THE ORIGINS OF THE RUNES (3)


(BEING CONTINUED FROM 30/09/18)

O n the Continent another theory had been gaining in popularity
since the 1890s. In a climate of a growing awareness of the substantial
flaws in W im m er’s Latin thesis, Friedrich Lösch, Ludwig Wilser and
Richard Meyer argued that the runes represented an autochthonous
developm ent of indigenous pre-runic symbols into a fully fledged
alphabetic script. This thesis owes its origin to comments made in
earlier works by Johan Liljegren, Rochus von Liliencron and Franz
Dietrich. Germ an philologists such as Feist and alphabet historians
such as Taylor and Hans Jensen, however, scorned the notion that
such a developm ent was possible. Yet under the influence of a growth
in völkisch nationalism, by the late 1920s and 30s many amateurs and
even some Germ an academics such as Neckel had begun to accept this
m ost peculiar of origin theories.10 Meanwhile the palaeographer Georg Baesecke becam e th e first to connect the N orth Etruscan thesis
with the Cimbric invasions of the end of the second century B.C. And
the next year, Heinrich H em pel after rejecting the chauvinistic Urschrift
thesis proselytised by Neckel and the astrological theory of
Ferdinand Bork expanded on Baesecke’s Cimbrian thesis, introducing
the Alpengermanen theory of the Viennese Nordicist Rudolf Much to
runology. Although M uch’s Alpine Germans were the product of his
Germanomania, this connection along with the presence of the
Cimbri and Teutones in this region suggested a plausible course of
transmission of the forebear of runic from south to north. Thus, after
some further refinem ent in the collaborative works of Franz Altheim
and Erika Trautm ann (-Nehring), the N orth Etruscan thesis appeared
in connection w ith Alpengermanen in the second edition of A rntz’s
Handbuch in 1944. A rntz had previously sought to explain the similarities
betw een Ogham and runic (which Baesecke had called schwesterlich)
as evidence for a runic origin for Ogham. Yet the Prussian
philologist Wolfgang Krause had also come to accept the thesis of
Marstrander and H amm arström , and as a trained Celticist, accepted at
least some of M arstrander’s evidence for a Celtic tradition continued
in runic. Konstantin Reichardt who had replaced Feist as reviewer of
runological works for the Jahresbericht of the Berlin-based Gesellschaft
für deutsche Philologie also accepted M arstrander’s Celtic North
Etruscan theory in his Runenkunde of 1936.11 The main difficulty with von Friesen’s thesis had not just been the implausible contention that
the Goths had borrowed the Greek characters twice, it was because
th e archaeological datings that he accepted at the turn of the century
had since been superseded. Indeed, not only w ere the southeastern inscriptions
clearly later than the earliest from Scandinavia, the earliest
Scandinavian inscription pre-dated the earliest attested contacts of the
G oths with the Bosporan Greeks. And so, w ith the death of von Friesen
in 1942, and when the German Urschrift theories had equally been
p u t to rest after the war, the N orth Etruscan thesis alone survived to
appear in the runological handbooks o f Ralph Elliot, Lucien Musset,
Ènver Makaev, Krause and Klaus Düwel, and in the updated alphabet
histories of Jensen and David Diringer. M oreover, since the war philologists
such as Fernand Mossé, O tto Haas and m ore recently H elm ut
Rix have continued to offer modifications of, and im provem ents to the
N orth Etruscan thesis of Marstrander and H am m arström .12

Yet today m ost Scandinavian scholars w ould have none of the
N orth Etruscan thesis. In the U.S., th e archaic Greek thesis of Taylor
and H em pl has garnered renewed popularity. A nd equally, a num ber
of prom inent continental philologists have recently supported in print
a modified form of the thesis of W im m er. This reversion to a thesis
th at had lost m ost of its adherents well before the death of its author
in 1920 began in a reaction against the growing Germ an m onopoly of
runology during the years of National Socialism. Clearly, Hitler chose
the swastika as the symbol for his party after an acquaintance w ith the
theories of the Austrian mystic Guido List. The runes had been prom
oted by some German philologists as developed from the same
symbols from the Bronze Age that w ere also found in ancient India.
Now Aryan India had been seen as the font of Aryan wisdom since the
days of Friedrich von Schlegel, and this identity was clearly the reason for the adoption of the swastika by Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical
Society. Thus the swastika and the runes seemed to symbolise the
Aryan-German identity prom oted by the C om pte de Gobineau,
H ouston Stewart Chamberlain, List and the Ariosophists of his party.
The National Socialists saw runes as the ultim ate expression of Aryan-
German völkisch propaganda, and particular runic signs came to be
associated with various organs of the Nazi behem oth, from the SS to
the Hitler Youth. W hen the war ended, and runology in Germany fell
into disrepute, only the Scandinavian tradition continued in any
substantial form w ith the noted exception of the works of Krause,
now ensconced in Göttingen.13

Fritz Askeberg’s archaeologically-based revival of the thesis of
W im m er appeared in the same year as A rntz’s fully-blown treatm ent
of the N orth Etruscan thesis. It garnered little support initially, yet nor
were his criticisms rebuffed. Indeed the opportunity to respond to
Askeberg’s contribution was not taken by the main supporters of a
N orth Etruscan thesis. Arntz only briefly re-entered academic life after
his discharge from the German army in 1945, and although Krause’s
conviction began to waver som ewhat after the war, he clearly still
favoured the theory of Marstrander up until the tim e of his death in 1970

Now although Askeberg’s work remains flawed by an attem pt to
reconcile the geographical spread of the runic finds in an early Gothic
culture on the lower Vistula, his arguments for the derivation of each
individual staff were eventually to be judged a marked im provem ent
upon those of W immer. The early fifties also saw the attem pt of the
Danish runologist Erik Moltke to ascribe the creation of the runes to
an adaptation of Latin letters on Danish soil, b u t w ithout employing
the improvements th at Askeberg had achieved in the derivation of
each individual staff. Moltke based his argument, just as had Askeberg,
in the evidence of the geographical spread of the earliest finds. Yet these treatments seem to reflect Swedish-Gothic and Danish patriot ism respectively rather than a proper analysis of evidence. Askeberg decried the appropriation of the southern Germanic tribes by the German historiography of the time, a practice he saw epitomised in
the notion th at one of these tribes had inaugurated the use of runic
writing when there was no archaeological foundation for such a claim.
On the other hand M oltke’s argument suggested that a large num ber
of the runes were autochthonous creations, almost as had Lösch,
Wilser and Meyer m ore than half a century before him. Equally,
Askeberg’s archaeological arguments were clearly rather forced and
seemed to be framed mainly as a rejection of the theories prom inent
in German runology at the tim e and a support for the Gothic involvement
suggested by Bugge and von Friesen that perhaps belongs
better to the Gothicist tradition of O lof Rudbeck the elder and the
brothers Magnus. Yet Moltke was slowly to refine his views, and
eventually a new generation of philologists came to accept a Latin
thesis for the origin of the runes. Indeed in the two m ost recent
Swedish contributions to the subject, the treatm ents of Moltke and
Askeberg are combined. Bengt O denstedt and Henrik Williams although
they seem to agree on little else do agree on the subject of the
origin of the runes. Both combine the graphical strengths of the thesis of Askeberg with the historical-cultural strengths of the expositions of Moltke in their assessments of this question.14

(TO BE CONTINUED)

NOTES

10 J. Liljegren, R u n -L ära, S to ck h o lm 1832 (= idem , D ie nordischen R unen, ed. &
trans. C . O b erleitn er, W ien 1848); R. v. L ilien cron and K. M ü llen h o f, Z u r Runenlehre,H a lle an der Saale 1852, p. 58; F. E. C . D ie tr ic h , Ü b er d ie A u ssprach e d es G othischen w ä h ren d d e r Z e it sein es B estehens, M arburg 1862, p. 6; T aylor, G reeks a n d G oth s, pp . 1-2; F. L ösch, ‘Z ur R u n en leh re’, G erm a n ia : V ierteljahrsch rift fü r deutsch e A lterth u m s-K u n d e 34, 188g, pp . 3 9 7-405; L. W ilser, ‘A lte r u n d U rsprun g der R u n en sch rift’, Korresp o n d en zb la tt d e r D eu tsch e G esch ich te- u n d A ltertu m sverein e 43, 1895, pp . 137-43; idem ,
D ie G erm an en , 2 vols, 3rd ed ., L eip zig 1920, II, p p . 192-215; R. M . M eyer,
‘R u n en stu d ien . I. D ie u rg erm a n isch en R u n e n ’, B eiträge zu r G eschichte d e r deutsch en S prache u n d L itera tu r 21, 1896, pp . 162-84; S. Feist, ‘R u n en u n d Z a u b erw esen im germa n isch en A lte r tu m ’, A N F 35, 1919, pp . 243-45; H . Jensen , G eschichte d e r Schrift,H a n n o v er 1925, p p . 180-81; G . N e ck el, ‘Zur Frage n ach der U rsp ru n g der R u n e n ’, in S tu d ier tillägn ade A x e l K ock, L und 1929, pp . 371-75; idem , r ev iew o f H am m arström ,‘O m ru n esk riften s h ä rk o m st’, D eu tsch e L iteratu rzeitu n g 50, 1929, p p . 1237-39; idem ,’D ie H erk u n ft der R u n en sch rift’, N e u e Jahrbücher fü r W issen sch aft u n d Jugendbildung 9,1933, pp . 4 0 6 -1 7 = idem , in L. R o seliu s (ed .), E rstes N ordisch es Thing, B rem en 1933, pp.6 0 -7 6 .
11 F. Bork, ‘Z ur E n tsteh u n g sg esch ich te d es Fuþarks’, M a n n u s 16, 1924, pp . 127-37;R. M u ch , D e r E in tritt d er G erm a n en in d ie W eltgeschichte, W ie n 1925; G . B aeseck e, ‘D ie H erk u n ft der R u n e n ’, G erm an isch -R om an isch e M on atssch rift 22, 1934, p p . 413-17; H .H e m p e l, ‘D e r U rsprun g d er R u n en sch rift’, G erm an isch -R om an isch e M on atssch rift 23,1935, p p . 4 0 1 -2 6 ; H . A rn tz, ‘D a s O g a m ’, B eiträge zu r G eschichte d er deutsch en Sprache u n d L itera tu r 59, 1935, pp . 321-413; idem , H an dbu ch d e r R u nenku nde, is t ed ., H a lle an der Saale 1935, p p . 277-98; K. R eich ard t, R unenku nde, Jena 1936, p. 56; W . Krause,‘W e se n u n d W erd en der R u n e n ’, Zeitschrift fü r D eu tsch ku n de 51, 1937, pp . 281-93;
F. A lth e im and E. T rau tm an n , V om U rsprung d e r R unen, Frankfurt am M ain 1939;F. A lth e im an d E. T ra u tm a n n -N eh rin g , K im b ern u n d R unen, 2nd ed ., B erlin 1942;H . S ch m eja, D e r M yth o s d e r A lpengerm an en , W ie n 1968.

12 F. M ossé, ‘L ’O rigin e de l ’écritu re runique: é ta t p r é se n t d e la q u e s tio n ’, C o n férences d e l ’In stitu t de L inguistique de l’U n iversité d e P aris 10, 1951, pp . 4 3 -7 6 ; O . Haas,‘D ie E n tsteh u n g der R u n en sch rift’, L ingua Posnan ien sis 5, 1955, pp . 4 0 -5 8 ; idem , ‘D ie H erk u n ft der R u n en sch rift’, O rb is 14, 1965, pp . 216-36; R. W . V . E lliot, Runes, A n Introduction, M an ch ester 1959, pp . 3-13; L. M u sset, In trodu ction à la ru n o b g ie, Paris l 9^5, PP- 42—55; D . D iringer, The A lp h a b et, 2 v o ls, 3rd ed ., L o n d o n 1968, I, p p . 4 02-4;H . Jensen , Sign, S ym b o l a n d Script, trans. G . U n w in , 3rd ed ., L o n d o n 1970, p p . 5 6 7 -7 9 ;W . K rause, Runen, B erlin 1970, pp . 35-45; K. D ü w e l, R u n en ku n de, 2nd e d ., Stu ttgart 1983, pp . 9 0 -9 5 ; H . R ix, ‘T h e se n zur U rsprung der R u n e n sc h r ift’, in L. A ig n e r -Foresti (e d .), E tru sker nördlich von E trurien, W ie n 1992, p p . 411-41; È. A . M akaev, The L an guage o f the O ld e st R u n ic Inscriptions (1965), trans. J. M ered ig, S to ck h o lm 1996, pp .31- 34.

13 F. v o n S ch leg el, U eber d ie Sprache u n d W eish eit d er Indier, H e id e lb e r g 1808; A .C o m p te d e G o b in ea u , E ssai su r l’inégalité des races hu m aines, 4 vols, Paris 1853-54; H .P. B lavatsky, The Secret D octrin e, 2 vols, L on d on 1888; H . S. C h am b erlain , D ie G ru n d lagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts, 2 vols, M ü n ch en 1899; G . (v o n ) L ist, D a s G e h e im n is d er R unen, G ro ss-L ich terfeld e 1908; idem , D ie B ilderschrift d er A rio -G erm a n en ,W ie n 1910; L. Poliakov, T h e A ry a n M yth , trans. E. H ow ard , L o n d o n 1974, pp . 183 ff.;U . H un ger, D ie R u n en ku n de im D ritten R eich, Frankfurt am M ain 1984; N . G o o d rick -Clark, The O ccu lt R oots o f N a zism , W ellin g b o ro u g h 1985; K. W eiß m a n n , S ch w arze Fahnen, Runenzeichen, D ü sse ld o r f 1991; D . R ose, D ie Thule-G eseüschaft, T ü b in g en 1994,p p . 100-103.

14 F. A sk eb erg, N o rd en och kontinenten i g a m m a l tid, U p p sala 1944; W . K rause,‘R u n en ’, in D e r große B rockhaus, 15 vols, 16th ed ., W iesb a d en 1952-60, X , p. 156;E. M oltk e, ‘Er ru n eskriften o p stå e t i D an m ark ?’, Fra N a tio n a lm u seets A rb e jd sm a rk 1951, pp . 4 7 -5 6 ; idem , R unerne i D a n m a rk og deres oprindelse, K øb en h avn 1976; idem ,‘T h e O rigins o f th e R u n e s’, M ich igan G erm a n ic S tu dies 7, 1981, pp . 3-7; idem , R unes a n d th eir O rigin, D en m a rk a n d Elsewhere, trans. P. G . F o o te, 2nd ed ., C o p en h a g en 1985;
B. O d en sted t, O n the O rigin a n d E arly H isto ry o f the R u n ic Script, U p p sa la 1990; idem ,O n G ra p h ic V a ria tio n in the O ld e r Futhark: R ep ly to a R eview b y H en rik W illia m s o f M y Book O n th e O rigin and Early H isto ry o f th e R u n ic Script, (U m eå Papers in E nglish 13) U m eå 1993; H . W illia m s, ‘W h ic h C am e First, 11 or 11?’, A N F 107, 1992, p p . 192-205;idem , ‘T h e O rigin o f th e R u n es’, A m sterd a m e r B eiträge z u r älteren G erm a n istik 45, 1996,pp. 211-18; idem , ‘T h e R om an s and th e R unes — U se s o f W ritin g in G erm a n ia ’, in S.N y strö m (e d .), R u n o r och A B C , S to ck h o lm 1997, pp . 177-92; cf. R. D e ro le z , ‘T h e O rigin o f th e R unes: an A ltern a tiv e A p p r o a c h ’, A ca d e m ia e A n a lecta 6 0 , 1998, n o . 1, p p .1- 34-

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