Deád is Æschere – mín rúnwita

13 May, 2013

“Æschere my ‘run-knower’ is dead!” bewails King Hrothgar in Beowulf. His lament springs to mind this week when On the Reading Rest I have a re-reading of the inscription, in the old futhark, on the 5th c. rune stone from Tune in Østfold, south-southeast of Oslo. Known to scholars since the 1620s it has been re-read before (00).

Tune is strategically situated in a farmland area somewhat withdrawn from the Oslo Fjord to which there is nevertheless easy access on the river Glommen.

Tune is strategically situated in a farmland area somewhat withdrawn from the Oslo Fjord to which there is nevertheless easy access on the river Glommen.



The total distribution of the ancient monuments allows us to see the varying settlement density in the Tune area.

Fig 00

Eythórsson, Thórhallur. 2013. Three daughters and a funeral: Rereading the Tune inscription. Futhark: International Journal of Runic Studies 3 (2012). Pp 7-43.

Knowing what he is up against when re-reading the inscription, Thórhallur Eythórsson (ThórEy) quotes the First Law of Runo-Dynamics attributed to the archaeologist David M Wilson: for every inscription there shall be as many interpretations as there are scholars working on it. Since archaeologists are used to handling a large, growing, badly preserved and varying source material, they are forced to agree on interpretations that are practical rather than formal. Thus having themselves given up on irrefutable knowledge, archaeologists can easily supply the Second Law: for every scholarly repetition of the true meaning of an inscription it shall be less likely that it is found out.

Runo-Dynamics therefore contradict Oscar Wilde’s unbent positivism when he reminds us that even the obvious may be proved and that telling the truth one is sure, sooner or later, to be found out.

Taking Oscar Wilde at face value runologists embark on a pursuit, a quest for the true meaning of a text, despite the fact that meaning will always deceive the huntsman. In pursuit of meaning, the laws of Runo-Dynamics will always escalate the demands on reading and re-reading texts when trying fully to understand them.

The tune stone was found by the church, i.e. next to a main road in the area

The tune stone was found by the church, i.e. next to a main road in the area

In pursuit of meaning ThórEy comes close to breaking these laws because he agrees with a number of earlier interpretations, which stand out as simply true and in no need of a renewed scientific discussion – nota bene ‘stand out’. We mustn’t not be surprised when it becomes obvious that since the late 1800s as shown by ThóEy, there has been little simple progress in the understanding of the inscription. On the contrary, clever linguistic and philological detours have been many and confusing. They are the ones that have to be weeded out.
From an archaeological point of view, ThórEy’s re-reading has the advantage of defending the probable against the improbable, thus bringing the text into the realm of Archaeo-Dynamism declaring all interpretations equal and some more equal than others.

Since the 1620s, three words are missing from the partly damaged rune stone. We need a reconstruction meeting ThórEy's interpretation.

Since the 1620s, three words are missing from the partly damaged rune stone. We need a reconstruction meeting ThórEy’s interpretation.

This means that in ThórEy’s re-reading there are three statements on the stone. Owing to its preservation, some parts, represented by italics, are less obvious than others. To begin with, I present the three statements in no specific order and translate them in two ways: clumsily word by word and well, i.e. quoting ThórEy:

Wiwaz Woduride : staina : satide
Wiwaz for Woduridaz : the stone : set up
NN (Wiwaz?) erected the stone for Woduridaz (ThórEy’s translation)

ek Wiwaz after Woduride witadahalaiban worahto runoz
I Wiwaz after (and for) Woduridaz, the keeper of bread, wrought the runes
I Wiwaz wrought the runes in memory of Woduridaz, the breadward (ThóEy’s translation)

thrijoz dohtriz dalidun arbija sijostez arbijano
three daughters divided (between them) the inheritance (they were) the ownest of heirs (i.e. the heirs closest to the deceased himself)
Three daughters shared the inheritance, the closest family heirs (ThóEy’s translation).

On the Tune stone archaeologists see three related phenomena: a statement concerning the runes we read, a statement on inheritance and a statement about the creation of the monument. We understand that Woduridaz, a pillar of society, has died and that his three daughters were his closest heirs. A man called Wiwaz wrought the runes commemorating Woduridaz and set up the monument. Since Wiwaz stands out as a capable man, we may expect that he was remembered for what he did. Similarly, the daughters were probably remembered for being their father’s daughters. It may be said that Wiwaz pushed for himself and for the daughters too, but rather than being controversial, the statements impress us as factual and straightforward.
Since agency, personal qualifications and social position matter, it is fair to point out that the name Woduridaz means ‘mind rider’ adding a nimble intellectual quality to the responsible man who keeps the bread, with an eye to sharing it. Witada-halaiban is a proto Norse composite for the Anglo-Saxon ’hláford’, hláf+weard = bread+warder, i.e. Modern English  ‘lord’. This was argued in a model almost law-breaking discussion by Otto v. Friesen in Arkiv för nordisk filologi vol 16 1900:191-200.

There is only one Iron Age Woduridaz, but Wiwaz belongs to a small series of names (Wiwaz, Wiwlian and Wiwio) designating those whose common denominator is ‘rushing forward’. Being Wiwaz befits a doer and both names may thus be cognomens inasmuch as they may be flattering nicknames – not least the composite Wodu+ridaz. They may also indicate the distribution of roles among kinsmen favouring names, even nicknames, on W. In that case Wiwaz wasn’t Woduridaz’ son, but he might have been a brother.

Because ThórEy has been able to read the text favouring a straightforward and indeed uncomplicated meaning, the archaeologist, having seen the names as meaningful in the way a beholder may find them meaningful without knowing for sure, may also continue and look at the stone as a combination of (1) epigraphy and (2) literary form. Epigraphy falls into two parts. One (1:1) concerns the way the texts should be read from the beginning to the end, the other (1:2) concerns its composition. I will deal with 1:1-2 before I turn to (2), the question of literary form.


Reading the obverse, i.e. the front signified by the large runes in two centrally placed lines, one would stand a little to the left looking at the text from an oblique angle reading it from the onset downwards and up again to the very top of the stone, which has become so narrow that there is room for one line only: ek Wiwaz after Woduride witadahalaiban worahto runoz. One need not read more than the obverse, but if, because the text ends at the very top of the stone, one thinks that here may be more to the read on the back side, one must take a step backwards and to the left in order to see the reverse. Here there is once again an obvious onset from which one reads downwards and then upwards again to the end of the second statement: thrijoz dohtriz dalidun arbija sijostez arbijano. Apparently there is a third line on the back side, but in order to read that, one shall have to take a step forward and turn around thus standing next to the left side of the stone reading the line in the right side from the bottom and upwards: Wiwaz Woduride : staina : satide. The epigraphic order is practical, relatively clear and meaningful. The function of the last statement is to bring the inscription to an end, making it clear that there is nothing more to say when the first two statements have been said. They in their turn are presented in a practical order: first we understand that Woduridaz is dead, then (as a secondary fact and thus on the back side) we learn that his death produced heirs. We have been told something about Woduridaz’ character, and have been pointed to the slightly odd fact that his heirs were three daughters.

The statement on inheritance is in agreement with Tacitus description of a man’s closest heirs: Heredes tamen successoresque sui cuique liberi, et nullum testamentum. Si liberi non sunt, proximus gradus in possessione fratres, patrui, avunculi.–Heirs, nevertheless, and successors (are) his own children and no will (is made). If there are no children, the next in rank to possess (the inheritance) are brothers, father’s brother, mother’s brother (Tacitus Germania 20.3.). This means that if Wiwaz was Woduridaz’ brother, or one of the close relatives mentioned by Tacitus, there would be an important point in mentioning the daughters, thus stating and accepting their rights by acknowledging their status rather than his own. Originally, the Tune stone probably stood close to the place and road where it was eventually found, and it is thus not unlikely that it was once an example of the kind of memorial stones referred to in Hávamál strophe 72: sjaldan bautarsteinar standa brautu nǣr, nema reisi niþr at niþ—Seldom do memorial stones stand next to the road, if they were not raised by a kinsman commemorating his kin.

Tacitus, who may be right or wrong, wrote 300 years before Wiwaz, but rules of inheritance often have a strong tradition. In view of ThóEy’s thorough discussion, Tacitus description speaks in favour of sijostez arbijano (the closest of heirs) being a traditional way among people in Northern Europa of defining legal heirs as descendants who are entitled to inherit simply by birth right. Choosing these specific three statements and arranging them in a composition might thus have been intentional (01).

Often, when it comes to literary form in early runic inscriptions the text interacts with the medium, i.e. with the stone. This is the case in Tune. There is a message in the way the reader approaches the stone and orders the statements in a series beginning with an opening, continuing in a consequence of what has been related in the opening, and ending in a conclusion, which tells us that the commemorative monument is completed in a most suitable way. The opening on the front of the stone – written in large runes – is composed as a period consisting of two alliterating and syllable-counting well-stressed long lines with a suitable sentence intonation – a firm and short first long line and a second more rich in syllables developing and emphasizing primarily the essence of the deceased, witadahalaiban, and secondly the honorable behavior of the verse-writing Wiwaz:

ek Wiwaz after   Woduride,     (5+4 =09)
witadahalaiban   worahto runoz    (6+5=11)

Prosody is a choice, not a must: ek Wiwaz worahto runoz after Woduridu witadahalaiban, a sensible and informative prose expression, would have done the job.

The two statements on the back side take us to this kind of simple prose by way of a solemn economic and elegant expression: thrijoz dohtriz dailidun arbija, sijostez arbijano—three daughters shared the inheritance, (they were) the closest of (his) heirs.

The last statement, the most simple prose, piles the words on top of each other as a matter of fact in an almost artless way: Wiwaz Woduride staina satide. One might also have said Woduride staina Wiwaz satide or Woduride Wiwaz satide staina or Wiwaz staina Woduride satide or any other of the possible 24 word orders. Since Wiwaz is nom sing, staina acc sing, Woduride dat sing and satide 3. pers sing the meaning of the words and the sentence cannot be obscured by the word order. Actually the reason why runologists have had no problem supplying the word satide is because it is the necessary and obvious verb to the three nouns one of which must be in the nominative. Not surprisingly, all four words have heavily stressed first syllables creating a stubborn cablese beat, impossible to get rid of. The only words that could possibly be missing are: ‘Stop! Send cash!’

There is a perfect balance between the tall stone, the design, the message, the formulation, the movement of the reader and the thirty-second three-stage experience walking around the monument reading it. The composition is low-key, but significant. It stresses the deep-rooted traditional fairness, integrity and care of the mind-riding Early Iron Age bread ward, i.e. a gifted lordly member of the upper classes.


But deád is Æschere! In Beowulf King Hrothgar laments the loss of his runwita, his ‘run-knower’, brother in arms, and counsellor, killed by Grendel’s mother (cf. v 1325). In the epic this is a symbolic loss of literacy including its esoteric qualities of knowing hidden meaning, such as the non-verbal meaning of prosody. This loss is emblematic of late 5th century Scandinavia when the likes of Æschere, such as Wiwaz, stopped writing. They were the last of their kind and hard to come by for centuries.

King Hrothgar is acutely aware of having lost an old significant component of society. In bygone days, as his name and the King tell us (02), Æschere was the spear warrior standing shoulder to shoulder with the king. Like most, they were both men in the line, when the warriors clashed, spear in hand, and wisely they sought to protect their heads behind their shields. Unmediated we are told that Æschere was the older brother of Yrmenláf (eormen+láf) – an odd name signifying the ‘great’ or ‘all-comprising legacy’. ´This indicates that living up to his obligations as an older brother, he helped bringing forward Hrothgar’s glorious world, i.e. the great legacy now threatened by Grendel and his mother. Not only was Æschere instrumental in bringing about this society, he employed the intellectual skills of a counsellor and runwita in order to manage it. And now he is dead. Grendel’s mother is proud of having killed him because she knows that what Grendel meant to her, Æschere meant to Hrothgar.

(00) There is a short overview in Norwegian of the Tune area with relevant references in:

Bårdseth, Gro Anita. 2007 Kulturmilø Tune. In: Bårdseth (ed.) Hus, gard og graver langs E6 i Sarpsborg kommune. E6-prosjektet Østfold, Band 2. Varia 66. Pp 1-6.

Although one cannot point to any large and domiant Roman Iron Age och Migration Period farm in the Tune area, the farms Missingen in Råde, just north of Tune, shows the economic possibilities of the coastland/inland border in Østfold. On Missingen, in Norwegian, see:

or in English:

Bårdseth, Gro Anita. 2009. The Roman Age Hall and the Warrior-Aristocracy: Reflections upon the Hall at Missingen, South-East Norway. Norwegian Archaeological Review, Vol. 42, No. 2, 2009. Pp 146-58.


(01) In Latin it is possible, at least for Plautus humorously, and using the archaic ipsus instead of ipse, to construct a word parallel to sijostez. In Trinummus: The Three Pieces of Money, Act iv scene 2, when Charmides is asked by Sycophanta for the fourth time Ergo ipsusne es?—Are you then himself? Charmides answers as affirmatively as possible with a superlative to ipsus, ‘own’, in the genitive: Ipsissimus—‘his ownest’, ispis+simus, i.e. his own very self. In Lewis & and Short by mistake ipsissimus is spelled ispissumus, cf. ThórEy p. 22f.

(02) Beowulf vv 1323-27: Deád is Æschere, // Yrmenláfes    yldra broþor, // 1325 min rúnwita     ond min rædbora, // eaxlgestealla,     ðonne we on orlege // hafelan weredon,     þonne hniton feþan—Dead is Æschere Yrmenláf’s older brother, my runwita and my counsellor, he stood next to my shoulder when in battle we protected our heads when the men clashed.


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