The Northern Way

Grimm's Teutonic Mythology

Chapter 24

Chapter 24: Summer and Winter

(Page 1)

The Seasons, which, like day and night, depended on the nearness or distance of the sun, have maintained their personality a great deal more vigorously and distinctly. Their slow revolution goes on with a measured stateliness, while the frequent change of day and night soon effaced the recollection of their having once been gods.

Day and night resemble summer and winter in another point, viz. that the break of day and the arrival of summer are greeted with joyful songs by the birds, who mourn in silence during night and winter. Hence the Eddic kenningar of gleði fugla (laetitia volucrum) for summer, and sût ok strîð fugla (dolor et angor avium) for winter. This sympathy of nature finds utterance no end of times in the lays of our minnesingers (see Suppl.).

The olden time seems at first to have recognised only two seasons in the year, afterwards three, and lastly four. To this the very names bear witness. Our jahr, Goth. jêr, OHG. jâr, M. Nethl. jaer, OS. gêr, AS. gear, Engl. year, ON. âr, is plainly the Pol. iar, iaro, Boh. gar, garo, which signify spring. (1) In the same way the Slavic lèto, lieto, liato, strictly summer, and seemingly akin to our lenz, OHG. lenzo, lengiz, MHG. lenze, lengez, AS. lencten, lengten (lent, spring) has come by degrees to cover the whole year. Thus both jâr and lèto mean the warmer season (spring or summer); and southern nations reckoned by them, as the northern did by winters.

Ulphilas renders etoj by jêr, and eniautoj either by aþn, Gal. 4, 10, or ataþni, John 18, 13, a word that has died out of our language everywhere else, but still lingers in the Gothic names Athanagildus, Athanaricus (Aþnagilds, Aþnareiks); it seems akin to etoj, perhaps to the Slavic gód, godína, which in Russ. and Serv. mean a year, while in O. Sl. they stood, as the Pol. gód, Boh. hód, hodine still stand, for time in general. The relation between etoj and eniautoj remains uncertain, for in Od. 1, 16 (etoj hlqe periplomenwn eniautwn, a year went past with circling seasons) eniautoi are sections of a year, while other accounts make an eniautoj contain three eth. This comp. eniautoj holds in it the simple enoj , Lat. annus (2) (see Suppl.).

The year was supposed to make a circle, a ring (orbis, circulus): jâres umbi-hring, jâr-hring, umbi-huurft; MHG. jâres umbe-ganc, -ring, -vart, -trit; and the completion and recommencement of this ring was from a very early period the occasion of solemn festivities. Eligius preaches: 'nullus in kal. Jan. nefanda aut ridiculosa, vetulos aut cervulos aut joticos faciat, neque mensas super noctem componat, neque strenas aut bibitiones superfluas exerceat.' This was apparently a Celtic and Roman custom, 'strenae ineunte anno' are mentioned by Suetonius (Cal. 42. Aug. 57), and the holy mistletoe was plucked amid joyful cries of 'a-gui-lan-neuf!' [Michelet 2, 17: guy-na-né, maguillanneu, gui-gne-leu. Suppl.]. Nothing of the kind seems to have been known in Germany; but it is worth while to notice the New year's hymns and wishes in Clara Hältaus's book as late as the 14th cent. (57b. 77ª, espec. 196-201 in Haltaus's ed.) where the year is pictured as a newborn babe, a newborn god, who will grant the wishes of mortals. Immediately, no doubt, this referred to Christmas and the Saviour's birth, in places where the new year began with that day; yet some heathen practices seem to have got mixed up with it too, and I cannot overlook the use in these hymns of the bare adj. new, without the addition of 'year' or 'child' (just as in naming the new-moon, p. 710, ný, niuwi): ['des günn dir alles der newgeborn!' this the Newborn grant thee all, Hätzl. 196b. So in other new-year's wishes: 'wunsch ich dir ain vil gut jâr zu disem new,' Wolkenst. p. 167. 'gen disem saeligen guoten newen,' Ad. Keller's Altd. ged. p. 10---Suppl.]

Otherwise I hardly find the year as a whole (conf. the riddle, p. 737) exalted into a person, except in adjurations, spells and curses: 'sam mir daz heilec jâr!' so (help) me holy year, Ls. 1, 287. Haupt's Zeitschr. 7, 104. The two following refer to the year's commencement only: 'ein sœlec jâr gang dich an!' a blessed year betide thee, Ls. 3, 111; and 'daz dich ein veiges jâr müez ane komen!' a doomed (fey) year by thy dole, Ls. 1, 317. In AS. 'oð þæt oðer com gear in geardas,' Beow. 2260 (see Suppl.).

But even in the earliest times the year had fallen into halves, to which AS. and ON. give the curious name of missere, misseri, and the AS. poems seem to reckon chiefly by these. We find 'missera worn,' store of m., Cædm. 71, 10; 'fela missera' 180, 23. Beow. 306; 'hund missera,' Beow. 2996. 3536 = the 50 winters in 4413; 'misserum frôd, missarum frôd,' Cædm. 104, 30. 141, 16 (wise with age, like 'gearum, dægrîme, fyrndagum frôd,' Gramm. 1, 750). In the Edda I find only 212ªb, 'ein misseri' (per unum annum), and 'sams misseris' (eodem anno); but the Grâgâs has also misseri (semestrium). The etymology of the word is not easy: one would expect to find in it the words half (medius, dimidius) and year, but the short vowel of the penult conflicts with the ON. âr and AS. gear, and it appears to be masc. besides (einn misseri, not eitt m.); the ON. misæri (bad year, annonae caritas, neut.) is quite another thing. Again, why should the d of the AS. midde (Goth. midja, OHG. mitti) have passed into ss ? It must be admitted however, that in the relation of Lat. medius to Goth. midja we already observe a disturbance in the law of change; misseri may have come down and continued from so remote an antiquity that, while in appearance denying its kindred, it will have to own them after all, and the 'miss' is in the same predicament as the Gr. mesoj, messoj compared with Sanskr. madhyas, or bussoj = buqoj . No 'misseri, missiri' meets us in the OHG. remains, but the lost hero-lays may have known it, as even later usages retain the reckoning by half-years; when the Hildebr. -lied says 'ih wallôta sumaro enti wintro sehstic ur lante,' it means only 60 misseri (30 summers and 30 winters), which agrees with the '30 years' of the more modern folk-song; and we might even guess that the 'thirteen years' and 'seven years' in Nib. 1082 and 1327, 2, which make Chriemhild somewhat old for a beauteous bride, were at an older stage of the epos understood of half-years. In the North, where winter preponderates, so many winters stood for so many years, and 'tôlf vetra gamall' means a twelve-year-old. That in OHG. and even MHG. summer and winter represent the essential division of the year, I infer even from the commonly used adverbs sumerlanc, winterlanc, while we never hear of a lengezlanc or herbestlanc; the ON. sumarlângr, vetrlângr, are supplemented by a haustlângr (the whole autumn).

The Greek year has only three seasons, ear, qeroj, ceimwn, autumn is left out. Our two great anniversaries, the summer and winter-solstices, marked off two seasons; the harvest-feast at the end of Sept. and the fetching-in of summer are perhaps sufficient proof of a third or fourth. The twofold division is further supported by the AS. terms midsumor and midwinter, ON. miðsumar, miðvetr, which marked the same crises of solstice, and had no midhearfest to compete with them; an AS. midlencten (Engl. midlent) does occur, and is about equivalent to our mitfasten. Now in what relation did the missere stand to midsumor and midwinter ? The day (of 24 hours) likewise fell into two halves of 12 hours each, the AS. dôgor, ON. dœgr; and dôgor bears the same relation to dæg as missere to gear. Our ancient remains have no tuogar attending upon tac, but a Gothic dôgr by the side of dags may be inferred from fidurdôgs and ahtáudôgs in Ulphilas (see Suppl.).

Tacitus, after saying that the Germans cultivate grain only, and neither enclose meadows nor plant orchards, adds: 'unde annum quoque ipsum non in totidem digerunt species: hiems et ver et aestas intellectum ac vocabula habent; auctumni perinde nomen ac bona ignorantur.' Here auctumnus evidently refers to garden-fruit and aftermath, while the reaping of corn is placed in summer, and the sowing in spring. But when we consider, that North Germany even now, with a milder climate, does not get the grain in till August and September, when the sun is lower down in the sky; and that while August is strictly the ernte-month (3) and Sept. the herbst-month, yet sometimes Sept. is called the augstin and October the herbst-month; the Tacitean view cannot have been universally true even in the earliest times. Neither does the OHG. herpist, herbist, AS. hearfest, seem at all younger than other very old words. More correct surely is the statement we made before, that as we go further north in Europe, there appear but two seasons in all, summer and winter; and as we go south, we can distinguish three, four, or even five. (4) Then also for mythical purposes the two seasons are alone available, though sometimes they are called spring and winter, or spring and autumn (5) (see Suppl.).

With the Goth. vintrus (hiems) we have a right to assume a masc. sumrus exactly like it, though Ulph. in Mk 13, 28 (and prob. in Matth. 24, 32 and Lu. 21, 30) rendered qeroj by asans (harvest-time). The declension follows from OHG. sumar = sumaru (for a Goth. sumrs of 1 decl. would bring in its train as OHG. somar); also from AS. sumor with dat. sumera, not sumere. The ON. sumar being neut. in the face of a masc. vetr, OHG. wintar, AS. winter, seems inorganic; it must have been masc. once. The root assumed in my Gramm. 2, 55 runs upon sowing and reaping of crops.


1. The Pol. iar looks like ear, but this is understood to be for #ear, #esar, Lat. ver for verer, veser, closely conn. with Lith. wasara (aestas) and Sanskr. vasanta, Benfey 1, 309. Of the same root seems the Slav. vesna, wiosna (spring), but hardly the ON. vâsaðr, which means sharp winter. [Back]

2. For amnus, says Bopp's Gloss. Skr. 16b; Benfey 1, 310 explains eniautoj by Skr. amâvat, enh being amâ, new-moon. [Back]

3. OHG. aranmânôt, from aran (messis), Goth. asans; the O. Saxons said bewôd or beo, Hel. 78, 14. 79, 14; Nethl. bouw, bouwd. [Back]

4. Spaniards divide spring into primaverà and verano (great spring), see Don. Quix. 2, 53 and Ideler 6, 305. After verano comes estio, Fr. été, both masc., while Ital. esta, estate remains fem. like aestas. [Back]

5. The Slavs too, as a race, hold with two principal seasons: summer and year are both lèto, i.e. the old year ends with winter, and with summer the new begins; lèto, like our jahr, is neut., and of course impersonal. Winter they call zimà (fem.). When intermediate seasons have to be named, they say podlèti (subaestas) for spring, podzim (subhiems) for autumn. But other names have also come into vogue, beside the garo, iaro above: Russ. and Boh. vesnà, Pol. wiosna; Slovèn. vy-gred (e-grediens, in Germ. Carinthia auswärt), mlado lèto (young summer), mladlètie, po-mland, s-pomlad, s-prot-lètie (fr. s-prot, against), all denoting spring; the South Slavs espec. felt the need of parting spring from summer. Autumn is in Serv. yésen, Slovèn. yézen or predzima (prae-hiems), Russ. ósen. Zimà must be very old, Lith. ziema, Gr. ceimwn, Lat. hiems, Skr. hêmanta. Our frühling, frühjahr (early year) is neither O. nor MHG., but formed during the last few cents. on the model of printemps or primavera: spätling, spätjahr (late year) is also used for autumn. On auswärts and einwärts conf. Schm. 1, 117. 4, 161. [Back]

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