Dating isn’t easy. There are all sorts of unpredictable variables along the way that can make you throw your hands in the air and ask yourself, "Will we ever really know the true age of the Beowulf manuscript?" For me, a relatively modern girl, dating has not been without its struggles and frustrations. But I strongly believe that with a few tips, your experience with Old English poetry can be fun and drama-free as possible!
1. Compare ratios of certain letters.
The key to dating lies in the relationship between ancient runes. Maybe you like the Celtic rune eth (Ð) but your scribe prefers the Germanic character thorn (Þ). Even though they mean the same thing on the surface, it's SUPER important to recognize differences in usage; once you recognize these divergences, you can move on from there.
2. Scan for hypermetric verses.
People might tell you that you’re overanalyzing things, but this useful trick has helped me so much in my dating life! What you'll tend to notice is that, as time goes on, the number of metrically insignificant syllables goes up and you'll be unstressed most of the time. This is because of a linguistic increase in function words, and as everyone knows, function is more important than style. Who needs all that stress, anyway?
3. Take a look at the manuscript itself.
Despite what everyone else tells you, the physical aspects can be just as important as everything else! Sometimes, you just need to take a step back and look at the big picture. I know it sounds cliché, but you know the saying: "A poem cannot postdate the ink with which it was written." Anyone who has been there knows EXACTLY what I mean.
4. Check out various spellings.
Changes and shifts can happen over time, and this is perfectly normal and okay. Be aware that, deep inside, they're still the same strong, Germanic ablauts you know and love.
5. Ask yourself, "Was this translated from Latin?"
You and your manuscript might be from two different worlds and different walks of life. This can be challenging but you shouldn't let that drive you apart immediately. Then again, references to the Christian Bible and other stories of Latin origin may indicate youth; do you really want to deal with that immaturity?
6. Find similar passages in other works of literature.
Finding something in common is absolutely ESSENTIAL. You might pick up on some patterns that will help you move forward. Compare texts, if you need to. If one noticeable thing keeps coming up again and again, odds are it is an older part of the oral tradition if you know what I mean ;)
7. Don’t forget Kaluza’s Law!
This should be, like, a universal law for dating. If the metric composition of half-lines goes unresolved, it’s a sign that something is happening. If you can pick up on subtle signs that lines aren't being properly resolved, you can do anything. You absolutely NEED to keep an eye out for situations like that... they can lead to something really big.
Like I said, not all these pieces of advice will work every time (Beowulf, amirite, ladies?) but hopefully with these guidelines, you'll be out and about in the dating scene in no time!