August 24, 2008

Of Titillating Team Titles

The Merseburg Incantations were written sometime around AD 900 on a type of medium that all medievalists today are grateful for: a spare page within a Latin religious codex. Every now and then, in a busy scriptorium, an overworked monk would get bored of copying the sixty-six books of the Bible, flip the page, then start scrabbling something probably sung by a minstrel the night before in front of an exalted audience. Today we call that Old High German literature.

The Merseburg Incantations comprise two charms, one to liberate prisoners and a longer one to cure a horse. The god “uuodan” (Wodan or Odin) and the goddess “friia” (Frija) make an appearance. Rusty with your Teutonic/Norse mythology? It’s hard to keep the pantheons straight. But Wodan and Frija should look familiar, especially on a Wednesday or Friday.

One noticeable difference between verses in Old High German and verses in the later Middle High German is the change from alliteration (begin-rhyme) to rhyme (end-rhyme). The Merseburg Incantations exhibit a little of both kinds of rhyme, but are much more alliterative than the modern reader is comfortable with. I recently griped to poet Paul Spinger that alliteration had all but disappeared in Western literature, perhaps too hastily. He replied with an alliterative poem he wrote twenty years ago. Lucky for us, he’s allowed me to share it. Students of German philosophy will especially appreciate Paul's inclusion of "Das dämmernde Dasein":

Das Glas

Weil Wein mit Wasser
Sanft säuselnd
Kühl die Kehle kitzelt
Schlaf Sanfte, schlaf
Sinne singen süß
Sonnen sengen schwer
Schwere säumt Süße
Sinne sengen sanft
Schlafe Selbst, schlafe
Kühl kitzelt die Kehle
Das dämmernde Dasein
Ist immer

(Paul Spinger)


Soccer fans might guess that my tie-in to the Merseburg Incantations would be the rampant cases of juju at stadiums worldwide. Instead I'm sticking with the alliteration. Its very memorable effect can best be seen in the alliterative names of these soccer clubs:

Wolverhampton Wanderers (England)
Alemannia Aachen (Germany)
Figueirense Florianopolis (Brazil)
Seattle Sounders (USA)
Cracovia Krakow (Poland)
Kemi Kings (Finland)

4 comments:

Paul Spinger said...

In seiner Dichte ein wunderbarer Beitrag zur deutschen Literaturgeschichte, Danke schön.

Noch ein Hinweis: Ich bin kein Autor aus Berlin, sondern lebe und schreibe in Springe, Region Hannover.

Liebe Grüße

Brains said...

Ach, was habe ich dabei gedacht? Es ist eben korrigiert worden. Viele Gruesse nach Springe,
-Bryan

Anonymous said...

What do you mean rampant cases of juju?

Brains said...

There's juju all over the soccer world. In some West African leagues teams even hire wise men & women to exercise the pitch before playing.