Thijs Porck

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The Familiar and the Foreign in Old Germanic Studies

Every now and then, I will devote a post on this blog to an academic publication (usually ones that are available in Open Access), so as to give you an idea of what I am working on. This post turns the spotlight on an edited volume, edited by myself, that appeared as a special issue of the peer-reviewed journal Amsterdammer Beiträge zur älteren Germanistik . The entire volume has now become available in Open Access and this blog post will guide you through its contents.

Cover of The Familiar and the Foreign in Old Germanic Studies

As the subtitle of this special issue suggest, this volume commemorates the thirtieth anniversary of the Dutch-Flemish Society of Old Germanicists, a society for scholars of the language, history and culture of Old Germanic peoples in the Middle Ages. 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, as I explain in the volume’s introduction (available here). This theme is intentionally vague and the contributions represent 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. A brief summary of all the articles follows below; you can click on every header to open the Open Access articles in a new tab.

Redbad Veenbaas, “Caedmon on the Continent: The Heliand Prefaces and Bernlef”

The first article of the volume focuses on the influence of the story of the Anglo-Saxon singer Caedmon, found in Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica, on two texts about religious poets on the continent: the Bernlef episodes in the Lives of Liudger and the Latin prefaces to the Old Saxon poem the Heliand. In this article, Veenbaas makes a revolutionary claim: he suggests that Bernlef might well be the poet of the Heliand.

St Liudger heals blind poet Bernlef. Berlin, Staatsbibliothek, Ms. Theol.Lat.Fol.323, fol. 12r.

Thijs Porck & Sander Stolk, “Marking Boundaries in Beowulf: Æschere’s Head, Grendel’s Arm and the Dragon’s Corpse”

In this article, we explore the displaying of body parts (notably the arm of Grendel and the head of the Danish advisor Æschere) in the Old English poem Beowulf. We argue that the display of Æschere’s head on top of the cliff towering over Grendel’s mere resembles the Anglo-Saxon heafod stoccan, ‘head stakes’, which acted as boundary markers (see Heads on sticks: Decapitation and impalement in early medieval England). Next, we argue for reinterpreting other potential boundary markers in the poem, including Grendel’s arm and the dragon’s corpse. Along the way, we also try to solve two textual cruces (= difficult passages) in Beowulf’s speech prior to his fight with Grendel. If that was not enough of a teaser, we also discuss the presence of an impaled decapitated head on Noah’s ark!

Raven pecking at an impaled head on Noah’s ark. London, British Library, Cotton Claudius B.iv, fol. 15r

Christine Rauer, “Early Mercian Text Production: Authors, Dialects, and Reputations”

Christine Rauer’s article discusses how literary productions in Mercia may have rivalled those literary efforts associated with King Alfred the Great of Wessex. In fact, Alfred’s famed ‘educational reform’ may well have been inspired by what was going on in the neighbouring kingdom of Mercia!

Sofie Vanherpen, “In Search of a Founding Mother: The Case of Auðr djúpauðga in Sturlubók

The next article moves beyond early medieval England and focuses, instead, on one of the early settlers of Iceland: Auðr djúpauðga ‘Aud the Deep-minded’. It draws on the fascinating Old icelandic Sturlubók and reconstructs Auðr’s life story. Fans of History Channel/Netflix’s Vikings may have spotted Auðr/Aud accompanying Floki to Iceland in series 5!

Floki and Auðr (Aud) in History Channel/Netflix’s Vikings s05e16

Arend Quak, “Sprachmischung in den ‘Malbergischen Glossen’”

This German-language article deals with various fascinating Old Dutch glosses found in the Lex Salica, compiled around the year 500 AD by Clovis, king of the Franks. Quak also discusses glosses that are made up of elements from different languages; my favourite one he discusses, for obvious reasons, is the word hof-porcus, which features the Old Dutch hof ‘court’ and Latin porcus ‘pig’!

Rolf H. Bremmer Jr, “Old English būtan / Old Frisian būta: From Adverb to Conjunction. Another Anglo-Frisian Parallel?”

It is a well-known fact that the closest language to Old English is Old Frisian – the two languages share many features and they likely derive from a common linguistic ancestor (Anglo-Frisian). But not all similarities can be ascribed to a common ancestor, as we find out in this article that discusses the similar but independent developments of Old English būtan ‘but’ and Old Frisian būta ‘but’.

Kariem Philippa, with the assistance of Marlies Philippa and Annelies Roeleveld, “Monophthongization of ay/ai and aw/au: A Comparison between Arabic and Germanic Dialects”

Continuing the line of questioning the origins of similar linguistic developments is this article by Kariem Philippa – he looks at the monophtongization of a set of diphthongs, found in a number of Germanic and Arabic dialects, and wonders whether these changes may have been caused by language contact between speakers of Arabic and Germanic. The answer: very unlikely, but the article does highlight some interesting instances of contact – including how the Arab Aḥmad ibn Faḍlān met some Nordic merchants (ibn Faḍlān is the inspiration for Antonio Banderas’ character in the 1999-film The Thirteenth Warrior).

Ibn Fadlan (Antonio Banderas) and one of his Viking friends (from The Thirteenth Warrior [1999])

Luc de Grauwe, ““In Overlandsche ende in Duytsche sprake” und “Die alghemene Duytsche tael””

Where does the term Dutch come from? And how does it differ from the Dutch word Duits, meaning ‘German’? These and other questions are answered by this lengthy German-language article; highly recommended for those people who are confused over why the Dutch national anthem has the phrase “ben ik van Duitsen bloed” and think it mean “I am of German blood”.

Erika Langbroek and Annelies Roeleveld, “Vier Rätsel aus dem sechzehnten Jahrhundert”

In this last German-languaqge contribution, the authors edit and solve four 16th-century riddles. As they demonstrate, solving these riddles requires a knowledge of multiple languages, musical annotation and cryptography!

Four 16th-century riddles in Brussel, KBR, ii 144, fol 55v

I hope that some of these articles were of interest to you and that you have taken the opportunity to use the fact that they are now Open Access! If you are interested in more Open Access publications, you can check out my Research and Publications tab for more and/or you can follow this blog and wait for a future update!

Thijs Porck (ed.), The Familiar and the Foreign in Old Germanic Studies, special issue of Amsterdamer Beiträge zur älteren Germanistik 77:3-4 (2017, Brill)


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