In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Althochdeutsch in Runenschrift: Geheimschriftliche volkssprachige Griffelglossen
  • Valentine A. Pakis
Althochdeutsch in Runenschrift: Geheimschriftliche volkssprachige Griffelglossen. By Andreas Nievergelt. Zeitschrift für deutsches Altertum und deutsche Literatur: Beihefte, 11. Stuttgart: S. Hirzel, 2009. Pp. 214; 49 illustrations. EUR 37.

Although Elias von Steinmeyer and Eduard Sievers’s magisterial edition of the Old High German glosses—Die althochdeutschen Glossen (1879; repr. 1968)—has not been supplanted, it has been supplemented at an irregular pace since its publication. This pace has begun to accelerate in recent years, thanks to the efforts of a number of fastidious scholars. Among them is Andreas Nievergelt, a researcher at the University of Zurich, whose nearly one thousand-page dissertation, Die Glossierung der Handschrift Clm 18547b: Ein Beitrag zur Funktionalität der mittelalterlichen Griffelglossierung (Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 2007), presented a great deal of glossographic material that had been overlooked. While conducting research for another work of the same sort, “Griffelglossen aus frühen St. Galler Handschriften” (forthcoming), Nievergelt encountered several cryptographic stylus-glosses—glosses etched into vellum without ink—that deserved an investigation of their own, and so he wrote the book under review. It may be far shorter than his dissertation, but it contains some remarkable findings.

Althochdeutsch in Runenschrift consists of three main sections: I. “Einleitung” (pp. 11–28), II. “Althochdeutsch in Runenschrift” (pp. 29–73), and III. “Die althochdeutschen bfk-Griffelglossen” (pp. 77–187). The book ends with a brief conclusion (pp. 188–92); accurate indexes of persons, places, things, manuscripts, Old High German and Latin words; and a useful bibliography of approximately 165 titles. Much of Nievergelt’s introduction is adapted from his article “Geheimschriftliche Glossen” in Rolf Bergmann and Stefanie Stricker’s Die althochdeutsche und altsächsische Glossographie: Ein Handbuch (vol. 1, pp. 240–68). It provides a brief overview of the types of cryptography found in Old High German and Old Saxon glosses and summarizes the various theories regarding their purpose. This last point is more interesting than it seems because, oddly enough, the purpose of encrypting glosses was probably not to keep anything secret. That is, the types of cryptography are few and unsophisticated: The most common method of all— encrypted glosses, found in 139 manuscripts, are not at all uncommon—was the so-called bfk-Geheimschrift, according to which vowels were replaced by the next letter in the alphabet. Why were words spelled in this way? Scholars have attributed the practice to various motivations, including scribal play, taboo, shame over the use of the vernacular, and pedagogical exigencies (the creation of teachers’ cribs). Nievergelt dismisses such conventional interpretations, as he does in his earlier work, for a formal explanation: Encrypted glosses call attention to themselves by [End Page 265] their peculiar appearance, and thus cryptography functioned as a sort of paratextual italics. Perhaps he is right, though it is impossible to know for sure.

There were other methods of cryptography in addition to bfk-Geheimschrift, but these are scarce. Cgl-Geheimschrift—the replacement of vowels by consonants that are two letters away—is attested in only six manuscripts; Punktgeheimschrift, in which vowels are represented by one through five points, is found in twenty-five manuscripts; and the use of Greek letters to spell Old High German words occurs in three. Nievergelt has expanded this list with his discovery of Old High German stylus-glosses written in the runic alphabet. These instances are edited and interpreted in his second chapter, which will be of interest to those who believe that René Derolez had pronounced the final word on runica manuscripta. Nievergelt’s findings can be summarized as follows: St. Gall, Stiftsbibliothek 11: p. 55, l. 3 (animositatemþuuuisurunga ‘innere Erregung, Zorn’); p. 144, l. 16 (allegoriamkeruni ‘Geheimnis’); p. 249, l. 16 (et testinauitentikesitot ‘und er bestimmt’); p. 532, l. 12 (prodigiarabouhhan ‘Wunderzeichen’); St. Gall, Stiftsbibliothek 225: p. 132, l. 6/7 (noz ?); p. 184, l. 5 (friþurih, a personal name?); St. Gall, Stiftsbibliothek 185, p. 113, in the bottom margin (uuinegcarat ‘Wein- Haarschermesser-Ratschluss’?, a personal name?); and St. Gall, Stiftsbibliothek 188, p. 77, in the bottom margin (ecæw ‘Militärgebot’?, likely Old English). It should satisfy the scholarly community that Nievergelt has simply...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 265-266
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.