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The wodewose ("wildman of the woods") was a mythical figure that frequently appeared in the artwork and literature of medieval Europe. The first part of his name derived from "wudu" (wood), and the second from "wasa" (orphan). The earliest reference was in archbishop Aelfric's Latin-Old English glossary (ca. 1100) which rendered "Satiri, uel fauni, uel sahni, uel fauni ficarii" as "unfaele men, wuduwasan, unfaele wihtu;" satyrs and fauns, having goat's legs, were not strictly human, but the wuduwasan had human qualities, since "unfaele" meant wicked, corrupt, unfortunate, unnatural or monstrous. From the 12th century he was consistently depicted as being covered with hair. As a surname it appeared as early as 1251 (Robert de Wudewuse), and the figure continued to be part of heraldic coats-of-arms until the 16th century. The Middle English word was first used in the 1340s, in reference to the decorative "wild man" artwork popular at the time.
When John Wycliffe translated the Bible from Latin into Middle English between 1382 and 1395 he used the term to translate "pilosi" in Isaiah 13:21 ("ne shepperdis shul resten there / but shul resten there bestis: & shul ben fulfild the houses of hem with dragouns / & ther shuln dwelle there ostrighes & wodewoosis shuln lepen there & ther shul answern there ghelling foulis in the houses of it"); the modernized version of his translation reads, "But wild beasts shall rest there, and the houses of them shall be filled with dragons; and ostriches shall dwell there (and owls shall nest there), and hairy beasts shall skip there." (Other translations have wrestled with the animals named in this verse: the Douay-Rheims Bible, the English version authorized by the Catholic church, has "But wild beasts shall rest there, and their houses shall be filled with serpents, and ostriches shall dwell there, and the hairy ones shall dance there;" the King James Bible has "But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there;" the King James 2000 Bible has "But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of howling creatures; and ostriches shall dwell there, and wild goats shall dance there;" The New International Version has "But desert creatures will lie there, jackals will fill her houses; there the owls will dwell, and there the wild goats will leap about;" the New Living Translation has "Desert animals will move into the ruined city, and the houses will be haunted by howling creatures. Owls will live among the ruins, and wild goats will go there to dance;" the New American Standard Bible has "But desert creatures will lie down there, And their houses will be full of owls; Ostriches also will live there, and shaggy goats will frolic there;" the Holman Christian Standard Bible has "But desert creatures will lie down there, and owls will fill the houses. Ostriches will dwell there, and wild goats will leap about;" the International Standard Version has "But desert beasts will lie down there, and their houses will be full of howling creatures; there owls will dwell, and goat-demons will dance there;" the NET Bible has "Wild animals will rest there, the ruined houses will be full of hyenas. Ostriches will live there, wild goats will skip among the ruins;" the New Heart English Bible has "But wild animals of the desert will lie there, and their houses will be full of jackals. Ostriches will dwell there, and wild goats will frolic there;" the idiosyncratic Young's Literal Translation has "And Ziim have lain down there, And full have been their houses of howlings, And dwelt there have daughters of an ostrich, And goats do skip there" [besides Isaiah 13:21, the self-taught linguist Robert Young mentioned a people named the Ziim in Jeremiah 50:39, where they dwelled with a people named the "Iim" and again in Isaiah 13:22 and Isaiah 34:14, where they are associated with the "Aiim;"none of these groups are elswhere attested; by contrast, Wycliffe translated the "faunis ficariis" in Jermiah as "wodewose"]; the Jewish Publication Society of America 's version of the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) has "But wild-cats shall lie there; And their houses shall be full of ferrets; And ostriches shall dwell there, And satyrs shall dance there.")
In the early 5th century, in "The City of God"(De ciuitate Dei contra paganos), St. Augustine of Hippo claimed that all beings who were rational, mortal, and descended from Adam were human; the wodewose was often portrayed as an irrational slave to his lust; but was also sometimes depicted (such as in a misericorde in Carlisle Cathedral) fighting a dragon, just like medieval heroes such as Lancelot and saints like Margaret of Antioch, pope Silvester, and St. George; and dragons symbolized Satan or other demons, so the wodewose was an ambiguous figure. The ananoymous "Sir Gawayn and þe Grene Knyȝt" (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight), which appeared about the same as Wycliffe's Bible, included wodewoses in a list of the foes the hero had to fight as he traveled through the Welsh wilderness: "Sumwhyle with wormez he werrez, and with wolues als, / Sumwhyle with wodwos, that \ woned in the knarrez, / Bothe with bullez an berez, and borez otherquyle, / And etaynez, that hym anelede of the heghe felle. (Sometimes he fights with dragons, and with wolves also, sometimes with wild men, that lived among the crags, Both with bulls and bears, and boars at other times, and giants that pursued him on the high fells). Througout the medieval period, and beyond, the wodewose wavered between a human and bestial nature, but always a barbaric, free one. in 1967 Ted Hughes revived the figure in his poem, "Wodwo":What am I? Nosing here, turning leaves overFollowing a faint stain on the air to the river’s edgeI enter water. Who am I to splitThe glassy grain of water looking upward I see the bedOf the river above me upside down very clearWhat am I doing here in mid-air? Why do I findthis frog so interesting as I inspect its most secretinterior and make it my own? Do these weedsknow me and name me to each other have theyseen me before do I fit in their world? I seemseparate from the ground and not rooted but droppedout of nothing casually I’ve no threadsfastening me to anything I can go anywhereI seem to have been given the freedomof this place what am I then? And pickingbits of bark off this rotten stump gives meno pleasure and it’s no use so why do I do itme and doing that have coincided very queerlyBut what shall I be called am I the firsthave I an owner what shape am I whatshape am I am I huge if I goto the end on this way past these trees and past these treestill I get tired that’s touching one wall of mefor the moment if I sit still how everythingstops to watch me I suppose I am the exact centrebut there’s all this what is it rootsroots roots roots and here’s the wateragain very queer but I’ll go on looking
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