The Old High German Muspilli


The incomplete Old High German epic poem that has become known as the Muspilli represents a Germanic interpretation of the Final Judgement as a battle for souls between heavenly and infernal powers and an ultimate burning up of this world—a Christian Ragnarök. The 100 surviving lines of the poem exhibit the linguistic features of a southern OHG dialect (most saliently, an advanced stage of the High German consonant shift). The extant lines were written in the margins and blank folios of a single manuscript (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Clm 14098), which itself is from the 9th century and predominantly contains a theological text written in Latin.

The Muspilli is written in alliterative verse, the traditional form for virtually all early Germanic poetry. Although the precise requirements vary from language to language—Old English appears to exhibit stricter metrical rules than OHG, and North Germanic skaldic poetry features internal rhyme and highly complex kennings—common rules can be abstracted. Each line is metrically divisible into two hemistichs (half-lines), each of which contains exactly two stressed syllables. One or both of the stressed syllables in the first hemistich always alliterates with the first syllable in the second hemistich. Even this much is not inviolable, however (cf. l. 3, which contains a second alliterating syllable in the second hemistich: likkan lazzit).

I will publish the poem in a series of workable chunks, boldfacing the alliterating consonants. Reconstructed forms are Proto-Germanic unless indicated otherwise.

Part I (ll. 1–10)

Part II (ll. 11–24)

Part III (ll. 25–43)

Part IV (ll. 44–60)

Part V (ll. 61–72)

Part VI (ll. 73–90)

Part VII (ll. 91–105)


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