Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Riding the gallows, nor fending off ravens: Another nother from Old English

Perhaps an even better example than the Beowulf example of an early instance of noþer/nother (~ nor) used in an equivalent manner to "The snow fell, nor did it cease to fall" appears in the Old English poem The Fortunes of Men (ll.33-42):
Sum sceal on geapum galgan ridan,
seomian æt swylte, oþþæt sawlhord,
bancofa blodig, abrocen weorþeð.
þær him hrefn nimeþ heafodsyne,
sliteð salwigpad sawelleasne;
noþer he þy facne mæg folmum biwergan,
laþum lyftsceaþan, biþ his lif scæcen,
ond he feleleas, feores orwena,
blac on beame bideð wyrde,
bewegen wælmiste. Bið him werig noma!

"One (man) must ride the gaping gallows,
hang to death, until his soul-hoard,
his bloody bone-coffer, becomes broken.
There (on the gallows) the raven takes his eye,
the dark-cloaked one tears at the soulless;
nor is he able to ward off that evil,
that loathsome thief of the air,
with his hands-- his life is fled,
and he, senseless, without hope of living,
pale on the tree, awaits his fate,
covered by the mists of slaughter. His name is cursed!"
Here it is clear that noþer cannot be read in the sense "neither (...nor)".

Incidentally, the scene, combining gallows and ravens, recalls Odin (as "the hanged god", with his ravens Huginn and Muninn).


  1. Thanks for this example. I'm a real beginner with Old English (I wish I'd paid more attention at Uni) but I'm really fascinated by your blog.

  2. @David: Thanks. Glad to know some people are fascinated by some of the same odd things.