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Journal of English Philology

Ed. by Kornexl, Lucia / Lenker, Ursula / Middeke, Martin / Rippl, Gabriele / Stein, Daniel Thomas

CiteScore 2018: 0.22

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.130
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.336

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Volume 122, Issue 4


The Name of Offa's Queen: Beowulf 1931–2

Robert D. Fulk
Published Online: 2007-12-11 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ANGL.2004.614


For some time it has been scholarly consensus that the name of the wife of Offa, king of the continental Angles, is given in verse 1931b of Beowulf, though there is disagreement whether the name is Þryð or MōdÞryð, and whether the ending -o in the manuscript is organic or a case inflexion. Several difficulties attend this assumption. Manuscript mod is unlikely to be a separate word, since the syntax would then demand the meaning ‘arrogance’, though this meaning for the word is otherwise unattested in the poem. Yet the compound MōdÞryð(o) raises equally notable problems, since parallels like higeÞryðe wæg ‘acted arrogantly’ (Genesis A 2238b) suggest that the verse is a formula that does not contain a personal name. The strongest evidence for the standard view, the supposed parallel to the tale in the Vitae duorum Offarum (ca. 1200), describing the wickedness of (Quen)Drida, wife of Offa's English descendant Offa II, the great king of the Mercians, is vitiated by the realization that this woman's name actually was Cynethryth. Thus the similarity in the names cannot be said to evidence transferral of the tale alluded to in Beowulf to the wife of Offa's descendant; and once the coincidence of names is accordingly seen to be irrelevant to the question of the connections between the tales, the remaining resemblances are so feeble that the assumption of any notable relation between the Vitae and Beowulf must be abandoned. (The relevant portions of the Latin legend of Offa II, which seem not to have been translated previously into a modern language, are rendered into English in the appendix.) The best solution was offered, though without much conviction, by E. A. Kock: the woman's name is given not in 1931b but in 1932a: it is Fremu. This analysis offers several advantages. It allows mōdÞryðο wæg to be the formula it appears to be, meaning ‘acted arrogantly’. The verse then introduces the basis for contrast with Queen Hygd, and the antithesis between her and Offa's queen, while still abrupt, is thus not quite as irrational as it would otherwise appear. The mysterious ending -o can then also be explained as another instance of the scribe's habit of writing -o for final -a, an explanation that is not possible if (Mōd)Þryð is a name. And if Fremu is a name, it is no longer necessary to assume an i-stem adjective of uncertain meaning, an adjective that is not otherwise securely attested in Old English and which has no i-stem Germanic cognates. Etymology dictates that this presumed adjective ought to mean something like ‘excellent’ (as Frederick Klaeber supposes), yet this meaning seems inapposite applied to a young woman described at this place as acting so wickedly. Disposing of the adjective thus also relieves us of the obligation of assuming an improbably pejorative meaning for it.

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Published Online: 2007-12-11

Published in Print: 2005-06-23

Citation Information: Anglia - Zeitschrift für englische Philologie, Volume 122, Issue 4, Pages 614–639, ISSN (Print) 0340-5222, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ANGL.2004.614.

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