27 August 2012

The first written words of the English language

I didn't know that the earliest known example of written words of the English language are preserved not in a book or manuscript, but in a medallion - the Undley Bracteate, which dates to the 5th century:
Believed to have been made in southern Denmark and brought to England by some of the earliest Germanic-speaking settlers, the Bracteate features a helmeted head, a she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus and a runic inscription…

It says "maegae medu" – the word "medu" is well known in old English, it means reward or gift. "Maga" certainly means kinsman or colleague or chief or something like that. The thing that nobody knows is another word from the inscription – gaegogae. What on earth does that mean? The a and e are actually a symbol – it’s pronounced ga-go-ga. The Library are guessing that it might mean she-wolf or it might just be some sort of magical incantation – it sounds a bit like that...
Found by a farmer plowing a field.


  1. If it's a mystical incantation, does that mean you couldn't buy one on eBay?

  2. Mystical, eh? But Ga-go-ga is quite clearly a reference to the meat-wearing wo-go-man, fairly petty in the overall scheme of things, who would become a famous pop icon in the first decade of the 2000's.

    Made in Denmark for german-speaking settlers - the Saxons who bred with the Angles to produce the Anglo-Saxons? - and with runes as well as a reference to the founder of Rome? Sounds suspicious and "Old English" should not really be equated with "English", but I read on that wiki page that over 1000 of these artifacts have been found, with a large variety of designs, so it could be possible. On tv last night we saw a documentary about the Vikings (with a Neil Oliver doing the talking) and he explained that in a small island off the coast of Sweden, a small statuette of Buddha had been found, from the Viking era, indicating the breadth of trade routes. This might explain the reference to Romulus and Remus.

    1. Hilarious Lady GaGa reference. My response is a little over two years old but this is still droll.

  3. Gaia plus gogue, teaching about the earth.

  4. Is it possible that Medu could instead refer to King Medus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medus)?


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