Thursday, August 17, 2006

His Name Ain't Authalf

From the murky depths of my memory, the name Authalf came floating up. I didn't remember much about him: he was a Migration Period German leader of some kind, and his memory was glorious enough that his name is still in use as Adolf.

To Swedes, Adolf isn't just an unsavoury 20th century Austrian politician. He's also a successful 17th century warrior king of Sweden, Gustavus Adolphus, of whom it has famously been written that han blev med tiden tämligen fet, "with time he grew quite fat". Under his reign, Sweden's brief tenure as a North European superpower began, for which nationalists still remember him fondly.

Many male names are made popular by heroic warriors and leaders, that is, people who have ended up on the winning side in some bygone struggle. The Germans thus have Hermann after Arminius, the Roman-trained Cheruscan chieftain under whose leadership the northward expansion of Imperial Rome was quelled in the Teutoburg Forest in AD 9. They have Dietrich after Theodoric the Great, king of the Goths at Ravenna in the early 6th century. They have Otto after Otto the Great, (more or less) Holy Roman Emperor and Duke of Saxony in the 10th century. And they have Adolf, after this elusive character, Authalf.

If you google Authalf, all you get is a lot of spam sites with mangled fragments of the following single piece of text.
"Bonifatius († 432) war ein römischer General. Er tat sich 413 bei der Verteidigung von Marseille gegen Authalf hervor." That is,

"Bonifacius († 432) was a Roman general. He made himself noted in 413 during the Battle of Marseille against Authalf." [Link]
I was surprised that so little about this character had made it onto the net. He did seem like an important person of his time. I was actually resigning myself to looking the guy up in an actual printed encyclopedia the next time I go to the library, just to put my mind at ease and be able to write this blog entry.

And then, on a hunch, I googled Bonifacius and Marseille.

As it turns out, there are about 12900 Google hits on Athaulf, and 15000 on Ataulf. My memory had served me up with a stinkin' typo. The man was king of the Visigoths and married to Galla Placidia, which is about as famous as a German around AD 400 can get.

The name, by the way, would be Edelwolf in modern German. It means Noble Wolf. You can find anything on the net if only you know how to spell it.

[More blog entries about , , , ; , , , .]


Blogger Ian Myles Slater said...

Spelling of Old Germanic names often leaves me guessing as to where to start looking in an index. (Modernized? Normalized? Manuscript form?)

In this cae, there is an interesting cluster of early medieval forms of the name from the Netherlands and Flanders (before 1150), conveniently posted at

The main chart breaks it down as: Adal+wulf (modern Adolf), represented by Adalulf, Adulf, Aldolf, Atholf, and Edelulf.

An Excel sheet provides the raw data on sources and occurences.

The expected "Aethelwulf" is attested in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for four men; a bishop of Hereford (the latest, Manuscript E, in 963), an ealdorman who was the brother of Queen Ealhswith (Manuscripts A and D, 903), an ealdorman of Berkshire (in 860 and 861), and, much more memorably, a king of Wessex, who was the father of Alfred (mainly in entries between 823 adn 855).

For the texts (but not translations), see

A Scandinavian Athulf appears in the "D" manuscript in the year 911 (for which see

I assume that the name is found elsewhere in Old English sources, of course, but I don't have references at hand.

19 August, 2006 04:36  
Blogger Ian Myles Slater said...

If these links haven't survived (and they don't appear to have done so), for the Lowlands see, and for the Chronicle see

19 August, 2006 04:40  
Blogger Martin said...

Thanks for erudite info! Glad to learn that I'm not the only one with spelling problems regarding these people's names. They seem to have had shaky ideas themselves on the subject!

My Old English is almost nonexistent, but with the aid of a dictionary I can see that this Scandinavian Athulf in 911 is called an intermediate chief at the end of a list of kings and earls. I bet he had good credit in Hedeby and Birka.

19 August, 2006 08:14  
Blogger Ian Myles Slater said...

Yes, that's the one. In Michael Swanton's recent translation: "And there was killed king Eowils and King Halfdan, and Jarl Ohtor, and Jarl Scurfa, and Hold Athulf and Hold Agmund." Two minor MSS add, following Athulf: "and Hold Benesing, and Olaf the Black, and Hold Thurferth, and Osferth Hlytte, and Hold Guthferth, and Hold Agmund, and Guthferth." In the major manuscripts, Eowils is also given as Ecwils and Eowilisc, illustrating the problems.

The Chronicler's erratic "Anglo-Saxonizing" precedent was followed systematically by Vigfusson and Powell in the translations in "Origines Islandicae: A Collection of the Most Important Sagas and Other Native Writings Relating to the Settlement and Early History of Iceland" (Oxford, 1905). They turned Norse names into Anglo-Saxon "equivalents," whether they had existed already or not.

The facing Old Icelandic was not normalized, so anyone who used the spellings in the text could have some trouble finding these people in other books, and the translation wasn't going to be much help with that at all!

The Old Norse enthusiast (and fantasy novelist) E.R. Eddison, who preferred to stress the Norse-ness of modern English more than the English-ness of Old Norse, gave a list of some of their more distracting results, like Herjolfr / Hare-wolf,* and Jorundr / Ear-wend, in his translation of "Egil's Saga," As he said, turning "Skeggi" into "Scegge" would certainly result in the name being pronounced "sedge" by anyone who actually needed this "help."

(Eddison's translation isn't nearly as eccentric as many would expect from the author of "The Worm Ouroboros," although not easy reading, at least at first.)

*I once checked whether this was a mis-print for "Here-wolf," which is what I would have expected, but I haven't seen a copy of "Origines" since the 1970s, and just don't remember.)

19 August, 2006 21:00  
Blogger Martin said...

I once had the pleasure of hearing Aliki Pantos read and interpret a funny story in Old English about a man who gets a new man-eating neighbour named Grendel.

Being Swedish, I'm really proud of my capability of pronouncing cynig, Hygelac etc.

20 August, 2006 19:00  

Post a Comment

<< Home

eXTReMe Tracker