“Ih wallota sumaro enti wintro sehstic”: The Familiar and the Foreign in Old Germanic Studies

In: Amsterdamer Beiträge zur älteren Germanistik
Author: Thijs Porck1
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Abstract

This collection celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of the Dutch Society for Old Germanic studies, the Vereniging voor Oudgermanisten. The collection brings together contributions by both veteran and early career members of the society and centres on the theme of the encounter between the familiar and the foreign. This theme is also of central importance in one of the most widely studied Old Germanic poems, the Hildebrandslied. This poem features the culmination of Hildebrand’s thirty-year exile: a one-on-one fight with his estranged son.

Abstract

This collection celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of the Dutch Society for Old Germanic studies, the Vereniging voor Oudgermanisten. The collection brings together contributions by both veteran and early career members of the society and centres on the theme of the encounter between the familiar and the foreign. This theme is also of central importance in one of the most widely studied Old Germanic poems, the Hildebrandslied. This poem features the culmination of Hildebrand’s thirty-year exile: a one-on-one fight with his estranged son.

ih wallota sumaro enti wintro sehstic ur lante,
dar man mih eo scerita in folc sceotantero,
so man mir at burc enigeru banun ni gifasta;
nu scal mih suasat chind suertu hauwan,
breton mit sinu billiu, eddo ih imo ti banin werdan.
Hildebrandslied, ll. 50–54
[I have been wandering of summers and winters sixty,
where I have always been assigned to the company of the spearmen,
whereas at no city has death been inflicted on me;
now must my own child strike me with a sword,
smite me with his blade, or I become his killer.]
ed. and trans. broszinski 2004

The theme of this celebratory collection is the interaction between the familiar and the foreign. This theme is also central to one of the most widely studied poems in an Old Germanic language, the Hildebrandslied. Here, the elderly warrior Hildebrand, the Germanic archetype of a mercenary exile, faces his own son Hadubrand in single combat.1 The tragedy of the Hildebrandslied revolves around the fact that Hildebrand has become so estranged from his son that he is now viewed as a foreign member of the opposing army. While the son thus does not recognize the father, the latter becomes painfully aware that he is facing a most familiar foe: the child he left behind thirty years ago. Hildebrand’s attempts to make himself known fail and father and son fight to the death (cf. Classen 1995). The poem breaks off before the outcome of the fight is revealed, but later Germanic versions of the legend suggest that the old man came out victorious.2

Like its contents, the transmission and the language of the Hildebrandslied have connections to this collection’s theme. To begin with, the Hildebrandslied appears foreign in the context of its own manuscript, Kassel, Landesbibliothek, Cod. theol. fol. 54, where it was added on the first and last folio sides in the early ninth century. Since this manuscript mainly contains theological texts in Latin, such as the Liber Sapientiae, Ecclesiasticus and fragmentary sermons and prayers, the non-religious Hildebrandslied seems out of place here. The poem was added by two scribes who worked in the monastery of Fulda, founded by the Bavarian monk Sturm, a disciple of the Anglo-Saxon missionary Boniface. The scribes probably made use of an earlier manuscript, written in a dialect and script that was unfamiliar to them, which resulted in a number of scribal errors. It has been hypothesized that the Hildebrandslied originated as a seventh-century Langobardic oral lay, while the language of its extant version shows a mixture of both Old High German and Old Saxon linguistic elements.3 As such, the poem’s history, in as far as it can be established from its surviving manuscript version, demonstrates the importance of the interaction between various cultures, individuals and languages for understanding the cultural heritage of the Middle Ages.

In a sense, the study of the contents, transmission and language of the Hildebrandslied represents the full breadth of Old Germanic studies in all its philological complexity. In interpreting this text we are struggling with various cultural influences, an obscure textual prehistory and multiple linguistic layers. These issues are central to many medieval texts, whether they were written in Old English, Old Norse, Old High German or Middle Dutch. Fortunately, this complexity has not deterred anyone from looking for answers and revisiting the many problems that remain. Over the last thirty years, the Vereniging voor Oudgermanisten has played a pivotal role in supporting this field of inquiry in the Low Countries; this collection celebrates the ‘sixty summers and winters’ that its members spent in the ‘foreign country’ of the past as well as their efforts to familiarize us with the language, literature and culture of the speakers of Old Germanic languages.

With a broad theme like ‘familiar and foreign’, it comes as no surprise that the contributions to this collection show a great variety in subject and methodology. As such, the articles are representative of the broad scope of Old Germanic studies, ranging from philology to historical linguistics, through to history, text editions and manuscript studies, and spanning the geographical area from Iceland to the Mediterranean. The topics covered include cultural contact, literary representations of the ‘Other’, loan words, contact-induced sound changes, distinctive linguonyms and obscure riddles. Each in their own way, these contributions are a testimony to the potential of Old Germanic studies, especially when pursued from the angle of the encounter between the familiar and the foreign.

Acknowledgments

The author would like to thank Peter Alexander Kerkhof for his collaboration in the initial stages of this project. Thanks are also due to the anonymous referees who helped to improve the quality of the papers in this collection. Next, the Vereniging voor Oudgermanisten made this publication possible by financing the reproduction rights of the images. Remaining thanks go to Arend Quak and Rob Zandvliet for their support in moving the collection towards publication as a special issue of the Amsterdamer Beiträge zur älteren Germanistik.

References

  • Broszinski 2004: Hartmut Broszinski, Das Hildebrandlied: Faksimile der Kasseler Handschrift, 3rd ed., Kassel.

  • Classen 1995: Albrecht Classen, “Why Do Their Words Fail? Communicative Strategies in the ‘Hildebrandslied’,” in: Modern Philology 93: 122.

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  • Hatto 1973: A. T. Hatto, “On the Excellence of the ‘Hildebrandslied’: A Comparative Study in Dynamics,” in: The Modern Language Review 68: 820838.

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  • Renoir 1979: Alain Renoir, “Germanic Quintessence: Isolation in the Hildebrandslied,” in: Saints, Scholars and Heroes. Studies in Medieval Culture in Honour of Charles W. Jones, eds. Margot H. King and Wesley M. Stevens, Ann Arbor: ii, 143178.

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  • Young and Gloning 2014: Christopher Young and Thomas Gloning, A History of the German Language Through Texts, London.

1

In pitching a good father against a good son, the poem exploits a well-established Indo-European motif, see Hatto 1973.

2

E.g., the Old Norse Ásmundarsaga Kappabana and Saxo Grammaticus’s Gesta Danorum. For discussions of some Indo-European and Germanic analogues, see, e.g., Hatto 1973 and Renoir 1979.

3

For a summary of the poem’s transmission and dialect, see Young and Gloning 2014, 39–45. Cf. Hatto 1973, 820, n. 1, who calls the extant text “a superficially and even ludicrously ‘Saxonized’ version of a (scribal) Bavarian version of an originally (oral) Langobardic lay of circa or post A.D. 650”.

  • Broszinski 2004: Hartmut Broszinski, Das Hildebrandlied: Faksimile der Kasseler Handschrift, 3rd ed., Kassel.

  • Classen 1995: Albrecht Classen, “Why Do Their Words Fail? Communicative Strategies in the ‘Hildebrandslied’,” in: Modern Philology 93: 122.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hatto 1973: A. T. Hatto, “On the Excellence of the ‘Hildebrandslied’: A Comparative Study in Dynamics,” in: The Modern Language Review 68: 820838.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Renoir 1979: Alain Renoir, “Germanic Quintessence: Isolation in the Hildebrandslied,” in: Saints, Scholars and Heroes. Studies in Medieval Culture in Honour of Charles W. Jones, eds. Margot H. King and Wesley M. Stevens, Ann Arbor: ii, 143178.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Young and Gloning 2014: Christopher Young and Thomas Gloning, A History of the German Language Through Texts, London.

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