Ohthere’s Voyage

The number of Anglo-Saxon themed books on my Amazon wish list is getting daft, it really is. Rather than bore you by complaining about how much I want them all, complete with lists, or even more boringly, talk about the ones I already own, I thought I would focus in and tell you my admittedly largely un-academic reasons for wanting one in particular:

Ohthere’s Voyages: A Late 9th-century Account of Voyages Along the Coasts of Norway and Denmark and Its Cultural Context

I first came across the tale of Ohthere and Wulfstan as a third year undergraduate student at Newcastle University, studying English Language. I had finally started studying the module which was a huge part of the reason I picked Newcastle to begin with: Old English. We were learning from Peter Baker’s excellent book, Introduction to Old English, and eventually we reached the point of trying to translate from Old English the story of these two voyages. (I found a potentially useful map on those journeys on the Norwegian Wikipedia article, fyi). These were told to King Alfred (yes that one, who was also all for increased literacy) and inserted into the Old English translation of a Latin history of the world.



The reason that this was so interesting to me is that it was the first encounter I had read about between Old English (people) and Old Norse (people). Previously I had only really been interested in the Anglo-Saxons, and had actually read more about their interactions with the Franks than their more northerly cousins.

Our teacher, Professor Diana Whaley, threw in an offhand mention that Ohthere was the Old English version of his name, and that in Old Norse it would have been something like Otar. (This is filtered through my 4 year old memories, all errors are mine alone). This was a “WOW!” moment for me. I’ve always loved etymology and cognate words, and suddenly realising how close Old Norse and Old English had been was thrilling.

It got even cooler in my Master’s degree, where I discovered that there had been massive influence on Old English by Old Norse. Cue me getting very overexcited in my Old English in History seminar about the Kirkdale Sundial, which shows Norse influence in Old English words, and waxing lyrical in my World of Vikings seminar about Matthew Townend’s book: Language and History in Viking Age England: Linguistic Relations between Speakers of Norse and English. I do occasionally get sad about the fact that I never did anything in-depth on the two languages. It’s just so cool.

Maybe next time I’ll do a little 101: You Weren’t Crazy Enough To Study This Stuff on words that you might not have known came from Old Norse. Like skirt (which meant “shirt”), sister, or kirk (nope, not originally Scottish!). Or the verb to take!

So yes, I want that book largely for nostalgic reasons, because it promises to go into fantastic contextual detail about something which kickstarted my interest in all things Anglo-Scandinavian. (this has reminded me how much I also still want that Townsend book too: despite reading it from cover to cover at uni it’s not actually joined my civilian pile yet). I’m forever promising myself that one day I will start writing historical fiction in the later Anglo-Saxon era, and Scandinavians would definitely play a huge part in that.

If anyone reading this also has a massive Amazon wishlist I should check out, or a book which likewise changed their interests, please feel free to comment below!




Ohthere’s Voyage

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