Ásbjôrn cut the stone

3 August, 2015

With this entry I collapse OtRR and let it rest for good.

Last week I read a rune stone text, 28 words or 122 runes. The lix number was 4.37 – how hard can it be? In the two preceding sentences there were 23 words and 81 characters.


Sö 213. Södermanlands runstenar, Sveriges runinskrifter Nybble, Överselö sn. The style is Pr3 – Pr4 (and the stones thus produced in the later part of the 11th century CE).

Runic inscription: s^tain : hiuk : esbern : stintn : at : uitum : bat miþ : runum : raisti : kyla : at : gaiRbern : boanta : sin :· auk · kofriþ : at : faþur : sin : han uaR : boanti : bestr i : kili : raþi : saR : kuni :

 In Old Norse: Stein hjó Ásbjôrn, steindan at vitum, batt með rúnum, reisti Gylla at Geirbjôrn, bónda sinn, ok Guðfríðr at fôður sinn. Hann var bóndi beztr í Kíli. Ráði sá kunni.

 In Modern English: Ásbjôrn cut the stone, painted as a marker, bound with runes. Gylla raised (it) in memory of Geirbjôrn, her husbandman; and Guðfríðr in memory of her father. He was the best husbandman in Kíll. Interpret, he who can!

For this, and much more information, see Samnordisk runtextdatabas http://www.nordiska.uu.se/forskn/samnord.htm

Relevant parts of Södermandlands runinskrifter, which is an old publication in Swedish, can be found at:



In this master thesis Þórhallur Þráinsson demonstrated that if one wished to design a rune stone arranging the layout in relation to a small number of proportionate circles that also helped the artist draw the contour lines would make it easy to paraphrase a Late Carolingian Iron Age, LCIA, rune stone. The principles were published in a small exhibition catalogue from Museum Gustavianum in 1999 (01). As an experiment a rune stone was produced, painted in the most common CIA colours and put in the university park face up to see what Scandinavian weather in the age of global warming would do to it. This is what it looks like today – the maintenance of rune stones must be included in the commemoration of the diseased.


Since we know about the design methods we shouldn’t read a completely preserved stone like Nybble until its layout has been understood. In this case we must take a small shortcut to understanding by accepting that someone other than the carver had perhaps chosen the stone. What then did it look like to begin with? We don’t precisely know that either because today the stone stands in a private garden partly buried in the ground and not in its original place and position, which was on the nearby Iron Age cemetery.



But if we lift it up and put it down on the ground by means of computer programmes we can make it a blank sheet shadowing its small uneven parts and start the planning:


We know the name of the man who ‘cut’ the stone and this verb is taken to mean ‘designed and cut or carved’. He was called Ásbjôrn or Aesbjorn to OtRR. Aesbjorn would have had in mind the text that was supposed eventually to be fitted into the decoration, and this text was divided into two parts as the Runtextdatabase has it:

A-text: Ásbjôrn cut the stone, painted as a marker, bound with runes. Gylla raised (it) in memory of Geirbjôrn, her husbandman; B-text: and Guðfríðr in memory of her father. He was the best husbandman in Kíll. Interpret, he who can!

Aesbjorn chose a quite common design that would allow these two texts more or less to form a circle, and thus first of all he had to find a centre and a circle to go with them. He gave this main circle a diameter of 48 units (02).

The planning starts in the prime centre (PC) and the carver intends to divide the decoration into an A- and a B-part related to the future inscription. Moreover, he wants there to be an upper, a central and a lower ornamental focus (uf, cf and lf) of the A-part. These three elements are to be based on each their 12-units circles.

The centre of the upper focus, the secondary centre (SC) is situated 17 units above PC. From SC a secondary line defined by a point (SP) 4 units to the right of PC on the horizontal diameter slopes into the A-part of the stone. The upper focus (uf) is the same point as SC and Aesbjorn defines the central focus (cf) as 16 units below uf and defines the lower focus (lf) as an additional 17 units further below uf on the secondary line. This means that the distance between the upper and the central circle is 4 units. Between the central and the lower circle there are 5 units.


The three 12-unit circles aim at balancing the composition and in addition following part of their periphery helps to outline the contours of the key decorative elements. To facilitate the drawing of these elements a number of smaller circles are used, and although some of these may have been fixed by coordinates in the layout there seems to be no point in trying to figure out how.

The smaller inner and outer contour circles in the B-part are there to make the serpent in this part smaller than the A-part animal with its larger circles. The larger circles in the upper part of the stone make the overlapping ‘head bends’ larger than the separated ‘tail bends’, which are kept together by a leash that binds together text and decoration.

The central four-footed animal with its 12/6-unit circle combination is the most impressive of the three key elements and if we think that is body is a bit narrow it is because its breadth equals 4 units.

Finally, the construction of an 8/7-unit pair of circles guiding the small animal’s long ‘crest’ has resulted in ‘constructed’ irregularities.


The composition is based on two united serpent-like animals. Between them and probably bridging them stands the large four-footed animal, which is usually considered to be the Lion of Judah or Christ from the Book of Revelation, 5:5.

If we look at the A- and B-text they are different in a way that matches the decoration. The A-text is the important one, B is more straightforward and dependant on A. The widowed Gylle, the deceased Geirbjorn and Aesbjorn crowd the A-text and they have the lion’s powerful front among them. The B-text relates to Guðfríðr who commemorates her father repeating Gylle’s statement adding that her father was the best of Kil men. In the end she asks the reader to interpret the monument. This last sentence refers back to the beginning of the text since that is where the monument is described by Aesbjorn. Most often carvers mention themselves in the very end of a text – not so Aesbjorn, who proudly declares: Stein hjó Ásbjôrn, steindan at vitum, batt með rúnum … . The database has is:’Ásbjôrn cut the stone, painted as a marker, bound with runes ‘. The transation is correct, but not so faithful to the poet who wrote this part of the inscription as of a strophe. Viti means ‘a marker’, but so does the more frequent word mark and there is more to the word viti. Choosing viti, which is the same word as wit, Aesbjorn wants to make something known in a more manifest or extrovert way and at vitum could be translated ‘to witting’ in the dialectic sense: knowledge or awareness of something. That is why he also uses the verb steinda which means paint, but so does the more common word faði. Aesbjorn chose steinda because he needed an alliteration on stein, but steinda nevertheless has an emphasized element of adding something to something enhancing it as in the term stained glass – to colour, therefore, is a better choice than to paint if we think that stained is too negative. Batt með rúnum means bound with runes referring no doubt to the two-serpent layout carrying the runes. Thus the two first lines of the strophe run:

Stein hjó Ásbjôrn, steindan at vitum,
batt með rúnum, reisti Gylla

Aesbjorn cut the stone coloured (stained) to witting
Bound with runes Gylle raised it

Grammatically, with their insertions these two lines are but an unfinished statement waiting for

at Geirbjôrn, bónda sinn —‘after Geibjorn her husband’ to conclude the strophe.

The whole strophe therefore amounts to:


The first two lines are emphatic and repetitive, but that of course is meant to be contrasted by the less rigid concluding line that includes the strophe’s only anacrusis. From a rhythmic point of view the translation would be better if Geirbjorn was Gylle’s ‘lord’:

Aesbjorn cut the stone, stained to witting,
bound with runes, Gylle raised it
after Geirbjorn her lord.

It’s a Ljóðaháttr statement and the A-text therefore is poetry, the B-text (just) prose, albeit divided into three distinct parts: … and Guðfríðr in memory of her father.| He was the best husband in Kil. | Interpret, he who can!

The database has ‘husbandman’ for bónda, but why Geirbjorn should be a small landower or tenant rather than a yeoman is difficult to say. Bónda would seem to allude to the master of a household. Geirbjorn in his social capacity as a bónda unites the two different texts, the commemorators and the two serpents, which represent a basic divide and unity among those left behind.

I think it is fair to suggest that Ráði sá kunni—‘Interpret, he who can’ alludes to the text :: design relation, that is, ‘the text in interacting tandem with the design’. There are obviously interpretations that we can defend: the two serpents represent Miðgard and its people, among whom there are greater and smaller ones. The Lion of Judah, nevertheless, is there for everybody. So far so good, but when we read the text this ‘decorative’ meaning is not the only truth. Kil stands out as a miniature Miðgard and when a person dies the diseased belongs to the whole of Kil/Miðgard, the A- and B-text respectively, protected by Christ on doomsday. This kind of interactive interpretation will soon become guesswork only, albeit perhaps true, and that I think is the reason why ráði sá kunni—‘Interpret, he who can’ has been chosen as a conclusion. Checking the number of syllables and the meaning of words as well as the size and position of circles is not enough

Before we conclude that every one of us thinks the artist does construct too much, we shouldn’t forget that Aesbjorn added a new kind of metaphor to his verse: (the stone is) steindan at vitum—‘stained to witting’, perhaps it meant something even to the stone – perhaps Aesbjorn had true north on his poetic compass. This is not quite unbelievable since on Selaön of all places the text on a contemporary rune stone Sö 197 ends with a quite common prayer, which nevertheless stands out as singular because it is grammatically transformed and reformulated as the first rhyming pair of qualitative iambic trimeters in Swedish poetry. There’s a new one:


Metaphors and iambic verse – something happened to the poetry on Selaön in the 11th century. ráði sá kunni!



(01) See Þórhallur Þráinsson. 1999. The exhibition sketches. In Eija Lietoff (ed.). Rune stonesa colourful memory, pp. 21–21. Museum Gustavianum. Uppsala as well as, Þórhallur Þráinsson. 1999. Traces of Colour. In Eija Lietoff (ed.). Runestonesa Colourful Memory, pp. 21–30. Museum Gustavianum. Uppsala.

(02) Since the greatest height of the carving was 1.36 m and the breadth 1.38 m it stands to reason that the circle was 4.5 foot in diameter and the foot thus ((136+138)/2)/4.5=30.44 cm. The unit Aesbjorn used was 1½ inch.


This week On the Reading Rest I still have the article on the rune stone from Hogganvik, Mandal, in Southwest Norway. This stone was mentioned OtRR 9 January, 2012, but there is no point in looking it up since in the present entry the perspective from 2012 has simply been developed.

ILLU 01Schultze, Michael. 2013. The Norwegian Hogganvik Stone as an Emblem of Social Status and Identity. Journal of the North Atlantic 4:120-128. Acronym: MiSCHu.

The Hogganvik stone stands in a nave, i.e. in a place that attracts and radiates – a ‘focus’ and a ‘centre’ in the human landscape (6). In this nave the stone does something and it seems plausible that the reason why the stone does what it does rests with the man who calls himself Wolverine. This man in his turn is connected to someone he calls Chilver-Servant (a chilver being a ewe lamb). Since it is plausible that a wolverine meeting a chilver in meadows or mountains will kill the lamb and eat it, it seems reasonable to suggest that the 1st and 2nd elements of the dithematic names, naudi-, -gastiz and –þewaz (7) are chosen to convey a less brutal situation. Generally speaking combining a variety of first and second elements in dithematic names (their stems) are meant to explore the concepts of being a Guest or a Servant.

Contexts containing names or appellatives with -þewaz, servant, as the second element indicate that being a servant ranks high among the upper classes. King Hrothgar’s perfect queen Wealhtheow in Beowulf is a case in point and so is Virgin Mary in Hêliand, she who modestly says: Thiu bium ic theotgodes—‘I am the Folk-god’s maid servant(=thiu)’. In Hêliand shs is betrothed to Joseph, the man who presently occupies King David’s throne in Bethlehem, no less, and Mary is by no means a servant to anyone except God in his capacity as protector of the people (cf. OtRR 19 August 2013). Being a chilver servant is thus a most honourable ocupation that accords harmoniously with having a wolverine as a guest. Since there is a symbolic ring of devotion to the name Kelbaþewaz befitting a member of the upper classes, this devotion spreads downwards in the hierarchy to his guest Erafaz, the Wolverine, when he calls himself Need-guest.

ILLU 09Guest-names are common Old Germanic names and in their original form before 500 CE, they point out a male visitor to a social environment that accepts him as a guest (8).

The visitor, who is on his own and by definition comes from somewhere, has a dependent, albeit prestigious social position because he may have personal qualities or be useful and rewarded in certain situations as well as dangerous. Some guests cannot behave themselves, but others like Beowulf can, Being a useful guest, as well as lethal to the likes of Grendel and his mother, is no less than Bowulf’s road to success. To be a guest may thus be a career and guest-names may well refer to a role. Runologists often suspect that guest- and servant-names are based on a conventional variation of the first element making the semantics of the both uninteresting. However, in turbulent and formative periods such as the first half of the first millennium CE variation in the first element is obviously a way to investigate new concepts such as guest and servant as well as their social meaning in a society gradually becoming more and more stratified.

Proto-Germanic need-names are uncommon, MiSCHu knows of none except Hogganvik, but next to Naudigastiz from Mandal there is the broadly speaking contemporary Hnaudifridus from Housesteads across the North Sea (R(oman) I(nscriptions in) B(ritain) 1576; altar):


DEABVS ALAISIAGIS BAVDIHILLIE ET FRIAGABI ET N(numina) AVG(usti) N(umerus) HNAVDIFRIDI V(otum) S(olvit) L(ibens et) M(erito)—To the Alaisagae goddesses Boudihillia and Friagabis, and to the divine spirit of the Emperor, the unit of Hnaudifridius readily and deservedly fulfils its vow.

The name HNAVDIFRIDI is the Germanic name Naudifriþuz in Latinised genitive. The initial H is a misspelling, but it is conceivable for other reasons too that the Latin speaking composer of the inscription had difficulties analysing what he heard – or perhaps what Notfried said (9). The numerus Hnaudfrifdi—‘Naudifrid’s unit’, is this officer’s loosely defined group of mounted men. Rather than a Roman or a Romanised German like 1st c. Cerialis the officer Naudifridus is a German, and this indicates that he and this unit were mercenaries of the 3rd c. CE (10). A Friesian wedge-formatted mounted unit (a cuneus) was often stationed at Housesteads by Hadrian’s Wall and in inscriptions this unit referred to the Germanic deities the Alaisagae. Owing to these circumstances Naudifridus and his men were probably Friesian from Twente or at least German speaking. The long-term presence of the Friesians and Tungrians as well as their involvement in the Romanization of Northern England is attested not least by the tablets from nearby Vindolanda (11).

Similar to Naudigastiz, the meaning of Naudifriþuz is in all probability positive and the name/appellative would signify something like peace/protection when there needs be just that. His mother may have known him as Schtroumpfy, but we may think of him as a -friduz recognizing that sword in hand he once brought peace to a negative situation. Perhaps the name could be paralleled with the place name Gundralöv, which once contained the name Gunþifriþuz—strife + peace, i.e. he who brings peace to strife in some way or other (12). Analogically, Naudigastiz would signify a guest who is needed – an outsider loyal to his host, who is probably a hall owner or at least a person with some kind of wealth and a political agenda that might need support.

In their inscription, both Naudifriþuz and Naudigastiz recognize the hierarchies to which they belong, and given the troubled 4th century with the disappearing Western Roman Empire and the thousands of farms that were given up in South Scandinavia, it seems reasonable to construct Naudi-names or –appellative. Indirectly they would signify belief in a social order under pressure. This endangered order reflects a social stratification, which grew during the RIA and created an elite that was replaced in the 6th c. when the new South Scandinavian centres emerge (13).

Irrespective of their first element, there is no need to infer that names ending in -gastiz, -þewaz or –friþuz must refer to martial skills only. The concepts are broader although martial skills may be required. And although Naudigast acknowledges the supremacy of Kelbaþewaz, Like Naudifrid, who acknowledges the Goddesses and the Emperor, the central figure in the inscriptions is Naudigast and Naudifrid respectively. Both may be praised. While R.I.B 1576 is conventional the Hogganvik inscription is exceptional, partly because it refers to the monument in which it stands – a nave and seemingly a relatively sacred place. Today we must appreciate the fact that a rune stone happens to mention and illustrate a nave thus giving us a clue to its capacity as a spiritual site where chanting lexical nonsense or uttering alphabetical magic for those who can read or hear was a worthwhile perpetual occupation at least for standing stones.

Commemorating Kelbaþewaz or the Emperor was not the primary purpose of the monuments. Instead, in Hogganvik as well as in Housesteads devotion and the glory it lends to the devotee is the central theme. In Housesteads inscriptions live up to a formulaic standard while in Hogganvik an original formulation seems much more important, but that does not tell us whether Naudigast was more devoted than Naudifrid or vice versa. Nor do we know whether they ever met their masters. Given the small-scale Iron Age society, which we believe characteried Southwest Norway, we nevertheless hope that Naudifrid and Kelbaþewa knew each other, as hinted when the former calls himself Kelbaþewa’s guest. In Hogganvik the introductory I-formulation, which always sounds as if we were listening to someone taking an oath, creates personal presence, while dedication gives gravity and distance to Housesteads. It is the suitable expression and the blending of a moral spiritual and a practical social status that matters.

Far from being no more than inscriptions on stones that ‘reflect hierarchical societies’ the statements at Housesteads and Hogganvik are ritual formulations befitting sanctuaries. At Housesteads the stone is an altar at a temple in the vicus, at Hogganvik the stone stands in the nave. At both places there is probably a nearness to spirits or gods. In Housesteads the altar in the edifice sees to that, in Hogganvik the stone, the kerbstones and the elevated position of the monument creates or enhances a nave in the landscape. As pointed out OtRR 9 Jan, 2012: “the stone itself is not connected to any grave, but standing on an angular shelf at the very end of the cemetery. From this position we overlook the settlement below the cemetery“. We don’t know if the nave sanctuary had any other vertical elements other than the stone, but we may still speak of it as a small road sanctuary with a nave opening to the Northeast.


In the nave the stone, imbued with non-lexical runes, held an essential part of the ritual statement framed by a more worldly lexical explanation. As Naudifriþuz could have spoken the formulaic words later carved on the altar stone, Erafaz could have done the same in Hogganvik, not least why the inscription is direct speech. Like Naudifriþuz, Erafaz demonstrates his devotion, albeit indirectly, but there doesn’t seem to be any dedication in Hogganvik. A dedication may of course hide itself in the non-lexical expression – who knows?

The Hogganvik monument is very Norwegian and very 4th century CE, but it borrows the idea of the religious inscription and perhaps the idea of the constructed sanctuary from Roman civilisation. The stone didn’t last long and had I been a religious fundamentalist in the years around 500 CE smashing rune stones and opening chamber graves in the Mälar Valley in Sweden defending true religious values, I would have gone to Norway and toppled the Hogganvik stone. Since the road to Norway passed the Järsberg stone in Värmland I would have pushed that one over too and had a go at the Tune stone in Østfold when I passed by. But that’s another story.



(6) cf. Herschend 2009:139ff. Herschend, Frands. 2009. The Early Iron Age in South Scandinavia : social order in settlement and landscape. Uppsala. Uppsala University. http://uu.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2:287406

(7) The names can be looked up in Peterson 2004, se note (5).

(8) Recently guest-names have been collected and discussed by Haubrichs 2008:53-79. Haubrichs, Wolfgang. 2008 Namenbrauch und Mythos-Konstruktion. Die Onomastik der Lex-Salica-Prologe. In: Uwe Ludwig and, Thomas Schilp (eds). Nomen et Fraternitas. Festschrift for Dieter Geuenich on his 65th Birthday. Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde – Ergänzungsbände 62. Berlin – New York. De Gruyter. See also MiSchu:125.

(9) There is an old but quite good discussion of the Germanic names of this innscrption by Theodor Siebs. See Siebs, Theodor. 1922. On an altar dedicated to the Alaisiagae 2. Archaeologia Aeliana. Vol 19:192-197.

(10) Bowman, Alan K. 2003. Life and letters of the Roman frontier. Vindolanda and its people. London. The British Museum. Alan Bowman gives an overview of the role of Friesians and Tungrians in the Romanisation of England pp 14-27 and specifically on Cerialis pp. 20f. See also the discussion on Hnaudifridus in: Birley, Anthony. 1980 The people of Roman Britain. Berkley. University of California Press.

(11) The Turingians emerged sometime in the early 1st c. CE when they became auxiliary troops (see Bowman 2003: 14-27. In Ceasar’s days they were but Gemani West of the Rhine in Northern Gaul. It would not be surprising if the Romans were instrumental in the ‘ethnogenesis’ of Tungrians and even Friesians, conveniently collecting a number of tribes or Germans under one heading. Skill was probably more important than blood for those who became auxiliary soldiers.

(12) See Peterson 2004:26 and Locked Inside a Nave Since the Fourth Century CE – Part I note (5) above.

(13). This development and change is the topic of chapter six, The Landscape of Warfare pp 331-81 and condenced at page 359 in Herschend, Frands. 2009. The Early Iron Age in South Scandinavia : social order in settlement and landscape. Uppsala. Uppsala University. http://uu.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2:287406


This week On the Reading Rest I have an article on the rune stone from Hogganvik, Mandal, in Southwest Norway. This stone was mentioned OtRR 9 January, 2012, but there is no point in looking it up since in the present entry the perspective from 2012 has simply been developed.

ILLU 01Schultze, Michael. 2013. The Norwegian Hogganvik Stone as an Emblem of Social Status and Identity. Journal of the North Atlantic 4:120-128. Acronym: MiSCHu.

This article is extremely informative, 80 different references in 7 pages, but in the end, which is called Principal Conclusion, the stone and its inscription becomes a general and quite unspecific reflection of the commonplace when it comes to the Late Roman Iron Age (LRIA 150-350 CE): “… it reflects a hierarchical society.” (MiSCHu:125). Since ‘status’ and ‘individuality’ is not mentioned in this first sentence the rest of the conclusion links the sponsor to these concepts. The Principal Conclusions may thus be summarized as the first sentence in a BA exam essay on the LRIA in south Scandinavia: “In the Late Roman Iron Age South Scandinavia was a hierarchical society with marked symbols of power and social identity emphasizing status and individuality”. A peevish teacher will of course stick in ‘eventually’ before ‘individuality’, but otherwise not bother much because this introductory phrase has been the archaeological wisdom for the last 30-40 years.

How come that such an intricate inscription and deep knowledge lead us to no more that the commonplace?

Some runologists have had trouble understanding that early rune stones do not always, just because it is possible, commemorate a deceased person. Already when Sven B F Jansson discussed the stone from Järsberg in Värmland, where excavations eventually showed that the stone was erected on a small natural hillock and not on or next to a grave, he noted this peculiar and century-old runological bias (1). Early rune stones are never typical formulaic headstones or memorials and they differ significantly from contemporary Roman headstones or the formulaic Scandinavian memorial rune stones, which date to the Carolingian Iron Age. The formulaic nucleus of the latter consists of three parts: The Sponsor – erected the monument after – The Deceased. One might have expected that in Scandinavia, Roman Iron Age man, given his possible connections with the Roman army, would have adopted some sort of Roman headstone formula. But that is not the case. There are one or two possible parallels in design, such as Möjbrostenen, but none in expressions. In fact there is no reason to believe that a text commemorates a deceased and names a sponsor if the text is not unambiguous.


Most often it takes archaeology to figure out the context of a rune stone. The Hogganvik inscription is a case in point. For a short while, before the archaeological excavation, this rune stone was a headstone standing on a grave. After the excavation it was not, but to runologists its alleged commemorative character featuring the deceased and the sponsor prevailed. In all fairness it must be said that MaSCHu is a significant step away from this preunderstanding, but it nevertheless continuous to colour his reading and interpretation of the inscription (2). Since there are non-lexical runes in the inscription, obscure concepts such as magic and/or cipher must also be allowed a priori to structure the text in a runological discourse. (cf. MiSCHu:123)

Demonstrating these difficulties understanding the topographical and monumental context of the stone, Hogganvik is a sad modern case in point. Based on Glørstad et al. 2011, commented upon OtRR 9 January, 2012 (3), is was easy to sum up the context: Today, we know so much that we can approach the stone as it would quite likely have been approached around 400 AD. It stood as a poster and if we were not locals we would probably have approached it from the South following a road going North through or along a small cemetery. We would have passed by the most prominent grave and then just before the road turned left and down in a slope or between two hills we would have stood in front of the stone.

ILLU 03The stone, moreover, stood in a monument of its own and to a great extent the layout of the inscription and thus the shape of the stone was reflected in the contours of this monument laid out in kerbstones. The position of the rune stone itself within the monument corresponds to the two short lines. The stone was chosen and cut; the kerbstones laid out, and the stone put in its place.

To sum up: the longest part of the inscription frames the two shorter parts. The longest is a proportional map of the outline of the interior of the monument in which the stone was erected. The two shorter parts are situated more or less where the stone stood. Thus the layout of the inscription is a map of the monument. The material context is manifest and not without material agency.

Since the design of the stone consciously parallels that of the monument, the layout of the text is a complement to the layout of the monument. Because this fact is not ‘textual’ in the pre-1980 still frequent runological usage of the concept ‘textual’, some runologists feel free to overlook it. Probably, they lose interest when archaeologists produce contexts, which runologists would not already have recognized in the text. Thus the idea of the headstone is not given up as long as it can be slightly moderated. Consequently, the deceased and the sponsor are still live & kicking — that is agency-wise.

It is commonly agreed, but no longer by MiSCHu, that the longest part, the broken line in which the sections are read towards each other, made up one series of runes and an expression which contained a series of 14 non-lexical runes situated mainly in the second part of the line. The broken line is read it in this way:


and the result becomes: kelbaþewas⁞stainaz⁞aaasrpkfaarpaa⁞inananaboz (line Z)

In this part of the inscription the text is divided into smaller sections by means of vertical dots (), which separate the non-lexical runes from the lexical, and stainaz from kelbaþewas. It would have been easy to organize the inscription in three lines, read boustrophedon – as the oxen ploughs: from right to left to right to left – if clarity had been an issue:


Since this solution was not chosen, simple clarity probably did not guide the carver (4).

On the one hand there is no doubt that the correspondence between the inscription and the shape of the monument dictates the layout of line Z. Ekerafaz and eknaudigastiz on the other hand are meant to make up two lines within the ‘monument’ as it is outlined on the stone. Therefore, we shall have to figure out whether ekerafaz (line X) and eknaudigastiz (line Y) are meant to be read first or last. Since these lines similar to the stone itself, are situated in the centre of the monument, they are probably the most important ones and indeed two parallel lines. This indicates that the simplest way to read the text is to start in the centre with the meaningful line, ek erafaz—I Erafaz, and proceed upwards reading lines X – Y – Z, in order eventually to have read through ‘the whole monument’. This means that we start by reading the inside of the monument, i.e. the rune stone, and proceed to cover its perimeter, the kerbstones.

ILLU 05a

Since inscriptions that mix lexical and non-lexical runes, usually adhere to a systematic pattern: lexical – non-lexical – lexical, in such a way that the last lexical section brings the inscription to an end in a few words, the X – Y – Z reading becomes even more reasonable. ‘Innananaboz’, to be sure is typical lexical cadenza and there is no need to start all over again with a new expression such as ‘ekerafaz’. ‘Ek’, i.e. ‘I’, mreover, is a common somewhat pompous introductory pronoun (Table 1).


On the Hogganvik stone word wrapping doesn’t necessarily indicate a major break in the text and there need not be a break between eknaudigastiz and kelbaþewas. Dots on the other hand always do. This means that there is probably a break between kelbaþewas and stainaz. Since there are no signs to end an expression, the dots simply mark out a beginning that the carver thinks is not obvious. Evidently, this is the function of the dots between kelbaþewas and stainaz. Stainaz is the beginning of something and kelbaþewas thus the end. These dots are necessary because kelbaþewas stainaz—Kelbaþewa’s stone is otherwise a perfectly reasonable expression.


Since most runologists expect the texts to be inscribed on a headstone, they disregard the vertical dots and read what they expect: ‘Kelbaþewa’s stone’. In fact they will think that disregarding the dots is a consequence of the two words.

Be this as it may: if the text, guided by lines and dots, can be read as two propositions – one, preferably the last, containing a non-lexical expression close to the end of the whole text – it should be read so, for instance:

ILLU 07a

The first line, Ek erafaz ek naudigastiz kelbaþewas, is a nominal sentence: I Erafaz, I Naudigatiz (am) Kelbaþewa’s

Since erafaz means ‘wolverine’ and Naudigastiz ‘need-guest’ and kelbaþewa ‘chilver-servant’ (chilver is ‘ewe lamb’) and since they are words used as appellatives and/or proper names, the sentence runs: I Wolverine, I Needgest (am) Chilver-Servant’s. Wolverine presents himself with a name, in effect an appellative, as Chilver-Servant’s need-guest. ‘Guest’-names and ‘servant’-names as well as ‘need’-names are Late Early Iron Age names (5).

The second line, stainazaaasrpkfaarpaainnananaboz, is a sentence too. ‘Stainaz’ is the subject and ‘innananaboz’ is a prepositional phrase or a postpositional adjective referring to stainaz. ‘Innana’ is a preposition which governs the genitive. It means inside or within, and ‘nabu’ means nave, but not just in a wheel.

ILLU 07b

For some reason, Michael Schulte seems not to contemplate that innananaboz might be a postpositional adjective describing stainaz. In Scandinavian languages this way of constructing an adjective is common, not least in Danish, which MiSchu doesn’t mention: inden+bords, inden+bys, inden+dørs, inden+lands, inden+rigs, inden+skærs or inden+sogns. They are always matched by their antonym “uden+…”. There are also local usages applicable when the difference between inside or outside is sufficiently significant. At Langör by Stavnsfjord on Samsø children in the 1950s could sail their dinkies “indenfjords”, but not “udenfjords”—in the fjord but not outside it.


Today there is no particular point in specifying whether the presence of something is either, or predominantly either, inside or outside a nave and there is no such word as “inden+navs”, but “indennavs” for “within the nave” is nevertheless unproblematic if one’s relation to naves is sufficiently dichotomous. Syntactically speaking, the non-lexical runes ‘aaasrpkfaarpaa’, which may be a representation of the act of an incantation, perchance a gealdor, or ‘alphabetic magic’ to runologists, stands in for a verb such as to sing or chant or express. The second sentence therefore describes the stone in the monument stating that: the stone ‘chants this (non-lexical) phrase’ inside the nave. It might of course have been Erafaz—Wolverine who taught the stones to sing: ‘aaasrpkfaarpaa’. In the two similarly structured inscriptions in the above table, DR 261 and DR 196, the ‘I’ rather than the object is the agent.



(1) Jansson, Sven B. F. 1978. Värmlands runinskrifter. Sveriges runinskrifter. Vol. 14:2. Stockholm Almqvist & Wiksell International. Jansson discusses this on pp. 32-36.

(2) In this respect Knirk, James. 2011. Hogganvik-innskriften: en hard runologisk nøtt. Viking 2011. Pp 25-39 and MaSCHu:123 represent two different attitudes to preunderstanding.

(3) This is: Glørstad et al. 2011. Zanette Tsigaridas Glørstad, Jakob Johansson & Frans-Arne Stylegar. Minnelund og monument. Runesteinen på Hogganvik, Mandal, Vest-Agder. Viking 2011. Pp 9-24.

(4) It is not unusual that early inscriptions have a relation to the object on which they are inscribed, thus adding dimensions to their textual meaning, given that they are often written on artefacts.

(5) See below and Peterson, Lena. 2004 Lexikon över urnordiska personnamn http://www.sprakochfolkminnen.se/download/18.5e02b54a144bbda8e9b1c11/1398151044347/urnordiska-personnamn.pdf

Devotional Formula

19 August, 2013

In a new era of growing neo-fascist European nationalism, i.e. today, Ernst Robert Curtius and his historical research stands out as model. From the early 1930s and onwards he redirected his skills to a project that was feasible in his day and age, as well as possibly rewarding after an inner German excile. His research is a historical analysis, triggered by a threathening horrid future and designed to help society to understand itself, if it survives. The different ways his life and research is sketched in today’s German, French and English wikipedia articles is a paragon too. The German article treating him as a national phenomenon, finds it essential to criticize his frankness towards other Germans and comes through as irrelevant, rhetorical and commonplace

Bresslau et CurtiusIn 1948, 16 years after his latest book (Deutscher Geist in Gefahr—German spirit in danger, ), Curtius published Europäische Literatur und lateinisches Mittelalter or La Littérature européenne et le Moyen Âge latin or European literature and the Latin Middle Ages. Rather than several national phenomena, he saw this literature up and until Goethe as a European experience heavily dependant on Latin writers. A similar attitude acknowleding a Latin legacy was evident also in Frederick Klaebers third edition of Beowulf and the fight at Finnsburg (1950) another fruit of a German scholar in inner excile. And they were right: a varying, but large number of European intellectuals have always been critical of European politics. Some of these intellectuals were nationalists others such as Curtius were Europeans. Until the 1950s nevertheless, they were all taught a much earlier Latin in school. This meant that even if you aspire so become a glowing nationalist you could know that the roots of your rhetoric were Latin. This heritage may not have bothered you, but being aware of it, one must at least take the conscious decision not to be bothered.

Since I am interested in South Scandianvia c. 400 to 750 ce – that is, interested in the 19th-century paragon of Germanic, i.e. non-Latin, barbarian myth and darkness – I balance my interest reading Curtius: the main text when I have forgotten something and the excursions, which make up one third of the book on European literature, when I need some frankness. I have forgotten the definition of topos. I am almost sure where to find it, so I look it up in the index – it’s on page 70:

Now, there is a whole series of such arguments, which can be used on the most diverse occasions. They are intellectual themes, suitable for development and modification at the orator’s pleasure. In Greek they are called, κοινοὶ τόποι [commmon sites]; in Latin loci communes; in early German, Gemeinörter. Lessing and Kant still use the word. About 1770, Gemeinplatz was formed after the English “commonplace”. We cannot use the word since it has lost its original application. We shall therefore retain the Greek topos. To elucidate its meaning—a topos of the most general sort is “emphasis on inability to do justice to the subject”; a topos of panegyric: “praise of forbears and their deeds”. In Antiquity collections of such topoi were made. The science of topoi—called “topics”—was set forth in separate treatises.

Originally, then, topoi are helps towards composing orations. They are as Quintilians (V 10, 20,) says, “storehouses of trains of thought” (“argumentorum sedes “), and thus can serve practical purposes.

This came to an end when topoi invaded poetry and prose from the end of the Republic and onwards with less and less practical purpose.

One of the most widespread and long-lived topoi was Affected Modesty, which includes devotional formula as well as expressions of humility and submission. These concepts are discussed in Curtius’ second excurse: Devotional Formula and Humility. Curtius starts by pointing out that Bresslau in his Handbuch der Urkundenlehre made a distinction between devotion and humility and Curtius defends this distinction against scholars, who despite the their references to Bresslau insist on blurring the it – this is where Curtius becomes frank. And he is right. There is a distinction. Devotional and submissive formulae are different topoi in the vast field of thousands of similar and different topoi. ‘Thousands’ by the way is the topos of large, perhaps exaggerated, even numbers. Picking two different topoi believing them to be similar is a serious mistake, because topoi have a direct meaning, which is often of minor importance (dozens, scores, hundreds or thousands – who cares?) as well as hidden and important albeit somewhat obscure meanings (e.g. ‘thousands’, which also means “more topoi than you would think”). Consequently, the choice of one topos above another is sometimes important. And frankly, scholarship grounding its arguments and interpretations on misconstrued and overlooked topoi must be criticized. Curtius does just that.

To Bresslau’s mind, Devotional Formula is a technical term which verbalizes the opinion that God has granted us our earthly position from which we act. In written Medieval instruments and often in the beginning, expressions such as Gratia Dei (by the grace of God) or servus servorum Dei (the servant of the servants of God) are in other words examples of Devotional Formula. The fact that this devotion is not passive, although it may seem to be, is essential. Take e.g. the ostensibly modest position in life of someone who calls himself servus servorum Dei. Its appearance is deceptive, since the formula – first used by Gregory the Great (590-604 CE) – was invented to designate the Pope when he introduces himself in a papal bull, i.e. when he is about to take firm action rather than profess his modest humility. Curtius demonstrates that whatever scholars such as Schmitz or Schwietering may think, the devotional formula has little to do with humility because those who profess to this devotion allow themselves to act autonomously on behalf of the superior power to whom they refer their devotion, i.e., they act on the power extended to them by their devotion. They have been appointed a mission by their superior, who’s ours too, and in that sense their actions are lawful. That’s why ‘devoted’ teachers in loco parentes (in a position where they substitute parents) have beaten up children for centuries.

Nevertheless, the idea behind the devotional formula is its reference to an accepted hierarchic social order (e.g. headed by Deus) to which belongs the person who speaks (the servus servorum) as well as the listeners (the servi Dei and the rest of us)—servus servorum Dei, in short, demonstrates the right of the devoted.

In Bresslau’s sense devotional formula belongs in a room of its own walled by institutions and separated from formula that express belittlement and personal feeling, be it modesty or humility or submission or incapacity. Thus if someone calls himself servus, servant, thrall etc., then the humbleness implied must not be taken at face value. The word alone it not enough to designate the formula in which it occurs – its context must be taken into account. This as it happens is Curtius’ critical method in the excurse. Frankly, sloppy contextual analyses have let some scholars astray.

As readers of On the Reading Rest will perhaps remember there are some difficulties understanding early runic names ending in – þewaz, A-S theow, i. e. servus, servant, thrall. Similarly, we may wonder why Mary in Hêliand (the Saxon Gospel harmony written c- 830 CE) when talking to Gabriel designates herself thus: thiu … … theodgodes, i. e. ‘maid servant … … of the folk god’. Perhaps analyzing this passage from the perspective of devotional formula will bring some clarity.

In Luke, we (i. e. God, the Archangel Gabriel and the rest of us) as well as Mary herself see her as a virgin and an instrument or ‘a vessel of selfless service’, to quote the 1587 Lithany of the blessed Virgin Mary. We take her statement to the angel as proof of this: ‘And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord: Be it done to me according to your words’—dixit autem Maria ecce ancilla Domini fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum (Luke 1:38). She is not supposed to act, since: ‘the Holy Ghost shall come upon you and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God’. The angel has delivered his message and she has understood that she has received it. Her behaviour is significant because it differs from Zachary’s in verse 18. He doubts that his 80 year old wife will become pregnant and starts to discuss reproduction with Gabriel and he was duly punished because he expressed doubts. Mary doesn’t doubt the angel, she just wonders what is going to happen and informs him that she is a virgin. When she calls herself ancilla—maid servant/handmaid, this is not a devotional formula, but a fact, because Mary’s humility is a fact, which makes ancilla Domini a submissive formula.

In Hêliand things are different because Mary Hêliand is a different person than Mary Gospel, ‘virgin’ and ‘handmaid’. Mary Hêliand, even before the angel addresses her, is described to us as a woman that God knows, a lovable maid, a forward young woman, a daughter of King David, a dear and a devoted woman.

A member of the upper and cultivated classes, she is a bit astonished when the angel, whom she perceives as a man, comes up in front of her and addresses her by her name and starts flattering her calling her ‘loved by her master, worthy of the Lord, because she has wits, in short a most pleasant woman. The angel understands that his brusque manners need to be balance by a more polite behaviour and starts to explain himself pointing out that he is not delusion and that he means no evil. Then he sketches a series of happy events (1) she will become our Lord’s (2) become a mother, (3) give birth to a son (4) who is the son of the Lord. (5) This new king will become the ‘splendid king of (all) people’—mâri theodan.

In the Gospel, Mary was told that ‘the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father: and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever’, but in Hêliand Joseph is already sitting on David’s throne (albeit quietly) and the ruling of the house of Jacob (i.e. the Jewish nation) is a petty ruler ship compared to many others. Mary Hêliand expects more, because reasonably her future son by Joseph will sit on David’s throne and why not rule Israel too.

In the Gospel Mary humbly asks: how will this to be done?— quomodo fiet istud?. Far from being humble and submissive Mary Hêliand asks the angel: huô mag that giuuerðen sô that ic magu fôdie?—how may that become so that I may give birth? That is: How is it possible? Not: How will it be done?

The answer to Mary Hêliand’s question is simple enough: By the strength of God the Holy Spirit will come to her from the meadow of Heaven and see to that the she will get pregnant. an thi scal hêlag gêst fon heƀanuuange cuman thurh craft godes. Thanan scal thi kind ôdan uuerðan an thesaro uueroldi—to you the Holy Spirit shall come from Heaven Meadow through God’s strength (as of body or externals) and thereof you shall have a child in this world. The angel indicates that the strength of the Heaven King will be on top of her and ends by pointing out that this procedure and its result is the very best.

Mary Hêliand is pleased with the answer and feels that her ‘mind is thrown to God’s will´’ i.e. she is devoted. Consequently she uses the word servathiu – maid, when she says: Than ic hêr garu standu,’ quað siu, `te sulicun ambahtskepi, sô he mi êgan uuili. Thiu bium ic theodgodes—‘Then, here I stand prepared, she said, to whatever servant’s task he wants to use me. I am the Folk-god’s maid servant’. As the not-so-orthodox Hêliand context shows, this formula, which in Latin would be serva Dei, is devotional. Having asked the angel to clarify himself on an essential point, Mary Hêliand has accepted her devotion and a mission. There is agreement and a form of contract – ‘here I stand prepared’. Mary Hêliand is far from submissive.

In their respective contexts Ancilla Dei is submissive and thiu theodgodes is devotional. In the Gospel the submissive ancilla Dei signifies the end of the story, but In Hêliand the devotional formula thiu theodgodes signifies the beginning of Mary’s mission. In Hêliand John is already born and Mary, instead of visiting Elisabeth, whom she doesn’t know, starts telling people, those she wants to talk to, that she has become pregnant through God’s holy strength from Heaven. Doing so creates some problems of legal and moral character. Mary isn’t bothered Joseph is, but Gabriel talks some sense into him helping Mary in her mission.


Because Mary, the mother of God’s son, had to be construed as a woman of royal decent, I think it was impossible for a Saxon poet, such as the Hêliand author, still close to pagan ideals, simply to look at Mary as in reality an ancilla Dei. To avoid this, he had to fall back on Roman/Pagan social contracts of mission and devotion in a socially stratified earthly society in which the upper classes and royalty had affinities with deities. He had to give Mary an active social position, similar to that of other upper-class women. Moreover, I think that Scandinavian Iron Age names ending in –þewaz—servant, which contrary to the Continental ones never became conventional, are reminiscent of pagan devotional formula referring to missions and social contracts with superior deities and members of society. A þewaz does the job because he or she is devoted to the social order.

This, and needless to say my incapacity to treat any relevant topic in a satisfactory way, I humbly confess.

“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.

This week on the reading rest I have a book from 2009, Versatility in Versification. Multidisciplinary Approaches to Metrics, edited by Tonya Kim Dewey and Frog. I read one of the contributions.

Schulte, Michael. 2009. Early runic ‘metrical’ inscriptions—How metrical are they? In Tonya Kim Dewey and Frog (eds) Versification. Multidisciplinary Approaches to Metrics. [Berkeley Insights in Linguistics and Semiotics vol 74]. Peter Lang New York etc. Pp 3-22.

Poetry and intoxication go back a long way exploiting each other. Expression doesn’t bother intoxication as long as it is deviant, irrespective of ‘it’ being expression or intoxication. But to poetry, expression is everything. That’s why poetry, aided by its craftsmen, may use intoxication as a method finding its limits of expression—simultaneously defining a room of its own and an expression to go with it. In Norse mythology the myth about Oðinn and the scaldic mead is very much to the point. Favorably intoxicated, we write poetry that would have been fine were it not for the fact that the scaldic mead couldn’t be ushered into our world without partly being corrupted—divided as it happened into good and bad. This mead still intoxicates and makes us diligent poets, but those who have drunk from the bad, produce bad poetry. Most of us believe we know who drank what, but then again we might be intoxicated. Writing about Norse or Early Runic poetry one should bear this in mind.

 Michael Schulte’s (MS’s) article belongs to a genre so academic and serious that today it must be in need of a Latin label such as Timor Carminis—The Dread of Verse. It’s all in timor spreading between fear and awe. To most, even though they don’d remember the tale about the scaldic mead, verse may be anything between awfully good or dreadfully bad (however, not worse that the poetry of Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings) and we can live with it. But some take it upon them to defend a ‘high’ style of poetry as indeed Poetry, against everyday speech (MS p.4) lest Oðinn, or anyone awe-inspiring authorized to judge the quality of the scaldic mead, should find you short of understanding the limits of poetic flexibility when it comes to meter. Since poetry, owing to Timor Carminis, must be defended against gute Leute aber schlechte Musikanten—‘good people, but bad musicians’, metrical consciousness must not be introduced or reckoned with before we can be absolutely sure that strict and conventional formal rules of versification are followed—and understood.

Obsession with unintentional verse is typical of this academic genre because such expressions may look like perfectly acceptable more or less free verse, which cannot on formal or technical grounds be deemed either intentional or unintentional. This is the reason why MS’s subtitle – how metrical are they? reads: are they metric enough to my taste? Instead of speaking of Early Runic verse as a fluffy matter, at best a consensus-driven concept, resulting in an unspecific corpus of good and bad verse that didn’t bother Oðinn a bit, MS proclaims that in his article Early Runic inscriptions will be classed into groups (six as it were) and assessed in terms of their metrical features (MS p.4). In the end – but actually from the very beginning – this classification represents a ‘metrical state of indeterminacy’ (MS p.17) in which prehistoric man composes his expressions. Having read MS’s article 0ne understands that if prehistoric man had bothered to study Andreas Heusler’s Deutsche Versgeschichte—A History of German Verse (1925), indeterminacy would have not have existed.

Indeterminacy nevertheless, is hopeful, since it indicates that little by little prehistoric man evolves, stops being vague, pulls himself together and starts writing the ‘high’ style that to MS is a precondition for writing verse. Heusler, by the way, didn’t deny that less formal poetry, or poetry governed by melody or song were legitimate means of poetic expression. 

Nevertheless, MS (p. 17f) quotes Andreas Heusler, who has been with the author from the very beginning of the article (MS p.3), and goes on to say that he fully subscribes to Kari Ellen Gade’s doubts about the alliterative poetic status of the earliest inscriptions. Yet he seems unable to convey any doubts at all – in MS’s opinion they are not metric enough. Needless to say MS doesn’t doubt the existence of his six classes of indeterminate inscriptions. Doubting these classes is a matter of taste and that cannot be discussed. In Andreas Heusler’s work we don’t come across any six classes of indeterminate expressions. Heusler knows that there is a lot one must accepted when it comes to poetry.


MS’s critique is based on three criteria, i.e. lack of: (1) syllable-count; (2) quantity-sensitivity (see box above) and (3) the structural complexity of the alliterative scheme (MS p.3). The first criterion dismisses thousands of lines in epic and lyrical poems in which the long lines vary considerably without observing any strict patterns. None the less, there are usually more syllables in descriptive epic long lines than in those of direct poetic speech. The example from On the Reading Rest April 30, the episode containing Wealhtheow’s speech, is telling. The second criterion is somewhat esoteric and again dismisses a great number of lines for no apparent reason. The last criterion compares to arbitrariness, since when in essence, is structure and complexity—structural and complex enough? Naturally, MS points to the fact that alliterations feature in everyday speech and that there are complex alliterative patterns in prose. Such patterns are basic, a backdrop reflected in and reflecting poetry, but to MS basic is not enough and perhaps disqualifying (MS p.4). In the end metrical problems boil down to the fact that to MS’s mind Early Runic inscriptions are not, metrically speaking, strictly odd enough. Predictably MS finds no verses in these inscriptions.

The only specific reason why we discuss whether those who wrote Early Runic considered expressing themselves in some kind of meter, is to investigate whether or not some of the meters that we know from later Eddaic poems had forerunners—or to rephrase: was there a poetic commitment when the old fools of the Roman Iron Age were overthrown, (On the Reading Rest, Hogganvik) together with some of their rune stones, by the new elite who didn’t favour literacy. We need to know this in order to answer the following question in the affirmative: did the long lines and full lines, needed to construct Fornyrðislag and Lióðaháttr, exist before we read them in the Edda? If these two lines existed, they would have allowed Early Iron Age man to compose epic and lyric verse and develop the oral poetry behind the Eddaic poems.

If we can find these line patterns in Early Runic inscription as well as in the Poetic Edda or in epic poems, then that is sufficient to consider them examples of prosody. The affirmative answer is important because it indicates that upper class hall as an archeological phenomenon and formal poetry were contemporary. Probably poetry is much older, but being a mid-millennium hall owner with no access to formal poetry, with no scop in his hall, is comparable to a theater owner with no plays and no actors.

A long line must consist of two half lines each with two stressed syllables. Between the half lines there must be a caesura—a cut. This is a basic way of expressing oneself in Germanic languages and we meet it daily e.g. in newspapers. To The Independent on the www April 21 this structure came in handy at least three times:
Real men want to talk about sex we need to start listening
Essex appeal: the only way is Amy Child
Still the caesura may not be a complete break and perhaps forced:
The Weatherman caught in a media storm (and easily come before or after in)
and exactly which syllables to stress is not always that clear either:
Real men want to talk about sex we need to start listening
Real men want to talk about sex we need to start listening.
Since meaning changes radically with the stress:
Real men want to talk about sex we need to start listening
there is a prosodic point in marking out the stressed syllables. Conventionally that is done by alliteration, but alliterating on all four stressed syllables is considered heavy handed: Gibbon and Gareth, good-looking guys. Preferably therefore the fourth syllable should not alliterate and that makes: Gibbon and Gareth, good-looking friends a suitable long line. Alliteration on each side of the caesura is easy to hear and thus the pattern Susan and Gareth, good-looking friends is common, but even Gareth and Susan, good-looking friends often indicating two related expressions can be found because usually, having started with a stressed syllable, we expect alliteration in the first stressed syllable after the caesura. The number of unstressed syllables is not equally important although they must neither be too few nor too many.

Bearing this in mind there are several Early Runic long lines:

Ek Hlewagastiz Holtijaz     horna tawido      ´a a |a x       8+5     DR 12 †U [0]
Ek Wagigaz erilaz     Agilamundon                  ´x a |a x       7+5      N KJ69 U
Þrijoz dohtriz    dāliðun arbija*                         ´
x a |a x      4+6      N KJ72 U
Fahiðu wil-ald     wigaz ek erilaz                        x a |a x       5+6      DR IK241,1 $U
ek Wiwaz after     Woðuriðe                                a x |a x       5+4      N KJ72 U
ulþuþewaz     ni wajemariz                              a x |´a    4+5       DR 7 $U
Hadulaikaz     ek Hagustaldaz                            a x |´a x     4+5       N KJ75 U
Wurte runoz     an walha kurne                          a x |´a x     4+5      DR IK184 U
witanda-halaiban     worahto [rūnō]z              a x |a x       6+5      N KJ72 U
Haha skaþi     haþu ligi                                         a x |a x      4+4       N KJ50 $U

* ð and þ can be taken to repesent voiced and unvoiced ’th’ – ’these’ and ’moth’.

Probably there are many more, but this sample is enough to show that long lines were composed, but also that the gentle alliterative pattern, a x |a x, in short lines, often with an optional upbeat, i.e. anacrusis, in the second half line, a x |´a x, was common. Short lines are common in the Poetic Edda too, but the gentle alliterative pattern (which is not), the length of the lines, the use of anacrusis and the lack of lines ending in a stressed one-syllable word (a x |a x) has nothing to do with development. These are stylistic choices perhaps related to the fact that the Early Runic lines are short inscriptions on objects rather than lines in long poems [1].

This said, some general linguistic differences between Early Runic and Eddaic long lines meet the eye. On average the syllable balance in the long lines is 4.5+4.4 in the Eddaic lines and 4.8+5.0 in the Early Runic. In balance they are thus rather similar. Nevertheless there is a difference in length of almost one syllable between the long lines, 8.9 and 9.8 syllables respectively. This is hardly the result of stylistic preference, inasmuch as it may conveniently be explained by the general change in Germanic languages in which between say 400 and 800 CE the number of syllables per word tends to drop. Early Runic with words such as daliðun, erilaz, fahiðu, halaiban, tawido, Wagigaz, witanda, worahto, in which the first volve tends to be long and the word accent grave, obviously has a more gentle character than Eddaic Norse where that kind of words is relatively speaking rare.


If we compare Early Runic prose, of which there is virtually nothing left, with long lines, we may argue that the latter try to restrict the number of syllables. Compared to one of the few pure-prose phrases Frarawadaz ana hahai is slaginas (U 877 U ) in which the stressed-unstressed syllable relation is 3:9, the typical long line relation, 4:5, indicates a long line composition that avoids unstressed syllables. In this stilistic endeavour, poetry is leading linguistic change and/or benefitting from it. Be this as it may, a conscious and gentle composition of long lines is typical of Early Runic compared to Eddaic lines. The meter is the same, the style differs but the outcome, Eddaic verse, is not surprising.

This brings us to the full line, i.e. a line with three stressed syllables. This too is a well-known structure implying that a statement, a composition otherwise running in fractions with two stressed syllables, is coming to an end. To The Independent on the www April 22 this structure came in handy: Tens of thousands of fun runners and amateur athletes set off in bright sunshine as the 32nd London Marathon got under way today. (end of paragraph). Probably, the most well-known example is Jane Austin’s ‘… …, must be in want of a wife’, which has a reasonable alliterative pattern, rather than ‘independent’ rhyme, helping the sentence to come to an end (2+2+3 stresses, end of paragraph).


A strophe in the Lióðaháttr comes to an end in this way and there is no point in looking for freestanding full lines, but well in finding the combination long line + full line.

A number of texts fit the pattern:
Haha skaþi     haþu ligi                       Ll     N KJ50 $U
wate hali hino horna*                          Fl

*There is no stress on ‘hino’ since the ‘i’ is short – a case of quantity-sensitivity, no less.

Þrijoz dohtriz    daliðun arbija          Ll     N KJ72 U
asijostez arbijane                                 

Hadulaikaz     ek Hagustaldaz          Ll    N KJ75 U
hlaiwido mahu minino                       

Although there are independent alliterations in the full line, there are also alliterative links from the long line to the full line. In some patterns these links are the only alliterative characteristic of the full line:

Wurte runoz     an walha kurne        Ll    DR IK184 U
Heldaz Kunimundiu                             

ek Wiwaz after     Woðuriðe                    Ll    N KJ72 U
itanda-halaiban     worahto [rūnō]z  Ll
þez Woðuriðe staina                                  

Binding from the long line to the full line in this way is most uncommon in the Poetic Edda, but nevertheless there are some ten examples out of c. 10,000 possible ones. This per mil is linked to the uneducated, e.g. serfs, and perhaps comic (probably old-fashioned) in their Eddaic irregularity.

This proto Lióðaháttr style ties in well with the gentleness of the long line patterns and it seems significant that the three examples that are straightforward Eddaic come from the western part of Norway and the roots of the Eddaic tradition. The stressed-unstressed relation in the full lines is 4:6, i.e. slightly less syllable-economic than in the long lines, but more economic than prose. Since full lines bring a poetic statement to an end, often in a kind of ritardando, this is expected.

One might write all kinds of verses in a smooth, heavy, bombastic, light or gentle non-prosaic style, and there is no reason to deny the poets of the fifth and six century CE the right to compose their lines and verses in their own write compared to later traditions, which they forego. Given second thoughts we may wonder how much oral poetry was never written down in the non-literacy centuries of the Pre Carolingian Iron Age when a new social elite established itself in Scandinavia.


[0] In Samnordisk runtextdatabas, which can be downloaded from http://www.runforum.nordiska.uu.se/samnord/ this and the following call numbers will lead to the inscriptions. If you look up the name of the inscription in the database you may continue to http://www.runenprojekt.uni-kiel.de/abfragen/standard/default_eng.htm where you will find more references under each name.

[1] Two Eddaic examples comparable to Early Runic long lines

Ein nam þeira     Egil at verja,                                         a x │a x          4+5
fögr mær fira,     faðmi ljósum;                                       a a │a x          4+4
önnur var Svanhvít,     svanfjaðrar d*,                     x a │a x         5+4
en in þriðja     þeira systir                                                x a │a x          4+4
varði hvítan     háls Völundar.                                        x a │a x          4+4
Sátu síðan     sjö vetr at þat                                            a a │a x         4+4
en inn átta     allan þráðu                                                a a │a x           4+4
en inn níunda     nauðr um skilði;                                 x a │a x           5+4
meyjar fýstusk     á myrkvan v,                                  a x │´a x       4+4
Alvitr unga,     örlög drýgja                                            a a │a x            4+4
Hljóðs bið ek allar     helgar kindir,                             a x │a x            5+4
meiri ok minni     mögu Heimdallar;                          a a │a x            5+5
viltu, at ek, Valföðr!     vel framtelja                            a a │a x            6+4
forn spjöll fíra,     þau er fremst um ma                     a a │´´a x      4+5
Ek man jötna     ár um borna,                                       a x │a x           4+4
þá er forðum     mik fœdda höfðu;                               x a │´a x         4+5
níu man ek heima,     níu íviði,                                     a x │a x           5+4
mjötvið mœran     fyr mold neðan                               a a │´a x         4+4
Ár var alda     þar er Ýmir bygði,                                  a a │´´a x       4+6
vara sandr né sær     né svalar unnir                      ´´a a │´a x        5+5
*dró and so on indicates that the last stress is on the last one-syllable word.


Is That a Proper Name?

2 April, 2012

This week On the Reading Rest I have an anthology: Byzantine Philosophy and its Ancient Sources, edited by Katerina Ierodiakonou. Since chronology is its ordering principle and since I bought it some years ago in the AUC bookstore in Cairo, because I am interested in Scandinavian Iron Age, I tend to become less interested after the third article. Actually, the third article is the one I ought to be most interested in, and I am, but I read the second one first.

It seems there’s a lot of ‘I’ in this entry.

Artistotle as he looked in the 16th century in the Monastry of Philanthropinon. http://hellas.teipir.gr/prefectures/greek/ Ioanninon/Aksiotheata_Ioanninon/ english_version/monh_fil.htm

Kalligas, Paul. 2002. Basil of Caesarea on the semantics of proper names. In: Katerina Ierodiakonou (ed.) Byzantine Philosophy and its Ancient Sources. Clarendon Press, Oxford. Pp 31-48.

In Luke chapter 1 vv 57-61 we are told that:
on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father. And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John. And they said unto her, there is none of thy kindred that is called by this name. Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child.

For different reasons the name was to be John, but we understand why Elisabeth’s neighbours and cousins suggested Zacharias and wondered, why John?

Having been told to read the whole chapter faithfully or resolved on accepting it as we accept a piece of jigsaw puzzle, we take it that ‘Em Yochanan’, Mother John, an 80-year-old primigravida, has a reason to call the child John = Yochanan = ‘God [is] gracious’, and faith enough to refer to God. Moreover, God, who in this early part of Luke is still in his Old Testament mood, is teaching Zacharias a lesson, and there is quite a bullying touch in forcing the old man to accept that God is gracious.

Centre right: the elderly parents and the healthy child, haloed. Left: Mary unmarried and three month pregnant; everybody surrounded by midwives. The feeble Zacharias writes 'Yochanan'; able Elisabeth supervising his doing it corretly.

In Northwest Europe in the beginning of the 9th century AD instruction wasn’t yet that successful. In fact the story was so strange, the gap between faith and reason so wide, that the Saxon poet, who translated and rewrote the Gospels to bridge Pagan and Christian ways in newly conquered (Carolingian) Saxony, felt the need to clarify what he thought was obscured by Luke:

‘Then spoke there a skillful man, who knew so many wise words, had much sense. He eagerly asked what his (the child’s) name would be in this world: “It seems to me from his looks as well as his behavior that he is better than us and so I find that obviously God himself has sent him from Heaven”. Then at once the child’s mother, who had him, her son, that child on her lap said: “Hither came last year God’s command, the foremost of words, saying that according to God’s instruction he should be called John. Whatever I may think, I cannot change this even if I wanted to”. Then spoke an arrogant man, who was her kinsmen: “Never were any of the nobles or any of our clan called so. Let us choose another name, an agreeable name, which he may like”. Then spoke a wise man, who had much to say: “I wouldn’t advise any young warrior to start changing God’s words …”.’ Hêliand vv 208-227.[1]

When it comes to 9th c. Germanic naming traditions rather than 1st c. Jewish, we can identify two positions: (1) An old Pagan tradition seeking a name that links in with social stratification and socially acceptable qualities, which clan and family can accept and the child (grow up to) like. The point is to create a match between being and life, and naming is the start of that process. (2) A modern Christian tradition, which also seeks sociably acceptable names, however, leaving it to God (i.e. the father) to decide what a proper name is.

Cunningly, as always, the Hêliand author, whose task it was to drive home new Christian values, chose to let the young and foolishly arrogant represent old-fashioned views while the old, wise, sharp, sensible, eloquent and eager advocate the modern ones.

We tend to sympathize with the modern 9th c. view because we take a great interest in neutrally referring to unique objects, and it so happens that we don’t mind seeing any human being, be it father or son or whatever, as indeed unique. Taking this interest in ‘unique’ and ‘human’ one step further we find a reason for inventing proper names. Names, one might suggest, are ‘proper’ inasmuch as they designate an individual being. Although this sounds quite straightforward, proper names are nevertheless difficult to handle. Someone called Peter may be one of many called Peter. Individuals called Peter have for a long time been contextualized in a number of ways, e.g. in Christian societies. This means that someone called John may be ‘a Peter’. As it happens, the sentence ‘Peter is dead’ bothers noboby, despite the fact that there is no more any Peter to designate, now that he has ceased to exist. Moreover, the problems with the concept ‘being’ in relation to ‘unique’ and ‘human’ are so great that it makes sense to say: ‘Peter is dead! Long live Peter!’

Our latent interest in the individual and the unique sparks the eternal in mortals – a contradiction in terms.

Authorities, as well as parents giving their children a series of names, have tried to come up with solutions to the need for unique references, but we may still ask ourselves whether the uniquely defined 3001 1996 1126 2065-M, listening to the name Peter, is indeed the person in front of us. Immigration authorities wonder every day, at least a little, before they come up with a conclusion similar to this: ‘If your language contains some elements of the dialects of northern Somalia, then whatever you say, you cannot be designate “3001 1996 1126 2065-M, Peter from Mogadishu” because Mogadishu is southern Somalia, isn’t it? So, we send you back to Northern Somalia where you belong – and by the way, who is called Peter in Mogadishu these days?’ Like most of us, immigration officers equate designation with contextualization although it cannot always be done. Some of us understand the problem others do as they are told.

In some contexts Peter is no doubt Peter, in others he (or whoever it is) is not. ‘Peter’ may mean and means a lot, but it is only a proper name – nobody corresponds to the meaning of the name.

These are the kind of problems addressed by Paul Kalligas (PK)  in his article on Basil of Caesarea (c. 329-379 AD). PK writes in a genuinely analytical way, well-anchored in the history of philosophy. Since his is a philosophical approach it’s worth mentioning that philosophers, although they are interested in discussing proper names in order to define them, are also willing to take part in language games that go against any simple realtion with names.

Porphyry, the 3rd century AD philosopher born in Tyre of Phoenician parents, was given the name Malchus, i.e. a variety of the Semitic maliki, ‘My king’. When he moved to Athens to study philosophy, his teacher called him Porphyry, i.e. ‘of the purple colour’ of the Royal toga or the rock used, e.g. in busts, to depict this toga. His teacher showed his appreciation and used the pun to point out Malchus’ outstanding qualities and intellectual class travel: in these Neoplatonic circles hinting that someone was a Philosopher King was flattering. Porphyry later went on to Rome and became a leading philosopher writing textbooks that would be studied a thousand years or more. ‘Malchus’ therefore, disappeared and ceased to exist c. 260 AD, but lived on in ‘Porphyry’: a Peter of philosophy? – well not exactly. His most famous work was Against the Christians. In Rome ‘Porphyry Peter’ is odd or irony and thus a meaningful proper name. In the fourth gospel, ‘John’ tells us that the man whose ear Peter cut off was called Malchus – a third century fact?

And what might possibly be the reason why anyone interested in Scandinavian Iron Age will read about Basil, let alone Basil himself? The answer rests with the fact that Basil, amidst predictable tradition, happened to express an interesting and uncommon opinion.

Basil was engaged in a religious discussion with his contemporary Eunomius, who happened in passing to express an extreme position when it came to names. He pointed out that the nature of things corresponds to the names that God himself has given things in an appropriate way when they were born, i.e. created. Eunomius goes on to say that this, the true nature of things, can be known to man only through some kind of prophetic or apocalyptic revelation. Predictably Eunomius would argue that names and proper names are ‘in accordance with truth’ (PK p:41). Against this Basil offers the following:

It is easy to see that the name John = Yochanan = ‘God (is) gracious’ and the reasons for choosing it comes very close to Eunomius’ ideas, and if, as in this blog, we don’t understand the meaning of God’s grace when it comes to St John’s life and its gruesome end, then that is just a lack of relavation.

‘John’ was given by God and to the best of our knowledge it is in accordance with (Christian) truth. It is a proper name in the Eunomic sense. Not surprisingly we can pin the modern 9th c. understanding on Eunomius, surprisingly we can not pin it on Basil! Instead, his point of view reminds us of the young warrior belittled in Hêliand when he suggests a name that the new born will like, i.e. ‘like’ in the future when he is able to look upon himself as a human being living a life.

Basil felt that he lived in an era in which hearing the name we will at once begin to enumerate and grasp some of the peculiarities of the lives lived by one or more persons labeled by this proper name. These peculiarities may of course be indicative also of other beings with other names. As PK points out, proper names, the way Basil sees them, are similar to pronouns because they can refer to an infinite number of contexts and at the same time unite these contexts in one narrative defining any person represented by the name.

This then brings us to a vogue phenomenon concerning early if not the earliest recorded Scandinavian iron-age names and appellations. Now and then they make up a small series of contexts, labeled under a proper name that acts as a pronoun or indeed under a pronoun inasmuch as the series often starts with or incorporates ‘ek’, i.e. ‘I’.

Looking at Early Iron Age Scandinavian names (4-5th c. AD) from a general point of view, there are a number that a child may grow up to like whatever his career. They are names such as Bear—bera ; Hawk—haukz ; Nimble—wagnijo; Black—swarta; Glad—taitaz, Little New—niujila . They are simple proper names and although they are metaphorical or meaningful (and could have been acquired during adult life) they will act like ‘Peter’ in Basil’s example. This is true also of some names that refer more clearly to acquired skills, mostly martial, such as Fighter—wigaz or Little Weapon—sarula. Without knowing for sure, these could be names we grew to like rather than appellations. Conventional proper names such as these are nevertheless few in comparison with those clearly referring to a lived context. These latter names are often composite indicating a social role such as guest, servant, protector, counsellor or warden, but also simple ones referring to an acquired physical status such as Limping—lamo or Maimed—hnabdas or Bent—hakuþo; or names indicating that a community refers someone to foreign lands or a places such Finn—fina (the runestone stands in South Eastern Sweden), or (from) Holt—holtijaz. Some names may perhaps have been used as appellatives, but even complex names such as Fino Saligastiz—Finn Hallguest seems to be no more than a proper name.

It is typical of the rune names that they may all, albeit metaphorically, refer to a lived contextuality, and they can all be referred to contexts such as social roles, individual roles, warrior mentality, personal appearance, non-humans (name metaphors) and geographical origin.

If these are general characteristics there are inscriptions which make up quite elaborate collections of names referring to the contexts and peculiarities to which the person in question was related. I have chosen five examples. They all include the word erilaz, which refers to an institution and/or man, often working as a title. That is not surprising inasmuch as it is the origin of the word earl [2]:

The distribution of the inscriptions mentioned in the text

(1) ek erafaz ek naudigastiz kelbaþewas.—I (am) Wolverine I (am) Kelbaþewa’s [i.e. ewe lamb servant’s] Needguest [i.e. guest in/from/of Need].

(2) ek erilaz asugisalas muha haiteI (am) Asugisala’s erilaz [i.e. ‘the erilaz of “god’s arrow shaft”’] I am called Muha [i.e. ‘retainer/warrior’].

(3) ek erilaz saiwilagaz hateka—I erilaz I am called Sawilagaz [i.e. ‘the seaman giving oath’ or ‘the cunning man (, who is) from the sea’].

(4) ek irilaz liubaz hite, harabanaz haite runaz wraitu— I erilaz I am called balmy*, I was called raven I wrote the runes**.
* This in NOT slang! **This runestone stands in Järsberg in Värmland

(5) Fahiðu wil-ald wigaz ek erilazI painted (the runes on) the crafty-work, wigaz I erilaz [i.e.’ (I am) warrior I (am) erilaz’]*
*’Crafty work’ refers to the gold brecteate carrying the inscription. ‘ek’ is moved to a position between wigaz and erilaz making it unstressed to befit the meter fornyrðislag: fahiðu wil-ald – wigaz ek erilaz – two half lines each with two stressed syllables, 5+6 syllables, assonances on w. Dropping the ‘ek’ and putting it back again one hears the rhymnic qualities of the unstressed ‘ek’ and why it is needed to make the half line and the names a suitable conclusion.


The point in this kind of naming is to build up the ‘ek’ with one or more names and appellatives linked to a pronoun. Even names referring to other persons come in handy inasmuch as they contextualize the I of the proper name. Typically, the noun erilaz drifts towards appellative and proper name because of the way nouns are used to describe men. Originally, erilaz was probably an occupation, the forerunner of ‘earl’ in the sense of being ‘someone’s erilaz’, however informally. But in (5) Fahiðu wil-ald wigaz ek erilaz—I painted the artefact–Wigaz I Earl, in which wigaz means’ warrior’ and erilaz ‘earl’, we can’t know the precise status of the nouns, they may be proper names, appellatives or even nouns. The inscription nevertheless describes the man as (rune) painter, warrior and earl. The proper name need not be there at all because the pronoun (‘ek’) is there to harbour all the other appellations. The inscriptions are similar to Basil’s peculiarities because they link name and pronoun.

Most series are tied to a moment in the present, but in (4) ‘I erilaz, I am (called) delightful, I was (called) hawk I wrote the runes’, there seems to be a timeline including the actual writing in order to describe a man with a past, who as erilaz is eternal presence. Since there are no more runes on this stone the inscription is all about contextualizing erilaz or Erilaz.

The rune inscriptions link in with a common tendency during the Late Roman Iron Age and the early Pre Carolingian Iron Age to exhibit individuality, e.g. in graves (cf. On the Reading Rest: Roland of Ellekilde, 6 February 2012). In the graves as well as in ‘name narratives’, the ‘I contextualized’ is all that matters, even in case the man’s original proper name, such as Muha or Erafaz, is involved. As Basil suggests, … the appellations of Peter and Paul and all persons in general are distinct, yet the substance of all is one. The way contemporary Scandinavians looked upon the naming of men seems thus to equal Basil’s point of view: the essential thing is keeping the appellations together by means of a proper name functioning as a label and enhanced pronoun. In Scandinavian literacy as we know it, the pronoun ‘I’ tend to squeeze out the proper name.

This means that in the 4th century AD what rang a bell in Basil rings in Scandinavian writers too. Basil as well as the barbarians fell back on the same in the Mediterranean area non-traditional understanding of names. In Neoplatonic or Christian Late Antiquity it was an intellectual eye opener to Basil. Among barbarians in the 4th c. AD it was a simple practice, a vogue seeking to contextualize outstanding individuality, and easy to explain with reference to a society rapidly stratifying itself. This is not a question of diffusion, but rather a matter of latent ways of acting and thinking triggered by cultural intercourse, such as enrolling barbarians in the Roman army.

In the end therefore, we may add Erilaz to Basil’s Peter and Paul and rewrite his conclusion: So that the name, on the one hand demarcates for us the character of Peter, but, on the other hand, it in no way represents the substance itself. Again hearing ‘Paul’ we grasped a concurrence of other peculiarities: ‘the one from Tarsus, ‘the Jew, ‘the Pharisee according to law, ‘the student of Gamaliel’ … … all these are encompassed by the single sound ‘Paul’. And hearing ‘Erilaz’ we proceed to grasp ‘the balmy man’, ‘he who was called Raven’, ‘the writer of runes in Järsberg’.

What is important to Basil as well as the Scandinavians is saying ‘Peter, he who is … …’, ‘Paul, he who is … … ‘ and ‘Erliaz, he who is … … ‘.It turned out that in the long run the Scandinavian heroes, contrary to the heroes of Christianity, lacked supporters and we can only rely on Erilaz telling us: ‘Erilaz, I who am … … .’


[1] If you want the whole story, there are several translations of Hêliand. G. Ronald Murphy’s The Heliand: The Saxon Gospel (1992) New York: Oxford University Press, is very readable.

[2] There is a lot on the net about erilaz, but one might as well read Mees, Bernhard. 2003. Runic “erilaR’. NOWELE, 42:41-68.

Albeit in Swedish all names can be checked in Lena Peterson’s dictionary at:


One can find the runetexts on Samnordisk runtextdatabas at:


This week On the Reading Rest I have two articles discussing the runestone from Hogganvik in Mandal Vest Agder, Norway

Glørstad et al. 2011. Zanette Tsigaridas Glørstad, Jakob Johansson & Frans-Arne Stylegar. Minnelund og monument. Runesteinen på Hogganvik, Mandal, Vest-Agder. Viking 2011. Pp 9-24.

Knirk, James. 2011. Hogganvik-innskriften: en hard runologisk nøtt. Viking 2011. Pp 25-39.

In Berlin the Zeitgeist wants to commemorate the polar bear Knut, and Der Spiegel cannot resist ridicule ( http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,805529,00.html ). The article, Berlin Struggles to Memorialize Star Bear, is painstakingly witty struggling to make fun of as much as possible except itself. It brings together the untimely death of Knut (2011, five years old, encephalitis), his keeper Thomas Dörflein (2008, 44 years old, heart attack) and Kurt Cobain (1994, 27 years old, shot in the head) and manages, in conclusion, to call the bear Knut Cobain (on reddit.com rumduncan said it 9 month ago. Not surprisingly, it didn’t catch on http://www.reddit.com/r/pics/comments/g73t8/rip_knut/ ). Itself a charming example of Zeitgeist and Schadenfreude blinking at dyslexia from its moral high ground, the most interesting aspect of the article is its way with names and the associations they bring about and express.

One of perhaps several memorial Knut Stones

Naming, commemoration and memorial are at the centre also of the new rune stone from Hogganvik and its text, but most of the innuendo or stupidity that may well have surrounded it has been lost. Nevertheless, given that an open mind is to be recommended when trying to understand 1600 year old texts, memorials and commemorations one might as well keep the Zeitgeist and any Der-Spiegel attitude in mind.

The two articles sum up an intensive 18 months of impressive research into the new rune stone from Hogganvik giving us a discussion of the archaeological context: pointing out the memorial and its place in the Iron Age landscape. And a summing up of the runology: presenting a solution to most of the linguistic problems together with a comprehensive overview of what cannot so easily be understood. Thanks to these and earlier articles we now know a lot about the Hogganvik stone, which seems to have been cut some time between 350 and 500 AD. My discussion of the stone and the inscription is heavily indebted to these two articles in Viking.

Today, we know so much that we can approach the stone as it would quite likely have been approached around 400 AD. It stood as a poster and if we were not locals we would probably have approached it from the South following a road going North through or along a small cemetery. We would have passed by the most prominent grave and then just before the road turned left and down in a slope or between two hills we would have stood in front of the stone.

Typical of a poster, standing face to face with it is enough to take in the whole message. Other stones may need a closer inspection.

The Hogganvik stone is so old that those who stood in front of it may either have recalled or actually been the first to formulate the well-known strophe from Hávamál: Sjaldan bautasteinar standa brautu nær, nema reisi niður að nið which means that seldom does a memorial store stand next to the road if it wasn’t erected for someone by his lineal descendant.

Reading the stone makes it apparent that we are not standing in front something as commonplace as that. On the contrary, we are standing in front of something we would seldom see next to a road that runs through a cemetery. Not surprisingly, excavations have revealed that the stone itself is not connected to any grave, but standing on an angular shelf at the very end of the cemetery. From this position we overlook the settlement below the cemetery and perhaps a road or path leading down to the Hogganvik farm.

Maps showing the situation of the Hogganvik stone

There is something most odd about the layout of the inscription.

The lines of the Hogganvik stone

All the four lines of runes are read from the right to the left. The crimson line and the purple one, nevertheless, should be read as one beginning with the crimson. This means that these two halves crash into each other in an acute angle, and that is odd. The green and the yellow lines are freestanding and not necessarily linked to any of the others. In practice, we nevertheless believe that they are. The stone has not yet been 3D-scanned, which means that an analysis of the carving technique cannot help us analysing the runes in detail. We would not know therefore whether one or more of the rows could have been added to the stone at a different point in time. Probably they were not, but still a 3D-scan would have been essential[1].

It meets the eye that the shape of the crimsonpurple line looks very much the same as the outline of kerbstones around the runestone, i.e. the angle in which the stone and thus also the yellow and green lines are standing.

The outline of the crimson-purple line of runes can be seen also in the kerbstones that frame the stone.

The long crimson-purple line has been read by James Knirk (and others) and there is quite an agreement about how to read it:


This line consists of four parts separated by vertical dots. The first part is kelbaþewas, which is a name in the genitive. Then comes the word stone, stainar, followed by a series of runes with no apparent and no subtly coded meaning. The line nevertheless ends quite reasonably with inananaboz, which is an adjective or an adverb, innananaboz, composed of the preposition innana, which governs the genitive, and the noun nabu (gen. naboz). Still today, not least in Danish, this kind of construction refers to a situation in which someone or something is present in a place which may be closed or partly open ( http://ordnet.dk/ods/ordbog?query=inden (B ( bet.5.)). The place in question is nabu, ‘the nave’, i.e. a central area from which the spokes radiate and thus also the place that locks them together. Parallel to a number of old-fashioned Danish words we could in fact construct an archaic neologism, the adverb or adjective ‘indennavs’ meaning ‘within the nave’. innananaboz means just that.

Given the fact that one could easily have written the crimson-purple line as one or two lines, one above the other, the chosen layout suggests itself as a representation of the expression ‘within the nave’. Since the outline of the kerbstones match the layout of the crimson-purple line, it stands to reason that what has been excavated is indeed a nave, and within this nave there is a runstone, stainar. Given the fact that archaeologists have not known that there were naves to be excavated we must not a priori expect naves to be rare. On many Early Iron Age graves the kerbstone patterns allude to naves and the entrance room in the South Scandinavian house is in itself a nave.

The Hogganvik stone stands in a nave. If there is as grave at this site, then it may well be situated be outside the excavation area in the centre of the nave.

Similar to someone writing something in the form of a cross, someone has written something in the form of a nave and this brings us to the series of non-lexical runes.

If they are code they probably represent a verb such as stands, is, speaks, sings, invokes, beseeches or … whatever. If they represent the actual action: the singing, beseeching or ringing nonsense, then in addition to their phonetic value, that is the kind of verb they represent. This part of the crimson-purple line : stainar : aaasrpkfaarpaa : innananaboz therefore means something like: ‘The stone invokes … within the nave’. This sentence, text/context is constructed by means of place, installation, layout, text and possibly sound. The vertical dots are there to mark out the non-lexical part of the inscription and the part that begins with stainar. This means that kelbaþewas, if possible, should be understood together with some other word or words, i.e. the green and/or the yellow line(s).

If the rune stone stands within the nave then the green and yellow lines stand there too. These lines can be understood without great problems. The green says eknaudigastiz the yellow one ekerafaz the first means ‘I (am) The-guest-in-need’ the second ‘I (am) the Wolverine’. As it happens a man introduces himself to the reader with two different names.

Of these two names the one that can go together with kelbaþewas, is naudigastiz because being someone’s, i.e. Kelbaþewa’s, wolverine sounds odd when you can be Kelbaþewa’s guest-in-need

Reading the stones as a material and linguistic, lexical and non-lexical context, one may in other words suggest the following:

Ek Erafaz ek Naudigastiz Kelbaþewas : Stainar : aaasrpkfaarpaa : innana naboz—I Wolverine, I am Kelbaþewa’s Needguest (Guest-in/from/of-Need). The stone aaasrpkfaarpaa (invokes/singing …) within the nave.

And the names! Wolverine is not a bad one since a wolverine it is a predator. Today the name Needguest may seem odd, but 1600 years ago calling someone a guest was not uncommon. If moreover one needed someone’s protection (being a mercenary or plundering predator on the run) calling oneself Needguest is thus almost a compliment to your host. A needguest could also be someone the host needed to solve his problems, similar to the nōtstallon occurring in Ludwigslied [2]. In any case there is a positive ring to the name.

The host in case is the servant of the kelb, which means ‘ewe lamb’, at least in Old High German. Sixteen hundred years ago, judging from preserved names, not even þewaz—’servant’ was derogatory. If you are Ewe Lamb’s Servant then you are protecting sheep and that is obviously a very good thing to do, especially against wolverines, since by protecting and serving your ewes you will eventually add to your fortune. Your household in its turn will benefit from this and your actions therefore characterize you as a care-taking master, a frō in Old High German.

Now we can read the text as it stands

I Wolverine, I am Ewe Lamb Servant’s Needguest. The stone aaasrpkfaarpaa within the nave

The context, therefore, is the following: Wolverine has made a nave and put up a stone in it as a memorial. Had he been a lineal descendant, the memorial would have been a simple standing stone in the nave and there would have been no reason for writing anything on it — since only seldom does a memorial store stand next to the road if it wasn’t erected for someone by his lineal descendant. Doing the unconventional, Wolverine goes on to describe his relation to the deceased. He does so politely with appellatives. First he defines his own somewhat dependant, albeit positive guest status, then he points to the empathy and foresight of his host, whose proper name is well-known in Hogganvik and nothing to mention.

Apart from being a memorial, the stone in the nave has a clandestine function represented by a series of non-lexical runes. If their fonetic value is essential they may be compared to the sound series forming innananaboz, which, in that case, takes a series of sounds such as, aaas repek faar-paa, back to the fonetics of a language — aaas-repek-faar-paa in-nana-naboz.

Wolverine is a proper name, Naudigastiz an appellative, a descriptive name given to someone with reference to a certain context. They make up a pair similar to Knut and Cobain. The Iron Age appellative of course is very much better than the modern one, since in those days naming was not taken lightly and thus nothing one would hand over to the Iron Age Der Spiegel, or Daily Mirror for that matter.

Calling one’s cat Wolfy Naudigast Aasrepek may just be possible.


[1] In a series of studies Laila Kitzler Åhfeldt has studied rune carvings and worked with 3D scanning. A number of scanning examples can be seen and downloaded  in the database at http://3ddata.raa.se/english.html

[2] In a book called Journey of Civilisation there is translation in to English and a discussion of Ludwigslied see http://www.arkeologi.uu.se/Forskning/Publikationer/OPIA/Opia24/ the term nōtstallo and its relation to the term frō is discussed on page 110 ff.