiness,*
the stern-minded King made them a hindrance when he wrathfully created
an unlikeness in the tongue of earth-dwellers so that they possessed
no power in their speech when the leaders of the labor encountered
other bands, in great numbers, at the tower rising in its might.
None of the human tribes there knew what the others were saying. (1668-90)

Nor could they agree to further build up that stone wall,
yet they miserably misbuilt in heaps, alienated by tongue.
Each sheltering kin was made strange to the other
after the Measurer disrupted through the power of his might
the speech of men. Then they went forth in four ways,
the sons of noblemen, a people disunited in a land-search.
In their traces both the strong stone tower and the high city
stood together on Shinar unfinished. (1691-1701)

Then the kin-shelter of Shem grew under the sky and increased
until a man was born among his generation, the count of noble children,
a gracious-minded man, thoughtful in his customs.
And to that noble man were born two beautiful sons in Babylon,
his children were produced, and these first-spears,
these brave men were called Abraham and Haran.
To these earls the Lord of Angels was both peace and life.*
Then was a son born to Haran, dear as life, Lot was his name.
These warriors prospered in the Measurer, Abraham and Lot,
not-ignoble, just as these men were excellent from their elders
in the world’s realm—therefore widely now they judge
among glorious multitudes the sons of the many.* (1702-18)

---------- Notes -----

1682) þæs unrædes: translated as “unreadiness” is the older sense of read as bad counsel or idea.

1711) freod and aldor: Thorpe and other editions read “freond” here.

1717-18) forðon hie wide nu / dugeðum demað drihta bearnum: This line has a history of heavy emendment and is restored to the Junius MS reading by Doane. Holthausen gives the reading “dugeðum demað driht-folca bearn” to prop up the meter, and Krapp follows him. I translate “dugeðum” here as “glorious multitudes” since the word means both “glory” and “host,” and since the heavenly hosts are being described here.

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