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Apostil to Thucydides

𐍋𐌺 𐌻𐌰𐍃 𐌸𐍉 𐍅𐌰𐌿𐍂𐌳𐌰 𐌸𐌹𐌶𐍉 𐌱𐍉𐌺𐍉
Ik las þo waurda þizo boko
I read the words of these books
𐌷𐌴𐌻𐌴𐌽𐌹𐍃𐌺𐌰𐌹𐌶𐍉𐍃 𐌾𐌴𐍂𐌰𐌼𐌴𐌻𐌴𐌹𐌽𐌰𐌹𐍃
heleniskaizos jerameleinais
of Greek history [“year-writing”]
𐍋𐌽 𐌸𐌰𐌼𐌼𐌰 𐌼𐌴𐌽𐍉𐌸 𐍃𐌰𐌹𐌷𐍃𐍄𐌹𐌽 𐌸𐌹𐍃 𐌾𐌴𐍂𐌹𐍃:
in þamma menoþ saihstin þis jeris:
in the sixth month of this year:
𐌸𐌿𐍃𐌿𐌽𐌳𐌹 𐌽𐌹𐌿𐌽 𐌷𐌿𐌽𐌳𐌰𐌹 𐍄𐌰𐌹𐌷𐌿𐌽 𐌿𐌽𐍃𐌰𐍂𐌹𐍃 𐍆𐍂𐌰𐌿𐌾𐌹𐌽𐍃:
þusundi niun hundai taihun unsaris Fraujins:
thousand, nine hundreds, ten, of Our Lord:
𐌳𐌿𐌸𐌴 𐍋𐌺 𐌱𐌹𐌲𐌴𐍄𐌾𐌰𐌿 𐌸𐌰𐍄𐌰 𐌻𐌰𐌿𐌽 𐌲𐌹𐌱𐌰𐌽 𐌰𐌻𐌻𐌹𐍃 𐌾𐌴𐍂𐌹𐍃
duþe ik bigetjau þata laun giban allis jeris
in order to gain the prize given every year
𐌸𐌰𐌼𐌼𐌰 𐌼𐌰𐌲𐌰𐌿 𐌼𐌰𐌹𐍃𐍄 𐌺𐌿𐌽𐌽𐌰𐌽𐌳𐌹𐌽 𐌱𐌹 𐌸𐌿𐌺𐍅𐌳𐌹𐌳𐌾𐌰,
þamma magau maist kunnandin bi Þukydidja,
to the boy knowing most about Thucydides,
𐌾𐌰𐌷 𐌷𐌹𐍄𐌰 𐌰𐌽𐌰𐌼𐌴𐌻𐌹𐌳𐌰 𐍋𐌽 𐌱𐍉𐌺𐍉𐍃 𐌼𐌴𐌹𐌽𐍉𐍃
jah hita anamelida in bokos meinos
and this I inscribed in my books
𐌸𐌰𐌼𐌼𐌰 𐍄𐍅𐌰𐌻𐌹𐍆𐍄𐌹𐌽 𐌸𐌹𐍃 𐍃𐌰𐌹𐌷𐍃𐍄𐌹𐌽𐍃
þamma twaliftin þis saihstins
on the twelfth of the sixth [month]
𐌰𐍆𐌰𐍂𐌸𐌹𐌶𐌴𐌹 𐍋𐌺 𐌾𐌿 𐍆𐍂𐌿𐌼𐌹𐌽𐍃 𐌸𐌰𐌹𐍂𐌷𐌻𐌴𐍃𐌾𐌰𐌿
afarþizei ik ju frumins þairhlesjau
after I had already [?]first read through
𐌰𐌻𐌻𐌰 𐌸𐍉 𐍅𐌰𐌿𐍂𐌳𐌰 𐌲𐌻𐌰𐌲𐌲𐍅𐌿𐌱𐌰.
alla þo waurda glaggwuba.
all the words carefully.

This text is known from a 1965 letter to Zillah Sherring by J. R. R. Tolkien (n° 272 in Humphrey Carpenter’s edition of his letters). She had found curious inscriptions in a second-hand copy of the Fifth Book of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War that she had bought in Salisbury. After she saw Tolkien’s name among those the flyleaf, she wrote to him and asked whether the inscriptions were his work, especially the longest one on the back, of which she sent him a transcript. We reproduce it here with Tolkien’s own translation, except the macrons on the words þō, þūsundi and Þūkydidja. Philologists sometimes use macrons in Gothic to mark long vowels, but they have no counterpart in Wulfila’s spelling. Tolkien used them inconsistently here, for most long vowels remain unmarked in the text.

Tolkien discovered Gothic in Joseph Wright’s A Primer of the Gothic Language and developed a passion for this language. In 1910 he was still struggling with it, and there are several errors in his approximation of Gothic. He commented some in the 1965 letter: hundai should be hunda and frumins probably frumist. He also pointed out oddities with the number of the word boka and suggested that þizo boko “of those books” must stand for þizos bokos “of this book” and in bokos meinos “in my books” should rather be in boka meina “in my book”. It is worth noting, however, that Gothic boka “letter” is also attested with the meanings “written thing, document”... and “book”, but then only as a plural used in all situations (grammatically, this is called a plurale tantum), quite like Latin litterae and Greek γράμματα “letters (of the alphabet) = a letter (sent to somebody)”. Tolkien may have remembered this detail in 1910 while still learning the language and overlooked it in 1965 when answering to Zillah Sherring!

There are also semantic inaccuracies. He noted himself that he had used lisan for “read” like its German and Old Norse cognates (lesen and lesa, respectively), but unlike them Gothic had not extended to this use the original meaning “gather”: the true Gothic word was ussiggwan, literally “sing out, recite”. Another similar instance is þairhlesjau “I had read through”, which is an obvious calque from English. An amusing calque is the gothicized form of his own name, that he also revealed in this letter: Ruginwaldus Dwalakoneis “Ronald Tolkien”.

On the whole, Tolkien in 1965 was quite dismissive of his youthful effort, referring to it as “Gothic, or what I thought was Gothic or might be” and even “bad Gothic”.

The value of the spellings ai and au is debated: some scholars consider that everywhere they denote open varieties of e and o, long or short, while others assign them at times these values, at times the value of diphthongs, on etymological criteria. The first of these positions has been adopted here.

The text is transcribed in the Gothic alphabet invented by Wulfila. We made use of George Douros’ typeface Analecta.  Open this mode in Glaemscribe

Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel. The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien. Selection edited by Humphrey Carpenter with assistance by Christopher Tolkien. London: HarperCollins, 2006. 480 p. ISBN 0-261-10265-6.
Lehmann, Winifred P[hilipp]. A Gothic Etymological Dictionary: based on the third edition of “Vergleichendes Wörterbuch der Gotischen Sprache” by Sigmund Feist. Leiden: Brill, 1986. XVII-712 p. ISBN 90-04-08176-3.

The works of John Ronald Reuel and Christopher Tolkien are under the copyright of their authors and/or rights holders, including their publishers and the Tolkien Estate.
Quotations from other authors, editors and translators mentioned in the bibliography are under the copyright of their publishers, except for those whose copyright term has ended.
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