The Anglo-Saxon runic poem is often regarded as the most popular and well-known representative of the English runica manuscripta tradition. It was discovered on a separate folio attached to MS Cotton Otho B. X, which, unfortunately, was lost in the 1731 Cottonian fire. The existence of the folio and its runes were recorded twice before its destruction by the cataloguers Thomas Smith and Humfrey Wanley. The latter was in all likelihood also the first to document the runic poem in detail, and provided George Hickes with a copy of the text for inclusion in the Linguarum veterum septentrionalium thesaurus grammatico-criticus et archæologicus (1703-05). This first full documentation and first edition is often scrutinised: in 1903 Hempl published an article in which he claimed that Hickes made additions to the work and did not print a reproduction. This sparked a protracted discussion about the form of the runic poem and the verisimilitude of Hickes’s edition. Although the presence of annotations is seldom challenged, René Derolez and Ray Page have questioned whether Hickes and Wanley were responsible for them.
This paper focuses on the runological knowledge demonstrated by both scholars in their work and communications, and the influence this might have had on their recording of the runic poem.
In 1697 Hickes requested that Wanley, his assistant and co-author of the Thesaurus, collect the runic material from the manuscripts he catalogued. This material was then studied by both scholars and published in their work. Their communication and the treatment of this material in the Thesaurus provides valuable insight into both their ideas and Wanley’s practical skills as a runologist. In his article from 1973, Page examined Wanley’s ‘runic’ copying skills by comparing the Thesaurus reproduction of the MS Cotton Domitian A. IX fuþorc from the Grammatica Anglo-saxonica et Moeso-gothica chapter to the manuscript, since this was the suspected source for the runic poem additions. His results are valuable but limited, because most of Wanley’s collected material, consisting mainly of fuþorcs and runic alphabets, is printed in the Tabellae as part of the Grammaticae Islandicae chapter. The runes in the Tabellae were not only copied and collected, but also alphabetised and transliterated by Wanley; an examination of this material with regards to his accuracy and knowledge of runes is given in this paper. Consequently, by thus expanding upon Page’s comparison, a general conclusion can be drawn on the influence of the editors’ ability to read runes on the first edition, and the probability of Hickes and Wanley’s involvement as annotators.