Widsith is an Old English poem of 143 lines. The poem survives only in the Exeter Book, a manuscript of Old English poetry compiled in the late 10th century containing approximately one sixth of all surviving Old English poetry. Widsith is located between the poems Vainglory and The Fortunes of Men. Since the donation of the Exeter Book in 1076, it has been housed in the Exeter Cathedral in southwest England. The poem is for the most part a survey of the people, kings, and heroes of Europe in the Heroic Age of Northern Europe: see Tribes of Widsith.
Excluding the introduction of the scop Widsith, the closing, and brief comments regarded by some scholars as interpolations, the poem is divided into three 'catalogues', so-called thulas. The first thula runs through a list of the various kings of renown, both contemporary and ancient ("Caesar ruled the Greeks"), the model being '(name of a king) ruled (name of a tribe)'. The second thula contains the names of the peoples the narrator visited, the model being 'With the (name of a tribe) I was, and with the (name of another tribe).' In the third and final thula, the narrator lists the heroes of myth and legend that he has visited, with the model '(Hero's name) I sought and (hero's name) and (hero's name).'
The poem refers to a group of people called the Wicinga cynn, which may be the earliest mention of the word "Viking" (lines 47, 59, 80). It closes with a brief comment on the importance and fame offered by poets like Widsith, with many pointed reminders of the munificent generosity offered to tale-singers by patrons "discerning of songs."
|Hroþwulf ond Hroðgar heoldon lengest||Hroðulf and Hroðgar held the longest|
|sibbe ætsomne suhtorfædran,||peace together, uncle and nephew,|
|siþþan hy forwræcon wicinga cynn||since they repulsed the Viking-kin|
|ond Ingeldes ord forbigdan,||and Ingeld to the spear-point made bow,|
|forheowan aet Heorote Heaðobeardna þrym.||hewn at Heorot Heaðobards' army.|
The widely travelled poet Widsith (his name simply means "far journey") claims himself to be of the house of the Myrgings, who had first set out in the retinue of "Ealhild, the beloved weaver of peace, from the east out of Angeln to the home of the king of the glorious Goths, Eormanric, the cruel troth-breaker." The Ostrogoth Eormanric was defeated by the Huns in the 5th century. It is moot whether Widsith literally intends himself, or poetically means his lineage, either as a Myrging or as a poet, as when "the fictive speaker Deor uses the rhetoric of first-person address to insert himself into the same legendary world that he evokes in the earlier parts of the poem through his allusions to Weland the smith, Theodoric the Goth, Eormanric the Goth, and other legendary figures of the Germanic past."  Historically, we know that one speaker could not travel to see all of these nations in one lifetime. In a similar vein, "I was with the Lidwicingas, the Leonas and the Langobards," Widsith boasts,
- "with heathens and heroes and with the Hundingas.
- I was with the Israelites and with the Assyrians,
- with the Hebrews and the Indians and with the Egyptians..."
The forests of the Vistula in the ancient writing tradition (Widsith, v. 121) are the homeland of the Goths, original home of the Saxon and other Germanic tribes (Przeworsk culture), before they travelled across the sea to Britain (see Tribes of Widsith):
|Wulfhere sohte ic ond Wyrmhere; ful oft þær wig ne alæg,||I visited Wulfhere and Wyrmhere; there battle often raged|
|þonne Hræda here heardum sweordum,||when the Hræda with their sharp swords,|
|ymb Wistlawudu wergan sceoldon||in the Vistula woods had to defend|
|ealdne eþelstol Ætlan leodum.||their ancestral seat against Attila's host.|
The poem that is now similarly titled Deor, also from the Exeter Book, draws on similar material.
- Anglo-Saxon poetry: an anthology of Old English poems tr. S. A. J. Bradley. London: Dent, 1982 (translation into English prose).
- Chambers, R. W. (Ed.). Widsith: A study in Old English heroic legend. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1912.
- Malone, Kemp (Ed.). Widsith. Rosenkilde and Bagger: Copenhagen, 1962.
- Neidorf, Leonard. "The Dating of Widsith and the Study of Germanic Antiquity." Neophilologus 97 (2013): pp. 165–83.
- Pascual, Rafael (April 2016). "Old English Metrical History and the Composition of Widsið". Neophilologus 100 (2): 289–302. doi:10.1007/s11061-015-9460-6.
- Weiskott, Eric. "The Meter of Widsith and the Distant Past." Neophilologus.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Widsith|
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- Old English text, digitised from George Philip Krapp and Elliott Van Kirk Dobbie (eds), The Exeter Book, The Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records, 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936)
- The original text of the verse with a translation.
- A Verse Translation by Douglas B. Killings
- A translation by Bella Millett
- Norton Anthology of English Literature on-line: "The linguistic and literary contexts of Beowulf"
- Niles, John D. (1999). "Widsith and the Anthropology of the Past". Philological Quarterly 78.
- Niles, John D. (2003). "The Myth of the Anglo-Saxon Oral Poet". Western Folklore 62: 7–61.