The Peterhouse Wade fragment
Israel Gollanz reported the discovery of a fragment of the lost Tale of Wade at the British Philological Society meeting in Feb. 1896*1, and the Anglo-Saxon quote occurs within a Latin homily dated to early 13th cent.:
The passage in which it occurs desls with the Fall of man and the evils resulting from it. Adam, says the preacher, was humbled by wicked ness and changed from a man into a kind of non-man, and so were al most all other man.Anyway, it is sufficient for our purpose, since it does not seem likely that rendering the homily with further precision will shed any more light on the context in which the three AS lines are spoken. Wentersdorff makes a meandering and fuzzy attempt to deduce the context in which the fragment occurs.
There seems to be a more probable solution. This passage might construed as a piece of banter referring to Hildebrand as the only person of pure human stock, surrounded by other heroes of superhuman lineage. The first line about elves and adders can be paralleled with the contest of insults (ON senna) that takes place between Högni and Thidrek in a version of the Nibelungen saga as preserved in the Þiðrekssaga (Ch. 391 in Haymes' tr.).
The latter insults Högni for being the son of an elf (he was in fact secretly sired by an elf, ch. 169). Högni retorts by calling his opponent the son of the devil himself. Thidrek, enraged, breathes fire on Högni.
Although there is an imperfect match here, in that Thidrek is the scion of the devil*3, in the Faroese Høgna táttur "Ballad of Høgni", tr. Smith Dampier, Tidrik Tattnarson transforms into a venom-spitting dragon. The nickers*4 (that dwell in the water) can easily be identified with Wade himself. For we learn in the Thidrekssaga ch. 57 that Vadi is the son of King Vilkinas and a mermaid (gen. siokononar, i.e., sjá-kona "sea-wife"). It can also refer to his son Weland the Smith, or his grandson Widia (= Wittich, Witega [G.]; Viðga [ON]), the wielder of Mimung. In the German epic Rabenschlacht, Witege is being dangerously pursued by Dietrich when a mermaid kinswoman of his named Wachilde spirits Witege away.
*1 Taken from Wentersdorf, Karl P. 'Chaucer and the Lost Tale of Wade'. Journal of English and Germanic Philology 65 (1966).
His footnote 18 is as follows:
"MS No. 255 in the Library of Peterhouse, Cambridge; see M.R. James, A Descriptive Catalogue of Manuscripts in the Library of Peterhouse (Cambridge, 1899), p. 319. The fragment (f.49) was the subject of a paper by I. Gollancz, "On the Song of Wade," read before the Philological Society on 7 Feb. 1896, and summarized in The Athenaeum, No. 3565 (Feb. 1896), p. 254, and in The Academy, No. 1241 (Feb. 1896), p. 137. See also Hermann Paul, Grundiss der germanischen Philologie, 2nd ed. (Straßburg, 1900-09, II; Pt. I, pp. 1085-86.*2 Significantly, where Gollancz reads patez or pacez "poles", Wnetersdorp emends to "wyn" the Anglo-Saxon "w" that resembles a "p". ** McConnel, Winder, Wate Figure in Medieval Tradition (Peter Lang AG ; ISBN: 3261030585 1978/12) (Stanford German Studies) is a comprehensive study of the mention of Wate in lterature.
*3 The tradition that Dietrich is descended from the devil is not exactly ironclad, but it is tied in with the lore that one day he was taking a bath and chased a deer off into the underworld. This is reminescent of Celtic tales of heroes following the hunting trail of the denizens of the Til Na Nog. &nbps; One tradition provides a hirsute woman (a wildefrau?) as one of Dietrich's ancestors. In Wolfdietrich (B), Wolfdietrich (purported grandfather/forefather of Dietrich von Bern) weds a hairy woman named Shaggy Else (diu rûhe Else von Alter Troyen)who walked on all four limbs. *4 A nicker is a sea-crature. In Beow., Grendel is described as one (nicor). The word exists in cognate form in various Scandinavian languages.