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Aspects of Medieval English Language and Literature

Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference of the Society of Historical English Language and Linguistics


Edited By Michiko Ogura and Hans Sauer

This volume is a collection of papers read at the International Medieval Congress at Leeds in 2017, in two sessions organized by the Institute of English Studies at the University of London and four sessions organized by the Society of Historical English Language and Linguistics. Contributions consist of poetry, prose, interlinear glosses, syntax, semantics, lexicology, and medievalism. The contributors employ a wealth of different approaches. The general theme of the IMC 2017 was ‘otherness’, and some papers fit this theme very well. Even when two researchers deal with a similar topic and arrive at different conclusions, the editors do not try to harmonize them but present them as they are for further discussion.

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2 The Significance of nacod nið-draca (Beowulf 2273a) Reconsidered: The Metaphorical Link Interconnecting fire, swords, warriors and monsters

1 Introduction


Abstract: In this paper the neglected phrase nacod niðdraca in Beowulf is reconsidered through the metaphorical link among the concepts of MONSTER, WARRIOR, SWORD and FIRE. The fire dragon emerges as the archenemy of the hero like an unsheathed sword, ready to fight.

In Beowulf the fire-dragon is variously described with many epithets, among which nacod nið-draca (literally ‘naked battle-dragon’) at line 2273 is strangely neglected:

It is clear by looking at glossaries or notes to the phrase in the prestigious editions of the poem that no special attention has been paid to this phrase: Klaeber designates the sense of the adjective here as ‘smooth,’ Wrenn ‘naked; bare; smooth,’ Mitchell and Robinson ‘bare, smooth,’ and Jack ‘naked, smooth’ in the glossary to their editions. But what is a smooth dragon like? The monster appears in the scene byrnende and fyre befangen with the compound nið-draca as his ←41 | 42→ epithet. The prevailing image of fire and battle invoked by these words, however, does not seem to go together with the weaker sense of nacod, ‘smooth.’2

No more attention has been paid by the translators of the epic, either, as we can see that the modern English equivalents prevalent among theirs are naked, smooth, sleek, or slick (See Table 2). But among the thirty translations I have examined I found two interesting renderings which are worth noticing. Edward Morgan (1952) gives “Dragon-fiend, swooper sleek-skinned by...

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