2. The following notation will be used to designate runes:
( C )
3. The uncontested runes are common to most Germanic futharks.
(F) feoh, "cattle, wealth" is read as a cognate of the Germanic word *fehu,
"cattle," which represents a vital aspect of any agricultural community.
(W) wyn, "joy," is related to the Germanic word *wunjo meaning the absence of nyd.
(N) nyd, "need" is from the Germanic word *naupiz, "need, necessity, constraint,"
and stands in opposition to wyn.
Finally, (L) lagu, "water," is a cognate of the Germanic word *laguz, "water."
Interestingly, Elliott suggests that lagu represents water as a source of fertility, and may have been
associated with the nether water realms, an'abode of demons and monsters, of early German
cosmology (Elliott 1989, 71-4).
The controversial readings of the remaining runes are due in part to their being a relatively late
extension of the runic futhark. Elliott states, however, that their literal and figurative meanings
were sufficiently well known to be applie correctly in the Rune Poem (1953, 194).
(U) ur, "aurochs," is a cognate of the Germanic *uruz, it aurochs," a species of
wild ox once found in northern Europe. Elliott suggests that the auroch was a sacred animal for
early Germans and that hunting the ox may have provided young men with a test of their strength
(1989, 65-7). Furthermore, (U) appears to still have possessed in the ninth century its earlier
association with manly strength (1953, 194). Kenneth Brooks, however, dismisses the literal
meanin of the rune "ox" as well as Elliott's interpretation as "manly strength," calling it
"far-fetched." Brooks prefers to interpret the rune homophonically as "ours," based on the context
the poem (Brooks, 124). The Rune Poem, however, supports Elliott's position and shows
that the older meaning, manly strength and violent achievement, was preserved at least into
Cynewulf's century (Elliott 1953, 52). Reading (U) as "ox," however, has little relevance to a
modern reader. This rune, then, demands a metaphoric reading of "strength" which foreshadows
the method of rune interpretation addressed in this essay.
(C) cen, "pine, torch," is a cognate of the Germanic *kenaz, "torch." Elliott
surmises that it could be a symbol of fire and that it could symbolize comfort and security (1989,
74). Brooks admits "torch" as a possible meaning for the rune, but does not commit himself to
this interpretation (Brooks, 126). Krapp favors a homophonic interpretation of this rune along
with (Y) reading them as cene and yfel, "the resolute and the wretched" (Krapp, 125).
This argument, however, seems based more on the interpretive context of Cynewulf's poem than
on linguistic and intercontextual evidence. Again, the linguistic evidence and the Rune Poem
favors Elliott's reading of (C) as "torch."
(Y), yr, is the most problematic of the three controversial runes. Elliott suggests that it
means "yew bow," and that it is etymologically the same as the Germanic *eihwaz "yew."
This word, however, is already represented in the Germanic futharks by the rune (EO), eoh
(1989, 75-6). Although the Rune Poem does not specifically identify (Y) as a bow, it
does suggest that it is a piece of war equipment. The poem also suggests that the rune represents
the active pursuits of a warrior (1953, 196). Elliott's argument has not received general
acceptance by the editors of Cynewulf's poem. Although familiar with its treatment in the
Rune Poem and its etymological relationship to the Icelandic rune for "bow," Brooks is
unable either to accept this interpretation or to develop a reasonable alternative. Brooks suggests
that (Y) may represent a late mutation of the "u" sound and combination of "the U-rune with a
subscript I-rune joined to it" (126-7). Unfortunately, Brooks does not share the evidence upon
which this observation is based. Krapp, on the other hand, a voids the issue of the rune name
entirely favoring the homophonic
mentioned earlier (125). Maureen Halsall
speculates that (Y) means "bow," but mentions other possible interpretations including "saddle,"
"horn," "adomment," "female aurochs," "iron ax," and "gold buckle" (1981, 156). Although the
Rune Poem does not empower any of the suggested interpretations of this runic symbol, it
does associate (Y) with the active life of the noble warrior and with war equipment. Based on this
and on the context of the other Germanic futharks, accepting Elliott's interpretation of the rune as
"bow" is reasonable.
4. Citations from Fates of the Apostles are from Volume 2 of the Anglo-Saxon Poetic
Records edited by George Phillip Krapp, pages 51-4. The translations into Modern English
are my own.
5. Citations from the Rune Poem are from The Rune Poem , ed. by Maureen
Halsall (Toronto, 1981). The translations into Modern English are my own.
6. Refrigerium denotes a quasi-paradisaical state of happiness. Originally not a place,
Tertullian imagined a special kind of refrigerium, the refrigerium interim reserved
for certain of the dead, singled out by God as worthy of special treatment during the period
between their death and the time of final judgment (Le Goff, 46-7).
"Fates of the Apostles." The Vercelli Book. Ed. George Philip Krapp. vol 2 of The
Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records. New York: Columbia University Press, 1932: 51-54.
"Juliana." The Exeter Book. Eds. George Philip Krapp and Eliott Van Kirk Dobbie. vol 3
of The Anglo-Saxon Poetic Record. New York: Columbia University Press, 1936:
The Rune Poem. Ed. Maureen Halstall. Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1981.
Calder, Daniel G. "The Fates of the Apostles, The Latin Martyrologies, and the Litany
the Saints." Medium Aevum, 44 (1975): 219-24.
Elliott, Ralph W. V. Runes: An Introduction. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989.
Elliott, Ralph W. V. "Cynewulf's Runes in Christ II and Elene ." English
Elliott, Ralph W. V. "Cynewulf's Runes in Juliana and Fates of the Apostle ,
English Studies , 34 (1953): 193-204.
Elliott, Ralph W. V. "Runes, Yews, and Magic." Speculum, 32 (1957): 250-6
Hieatt, Constance B. "The Fates of the Apostles:Imagery, Structure, an Meaning."
Papers on Language and Literature, 10 (1974): 115-125.
Hacikyan, A. "The Runes of Old English Poetry." Revue de l'Université
HalsaH, Maureen. "Runes and the Mortal Condition in Old English Poetry." Journal of
English and Gernwnic Philology 4 (1988):477-86.
Howlett, D. R. "Se Giddes Begang of The Fates of the Apostles ." English
56 (1975): 385-89.
Kemble, John M. "On Anglo-Saxon Runes." Archaeologia, 28 (1840): 327-72.
Le Goff, Jacques. The Birth of Purgatory, Trans. Arthur Goldhammer. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1981.
Osborn, Marijane. "Hleotan and the Furpose of the Rune Poem . "
Folklore , 92
Rice, Robert C. "Tbe Penitential MOtif in Cynewulf's Fates of the Apostles and in Ms
Epilogues ." Anglo-Saxon England, 6 (1977): 105-19.
Ross, Margaret Clunies. "The Anglo-Saxon and Norse Rune Poems : A Comparative
Study." Anglo-Saxon England , 10 >(1990): 23-39.