An-, Ân-

with particular reference to
Old English Grammar by Alistair Campbell
first published 1959, revised 1962
and also


further notes: January 2010
continued from here.


This page follows on from the remark already quoted: "The stressed form of this prefix (ie an-, prefixed to floga), which you would require .... is and-. See Campbell's grammar, section 73. To be eligible for your interpretation, the form would I think have to be and-floga, on the model of and-saca (one who moves against or attacks)"; followed by "Old English had not reduced stressed and- to an-. Or at least I have found no cases mentioned by Wright or Campbell." In 1961, P.R.Orton, The Seafarer 58-64b, footnoted as follows: "Smithers suggests the meaning "disease-bringing malign influence" for anfloga. It is true that the form an- (i.e. en-) instead of the usual on- does crop up occasionally in the Exeter Book, both as a stressed and an unstressed prefix (Christ 111 anginne; Riddles 3.59 anstelle, 42.3 anfeng), though it is worth noting the comparable doublet andfenga (Paris Psalter 118, 114, 143.2) "receiver" beside an-, onfon "to receive", which might lead one to expect *andfloga as the agent-noun formed from onfleogan, rather than anfloga. See A. Campbell, Old English Grammar (Oxford, 1959), §§71-3 and p. 31, footnote 1 on relationships between these prefixes." In passing, what does Orton mean by "(i.e. en-)" ?

Wright is looked at here. Campbell is now addressed, and below is a selection from his Grammar, particularly in connection with his chapter on accent, paras 71 onwards. "It may be said at once that no book written in English covers the ground as thoroughly as Mr Campbell's", was the verdict of the Review of English Studies, and few, if any, would know enough to disagree. Campbell kicks off on page one with a defence of the use of the term "Old English", stating that "This is the customary term since about 1870", and noting that "In 1871 Henry Sweet .... deplored the use of the term 'Anglo-Saxon', for which he himself used 'Old English', and in 1876 .... he wrote, 'The oldest stage of English .... is now called Old English." The dates mentioned indicate the incipient stirrings of what might be regarded as an underlying resentment of the work of Scandinavian and German scholars in Anglo-Saxon studies. However, it is worth asking why, when Henry Sweet published his dictionary twenty years later, in 1896, he called it the Student's Dictionary of Anglo-Saxon. Perhaps the publisher was afraid that the public would associate "Old English" with Shakespeare or Chaucer.

In his Student's Dictionary, Sweet, 1845-1912, lays about him with a will. He has recently been described as having "annoyed many people through bluntness". According to Sweet, "Leo's Angelsächsisches Glossar combines the faults" of Bosworth amd Ettmüller "with a recklessness ... which is without parallel"; Clark Hall "is terribly uncritical, and embodies an enormous number of spurious words and meanings". Sweet also states that "the old Bosworth is an uncritical compilation, which falls far short of the scientific requirements of the period of its first publication". Since he then says that "BT consists really of two fragments of dictionaries. The first part (A-FIR), for which Bosworth alone is responsible, is far inferior to the succeeding portions of the work, which have been edited by Prof. Toller", one wonders what he means by "the old Bosworth". Bosworth 1838, 721 pages, is complete; and Bosworth 1868, 278 pages, is also complete. However, Bosworth, Ettmüller, and Leo were all dead by 1896, and Clark Hall, born 1855, was an American, so perhaps he felt it didn't matter what he said about them. Toller, 1844-1930, was a fellow Oxonian --- not that this helped Sweet's career ambitions.

Campbell concedes that the grouping of the "Germanic languages" into East, North and West, "invites criticism, and the attempts to improve on this one are many, yet it is based on very fundamental peculiarities of the languages involved, and still holds the field." See Beard, Burns, Fenton, here; or Cunningham, here. Neither the term "Old English" nor "West Germanic" is immune to challenge. See here. "Language barriers among linguists are more durable than the Iron Curtain or the Berlin Wall." (Anatoly Liberman, "Scandinavian phonology", Scandinavian Studies 66: 232-3, 1994).

An important point in connection with Campbell's Grammar is that, as noted in the Preface: "This book differs also from most others in that a clearly limited field is taken". Unless I'm mistaken, it does not appear to use the Exeter Anthology even once as a source of reference, which is a pity when we come to consider the meanings of anfloga and other words in The Seafarer.

An-, Ân-

Quote from above footnote: "Historically on-, an- represents both a stressed and unstressed prefix .... and it survives extensively in OE. Stressed and unstressed on- can interchange regularly .... But the prefix and- has in OE lost its unstressed form .... and unstressed on- has supplied its loss .... Stressed and- and on- are only occasionally confused." However, Campbell appears to be equating on- with an- in at least the first part of this statement. It is a little confusing. What he says does not really exclude the possibility that anfloga might be another form of onfloga, particularly since anfloga is a hapax legomenon --- an observation dismissed as irrelevant by some. Because of the small vocabulary, the limitations of the texts available in Anglo-Saxon, and the self-admitted further limitations of the field examined by Campbell, there is a constant danger that general principles are being deduced from an insufficiency of particular instances.

Anfloga is not a "compound adverb", but the paragraph scanned below is nevertheless of some interest in connection with the stresses on its elements. It is questionable whether the notional relative stresses on these elements are actually of great significance in the context of the verse. Nevertheless the argument has been put forward that the an- of anfloga cannot be a form of the preposition on, since it is stressed, and can therefore only be the numeral. I don't totally buy this argument.


Note. December 2013. Since keying in the comments below, I have come round to agreeing with Thorpe that "thought" is the best, or most useful, single-word translation of "hyge".

Over the years since The Seafarer first came to the attention of translators and lexicographers, the idea that hyge = hugr = soul, or wandering spirit, has become strongly entrenched. The first approximation in English of lines 58-64b, by Benjamin Thorpe, 1842, a form of literal interpretation, is shown below. Thorpe's punctuation is of considerable interest, and it is clear he had problems establishing the sense of the lines. The translated words underlined in red are arguably open to considerable improvement, and the same might well be said of the whole passage. A specific difficulty is that the multiple meanings contained within a single Anglo-Saxon word simply cannot be adequately translated by any one equivalent word in modern English. A score of words are underlined. Omitting inserted words like the and my, and the special case of an-floga ("lone bird"), the translated passage contains 37 words, of which four (over, wanders, flood, whale) occur more than once; a total of nine times. Crudely speaking, well over half the translation is inadequate, and as a whole it is seriously misleading. Nevertheless, it can be manipulated into the meaning repeatedly adopted by later translators.

Thorpe's translation of cymeð (singular) as "come" (sic; plural) is curious. His punctuation seems to be suggesting that "earth's regions come again to me", not that the hyge or the mod-sefa "comes again". It is reasonably clear that Thorpe does not regard the hyge as a wandering soul, for which he may be commended --- in spite of translating hweorfeš as "wanders". Hyge only means thought in special contexts, and while it can certainly be said that thoughts "wander", the Anglo-Saxon word essentially and precisely means "inclination" or "desire". See here. Even Sweet, who spoke German, but was apparently ignorant of Scandinavian languages, while offering "mind, heart, mood, disposition; courage; pride", and failing to give "inclination" or "desire", its truer meanings, does not venture to give "soul" or "fetch". Modsefa quite certainly does not imply a wandering soul.

Hweorfeš is not particularly well translated as "wanders". The word implies turning, in a circular motion, and one of its descendants must be German werfen, "to throw". Bosworth, 1838, gives: "To turn, turn or go away, depart, change, convert, wander, return". As often, an Anglo-Saxon word can be translated in any of six or seven ways. In this case, "wander" and "return" are the least appropriate of the alternatives offered. It is likely that Thorpe, 1842, consulted Bosworth, 1838, and, although "wanders" is defensible, he might have done better to have selected "turns", beyond, or away from, the present preoccupations of the seafarer's life: ie his hrežerlocan. Thorpe's first translation of hrežer as "breast" is not exactly satisfactory either, and his second rendering of it as "nathless" is fairly baffling.

Other translated versions can be checked here.

How Bosworth managed to offer "return" as his last definition of hweorfeš is, at present, a mystery. It may have some tenuous link with this passage from The Seafarer and his definition of eft-cuman as "to come back". Which brings us to the true meaning of eft in this context.

Eft does not have to mean "back" here, or "again", as Thorpe proposes, and which most translators of the poem want it to mean. Bosworth, 1838, gives "AFTER, again, back, afterward, ... in composition it has the same effect as Latin re-, retro-". Bosworth-Toller, 1898, gives "again, second time, then, afterwards". The DOE has a 7,346 word entry for eft; and the five head-meanings it gives are as follows: 1. again, another time, once more; 2. back, back again; 3. at a later time, afterwards; 4. again, as another point of fact (indicating sequence or transition in discourse); 5. in turn, in return. Nowhere in the DOE's long and well-organized account does it appear to reference the usage of eft in The Seafarer. It may be that a conscientious lexicographer was undecided as to how eft ought to be precisely interpreted in the poem. A personal preference would be for it to come under head-meanings 3-5 rather than 1-2.

In context, the word might be translated "eftsoons", or "anon", if these options did not sound quite so quaint. Eft is cognate with English "after", "afterwards" or "thereafter", and Swedish "efter" or "därefter"; ie "then" or "and then". The meaning proposed here for cymeš eft to me will be "and then comes to me". Thorpe's strange punctuation, and alteration of cymeš to "come", suggests that he senses that line 61 can be conceived of as an independent, self-sufficient sentence, only loosely and ungrammatically connected with what follows or precedes it. This would be even more strongly expressed if eft had been rendered "and then". Grammarians cannot allow that grammar may be tampered with; a poet, however, as Johnson noted, may well regard "more the series of ideas than of words; and his language, not being designed for the reader's desk, [may be] all that he [desires] it to be, if it [conveys] his meaning to the audience". The point here is that the audience is listening, not reading. Some poets even feel that there are times when the best place for a grammarian is below ground. Much poetry, and most oral dialogue, is distinctly ungrammatical. See Otto Jespersen, The Philosophy of Grammar, 1924, reprinted 1963, Preface, p 7.

In the extract below, Smithers, unlike Thorpe, takes it for granted that hyge means hugr. It can hardly be stressed enough that hyge is not the same as hugr, and does not mean "fetch" (a "wraith or double": Cassell Concise English Dictionary). Hyge means "inclination" or "desire". "Often, something must be repeated to meet a favorable reception." L.L.Cavalli-Sforza, Genes, Peoples and Languages, Penguin Press 2000.

Cleasby-Vigfusson, 1874, An Icelandic English-Dictionary, gives "to whet, sharpen"; II. metaph. "to make one keen, encourage" for hvetja. It is questionable whether The Seafarer is likely to have been influenced by Old Norse metaphorical idioms, and Smithers' penchant for citing Icelandic usages, and pagan mythology, is apt to be marginally anachronistic. The poem is now generally recognized to be Christian through and through, and its imagery may arguably be more influenced by earlier Mediterranean than later Nordic cultural traditions.

For hwettan Bosworth-Toller, 1898, gives "to whet, sharpen, instigate, urge, incite, excite". Bosworth. 1838, had merely given "to whet". and cited as a cognate Icelandic hvessa, not hvetja. This appears to confirm Sweet's comment on the superiority of BT's definitions after FIR, as mentioned above. The nuances implicit in hweteš are discussed in the Central Crux of The Seafarer, see here; and, on balance, the verb's root sense of "to sharpen" or, metaphorically, "to impart courage, to embolden" seems appropriate in the poem's context. This is in spite of my critic's inability to swallow what I am proposing.

Smithers is convinced that hyge means hugr. However, although he believes the hyge to be the seafarer's wandering soul which now comes "back" to him, he associates the "whetting" with the anfloga, not the hyge, and his punctuation of the lines is not unlike that of Thorpe. It certainly makes more sense for the "flier", whether it is approaching or solitary, or more probably both, to "whet", "sharpen", "steel" or "embolden" the seafarer, than for his own "inclination" to do so.


A Seafarer



in the tomb of Senejem, Thebes, 13th/14th century BC.

The anfloga is that presence, imaginary or otherwise:

Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.

William Wordsworth; Tintern Abbey, 1798, ll. 95-102

Or else the simple fear of death: timor mortis conturbat me      

ne biþ him to hearpan hyge ne to hringþege
ne to wife wyn ne to worulde hyht

"Every great advance in natural knowledge has involved the absolute rejection of authority." Thomas Huxley
"There may be wisdom in a multitude of counsellors, but it is only in one or two of them." Thomas Huxley


Anfloga & Wearn
The Cambridge Old English Reader
The Meaning of The Seafarer and The Wanderer. G.V.Smithers
Hugr, Hyge, Håg
the central crux of the seafarer
re: unwearnum
essays and papers

© Charles Harrison Wallace 2010
all rights reserved