Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tagged with the historical meme

Somehow that title sounds like it's about being spray-painted by history buffs (maybe civil war reenactors?), but it's a new blog meme passed on by the Ridger over at the Greenbelt, a favorite blog for all of us at Team Verb. Here's the game:
1) Link to the person who tagged you.
2) List 7 random/weird things about your favorite historical figure.
3) Tag seven more people at the end of your blog and link to theirs.
4) Let the person know they have been tagged by leaving a note on their blog.
Now, Mr. V has been busy lately and as the resident historical linguist of our group, it apparently falls to me to do this. I'm teaching Gothic right now and Wulfila is an obvious target. He's not my 'favorite historical figure' in any usual senses — I wouldn't have particularly wanted to hang out with him — but he did something truly remarkable in translating at least most of the bible into Gothic and forging an alphabet to do it in (drawing heavily on Greek, of course). And we know plenty about him for a Germanic guy who lived in the fourth century C.E.
  1. His name really does mean 'little wolf' — wulfs + ila — like Attila means 'little daddy' (atta + ila).
  2. The Gothic bible of course doesn't bear his name anywhere, but a number of sources not long after him talk about his work.
  3. His father is thought to have been a Goth.
  4. His mother was apparently Cappadocian Greek, from a family probably captured by Gothic raiders.
  5. He was a big proponent of the "Arian heresy" and successful in converting lots of Goths to this form of Christianity, which kept Christianity divided doctrinally for a long time.
  6. There's long been speculation about whether his work helped inspire Cyril in developing an alphabet for Slavic.
  7. The famous Codex Argenteus, the main manuscript of Gothic, was presumably done in Ravenna (a Gothic cultural center in northern Italy) a couple centuries after Wulfila's time. The alphabet there differs in some ways from some other documents in Gothic. For example, Argenteus uses a Latin-like s symbol, while a Bible inscription found on a little sheet of lead in a fifth-century tomb in Hács-Béndekpuszta, Hungary (along with the Codex Ambrosianus) uses basically a Greek sigma.
On the last point, look at this reconstruction of the Hács piece:

Going up to the raised dot on the second line, it transliterates like this:
ni þanaseiþs im in þamma fairƕau
'no/not still am in this world'
'I'm no longer in this world'
Compare that to the same chunk from the Codex Argenteus :

PS: I'm happy to play the game, but don't want to bug other bloggers.


Sili said...

That f looks remarkably like an upside-down Fe from the Futhark.

Is there any connection - one way or another?

Joe said...

There's surely a connection, and people have speculated that Wulfila's f reflects runic influence, and also Latin influence.

These old alphabets are tightly intertwined in various ways, of course, so it's often impossible to know exactly who got what from where.

You can see some Gothic runic inscriptions here, including this letter: http://www.gotica.de/runica.html.