Since we have been discussing Anglo-Saxon contributions to Slavic history with the work of King Alfred we decided to continue on that path and mention “Widsith”. The Old Anglo-Saxon poem from the Exeter Book has been preserved in only one manuscript copy – the tenth-century, so-called, Codex Exoniensis (Exeter Cathedral Library MS 3501). We include the entire poem here. Here are some interesting points:
- The poem contains a reference, or maybe two, to the Wends amongst its list of European peoples that the traveller in question claims to have visited.
- It also contains a reference to the River Vistula where the Goths, allegedly, fought the Huns (a topic found also in Hervarar Saga og Heiðreks and in the tale of Ossantrix which we will discuss later).
- It contains references to what may be the tribes of Wiolane ond Wilna which smacks of Wolin or Wislane (not to mention Vilnius!)
- Finally, it is noteworthy, we think, that:
- the Hreðcyning sounds awful like Horodcyning, i.e., in the sense of gard, grod, horod in the Ukrainian language and of Gardarike (as opposed explaining this with “riding” (!) Goths) (see also the Czech hrad “castle” in Prague) and that
- the greatest “getter” of things and honors is a guy named Hwala – the same word literally at least as the Polish word for “honour” or “glory” (i.e., chwała – though, Alexander Brueckner believes chała or fała to have been the older forms – we did not follow up on this (yet)). (this is actually Wala in the text but, most people think it has been correctly emended to Hwala).
- Widsið maðolade, wordhord onleac,
se þe monna mæst mægþa ofer eorþan,
folca geondferde; oft he on flette geþah
mynelicne maþþum. Him from Myrgingum
Widsith spake, unlocked his word-hoard,
He who among men had travelled most in the world,
through peoples and nations; he had often in the hall earned valuable treasures [rewards]. He came [of] from the Myrgings [tribe?]
- æþele onwocon. He mid Ealhhilde,
fælre freoþuwebban, forman siþe
Hreðcyninges ham gesohte
eastan of Ongle, Eormanrices,
wraþes wærlogan. Ongon þa worn sprecan:
- of noble blood. He together with Ealhhilde,
the friendly weaver [webber] of peace, went for the home [the seats]
of the Hrethan [=horod = gard = gród?] King [Hreðcyning] he sought
[from?] east of the Angles, Ermanaric,
wrathful oathbreaker [?]. He began to speak:
- ‘Fela ic monna gefrægn mægþum wealdan!
Sceal þeodna gehwylc þeawum lifgan,
eorl æfter oþrum eðle rædan,
se þe his þeodenstol geþeon wile.
þara wæs [H]wala hwile selast,
‘I have queried [fela = viel, wiele] many men [who] ruled [wielded] many tribes [?]
Each ruler should live according to custom,
to be ruler after others his [countries/wisely?] rule [rædan = rada]
if he, his ruler’s throne [þeodenstol = Stuhl, stołek] wants [wills] to get
There [in that] was Hwala for a while [=chwile] the best [of all],
- ond Alexandreas ealra ricost
monna cynnes, ond he mæst geþah
þara þe ic ofer foldan gefrægen hæbbe.
ætla weold Hunum, Eormanric Gotum,
Becca Baningum, Burgendum Gifica.
- and Alexander the richest [greatest] ruler
of the clans of man, and he got the most [throve the most]
of [all] those [that] I over the world have queried
Ætla [Attila] ruled [weold=wield=władać] the Huns Ermanaric [ruled] Goths,
Becca [ruled] Banings, Gifica [ruled] Burgundians
- Casere weold Creacum ond Celic Finnum,
Hagena Holmrygum ond Heoden Glommum.
Witta weold Swæfum, Wada Hælsingum,
Meaca Myrgingum, Mearchealf Hundingum.
þeodric weold Froncum, þyle Rondingum,
- Caesar ruled Greeks and Celic [ruled] Finns,
Hagena [ruled] Holmrygas and Heoden [ruled] Gloms.
Witta ruled Suevi, Wada [ruled] Hælsings [Helsinki!?],
Meaca [ruled] Myrgings Mearchealf [ruled] Hundings.
Theodric ruled Franks Thyle [ruled] Rondings,
- Breoca Brondingum, Billing Wernum.
Oswine weold Eowum ond Ytum Gefwulf,
Fin Folcwalding Fresna cynne.
Sigehere lengest Sædenum weold,
Hnæf Hocingum, Helm Wulfingum,
- Breuca [ruled] Brondings, Billing [ruled] Werns [Warni?]
Oswine ruled Eows Ytas/Yts [were ruled by] Gefwulf,
Fin [ruled] Folcwaldings Frisian [?] clans.
Sigehere longest [the] Sea-Danes ruled,
Hnæf [ruled] Hocings Helm [ruled] Wulfings,
- Wald Woingum, Wod þyringum,
Sæferð Sycgum, Sweom Ongendþeow,
Sceafthere Ymbrum, Sceafa Longbeardum,
Hun Hætwerum ond Holen Wrosnum.
Hringweald wæs haten Herefarena cyning.
- Wald [ruled] Woingas, Wod [ruled] Thuringians,
Saeferth [ruled] Sycges, Ongendtheow [ruled] Swedes [?],
Sceafthere [ruled] Ymbres, Sceaf [ruled] Langobards,
Hun [ruled] Haetwares, and Holen [ruled] Wrosnes.
Hringwald was called the king of the Herefarens.
- Offa weold Ongle, Alewih Denum;
se wæs þara manna modgast ealra,
no hwæþre he ofer Offan eorlscype fremede,
ac Offa geslog ærest monna,
cnihtwesende, cynerica mæst.
- Offa ruled Angles, Alewih Danes,
That was of those men the bravest of all,
however [but] he [could] not over Offa obtain rule [earlship],
and Offa won [in battle, i.e., geschlagen] the first of men
while still being [wesen] a boy [Knecht] the greatest of kingdoms.
- Nænig efeneald him eorlscipe maran
on orette. Ane sweorde
merce gemærde wið Myrgingum
bi Fifeldore; heoldon forð siþþan
Engle ond Swæfe, swa hit Offa geslog.
- No one [Nænig = nikt] of the same age as him [even-old] honored earlship
in battle. [With] one sword
[he] marked the border against [the] Myrgings
by Fifeldore; held forth hence [since]
by Angles and Suevi as it Offa won.
- Hroþwulf ond Hroðgar heoldon lengest
sibbe ætsomne suhtorfædran,
siþþan hy forwræcon wicinga cynn
ond Ingeldes ord forbigdan,
forheowan æt Heorote Heaðobeardna þrym.
- Hrothwulf ond Hrothgar held longest
peace together uncle and nephew [or nephew & uncle]
after [since then] they drove away [forth] [the] Viking kin [peoples]
and Ingeld’s spearpoint [vanguard] humbled [?],
forced at Heorot Heathobards’ trim [i.e., cut them down to size]
- Swa ic geondferde fela fremdra londa
geond ginne grund. Godes ond yfles
þær ic cunnade cnosle bidæled,
freomægum feor folgade wide.
Forþon ic mæg singan ond secgan spell,
- So I fared [wondered] much [viel, wiele] [in] foreign lands
through wide countries [grounds* – Earth] Good and evil
there I got to know of my people impoverished [=bieda!]
[from my] free kinsmen far I followed [served far and] wide
Henceforth I’d like to sing and tell [my] tale
- * the fact that the Earth here is titled “grund”, inclusive of “rund”, “round” is reason enough to think about things anew!
- mænan fore mengo in meoduhealle
hu me cynegode cystum dohten.
Ic wæs mid Hunum ond mid Hreðgotum,
mid Sweom ond mid Geatum ond mid Suþdenum.
Mid Wenlum* ic wæs ond mid Wærnum ond mid wicingum.
- To speak before a multitude in the mead-hall
how me noblemen [generosity] showed/gifts bestowed
I was with the Huns and with Hreth[an]goths
with Swedes and with Geats and with South-Danes.
With Winnuli I was and with Warnians and with vikings.
- * Unclear, perhaps people from Vendsyssel in Denmark or the Winuli as in the later Langobards
- Mid Gefþum ic wæs ond mid Winedum ond mid Gefflegum.
Mid Englum ic wæs ond mid Swæfum ond mid ænenum.
Mid Seaxum ic wæs ond Sycgum ond mid Sweordwerum.
Mid Hronum ic wæs ond mid Deanum ond mid Heaþoreamum.
Mid þyringum ic wæs ond mid þrowendum,*
- With Gifthas I was and with Wends and with Gefflegs.
With Angles I was and with Suevi and with aenenas.
With Saxons I was and with Sycgs and with Swordsmen.
With Hronas I was and with Deans and with Heatho-Reams.
With Thuringians I was and with Throwends,
- * Your guess is as good as ours; it has been suggested that there are the people of Trondheim but this seems just a guess as the “d” is nowhere to be found and why they should be -wendum is unclear
- ond mid Burgendum, þær ic beag geþah;
me þær Guðhere forgeaf glædlicne maþþum
songes to leane. Næs þæt sæne cyning!
Mid Froncum ic wæs ond mid Frysum ond mid Frumtingum.
Mid Rugum ic wæs ond mid Glommum ond mid Rumwalum.
- And with Burgundians, there I got wring/crown
me there Guthhere gave me a glittering jewel [?]
to pay for [my] song [he was] not [a] sluggish king!
With Franks I was and with Frisians and with Frumtings.
With Rugians I was and with Glommas and with Romans [Rome-Welsh]
- Swylce ic wæs on Eatule mid ælfwine,
se hæfde moncynnes, mine gefræge,
leohteste hond lofes to wyrcenne,
heortan unhneaweste hringa gedales,
beorhtra beaga, bearn Eadwines.
- Likewise I was in Italy with Aelfwine*
he had of all mankind, that I queried [i.e., met on my journeys]
the lightest hand glory to work
the most generous heart rings [booty] to give out [geteil = divide, give out]
brightest trinkets [bracelets jewels] the bear cub [bairn] of Eadwine’s.
- * the Langobard king who went with his people from Pannonia to Italy in 568
- Mid Sercingum ic wæs ond mid Seringum;
mid Creacum ic wæs ond mid Finnum ond mid Casere,
se þe winburga geweald ahte,
Wiolane ond Wilna,** ond Wala rices.
Mid Scottum ic wæs ond mid Peohtum ond mid Scridefinnum;
- With Saracens [?] I was and with Serings*;
with Greeks** I was and with Finns and with Caesar,
he [who] vineyards had ruled,
Wiolane and Wilna and the riches of the [Welsh or Romans]?
With Scots I was and with Picts and with Scridefins****
- * Syrians?
** This typically is translated as Greeks although (as in Orosius) the temptation of Cracow beckons – above the poem talks about Caesar (if that is who Caser is) ruling the same so presumably this means the Byzantine Emperor
*** No one knows what these words are and whether they are tribal names or other nouns – one suggestion has been that they are Wallachs Walach-girls, i.e., Welsh as the Romans were called by the Scandinavian tribes
**** These appear in many, many sources (e.g., Ravenna Geography, Procopius, Jordanes, Paul the Deacon).
- mid Lidwicingum ic wæs ond mid Leonum ond mid Longbeardum,
mid Hæðnum ond mid Hæleþum ond mid Hundingum.
Mid Israhelum ic wæs ond mid Exsyringum,
mid Ebreum ond mid Indeum ond mid Egyptum.
Mid Moidum ic wæs ond mid Persum ond mid Myrgingum,
- with Lidvikings [peoples’ vikings!?]* I was and with Leonas and with Langobards
with Heathens and with Herethas** and with Hundings.
With Israelites I was and with Assyrians [?],
with [H]ebrews and with Indians [?] and with Egyptians.
With Medes I was and with Persians and with Myrgings,
- * e.g., Ludvig
** because sometimes emendated to Hæreþum – perhaps the Haroudes of Ptolemy
- ond Mofdingum ond ongend Myrgingum,
ond mid Amothingum. Mid Eastþyringum ic wæs
ond mid Eolum ond mid Istum ond Idumingum.
Ond ic wæs mid Eormanrice ealle þrage,
þær me Gotena cyning gode dohte;
- and Mofdings and against Myrgings
and with Amothings. With East-Thuringians I was
and with Eols [?] and with Esti and Idumings.
And I was with Ermanaric all the time,
there me Goth king goods gave/with goods benefitted me/did well for me;
- se me beag forgeaf, burgwarena fruma,
on þam siex hund wæs smætes goldes,
gescyred sceatta scillingrime;
þone ic Eadgilse on æht sealde,
minum hleodryhtne, þa ic to ham bicwom,
- he gave me a bracelet/ring, ruler of town peoples
on them six hundred was [it’s worth was?] [in] hammered/forged/molten gold
coin treasures reckoned by shillings;
That I [to] Eadgils as property [present] gave,
my lord protector when I came [bicwom] home,
- leofum to leane, þæs þe he me lond forgeaf,
mines fæder eþel, frea Myrginga.
Ond me þa Ealhhild oþerne forgeaf,
dryhtcwen duguþe, dohtor Eadwines.
Hyre lof lengde geond londa fela,
- a present to my sire, for he had given me land,
my father’s home, ruler of Myrgings.
And me that Ealhild a second [bracelet/ring/treasure] gave,
a noble queen of many hosts, daughter of Eadwine.
Praise of her spread through many lands,
- þonne ic be songe secgan sceolde
hwær ic under swegle selast wisse
goldhrodene cwen giefe bryttian.
ðonne wit Scilling sciran reorde
for uncrum sigedryhtne song ahofan,
- Then [when?] I in song should say
where I under the sky* I knew the best
gold bedecked queen giving out gifts.
Then with Scilling with clear voices
before our lord we raised a song,
- * compare swell (then too Vogel = bird) with Slavic swar (heat), Swarozic, but also Schwartz (black as in burned) or Tschernobog]
- hlude bi hearpan hleoþor swinsade,
þonne monige men, modum wlonce,
wordum sprecan, þa þe wel cuþan,
þæt hi næfre song sellan ne hyrdon.
ðonan ic ealne geondhwearf eþel Gotena,
- loud by the harp the words sounded,
then many men, of golden spirit,
spake words, that they [who] well [should] know
that they never [such a] song performed nor heard.
then I speedily wandered through the lands of the Goths,
- sohte ic a gesiþa þa selestan;
þæt wæs innweorud Earmanrices.
Heðcan sohte ic ond Beadecan ond Herelingas,
Emercan sohte ic ond Fridlan ond Eastgotan,
frodne ond godne fæder Unwenes.
- I sought company there of the best;
that was [of] the house of Ermanaric.
Hethca I sought and Beadeca and the Herelings,
Emerca sought I and Fridla* and Ostrogotha,
wise and worthy** father of Unwen.
- *these two – Emerca and Fridla – are the afore-mentioned Herelings or Harlungs
** or good (compare Polish godny with which we went here as, somehow, better-fitting)
- Seccan sohte ic ond Beccan, Seafolan ond þeodric,
Heaþoric ond Sifecan, Hliþe ond Incgenþeow.
Eadwine sohte ic ond Elsan, ægelmund ond Hungar,
ond þa wloncan gedryht Wiþmyrginga.
Wulfhere sohte ic ond Wyrmhere; ful oft þær wig ne alæg,
- Secca sought I and Becca, Seafola and Theodric,
Heathoric and Sifeca, Hlithe and Incgentheow.
Eadwine sought I and Elsa, Aegelmund and Hungar,
and the splendid fate(s) of the With-Myrgings.
WuIfhere sought I and Wyrmhere; full oft there war [did] not cease,
- þonne Hræda here heardum sweordum
ymb Wistlawudu wergan sceoldon
ealdne eþelstol ætlan leodum.
Rædhere sohte ic ond Rondhere, Rumstan ond Gislhere,
Wiþergield ond Freoþeric, Wudgan ond Haman;
- then the Hraeth army, [with] harsh swords
about the Vistula wood [or spear-tip?] they had to defend
old country’s seat against Attila’s people.
Raedhere sought I and Rondhere, Rumstan and Gislhere,
Withergyld and Freothric, Wudga and Hama;
- ne wæran þæt gesiþa þa sæmestan,
þeah þe ic hy anihst nemnan sceolde.
Ful oft of þam heape hwinende fleag
giellende gar on grome þeode;
wræccan þær weoldan wundnan golde
- Nor were they comrades there the worst to me [they were not bad]
though them I [as] the last should name
Full oft of that host [heap] [there] whining/whistling [did] fly
[a] yelling/screaming spear/javelin on fierce/furious* peoples
wonderers there ruled by wounded gold [?]
- * Grome – presumably, the same original as the Slavic grom as in “thunder”
- werum ond wifum, Wudga ond Hama.
Swa ic þæt symle onfond on þære feringe,
þæt se biþ leofast londbuendum
se þe him god syleð gumena rice
to gehealdenne, þenden he her leofað.’
- husbands and wives, Wudga and Hama.
So I that ever found on these voyages,
that he is loved the most by landspeople
to whom God gives [the] rule [over] men
to hold, while he here lives.’
- Swa scriþende gesceapum hweorfað
gleomen gumena geond grunda fela,
þearfe secgað, þoncword sprecaþ,
simle suð oþþe norð sumne gemetað
gydda gleawne,* geofum unhneawne,**
- So wondering [and traveling about are] destined
the people’s [men’s] singers [and] to travel/walk [through] many lands
speaking [their] need, saying a word of thanks,
ever south or north meeting someone
knowing in songs [as in, a connoiseur] of gifts unsparing/generous
- * interestingly, “wise”/”knowing” here is similar to the Slavic word for head, i.e., “glova”
** un-hneaw – curious if there is a relation to hovat (i.e., hide) in Slavic (someone who does not hide stuff, i.e., generous)
- se þe fore duguþe wile dom aræran,
eorlscipe æfnan, oþþæt eal scæceð,
leoht ond lif somod; lof se gewyrceð,
hafað under heofonum heahfæstne dom.
- he who before his men wants his fame [?] to air
rulership to achieve, until all scatters,
light and life together; glory he achieves,
has under heaven, the most lasting fame.
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