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When reading the translation of the Hildebrandslied by Francis A. Wood, I came across a word I have never seen before, Weirdwielder.

I searched online and found nothing, the only links that show up are either unrelated, or link back to the archive.org where I got the book from. I searched 3 dictionaries and also came up empty. I have read it several times but can't figure out what is meant by this, it is only mentioned once.

Feel free to edit my question and tags if necessary.

40 With untruth art thou come to old age, for trickery clings to thee ever.

It was said to me by seafarers

Coming west over the wave that war slew him.

Dead is Hildebrand, Heribrand's son."

"Great Weirdwielder, woe worth the day!

45 For sixty winters and summers I wander'd,

Battling with foemen where blows keen fell.

From the scarped wall unscathed I came.

Now the son of my loins with the sword will hew

link to book here on archive.org

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This doesn’t add a whole lot to what you’ve already learned from others since posing your question, but I thought I would add some details for reference.

The Hildebrandslied, a much studied Old High German alliterative poem, was transcribed by a couple of eighth-century monks working from an earlier manuscript based on an oral recounting. (Lots could go wrong there, but that is for another question.)

Some translations of this work offer literal interpretations, not attempting to retain the meter or alliteration. Others, like that of Francis A. Wood, try to capture the effect of the original. Wood notes in his poem introduction that his translation “aims to give the spirit as well as the meter of the Hildebrandslied. . . . Though not a literal translation, it nevertheless closely follows the thought of the [Old High German] poem.” (Wood even makes up the lost ending.)

By comparing a literal translation with Wood’s, we can see that weirdwielder is Wood’s own fanciful, clever, need-some-Ws-stat nonce word (and a hapax legomenon).

To start, we can look at part of the OED entry (and an example usage) for weird the noun:

weird, n.
Etymology: Old English wyrd (feminine), = Old Saxon wurd (plural wurdi), Old High German wurt, Old Norse urð-r, from the weak grade of the stem werþ-, warþ-, wurþ- to become: see WORTH v.1

1. a. The principle, power, or agency by which events are predetermined; fate, destiny.
1895   W. MORRIS & A. J. WYATT tr. Tale of Beowulf 17   Weird swept them away.

Source: Oxford English Dictionary (login required)

A number of other related definitions appear there—magical power, witchery, prophecy—but here, weird = fate. Note in the etymology worth (to come to be, come to pass, come about, happen, take place), as Wood plays with this in the line in question.

Next we can look at the original line of the poem in Old High German. Note the four alliterative Ws:

“welaga nu, waltant got [quad Hiltibrant], wewurt skihit.

Source: The Hildebrandslied. This article brings up an interesting point: the Christianization of “heathen” works. Those monks! Were it not for God’s appearance elsewhere in Wood’s translation, I might have thought Wood was re-heathenizing the work by turning God into a weirdwielder.

Compare this literal translation by Michaela Macha, who notes, “I have translated into free verse, staying literal where possible, not attempting to reproduce the original meter or alliteration.” Note the lone W:

“Well now, mighty god”, spoke Hildebrand, “sorrowful fate (woe wyrd) happens.

Source: Historical & Classical Poetry ~ Hildebrandslied

And here’s Wood’s interpretation. Note again: four Ws:

Great Weirdwielder, woe worth the day!

This is pretty tricky on Wood’s part. He turns the two-W wewurt + skihit—literally “woe fate happens”—into woe worth, meaning “woe be to.” Woe be to the day. Woe happens to the day.

Lest there be any question about the wurt/fate part, Wood leverages the Ws from welaga nu, waltant got (well now, mighty god) for a mashup of weird and wielder. A wielder of weird. A wielder of fate. Someone or something with the mighty power to control destiny.

Great Weirdwielder.

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  • This adds a whole lot IMO, a very clear answer with great and thorough explanation. This answers my question, I will wait for a few days before accepting to give other people a chance to answer. – Tom Sol Feb 10 at 20:43
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This is speculation here, but it seems to me that weirdwielder is a kenning for God (or maybe personified Fate) that Francis A. Wood came up with. Weird (sometimes spelled wyrd for this meaning) can mean fate, and a weirdwielder would then be somebody manipulating people's fates, in other words, God. In this translation by Michaela Macha, shortly before "sixty summers and winters" Hildebrand says

Well now, mighty god, sorrowful fate happens.

I believe

Great Weirdwielder, woe worth the day!

is the corresponding line in Wood's translation.

Kennings in Old English and Old Norse poetry were generally two-word phrases, often alliterative, that were used instead of the name of something. For example, "hwæl-weg" (whale-way) could be used instead of "the ocean".

If you're translating Old English or Old High German poetry, and you want to reproduce the feel of the poetry rather than translate the words, why not come up with your own kennings? It's clear from the alliteration that the translator isn't just giving a word-for-word translation but trying to preserve the feel of the original. The original possibly had lots of kennings (you'd have to ask somebody who know some Old High German to figure this out), many of which won't translate well. So why not come up with new ones to replace the ones that can't be translated?

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    The word being translated as Weirdwielder at line 45 was originally gimahalta, but its morphemes aren’t jumping out at me before coffee this morning. Hiltibrant gimahalta, Heribrantes suno: / "wela gisihu ih in dinem hrustim, / dat du habes heme herron goten, / dat du noh bi desemo riche reccheo ni wurti."- / "welaga nu, waltant got," quad Hiltibrant, "wewurt skihit. – tchrist Feb 9 at 13:33
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    @tchrist: if this translation by Michaela Macha is used as a guide, just before For sixty summers and sixty winters I wandered is the line Well now, mighty god, sorrowful fate happens. I believe that's Macha's translation of the line that Wood translated as Great Weirdwielder, woe worth the day! – Peter Shor Feb 9 at 13:50
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    And if that's right, Weirdweilder would correspond in the original to waltant got. And I recognize at least the second word. (The first word seems to be cognate to words meaning ruling or strong in other Germanic languages.) – Peter Shor Feb 9 at 14:17
  • @PeterShor very interesting speculation, but I must say that tchrists comment is also sparked my curiosity. – Tom Sol Feb 9 at 18:42
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    @TomSol I believe that Tolkien’s Túrin Turambar “Master of Fate” is a deliberate calque on Hildebrand <KENNING>, perhaps Gimahalta so that the same morpheme from the regular name reappears in the epithet, as I suspect it may. I wish I knew more about this. – tchrist Feb 10 at 1:39

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