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Hleotan and the Purpose of the Old English Rune Poem

Marijane Osborn

Folklore, Vol. 92, No. 2. (1981), pp. 168-173

RUNES, the letters of the early Germanic writing system, had meaningful names in addition to their phonetic values: for example, where we call theletter f ‘eff,’ the Anglo-Saxons called the corresponding runic letter feoh,meaning ‘wealth’ (originally ‘cattle’).T hree poems have come down to us whichgive meanings for these letters of the rune list. The earliest of them is in Old English and was probably composed in the eighth or ninth century. The other two are respectively in Norwegian of the twelfth or thirteenth century and Icelandic of the fifteenth century. The Old English poem is the longest of the three, with stanzas for the twenty-four original runes (which were inscribed in three groups of eight on weapons) plus five added vowel-runes, amounting to twenty-nine stanzas in all, as against only sixteen in each of the other two poems, which were composed after the Scandinavian rune list was shortened.

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