"Much of the literature of translation is not about errors in translation;
it is about errors in understanding the original."         E.Bruce Brooks.


A Picture Book of Ancient British Art, 1951, by Piggott & Daniel

"Scholars belong to guilds held together by common opinions, attitudes and methods. As a rule, innovation is welcome only when it is confined to surface details and does not modify the structure as a whole"
Cyrus H.Gordon. Forgotten Scripts, 1982, page 35.

in The Seafarer

"To this day, green, wet corners, flooded wastes, soft rushy bottoms, any place with the invitation of watery ground and tundra vegetation, even glimpsed from a car or train, possess an immediate and deeply peaceful attraction."       Seamus Heaney's take on the "green, wet corners" of the world was not something I had in mind, or had the slightest knowledge of, when I decided on "the sea meads gleam" as a translation of wongas wlitigaš, but this rendering strikes me now as remarkably serendipitous.

This page is intended to be an exploration of the apparently
linked significances of vång and sköte.
It will take some time, and progress is expected to be slow.

Viktor Rydberg, in Undersökningar i germanisk mythologi, p.498, says: "The common meaning of the (Old Norse) word litr is something presenting itself to the eye without being tangible to the hands. The Gothic form of the word is wlits, which Ulfilas uses in translating Greek prosopon --- look, appearance, expression ... Beautiful women have a "joyous fair litr" (Havamal 93). An emotion has influence upon the litr, and through it on the blood and the appearance of the outward body."

wongas wlitigaš

Vangur occurs in Icelandic: "sphere, ring, field"; vang in Norwegian: "(enclosed) field, meadow"; and Danish vang is defined as "dyrket jordstykke; mark eller eng; navnlig om et til gręsning tjenende jordstykke, gręsmark," etc. Anglo-Saxon wang or wong is in fact very specifically a meadow, a place as circumscribed, soft and downy as a maiden's cheek; cf Ger Wange "cheek". Close to the ancient city of Hull there is a place called "Wetwang", an archaeological site. "Wetwang" further suggests that wong can be, even more precisely, a water-meadow ("a meadow fertilized by being flooded at certain seasons from an adjoining stream"). Swedish Professor Eilert Ekwall's authoritative, though not entirely flawless, Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names notes that the "Wang-" in one or two other English place-names will derive from Anglo-Saxon węgn, "wain" or "wagon", eg Wangford, earlier Wainford, "wagon-ford". In Wetwang, however, the linked descent from Swedish vång and Anglo-Saxon wong appears undoubted. Ekwall was perhaps unfamiliar with the Swedish southern dialect word vång, Icelandic vangur, Norwegian/Danish vang, in spite of vång's appearance in Våra Ord. Interestingly, moreover, in the Danish Ordbog, the word is said to be cognate with Gothic waggs, connoting "Paradise"; an ancestry which invites thoughts of the paradisial "soft meadow" of ancient Mesopotamian poetry, as well as the marshes and bogs of Denmark with their gruesome relicts of punishment or sacrifice. Gordon's edition of The Seafarer gets this gloss right.

Note; December 25th, 2014. Wetwang is recorded in the Domesday Book as Wetuuangha. There are two interpretations of the name, one from the Old Norse vaett-vangr, 'field for the trial of a legal action'. Another theory is that it was the "Wet Field" compared to the nearby "Dry Field" at Driffield. From Wikipedia.

Note; January 5th, 2015. I have not yet found anything to corroborate the Ordbog's derivation of vang from Gothic waggs; in fact I haven't been able to discover the existence of Gothic waggs, so far.

Here's a recap on sceata, this time from Beowulf, lines 750-753, compared with Wickberg's Swedish translation, 1889. Swedish sköte does not remotely mean "regions": the word means "lap, bosom, womb".   Shakespeare called Falstaff's final destination: "Abraham's bosom".

Sona þæt onfunde       fyrena hyrde
þæt he ne mette       middangeardes
eorþan sceata       on elran men
mundgripe maran

Snart kunde illdådens herde märka,
Att han ej träffat uti midgård,
På jordens sköte, hos någon annan
starkare handtag.

Word in Seafarer Common GlossSwedish CognateCorrect English
sceatcorner, fold, tract, [sheet]skötelap (of body & earth)
wongplain, placevångmeadow, mead

See: The Ritual Use of Wetlands during the Neolithic:
a local study in Southernmost Sweden,
by Lars Larsson.
In Wetland Archaeology & Environment, edited by Lillie & Ellis, 2007.

Icelandic dictionary extracts from G.T.Zoëga..

What, exactly, is a "Field of Heaven" ? Could it be the same as jordens sköte ?
Could "fen" derive from  wong, of common descent from Skt panka, mud ?
(Partridge, 1958).
Whatever else, wongas certainly does not mean "plains"

skaut ? quarter ? corner ? lap ?
See Cleasby-Vigfusson on vættvangr: it seems vætt does not mean "wet", though vangr may be "fen".

Here's Cleasby-Vigfusson on skaut. Excerpts.


click for various anflogas.

On to Something Else
Howlett's Seafarer Analysis
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more thoughts on form & structure
Klinck & Magennis
back to "this version: structure"
Roberta Frank
Hollander & Gradon
seafarer essays and papers
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" ... to the dilettante the thing is the end, while to the professional as such it is the means; and only he who is directly interested in a thing, and occupies himself with it from love of it, will pursue it with entire seriousness. It is from such as these, and not from wage-earners, that the greatest things have always come."

Arthur Schopenhauer, 1851

Gide said: "Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again."                            

Le traité du Narcisse. 1891, or 1892; second paragraph.

Marsden R.: The Cambridge Old English Reader, 2004

Marshall McLuhan

"Publish or Perish is the beanery motto".
"to get published you must be dull, and stupid and harmless"
"teachers are unable to be critics of their own world"
"teachers distrust any of their number who has ideas"

"publish profusely: just make sure you say nothing unwelcome. Tread on no toes."
Remember, your career is important to you.

Reckless of that, my thought is thrown
beyond my heart's cage now.

bearwas blostmum nimaš     byrig fęgriaš
wongas wlitigaš     woruld onetteš
ealle ža gemoniaš     modes fusne
sefan to siže     žam že swa ženceš
on flodwegas    feor gewitan

Then blossom decks the bower's bough
the bothie blooms, the sea meads gleam
the wide world racks the restless mind
of him who on the full flood tide
determines to depart

Anglo-Saxonists are reviewed by their peers. Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, is said to have said: " .... the system of peer review is biased, unjust, unaccountable, incomplete, easily fixed, often insulting, usually ignorant, occasionally foolish, and frequently wrong."

Of what possible value is a critical study of a poem when the original text is only imperfectly understood ? The language spoken by the Angles, Saxons and Jutes who came to Britain after 400 AD was Old Scandinavian, a language which stretched from Uppsala and the western home of the Weder-Geats, down through Geatland, Svealand, Daneland, and along the North Saxon coast. During the next 400 years, in Britain, this language evolved into Anglo-Saxon. It also evolved in Scandinavia. It was, however, not written down in Scandinavia, to any extent. After 1066, the language in Britain changed dramatically. Not so, in Scandinavia. The best guide to the intrinsic meaning of Anglo-Saxon words is therefore their present cognates in Swedish, Danish, Frisian and even Old Norse or Icelandic. These cognates can then be translated into contemporary English to approach the truer meaning of the Anglo-Saxon.

There are of course often cognates of Anglo-Saxon words present in Modern English but they have nearly always undergone some serious shift in meaning, or distortion of the original sense.

"Very little has been done hitherto to investigate the exact shades of meaning in Old English words." Otto Jespersen, Growth and Structure of the English Language, Chapter 3, § 52; 1938.     Since 1938, and well before, the structure of Anglo-American Anglo-Saxon studies has needed modification --- as a whole. Wholesale. From end to end and top to bottom.

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© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2015
all rights reserved

When you meet with opposition, endeavour to overcome it by argument, not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.

Bertrand Russell
Nice going, Bertie !


Try Wetland Archaeology and Environments, by Lillie & Ellis

When you meet with opposition, endeavour to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.

Bertrand Russell
Nice going, Bertie !