WIDSITH

( Widsith or Farway was probably composed in the seventh century, but seems to have received later additions, such as the passage referring to the Medes, Persians, and Hebrews. The poem is thus one of the oldest, if not the oldest, in our language. It is the song of a wandering minstrel who tens with pride of the rulers, the peoples, and the heroes he has known. Widsith is not to be taken as the record of the actual travels of a real gleeman. A minstrel who had been at the court of Eormanric who died A.D. 375 could not have been in Italy with Ælfwine ( Alboin) who invaded Italy in 568. Widsith is a record of the tribes and heroes of the age of the barbarian invasions of Italy, and its author was a man who loved the old stories of dead kings and warriors. He gives a catalogue of heroic lore, the repertoire of stories which an English minstrel of his day had at his command. For a full treatment of the allusions in the poem, see R. W. Chambers Widsith ( Cambridge University Press).]

WIDSITH spoke, unlocked his word-hoard, he who of men had fared through most races and peoples over the earth; often he had received in hall precious treasure. His ancestors sprang from the Myrgings.1 He with Ealhhild, gracious weaver of peace, first, from Angel in the east, sought the home of the Gothic king Eormanric, the savage faithless one.2 He began then to speak many things:

'I have heard of many men ruling over the peoples; every prince must needs live fittingly; one earl after another must rule the land, he who wishes his throne to prosper. Of these Hwala was for a time the best and Alexander mightiest of all the race of men, and he prospered most of those of whom I have heard tell throughout the earth. Ætla3 ruled the Huns, Eormanric the Goths, Becca4 the Banings, Gifica the Burgundians. Cæsar ruled the Greeks and Cælic the Finns, Hagena the Island-Rugians and Heoden5 the Glommas. Witta ruled

____________________
1
Probably between the Eider and the Elbe. Most of the tribes in the poem lived on the shores of the North Sea or of the Baltic.
2
Eormanric's wolfish mind is mentioned in Beowulf. Ealhhild is probably his wife. The story is that he murdered her.
3
Attila.
4
Eormanric sent his son and Becca to woo Swanhild (probably the same as Ealhhild) on his behalf. Becca proved traitor both to Eormanric and to the son.
5
Heoden carried off Hagena's daughter Hild.

-67-

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Anglo-Saxon Poetry
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