Widsith is an Old English poem of 144 lines that appears to date from the 9th century, drawing on earlier oral tradition
Oral tradition
Oral tradition and oral lore is cultural material and traditions transmitted orally from one generation to another. The messages or testimony are verbally transmitted in speech or song and may take the form, for example, of folktales, sayings, ballads, songs, or chants...

s of Anglo-Saxon tale singing. The only text of the fragment is copied in the Exeter Book
Exeter Book
The Exeter Book, Exeter Cathedral Library MS 3501, also known as the Codex Exoniensis, is a tenth-century book or codex which is an anthology of Anglo-Saxon poetry. It is one of the four major Anglo-Saxon literature codices. The book was donated to the library of Exeter Cathedral by Leofric, the...

, a manuscript of Old English poetry compiled in the late 10th century containing approximately one sixth of all surviving Old English poetry. Widsith is located between the poems Vainglory
Vainglory (Old English poem)
Vainglory is the title given to an Old English gnomic or homiletic poem of eighty-four lines, preserved in the Exeter Book. The precise date of composition is unknown, but the fact of its preservation in a late tenth-century manuscript gives us an approximate terminus ante quem...

and The Fortunes of Men
The Fortunes of Men
The Fortunes of Men, also The Fates of Men or The Fates of Mortals, is the title given to an Old English gnomic poem of 98 lines in the Exeter Book, fols...

. Since the discovery of the Exeter Book in 1076, it has been housed in the Exeter Cathedral in southwest England. The poem is for the most part a survey of the peoples, kings, and heroes of Europe in the Heroic Age
Germanic Iron Age
The Germanic Iron Age is the name given to the period 400–800 in Northern Europe and it is part of the continental Age of Migrations.-Germanic Iron :...

 of Northern Europe: see Tribes of Widsith
Tribes of Widsith
In Widsith, there is a long recital of people, clans and tribes who were known in the Germanic world of the 6th century. Here follow many excerpts from this poem with a translation and links to the tribes and people which have articles in Wikipedia, for easy...

. Excluding the introduction of the scop
A ' was an Old English poet, the Anglo-Saxon counterpart of the Old Norse .As far as we can tell from what has been preserved, the art of the scop was directed mostly towards epic poetry; the surviving verse in Old English consists of the epic Beowulf, religious verse in epic formats such as the...

Widsith, the closing, and brief interpolated comments, the poem is divided into three 'catalogues', so-called thulas. The first thula 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 thula 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 thula, 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 refers to a group of people called the Wicinga cynn, which may be the earliest mention of the word "Viking
The term Viking is customarily used to refer to the Norse explorers, warriors, merchants, and pirates who raided, traded, explored and settled in wide areas of Europe, Asia and the North Atlantic islands from the late 8th to the mid-11th century.These Norsemen used their famed longships to...

" (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."
lines 45–59:
Hroþwulf ond Hroðgar heoldon lengest Hroðulf and Hroðgar
Hroðgar, King Hroþgar, "Hrothgar", Hróarr, Hroar, Roar, Roas or Ro was a legendary Danish king, living in the early 6th century....

 held the longest
sibbe ætsomne suhtorfædran, peace together, uncle and nephew,
siþþan hy forwræcon wicinga cynn since they repulsed the Viking-kin
ond Ingeldes ord forbigdan, and Ingeld
Ingeld or Ingjald was a legendary warrior who appears in early English and Norse legends. Ingeld was so well-known that, in 797, Alcuin wrote a letter to Bishop Higbald of Lindisfarne questioning the monks' interest in heroic legends with: 'Quid enim Hinieldus cum Christo?' - What has Ingeld to...

 to the spear-point made bow,
forheowan aet Heorote Heaðobeardna þrym. hewn at Heorot
Heorot is a mead hall described in the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf as "the foremost of halls under heaven." It served as a palace for King Hroðgar, a legendary Danish king of the sixth century. Heorot means "Hall of the Hart"...

The Heaðobards were possibly a branch of the Langobards, and their name may be preserved in toponym Bardengau, in Mecklenburg, Germany....

s' army.

The widely-travelled poet Widsith (his name simply means "far journey") claims himself to be of the house of the Myrging
The Myrgings were a clan and peoples of Saxon origin who, together with their king Eadgils, are only mentioned in the Old English poem Widsith. They are mentioned as the people of the scop Widsith. They appear to have been the neighbours of the Angles and Offa of Angel, who was involved in a war...

s, who had first set out in the retinue of "Ealhild, the beloved weaver of peace
Weaving (mythology)
The theme of weaving in mythology is ancient, and its lost mythic lore probably accompanied the early spread of this art. In traditional societies today, westward of Central Asia and the Iranian plateau, weaving is a mystery within woman's sphere...

, from the east out of Angeln
Modern Angeln, also known as Anglia , is a small peninsula in Southern Schleswig in the northern Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, protruding into the Bay of Kiel...

 to the home of the king of the glorious Goths, Eormanric
Ermanaric was a Greuthungian Gothic King who before the Hunnic invasion evidently ruled an enormous area north of the Black Sea. Contemporary historian Ammianus Marcellinus recounts him as a "most warlike man" who "ruled over extensively wide and fertile regions"...

, the cruel troth-breaker." The Ostrogoth
The Ostrogoths were a branch of the Goths , a Germanic tribe who developed a vast empire north of the Black Sea in the 3rd century AD and, in the late 5th century, under Theodoric the Great, established a Kingdom in Italy....

 Eormanric was defeated by the Huns
The Huns were a group of nomadic people who, appearing from east of the Volga River, migrated into Europe c. AD 370 and established the vast Hunnic Empire there. Since de Guignes linked them with the Xiongnu, who had been northern neighbours of China 300 years prior to the emergence of 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
"Deor" is an Old English poem found in the late 10th century collection the Exeter Book. The poem consists of the lament of the scop Deor, who lends his name to the poem, which was given no formal title. Modern scholars do not actually believe Deor to be the author of this poem.In the poem, Deor's...

 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
In Germanic and Norse mythology, Wayland the Smith is a legendary master blacksmith. In Old Norse sources, Völundr appears in Völundarkviða, a poem in the Poetic Edda, and in Þiðrekssaga, and his legend is also depicted on the Ardre image stone VIII...

, Theodoric
Theodoric the Great
Theodoric the Great was king of the Ostrogoths , ruler of Italy , regent of the Visigoths , and a viceroy of the Eastern Roman Empire...

 the Goth, Eormanric the Goth, and other legendary figures of the Germanic past" (Niles 2003, p 10). Historically, we know that one speaker could not travel to see all of these nations in one lifetime. In a similar vein, "I was with the Lidwicingas, the Leonas and the Langobards," Widsith boasts,
"with heathens and heroes 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
"Deor" is an Old English poem found in the late 10th century collection the Exeter Book. The poem consists of the lament of the scop Deor, who lends his name to the poem, which was given no formal title. Modern scholars do not actually believe Deor to be the author of this poem.In the poem, Deor's...

, also from the Exeter Book, draws on similar material.

External links

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