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The Dating of Widsið and the Study of Germanic Antiquity

Leonard Neidorf

A consensus once existed in support of the claim that Widsið is the oldest extant poem in English and one of the earliest substantial documents written in any Germanic language. This consensus came to an end in the 1980s, when scholars became more skeptical about the dating of Old English poetry. Recent work on Widsið contends that there is little evidence supporting the presumed early date of composition. This essay argues, however, that four categories of evidence can be brought to bear on the dating of Widsið —orthographic, lexical, onomastic,and cultural—and that all four of these categories agree in support of an early date of composition. It also argues that, as an early poem, Widsið has much to contribute to the lively discussions of early medieval historians concerned with Germanic identity and the ethnogenesis of early medieval gentes.

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