ENGL1008 Language, Text, and Culture in the Early Middle Ages
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Finglesham buckle: detailThe only text of this poem survives in the Exeter Book, a MS of OE poetry copied in the late tenth century, but its editor Kemp Malone thinks it likely that it had ‘a long and eventful history' (p. 51) before then. The speaker (whose name means ‘far journey') is fictitious -- and also historically impossible, since his travels extend across not only most of Europe but most of the Germanic ‘age of migrations' (4th--6th century AD).

For detailed discussion of the tribes and people mentioned (as far as they can be identified), see Widsith, ed. Kemp Malone, Methuen's Old English Library (London: Methuen, 1936; rev. edn. Copenhagen, 1962), PR 1788, and the more recent and student-orientated edition by Joyce Hill, Old English Minor Heroic Poems, Durham Medieval Texts 4, rev. ed. (Durham, 1994), PR 1505 HILL. Some of them also appear elsewhere in Anglo-Saxon poetry; click on Deor for a poem drawing on similar material.

For the original Old English version, click on OE Widsith.
If you want to know what a gold torc (line 91) looks like, go to http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights.aspx and search for 'torc'; this will give you a selection of examples (though all from the pre-Christian era).



Widsith spoke, unlocked his word-hoard,
he who had travelled most of all men
through tribes and nations across the earth.
Often he had gained great treasure in hall.
5    He belonged by birth to the Myrging tribe.
Along with Ealhild, the kind peace-weaver,
for the first time, from the Baltic coast,
he sought the home of Eormanric,
king of the Ostrogoths, hostile to traitors.
10   He began then to speak at length:
‘I have heard of many men who ruled over nations.
Every leader should live uprightly,
rule his estates according to custom,
if he wants to succeed to a kingly throne.
15   Hwala for a time was the best of all,
and Alexander too, the noblest of men,
who prospered most of all of those
that I have heard of across the earth.
Attila ruled the Huns, Eormanric the Goths,
20   Becca the Baningas, Gifica the Burgundians.
Caesar ruled the Greeks and Caelic the Finns,
Hagena the Holmrycgas and Henden the Glomman.
Witta ruled the Swaefe, Wada the Haelsingas,
Meaca the Myrgingas, Mearc the Hundingas.
25   Theodric ruled the Franks, Thyle the Rondingas,
Breoca the Brondingas, Billa the Waerne.
Oswine ruled the Eowan and Gefwulf the Jutes,
Finn, son of Folcwalda, the Frisian race.
Sigehere for many years ruled the Sea-Danes,
30   Hnaef the Hocingas, Helm the Wulfingas,
Wald the Woingas, Wod the Thuringians,
Saeferth the Sycgan, Ongentheow the Swedes,
Sceafthere the Ymbran, Sceaf the Langobards,
Hun the Haetware, and Holen the Wrosnan.
35   Hringwald was called the king of the Herefaran.
Offa ruled the Angles, Alewih the Danes.
He was the bravest of all those men,
but could not defeat Offa in deeds of arms,
and the noble Offa while still a boy
40 won in battle the greatest of kingdoms.
No-one of that age ever achieved
more glory than he did. With his sword alone
he marked the border against the Myrgings
at the mouth of the Eider. Angles and Swedes
45 observed it after that as Offa had won it.
Hrothwulf and Hrothgar, nephew and uncle,
held peace together for many years
after they had driven off the Heathobard tribe
and beaten down Ingeld's line of battle,
50 cut down at Heorot the Heathobard force.
So I travelled widely through foreign lands,
through distant countries, and there I met
both good and bad fortune, far from my kin,
and served as a follower far and wide.
55 And so I can sing and tell a tale,
declare to the company in the mead-hall
how noble rulers rewarded me with gifts.
I was with the Huns and  the glorious Goths,
with the Swedes and with the Geats and with the South-Danes.
50 I was with the Wenlas, the Waerne and the Wicingas.
I was with the Gefthan, the Winedas and the Gefflegan.
I was with the Angles, the Swaefe and the Aenenas.
I was with the Saxons, the Sycgan and the Sweordweras.
I was with the Hronan, the Dean and the Heathoreamas.
65 I was with the Thuringians and with the Throwendas
and with the Burgundians: there I gained a torc.
There Guthhere granted me splendid treasure
as reward for my song; that king was not tight-fisted.
I was with the Franks, with the Frisians and the Frumtingas.
70 I was with the Rugians, the Glomman and the Romans.
I was in Italy with Aelfwine too:
of all men he had, as I have heard,
the readiest hand to do brave deeds,
the most generous heart in giving out rings
75 and shining torcs, Eadwine's son.
I was with the Sercings and with the Serings.
I was with the Greeks and Finns, and also with Caesar,
who had the power over prosperous cities,
riches and treasure and the Roman Empire.
80 I was with the Irish, with the Picts and the Lapps.
I was with the Lidwicingas, the Leonas and the Langobards,
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.
85 I was with the Medes and the Persians and with the Myrgingas,
with the Moabites and Ongendmyrgingas and with the Amothingas.
I was with the East-Thuringians and with the Ofdingas,
with the Eolas and the Philistines and with the Idumeans.
And I was with Eormanric throughout his reign.
90 There the king of the Goths granted me treasure:
the king of the city gave me a torc
made from pure gold coins, worth six hundred pence.
I gave that to Eadgils when I came home,
as thanks to my lord, ruler of the Myrgingas,
95 because he gave me land which once was my father's.
And then Ealhhild, Eadwine's daughter,
noble queen of the household, gave me another;
her fame extended through many lands
when I used my song to spread the word
100 of where under the heavens I knew a queen,
adorned with gold, most generous of all.
Then Scilling and I with our clear voices,
before our glorious lord, struck up our song;
sung to the harp, it rang out loudly.
105 Then many men with noble hearts
who understood these things openly said
that they had never heard a better song.
From there I travelled through the Gothic homeland --
I always sought out the best companions --
110 that was Eormanric's household guard!
I visited Hehca and Beadeca and the Herelingas,
Emerca and Fridla and Eastgota,
the wise and virtuous father of Unwen.
I visited Secca and Becca, Seafola and Theodric,
115 Heathoric and Sifeca, Hlith and Incgentheow.
I visited Eadwine and Elsa, Aegelmund and Hungar,
and the proud household of the Withmyrgingas.
I visited Wulfhere and Wyrmhere; there battle often raged
in the Vistula woods, when the Gothic army
120 with their sharp swords had to defend
their ancestral seat against Attila's host.
I visited Raedhere and Rondhere, Rumstan and Gislhere,
Withergield and Freotheric, Wudga and Hama.
They were by no means the worst of companions,
125 even though I happen to mention them last.
Often a whistling spear flew from the army,
screaming on its way to the enemy line;
there the exiles Wudga and Hama
gained twisted gold, men and women.
130 So I have always found throughout my travels
that the lord who is dearest to all his subjects
is the one God grants a kingdom of men
to have and to hold while he lives on earth.'
Wandering like this, driven by chance,
135 minstrels travel through many lands;
they state their needs, say words of thanks,
always, south or north, they find some man
well-versed in songs, generous in gifts,
who wishes to raise his renown with his men,
140 to do great things, until everything passes,
light and life together; he who wins fame
has lasting glory under the heavens.


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Set up by Bella Millett,  enm@soton.ac.uk. Last updated 29 August 2009 . Finglesham buckle reproduced by kind permission of Bob Wilkins of the Archaeology Department, University of Oxford. Poem translated by Bella Millett.