On Widsith and Its (Few) Wends

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).
Widsithboc
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?]

[5]

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:
10
‘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],

15
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
20
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,
25
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,
30
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.
35
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. 
40
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.           
45
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]
50
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! 
55
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
60
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
65
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]       
70
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
75
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).  
80
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
85
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;      
90
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,
95
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, 
100
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]
105
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,       
110
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)     
115
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,
120
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;
125
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”
130
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.’
135
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)
140
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.
exterbook2223

Go see the original at the Exeter Cathedral

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September 2, 2015

3 thoughts on “On Widsith and Its (Few) Wends

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