Diacritically-Marked Text of
facing a New Translation
(with explanatory notes)
edited & translated by
from loose leaves, the Royal Library of Copenhagen
(MS Ny klg. saml. 167b(4o) [Gneuss 816])
The two leaves of Old English verse concerning the legend of Walter of Aquitane (Waldere) were first discovered in 1860 by Dr. E.C. Werlauff, Chief Librarian of the Royal Library at Copenhagen, among some bundles of miscellaneous papers. The two leaves are referred to here as Waldere A (beginning hyrde hyne georne) and Waldere B (beginning -ce bæteran). Waldere A was originally the left half of a folded sheet, Waldere A the right half of a sheet. About a half-inch of the facing leaf of each sheet still remains and Leitzmann has proposed to attach the letters swil, which remain on the conjugate sheet of Waldere A, to the letters -ce with which Waldere B opens. The only arrangement which permits this is if Waldere A precedes Waldere B. However, it is not certain that the two leaves belong to the same or different gatherings or which one should precede the other.
It is difficult to locate the two fragments precisely within the story of Walter and Hildegund, which is known from several other mediaeval texts of the Walter story. These include: Chronicon Novaliciense (circa. 11th-c.) Book II, Ch. 7-13, a Latin chronicle of the Benedictine abbey at Novalesa in Piedmont; two short fragments of a Middle High German epic poem from the first half of the 13th-c.; the Norwegian Þiðriks saga (circa 13th-c.) chapters 241-244; the Polish story of wdaly Walter found in the Latin Chronicon Poloniae, probably from the 14th-c, as well as other briefer references in the Nibelungenlied and other Middle High German poetry. However, the most complete version of the Walter epic is the Latin work by Ekkehard I of St. Gaul (d. 973) known as Waltharii poesis, Waltharius manu fortis, or Waltharius , which spans some 1456 hexameter lines.
A summary of narrative may be given as follows: Waltharius (OE Waldere), son of King Alphere (OE Ælfhere) of Aquitania; Hiltgunt (OE Hildegyð), only daughter of Heriricus, king of Burgundy, betrothed to Waltharius since childhood; and Hagano (OE Hagena), a young Frankish noble are sent to Attila, king of the Huns as hostages. Waltharius and Hagano swear an oath of brotherhood to each other and bring honour to themselves fighting for Attila. Then, Gibicho, king of the Franks, dies and is succeeded by Guntharius (OE Guðhere ) who promptly breaks the Frankish alliance with Attila, causing Hagano to flee the Hunnish court.
Meanwhile, a marriage has been proposed between Waltharius and a Hunnish princess. Waltharius and his betrothed Hiltgunt flee from Attila's court in secret, carrying with them two chests filled with treasure. None of the Huns pursue them and they make their way to the city of Worms on the River Rhein. Guntharius, hearing of their flight with Attila's treasure, decided to pursue them and capture the treasure to replace that given by his father to Attila as tribute. He, accompanied by twelve warriors, including Hagano, encounter Waltharius and Hiltgunt and demand both Hiltgunt and the treasure. Waltharius refuses, but offers Guntharius gold rings. Against Hagano's counsel, Guntharius resolves to attack Waltharius.
Hagano initially refuses to fight Waltharius, to whom he has sworn oaths of brotherhood, and Waltharius, sheltered by overhanging rocks, kills in turn eight of Guntharius's warriors in single combat. The remaining three attack together, but are also defeated. Finally, his nephew having been killed in the combat, Hagano agrees to join Guntharius in an assault on Waltharius. The next day, he and Hagano attack Waltharius and Hiltgunt in the open. In this final fight, Guntharius loses a leg, Waltherius his right hand and Hagano his right eye and six teeth. After these assorted loses, they cease fighting and chat happily together as Hiltgunt tends to their wounds. Waltharius goes on to Aquitania with Hiltgunt, where he becomes king; and Guntharius and Hagano return to Worms.
In the Anglo-Saxon fragments, fragment A opens with Hildegyth (Hiltgunt) urging Waldere (Waltharius) to fight. The identity of the speaker of Waldere B ll.1-10 is uncertain. It seems most likely to be Guthhere (Guntharius), addressing Waldere. However it may be the concluding lines of Hagena's (Hagano) refusal to Guthhere's request for him to fight Waldere, or it may even be Waldere himself as the speaker. What is certain is that Waldere is the speaker of ll. 14-31 of Waldere B, in which he defies Guthhere to attack him without Hagena's assistance. The two fragments of Waldere also mention numerous other Germanic heroic figures, including Weland, the famous smith, whose sword, Mimming, Waldere appears to wield; Nithhad, the cruel king who bound Weland to retain his services as an extraordinary sword-smith; and Theodric, king of the Ostrogoths.
The handwriting of the fragments seems to date the MSS to roughly 1000; the language appears to be late West Saxon, though some forms appear to be late Northumbrian - the date of composition may have been early, in the 8th-c., or as late as the MS itself, late 10th-c. Based on the form of the continental Walter stories and the style of the two remaining OE fragments, Waldere in its complete form must have been a poem of impressive length, at least 1000 lines long, possibly as long as Beowulf.