I've just been reading Beowulf in the recent verse translation by Seamus Heaney. It's a bilingual edition, with the Old English on the left and Heaney's version on the right. On two separate occasions, I've noticed a particular expression, "sæl ond mæl."
For instance, in lines 1008-09, we have:
... | þa wæs sæl ond mælwhich Heaney translates: "Then the due time arrived for Halfdane's son to proceed to the hall." Similarly, in lines 1607-11, we have a wonderful image describing how the sword that Beowulf used to kill Grendel's mom melts from her scalding blood:
þæt to healle gang | Healfdenes sunu;
... | þæt wæs wundra sum,which Heaney translates: "It was a wonderful thing, the way it all melted as ice melts when the Father eases the fetters off the frost and unravels the water-ropes. He who wields power over time and tide: He is the true Lord." Unraveling the water-ropes! How can one not love the Anglo-Saxons?
þæt hit eal gemealt | ise gelicost,
ðonne forstes bend | fæder onlæteð,
onwindeð wælrapas, | se geweald hafað
sæla ond mæla; | þæt is soð metod.
(Digression: Someone should film Beowulf, not like in the atrocious 1999 version with Christopher Lambert, but rather with Klingons. "It is always better to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning." Perhaps the upcoming Robert Zemeckis version will have a Klingon in it? Or, for a more complex vision, perhaps David Boreanaz as Beowulf?)
The word "sæl," also spelled "sele," is listed as "obsolete, except in dialect" in the OED, which hasn't seen the word since 1875. The word apparently has no modern equivalents or similar words, and I'm unaware of common related words in other languages. Anyway, this word means "happiness, prosperity, good fortune," and in addition means "favourable or proper time, opportune moment; occasion, opportunity; season, time of day."
The word "mæl" is the same as the modern English word "meal." No, I'm not talking about the sense of "something ground," as in "cornmeal" (similar to the word "mill" and even related to the Russian word "blin"). Rather, I'm talking about the sense of "a time or occasion; a particular time, a suitable time; a period of time," which is also used in a more specific sense of "a customary or social occasion of taking food, esp. at a more or less fixed time of day, as breakfast, dinner, etc.," and in its metonymic sense of "the food and drink consumed at or provided for such an occasion." (Compare with the German words "Mal," as in "einmal," and "Mahl," as in "Abendmahl.")
So "sele and meal," meaning "the due time," or, if you will, "time and tide."
Why do I bring this up? Only to alert you that, when you come across this expression, you should not confuse it with the kitchen appliance Seal-a-Meal.