, Volume 100, Issue 2, pp 289–302 | Cite as

Old English Metrical History and the Composition of Widsið

  • Rafael J. PascualEmail author


In an attempt to refute the traditional notion that portions of Widsið were composed before the adventus Saxonum, Eric Weiskott recently resurrected a dating method employed by early twentieth-century literary historians, which consists of checking the forms that the half-lines of a poetic text would have had in prehistoric Old English against the well-known four-position rule of historical verse construction in order to establish a terminus a quo for its composition. This method is thus predicated on the assumption that the four-position principle obtained before the occurrence of certain prehistoric sound changes. The present essay advances a series of arguments that demonstrate that the four-position rule is the result of the evolution of the Old English language, and that it is therefore wrong to assume that it was already operative in the prehistory of Old English.


Old English literature Old English metre Old English phonology Widsið 


  1. Amos, A. C. (1980). Linguistic means of determining the dates of Old English literary texts. Cambridge, MA: Medieval Academy of America.Google Scholar
  2. Bliss, A. J. (1962). An introduction to Old English metre. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  3. Bliss, A. J. (1967). The metre of Beowulf (rev ed.). Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  4. Bliss, A. J. (1972). The origin and structure of the Old English hypermetric line. Notes and Queries, 19, 242–248.Google Scholar
  5. Cable, T. (1971). Constraints on anacrusis in Old English meter. Modern Philology, 69, 97–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cable, T. (1974). The meter and melody of Beowulf. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  7. Cable, T. (1994). Syllable weight in Old English meter: Grids, morae, and Kaluza’s law. Diachronica, 11, 1–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Campbell, A. (1959). Old English grammar. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  9. Carr, C. T. (1939). Nominal compounds in Germanic. London: H. Milford.Google Scholar
  10. Chambers, R. W. (Ed.). (1912). Widsith: A study in Old English heroic legend. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Clark, G. (2009). The date of Beowulf and the Arundel Psalter gloss. Modern Philology, 106, 677–685.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dresher, B. E., & Lahiri, A. (1991). The Germanic foot: Metrical coherence in Old English. Linguistic Inquiry, 22, 251–286.Google Scholar
  13. Fernández Álvarez, M. P. (1999). Antiguo islandés: Historia y lengua. Madrid: Ediciones clásicas.Google Scholar
  14. Foley, J. M. (1985). The scansion of Beowulf in its Indo-European context. In A. Hernández & A. Renoir (Eds.), Approaches to Beowulfian scansion: Four essays by John Miles Foley, Winfred P. Lehmann, Robert Creed, and Dolores Warwick Frese (pp. 7–17). Lanham MD: University Press of America.Google Scholar
  15. Fulk, R. D. (1992). A history of Old English meter. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  16. Fulk, R. D. (1995). Kuryłowicz on resolution in Old English. In W. Smoczyński (Ed.), Kuryłowicz memorial volume (Part 1, pp. 491–497). Cracow: Universitas.Google Scholar
  17. Fulk, R. D. (1996). Rhetoric, form, and linguistic structure in early Germanic verse: Toward a synthesis. Interdisciplinary Journal for Germanic Linguistics and Semiotic Analysis, 1, 63–88.Google Scholar
  18. Fulk, R. D. (1998). Secondary stress phenomena in the meter of Beowulf. Interdisciplinary Journal for Germanic Linguistics and Semiotic Analysis, 3, 279–304.Google Scholar
  19. Fulk, R. D. (2002). Early Middle English evidence for Old English meter: Resolution in Poema morale. Journal of Germanic Linguistics, 14, 331–355.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fulk, R. D. (2007a). Archaisms and neologisms in the language of Beowulf. In C. M. Cain & G. Russom (Eds.), Studies in the history of the English language III (pp. 267–287). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fulk, R. D. (2007b). Old English meter and oral tradition: Three issues bearing on poetic chronology. Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 106, 304–324.Google Scholar
  22. Fulk, R. D. (2010). The roles of phonology and analogy in Old English High Vowel Deletion. Transactions of the Philological Society, 108, 126–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Fulk, R. D. (2014). An introductory grammar of Old English. Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.Google Scholar
  24. Gordon, E. V. (1957). An introduction to Old Norse, rev. ed. by A. R. Taylor. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Hogg, R. M. (1992). A grammar of Old English, vol. 1: Phonology. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  26. Hutcheson, B. R. (1995). Old English poetic metre. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer.Google Scholar
  27. Kaluza, M. (1896). Zur Betonungs- und Verslehre des Altenglischen. Festschrift zum siebzigsten Geburstage Oskar Schade (pp. 101–134). Königsberg: Hartung.Google Scholar
  28. Kaluza, M. (1909). Englische Metrik in historischer Entwicklung. Berlin: Emil Felber.Google Scholar
  29. Kiparsky, P., & O’Neil, W. (1976). The phonology of Old English inflexions. Linguistic Inquiry, 7, 527–557.Google Scholar
  30. Kuryłowicz, J. (1949). Latin and Germanic metre. English and Germanic Studies, 2, 34–38.Google Scholar
  31. Kuryłowicz, J. (1970). Die sprachlichen Grundlagen der altgermanischen Metrik. Innsbruck: Institut für vergleichende Sprachwissenschaft.Google Scholar
  32. Lapidge, M. (2000). The archetype of Beowulf. Anglo-Saxon England, 29, 5–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lass, R. (1994). Old English: A historical linguistic companion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lehmann, W. P. (1956). The development of Germanic verse form. Austin: University of Texas Press and Linguistic Society of America.Google Scholar
  35. Luick, K. (1914–1940). Historische Grammatik der englischen Sprache, repr. 1964. Stuttgart/Oxford: Tauchnitz/Blackwell.Google Scholar
  36. Magoun, F. P, Jr. (1953). Oral-formulaic character of Anglo-Saxon narrative poetry. Speculum, 28, 446–467.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Malone, K. (Ed.). (1962). Widsith. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde and Bagger.Google Scholar
  38. Mees, B. (2007). Before Beowulf: On the proto-history of Old Germanic verse. Journal of the Australian Early Medieval Association, 3, 207–223.Google Scholar
  39. Minkova, D. (2014). A historical phonology of English. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Neidorf, L. (2013a). The dating of Widsið and the study of Germanic antiquity. Neophilologus, 97, 165–183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Neidorf, L. (2013b). Scribal errors of proper names in the Beowulf manuscript. Anglo-Saxon England, 42, 249–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Neidorf, L. (Ed.). (2014). The dating of Beowulf: A reassessment. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer.Google Scholar
  43. Neidorf, L. (2015). On the epistemology of Old English scholarship. Neophilologus, 99, 631–646.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Neidorf, L., & Pascual, R. J. (2014). The language of Beowulf and the conditioning of Kaluza’s law. Neophilologus, 98, 657–673.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Parry, M. (1932). Studies in the epic technique of oral verse-making, II: The Homeric language as the language of oral poetry. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, 43, 1–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Pascual, R. J. (2013-2014). Three-position verses and the metrical practice of the Beowulf poet. SELIM, 20, 49–79.Google Scholar
  47. Pascual, R. J. (2014). Ælfric’s rhythmical prose and the study of Old English metre. English Studies, 95, 803–823.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Pascual, R. J. (2015). On a crux in Beowulf: The alliteration of finite verbs and the scribal understanding of metre. Studia Neophilologica, 87, 171–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Pascual, R. J. (Forthcoming). Sievers, Bliss, Fulk, and Old English metrical theory. In L. Neidorf, R. J. Pascual, and T. Shippey (Eds.), Old English philology: Studies in honour of R. D. Fulk. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer.Google Scholar
  50. Pope, J. C. (1966). The rhythm of Beowulf (rev ed.). New Haven and London: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Pope, J. C. (Ed.). (2001). Eight Old English poems, 3rd ed. rev. by R. D. Fulk. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  52. Richter, C. (1910). Chronologische Studien zur angelsächsischen Literatur auf Grund sprachlich-metrischer Kriterien. Halle: Niemeyer.Google Scholar
  53. Russom, G. (1987). Old English meter and linguistic theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  54. Russom, G. (1993). Eddic meters. In P. Pulsiano, et al. (Eds.), Medieval Scandinavia: An encyclopedia (pp. 148–149). New York: Garland.Google Scholar
  55. Russom, G. (1998). Beowulf and Old Germanic meter. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Russom, G. (2002). A bard’s-eye view of the Germanic syllable. Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 101, 305–328.Google Scholar
  57. Sarrazin, G. (1907). Zur Chronologie und Verfasserfrage angelsächsischer Dichtungen. Englische Studien, 38, 145–195.Google Scholar
  58. Sievers, E. (1893). Altgermanische Metrik. Halle: Niemeyer.Google Scholar
  59. Sievers, E. (1898). Angelsächsische Grammatik (3rd ed.). Halle: Niemeyer.Google Scholar
  60. Stockwell, R. P., & Minkova, D. (1997). Prosody. In R. E. Bjork & J. D. Niles (Eds.), A Beowulf handbook (pp. 55–83). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.Google Scholar
  61. Suzuki, S. (1995). In defense of resolution as a metrical principle in the meter of Beowulf. English Studies, 76, 20–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Suzuki, S. (1996). The metrical organization of Beowulf: Prototype and isomorphism. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Terasawa, J. (2011). Old English meter: An introduction. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.Google Scholar
  64. Weiskott, E. (2015). The meter of Widsith and the distant past. Neophilologus, 99, 143–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Wright, J., & Wright, E. M. (1925). Old English grammar (3rd ed.). London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Harvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Universidad de GranadaGranadaSpain

Personalised recommendations