The Northern Way

Grimm Centenary: Sigfred-Arminivs and Other Papers


Höll sá þeir Gotna oc hlíð-skialfar Danpar.

Unlike the epic poetry of Greece or France, the old Eddic Lays cover a vast field both in time and space. In the Collection of them are not only to be found the Lamentation Lays, that first rung on the Rhing and Lippe, and represent the middle Teuton stock; but there are the Helgi Lays, far to the west, born on board those Wicking fleets that carried the Northmen as far as Spain and Africa; while in the east the Lays of the Ermanaric and the Attila cycles point to the spot where, on the borders of Europe, the first Gothic Empire rose.

 It was while musing over an unintelligible line in the Hamtheow Lay, after the paper on Arminius was written and in type, that the writer got an emendation which, while making the line clear and reasonable, at the same time coincides with other passages to show that the first seat of the Gothic Empire of Ermanaric was not forgotten in the mouths of the epic poets of his race.

The line, in Corp. Poet. i. p. 56, runs: ----

                Höll sá þeir Gotna oc hlíð-scialfar diupa.

The curious word 'skialf' was explained already in the dictionary as 'shelf'; hence 'hlíð-skialf' would mean 'the shelf or terrace of a hill-side (hlíð)'; 'diupa' (dívpa R) is manifestly a placename. Change a couple of strokes, and the line reads –-

                Höll sá þeir Gotna oc hlíð-scialfar Danpar. (1)

i.e. They saw the halls of the Goths and the terraced banks of Danpar (i.e. the R. Dnieper).

And this 'Danpar' is a legitimate form; for in the Old Lay of Attila comes the passage---

                wide Gnite-heath........ and Danpar-steads
                the famous forest men call Mirk-wood.

        Again, in the Lay of Hlod and Angantheow, it is said that Heidric owns---

                that famous Forest that hight Mirk-wood,
                that holy Grave that stands in Goth-theod (Goth-land),
                that famous Rock that stands in Danpar-steads.

        In the Lay of Rig the prophetic bird (a crow in this instance) says that

                Dan and Danp own halls of price,
                A prouder heritage than ye have.

Here the genealogist of the West has evidently interpreted the river-names, which occured in the old poems he knew, as heroic names, and turned the Don and the Dnieper into mythic ancestors of his Con the young, the first of kings. Don-stead and Dnieper-stead were evidently the oldest placenames he knew; and in giving them he was right, for they are among the most exact notices of the earliest German Empire that tradition has preserved. There is also, we believe, a confusion between these names and the mythical heroes, Dan, Halfdan, etc., to whom the Danish kings and nobles were traced by their Encomiasts. The name Danp, used of a man, is never found save in this poem and in Ari's paraphrase in Ynglinga, ch. 20, traced from it. Danp is no more a person of real tradition than Drott, in the same genealogy; both are mere inventions of the author of Rig's Lay.

Having read and translated the line as above, we find that it refers to a place in the East of Europe on the 'Danpar' where the Goths had a capital, which 'Danpar' we naturally identified with Jordanes' 'Daniper' the modern 'Dnieper,' as Munch has already noticed. (2)

But could the exact place be fixed? The indications of the poems --- themselves ruins and bits of broken-up songs --- are but few. If a central ancient town on the Dnieper is to be found it is certainly Kiyev. When I read the vivid description of M. Réclus, was delighted to find the very characteristics brought out which my hypothesis required.

It is an old and holy place --- and pilgrims, we may suppose, journeyed to the 'Famous Rock' and 'Grave' of the poems as they journey now to the relics. The hill, which the 'Lavra' now occupies, must always have been a notable spot --- fit capital for Giferic or Ermanaric. There are the terraced banks above the stream --- exact 'hlíð-skialfar.' 'La terrasse qui se dresse de 100 á 130 metres audessus du fleuve, sur les pentes des collines et la lisiere de terrains qui s'étend à leur base, est d' environ 50 kilometres carrés ...... Chacun des quartiers a sa physionomie particuliere. En bas Podol, voisine du fleuve, est la ville du commerce et de l' industrie; elle occupe dans une vast échancrure du plateau, la partie méridionale de la plaine dans laquelle la Potchaina vient s'unir au Dnepr, et que domine au nord la colline de Víchgorod, ou saint Vladimir avait son harem. Au sed de Podol, le plateau, découpé par trois profonds ravins perpendiculaires à la direction du fleuve, se rapproche des berges et ses escarpements finissent par se confondre avec elles. Les ravins divisent ainsi la ville en quartiers distincts. De tous ces promontoires qui se succedent du nord au sud, le troisieme se termine le plus fierement au-dessus du fleuve et sur la pointe même se dresse ..... l'église de St. André ....; puis au delà vient Petchersk, promontoire méridional ou s'élevent le monastere et le group d'églises de la Lavra, considéré comme le lieu saint par excellence de la Russie, parce qu'il domine l'endroit ou furent baptisés les premiers Russes.'

And the geographer goes on to tell how this hill is an old and holy burial place, where are caverns which palaeolithic man already inhabited, and which were enlarged by hermits, and finally became sacred catacombs. He notes that this city --- the Kioaba, or Sambatas of Constantine Born-to-the-purple, and the Man-Kerman of the Tartars --- is one of the cities of Europe which are marked out beforehand by their position as the necessary centres of gravity of history. Its excellent site; its proximity to the three regions of wood, blackland, and steppe; its river; the easy approach from North, East or West, --- all mark it as a fit spot for a market, a sanctuary, a stronghold. It was long the centre of Early Russian dominion, and was the rival of Constantinople; and it was especially well suited to be the centre of such a congeries of kingdoms as Ermanaric ruled --- a Napoleonic empire, built up of heterogeneous materials; and, in both cases, the cement binding them never had time to set. Within this first Teutonic Empire were Tchuds (Esthonians etc.), Slavs (as Munch shows), Scyths (if the text be correct) as well as the Goths. This second Alexander, as he was fitly called, held sway from the sandy lake-pitted shores of the Baltic over the black lands ('uberes agri,' Ammianus calls them) of Russia, down to the river deltas of the Black Sea coast, and from the Carpathians ('Harvaða-fiællom' of our Lays) to the Eastern steppes.

The scanty evidence of the classic historians confirms the centring of Ermanaric's empire about the middle Dnieper. Procopios says that the Goths came from beyond the Danube; Ammianus tells how they were driven westward by the pressure of Alans and Huns, and how their first Empire was broken up; while Jordanes (drawing often from native sources), sketches the fortunes of the Goths down to the foundation of their dominion by Giferic, who plays Philip to his successor's Alexander. Jordanes then gives a 'catalogus' of the nations under Ermanaric's sway.

It is easy on such maps as those in Réclus' Geography (a book which one never reads without admiration and gratitude) to trace the steps of their journey. They must have come along the route that crosses the neck between the Black and Baltic seas, while Eygota-land (Isle of Gothland), and East and West Gotland mark their northern starting-point. The Goths and their fellow tribes, Wandals and the like, represent a South Eastern migration from Scandinavia (which enables us to understand earlier and later movements of the same character); as the Danes, Saxons, Swabians are the living monuments of a South Western march, and the English and Wicking settlements (like those of our days) of a Western exodus. (3)

The slight differences which may be seen between the forms and accidence of Wulfila's Gothic as compared with those of the early Runestones and the parent vocables which we can infer from High, and Low German, show that the Gothic emigration could not have been very many centuries earlier than the English one, and confirm the historians who make Giferic the first imperial ruler.

There are a few Gothic words which we can trace to this shortlived empire of Ermanaric, found in the scanty stock which Wulfila furnishes, such as the non-Greek p-words, all loan words: 'Aiþei,' which has been repeatedly declared to be Teutonic because it is found in Old High German and in the Old Northern Thulor --- 'eiða heitir móðer' says the Thulor list (C. P. B. ii. 543); and once again in the spurious epic poetry, manufactured by the help of these lists, Corp. Poet. B. ii. 547, l. 7; and, lastly, in Snorri's hyper-artificial poem on the 'metres.' Now these Thulor are of 12th century manufacture; they contain words of all origins, Basque, Fin, Slav, Greek, Latin, English, French, as well as Old Northern; they were gradus lists for the use of those who composed verse in the complex court-metres, and who needed the biggest obtainable variety of synonyms for such simple words as mother, father, man, woman, etc. Nowhere else in the whole range of Old Northern poetry or prose (nor in any modern speech) can this word be found. It is probably borrowed directly by some poet from the Baltic Tchuds, whence it got into the Thulor, whence the other poetasters drew their word. Now turning to the Old High German, let us see how the word got to be naturalized therein ---though but for a while, for it soon died out again, 'fuotor-eidi' (nurse) being the best example.

The two branches of the Teutonic stock --- the Confederations on the Rhine, and the Goths that passed through what is now Russia --- never met after they left the Scandinavian coasts, separated by broad forests and marshes, till in the 5th century they touch hands, when the Goths, being driven from the east over the Danube came face to face with the German who had fought his way down through the Black Forest and across the Bohemian hills and table-lands to the Upper Danube. It was just as the High German tongue was forming on this alien soil, that the Gothic stock of loan-words, borrowed from Esths, Wends, and other foreign races with which the Goths had been in contact, became accessible. In the natural give-and-take between Goth and German, 'aiþei' passed into 'eidi,' and so this Tchudic word comes to be found in two Teuton dialects. It is an interesting word, for it speaks to Gothic unions with alien wives and concubines; yet this process of intermarriage could not have been going on very long, and one would think the emigration of the Goths from the North must have been comparatively recent; first, because (beside the considerations urged above) what tradition there is, as well as the words of Iordanis and the genealogies he records, seem to imply this; and also because Prokopios describes these Goths, whom he saw and knew, as of pure type (white skin, light hair, tall, big, light eyes), just as Tacitus and Caesar speak of the unmixed tribes they met in the West.


1. A scribe's error (not from the ear): the a faint, 'looking like an í; n = u and ar written in one; a slight hook at the top is often the sole distinction between ar and a: hence for danpar the scribe read dívpa, meaning diúpa (deep) --- the nearest word that gave some sort of sense. [Back]

2. 'Quorum mansionem primam in Scythiae solo iuxta paludem Meotidem, secundo in Mysia (Moesia) Thraciaque et Dacia, tertio supra mare Ponticum rursus in Scythia legimus habitasse.' Jord. Ch. 5. And of the Huns who marched with them, he says --- 'eas partes Scythiae.......quas Danapri amnis fluenta praetermeant, quam lingua sua (Gothic, probably, though the passage looks as if it were Hunnish) Huniuar appellant.' ch. 52. 'Daniper autem ortus grandi palude, quasi ex matre profunditur.' ch. 5. 'A Borysthene amne quam accolae Daniprum uocant.' ch. 5. Thus far Jordanes, sufficiently to identify Danaper and the Danpar of the Eddic Lays; where, by the way, the word only occurs ina genitive position, as if ar were a genitive case, whereas in fact it is radical --- Danpar-stead, not Danp-stead. [Back]

3. Granting that the Germans (as we hold) in no very remote time came out of Scandinavia. In the following remarks we distinguish between Goths (i.e. Teutons east of the Hyrcanian Forest) and Germans (Teutons west and north of that same Forest). [Back]

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