14.10.08, Harris, et al., eds., Vox Germanica

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Adam Oberlin

The Medieval Review 14.10.08

Harris, Stephen, Michael Moynihan, and Sherrill Harbison. Vox Germanica: Essays in Germanic Languages and Literature in Honor of James E. Cathey. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 429. Tempe, AZ: ACMRS, 2012. Pp. xix, 306. ISBN: 9780866984775 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Adam Oberlin
Universitetet i Bergen/The Linsly School

James Cathey's scholarship and interests reach beyond the medieval world, as well as beyond Germanic and even Indo-European, including Finnish, Sámi, and Etruscan. The bulk of this volume, however, is concerned with medieval Germanic languages. In a brief foreword, the editors outline Cathey's biography and most noteworthy publications, and introduce contributions by friends, colleagues, and former students. It is appropriate that a festschrift for a philologist be divided into sections on language and literature, and here the expected divisions are present, the former with nine essays and notes and the latter with ten. This review will concentrate on essays with either examples from medieval languages in a broader chronological context or those that are entirely focused on the medieval period.

Opening the volume and the section on language is Anatoly Liberman's essay, "Sound Change and Distinctive Features in Light of Dynamic Synchrony" (1-13), which illustrates dynamic synchrony (the inclusion of historical data and processes within a synchronic study) in phonological systems with examples of Sandhi, palatalization, and rephonologization in modern and old Germanic languages and Russian.

In "'Every Day': Verses and Anacrusis in the Heliand" (15-22), Thomas A. Bredehoft examines the formulaic dago gehuilikes and allaro dago gehuilikes verses in light of Old Saxon and Old English verse types and shows that extrametrical types such as these appear restricted to a- (tripartite formula) and b-lines (bipartite formula). A comparison is made to the a-line type in Beowulf, resulting in a percentage of use for double alliteration very close to that found in the Heliand.

In "East Norwegian Accent Shift Triggered by the Negation Marker ikke: Is a Unitary Semantic Account Possible?" (23-47), Thorstein Fretheim argues for a semantic explanation of the pragmatic role of ikke in modern South-East Norwegian accent shift.

Previously given as a conference paper, Marc Pierce's essay, "Examining the Evidence for Old Norse Syllable Structure" (49-67), is an historical approach to syllabification in Old Norse, beginning with linguistic, orthographic, and metrical evidence for syllabification. Pierce summarizes constraints and processes from the diachronic perspective of Modern Icelandic and Faroese (vowel lengthening and consonant clusters), the application of Sievers' Law within Old Norse, syllabification types from word breaks at manuscript line endings (vowel-vowel, single vowel, and consonant clusters), and metrical studies from Háttatal and the corpus of Old Norse poetry. While the essay reads very much like a conference paper, it is a thorough and useful introduction to the various approaches to Old Norse syllabification and argues convincingly for a dual source analysis of the evidence in the tautosyllabification of muta cum liquida clusters and heterosyllabification of consonant + semivowel clusters.

In "The Sun and the Saxon Irminsûl" (69-83), Douglas Simms suggests a solar etymology for the second element of the titular compound, the famous pillar of the Saxons often compared to Yggdrasil. After a brief discussion of the sources and previous etymological commentary on Widukind's equation of Hermes with Mars, Simms turns to the Indo-European etymology connecting Gmc. words for pillar to other IE words for sun, ultimately seeking an explanation in the atmospheric phenomenon of the sun pillar. While questions remain for both the proposed etymological development and the natural phenomena or cultic significance the object may represent, the suggestion is a move forward in an old topic.

Irmengard Rauch's essay, "Exapted 'Oh': How Does it Fit into the Prosodic Hierarchy?" (85-90), outlines the place of the vocal segregate oh and similar virtual (written) segregates in historical Germanic languages in the prosodic hierarchy, demonstrating that it is in the phonological and intonational phrase that oh bears so many meanings.

In "hlewagastiR Exposed" (91-107), Thomas L. Markey begins his investigation of the Gallehus Horn B inscription with an introduction to Adalbert Kuhn's comparative essay on equivalent Sanskrit and Greek noun phrases, the Germanic reflex of which, the name hlewagastiR, represents the κλέος component, and moves through an impressive etymological study to shed light on the cultural milieu of the comitatus and guest-client relationships.

In "The Old English Digraph " (109-115), Stephen J. Harris examines the Panther bestiary poem in the Exeter Book, in which pandher is written, alongside other texts with the digraph. Harris concludes that scribal error arising from the copying of different scripts is a more likely culprit than /dh/ as a borrowing from continental Latin or as a substitute for /ð/.

The concluding contribution to the language section is Rex E. Wallace's "An Etruscan Inscription Recovered Beneath the Northern Building at Poggio Civitate (Murlo)" (117-125).

G. Ronald Murphy opens the literature section with an essay "Yggdrasil and the Stave Church" (129-156), which is an earlier version of what appears as the second chapter in his recent book Tree of Salvation (Oxford, 2013). Murphy argues in an architectural/art-historical sense for the literary and theological transition between the pre-Christian belief and Christianity in the North made manifest in the stave churches, particularly for the tree-carved door as the symbolic threshold between the violence of the pre-Christian end of the world and its rebirth through the polysemous tree of suffering.

Michael Moynihan's essay, "Images of the Germanic Drinking Hall in the Old Saxon Heliand" (157-186), offers a thorough set of close readings of drinking halls and associated motifs in the Old Saxon poem after a summary of the Germanic historical and mythological background, fitting them into the transitional semantics and imagery of the Germanic Christian text.

In "A Mother from Hell: Love and Vengeance in Beowulf" (187-198), Craig R. Davis responds to Tolkien's setting aside of Grendel's mother with a sociological view of parenting within a culture of feud and the private legal redress of wrongs, elevating her importance within Beowulf's development.

Stephen E. Flowers's essay, "A Note on the Tripartite Treasure of the Nibelungs" (199-202), reads German and Old Icelandic versions of the treasure hoard in the Sigurd legends through the lens of Dumézil's tripartite mythic functions.

Edward R. Haymes's essay, "'Herburt ok Hilldr': A Tristan Parody in Þiðreks saga af Bern?" (203-210), provides a reading of several humorous passages in the Norse Dietrich material that appear to be influenced by the first recorded version of the Tristan legend in the North, Tristrams saga ok Ísöndar, which was written about a quarter century before Þiðreks saga at the court of Hákon IV.

Finally, Alois Wolf's essay, "Die Egilssaga als Isländische Ergänzung der Heimskringla" (211-232), suggests that the medieval Icelandic fascination with its own heathen past, settlement history, and Christianization reaches a critical point in Egla, which may be viewed as a continuation of the great chronicle of Norwegian kings after the settlement. Wolf speculates without flatly attributing authorship to Snorri like others have before him, leaving open the possibility of an influential connection through a close reading of genealogical and poetic interests in the saga.

The four remaining essays in the literature section are not on medieval topics, though the first two will be of interest to those who study medievalism: George C. Schoolfield, "Rilke and Rurik" (233-243); Sherrill Harbison, "Willa Cather and the Scandinavian Revival" (245-256); John Weinstock, "Wagner's Leitmotifs: A Counterpart of Sámi Yoik?" (257-267); and Frank Hugus, "Some Thoughts about One Danish Novelist's Observations of the Human Condition" (269-282).

Following the essays are a list of Cathey's publications, notes on contributors, and an index.

A festschrift serves two purposes; the first, the enjoyment and honor of the recipient, is a personal matter, but the second, the use of the volume in the recipient's field, requires comment. Vox Germanica is an eclectic volume of essays of uneven quality but great variety, and scholars of medieval Germanic languages, linguistics, and literature will undoubtedly find many of the essays useful.

Article Details

Author Biography

Adam Oberlin

Universitetet i Bergen/The Linsly School