Home F - panel (Front) - The Inscription: The Verses on the Whale

The automatic translation is necessarily imprecise. This translation does not replace the reading of German or English original texts.


Temporarily under construction 11/2

Verses on the Whale
At the first glance there does not seem to be a relation between the inscription on the one hand and the pictures of this panel on the other, and according to general opinion there is none. If that were so, this plate would be quite different from all the other panels. Of course, it should be rather difficult to comment with one text on two so heterogeneous topics as the 'Adoration of Christ by the Magi' and 'Murder and Rape by Wayland' . So, if there is a relation between text and images it must be an indirect one.

The runic text encircles the set of two pictures. We start reading on the left rim, continue on the upper, follow it down on the right edge and finish with bottom section from right to left. Here the runes are carved retrograde, as viewed in a mirror. This is noteworthy, as the carver keeps changing his system, and for sure not just to impress the reader! The individual words are not separated from each other in any form, be it by marks or space. The dots following fisc and flodu as well as two more below the rune s-Rune in gasric have been inserted for different reasons, as we shall see later. For the same reasons - not due to some regional dialect or period of time - there are words which appear in this form (i.e. in choice, spelling and grammar) only in the inscriptions of this casket.

  hronæs ban
fisc1-Runeflodu1-Runeahof on ferg
warþ ga2-Runesric grorn þær he on greut giswom

fish flood threw (meaning: the fish was thrown) on(to the) fergen(?) mountain
The ghost king (? = gast rice?) was sad when he swam on(to) the gravel"

The word "whalebone" is the motif to introduce the story of the doomed animal. It is not just some kind of guarantee like "Pure New Wool" or "Genuine Plastic"; it rather emphasizes the particular power of the material, which serves the carver as a means of magic. Bone carries certain qualities of its owner, that is the reason for numerous Christian relics, that is why Wayland turns a skull into a chalice, and that is why our carver chose this substance for his purposes.

The usual word order SPO would say that the fish threw the flood on fergenberig, which is unlikely as the following verse reports the stranding of gasric on the shingle beach (greut). By placing the object fisc before the subject flodu, the rune master changed the normal word order, which was possible at that grammatical state of language. This way he was able to start out with a name, in this case of the animal fisc and the thematic rune f-Rune - an arrangement he pursued on all four panels of the casket1.
Now we interpret: "The fish was thrown by the flood onto fergenberig", and we may wonder how the flood managed to lift that huge animal onto a mountain(fergen as a form of firgen)hill (berig, (from beorg), in particular as the >mountain< of the first verse turns into a >beach< with the second verse (…þær he on greut (ae. greot, sand, shingle) giswom).
What other kind of place could fergenberig then be? A translation which derives fergen from feorg, ferh, meaning >life, ghost, spirit, soul, demon< seems more likely. Thus fergenberig could be understood as 'soul's mountain or life's mountain (K. Schneider, reads 'Himmelsberg). This would be a euphemism for 'dying' and adopting a spiritual quality. This would go together with gasric, the 'ghost king'2
In this context we may think of Fjörgyn, an Old Norse earth-goddess of fertility, spouse of Odin/Woden. Sharing the fate of most pagan gods her name is not recorded in Anglo-Saxon texts, but in fergenberig it may have survived. And a beorg, a mountain would be the proper place for a deity.3
If this panel broaches the issue of a "noble birth", as the picture of the magi indicates, it is quite likely that the site fergenberig is the seat of the Earth mother Fjörgyn, a name which refers to Old English firgin. Here, at the Mountain of Life a circle begins, which closes with Herh-os , the deathly 'Deity of the woods', who sits on hærmbergæ, the Mountain of Woe, and works 'fate'.(H-Panel; right side)

After all gasric, translated as 'ghost king', seems to be more meaningful than 'savage animal', the usual interpretation. [O.E. gast, breath, soul, spirit, demon; O.E. rica, 'ruler']. The two marks below the rune s-Rune in gasric can be understood as u-Rune 'Ur' (symbol of animal power) which corresponds very well with our interpretation of gasric.

In case hronæsban, the word on the left edge, really is a magic formula, the fact that it is composed of 9 runes should be noted.4 The text continues at the upper left corner (a very particular spot as we shall see), starting out with an f-rune, f-Rune.

  f-Runeisc1-Runef-Runelodu 1-Runeahof on f-Runeergenberig
warþ g-Runea2-Runesric g-Runerorn þær he on g-Runereut giswom

We interpret now:
  the fish was thrown) on(to the) mountain of life
The ghostking was sad when he swam onto the shingle

This is the oldest piece of English poetry that has survived. It is kept in alliterating stanzas; stave rhyme (stave or staff as in Middle English rune stave), Ger. 'Stabreim'. Here we have two 'stanzas, alliterating on f-Rune and g-Rune, respectively. These runes are the 'staves', a word that reminds us of the magic rod, the instrument of magic or divination. And as such they will have served the rune master, who phrased his verses with magic intent rather than for poetic reasons.

f-Rune is the symbol for feoh , 'cattle, live stock' in general (Ger. Vieh ) standing for money-like property, such as rings, coins, or cups as well as other earthly possessions. No doubt, they would make good gifts as well.

g-Rune is the symbol for gifu, 'gift', which could be anything from feoh to some feudal tenure. Consequently both words melt into one, feohgift, meaning 'bounty giving, largess'. Hardly any other word would fit better to a warlord's war-chest than this. And it expresses exactly what the Runic poem says:

f-Rune (Wealth) is comfort to all men; yet must every man bestow it freely, if he wishes to gain honour in the sight of the Lord.
g-Rune (Gift) brings credit and honour, which support one's dignity; it furnishes help and subsistence to all broken men who are devoid of anything else.

The (gold) smith was regarded to be the source of wealth, though it might have been only the spoils of war or plunder, which he melted down into new moulds; and the warlord needed these golden gems to attain the loyalty of his retainers. Pollington (Warrior, p.168) says that booty: "... was later redistributed among the warriors and at some point could be lost to a foe. The supply of such goods was constantly replenished by the work of smiths who produced new artefacts ... Nevertheless, the competition for the means of acquiring prestige goods was always present among early chiefs whose own reputation and power depended on these resources. "

That is the way the Exeter Book coins it, Gnomic Verses ll. 28-9:

  ... cyning sceal on healle beagas dælan ...
... in the hall a king shall bestow rings ...

If this was a warlord's chest, his rune master could hardly have come up with more proper runes.

But these alliterating runes also constitute the text/image relation. Welund (or Wayland), forges those golden trinkets, which - represented by f-Rune, (feoh) - constitute one source of income. The mythical smith is - like the Greek god Pluto - the proverbial source of wealth as his telling name (OE wel, wela .),reveals; in runic terms:feoh.
The magi bring g-Rune (gifu), gifts. The runic word mægi inserted in their picture shows that they are cited in their quality as priestly magicians and, may be, as famous donors. Of course, the Magi may be seen as the a source of feoh while Welund's fateful jewellery can be comprehended as gifu.

1 If hronæsban is in fact a magic formula, then we should note that it is composed of 9 runes. This formula is followed by an alliterating text, which sets out with the rune f-Rune in the upper left corner (the place where all 4 panels, following the same design, put a thematic name.
F-Panel (front) > motif (preceding): hronæsban (9 runes);n: fisk, thematic Rune: f-Rune
R-Panel (left) > motif (preceding): oþlæunneg (9 runes); name: Romwalus, thematic rune: r-Rune
T-Panel (back) > motif (preceding): herfegtaþ (9 runes, Wert); name: Titus; thematic rune: t-Rune
H-Panel (right) > motif (inserted): drigiþswa (9 runes); name: Herh-os; thematic rune: h-Rune
The 3 motifs, referring to >life< (F- R- and T-Panel) number 3 x 9 runes, altogether 27 with the runic value 330; the motif referring to >death< and >afterlife< on the H-Panel is composed of 9 runes with the runic value 110.

2 In detail see Alfred Becker: “Franks Casket. Zu den Bildern und Inschriften des Runenkästchens von Auzon (Regensburg, 1973) pp. 17.

3 Jörð (from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) In Norse mythology, Jörð (Old Norse "earth", pronounced /jɔrð/, sometimes Anglicized as Jord or Jorth), is a female jötunn, the mother of Thor, and the personification of the Earth. Fjörgyn and Hlôdyn are considered to be other names for Jörð. Jörð is reckoned a goddess, like other jötnar who coupled with the gods. Jörð's name appears in skaldic poetry both as a poetic term for the land and in kennings for Thor. Jörð is the common word for earth in Old Norse, as are the word's descendants in the modern Scandinavian languages; Icelandic jörð, Faroese jørð, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian jord. It is cognate to English "earth" through Old English eorðe. In Gylfaginning, the first part of the Prose Edda, Jörð is described as one of Odin's concubines and the mother of Thor. She is the daughter of Annar and Nótt and sister of Auð and Dagr.
Wikipedia (de) dazu unter: Jörd (aisl. Jörð "Erde") ist die Ermutter in der Nordische Mythologie.Sie ist durch Odin Mutter des Donnergottes Thor und Tochter der Nott und des Ánarr. Ansonsten spielt sie in der Mythologie keine Rolle mehr, trägt aber mehrere Namen: Fjörgyn, Fold, Grund und Hlóðyn .... Der Name Fjörgyn gehört dagegen zu altenglisch firgen und gotisch fairguni "Gebirge" und weiter zum antiken Namen des deutshen Mittelgebirges (kelt. Hercynia silva, althochdeutsch: Virgunnea). Daneben kennt die nordische Mythologie noch einen männlichen Gott Fjörgynn, der der Vater der Göttin ist. Obwohl dieser Name etymologisch exakt dem Namen des baltischen Donnergottes entspricht, bleibt der Zusammenhang verborgen. Vermutet wird eine wohl unabhängige Entwicklung aus einem alten Wort für (ie. *perkuos, lat. quercus; ahd. fereh-eih).Der Name Fold findet sich auch in der Tradition als „Folde, fira módor“ ("Erde, der Menschen Mutter") in einem alten Flursegen. Wenige Zeilen später wird sie „Erce, Erce, Erce eorþan módor“ (>Erce, Erdenmutter<) genannt.

4 Comp. Nine Herbs Charm . Also with the number and value of runes 9 plays an important part. The frequently intended value of 72 results from 9 x 8, and 27 from 3 x 9, 8 from 3 x 2 etc.


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