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Iona; from The Life of St Columba, by John Smith DD, with preface by William Dunn AM. 1824.

IONA & CULDEES

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Trying to remember who it was who had first introduced the thought of the Culdees as connected, in some manner, with the composition of The Seafarer, I re-visited Gordon's introduction to her edition. It was pleasing to note that she had also detected a number of parallels with the Ad Hunaldum Epistola.

At left is Mrs Gordon's listing of the homiletic themes attributed to St Columba, (Columbanus ?) especially the letter to Hunald.

She is not concerned, however, with the date of composition, and doesn't question its authorship. Moreover, she doesn't believe, in any case, that this "letter" influenced The Seafarer. Then why did she mention it ?

She also devotes considerable attention to the essays of G.V.Smithers, in the end only dismissing his conclusions; and confusedly supposing the anfloga to be the cuckoo. Cuckoo. Cuckoo.

Naked we leave this world, and return to earth. One is reminded that sceatas in this context means "earth", or, if you insist, "corners of the earth". Sceatas, in the original Old Scandinavian (and/or German) is cognate with "sköte" and "Schoss", and means "lap" as well as "womb/tomb". This corner is unusually cosy.

Anderson/Arngart, in 1937 and 1979, contributed significant milestones in the elucidation of The Seafarer, where other scholars created extravagant and unnecessary fantasies, mainly involving the flight and return of the external soul either to its fatherland, or to its own imprisoning breastcage. Anderson/Arngart was not wholly immune from these, but he was Swedish, and therefore understood the mentality and most of the lexis of the seafarer author rather better than the German and Anglo-American investigators; Smithers excepted.

We seem to be straying somewhat from Iona and the Culdees. Perhaps we'll tackle them another day, although I don't believe they are so very significant. This poem is, after all, written in Anglo-Saxon. Is it not expressive of an Anglo-Saxon ambience ? Perhaps, perhaps not. Meanwhile, let's have another look at Ida Gordon's efforts.

I could hardly disagree more with her notes to lines 62 and 63. The anfloga is decidedly NOT the cuckoo. Cuckoo.

What does she mean by "when his spirit comes back to him" ? I thought she said the anfloga wasn't his "spirit". In any case, hyge no way means "spirit". Gordon utterly mis-interprets this passage. Again, the anfloga is not a "lone-flier".

Smithers, of course, like Grein, is dead right in his interpretation of wælweg. The eidence for its meaning as "death-way" is overwhelming. The entire passage is about death, an act of slaughter performed by the grim reaper, or his minion in the form of a raptor, and the corpse then consumed by an excarnator. But Grein gets anfloga wrong.

Neither the metre, nor the general sense of the imagery, favour the emendation to hwlweg, although the poet may conceivably have had a subdued pun in mind. For the etymology, and ultimate meaning, of siþ, see here.

You, Andrew Marvell

Discussion of whether anfloga means the cuckoo, or the seafarer's own imagination, is absurd.
Neither the cuckoo nor the imagination can be described as "yelling, eagerly and greedily".
Or "longingly, voraciously, ravenously, avidly, or ungratified, unsated, gluttonous".
Ravenous cuckoo ? Gluttonous imagination ?

What anfloga assuredly does NOT mean is "one-flier".


Iona; from The Life of St Columba, by Adamnan, 9th Abbott, edited by William Reeves.
Facsimile from Historians of Scotland, 1874.

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