CHAT of oghams & runes (was Celtic alphabet? )
|From:||Raymond Brown <ray.brown@...>|
|Date:||Tuesday, April 9, 2002, 19:04|
At 2:52 pm -0400 8/4/02, Andreas Johansson wrote:
>Raymond Brown wrote:
>>Do you mean the ogham script dating from the 4th cent. AD and used till
>>about the middle of the 7th cent. AD?
>>The theories about the origin of this script are almost on a par in their
>>number and fancifulness as those relating Basque to practically every
>>language on this planet, and IMHO just as worthless. The saner theorists
>>cannot ignore the resemblance between oghams and certain varieties of Norse
>>runes, particularly 'tree runes'; and there is little doubt in my mind that
>>they were devised in imitation of such runes left in graffiti of Norse
>>invaders of Scotland & Ireland.
>The chronology seems a bit suspect - there is AFAIK no evidence whatsoever
>of Norse invasions of the British Isles in the 4th century, and at that time
>the runes used in Scandinavia didn't differ systematically from those used
>by continental Germanics*. Mercenaries or raiders of North Sea Germanic
>origin would, to me, seem to be at least a likely channel of inspiration.
>* According to Lars Magnar Enoksen in _Runor_, 1998
No, Lars is surely correct. I wrote in haste. The dates are wrong, as you
The 'tree runes' ran away with my imagination and, alas, my sanity and lead
me into the realms of fancifulness. Mea culpa!
But I still hold that the saner theorists connect oghams with runes (but
not the tree runes :) As you rightly say, in the 4th cent. the common
Germanic futhark was still being used in Scandinavia and the Vikings were
still some four centuries in the future.
Some of the earliest oghams are found in Scotland and are, apparently,
'Pictish'. We also know from archaeology that there had been trading
relations between northern Scotland and Norway from very early times. The
theory, advanced by H. Arntz (and I believe some others) is that a Pict (or
Picts), having been to Scandinavia, were minded to fashion writing for
their own people. Now script borrowing through trade is not at all
uncommon; it is thought, e.g. that the Greeks aquired their alphabet via
(bilingual) trading comunities on Crete where Greeks & Phoenicians met.
The arguments put forward to support the theory are, in brief:
1. Both scripts were used for magical purposes as well as just writing.
2. The Old Germanic runes were divided into four 'rows of eight' (ættir);
the letters of the oghamic script were similarly divided into four
'families' (aiccme) [tho in the case of the oghams each 'family' was
composed of five members, not eight]*.
3. Both scripts are written from left to right as well as from right to left.
4. There is a certain similarity in the naming of the letters.
*Arntz assumes that _ætt_ [the first letter is 'ash'], which originally
meant "eight", was understood as _ætt_ meaning "family" and was thus
reproduced by the Irish word of similar meaning.
Arntz even goes onto demonstrate how each ogham was actually derived from
runic characters, but this is not convincing. It was IMO the _ideas_, not
the actual shapes, that set our imaginative Pict on his way to fashion his
four 'families' of simple signs for his fellow countrymen.