Thula (poetic genre)

Last updated

Thula ( /ˈθlə/ ; pl. thulas, from Old Norse : þula pl. þulur), is the name of an ancient poetic genre in the Germanic literatures. Thulas are metrical name-lists or lists [1] of poetic synonyms compiled, mainly, for oral recitation. The main function of thulas is thought to be mnemonic. The Old Norse term was first applied to an English poem, the Old English Widsith , by Andreas Heusler and Wilhelm Ranisch in 1903. [2] Thulas occur as parts of longer poems, too; Old Norse examples are found in various passages of the poetic and the prose Edda (esp. Skáldskaparmál with the Nafnaþulur, Grímnismál, Alvíssmál), the Rígsþula as well as in the Völuspá. Thulas can be considered as sources of once canonic knowledge, rooted in prehistoric beliefs and rituals. They generally preserve mythological and cosmogonical knowledge, often proper names and toponyms, but also the names of semi-legendary or historical persons. Their language is usually highly formalized, and they make extensive use of mnemonic devices such as alliteration. For a number of archaic words and formulas some thulas are the only available source. The term and the genre may go back to the function of the Thyle (Old Norse : þulr), who held the function of an orator and was responsible for the cultus.

Contents

Examples

The different versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle start off with the names of the English rulers back to Woden in metrical form:

"Cynric [wæs] Cerdicing, Cerdic Elesing, Elesa Esling, Esla Gewising, Gewis Wiging, Wig Freawining, Freawine Friðugaring, Friðugar Bronding, Brond Bædæging, Bældæg Wodening." (after The Parker Chronicle, ed. Plummer 1892-99)

The longest Old English thulas, though, are part of the poem Widsith , listing, in the first thula, 30 kings, 54 tribes in the second, and 28 men in the third and last thula.

Outside early medieval literature

Lists of names and objects abound in texts other than early Germanic ones, too. In classic Greek and Latin poetry, lists, or catalogues, function as forms of amplificatio (see amplification) and enumeratio. Ovid includes a catalogue of trees in his Metamorphoses (10.90-108). [3] Lists in works by later medieval authors follow the classic models rather than the thulas, even though the poetic effect may be similar. A good example is found in Chaucer's Parlement of Foules , which, among other things, features a list of trees:

The bilder ook, and eek the hardy asshe;
The piler elm, the cofre unto careyne;
The boxtree piper; holm to whippes lasshe;
The sayling firr; the cipres, deth to pleyne;
The sheter ew, the asp for shaftes pleyne;
The olyve of pees, and eek the drunken vyne,
The victor palm, the laurer to devyne. [4]

The "Wood of Error" in Edmund Spenser's in The Faerie Queene (I.i.8-9) is a similar catalogue of trees, based on that of Ovid. Among modern authors, James Joyce, for instance, includes numerous lists in his Ulysses and Finnegans Wake , e.g. a list of the books in Leopold Bloom's library. ( Ulysses 17.1357ff.) [5]

Related Research Articles

Ask and Embla first two humans, created by the gods in Norse mythology

In Norse mythology, Ask and Embla —male and female respectively—were the first two humans, created by the gods. The pair are attested in both the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, and the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson. In both sources, three gods, one of whom is Odin, find Ask and Embla and bestow upon them various corporeal and spiritual gifts. A number of theories have been proposed to explain the two figures, and there are occasional references to them in popular culture.

In poetry, metre (British) or meter is the basic rhythmic structure of a verse or lines in verse. Many traditional verse forms prescribe a specific verse metre, or a certain set of metres alternating in a particular order. The study and the actual use of metres and forms of versification are both known as prosody.

Old English literature, or Anglo-Saxon literature, encompasses literature written in Old English, in Anglo-Saxon England from the 7th century to the decades after the Norman Conquest of 1066. "Cædmon's Hymn", composed in the 7th century, according to Bede, is often considered as the oldest surviving poem in English. Poetry written in the mid-12th century represents some of the latest post-Norman examples of Old English; for example, The Soul's Address to the Body found in Worcester Cathedral Library MS F. 174 contains only one word of possible Latinate origin, while also maintaining a corrupt alliterative meter and Old English grammar and syntax, albeit in a degenerative state. The Peterborough Chronicle can also be considered a late-period text, continuing into the 12th century. The strict adherence to the grammatical rules of Old English is largely inconsistent in 12th century work – as is evident in the works cited above – and by the 13th century the grammar and syntax of Old English had almost completely deteriorated, giving way to the much larger Middle English corpus of literature.

Yggdrasil Immense mythical tree in Norse cosmology, connecting the Nine Worlds

Yggdrasil is an immense mythical tree that plays a central role in Norse cosmology, where it connects the Nine Worlds.

In Norse mythology, Hoddmímis holt is a location where Líf and Lífþrasir are foretold to survive the long winters of Fimbulvetr. Hoddmímis holt is attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, and the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson. Like the very similarly named Mímameiðr, scholars generally consider Hoddmímis holt to be another name for Yggdrasil and connect it to folklore recorded from continental Germanic folklore.

Alliterative verse form of verse that uses alliteration as the principal structuring device

In prosody, alliterative verse is a form of verse that uses alliteration as the principal ornamental device to help indicate the underlying metrical structure, as opposed to other devices such as rhyme. The most commonly studied traditions of alliterative verse are those found in the oldest literature of the Germanic languages, where scholars use the term 'alliterative poetry' rather broadly to indicate a tradition which not only shares alliteration as its primary ornament but also certain metrical characteristics. The Old English epic Beowulf, as well as most other Old English poetry, the Old High German Muspilli, the Old Saxon Heliand, the Old Norse Poetic Edda, and many Middle English poems such as Piers Plowman, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the Alliterative Morte Arthur all use alliterative verse.

A scop was a poet as represented in Old English poetry. The scop is the Old English counterpart of the Old Norse skald, with the important difference that "skald" was applied to historical persons, and scop is used, for the most part, to designate oral poets within Old English literature. Very little is known about the mythical scop, and its historical existence is questioned by some scholars.

A hörgr or hearg was a type of altar or cult site, possibly consisting of a heap of stones, used in Norse religion, as opposed to a roofed hall used as a hof (temple).

Ermanaric was a Greuthungian Gothic King who before the Hunnic invasion evidently ruled a sizable portion of Oium, the part of Scythia inhabited by the Goths at the time. He is mentioned in two Roman sources; the contemporary writings of Ammianus Marcellinus and in Getica by the 6th-century historian Jordanes.

Germanic mythology body of mythology associated with historical Germanic paganism

Germanic mythology consists of the body of myths native to the Germanic peoples. It includes Norse mythology, Anglo-Saxon mythology, and Continental Germanic mythology. It was a key element of Germanic paganism.

"Widsith", also known as The Traveller's Song, is an Old English poem of 143 lines. The poem survives only in the Exeter Book, a manuscript of Old English poetry compiled in the late 10th century containing approximately one-sixth of all surviving Old English poetry. Widsith is located between the poems Vainglory and The Fortunes of Men. Since the donation of the Exeter Book in 1076, it has been housed in Exeter Cathedral in southwestern England. The poem is for the most part a survey of the people, kings, and heroes of Europe in the Heroic Age of Northern Europe.

Norse cosmology conception of everything that exists in Norse mythology

Norse cosmology is the study of the cosmos (cosmology) as perceived by the North Germanic peoples. The topic encompasses concepts from Norse mythology, such as notions of time and space, cosmogony, personifications, anthropogeny, and eschatology. Like other aspects of Norse mythology, these concepts are primarily recorded in the Poetic Edda, a collection of poems compiled in the 13th century, and the Prose Edda, authored by Icelander Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century, who drew from earlier traditional sources. Together these sources depict an image of Nine Worlds around a cosmic tree, Yggdrasil.

Rune poems are poems that list the letters of runic alphabets while providing an explanatory poetic stanza for each letter. Three different poems have been preserved: the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem, the Norwegian Rune Poem, and the Icelandic Rune Poem.

Breca was a Bronding who, according to the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf, was Beowulf's childhood friend. Breca defeated Beowulf in what, by consensus, is described as a swimming match.

Wade, is the English name for a common Germanic mythological character who, depending on location, is also known as Vadi (Norse) and Wate.

Kings of the Angles Wikimedia list article

The Angles were a dominant Germanic tribe in the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain, and gave their name to the English, England and to the region of East Anglia. Originally from Angeln, present-day Schleswig-Holstein, a legendary list of their kings has been preserved in the heroic poems Widsith and Beowulf, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

Thyle member of Scandinavian or Anglo-Saxon royal court

A thyle was a member of the court associated with Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon royalty and chieftains in the Early Middle Ages, whose precise role is uncertain but probably had to do with the preservation of knowledge of the past and the judging of present statements against it.

Haguna

Haguna or Hagana is a historical Germanic name. It is attested in the form Hagano in Old High German and as Haguna and Hagena in Old English. Old West Norse has Hǫgni, presumably loaned from the character in German legend. Old Danish has Haghni and Hoghni; Old Swedish Haghne and Høghne.

Sacred trees and groves in Germanic paganism and mythology

Trees hold a particular role in Germanic paganism and Germanic mythology, both as individuals and in groups. The central role of trees in Germanic religion is noted in the earliest written reports about the Germanic peoples, with the Roman historian Tacitus stating that Germanic cult practices took place exclusively in groves rather than temples. Scholars consider that reverence for and rites performed at individual trees are derived from the mythological role of the world tree, Yggdrasil; onomastic and some historical evidence also connects individual deities to both groves and individual trees. After Christianization, trees continue to play a significant role in the folk beliefs of the Germanic peoples.

References

  1. On the anthropological significance of making lists see now Eco, Umberto. 2009. The Infinity of Lists (orig. Vertige de la liste). New York: Rizzoli.
  2. Baugh, Albert C. ²1967. A Literary History of England. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Vol. 1. p. 32, n. 1.
  3. For more examples cf. Ernst Robert Curtius. 1953, repr. 1973. European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. Trans. Willard R. Trask. Bollingen Series 36. Princeton: Princeton UP. esp. 194-95
  4. (176-80) The text is based on The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Ed. W.W. Skeat. Oxford, 1900.
  5. See also Leopold Ettlinger's "Lists in Finnegans Wake and in Ulysses: A Note on Joyce and Vico"