Navit (k_navit) wrote,

all you never cared to know about Weland the Smith...

...somewhat dumbed down because I couldn't be arsed to annotate everything I actually read.

In my research, I explored the figure of Weland the Smith in the Anglo-Saxon corpus. I was somewhat familiar with him from his brief mention in Beowulf and from saga material in which he is associated with magical armor and weaponry, as well as with a particularly gruesome revenge story that would make Titus Andronicus proud, so I was surprised to find him in King Alfred’s translation of Boethius as an apparently positive figure.  After all, Weland seems to come from a mythological tradition that emphasized his suffering and his bloody revenge, which involved dismembering children, raping women, and making tableware out of body parts (“Lay of Volund”). “Deor” mentions his suffering and his impregnation of Beadohild, and it seems to find in Weland a figure worthy of admiration, the rape of Beadohild notwithstanding.  “Waldere” evokes both Weland and Widia, his son by Beadohild (Nithhad’s daughter), and here Weland clearly figures primarily as a legendary smith, as he does in Beowulf; there is no indication that he was associated with the sort of bloodthirsty behavior he portrays in “The Lay of Volund.”  As if the multivalence of Weland as a literary figure were not stunning enough, his story is also portrayed on the Franks Casket, and his panel illustrates episodes from his revenge and escape right in the midst of other panels showing the Adoration of the Magi, for instance (“Franks Casket”).  Plainly, Weland could move easily between the pagan and Christian, the oral and literary, the classical and vernacular.  His story was apparently well known to Anglo-Saxon audiences, as it is alluded to in the corpus but never laid out in full.  Primary sources from the Norse-Icelandic corpus suggest a darker and more dangerous figure than do Anglo-Saxon sources, so it’s possible that, as Bradley suggests, the association with the supernatural in the Anglo-Saxon imagination was not as pronounced as it was in the sagas. 

I began by searching the Dictionary of Old English Corpus for references to Weland in Old English, and searching JSTOR for secondary sources.  Articles I gathered via JSTOR prompted me to return to the Dictionary of Old English Corpus to search for spelling variations, so I searched for Wayland and Volund as well.  H.R. Ellis Davidson’s article in Folklore, among other sources, directed me to Norse-Icelandic material, from which I was able to fill in the details about his imprisonment to which “Deor” alludes.


Arngart, Olof. “The Hundred-Name Wayland.” Jnl of the Eng. Place-Name Soc. 12 (1979-80): 54-58.

Becker, Alfred.  The Franks Casket. 2007.  12 November 2007  <>.  A website maintained by Dr. Alfred Becker and available in German and English, this resource offers a collection of photographs of the various panels on the casket, including that portraying part of the story of Weland.  As it is rather difficult to verify the identity or academic affiliation of Dr. Alfred Becker, one is forced to look at the content of the website itself to evaluate its reliability as a resource.  The home page contains a table of contents offering access to such sections as “Magic Worked with Runes and Numbers” and “Weland’s Saga Tradition.”  A quick skim of the page on runic magic appears to put forward a hypothesis on the numerology of the runic inscriptions and a “programme” for the magical intent of the carvings on the box as a whole.  While provocative, his arguments left me a bit skeptical, and as Dr. Becker cited very few of his “facts,” I was unable to verify his assertions.  Since one of his citations referred the reader to a Wikipedia article, I decided to cut my losses and gave up on learning anything valuable about Weland from the site, but I became curious as to the identity of Dr. Becker.  After ten minutes of exploration, I found a reference to Dr. Becker’s published book, a portion of which is available in PDF format in the original German.  I was forced to resort to a Google search in order to ascertain Becker’s credibility.  Amusingly, Wikipedia proved the most valuable source of information about his academic publications, indicating that he has in fact published at least one article in a peer-reviewed journal (if the Wikipedia article can be trusted).  Becker does provide a list of links on his site, including some to the British Museum and the database of the Katholische Universität Eichstätt; however, as his links list also contains links to Wikipedia articles and a website by someone called “The Viking Answer Lady” (who, incidentally, cites her sources much more carefully than Dr. Becker), the page may be a useful starting point for the non-specialist interested in theories of Anglo-Saxon numerological magic, but it is probably not the best scholarly resource. 

Bradley, James.  “Sorcerer or Symbol?: Weland the Smith in Anglo-Saxon Sculpture and Verse.”  Pacific Coast Philology 25.1/2 (1990): 39-48. Bradley argues, contra Davidson, that the figure of Weland was probably not so closely linked with gods, barrows, and the supernatural in the Anglo-Saxon imagination, but had instead an instructive resonance for Christians.  In Alfred’s translation, Bradley claims, Weland is “a symbol of craftsmanship and a consoling image of permanence amid the flux and decay of earthly existence” (40).   His name, linked etymologically to creation and construction via an unattested proto-Germanic verb, is used “appellatively” in Anglo-Saxon verse to mean “cunning craftsman” (Gillespie qtd. in Bradley 41).  Bradley goes on to link the Weland myth with the Daedalus story and suggest “literary borrowing from classical Greek legend” (42), citing features referred to (obliquely) in “Deor.”  The magical elements found in the Weland legend are probably a result of Finnish influence and are not, Bradley asserts, present in the Anglo-Saxon literary tradition.  Therefore, “it is unwise... to read magical and other Norse elements” into the Weland story as it figured in the Anglo-Saxon tradition (43).  Instead, “the key to understanding the Christian Anglo-Saxon view of Weland is [his] reputation for craftsmanship in metal” (41), a skill that would have had spiritual resonance for Christians who, via Bede, figured themselves as “faithful treasurers of the Lord’s wealth, the artificers and smiths of spiritual jewels and ramparts . . . and the smiths of celestial weapons” (46).

Chaney, William.  Paganism to Christianity in Anglo-Saxon England.  The Harvard Theological Review 53 (1960): 197-217.

Christie, Janet.  “Reflections on the Legend of Weland the Smith.”  Folklore 80.4 (1969): 286-294.

Clark, George.  “Beowulf’s Armor.”  ELH 32 (1965): 409-441.

Crocker, Kyle Robert. “The Lame Smith: Parallel Features in the Myths of the Greek Hephaestus and the Teutonic Wayland.” Archaeol. News 6 (1977): 67-71, ill.

Davidson, H. R. Ellis.  “Weland the Smith.”  Folklore 69.3 (1958): 145-159.  Davidson begins by asking why Alfred, in his translation of Boethius, would have thought of Weland when he reached the passage about the bones of Fabricius.  Davidson finds two traditions about Weland dating from the Anglo-Saxon period: a literary tradition and an archaeological one.  She examines both, with recourse to Old Norse sources and collected folklore and archaeological material on sites associated with legendary smiths in British and Germanic traditions.  In delineating what can be pieced together of Weland’s mythological ancestry in Norse and Germanic sources, Davidson links Weland variously with legendary swords, giants, elves, swans, stone ruins, serpents, burial mounds, and sea-hags, offering a possible explanation for “be wurman” in “Deor” via this connection with supernatural sea-dwellers.  Furthermore, she makes a plausible case for connecting “Welandes geweorc” to “enta geweorc,” arguing for an association in the Anglo-Saxon imagination between the work of giants and the legends of the smiths.

“Deor.”  The Anglo-Saxon World: an Anthology. Ed. Kevin Crossley-Holland. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.  7-8.  “Deor” is anthologized in this volume in translation. Weland appears only briefly and with very little context, which has turned out to be typical for his appearances in the Anglo-Saxon corpus.  In “Deor,” Weland is invoked in a positive light in the service of a lament for a scop’s lost happiness: the legendary smith is “that strong man” who “suffered much” when he was imprisoned by Nithhad (7).  One among a veritable catalog of famous sufferers, Weland is a figure of solace for the poet; as Weland’s suffering passed, so may the exile of the scop.

Dictionary of Old English Corpus.  Dictionary of Old English Project, Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto.  11 February 2005.  [Redacted].  10 October 2007 <redacted>.  The Dictionary of Old English Corpus was invaluable in helping me pinpoint the references to Weland in the Anglo-Saxon corpus.  While I was able to discern the location of the scant Weland references through journal articles in most cases, the dictionary told me exactly where they were and exactly how to search for the primary sources.  It also alerted me to the existence of numerous charters mentioning place-names associated with Weland, material that many of the articles I read (understandably) did not engage.  I uncovered the following literary references via the dictionary: Beowulf, 452-455a; “Deor,” 1-6; “Waldere A,” 1; “Waldere B,” 6; and the Meters of Boethius, 10.33-10.42.  For the purposes of this research project, I confined my explorations to literary references.

Fee, Christopher and David Leeming.  Gods, Heroes, and Kings: The Battle for Mythic Britain.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.  While the primary author is a professor of English, this book is written more for readability and as an introduction for the non-specialist undergraduate and the general public rather than for scholars of Old English.  The authors do not use footnotes or parenthetical citations; this would likely be unwieldy, as they “have taken the liberty of conflating material from a number of sources” in order to produce “readable” retellings of myths of Ancient Britain (ix).  While the text does provide a list of further reading and a general bibliography, researchers must already have a pretty good idea of where to look in order to match content to source. Thus this book is not of very great utility to those engaged in scholarly research.  Found via Google Books search, keywords: “Weland the Smith.”

“The Franks Casket.”  The British Museum. 1 December 2007  <>.  A search box on the homepage of the British Museum site produced a page on the Franks Casket featuring several high-quality photographs, a summary of its origin and of the critical speculation as to its purpose, and a very brief bibliography of sources in several languages for the reader interested in reading more.  The site did not, however, provide any further information on the tradition of Weland, but the pictures were good and the site gave the location of the box in the British Museum should the interested student of Anglo-Saxon boxes ever find herself in the vicinity.  Found via Google image search.

Grimstad, Kaaren. “The Revenge of Volundr.” Edda: a Collection of Essays. Ed. Robert J. Glendinning and Haraldur Bessason. University of Manitoba Icelandic Studies 4. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1983. 187-209.

Grinsell, L.V. “Wayland the Smith and His Relatives: A Legend and Its Topography.” Folklore 102 (1991): 235-236.

Klaeber, Fr., ed.  Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg.  2nd ed.  Boston: D.C. Heath & Co. Publishers, 1922.  The standard scholarly edition of Beowulf in Old English, Klaeber’s edition contains the complete poem, abundant footnotes, and an extensive glossary.  Weland appears precisely once, in line 455.  Beowulf is preparing to fight Grendel and is giving instructions for the disposition of his belongings if he should die.  Hygelac is to have his mail shirt (beaduscrud, l. 453); it is notable because it was apparently inherited from Hrethel (Hrædlan laf, l. 454) and originally made by Weland (Welandes geweorc, l. 455). Unfortunately, the footnotes provide no further information.  Here, as elsewhere, it appears that the reference to Weland was so commonplace in Anglo-Saxon England that his story needed no retelling.

Kopár, Lilla. “The Wings of Weland.” The Iconography of the Fantastic: Eastern and Western Traditions of European Iconography 2. Ed. Márta Baróti-Gaál, György E. Szőnyi, and Attila Kiss. Papers in English and American Studies 10 / Studia Poetica 11. Szeged: JATEPress, 2002. 39-48.

Kopár, Lilla. “Weland the Smith: Iconographic and Literary Sources from Anglo-Saxon England.” Proceedings from the 7th Nordic Conference on English Studies. Ed. Sanna-Kaisa Tanskanen and Brita Wårvik. Turku: University of Turku, 1999. 411-420. [= Anglicana Turkuensia 20]

Krapp, George Philip, ed. The Paris Psalter and the Meters of Boethius. New York: Columbia University, 1932.  In volume five of the Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records, the “Meters of Boethius” contains three references to Weland by name within ten lines.  Boethius asks, “Hwær sint nu Þæs wisan Welandes ban, / Þæs goldsmi--ðes, Þe wæs geo mærost?”  In each of the three mentions, Weland is “wisan,” suggesting again a positive association in the Anglo-Saxon imagination (though the repetitive word choice may also be attributed at least in part to the requirements of alliteration).  I pursued this volume in the hopes that Krapp’s footnotes or endnotes might provide some more information on Weland or on any etymological information, but I discovered nothing new. 

Lang, James T. “Sigurd and Weland in Pre-Conquest Carving from Northern England.” Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 48 (1976): 83-94, ill.

“The Lay of Volund.”  The Poetic Edda.  Trans. Carolyne Larrington.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.  102-108.  This translation of the Poetic Edda, a collection of Norse-Icelandic poetry, is a gold mine of information about gods and heroes.  Carolyne Larrington provides a lucid introduction, a very helpful genealogy chart for the major characters, and an annotated index of names.  “The Lay of Volund” in this volume is the Anglicized title of the Volundarkvida, which tells the Norse-Icelandic version of the story of Weland the Smith.  Volund (Weland) is here associated with elves and is a smith who can make precious objects not only out of metal, but out of teeth, bone, and human eyeballs.  A king, Nidud, entraps him and cripples him by cutting his hamstrings or tendons, but he has his revenge, killing the king’s sons and seducing (or raping) his daughter before he flies away in a jacket made of feathers.

Nedoma, Robert. “The Legend of Wayland in Deor.” ZAA 38 (1990): 129-45.

Northvegr Foundation.  2007. 11 October 2007 <>.  The Northvegr Foundation appears to be a religious organization, including among its goals “[t]o act as a freely available resource for adherents of the Northern spiritual faith known as Heithni.”  However, it also aims “[t]o act as … resource for Northern European and Indo-European studies, by providing an extensive online library of texts.”  While the site does contain some ads from paying advertisers and the Foundation hosts an online store where the visitor can buy a t-shirt with a Thor's hammer on it, the maintainers appear to be meticulous about keeping their scholarly texts in good order and their commercial and cultural interests separate.  The site hosts an Old Icelandic dictionary, an Old English lexicon, some Germanic fairy tales, and the Poetic and Prose Eddas among many more.  Among their transcriptions are full-text translations of the Volsunga Saga and “Waltharius,” the latter of which I stumbled upon accidentally when I put “Weland” in their search box.  I discovered the second reference to Weland too late to investigate the textual and linguistic connections between this Latin text and the Anglo-Saxon corpus, but I appreciated the Google-powered search engine on this site for just this sort of reason; it makes the site, which is full of spelling variations depending on which editions are in the public domain and are hosted there, much easier to navigate than it would otherwise be. While Northvegr is not a scholarly site, the maintainers are scrupulous about indicating their sources and their full-text versions include the original publication information from the text editions from which they are transcribed. 

The Saga of Thidrek of Bern.  Trans. Edward R. Haymes. New York: Garland, 1988.

Tupper, Frederick.  “The Song of Deor.”  Modern Philology 9 (1911): 265-267.  At the time Tupper’s article was written, there was evidently some mystery surrounding the interpretation or identity of the personages in lines 14-17 of “Deor.”  Taking up the mantle of snotty pedant, Tupper proceeds to explain, with relish, how obvious the correct interpretation is and how astonished he is that everyone has missed it.  He targets W.W. Lawrence, who in 1911 interpreted the poem’s mention of “Hilde” as referring to Hilde and Hedin but who could not account for the appellation “Geates” for Hedin.  Hild, Tupper asserts, is obviously the Beadohild of the second stanza, upon whom Weland fathered a child.  The miserable Geates, then, is Nithhad, the king that mutilated Weland’s legs, and the sorrow is not that of a lover for his woman but is that of a father for his dead sons.  It seems, though, that Crossley-Holland has emended the line “Þæt mæð Hilde” into a proper name, Mæðhilde, so I suspect there is a great deal more to this story, the translation tradition, and the analogues than I have been uncovered.

“Waldere.”  The Anglo-Saxon World: an Anthology. Ed. Kevin Crossley-Holland. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.  9-11.  Crossley-Holland’s anthology contains a translation of “Waldere,” one of the poems in which Weland appears, albeit briefly and with little context.  In the poem, Weland is the creator of Waldere’s sword Mimming, and we are told that his son (Nithhad’s grandson) is named Widia.  The details given here, though scant, fit in with the story given in Volsunga Saga and support an understanding of Weland’s primary importance for Anglo-Saxon audiences as rooted in his work as a metalsmith.  If Bradley is correct in his opinion that Weland was associated with Christian virtues, he is perhaps incorrect when he implies that Weland was only ever a positive figure; perhaps Weland the fabulous smith and Weland the bloodthirsty taker of revenge coexisted in the literary tradition.

Tags: anglo saxon, weland the smith
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