Widsith

Widsith

"Widsith" is an Old English poem of 144 lines that appears to date from the 9th century, drawing on earlier oral traditions of Anglo-Saxon tale singing. The only text of the fragment is copied in the Exeter Book, a manuscript of Old English poetry compiled in the late 10th century. The poem is for the most part a survey of the peoples, kings, and heroes of Europe in the Heroic Age of Northern Europe: see Tribes of Widsith. Excluding the introduction of the "scop" Widsith, the closing, and brief interpolated comments, the poem is divided into three 'catalogues', called in Old English "þulas" (Old Norse "þula", see e.g. "Rígþula"). The first "þula" runs through a list of the various kings of renown, both contemporary and ancient ("Caesar ruled the Greeks"), the model being '(name of a king) ruled (name of a tribe)'. The second "þula" contains the names of the peoples the narrator visited, the model being 'With the (name of a tribe) I was, and with the (name of another tribe).' In the third and final "þula", the narrator lists the heroes of myth and legend that he has visited, with the model '(Hero's name) I sought and (hero's name) and (hero's name).'

The poem contains the first mention of the Vikings by name (lines 47, 59, 80). It closes with a brief comment on the importance and fame offered by poets like Widsith, with many pointed reminders of the munificent generosity offered to tale-singers by patrons "discerning of songs."

The widely-travelled poet Widsith (his name simply means "far journey") claims himself to be of the house of the Myrgings, who had first set out in the retinue of "Ealhild, the beloved weaver of peace, from the east out of Angeln to the home of the king of the glorious Goths, Eormanric, the cruel troth-breaker." The Ostrogoth Eormanric was defeated by the Huns in the 5th century. It is moot whether Widsith literally intends himself, or poetically means his lineage, either as a Myrging or as a poet, as when "the fictive speaker Deor uses the rhetoric of first-person address to insert himself into the same legendary world that he evokes in the earlier parts of the poem through his allusions to Weland the smith, Theodoric the Goth, Eormanric the Goth, and other legendary figures of the Germanic past" (Niles 2003, p 10). In a similar vein, "I was with the Lidwicingas, the Leonas and the Langobards," Widsith boasts,::"with the Haethenas and the Haelethas and with the Hundingas.::I was with the Israelites and with the Assyrians,::with the Hebrews and the Indians and with the Egyptians..."

The poem that is now similarly titled "Deor", also from the Exeter Book, draws on similar material.

References

*"Anglo-Saxon poetry: an anthology of Old English poems" tr. S. A. J. Bradley. London: Dent, 1982 (translation into English prose).

ee also

*Tribes of Widsith

External links

* [http://www.georgetown.edu/faculty/ballc/oe/widsith-trans.html A Verse Translation by Douglas B. Killings]
* [http://www.georgetown.edu/labyrinth/library/oe/texts/a3.11.html The original text of the verse.]
* [http://www.soton.ac.uk/~enm/widsith.htm A translation by Bella Millett]
* [http://www.wwnorton.com/nael/middleages/topic_4/widsith.htm Norton Anthology of English Literature on-line:] "The linguistic and literary contexts of "Beowulf"
*John D. Niles, 1999, "Widsith and the Anthropology of the Past", Philological Quarterly.
*John D. Niles, 2003. "The myth of the Anglo-Saxon oral poet" ( [http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3732/is_200301/ai_n9331889/pg_10 on-line text] )


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