Analysis of the old english text "Ohthere´s Voyage"

Seminar Paper, 2002

18 Pages, Grade: Good


Table of Contents

1. Introduction
1.1. The cultural and historical background of the text
1.2. About Ohthere
1.3. The manuscripts
1.4. Analysis of the Text

2. Interlinear Morphemic Translation
2.1. Abbreviations used
2.2. Interlinear Morphemic Translation

3. Analysis of the function of OE cases
3.1. The dative
3.2. The genitive
3.3. The accusative

4. Analysis of the OE negations

5. Analysis of OE syntactical structures
5.1. Subordinate clauses
5.2. The demonstrative order

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

1.1. The cultural and historical background of the text

The description of Ohthere’s voyages is an insertion into a translation of “A history of the world” by Paulus Orosius. Orosius was a fifth century Spanish cleric, who was engaged by the North African Bishop Augustinus of Hippo to write his Historia adversus paganos (“History against the pagans”) in order to refute pagan claims that the coming of Christianity was responsible for recent disasters in Europe.

Possibly, the Old English Orosius was one of the works of translation commissioned by King Ælfred of Wessex (reign: 871 - 899) as a part of his educational program proclaimed in the preface to Gregory the Great ’s Pastoral Care ( cf. Raith 1958: 1) . Since Orosius’ version only covered the geography south of the Alps, it was lacking the Northern part of Western Europe. Therefore, the narratives of the voyages of Ohthere and Wulfstan, two seafarers, who sailed the Northern and Baltic Sea, were added to complete and extend Orosius` description.

The question whether King Alfred translated the Old English Orosius himself or if he had translated it by others is a controversial issue, and widely discussed. While linguists until the second half of the 20th century assume King Alfred to be the author of the Old English Orosius, Raith was the first, who questioned his authorship (cf. Raith 1951: 54-61). Later, Bately offers a very detailed discussion of the question in her book “The Old English Orosius”. She comes to the conclusion that the assumption of Alfredian authorship is unfounded (cf. Bately 1980: lxxiii-Ixxxvi).

1.2. About Ohthere

Except for the information we gain from the text, we do not know much about Ohthere himself and the circumstances of his meeting with King Ælfred. Ohthere was a “NorÞmann” or Norwegian and possibly a merchant or trader, who encountered the Anglo-Saxon king under peaceful circumstances. Historians situate their meeting within a century of contact between Norse-speaking people like Ohthere and the Anglo-Saxons, most of which contact involved bloodshed. Ælfred himself ruled during the most brutal period of the first wave of Viking attack on Britain. He stemmed the tide of invasion confining the Vikings to a large area of the eastern half of England, the Danelaw, over which they then ruled, while Ælrfred and his successors ruled the remaining part.

The expression “his hlaforde Ælfrede cyninge” leads to the presumption that he might have entered in Alfred’s service, but it could as well have been a honorific expression. From the ongoing text, we learn that Ohthere was a rich man of a high social status who collected tribute from the Lapps. He was a whale hunter and possibly belonged to the Winking mer- chants of that time, who shipped Northern luxury goods to the South. It is also discussed, that Ohthere might have been a refugee that fled from the Norwegian King Harald Hårfagre, who in the years before 885 imposed his royal central power and expelled the nobility into exile.

1.3. The manuscripts

Until today, four different manuscripts of the OE Orosius are known to still exist: The Lauderdale or Tollemache manuscript, the Cotton manuscript, the Bodley fragment and the Vatican fragment. The Lauderdale manuscript forms the basis of the text used in the following analysis, since it is the most complete and the work of a single scribe with few corrections. Paleographical indications point to a scriptorium at Winchester as the place of its origin, though, nothing is known of the history of this manuscript before its appearance in the library of the Duke of Lauderdale at the end of the 17th century. Today, it is preserved in the British Library. In addition to the OE Orosius, the Cotton manuscript contains the verse Menologium and Gnomic Verses and the C text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle ending with the annal for 1066. Unlike the Lauderdale manuscript, it is written in a number of different hands. Apart from the fact that it had entered the possession of Robert Cotton by 1621, nothing is known about its place of origin. It is known that the Cotton manuscript forms the basis of some other tran- scripts by Franciscus Junius, Elstob and Ballard, and of the editions by Daines Barrington, Thorpe, and Bosworth. It is also preserved in the British Library. The Bodley fragment only contains parts of the OE Orosius and belongs to the Bodleian English History. Its origin is also unknown. The Vatican fragment is preserved in Vatican City, Reg. Lat. and consists of only one leaf of the OE Orosius, of which all but the last 13 lines have been erased. The leaf was at Trier in the late 11th century and used there, after erasure, for the conclusion of the life of St. Gertrude.

However, there are indications that other manuscripts ones existed. For example, Leland reports about an Orosius Saxonice at Glastonbury in the early 16th century and a sen- tence on the flyleaf of Rouen may point to the presence of yet another manuscript on the Con- tinent in the early Middle Ages. Further evidence is provided by an Old French poem, Calen- dre’s Les Empererors de Rome, which possibly was based on the OE Orosius (Bately 1980: xxiii-xxxvii).

1.4. Analysis of the text

The text of Orosius is divided into six books, which are each further subdivided into sections. The present work will concentrate on the first section of the first book where Ohthere reports to King Alfred about his first journey from his homeland, Halgoland, which today is the province of Hålogaland in Northern Norway, around the Northern Cape to the White Sea (Ek- blom 1941/42: 115).

Since most readers will be unfamiliar with the Old English language, a normal transla- tion of the text would not be sufficient to identify its grammatical structure. Therefore, the first part of the following analysis contains an interlinear morphemic translation of the Old English text.

The second part of the analysis starts with an examination of several functions of OE cases found in the text and the differences to their realization in MnE. After a view on OE negations, two common OE syntactical structures will be discussed by examining certain examples occurring in the text.

2. Interlinear Morphemic Translation

2.1. Abbreviations used

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

For further explanations on the basic guidelines of interlinear morphemic translations see: Lehmann, Christian, 1982, Directions for interlinear morphemic translations, Folia Linguistica Nr 16, 193 - 224

2.2. Interlinear Morphemic Translation

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


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Analysis of the old english text "Ohthere´s Voyage"
Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg  (Anglistics)
English through the ages
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Altenglisch Linguistik Sprachgeschichte, linguistics, language history
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Michael Treichler (Author)Bettina Lüdemann (Author), 2002, Analysis of the old english text "Ohthere´s Voyage", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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