The Northern Way

Grimm Centenary: Sigfred-Arminivs and Other Papers

Page 3

The striking coincidence which has mixed up Theodric the East-Goth with Theodric the Sugamber, and made the lord of Verona one with the earlier captive of Ravenna, a confusion which popular poetry would of course have raised between them, must not be passed over. This earliest Theodric was no mean person; he is a chief of that fierce untameable race, which Horace and the Romans of his day speak of with a kind of shuddering dread: feroces and caede gaudentes, are the epithets the Augustan poet uses (Odes, Bk. iv, written, as Professor Nettleship shows, about B.C. 15, when the struggle with them was fresh news at Rome); and Ovid (Am. i. 14), and later Martial (i. 3), uses Sugamber as a national name, as we might say German.

In fact in the Theodric of Bern of later medieval tradition (such as we find him in Wilkina Saga) there are mixed up a mythic Theodric (upon whom we believe Professor Rhýs will be able to throw fresh light), as well as two historical Theodrics of different dates, tribes, and histories. The name was too much for the popular historian: no doubt the Roman ballad-monger only knew one Scipio.

It is curious that the Excerptum Valesianum makes Theodric the Ostrogoth 'son of Walamir,' while the Lamentation Lays and later tradition only knew their Theodric as son of Theodmere. (22) This too is susceptible of explanation. The Monumentum Ancyranum, accessible to all in Mommsen's recent edition, supplies it. Where Augustus speaks of the kings who came as suitors to him, 'supplices ad me confugerunt,' he mentions a king of the Marcomanni and Suebi named --- and here follows a blank in both texts, Greek and Latin, with space in the Greek for thirteen letters, in the Latin for nineteen.

MANWN | ............. ROS PROS EME PARQWN, etc. while the parallel Latin runs
        MANORVM SVEBORVM | ................... HORVM.

These blanks just overlap, and from one we get help to fill the other. We therefore, with all assurance, read in the first MANWN SOUHBWN ........... (23) ROS PROS EME PARQWN, and in the other MANORVM SVEBORVM ........... RVS AD ME REX PART ] HORVM, leaving a space of six letters in the Greek, five in the Latin, -ros being all that remains of the King's name. We have to start with --- (a) a knowledge of the exact number of letters the name took in both texts, eight in the Latin, nine in the Greek transcript: (b) a certainty that the word we seek was a compound name of two elements of the ordinary German type, the letters being too many for a single monosyllable name: (c) the fact that the final letter (auslaut) of the second element was P. Let us take first the latter element of the compound, which we can easily supply; our –mere gives it. We may therefore write in –MEROS or MAROS, and gain two letters more. The only competitor, -here, -hari, it cannot be, for that would have given –RIOS or –REIOS, and in that case not P but I would be the first of our three remaining letters.

But what is the first of the compound, which must give four letters in Greek and three in Latin? Let us turn to Tacitus, Germ. ch. 42, as Mommsen does, and there in a passage (drawn from this very Monumentum in all probability, though not directly) is a Marcoman king TVDRUS. Now setting aside the ending –RUS, whence, by some accident (such as being at the end of a line in the single archetype), two letters have fallen out, we may read and restore Tud-merus. Tud-, as first element, is exactly what we want; being TOUD- in Greek, TVD- in Latin. And thus we fill the remaining blanks with
                        TOUDME or TOUDMA
                        TVDME or TVDMA.

And here we have a king Theodmar or Theodmere, the very traditional name of Theodric's father, reigning over the Marcmen and Suebi, at a time precisely fitting our chronological requirements. It is this Theodmar that is given in the Eddic Song as the father of Theodric. Tacitus says 'Down to a time within our own knowledge, the Marcmen and Quads (who here take the place of the Suebi) have had kings of their own race, the princely race of Maroboduus and Tud....rus.' Now this implies the kinship of these two, and we are not surprised at the common element '-mere' occurring in both, once as prefix, once as affix.

Thus we now know the names of three successive kings of the Swebian League, (I) Ariovistus, called 'rex Sueborum' by Nepos his contemporary, (II) Theodmar, (III) Maroboduus.

It is worth digressing a moment here to notice the curious way in which Teutonic names have reached us. We can distinguish four stages : ---

 The first through the Celtic tongues; e.g. Ariouistus, Germani and other names, which reach us through Caesar. These names come from an age when the Romans first knew the Teutons through their Celtic neighbours.

 The second from direct Roman sources in the poor Roman orthography with its inadequate vowel-system. Such are all names from the Drusus and Germanicus campaigns, and the following times down through the Augustan Historians to the first thirty books of Ammianus. Whether the authors of this time be Latin or Greek makes no difference, the Greek gets his names from Roman sources. He simply copies Latin inscriptions. Hence, though Strabo had a good alphabetic system, which he could use, he has never heard the actual Teuton words he sets down, and just transliterates the Latin. For instance the Greek Q would express Teuton þ, but as the Latins had only T to use for it, Strabo will use a T, not his own Q. So Dion's Cario- (Book lxvii. ch. i.) is simply a transliteration of Latin Chario-: for it does not follow that the old Teuton aspirate was the same as X. Strabo's and Dion's Segesthj is Latin Segestes; though Segesqeuj would do better.

The third stage is when Teuton names came through Greek sources. It begins with the Teutoni-Gothic inroad on the Lower Danube, and is the system followed by Ammianus (himself a Greek) in his XXXIst Book, and all his successors, Procopios and the rest. In them we have an adequate process of transliteration, and a correcter representation. Such names as Alatheus (Amm. xxxi), Theoderic, Theodegotha (Excerpt. Vales.), and many more, show by what route they came.

A fourth stage is reached when we have Teutonic writers like Jordanes and Paul and Bede writing their own native names; when at last we reach Charters in English and in Gothic, written by Englishmen and Goths.

Even the transliteration of Teutonic names must be dealt with historically if we would enable philology to be profitably applied to it.

Reverting for the last time to Strabo and his muster-roll of the captives in the prisoners' car, we may still glean a few indications of the persistency of history in tradition. We have spoken above of Libes and Theodoric, let us turn to the women's names. --- For 'Ramis,' the name given to one of the captive ladies, one would fain read 'Randis,' and identify its bearer with the Goldraond of the Lamentation Lays (C. P. i. 325, l. 43). The name is only found there in Northern poetry, and it is striking enough to be preserved in popular song, especially as it is made to alliterate with Grimhild. As we find no names in 'Gold-,' her real name may have been Randwih, or the like.

It would not be right to pass over one difficulty. How is it that we have not the name of Sigfred's wife rightly given in the Northern Lays (for Strabo's 'Thousnelda,' as aforesaid, is to our mind a scribe's mis-writing for 'Grimhilda'), while the German poems have always preserved the right name? Probably it was that confusion with the Ermanaric cycle, noticed above, which mixed up the sorrowing mother of Swanhild with the woeful widow of Sigfred. There is trace of the true name in the 'Grimhild' of the Lamentation Lays, who is made a poisoness and witchwife like Saxo's Gudrun. In a future edition of the Lamentation Lays, one would almost be tempted to interchange Gudrun and Grimhild, and restore Sigfred's wife her right name.

Such is a brief resume of the reasons which have led the author to identify the Sigfred of tradition with the Arminius of history. Separately none (save perhaps that of Cheruscus = Heorscr) might be conclusive; but taken together, it is submitted that they make up a fair case, and one worth careful consideration. It is impossible to answer in advance every objection that may be raised to the view here set forth; but there is one which may foresee and encounter at once. 'Why is it that Lays, which speak of Sigfred's death, and love, and birth, utter no word of his great victory? Should we not expect such an event to be made much of, if your hypothesis be true?' Our answer must be, that it is not the fame of Sigfred's victory (which great as it was, cannot have appeared to his contemporaries so important as it does to us, who know its consequences) that would strike the popular poet; it would be his 'tragedy,' that irony of fate, which never fails to call forth the popular sympathy: for, the Muse of Song is rather the Child of Pity than of Pride. It is not of the victor of Austerlitz, or of Jena or of Marengo, that the poets have chosen to sing, but of the exile of St. Helena, the 'desolator desolate': to them the parting of Napoleon and Josephine is a finer motive for song than that marriage with Marie-Louise, which, in his own idea, put the apex on his glory. The sudden fall, the treachery of kinsmen and comrades, the woe of the widow (twice widowed, first by captivity, secondly by death) --- these are the themes that were sung by the poets who had seen the triumph of Germanicus, and sought to perpetuate the fame of Sigfred.

History--- bald, prosaic, half-blind history --- does not, it is true, look at great deeds as the poets do; and Göthe's words are only true as far as the pedestrian muse goes: ---

                'Allein die Thränen, die unendlichen
                Der überbliebnen, der verlassnen Frau
                Zählt keine Nachwelt, und der Dichter schweigt
                Von Tausend durch-geweinten Tag und Nächten.'

But among those who looked to song and story for the history of the past, the fame of 'King Hannibal' (as an Icelandic story-book calls him) and Duke Hector long eclipsed the glories of Scipio and Achilleus.

The acceptance of our hypothesis would have some serious effects: it would do away with a mass of sentimentalities that has been poured out about 'Hermann,' 'Herman Schlacht,' in verse and art. German patriotism must either go back to the real flesh and blood man, as he was known to and described by chivalrous enemies; or, if she prefer to take a popular traditional view, she may in the future look up to the hero of the Nibelungen Lied and the Eddic Lays as something more than a German Rama or Cuculain, as a real national hero with a place in history and legend beside Leonidas or Alexander.

Holding, as the author does, that such heroes of tradition as Sigfred must have a human basis, it has been no irksome toil to him to dig down to the foundations on which poetry has built so lofty and lasting an edifice, and to have endeavoured to prove that the Eddic Heroic Lays are historical, Fact and Fiction crossing in them like warp and woof in a piece of tapestry. Sigfred takes his proper place at the head of a long line of heroic kings and leaders, who culminate in Charles the Great. Surely too it is a distinct gain to be able to fix within certain limits of time and space the origin of an epic cycle, so mementous to our race as are the Lays of Sigfred.


22. See Corp. Poet. i. 322, l. 11; Jordanes gives the traditional pedigree, and it is possible he may be right. If so we have a pair of names, father and son, in each pedigree. [Back]

23. Mommsen's transcript has here, by a slip of pen or printer, 8 dots instead of but 6 (13-7 = 6).[Back]

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