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Author Topic: The Fuþorc: Is (Ice)  (Read 78 times)


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The Fuþorc: Is (Ice)
« on: July 25, 2020, 10:51:33 AM »
This week’s most popular post on Facebook was not a date related post, but one in our Fuþorc series. They tend to come up every couple of weeks, and in this way we work through the whole alphabet through the year.
Our next most popular posts were similarly not date-related, but talked about the Alfred Jewel and the Beasts of Battle.
So here’s the post:
Today let’s return to the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc, or alphabet, as described in the Rune Poem. The futhorc, named after the first six letters of the sequence, differs from the Futhark of the Norse. We’ll take a look at each rune in turn over the coming months and find out what they mean and what they can tell us about Anglo-Saxon culture and society.
Today it’s Is
“Ice is very cold and extremely slippery; it glistens as clear as glass and most like to gems; it is a floor made by the frost, fair to look upon”
“Is byþ ofereald, ungemetum slidor,
   glisnaþ glæshluttur gimmum gelicust,
   flor forste geworuht, fæger ansyne”
Let’s take this opportunity to look at some travellers’ tales of the Frozen North from the 9th century.
As part of his cultural and educational project, King Alfred encouraged travellers and traders to share stories about their voyages with the court. Two accounts have survived, being written down in Old English attached to the translation of Orosius: those of Ohthere of Hålogaland and Wulfstan of Hedeby.
Ohthere lived in the far north, near Tromsø, in the north of Norway. Here is the beginning of his tale:
“Ōhthere sǣde his hlāforde, Ælfrede cyninge, þæt hē ealra Norðmonna norþmest būde. Hē cwæð þæt hē būde on þǣm lande norþweardum wiþ þā Westsǣ. Hē sǣde þēah þæt þæt land sīe swīþe lang norþ þonan, ac hit is eal wēste, būton on fēawum stōwum styċċemǣlum wīciað Finnas on huntoðe on wintra and on sumera on fiscaþe be þǣre sǣ.
“Ohthere told his lord, King Alfred, that he lived the furthest north of all the Northmen. He said that he lived in the land northwards of the West Sea (Atlantic). He also said that the land extends a long way north, but it is all waste, except for a few places here and there the Finns live, hunting in winter, and in summer fishing in the sea.”
He then explains that he sailed north for another three days, further than the whale hunters had gone, and then for three days more. The he had to wait for favourable winds to change direction and then he sailed east for four days. Once again he had to change direction and wait for the winds to sail southwards to the mouth a great river. He then turned back for fear of the tribes that had settled the river banks.
Ohthere then added that the Bjarmians (a particular group of Finns that were known for their wealth and trade in many Norse sagas) told him stories about lands beyond but he wasn’t sure if they were true. He visited them to trade walrus ivory and he also told the king about his own hunting trips, where on one occasion he and his men had killed more than 60 animals in a couple of days.
Ohthere then began to talk about his own wealth and homeland. He had a large herd of reindeer (600 ), and a small farm with cattle, sheep and pigs, and horses to plough, However he also received tribute from the Lapps on a sliding scale depending on the rank of the Lapp in question.
He then described the land of the Northmen, where it was fertile, where rocky, and the lands of Sweden (Sweoland) to the south and Kven Land (Cwena Land) to the north across the moors. Where he lived himself was called Hålogaland, about a month’s sail away. It was the settlement furthest north and about 5 days sail to Hedeby.
Wulfstan of Hedeby also provided a contribution about his voyage to Trusö in seven nights and days:
“Wulfstān sǣde þæt hē ġefōre of Hæðum, þæt hē wǣre on Truso on syfan dagum and nihtum, þæt þæt scip wæs ealne weġ yrnende under seġle. Weonoðland him wæs on stēorbord, and on bæcbord him wæs Langaland and Lǣland and Falster and Scōneġ; and þās land eall hȳrað tō Denemearcan. And þonne Burgenda land wæs ūs on bæcbord, and þā habbað him sylf cyning. Þonne æfter Burgenda lande wǣron ūs þās land þā synd hātene ǣrest Blecinga ēġ, and Meore and Eowland and Gotland on bæcbord; and þās land hȳrað tō Swēon. And Weonodland wæs ūs ealne weġ on stēorbord oð Wislemūðan.”
“Wulfstan said that he travelled from Hedeby to Trusö in seven days and nights, that the ships was under sail the whole way. Wendland (Weonoðland) was to his starboard and Langland, Lolland, Falster, and Skåne were to his larboard (port). That land all belonged to the Danes. Then Borgholm came on larboard and they had their own king. After Borgholm were the lands that were ever called Blekinge, Möre, Öland, and Gotland. Those lands belong to the Swedes. And Wendland was to the starboard all the way to the mouth of the Vistula.”
The Vistula, a very large river, and another river, the Elbing, joins it in a lake called Estmere.
“Þæt Ēstland is swȳðe myċel, and þǣr bið swȳðe maniġ burh, and on ǣlċere byriġ bið cynincg. And þǣr bið swȳðe myċel huniġ and fiscað; and se cyning and þā rīcostan men drincað myran meolc, and þā unspēdigan and þā þēowan drincað medo. Þǣr bið swȳðe myċel ġewinn betwēonan him. And ne bið ðǣr nǣniġ ealo ġebrowen mid Ēstum, ac þǣr bið medo ġenōh.”
Estland is very large and there are many burhs, and each burh has a king. There is a great amount of honey and fish; and the king and the richest men drink mares’ milk and the poor and the slaves drink mead. There is a great deal of fighting between them. And there is no ale brewed there among the Estonians but there is plenty of mead.”
The Estonian dead are left in their houses, unburied, for a month or more, and longer if a king or noble. A wake is held during this time with feasting and drinking, paid for the by the dead man’s estate. Once it is time to burn his body, his wealth is divided up and buried with a mile of his village, the largest portion furthest away. Then men race their horses from 5 or 6 miles away to find the treasure and whoever gets there first wins it. Once his wealth is divided up the body is burned on a pyre with his last few possessions, and no trace must be left on penalty of a fine.
The Estonians can magically summon cold so the bodies do not decay above ground.
This text is said to be the earliest known written source for the term "Denmark" (dena mearc), and perhaps also for "Norway" (norðweg).