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Medieval Studies Old English Religious Poetry
by
Frederick M. Biggs

Introduction

The surviving vernacular poetry from the Anglo-Saxon period is mostly religious, much of it overtly so. The more secular pieces usually associated with the church have survived because of their inclusion in manuscripts created or preserved in religious institutions. Even works such as “The Wanderer” and “The Seafarer,” once seen as expressing the world of the comitatus (originally, military officers who agreed to support their leader to the death), are now recognized as more consistently pious in their messages. Yet in order to provide a background to the field as a whole, this section begins with obviously religious works, emphasizing those examples that have attracted the most scholarly attention. With their conversion to Christianity, the Anglo-Saxons acquired a vast and diverse collection of stories written in the Bible and other sacred texts and proclaimed orally through the liturgy and preaching. They also inherited the belief that understanding these narratives was essential to lead good lives and to ensure salvation. Although much of Christianity was still new, Old English poets adapted their own poetic language with its traditional themes to this material, often selecting subjects that would fit within existing conventions. It is not surprising, then, that much vernacular poetry is both narrative and didactic and can be grouped under the general categories Biblical Poetry, Poems about Christ, and Saints’ Lives. Finally, Other Christian Themes offers some indication of the prevalence of Christian themes in other works. These divisions, it should be noted, do not reflect an explicit, contemporary understanding of these poems; however, individual authors and compilers of manuscripts may have perceived what we would identify as the generic expectations of their vernacular and Latin sources, at times manipulating these to good effect. Authors referenced in this article have merely attempted to gather somewhat similar kinds of poems in order to call attention to their differences.

General Overviews

Lack of precise information concerning the date and place of composition of almost all Old English poems remains a problem for literary histories of the period that runs roughly from Augustine of Canterbury’s mission in 597 to the Norman Conquest in 1066; see Fulk and Cain 2003 (especially pp. 36–37), which does not develop Fulk’s earlier chronology based on meter. Instead the authors have, after a discussion of the Alfredian period, structured their overview around different kinds of writings, such as “Homilies” and “Saints’ Legends,” combining prose and poetry when relevant as well as works in Latin. Earlier, Greenfield and Calder 1986 began with a chapter on the Anglo-Latin background (written by Michael Lapidge) and then separated the prose from the poetry. Garde 1990 focuses on vernacular poems that the author arranges to follow Christian chronology from Creation to the Last Judgment; a limitation of this study is its insistence that all Old English religious poetry is similarly historical and doctrinal, concerned with teaching only basic Christian beliefs and resistant to more sophisticated exegetical or allegorical interpretation. For a demonstration of the different kinds of Christian traditions behind poems with similar names (“Christ I,” “II,” and “III”), see Hill 1986 (cited under Poems about Christ), which proposes writing literary history around the study of sources. A very different and potentially illuminating approach to understanding religious poetry is suggested in Conner 1993, which focuses on the compilation of one manuscript, the Exeter Book, linking what Conner believes are distinct booklets to three moments (before, during, and after the 10th-century Benedictine Reform) in the history of the monastery at Exeter. Some of Conner’s basic arguments, however, have been challenged; see, in particular, Gameson 1996. Theories explaining the compilations of other vernacular poetic manuscripts, which tie them to a variety of religious contexts, have been advanced and may be represented in Hall 2002 (and the reprinted version of Hall’s earlier essay, which appears in the same collection), a discussion of the unity of the Junius Manuscript; see also Orchard 1995 (cited under Beowulf). The only named poet from the period who has left behind a substantial body of poetry (“Christ II,” “Elene,” “Fates of the Apostles,” and “Juliana”) is Cynewulf, whose work is examined in Bjork 1996. Finally, for a discussion whose tone is set early by the assertion that “the days of Robertsonian patristic exegesis presenting, in the main, a programme of Christian apologetic are past” (p. 252), see Conner 2001.

  • Bjork, Robert E., ed. Cynewulf: Basic Readings. New York: Garland, 1996.

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    This book includes eighteen essays, including the four Cynewulf poems, and chapters on “Poet, Canon, Date” and “Signature, Style.” Bjork calls attention at the beginning of his introduction to two previous books on Cynewulf by Daniel G. Calder (Cynewulf, Boston: Twayne, 1981) and Earl R. Anderson (Cynewulf: Structure, Style and Theme in His Poetry, Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1983) not represented in his collection but which he identifies as essential reading for all interested in this poet.

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  • Conner, Patrick W. Anglo-Saxon Exeter: A Tenth-Century Cultural History. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 1993.

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    Relying primarily on manuscript evidence, Conner argues that Exeter had a thriving monastery in the 10th century and that the Exeter Book was written there, reflecting Sidemann’s influence. He combines codicological and literary analysis to claim that the manuscript is divided into booklets written before, during, and after the reform. The evidence is impressionistic, requiring further study before it can be accepted.

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  • Conner, Patrick W. “Religious Poetry.” In A Companion to Anglo-Saxon Literature. Edited by Phillip Pulsiano and Elaine M. Treharne, 251–267. Oxford: Blackwell, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631209041.2001.00015.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In an effort to prevent the analysis of these poems from becoming “a religious exercise” (p. 266), Conner builds his essay around the anthropological definition of religion offered by Geertz. The result is a series of statements about individual poems that remain very general. See, however, other essays in this collection, in particular, Thomas Hall, “Biblical and Patristic Learning,” and Charles D. Wright, “The Irish Tradition.”

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  • Fulk, R. D., and Christopher M. Cain. A History of Old English Literature. Oxford: Blackwell, 2003.

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    This book begins with a discussion of the chronology and varieties of Old English literature, followed by a discussion of the Alfredian material. Other topics include Saints’ legends (a chapter by Rachel S. Anderson); biblical literature; liturgical and devotional texts; legal, scientific, and scholastic works; wisdom literature and lyric poetry; and, finally, Germanic legend and heroic lay, which mentions Christian influence in Beowulf and “The Battle of Maldon.”

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  • Gameson, Richard. “The Origin of the Exeter Book of Old English Poetry.” Anglo-Saxon England 25 (1996): 135–186.

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    A detailed study of the inventory by Leofric, the bishop of Exeter, the 10th-century manuscripts most closely linked to the Exeter Book, and the wider corpus of 10th- and early-11th-century English manuscripts that argues strongly against Conner’s central claim, an Exeter origin for this manuscript, placing it instead in Canterbury. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Garde, Judith N. Old English Poetry in Medieval Christian Perspective: A Doctrinal Approach. Cambridge, UK: Brewer, 1990.

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    Garde asserts that this poetry might be understood better not as “abstract theology,” but “as an extra-liturgical, vernacular celebration of a singular redemptive fact: that Almighty God chose to descend, incarnate in Christ, to deliver mankind from the bondage of Satan” (p. 6). She considers the Junius Manuscript, “Christ I,” “The Dream of the Rood,” the “Descent into Hell,” “Christ II,” “Elene,” “Christ III,” and the “Phoenix.”

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  • Greenfield, Stanley B., and Daniel G. Calder. A New Critical History of Old English Literature. With a Survey of the Anglo-Latin Background by Michael Lapidge. New York: New York University Press, 1986.

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    Originally published in 1966. The final chapters of this standard survey are concerned all or in part with religious poems: “The Christian Saint as Hero,” “Christ as Poetic Hero,” “Old Testament Narrative Poetry,” “Miscellaneous Religious and Secular Poetry,” “Lore and Wisdom,” and “Elegiac Poetry.”

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  • Hall, J. R. “‘The Old English Epic of Redemption’: Twenty-Five-Year Retrospective.” In The Poems of MS Junius 11: Basic Readings. Edited by R. M. Liuzza, 53–68. New York: Routledge, 2002.

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    Hall affirms his claim that the poems in the Junius Manuscript are organized around the tradition of salvation history found in Augustine’s De catechizandis rudibus and Wulfstan’s Sermo 6 by answering criticism that the Easter liturgy provides a more likely principle of organization and that “Christ and Satan” was not originally intended as part of the volume.

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Reference Works

With minor exceptions, the Old English corpus can be found in The Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records (Krapp and Dobbie 1931–1953); this series will eventually be replaced by the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library Series in which R. D. Fulk’s The Beowulf Manuscript appeared in 2010. Most Old English poems were translated in Bradley 1982. Although the divisions into separate poems are usually indicated in the manuscripts, the titles are provided by modern editors, causing some inconsistency in the secondary literature. Greenfield and Robinson 1980 contains further bibliography (through 1972) on Old English literature and the religious poetry, which is divided into sections on both “Themes and Topics” and individual poems. The yearly bibliographies of Anglo-Saxon England and the Old English Newsletter cover the period after 1972. Critical editions of individual poems are excellent sources of bibliography and usually provide a summary of scholarship up to their time of publication. Although its focus is broader than Old English poetry, Kaske 1988 provides a balanced approach to understanding medieval Christian literary imagery, covering a wide range of topics and introducing extensive bibliography. This work was written before electronic databases, and so it should be supplemented with full-text resources such as the Archive of Celtic-Latin Literature, the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, and the Library of Latin Texts, all available through Brepols, which can be searched in ways unimagined by Kaske. However, Kaske’s deep knowledge of these works still serves as an invaluable guide to understanding their significance. A still useful starting point for acquiring a sense of the range of Christian source material used by Old English poets is Allen and Calder 1976; on the problem of establishing the circulation of individual texts in Anglo-Saxon England, see the “Foreword,” “Introduction,” and “Guide to Readers” in Biggs, et al. 1990.

  • Allen, Michael J. B., and Daniel G. Calder, trans. Sources and Analogues of Old English Poetry: The Major Latin Texts in Translation. Cambridge, UK: Brewer, 1976.

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    Because the Latin parallels for Old English poetry were almost always related to the church, this volume provides an introduction to the kinds of Christian material believed to have been known in Anglo-Saxon England. It is divided into twenty-two chapters, usually dealing with specific works (e.g., “Andreas”) but sometimes under a general heading that groups several (“The Elegies”) or many (“Riddles”).

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  • Anglo-Saxon England. 1972–.

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    The leading journal in the field that contains yearly bibliographies including a section on Old English literature. The bibliography in volume 1 covers the previous year (1971).

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  • Biggs, Frederick M., Thomas D. Hill, and Paul E. Szarmach, eds. Sources of Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture: A Trial Version. Binghamton, NY: Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, 1990.

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    This volume announces a larger, collaborative project to survey current scholarship on the knowledge and use of literary sources in Anglo-Saxon England, using as its starting point J. D. A. Ogilvy’s Books Known to the English, 597–1066 (Cambridge, MA: Mediaeval Academy of America, 1967). The foreword is by Szarmach; the introduction, by Hill; and a guide to readers, by Biggs.

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  • Bradley, S. A. J., trans. and ed. Anglo-Saxon Poetry: An Anthology of Old English Poems in Prose Translation. London: Dent, 1982.

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    Following three early poems (“Cædmon’s Hymn,” the “Ruthwell Cross Inscription,” and “Bede’s Death-Song”), Bradley translates all of the poems in the Junius and Vercelli manuscripts (although he omits some passages), most of the Exeter Book, Beowulf, “Judith,” and some of the poems from other sources.

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  • Greenfield, Stanley B., and Fred C. Robinson. A Bibliography of Publications on Old English Literature to the End of 1972. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1980.

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    A comprehensive bibliography on Old English literature, broadly defined. The major divisions are “General Works on Old English Literature,” “Old English Poetry,” and “Old English Prose.”

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  • Kaske, R. E. Medieval Christian Literary Imagery: A Guide to Interpretation. Toronto Medieval Bibliographies 11. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988.

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    The introduction sets out a rationale for understanding religious allusions in medieval literature. The following chapters cover biblical exegesis, liturgy, hymns, sermons, visual arts, mythography, commentaries on major authors (Plato, Timaeus; Prudentius; Augustine, De civitate Dei; Boethius; Alain de Lille, Anticlaudianus; the Prophetia Merlini; and Dante, La divina commedia). A miscellaneous chapter discusses Mary, the cross, eschatology, number, and color. An appendix on medieval encyclopedias is by Michael W. Twomey.

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  • Krapp, George Philip, and Elliott Van Kirk Dobbie, eds. The Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records. 6 vols. New York: Columbia University Press, 1931–1953.

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    The first four volumes each include the poems in one of the major codices: Volume 1, The Junius Manuscript; Volume 2, The Vercelli Book; Volume 3, The Exeter Book; and Volume 4, Beowulf and Judith (the Nowell Codex). Volume 5 contains edited versions of “The Paris Psalter” and “The Meters of Boethius” from manuscripts in Paris, London, and Oxford. The remaining poems in Volume 6, The Anglo-Saxon Minor Poems, are gathered from various sources.

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  • Old English Newsletter. 1967–.

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    Fred C. Robinson collected the first annual bibliography (from 1969) for Volume 3 (1970; printed in 1972). The Old English Newsletter bibliography database is online, where coverage begins for 1973 and new material is added yearly.

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Biblical Poetry

After being instructed in a dream to sing and then entering the monastery at Whitby, Cædmon turns what he hears from the brothers about “the whole course of sacred history” into songs (Colgrave and Mynors 1969, p. 419). William of Malmsbury tells a similar anecdote, which he attributes to King Alfred, about Aldhelm attracting crowds hurrying home from Mass by standing on a bridge pretending to be a minstrel: “He gradually started to smuggle words from the Scriptures into the less serious matter, and so brought the inhabitants round to sound sentiments” (Winterbottom and Thomson 2007, p. 507). These accounts set in the late 7th century may remind us of the priority of secular, oral verse and do not necessarily tell of the beginning of Old English religious poetry. The Bible’s central place in religious life—particularly in the monasteries where all members would have memorized the Psalter to participate in daily services and would have been taught from the Latin biblical poems of Juvencus, Caelius Sedulius, Arator, and Alcimus Avitus (see Lapidge 1996, pp. 2–4)—would have made the composition of this kind of verse in the vernacular imaginable at any moment. The diversity of the poems in the Junius Manuscript (dated to the end of the 10th or the beginning of the 11th century), which is no longer believed to contain any of Cædmon’s compositions—“Judith” (in the Beowulf Manuscript); the Metrical Psalms of the Paris Psalter; and poems such as “Christ and Satan,” “Fates of the Apostles,” and the “Lord’s Prayer” (mentioned in other sections but that reasonably could have been included here)—together suggests such multiple beginnings. Although challenged at the time and on many points superseded by later scholarship, Huppé 1959 argues strongly that an Augustinian understanding of the Bible influenced Old English biblical verse. Godden 1991 connects the poetry to the prose. In its introduction, Remley 1996 provides an extensive overview of the place of the Junius Manuscript in the biblical culture of the Anglo-Saxon period; the following chapters—“Genesis A” and “B,” “Exodus,” and “Daniel”—focus more narrowly on the precise biblical traditions used in each work. An example of the many fine essays that discuss a particular topic across a range of biblical poems is Frank 1972, which investigates etymological or pseudo-etymological wordplay in biblical verse.

  • Colgrave, Bertram, and R. A. B. Mynors, eds. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Oxford: Clarendon, 1969.

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    The standard edition and translation of this essential source for the early history of Anglo-Saxon England.

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  • Frank, Roberta. “Some Uses of Paronomasia in Old English Scriptural Verse.” Speculum 47.2 (1972): 207–226.

    DOI: 10.2307/2856688Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Stylistic analysis that identifies some pervasive themes in Old English biblical poetry. Reprinted in The Poems of MS Junius 11: Basic Readings, edited by R. M. Liuzza (New York: Routledge, 2002), pp. 69–98. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Godden, Malcolm. “Biblical Literature: The Old Testament.” In The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature. Edited by Malcolm Godden and Michael Lapidge, 206–226. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521374383.012Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Godden offers a survey of the material written with the beginning student in mind.

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  • Huppé, Bernard F. Doctrine and Poetry: Augustine’s Influence on Old English Poetry. New York: State University of New York, 1959.

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    Although controversial because of its assertion that “works modeled on the Bible are governed by the object of promoting charity” (p. 18), this study provides an introduction to Augustine’s understanding of literature and his influence in the early Middle Ages, as well as detailed readings of Cædmon’s “Hymn” and “Genesis A” and more cursory remarks about “Exodus,” “Daniel,” and “Christ and Satan.”

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  • Lapidge, Michael. “Anglo-Latin Literature.” In Anglo-Latin Literature 600–899. By Michael Lapidge, 1–35. London: Hambledon, 1996.

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    Revised from Greenfield and Calder 1986 (cited under General Overviews), this survey makes many connections between the Latin and vernacular traditions.

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  • Remley, Paul G. Old English Biblical Verse: Studies in Genesis, Exodus, and Daniel. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511553004Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The introduction includes discussions of Cædmon, biblical glosses, biblical instruction, attitudes toward vernacular renderings of the Bible, the liturgy, Alfred and Asser, the Regularis concordia, and Ælfric and Sigeweard.

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  • Winterbottom, M., and Rodney M. Thomson, eds. William of Malmesbury: Gesta Pontificum Anglorum—The History of the English Bishops. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 2007.

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    The standard edition of William of Malmesbury’s work. Volume 1, the text and translation, is primarily the work of Winterbottom; Volume 2, the introduction and commentary, the work of Thomson. Thomson comments that the account “could be no more than a development of Bede’s story of Caedmon” but continues to quote Lapidge 1996 and Orchard, The Poetic Art of Aldhelm (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990) as evidence of Aldhelm’s knowledge of Old English verse.

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“Cædmon’s Hymn”

In Bede’s well-known account of Cædmon’s miraculous poetic inspiration (Ecclesiastical History iv.24), “someone” in a dream tells the cowherd to “sing . . . about the beginning of created things” (Colgrave and Mynors 1969, p. 417; cited under Biblical Poetry); he responds with an elaborate paraphrase of Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning (‘aerist’), God (expressed in a variety of epithets) created (‘scop’) heaven (‘heben’) and earth (‘middungeard’).” O’Donnell 2005, which discounts the significance of this often-noted source (p. 58), relates the verb “tiadæ” (“decorated”) to Genesis 2:1. Scholars have recognized that the imperative to praise God for his creation is found in the Psalms (Orchard 1996, p. 414, lists six passages closely related to the hymn), although, as has been long noted, it can also be paralleled in the Germanic praise-poetry. Biggs 1997 argues that this association with traditional vernacular verse is why Bede paraphrases the poem in Latin. Magoun 1955 associates the story with oral formulaic theory (see O’Donnell 2005 for others who have developed this idea), and O’Keeffe 1990 discusses variations in the written forms of the hymn as evidence for a transitional moment between the oral and written cultures of the Anglo-Saxons. Cavill 2002 offers further reasons not to accept the suggestion that the Old English hymn as we know it is a translation of Bede’s Latin. The hymn and Bede’s account of its composition have attracted many interpretations in the secondary literature; see, for example, Wallis 2007, which argues that Bede would have viewed it as “a monastic song about the cosmos” (p. 109), and Holsinger 2007, which uses it to posit a tradition of vernacular liturgical practice at Whitby.

  • Biggs, Frederick M. “Deor’s Threatened ‘Blame Poem.’” Studies in Philology 94.3 (1997): 297–320.

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    Biggs notes that the emphasis on naming the Lord and praising his giving of gifts further aligns the hymn with traditional praise poetry. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Cavill, Paul. “Bede and Cædmon’s Hymn.” In “Lastworda Betst”: Essays in Memory of Christine E. Fell, with Her Unpublished Writings. Edited by Carole Hough and Kathryn A. Lowe, 1–17. Donnington, UK: Shaun Tyas, 2002.

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    Cavill reviews and adds to the arguments that the vernacular hymn preceded Bede’s paraphrase. For example, he proposes that the text in Laud Misc. 243 (Oxford, Bodleian Library) was created by a scribe from an “imperfect recollection” of the Old English who “used the Latin as his prompt” (p. 16), suggesting what such a back-formation might have looked like.

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  • Holsinger, Bruce. “The Parable of Caedmon’s Hymn: Liturgical Invention and Literary Tradition.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 106.2 (2007): 149–175.

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    Holsinger’s theory contradicts Bede’s account, and much of his supporting evidence is tangential or flawed. For example, the source he cites does not support his claim that “liturgical ceremonies” such as “visitation and unction for the sick, baptism, and marriage . . . survive in Old English versions (or with extensive Old English rubrics that merge with the actual ceremonies)” (p. 160). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Magoun, Francis P. “Bede’s Story of Cædmon: The Case History of an Anglo-Saxon Oral Singer.” Speculum 30 (1955): 49–63.

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    Magoun identifies eleven of the half-lines of the hymn as formulas and offers a “rational interpretation” of the story in which Cædmon, who had been learning traditional songs for much of his life yet was unable to perform them in public, overcame his inhibition through his dream.

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  • O’Donnell, Daniel Paul. Cædmon’s Hymn: A Multi-Media Study, Archive and Edition. Cambridge, UK: Brewer, 2005.

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    This study gathers a large variety of previous scholarship and offers a new stemma to explain the hymn’s transmission. Eight critical editions precede transcriptions of the twenty-two manuscripts. The CD accompanying the book includes the entire print version, images of the manuscripts, and additional textual material. It is more important for its information about the manuscripts than for its interpretations of the hymn.

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  • O’Keeffe, Katherine O’Brien. Visible Song: Transitional Literacy in Old English Verse. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

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    Chapter 2 is revised from “Orality and the Developing Text of Caedmon’s Hymn” (Speculum 62.1 (1987), pp. 1–20). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Orchard, Andy. “Poetic Inspiration and Prosaic Translation: The Making of Cædmon’s Hymn.” In Studies in English Language and Literature: “Doubt Wisely”; Papers in Honour of E. G. Stanley. Edited by M. J. Toswell and E. M. Tyler, 402–422. London: Routledge, 1996.

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    Characterizing the story as “a piece of local tradition which, presumably, had travelled the short distance from Whitby to Jarrow in spoken form” (p. 402), Orchard demonstrates that Bede’s recasting aligns it with Galatians 1:1 and Matthew 10:8 and that his paraphrase of the opening may follow Latin scansion. He relates it to other accounts of poetic inspiration in Anglo-Saxon England.

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  • Wallis, Faith. “Cædmon’s Created World and the Monastic Encyclopedia.” In Cædmon’s Hymn and Material Culture in the World of Bede. Edited by Allen J. Frantzen and John Hines, 80–110. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2007.

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    Wallis relates Bede’s account of the hymn to early medieval science.

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“Genesis A”

The opening portion of the Junius Manuscript (with the exception of the last work, “Christ and Satan”), the texts in this manuscript are presented similarly, with the beginnings indicated for “Genesis,” “Exodus,” and “Daniel,” an arrangement followed in the Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records (ASPR; see Krapp and Dobbie 1931–1953, cited under Reference Works). A facsimile available online at the Bodleian Library website contains what are now viewed as two separate poems—“Genesis A” and “Genesis B” (lines 235–851 of Genesis in the ASPR)—the latter inserted apparently to make up for lost material concerning the Fall of Adam and Eve (Doane 1978, pp. 22–23; see also Stévanovitch 1992, 1:134–135, for a summary and critique of Doane and other possibilities). Considered one of the earliest surviving poems, “Genesis A” covers the events from Creation to the Sacrifice of Isaac (22:13), usually following the text of the Bible quite closely, although the “Fall of the Angels” (lines 1–111) lacks a biblical source (see Johnson 1998) and the account of Abraham’s battles found in Genesis 14 (lines 1960–2095) is handled more freely by the poet (see Orchard 1994). Doane 1978 finds that “the poem is not made out of a single overriding idea, but consists of many small details brought together by the needs of the source-text and the knowledge and interest of the poet” (pp. 43–44). Wright 2011 goes further, contesting Doane’s claim that the poet’s “task also included suggesting the essential established non-literal significations of the literal meaning” (p. 51); instead, Wright argues the approach is “fundamentally historical.” Several studies trace individual themes across the poem. Hill 1988 considers the sixteen moments that note an individual’s death or translation, and Battles 2000 examines eight passages related to the theme of migration. Wright 1996 proposes that Aldhelm’s poem on virginity is the source for the image of sin springing from Seth’s blood (lines 982b–995a), a finding that has implications for the date of the work.

  • Battles, Paul. “Genesis A and the Anglo-Saxon ‘Migration Myth.’” Anglo-Saxon England 29 (2000): 43–66.

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    Developing Nicholas Howe’s thesis that “the Anglo-Saxons regarded the ancestral migration from the Continent as ‘the founding and defining event of their culture’” (p. 43), Battles looks at eight passages all based in the Bible (Genesis 11:2, 11:31, 12:1, 12:4–5, 12:10, 13:1–2, 13:5–12, and 20:1), yet which “systematically depart” from its narrative, revealing migration to be “a traditional theme” (p. 61). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Doane, Alger N., ed. Genesis A: A New Edition. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978.

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    This is the standard edition of the poem. Doane has updated his work on the sources in his 2002 entries for Fontes Anglo-Saxonici, a register of written sources used by Anglo-Saxon authors, available online.

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  • Hill, Thomas D. “The ‘Variegated Obit’ as an Historiographic Motif in Old English Poetry and Anglo-Latin Historical Literature.” Traditio 44 (1988): 101–124.

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    This wide-ranging paper begins with the relevant passages in “Genesis A,” considers Anglo-Latin historical writings particularly of Bede and Byrhtferth of Ramsey, and ends with other Old English poems including “Fates of the Apostles” and especially “Beowulf.” Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Johnson, David F. “The Fall of Lucifer in Genesis A and Two Anglo-Latin Royal Charters.” Journal of English and German Philology 97.4 (1998): 500–521.

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    Johnson offers analogues from two Anglo-Latin royal charters for the explicit description at the beginning of the poem for the Fall of the Angels before the Creation of heaven and earth. He investigates the biblical and patristic traditions around this topic, showing that the poet does not follow Augustine here, instead adopting the position of the theologian Origen. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Orchard, Andy. “Conspicuous Heroism: Abraham, Prudentius, and the Old English Genesis.” In Heroes and Heroines in Medieval English Literature: A Festschrift Presented to André Crépin on the Occasion of His Sixty-Fifth Birthday. Edited by Leo Carruthers, 45–58. Cambridge, UK: Brewer, 1994.

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    Orchard demonstrates that the poet has recast the biblical account into three related scenes: “(a) the battle between the kings and the capture of Lot (ll. 1960–2017); (b) the preparations of Abraham (ll. 2018–2059); and (c) the battle against the kings and the rescue of Lot (ll. 2060–2095)” (pp. 48–49). He focuses specifically on Prudentius’s “Psychomachia” as a possible source for the poet’s understanding of the allegorical significance of this section.

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  • Stévanovitch, Colette, ed. La Genèse du manuscrit Junius XI de la Bodleienne: Edition, traduction et commentaire. 2 vols. L’Association des médiévistes anglicistes de l’Enseignement Supérieur, hors série 1. Paris: Université de Paris IV Sorbonne, 1992.

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    This edition of both “Genesis A” and “B” provides a valuable introduction that summarizes and critiques earlier scholarship and a detailed commentary with many new insights. A facing French translation accompanies the Old English texts.

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  • Wright, Charles D. “The Blood of Abel and the Branches of Sin: Genesis A, Maxims I and Aldhelm’s Carmen de uirginitate.” Anglo-Saxon England 25 (1996): 7–19 and plate 1.

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    Wright argues that Aldhelm’s “distinctive formulation” of sin as “a lurid outgrowth of Abel’s blood” (pp. 15–16) may have served as the model similar for statements in “Genesis A” (lines 982b–995a), “Maxims I” (lines 192–199), and an illustration in the Old English Hexateuch. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Wright, Charles D. “Genesis A ad litteram.” In Old English Literature and the Old Testament. Edited by Michael Fox and Manish Sharma. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011.

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    Wright reviews the earlier scholarship on the poem to show that the poet’s concern is with historical rather than allegorical or typological interpretation. Although stressing that the commentary tradition on the Bible is not always focused on extraliteral meanings, he considers catechetical narratio (as proposed by previous scholars) or the genre of universal history or world chronicle to have influenced the poet’s “conception of biblical paraphrase.”

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“Genesis B”

“Genesis B,” an account of the Fall of Man, is perplexing because it is difficult even to know how best to view it: as a discrete poem, as a fragment of a longer Old Saxon work, or as part of the Genesis material in its manuscript. Sievers 1875 identifies lines 235–851 of the Genesis section of the Junius Manuscript as based on an Old Saxon source (the rest being “Genesis A”), a theory later confirmed by the discovery of fragments of the original in the Vatican Library. Raw 1976 compellingly argues that the illustrations in the Junius Manuscript were also taken from an Old Saxon source, which suggests that more of the poem was available in England. (Focusing on the relationship between the two, Schwab 1988 offers a detailed analysis of the contacts between the insular and continental societies.) However, the situation is complicated not only by the fragmentary nature of the Saxon original, which might have been more tightly (Doane 1991, pp. 108–180) or loosely (Stévanovitch 1992, Vol. 1, p. 143; cited under “Genesis A”) unified, but also by the loss of material in the Junius Manuscript, most significantly during the transition from “Genesis A” to “Genesis B.” The shift back from “Genesis B” to “A” indicates that, although the scribe of this manuscript did not call attention to the change, the compiler of the material allowed “Genesis B” to reach a satisfying conclusion in its description, anticipatory of Milton’s “Paradise Lost” (see also Stévanovitch 1992, Vol. 1, pp. 1–5), of Adam and Eve together at the start of their new life. It is then valid to examine the Old English poem as part of a Saxon original (Doane 1991, pp. 56–64, demonstrates from the overlapping passage that it is “a morpheme by morpheme transcription of the Old Saxon original”) or as a section within the Junius Manuscript (see Dockray-Miller 2003). There is also reason to consider it on its own as a sustained reflection on the Fall that differs in many ways from the biblical account, especially in its discussion of the Fall of the Angels and its emphasis on Eve. (It differs radically, too, from “Genesis A.”) Scholars have focused much attention on the question of Eve’s guilt: Doane 1991 (pp. 139–153) emphasizes her culpability; Hill 2002 continues to stress her innocence, offering here a likely source for her vision (lines 599–609a); and Langeslag 2007 takes a position between the two extremes. Ericksen 1996 notes that the poet uses the metaphor of unlikeness, found in Augustine, to link the sinning against God by Satan, Eve, and Adam.

  • Doane, Alger N. The Saxon Genesis: An Edition of the West Saxon “Genesis B” and the Old Saxon Vatican “Genesis.” Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991.

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    An extensive introduction with a full bibliography precedes editions of the Old English and Old Saxon texts, as well as commentaries and glossaries.

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  • Dockray-Miller, Mary. “Breasts and Babies: The Maternal Body of Eve in the Junius 11 Genesis.” In Naked Before God: Uncovering the Body in Anglo-Saxon England. Edited by Benjamin C. Withers and Jonathan Wilcox, 221–256. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2003.

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    Dockray-Miller argues that the manuscript “reveals an unresolved tension between its poem and its illustrations: the poetic text continually reinforces an opposition of masculine Subject/feminine Other, the illustrations present a number of conflicting gender performances of dominant feminine, acquiescent masculine, and even active maternal” (p. 221).

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  • Ericksen, Janet Schrunk. “Lands of Unlikeness in Genesis B.” Studies in Philology 93.1 (1996): 1–20.

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    Ericksen traces the “theological opposition between likeness and unlikeness to God” (p. 2) to Augustine’s Confessions and argues that it is invoked in the poem “to describe the major characters’ shifting relationships to God” (p. 2). Because the word “unlike” occurs in the Old Saxon Genesis, she suggests that “the concept may have figured” in the poet’s source (p. 5, note 14). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Hill, Thomas D. “Pilate’s Visionary Wife and the Innocence of Eve: An Old Saxon Source for the Old English Genesis B.” Journal of English and German Philology 101.2 (2002): 170–184.

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    Against the view that Eve’s vision is intended to allude to the Last Judgment, Hill proposes that it is derived from that of Pilate’s wife in the Heliand. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Langeslag, P. S. “Doctrine and Paradigm: Two Functions of the Innovations in Genesis B.” Studia Neophilologica 79.2 (2007): 113–118.

    DOI: 10.1080/00393270701699534Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Langeslag argues that the poet minimizes Eve’s guilt, omitting Pride as the cause of the Fall, and stresses the first couple’s subsequent penance in order to warn the audience of the ease of falling into sin and to inform them of the right response to it.

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  • Raw, Barbara. “The Probable Derivation of Most of the Illustrations in Junius 11 from an Illustrated Old Saxon Genesis.” Anglo-Saxon England 5 (1976): 133–148.

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    By linking the Genesis illustrations in the Junius Manuscript to Continental models and specifically to the iconography of “Genesis B” and the Old Saxon Genesis, Raw demonstrates that “the Old Saxon text and the illustrations came to England together” (p. 148) and were used by both the poet and the compiler of this material. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Schwab, Ute. Einige Beziehung zwischen altsächsischer und angelsächsisher Dichtung. Spoleto, Italy: Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo, 1988.

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    Beginning with the precise overlapping of “Genesis B” and its Old Saxon source, Schwab investigates the broad cultural context in which this borrowing took place. She considers the introduction of Anglo-Saxon biblical poetry on the continent and its subsequent development as well as the implications of the knowledge and use of one of the two longer manuscripts of the Old Saxon Heliand, a retelling of the life of Christ, in late Anglo-Saxon England. She emphasizes the Alfredian period as when “Genesis B” was likely translated.

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  • Sievers, Eduard. Der Heliand und die angelsächsische Genesis. Halle, Germany: M. Niemeyer, 1875.

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    In his introduction, Sievers argues on the basis of language and meter that lines 235–851 of the first section of the Junius Manuscript are based on an Old Saxon original. This stunning analysis was subsequently confirmed by fragments of the source.

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“Exodus”

Admired for its linguistic and metrical complexity, “Exodus” focuses on the most dramatic moment of the flight from Egypt—the crossing of the Red Sea—merging heroic tradition with a profound understanding of this central event in Christian theology. The extreme difficulty of the poem has contributed to some unlikely explanations of its controlling idea. Howe 2001 claims it expresses an Anglo-Saxon myth of migration, and Wyly 1999 links it to legal traditions. Lucas 1994 discounts the suggestion that it is based on Avitus’s De transitu maris rubri (p. 53) and qualifies the claim that its source is the liturgy for Easter eve, the service when converts were baptized (p. 59). However, as evidence of the liturgy’s influence, Lucas cites lines 113b–115a, which “correspond closely to the wording of a statement in the Exultet of the Paschal Vigil” and “the treatment of the fire-pillar, especially the reference to it as heofoncandel,” which “probably reflects the use of the word columna with dual meaning (fire-pillar: Paschal Candle) in the Holy Saturday service” (p. 60). Remley 1996 (cited under Biblical Poetry) objects to interpretations of the poem as “about baptism” (p. 172), but revives the claim that it is based on liturgical texts. However, main evidence—the digression about Noah and Abraham—is effectively challenged by Anlezark 2005, which adduces biblical sources for this grouping of material. In spite of many remaining difficulties, much fine work on the poem continues to appear. Frank 1988 offers a strong explanation from the vernacular tradition for many of the poem’s linguistic difficulties by examining “some stylistic peculiarities shared by Exodus and . . . fragments of mythological verse surviving from pagan 9th- and 10th-century Norway” (p. 192). In contrast, Lapidge 2006 turns to Latin rhetoric to resolve another source of confusion. These views are not incompatible, suggesting instead a poet schooled in both traditions, because of the possibility that Aldhelm or one of his followers wrote “Exodus” (see Remley 2005). For examples of many studies of individual passages, see Haines 1999.

  • Anlezark, Daniel. “Connecting the Patriarchs: Noah and Abraham in the Old English Exodus.” Journal of English and German Philology 104.2 (2005): 171–188.

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    After noting that only the Sacrifice of Isaac, not the story of the Flood, has a possible “direct connection to the Easter readings,” Anlezark shows that the two episodes are paired in the Bible in Wisdom, Ecclesiastes, and the epistle to the Hebrews. He argues that all three passages influenced the author of the poem as well as Aldhelm’s riddle “LXIII: Corbus (raven),” which also relies on the account of the Flood in “Wisdom.” Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Frank, Roberta. “What Kind of Poetry Is Exodus?” In Germania: Comparative Studies in the Old Germanic Languages and Literatures. Edited by Daniel G. Calder and T. Craig Christy, 191–205. Woodbridge, UK: Brewer, 1988.

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    Although Frank warns against pressing the relationship between “Exodus” and skaldic mythological poetry “too hard,” her analysis of their “common metaphoric inventory” and “common analogical technique” opens up the poem’s language and several opaque passages. She argues that “the passages in Exodus that seem most ‘Germanic’ are precisely those in which . . . a traditional Christian meaning is being explored” (p. 196).

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  • Haines, Dorothy. “Unlocking Exodus 11. 516–532.” Journal of English and German Philology 98.4 (1999): 481–498.

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    Haines relates lines 523–532a (often used in typological and/or allegorical interpretations) to the preceding passage, Moses’ “eternal counsels” and “holy judgments” pronounced after crossing the Red Sea, and then argues that their subject is not the mind or soul of the believer, but rather Christ who “unlocks” the Old Testament. She establishes the sources of this idea and notes its centrality to the poem. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Howe, Nicholas. Migration and Mythmaking in Anglo-Saxon England. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001.

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    Citing Bede, Boniface, Wulfstan, and others, Howe claims “the Anglo-Saxons honored the ancestral migration as the founding and defining event of their culture” (p. xvii). “Exodus,” he claims, is “the densest of OE biblical poems” because it expresses this myth, although “the poet does not explicitly narrate this event because his vision is too profoundly allusive” (p. 72).

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  • Lapidge, Michael. “Hypallage in the Old English Exodus.” Leeds Studies in English, n.s., 37 (2006): 31–39.

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    Lapidge identifies three examples of hypallage―a figure of speech that “occurs when an adjective whose meaning relates primarily to one noun is transferred grammatically to another” (p. 32)―in the poem, and one (a reference to the “red streams,” lines 293–296) probably drawn directly from Avitus.

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  • Lucas, Peter J., ed. Exodus. Rev. ed. Exeter, UK: University of Exeter Press, 1994.

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    The standard edition of the poem, which makes use of earlier editions by Edward B. Irving (The Old English Exodus, Rev. ed., New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994) and J. R. R. Tolkien (The Old English Exodus, Oxford: Clarendon, 1981, see p. 152) that should still be consulted on their own, was first published in 1977 and only slightly revised for the later reprinting, with an updated bibliography. Lucas views the work as unified by its theme, “Salvation by Faith and Obedience” (p. 61).

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  • Remley, Paul G. “Aldhelm as Old English Poet: Exodus, Asser, and the Dicta Ælfredi.” In Latin Learning and English Lore: Studies in Anglo-Saxon Literature for Michael Lapidge. Vol. 1. Edited by Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe and Andy Orchard, 90–108. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005.

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    Remley offers eight examples from a promised survey of the parallels between “Exodus” and Aldhelm’s works (pp. 94–95) and then reviews the 12th-century evidence for the survival of a compilation by Alfred, now known as the Enchiridion or Dicta Ælfredi (following Dorothy Whitelock, he argues these refer to the same work), which might provide evidence for Aldhelm’s composition of vernacular verse.

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  • Wyly, Bryan Weston. Figures of Authority in the Old English “Exodus.” Heidelberg, Germany: Universitätsverlag C. Winter, 1999.

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    Wyly investigates “the ethical underpinnings of the conflict between the Israelites and the Egyptians” (p. 25) in order to explain how the deaths of the Egyptians in the Red Sea “might translate into a just resolution” (p. 2). A main conclusion is that “the Egyptian antagonists advocate a coherent, if perhaps unorthodox, ethical position” (p. 295). The argument, such as it is, rests on detailed linguistic analysis that is seldom convincing.

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“Judith”

Criticism on “Judith” has established that it effectively can be linked to a number of contexts in addition to other adaptations of the Bible: the homiletic tradition, especially Ælfric’s sermon on Judith; hagiography, particularly the other English poems about religious women, Elene and Juliana; heroic literature, in particular, Beowulf; likely contemporary events, above all the Viking raids; and modern theoretical concerns, notably feminism and gender studies. Fragmentary at its beginning, the poem covers the events in 12:10–16:1 of the Old Testament Judith, the story of the Bethulian widow who saves her city by beheading Holofernes, the leader of the invading Assyrians. Scholars now tend to agree that, rather than following Beowulf, it preceded the first surviving work, “The Life of St. Christopher,” in this part (known as the Nowell Codex) of the manuscript and that only around one hundred lines have been lost from its opening (see Griffith 1997, pp. 1–4). After a review of its language and meter, Griffith tentatively asserts that it was written in the late 9th or 10th century (p. 47). His edition reviews much of the best earlier scholarship including Hill 1981, which explains Judith’s invocation of the Trinity prior to the beheading as related to Irish prayer, and Kaske 1982, which details the patristic background of the theme of Judith’s wisdom. Griffith argues that the poet “literalises whatever he may have taken from exegesis” (p. 79), and that the poem as a whole is “a simple exemplum of the triumph of Christian faith over the power of evil” (p. 51). This interpretation acknowledges, yet deemphasizes, political and feminist readings; for the former, see Astell 1989 and Spiegel 2004; for the latter, Lochrie 1994 and Magennis 2002.

  • Astell, Ann W. “Holofernes’s Head: Tacen and Teaching in the Old English Judith.” Anglo-Saxon England 18 (1989): 117–133.

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    Beginning with Ælfric’s claim that “Judith” should serve as an example (“bysne”) to oppose the Danes, Astell explains the poem’s “rhetorical strategies” as “appropriate to a militaristic tropology” (p. 118), an idea from Tyconius and transmitted by Augustine. She analyzes four scenes that focus on Holofernes’s head and headship: the feast, the beheading, the display of the head, and the battle. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Griffith, Mark, ed. Judith. Exeter, UK: University of Exeter Press, 1997.

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    The standard edition of the work, which includes a detailed discussion of the poet’s use of his source, the Vulgate, with perhaps some Old Latin readings and the poem’s relationship to the Old English poetic tradition and to the Christian tradition.

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  • Hill, Thomas D. “Invocation of the Trinity and the Tradition of the Lorica in Old English Poetry.” Speculum 56.2 (1981): 259–267.

    DOI: 10.2307/2846934Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In addition to the heroine’s prayer in “Judith,” Hill identifies seven passages in Old English verse (“Christ I,” “Christ II,” “Juliana,” “Daniel,” “Azarias,” “Journey Charm,” and “A Prayer”) in which “the poet or the character who invokes the Trinity is in grave physical or spiritual danger” (p. 263). Hill finds a further reflection of this theme in “Guthlac A” (“The Age of Man and the World in the Old English Guthlac A,” Journal of English and German Philology 80.1 (1981): 13–22). While recognizing some differences, he offers “immediate and striking parallels” to this tradition in Celtic loricae, prayers that ask for the protection of the Trinity.

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  • Kaske, R. E. “Sapientia et fortitudo in the Old English Judith.” In The Wisdom of Poetry: Essays in Early English Literature in Honor of Morton W. Bloomfield. Edited by Larry D. Benson and Siegfried Wenzel, 13–29, 264–268. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute, 1982.

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    Developing his claim that sapientia et fortitudo is the theme of Beowulf, Kaske investigates this heroic ideal in “Juliana,” “Elene,” and “Judith.” Although Judith’s wisdom appears in the Vulgate, here the two “form a pattern in which she originally possesses woman’s proper virtue, wisdom, and is granted courage for the beheading of Holofernes by a special grace of God” (p. 21).

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  • Lochrie, Karma. “Gender, Sexual Violence, and the Politics of War in the Old English Judith.” In Class and Gender in Early English Literature. Edited by Britton J. Harwood and Gillian R. Overing, 1–20. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.

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    Lochrie asserts that Judith thus “exposes the interchangeability of war and sexual violence in Anglo-Saxon cultural codes” (pp. 13–14). While occasioned by the poem and the unease caused by the story of a holy woman who commits murder, this claim, as the author acknowledges, rests on evidence outside the work.

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  • Magennis, Hugh. “Gender and Heroism in the Old English Judith.” In Writing Gender and Genre in Medieval Literature: Approaches to Old and Middle English Texts. Edited by Elaine Treharne, 5–18. Cambridge, UK: Brewer, 2002.

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    Magennis argues that the poet strives to preserve Judith’s “femaleness” without allowing her to become “monstrous or some kind of honorary male” even as he portrays her in her unusual role as a hero.

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  • Spiegel, Flora. “The Heroic Biography of Æthelflæd of Mercia and the Old English Judith: A Reexamination.” Quaestio Insularis 5 (2004): 111–144.

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    Spiegel disproves the objections to viewing Judith as an oblique panegyric to Æthelflæd, daughter of Alfred, who ran and then ruled Mercia (904–919) and supports the claim with new evidence from the Fragmentary Annals of Ireland (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1978) that “celebrates Æthelflæd’s military deeds at length and describes two battle scenarios which resemble the one in ‘Judith’ on a number of points” (p. 131).

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Poems about Christ

The poems about Christ are less closely tied to the New Testament than is the Biblical Poetry to the Old Testament. There are no paraphrases of the Gospels similar to the Old Saxon Heliand, and some poetic themes (particularly the Incarnation, the Harrowing of Hell, and the Last Judgment) receive little attention in scripture. Raw 1991 suggests that the two parts of the Bible would have been perceived differently: the “Old Testament showed the unrolling of God’s plan through history” and the “New Testament showed God’s revelation of himself through the incarnation of his Son” (p. 227), with the result that poems based on the latter emphasize “God’s plan of redemption” (p. 228). Developing Wormald 1991, however, it is also possible that the difference conforms to the expectations of a society in which, since the time of Augustine’s mission to Æthelberht of Kent, religious and secular power had been closely aligned; here, Christ’s triumph over Satan and his judging of mankind would have been potent subjects. In any case, the less unified nature of this material has resulted in fewer general studies. Cook 1964 edits the three “Christ” poems together, arguing that they are all by Cynewulf and “stand in an organic relation to one another” (p. xxv). As Pope points out in the preface in this reprinted edition, this view is no longer held, although many of Cook’s insights could explain why the compiler of the Exeter Book begins with them. Hill 1986 uses the sources employed by each to propose writing literary history from this perspective. The Incarnation, a subject that would have been increasingly associated with the Cult of the Virgin that developed during this period, is represented strongly in “Christ I,” but, in contrast to Old English prose, there is little emphasis elsewhere on Mary (see Clayton 1990, pp. 206–209, cited under “Christ I”). The Harrowing, however, described in the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus (see Biggs and Morey 2007), appears prominently in “The Descent into Hell,” “Christ and Satan,” and “The Dream of the Rood” and is referred to in many other poems including “Christ I,” “Christ II,” “Guthlac B,” “Phoenix,” “Panther,” “Riddle 55,” and “Elene.” Similarly, the Judgment is the subject of “Christ III,” “Judgment Day I,” and “Judgment Day II” and is often invoked elsewhere; see Caie 1976 and Kabir 2001, although Hall 2005 notes substantial problems with this work.

  • Biggs, Frederick M., and James H. Morey. “Gospel of Nicodemus.” In Sources of Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture: The Apocrypha. Edited by Frederick M. Biggs, 31–33. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute, 2007.

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    Biggs and Morey provide an overview of scholarship on the Gospel of Nicodemus and its use in Anglo-Saxon England.

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  • Caie, Graham D. The Judgment Day Theme in Old English Poetry. Publications of the Department of English, University of Copenhagen 2. Copenhagen: Nova, 1976.

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    Caie follows a semantic analysis of “dom,” which expresses the heroic concept of reputation and the Christian doctrine of immortal glory, with the argument that this literature is less concerned with the Judgment than with “a moral truth”: the “ever-present” judgment of each deed (p. 4). This claim has not been widely accepted.

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  • Cook, Albert S., ed. The Christ of Cynewulf. Reprint with new preface by John C. Pope. Hamden, CT: Archon, 1964.

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    Originally published in 1900. Although Cook’s conclusion that the three “Christ” poems at the beginning of the Exeter Book were all written by Cynewulf and are unified, his work on their sources is regarded as a monument of Old English scholarship.

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  • Hall, Thomas N. “Review of Ananya Jahanara Kabir, Paradise, Death and Doomsday in Anglo-Saxon Literature.” Journal of English and German Philology 104 (2005): 559–561.

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    In contrast to favorable reviews in other journals, Hall notes significant omissions in Kabir’s secondary literature as well as her “avoidance of the Irish side of early Insular eschatology” (p. 560).

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  • Hill, Thomas D. “Literary History and Old English Poetry: The Case of Christ I, II, and III.” In Sources of Anglo-Saxon Culture. Edited by Paul E. Szarmach, 3–22. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute, 1986.

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    Hill illustrates his proposal to write Old English literary history by considering the works’ relationships to their known sources by contrasting “Christ I,” based on Advent antiphons; “Christ II,” dependent on a homily by Gregory the Great; and “Christ III,” which draws on a variety of sources including Irish biblical exegesis.

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  • Kabir, Ananya Jahanara. Paradise, Death and Doomsday in Anglo-Saxon Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

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    In spite of the title, the subject of this book is more narrowly the “interim paradise,” the place where the soul resides between death and Judgment. Kabir devotes a chapter to Old English poetry, discussing “Andreas,” “Christ I,” “Christ II,” “Christ and Satan,” “Genesis A,” “Guthlac A,” “Guthlac B,” and “Phoenix.”

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  • Raw, Barbara C. “Biblical Literature: The New Testament.” In The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature. Edited by Malcolm Godden and Michael Lapidge, 227–242. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521374383Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    After her provocative explanation of the difference between Old and New Testament poetry, Raw provides a general overview of the latter.

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  • Wormald, Patrick. “Anglo-Saxon Society and Its Literature.” In The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature. Edited by Malcolm Godden and Michael Lapidge, 1–22. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

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    Wormald offers a broad interpretation of Anglo-Saxon literature derived from an understanding of the period’s history.

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“The Dream of the Rood”

Widely recognized as the finest short poem in Old English, “The Dream of the Rood” has an immediate appeal that only increases as one becomes more aware of the poet’s command of the subject and his originality in treating it; Irvine 1997 is an excellent example of how even the smallest details repay close attention. Orchard 2009, a judicious review of earlier scholarship (which may be supplemented by Remley’s bibliography in the same volume) that may serve as an introduction to the poem, expands the “growing evidence that its considerable poetic power was also appreciated in Anglo-Saxon England” (p. 225). A full version appears in the late-10th-century Vercelli Book, but most scholars agree that it was composed much earlier because verses from it have been inscribed on the 8th-century Ruthwell Cross. Ó Carragáin 2005 dates this inscription on this monument from 730 to 760 on the basis of liturgical evidence (p. 213), and see Orchard 2009 (note 1) for a selection of those who oppose the author’s views. The poem tells of an individual who in a dream sees the Cross, which then tells the story of the Crucifixion and commands the dreamer to proclaim it to others. Paul Szarmach (Szarmach 2007), who relates the poem to ekphrasis, is one of many critics who notes the mystical nature of the poem, concluding his discussion: “‘Reading’ and ‘seeing’ do not convey, separately or together, the special act of understanding that the poet has described and explained and that in turn explains the full power of The Dream of the Rood” (p. 288). Hall 2009 places this mystical quality in the context of the types of visionary experience examined by Gregory the Great and the modern psychiatrist Albert Rothenberg. A bewildering array of specific sources continues to be proposed for the work, which would be well served by a new edition that would evaluate the competing claims. Swanton 1987 contains only minor corrections and a supplemental bibliography to the original edition of 1970, but it provides an introduction to the doctrine and iconography of the Cult of the Cross. Two recent studies must stand for the many others: Hill 2009 strengthens the case for the “Passio Andreae” as a source for the poet’s depiction of the Crucifixion, and Keefer 2009 attempts to link the work more closely to the Easter liturgy.

  • Hall, Thomas N. “Prophetic Vision in The Dream of the Rood.” In Poetry, Place, and Gender: Studies in Medieval Culture in Honor of Helen Damico. Edited by Catherine E. Karkov, 60–74. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute, 2009.

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    Hall offers two “useful analogies” (p. 74) for the “numbingly obscure” (p. 61) initial depiction of the Cross. Gregory the Great explains that Ezechiel begins with “et” because the prophet sees “a deeper interior meaning” that precedes the word and joins it “to an exterior meaning” (pp. 66–67). Similarly, Albert Rothenberg discusses creativity as the ability to hold “two contradictory or antithetical concepts in the mind at once” (p. 70).

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  • Hill, Thomas D. “The Passio Andreae and The Dream of the Rood.” In Anglo-Saxon England. Vol. 38. Edited by Malcolm Godden, 1–10. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

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    Hill argues that the apocryphal “Passio Andreae” provided a model for the poet’s depiction of the Crucifixion because in it “Andrew goes willingly and of his own volition to a Cross which has been used as a gallows before” (p. 1).

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  • Irvine, Susan. “Adam or Christ? A Pronominal Pun in The Dream of the Rood.” Review of English Studies, n.s., 48.192 (1997): 433–447.

    DOI: 10.1093/res/XLVIII.192.433Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Irvine explains that “he” (line 101b) is ambiguous, referring either to Christ or to Adam, and she ties this to a larger, typological association between the Cross and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Keefer, Sarah Larratt. “‘The Dream of the Rood’ at Nones Good Friday.” In Poetry, Place and Gender: Studies in Medieval Culture in Honor of Helen Damico. Edited by Catherine E. Karkov, 38–59. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute, 2009.

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    Keefer suggests that the poem “might . . . be taken as a dramatization of an intensified, recollected actio adorationis, conflating all the elements of the Veneration service, with their import, into a reimagined prostration” (p. 42). This and other parallels, however, remain general, making her final suggestion that the poem “would likely belong to the period of the Benedictine Reform” (p. 55) tentative.

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  • Ó Carragáin, Éamonn. Ritual and the Rood: Liturgical Images and the Old English Poems of the Dream of the Rood Tradition. London: British Library, 2005.

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    Ó Carragáin considers “The Dream of the Rood,” the “poetic crucifixion narrative . . . incorporated into the design of the Ruthwell Cross,” and the distych engraved on the Brussels Cross to be “three related poems” (p. 8). At their center is “an ethical problem: that the Cross, loyal to its lord is required by ‘the Lord’s word’ to destroy its lord’s life” (p. 7).

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  • Orchard, Andy. “The Dream of the Rood: Cross-References.” In New Readings in the Vercelli Book. Edited by Samantha Zacher and Andy Orchard, 225–253. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009.

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    Orchard demonstrates that the poem was read and reread and copied and consciously recalled by a variety of artists and artisans during the Anglo-Saxon period, which “chimes with the impressive range of internal parallels, ambiguities, and apparently deliberate double entendres that have often been detected in the poem itself” (p. 226).

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  • Swanton, Michael J., ed. The Dream of the Rood. Rev. ed. Exeter, UK: University of Exeter Press, 1987.

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    This remains the standard edition.

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  • Szarmach, Paul. “The Dream of the Rood as Ekphrasis.” In Text, Image, Interpretation: Studies in Anglo-Saxon Literature and Its Insular Context in Honour of Éamonn Ó Carragáin. Edited by Alastair Minnis and Jane Roberts, 267–288. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2007.

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    Szarmach considers the poem as an example of ekphrasis, “the verbal representation of the visual” (p. 265), providing a context for this idea in the writings of Augustine, Gregory, Bede, and Ælfric, as well as Andreas and Beowulf.

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“Christ I”

Although more about the structure and themes of “Christ I” (also called Advent or the Advent Lyrics) remains to be uncovered, the poem stands as an impressive series of twelve meditations (each referred to here as a lyric) on one of the central mysteries of the Christian faith, the Incarnation. Its main sources, discovered by Albert Cook (Cook 1964, cited under Poems about Christ; the first edition was published in 1900) and surveyed in light of new evidence in Rankin 1985, are liturgical: the first ten lyrics develop Latin antiphons beginning with “O” sung at Lauds and Vespers during Advent; the source of the eleventh lyric is still disputed (see Rankin 1985, p. 326); and the twelfth relies on the first antiphon of Lauds on the octave of Christmas (1 January). For translations, see Allen and Calder 1976 (cited under Reference Works). The poem has probably lost three lyrics at its beginning, leading Rankin to speculate that the poet “had access to at least two sources which included different repertories of ‘O’ antiphons, or his source included all the ‘O’s which could be collected together, whether they were liturgically required or not” (p. 333). Rankin argues that the lyrics “have a rhythm corresponding to the part of the liturgical year which they follow: a long period of waiting (lyrics 1–10), a short time of intense emotional reaction at Christmas (lyric 11), and, afterwards, a time for comprehension of the Christmas events, before the feast of the Epiphany (lyric 12).” Other structures have been proposed: Raw 1991 (cited under Poems about Christ) and Clayton 1990 place greater weight on the manuscript division of the lyrics into five groups (1–3, 4–6, 7–8, 9–10, and 11–12), and Hill 1972 argues that they lack a clear structure because they are “ruminative” in the monastic sense of this word. The “typological imagination” behind the lyrics is examined in Burlin 1968. In contrast, see Irving 1996, which stresses “the plain secular artistry” of the poet (p. 124) and Farina 2006, which argues that the poem’s “eroticized representations . . . are the primary means of orchestrating the feeling of its performers towards its divine subjects” (p. 32). As an example of subsequent studies that have continued to investigate the use of Christian traditions, see Kramer 2007. In line with Conner 1993 (cited under General Overviews), scholars have tried to link the poem more closely to the Benedictine Reform; see, for example, Salvador 2006.

  • Burlin, Robert B. The Old English Advent: A Typological Commentary. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1968.

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    Following chapters on “The Typological Imagination” and “The Advent Sequence” (although see Rankin 1985 for more accurate information about the liturgical texts), Burlin edits and translates each lyric and also provides a detailed commentary on each.

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  • Clayton, Mary. The Cult of the Virgin Mary in Anglo-Saxon England. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

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    Clayton’s subject provides an important context for “Christ I.” She notes that the poem does not display, as common late in the period, “a fascination with the figure of Mary herself and with her life before and after the Incarnation” (p. 205). Instead, she suggests the poet wrote in Mercia during the first half of the 9th century.

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  • Farina, Lara. Erotic Discourse and Early English Religious Writing. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

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    Farina finds an erotic discourse in descriptions of Christ as a hall and the Christ Child on Mary’s breast as well as in references to the Incarnation and to Mary’s womb, all of which “build the readers’ anticipation and longing” (p. 27). The poem, however, provides little support for this interpretation.

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  • Hill, Thomas D. “Notes on the Imagery and Structure of the Old English ‘Christ I.’” Notes and Queries, n.s., 19 (1972): 84–89.

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    Hill proposes readings for problems in lyrics 1, 4, and 5 and explains the poem’s lack of a “linear structure” by relating it to monastic ruminatio. He suggests that its “discursive ‘illogic’” corresponds to its themes, “the Incarnation, the perpetual virginity of Mary, and the generation of the Son from the Father”; “Advent is . . . simultaneously past, present, and future” (p. 89).

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  • Irving, Edward B., Jr. “The Advent of Poetry: Christ I.” Anglo-Saxon England 25 (1996): 123–134.

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    Recommending the poem “as far more important than anything he might have to say” (p. 124), Irving focuses on the contrast between Light and Dark to assert “the poetic quality” of Advent. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Kramer, Johanna. “‘Ðu eart se weallstan’: Architectural Metaphor and Christological Imagery in the Old English Christ I and the Book of Kells.” In Source of Wisdom: Old English and Early Medieval Latin Studies in Honour of Thomas D. Hill. Edited by Charles D. Wright, Frederick M. Biggs, and Thomas N. Hall, 90–112. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007.

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    After reviewing the exegetical background of the first lyric, Kramer proposes the illumination of the “Temptation of Christ” in the Book of Kells as an analogue for it.

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  • Rankin, Susan. “The Liturgical Background of the Old English Advent Lyrics: A Reappraisal.” In Learning and Literature in Anglo-Saxon England: Studies Presented to Peter Clemoes on the Occasion of His Sixty-Fifth Birthday. Edited by Michael Lapidge and Helmut Gneuss, 317–340. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

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    Rankin’s detailed survey of the liturgical traditions that underlie the poem support many new insights including the likelihood that it was “composed well before the mid-tenth century, when the great Benedictine revival introduced a new wave of Frankish liturgical influence” (p. 334).

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  • Salvador, Mercedes. “Architectural Metaphors and Christological Imagery in the Advent Lyrics: Benedictine Propaganda in the Exeter Book?” In Conversion and Colonization in Anglo-Saxon England. Edited by Catherine E. Karkov and Nicholas Howe, 169–211. Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2006.

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    Focusing on lyrics 1, 6, and 8, Salvador relates themes such as the need to unify and rebuild the Church and the role of Christ as shepherd, king, and priest to the Benedictine Reform. The commonplace nature of these ideas, however, makes this link tentative, although they may well explain the poem’s prominence in the Exeter Book.

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“Christ II”

As Dietrich 1853 first noticed, “Christ II,” one of four “signed” poems by Cynewulf, follows the last third of Gregory’s Twenty-Ninth Homily on the Gospels quite closely, and yet scholars have found a number of reasons to praise the poet’s handling of his material. Hill 1986 (cited under Poems about Christ) explains that by selecting this Ascension Homily “Cynewulf was . . . choosing a relatively popular, accessible source, and his elaborations on this source do not alter its essential character” (p. 14). Earlier, Grosz 1970 had shown that the poem stresses the idea that “the mind must follow the pattern of Christ’s Ascension from the material to the spiritual world” (p. 400); Brown 1974 had called attention to its development of the “descent-ascent motif”; and Chase 1974 had argued that its main message is the theme of God’s presence through grace. Recently, Wright 2005 has shown that “Cynewulf does not simply translate Gregory; he interprets him by drawing out the implications of his imagery and exegesis,” revealing “his doctrinal focus on the Ascension as an event that brought the human and the divine into a union in Christ” (p. 302). Wright notes a further innovation, Cynewulf’s references to the persecution of the church by pagan rulers following the Ascension, a moment in history that Wright uses to explain a continuity in the poet’s work: “It had begun with the departure of Christ from his disciples after the Commission and his promise of the continued presence of the Holy Spirit (the subject of ‘The Ascension’), leading to their dispersal (the subject of ‘The Fates of the Apostles’); continued with the persecutions and martyrdoms of the post-apostolic era (the subject of ‘Juliana,’ which opens with a description of the persecutions under Maximian); and ended with the conversion of Constantine and the union of ecclesia and imperium (the subject of ‘Elene’)” (p. 302). Finally, he explains that this theme of persecution would have been especially relevant for the poet had he written any time after the Viking raids began in the late 8th century (p. 303). Wright’s argument works well with Hill 1994, which explains that Cynewulf’s final image of the “sea of this life,” developed from a single word in Gregory’s homily, calls attention to the current lives of Christians who are “from one perspective blessed and protected, and yet from another threatened and vulnerable” (p. 290).

  • Brown, George Hardin. “The Descent-Ascent Motif in Christ II of Cynewulf.” Journal of English and Germany Philology 73.1 (1974): 1–12.

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    After surveying the patristic background to his theme, Brown details how it appears in the poem.

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  • Chase, Colin. “God’s Presence through Grace as the Theme of Cynewulf’s Christ II and the Relationship of This Theme to Christ I and Christ III.” Anglo-Saxon England 3 (1974): 87–101.

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    Comparing passages from lines 558 to 585, Christ’s return to Heaven, to the Finnsburg episode in Beowulf and to the description of Guthrum’s baptism in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Chase identifies Christ’s role as a gift-giver who provides redemption to his followers and promises to remain with them. He finds this same theme throughout the rest of the poem and uses it to consider the possibility that Cynewulf wrote “Christ II” as a bridge between the “Christ I” and “Christ III” poems. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Dietrich, Franz Eduard. “Cynevulfs Crist.” Zeitschrift für deutsches Alterthum 9 (1853): 193–214.

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    In arguing that Cynewulf was the author of all three “Christ” poems, Dietrich notes Gregory’s Twenty-Ninth Homily on the Gospels, his Ascension Homily, as the main source of “Christ II” (p. 4). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Grosz, Oliver J. H. “Man’s Imitation of the Ascension: The Unity of Christ II.” Neophilologus 54 (1970): 398–408.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF01514721Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    From the opening lines of the poem to its final runic signature, Grosz perceives the theme of “exploring a spiritual mystery” by giving “figurative interpretations to signs” (p. 399). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Hill, Thomas D. “The Anchor of Hope and the Sea of This World: Christ II, 850–66.” English Studies 75.4 (1994): 289–292.

    DOI: 10.1080/00138389408598921Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Hill notes the source of the metaphor of “the anchor of hope” in Hebrews 6:19 and traces this verse in patristic writings. The passage as a whole, he comments, is “a potential analogue” for “The Seafarer” (p. 289). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Wright, Charles D. “The Persecuted Church and the Mysterium Lunae: Cynewulf’s Ascension, Lines 252b–272 (Christ II, Lines 691b–711).” In Latin Learning and English Lore: Studies in Anglo-Saxon Literature for Michael Lapidge. 2 vols. Edited by Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe and Andy Orchard, Vol. 2, 293–314. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005.

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    Wright shows that Cynewulf develops Gregory’s allusion to Habacuc 3:11 (“the sun was raised up and the moon stood in its course,” p. 312) to reflect a particular understanding of the mysterium lunae as expressing the persecution of the Church by pagan emperors.

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“Christ III”

Both conservative in its reliance on a basic chronology of the Judgment drawn from the Gospels and extravagant in the immediacy and range of its imagery, “Christ III” presents a dramatic account of the Last Judgment. Cook’s proposed source (Cook 1964, cited under Poems about Christ), the Latin hymn “Apparebit repentina dies magna Domini,” offers few close parallels for the poem beyond those that can be explained by the common reliance of the two works on the account of Judgment in Matthew 24:29–51 and 25:31–46 and so serves rather to emphasize an interest in the specific events that will occur at the end of time. However, the poet elaborates greatly on the basic biblical narrative, apparently drawing on a wide range of earlier traditions. (Cook introduces many more sources and analogues in his notes; Biggs 1986 updates these.) Drawing on and extending Hill’s many previous publications, Hill 1986 (cited under Poems about Christ) identifies the Irish exegetical tradition as providing a number of the poet’s most striking details, a lead followed in Biggs 1989–1990. However, the sheer accumulation of detail does not account for its immediacy. Hill 1973 proposes that the poet uses the theme of vision to resolve “the dissonance of human and divine time” (p. 239) at Judgment when our sequential ordering of events gives way to God’s eternal present. This suggestion has been developed in Shimomura 2006 and Arner and Stegner 2007. Less influential has been Jennings 1991, which explains the structure of the poem by referring to the liturgy. Hill 2008 argues that an illustration in the Benedictional of Æthelwold provides an analogue for the depiction of Christ’s suffering at the Nativity (lines 1414–1425).

  • Arner, Timothy D., and Paul D. Stegner. “‘Of þam him aweaxeð wynsum gefea’: The Voyeuristic Appeal of Christ III.” Journal of English and German Philology 106.4 (2007): 428–446.

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    Focusing on the question of why one of the saved would “turn his gaze toward the suffering of the damned in Hell,” Arner and Stegner argue that this possibility “forwards” the “penitential aims” of “Christ III” “by offering the gaze as voyeuristic pleasure and promising the reader that such pleasure, experienced through reading, will continue in heaven” (p. 428). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Biggs, Frederick M. The Sources of Christ III: A Revision of Cook’s Notes. Old English Newsletter Subsidia 12. Binghamton, NY: Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, 1986.

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    Excluding Cook’s textual and grammatical notes (except where they have some bearing on a proposed source), Biggs brings the notes on sources up to date.

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  • Biggs, Frederick M. “The Fourfold Division of Souls: The Old English ‘Christ III’ and the Insular Homiletic Tradition.” Traditio 45 (1989–1990): 35–51.

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    Biggs turns to the insular homiletic tradition to find sources for the opening description of a fourfold division of souls at Judgment in “Christ III.” Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Hill, Thomas D. “Vision and Judgement in the Old English Christ III.” Studies in Philology 70.3 (1973): 233–242.

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    Beginning with an investigation of the patristic traditions behind the description of the damned seeing Christ at Judgment, Hill discusses more broadly the uses of vision in the poem.

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  • Hill, Thomas D. “The Baby on the Stone: Nativity as Sacrifice (The Old English Christ III, 1414–1425).” In Intertexts: Studies in Anglo-Saxon Culture, Presented to Paul E. Szarmach. Edited by Virginia Blanton and Helene Scheck, 69–78. Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2008.

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    Hill argues that the emphasis in “Christ III” on Jesus’s suffering at the Nativity, which contrasts to the usual interpretation of this event, is paralleled in an illustration in the Benedictional of Æthelwold. He advocates editions that include color illustrations of relevant art historical material.

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  • Jennings, Margaret. “Structure in ‘Christ III.’” Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 92.4 (1991): 445–455.

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    Jennings argues that the “three-fold repetition” that structures “Christ III” is derived from the “Nocturns for Sunday vigils” (p. 445).

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  • Shimomura, Sachi. Odd Bodies and Visible Ends in Medieval Literature. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

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    Shimomura argues that “the Christ III poet unravels the patristic and biblical metaphorics of revelation in favor of a concrete visualization of Judgment” (p. 9).

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Saints’ Lives

Although a major part of the poetic corpus, “Andreas,” “Elene,” “Guthlac A” and “B,” and “Juliana” represent a very small part of the larger tradition of hagiographic writing in Anglo-Saxon England (see Whatley 2001 and Biggs and Morey 2007, cited under Poems about Christ for the apostles). To these five are often added “Fates of the Apostles,” like “Elene” and “Juliana,” one of the “signed” works of Cynewulf, and sometimes “The Menologium,” a metrical calendar. With their conversion, the Anglo-Saxons acquired written and oral traditions about this enormously influential group who served as intercessors with Christ, and the Anglo-Saxons started adding their own local holy men and women to its ranks. Although most accounts of saints’ lives began with the particular details of the individual saint and many cults were associated with specific places, the tradition as a whole favors the universal; as Earl 1989 notes, citing the anonymous Life of Gregory the Great written in Northumbria in the first decades of the 8th century, “the saints have all things in common” (p. 91). The frequent comparison of hagiography to romance also calls attention to this favoring of a general pattern; see Magennis 2004 (pp. 172–179). Two major studies of the Old English verse saints’ lives (Bjork 1985, Bridges 1984) view the five major works in this way. However, individual texts may still express particular ideas and have historical significance. To counter the perception that, as it has been memorably put, “it did not matter whether the saint was tall or short, fair or bald, fat or thin, blonde or brunette” (Lapidge 1991, p. 261), one need only recall that Bede is credited with writing the first “historical martyrology” and that “The Menologium” survives in a manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; see Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 6lx (Krapp and Dobbie 1931–1953, cited under Reference Works). However, most important here is Hill 1996, which identifies the five main texts as “art lives,” which could be “as long and as difficult” as the author wishes (p. 37). Referring to the Old English poetic corpus, Lapidge 1991 comments that “only one—namely Cynewulf’s Juliana—could properly be described as a saint’s life in the sense I have defined it” (p. 259); Wright 2005 (cited under “Christ II”) has suggested that Cynewulf may have been interested in this life precisely because of its historical setting. That these works continue to reward serious attention is perhaps the clearest indication of the diverse interests of their authors.

  • Bjork, Robert E. The Old English Verse Saints’ Lives: A Study in Direct Discourse and the Iconography of Style. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985.

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    Bjork’s dual purpose is to show a “unified conception and technique in the five verse lives, and to advance the new field of stylistic analysis” (p. ix). He concludes that although “the themes . . . seem so different,” the poems’ “use of language and style and their tendency to visualize the material of the life iconographically make them methodologically more alike than different” (p. 126).

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  • Bridges, Margaret E. Generic Contrast in Old English Hagiographical Poetry. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1984.

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    Bridges identifies the plot structure of each of the five poems before analyzing their use of stylistic contrast. She concludes that although the five “exhibit certain differences in their stylistic approximations of generic contrast, . . . through these differences we perceive the common Anglo-Saxon poetic response to the hagiographical model” (p. 267).

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  • Earl, James W. “Typology and Iconographic Style in Early Medieval Hagiography.” In Typology and English Medieval Literature. Edited by Hugh T. Keenan, 89–120. New York: AMS, 1989.

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    Reprinted from Studies in the Literary Imagination 8 (1975), this version is cited because the rest of the volume contains other valuable essays on the topic. Earl’s discussion of the genre is cogent, and his identification of it to iconography has been followed by other scholars.

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  • Hill, Thomas D. “Imago Dei: Genre, Symbolism, and Anglo-Saxon Hagiography.” In Holy Men and Holy Women: Old English Prose Saints’ Lives and Their Contexts. Edited by Paul E. Szarmach, 35–50. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.

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    Hill identifies a “primary” life as “a primary written witness to the life and deeds of a medieval saint” (p. 36), and then further distinguishes texts used for liturgical purposes, which “tend to be relatively brief and straightforward” from “art lives” (p. 37). He also indicates that “the entire subject” of “the typology of saints’ lives . . . is only beginning to be explored” (p. 43).

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  • Lapidge, Michael. “The Saintly Life in Anglo-Saxon England.” In The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature. Edited by Malcolm Godden and Michael Lapidge, 243–263. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521374383Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A lively and very informative overview of the subject, that moves from the “tumult and squalor” of a late Anglo-Saxon church, “packed day and night with crowds of diseased and penitent persons seeking release from their sufferings” (p. 243) through the literary texts to the Old English poetic saints’ lives.

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  • Magennis, Hugh. “Approaches to Saints’ Lives.” In The Christian Tradition in Anglo-Saxon England: Approaches to Current Scholarship and Teaching. Edited by Paul Cavill, 163–183. Cambridge, UK: Brewer, 2004.

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    Magennis concludes this survey with a useful “Bibliography and Resources for Studying the Hagiography of Anglo-Saxon England” (179–183).

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  • Whatley, E. Gordon. “Acta Sanctorum.” In Sources of Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture. Vol. 1, Abbo of Fleury, Abbo of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, and Acta Sanctorum. Edited by Frederick M. Biggs, Thomas D. Hill, Paul E. Szarmach, and E. Gordon Whatley, 22–486. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute, 2001.

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    Whatley provides the first “comprehensive treatment of the Anglo-Saxons’ hagiographic writing and of their adaption of the early Christian and early medieval hagiographic traditions, both Eastern and Western” (p. 23). His introduction maps out the main sources of information, which are then discussed in the roughly three hundred entries devoted to the circulation of particular works.

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“Andreas”

Changing a critical discussion that had focused largely on the relationship of “Andreas” to Beowulf (see Brooks 1961, pp. xxii–xxvi), Hill 1969 opens a new approach to the poem and to Anglo-Saxon literary hagiography by explaining the figural or typological logic of the events at its conclusion. Hill expands his argument in subsequent essays and is followed by both his students (see, for example, Szittya 1973) and others, with the result that the poem is now considered more sophisticated than was once thought. Yet some uncertainty remains about whether credit for this sophistication lies with the poet or with the tradition in which he worked (see Calder 1986, pp. 118–119). Although this question may never be definitively answered because the surviving Greek, Latin, and Old English prose texts (see Boenig 1991 for translations of some of the relevant works) point to lost versions that may well have contained details closer to the poet’s, posing it may help to clarify the nature of both the poet’s source and the work he produced. “The Acts of Andrew and Matthias” is an extreme example of hagiography’s tendency toward romance (see Saints’ Lives), related as it is to late Greek examples of this genre. It recounts the fabulous story of Andrew’s journey to Mermedonia to free Matthias (or, as in the Old English, Matthew) and eventually to convert this race of cannibals by means of a flood. M. R. James describes it as “a tale of wonder with no doctrinal purpose” (cited in Biggs 1988, p. 413). The Old English poet, however, seems not to have perceived it this way. While changing individual details to bring out their typological significance, his strict adherence to its narrative sequence suggests that he conceived it to be historically accurate as well as spiritually significant (Biggs 1988, p. 427). For example, as Wright 1983 shows, his reference to Matthew having written his Gospel in Hebrew is motivated in part by his interest in historical detail. Brady 2010 goes further in this direction, arguing that the poet adapts the depiction of the Mermedonians to invoke a local problem, the presence of a potentially hostile “British” population in the Anglo-Saxon fens.

  • Biggs, Frederick M. “The Passion of Andreas: Andreas 1398–1491.” Studies in Philology 85.4 (1988): 413–427.

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    Concentrating on the miracle of the flowering groves that spring from the saint’s blood and the poet’s first-person interjection near the end of the narrative, Biggs argues that the poet has fragmented his source to draw out the significance of particular scenes. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Boenig, Robert, trans. The Acts of Andrew in the Country of the Cannibals: Translations from the Greek, Latin, and Old English. New York: Garland, 1991.

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    Boenig translates the Greek text edited by Tischendorf, the Latin versions known as the “Casanatensis” and “The Bonnet Fragment” (both edited by Blatt), the Old English text in the “Blickling Homilies,” and “Andreas.” See also Boenig’s Saint and Hero: Andreas and Medieval Doctrine (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1990).

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  • Brady, Lindy. “Echoes of Britons on a Fenland Frontier in the Old English Andreas.” Review of English Studies, n.s., 61 (2010): 669–689.

    DOI: 10.1093/res/hgq047Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Brady explains the poet’s identification of Mermedonia as an island and his depiction of their cannibalism as related to local traditions about the Britons in the fens.

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  • Brooks, Kenneth R., ed. Andreas and The Fates of the Apostles. Oxford: Clarendon, 1961.

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    The standard edition, but now more than fifty years out of date.

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  • Calder, Daniel G. “Figurative Language and Its Contexts in Andreas: A Study in Medieval Expressionism.” In Modes of Interpretation in Old English Literature: Essays in Honour of Stanley B. Greenfield. Edited by Phyllis Rugg Brown, Georgia Ronan Crampton, and Fred C. Robinson, 115–136. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1986.

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    Moving beyond a simple comparison of “Andreas” to “Beowulf,” Calder discusses how the heroic vocabulary of the poem functions in its religious context.

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  • Hill, Thomas D. “Figural Narrative in Andreas: The Conversion of the Mermedonians.” Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 70 (1969): 261–273.

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    Hill demonstrates that the conversion of the Mermedonians “is not presented in realistic terms, but rather in terms of figuration” or, as he goes on to explain, “the poet is less concerned with the literal history of his conversion than with the spiritual realities which in his view underlie this history” (pp. 264–265).

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  • Szittya, Penn R. “The Living Stone and the Patriarchs: Typological Imagery in Andreas, Lines 706–810.” Journal of English and German Philology 72.2 (1973): 167–174.

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    Szittya explicates the “powerful and surrealistic” story told by Andreas of the living stone that at Christ’s command comes down from the wall of the temple and then travels to Mambre to awaken the patriarchs by relating it to three biblical images: Solomon’s temple, the living stone, and the resurrection of the patriarchs. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Wright, Charles D. “Matthew’s Hebrew Gospel in Andreas and in Old English Prose.” Notes and Queries, n.s., 30.2 (1983): 101–104.

    DOI: 10.1093/notesj/30.2.101Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Wright sets out the “ancient and widespread” tradition that Matthew was the first to write a gospel and that he composed it in Hebrew, a detail not found in any version of the “Acts of Andrew and Matthias.” He then relates this detail to the end of the poem when God instructs Andreas to preach to the Mermedonians before leaving them.

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“Elene”

Cynewulf’s reference in his “signed” epilogue to “books” and “writings” in which he discovered the “miracle” of the Cross (lines 1251b–1256a) suggests that he knew more than one version of the story he has just told, as did Ælfric writing in the last decade of the 10th century. Ælfric relied on Rufinus’s Historia Ecclesiastica, rejecting most likely the version of the legend known as the Inventio Sanctae Crucis (see Godden 2000, pp. 513–516), which Cynewulf used and which is also the source for the 9th-century Old English Martyrology and an 11th-century homily (see Whatley 2001, pp. 264–267, cited under Saints’ Lives). Although neither account is historically accurate (Borgehammar 1991 argues that an “original story” involving Helena in the discovery “had a relatively stable shape from perhaps as early as the 330’s” but it then was reworked into the Inventio sometime in the 5th century; p. 145), Ælfric chose the less sensational version. In selecting the Inventio as his source, Cynewulf was almost certainly drawn to its use of typology because he most likely (his exact source is not known) heightened these patterns (see Hill 1971). Yet, as Whatley 1981 argues, both the poem and the legend are “profoundly historical” (p. 201), an approach developed further by Zollinger 2004, which details this narrative’s particular relevance to the Anglo-Saxon poet. The work also has figured prominently in discussions of the place of women and of attitudes toward Jews in Anglo-Saxon England; see Klein 2005, Bauer 2003, and DiNapoli 1998.

  • Bauer, Renate. Adversus Judaeos: Juden und Judentum im Spiegel alt- und mittelenglischer Texte. Frankfurt: Lang, 2003.

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    In a more general study of Jews and Judaism in Old and Middle literature, Bauer discusses the forced conversion in “Elene,” noting that “jüdisches Leben kann . . . zwar erhalten werden, jüdische Identität und jüdischer Glaube müssen aber zugrunde gehen” (p. 113).

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  • Borgehammar, Stephan. How the Holy Cross Was Found: From Event to Medieval Legend. Stockholm: Almquist & Wiksell International, 1991.

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    Borgehammar offers a detailed analysis of the historical sources that allows him to argue for the discovery of the cross by Helena in the 320s; a rewriting of an “original account“ as “Aggadic Midrash” in the first half of the 5th century; and the later dissemination of this tradition in both the East and West.

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  • DiNapoli, Robert. “Poesis and Authority: Traces of an Anglo-Saxon Agon in Cynewulf’s Elene.” Neophilologus 82.4 (1998): 619–630.

    DOI: 10.1023/A:1004253907609Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    DiNapoli argues that Cynewulf alters his source “to underscore the innocence of the Jewish community, who lack all knowledge of their ancestors’ role in Christ’s crucifixion” (p. 619). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Godden, Malcolm. Ælfric’s Catholic Homilies: Introduction, Commentary and Glossary. Early English Text Society Supplementary Series 18. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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    The definitive study of this work and one of the great monuments of Anglo-Saxon scholarship.

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  • Hill, Thomas D. “Sapiential Structure and Figural Narrative in the Old English ‘Elene.’” Traditio 27 (1971): 159–177.

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    Hill explains that in the poem’s typological scheme Judas represents “the Jewish nation outside the Church” and that its central conflict is between “two kinds of wisdom—the wisdom of the word and law of the Jews, and the Christian wisdom of Elene” (pp. 164–165). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Klein, Stacy S. “Centralizing Feminism in Anglo-Saxon Literary Studies: Elene, Motherhood, and History.” In Readings in Medieval Texts: Interpreting Old and Middle English Literature. Edited by David F. Johnson and Elaine Treharne, 149–165. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

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    Klein argues that in rewriting his source, Cynewulf “transports Helena out of an imagined Roman past into an Anglo-Saxon present,” creating “an image of motherhood that challenges cultural myths of maternity as synonymous with self-sacrifice, domesticity, and loss of personal identity” (p. 151).

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  • Whatley, Gordon. “The Figure of Constantine the Great in Cynewulf’s ‘Elene.’” Traditio 37 (1981): 161–202.

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    Focusing on the first part of the poem, Whatley argues that “Constantine is depicted . . . as the Gentile successor of the Old Testament patriarchs and kings, fulfilling and perfecting these ancient biblical types in his role as emperor of the new Israel” (pp. 163–164). The rest of the poem “is the consequence of and commentary upon” the opening account (p. 164). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Zollinger, Cynthia Wittman. “Cynewulf’s Elene and the Patterns of the Past.” Journal of English and German Philology 103.2 (2004): 180–196.

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    Zollinger shows that while Cynewulf “adhered closely to the events of the Inventio Crucis, his poem reveals echoes of the Anglo-Saxons’ own history, a national narrative combining elements of the Roman imperium, Germanic tradition, and Christian conversion” (p. 181). Moreover, she argues that the poem’s epilogue connects “the local circumstances of Anglo-Saxon Christianity and the broader patterns of the Christian faith” (p. 182). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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“Guthlac B”

Although marred by the lack of a conclusion due to the probable loss of a quire in its manuscript (see Roberts 1979, pp. 12–14), the Exeter Book, “Guthlac B” is widely regarded as a brilliant meditation on the chapter of Felix’s Vita Guthlaci (see Colgrave 1956) that describes the saint’s death. Rosier 1970, which characterizes the poem as “a consummate achievement in refinement” (p. 82), claims that it “might as readily be termed a poem on the subject of death, or the coming of Death, as a poetic account of the last days of a particular saint” (p. 84). Its core develops a contrast between Guthlac and his servant, not named in this account, but identified as Beccel in Felix’s Life, which has led some critics to associate it with the Old English elegies, particularly “The Wanderer” (see Powell 1998); yet its emphasis on the triumphant journey of the saint’s soul to heaven supports a more explicit Christian reading: the servant represents both the saint’s bodily suffering before his death and his lifeless body following it. Although acknowledging that the loss of the poem’s conclusion means that all interpretations must remain speculative, Biggs 1990 argues that the poet suggests a further resolution to the theme of death by implying through the saint’s sister that the body and soul will be reunited again at the end of time. The care with which the poet has worked has been appreciated in a wide range of studies; see, in particular, Hill 1981, Lucas 1992, and Hall 1993.

  • Biggs, Frederick M. “Unities in the Old English Guthlac B.” Journal of English and German Philology 89.2 (1990): 155–165.

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    Noting that the poet expands Felix’s comment about the introduction of death, the separation of the body from the soul, through the Fall, Biggs argues that he may have concluded the work with the Last Judgment because he allows not only the servant to represent the saint’s lifeless body but also his sister to suggest their final reunification at the end of time. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Colgrave, Bertram, ed. and trans. Felix’s Life of Saint Guthlac. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1956.

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    Colgrave provides the text and a translation of the Latin life.

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  • Hall, Thomas N. “A Gregorian Model for Eve’s Biter Drync in Guthlac B.” Review of English Studies 44.174 (1993): 157–175.

    DOI: 10.1093/res/XLIV.174.157Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Hall reviews previous explanations for the poet’s repeated description of death as a bitter drink poured out by Eve for Adam and then offers several new possibilities from exegetical writings, most notably Gregory’s homily for the Thursday after Easter. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Hill, Thomas D. “The First Beginning and the Purest Earth: Guthlac B, Lines 1–14.” Notes and Queries, n.s., 28 (1981): 387–389.

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    Hill explains that the poet’s reference to Adam’s creation from the “purest earth” is an “exegetical commonplace” that “prefigures Christ birth from the Virgin Mary” (p. 387). The birth of Christ invokes Christ’s life, which “both prefigures and makes possible the life of Guthlac, the saintly hermit whose ‘imitation’ of Christ was so perfect that he could face death with complete assurance” (p. 389).

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  • Lucas, Peter J. “Easter, the Death of St Guthlac and the Liturgy for Holy Saturday in Felix’s Vita and the Old English Guthlac B.” Medium Ævum 61 (1992): 1–16.

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    Lucas offers further evidence to show that the poet has developed Felix’s statement that the saint’s final illness began on the Wednesday before Easter and that he died on the following Wednesday into a more sustained reflection of Easter themes, drawing at times on the Easter liturgy.

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  • Powell, Stephen. “The Journey Forth: Elegiac Consolation in Guthlac B.” English Studies 79.6 (1998): 489–500.

    DOI: 10.1080/00138389808599153Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Powell uses the elegiac language throughout “Guthlac B” to argue that its focus is on “the sense of helplessness felt by the mortal person (the disciple within the poem, the poet and the audience on the other side)” (p. 498) when confronting death. Referring to its “premature end,” he writes that “the poem as it stands . . . questions the sufficiency of Christian consolation for dealing with the real pains of dying and death” (p. 500). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Roberts, Jane Annette, ed. The Guthlac Poems of the Exeter Book. Oxford: Clarendon, 1979.

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    The standard edition of this work.

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  • Rosier, James L. “Death and Transfiguration: Guthlac B.” In Philological Essays: Studies in Old and Middle English Language and Literature in Honor of Herbert Dean Meritt. Edited by James L. Rosier, 82–92. Paris: Mouton, 1970.

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    Rosier’s attention to the language of the poem enhances his strong interpretation.

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Other Christian Themes

The wealth of scholarship on the religious perspective of Beowulf necessitates this section, but it also serves as a reminder of the many Old English poems that cannot receive attention here. Cædmon, Bede, and Aldhelm (see Biblical Poetry) mark a beginning for this tradition, and poetry was used throughout the period for religious expression. From Alfred’s time, one may cite the “Metrical Preface” and “Metrical Epilogue” to the translation of Pope Gregory’s Pastoral Care (Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records, Vol. 6, pp. 110–112) and from the Benedictine Reform not only Ælfric’s rhythmical prose and Wulfstan’s formulaic style (see Orchard 1992) but also the verse incorporated into the Benedictine Office. All attest to the value that religious communities placed on Old English verse, also found in their preservation of poetic manuscripts and in the presence of verse in religious texts previously assumed to be only in prose (for a dramatic example, see Roberts 2006). Religious works will continue to be appreciated in their own right, as Steen 2008 indicates. Yet a few “secular” poems may provide a more precise context for the remarkable survival of the work dedicated to a pre-Christian hero, Beowulf. Whitelock 1950 radically changed perceptions of “The Seafarer” by arguing that it represents a peregrinatio pro amore Dei (see also Cucina 2008), and similarly in 1956 Cross altered the discussions of “The Wanderer” when he explained its use of the ubi sunt tradition (Cross 1961). Even the heroic “Battle of Maldon” seemed susceptible to this kind of argument once Bloomfield 1962 called attention to the motif of angels and devils struggling over Byrhtnoth’s soul. Cross 1961, however, preserves distinctions between “The Seafarer” and “The Wanderer,” insisting that the latter is not simply allegory because it begins with the death of a secular lord. Robinson 2002 asserts that what is “most striking” about the contest for the individual souls “is the stark terror which they bring to the experience of death and their apparent negation of the usual Christian consolations for death” (p. 429). In a similar vein, Biggs 1997 (cited under “Cædmon’s Hymn”) has argued that “Deor” is less a poem of Christian consolation than a secular play on a traditional Indo-European genre, the blame poem. The poets of these last two works, then, combined traditional genres with Christian material but not to express explicitly Christian messages.

  • Bloomfield, Morton W. “Patristics and Old English Literature: Notes on Some Poems.” Comparative Literature 14.1 (1962): 36–43.

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    This volume in honor of Arthur G. Brodeur was reprinted separately in 1963 (Eugene: University of Oregon Books). As analogues for the motif of good and bad angels struggling for the souls of the dying, Bloomfield cites a sermon of Pope Gregory and the “Passion of Boniface.” Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Cross, J. E. “On the Genre of The Wanderer.” Neophilologus 45.1 (1961): 63–75.

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    Building off his earlier article in the Vetenskaps-societeten i Lund Årsbok (1956), Cross considers how the Christian material is incorporated into the poem. Although affirming that its aim is Christian consolation, he emphasizes its difference from “The Seafarer.” Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Cucina, Carla. Il Seafarer: La navigatio cristiana di un poeta anglosassone. Biblioteca medievale 2. Rome: Kappa, 2008.

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    Cucina provides an edition of the poem with a facing-page Italian translation, facsimiles of the relevant folios from the Exeter Book, and notes on the text and translation before offering five substantive chapters on the poems: “Il Seafarer nella critica,” “La struttura compositiva,” “L’articolazione tematica,” “Lo stile,” and “La facies linguistica e l’autore.” The work concludes with a glossary, list of abbreviations, bibliography, and indices.

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  • Orchard, Andy. “Crying Wolf: Oral Style and the Sermones Lupi.” Anglo-Saxon England 21 (1992): 239–264.

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    Orchard identifies “rhyme, assonance and (above all) alliteration” as the features that Wulfstan uses “to an extent hard to match in Old English prose” (p. 258). Orchard suggests that Wulfstan should be set alongside Aldhelm and the Beowulf poet as examples of “literate Anglo-Saxons who chose to compose in the traditional oral style of vernacular verse” (p. 259). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Roberts, Jane. “Aldred Signs Off from Glossing the Lindisfarne Gospels.” In Writing and Texts in Anglo-Saxon England. Edited by Alexander Rumble, 28–43. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2006.

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    In a detailed survey of Aldred’s colophon in the Lindisfarne Gospels, Roberts notes that part of the text is poetry, presumably taken from an earlier poem on the history of this book.

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  • Robinson, Fred C. “God, Death, and Loyalty in The Battle of Maldon.” Reprinted in Old English Literature: Critical Essays. Edited by R. M. Liuzza, 425–444. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002.

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    Originally published in 1979 (God, Death, and Loyalty in “The Battle of Maldon,” Ithaca: Cornell University Press). Although specifically acknowledging Bloomfield 1962 and adding many examples to his, Robinson argues that the poem remains heroic.

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  • Steen, Janie. “The Figure of The Phoenix.” In Verse and Virtuosity: The Adaptation of Latin Rhetoric in Old English Poetry. By Janie Steen, 35–70. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.

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    Steen demonstrates that “of all vernacular poems, The Phoenix is the most directly influenced by classical myth and Roman rhetoric” (p. 35).

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  • Whitelock, Dorothy. “The Interpretation of ‘The Seafarer.’” In The Early Cultures of Northwest Europe. Edited by Sir Cyril Fox and Bruce Dickins, 259–272. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1950.

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    Identifying “the apparent vacillation in the author’s attitude to sea travel in the first part of the poem” and “the complete absence of any reference to the sea in the latter part” (p. 261) as the “two main difficulties” in previous interpretations, Whitelock proposes understanding “The Seafarer” as expressing the idea of pilgrimage, and more specifically its Celtic expression of “peregrinatio pro amore Dei” (p. 271).

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Beowulf

Widely recognized as a blending of Germanic (i.e., pagan) and Christian material, the religious perspective of the Beowulf has been hotly contested. Uncharacteristic is the 2008 revision of Klaeber’s Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg by R. D. Fulk, Robert E. Bjork, and John D. Niles (Toronto: University of Toronto Press), originally published in 1950. This revision renames the section on this topic “Christian and Heroic Values” and rewrites some of the material, but comes to precisely the same conclusion, with the last paragraph repeating much of the earlier one. (More useful is Klaeber 1996, a translation by Paul Battles of Die christlichen Elemente im Beowulf.) Irving 1997 provides an overview of religious interpretations before 1994, but two essays that appeared too late for inclusion in his discussion (Hill 1994, Robinson 1993) offer significant, contrasting answers to the vexed question of the (presumably) Christian poet’s attitude to the possible salvation of his pagan ancestors. Concentrating on the traditions that underlie Grendel and Grendel’s mother, Orchard 1995 argues that the hero succumbs to the sin of pride, becoming like the monsters he fights. Rauer 2000 compares the poem to secular (Germanic) and Christian hagiographic dragon-fights; yet Rauer concludes by commenting on the poem’s “uniqueness” (p. 142). Anlezark 2006, a wide-ranging study, which includes a chapter on “Genesis A,” “Exodus,” and “Andreas,” asserts that “the Flood constitutes a mythical underpinning of the action in the poem which, like Genesis itself, fuses mythical and historical perspectives” (p. 18). Referring to “The Dream of the Rood” and “Guthlac B,” Biggs 2007 argues that the poet uses religious material to contrast an older Germanic model of succession in which many members of a broadly defined kin-group may contend for the throne, with a newer Christian ideal in which the candidates are restricted primarily to sons.

  • Anlezark, Daniel. Water and Fire: The Myth of the Flood in Anglo-Saxon England. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2006.

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    Anlezark identifies the sources of the association of the Flood with the Apocalypse and finds this idea in increasingly sophisticated ways, in “Genesis A,” “Exodus,” and “Andreas.” With “Beowulf,” he argues strongly that the poet is expressing a mythic belief in the pattern of salvation history and God’s ultimate control over it that allows the hero to lose and yet not fail.

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  • Biggs, Frederick M. “The Dream of the Rood and Guthlac B as a Literary Context for the Monsters in Beowulf.” In Text, Image, Interpretation: Studies in Anglo-Saxon Literature and Its Insular Context in Honour of Éamonn Ó Carragáin. Edited by Alastair Minnis and Jane Roberts, 289–301. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2007.

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    Biggs proposes that the poet links Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon to the theme of succession. The poem’s Christian content, then, is put to a political rather than a theological purpose.

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  • Hill, Thomas D. “The Christian Language and Theme of Beowulf.” In Companion to Old English Poetry. Edited by Henk Aertsen and Rolf H. Bremmer Jr., 63–77. Amsterdam: VU University Press, 1994.

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    Hill argues that the poem presents “a radical synthesis of pagan and Christian history” (p. 63) which can be paralleled not in Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-Latin literature but rather in the Old Irish and Old Norse traditions. In doing so, the poet reveals a “humanistic” sympathy toward his pagan ancestors.

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  • Irving, Edward B., Jr. “Christian and Pagan Elements.” In A Beowulf Handbook. Edited by Robert E. Bjork and John D. Niles, 175–192. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997.

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    An overview that reaffirms the author’s view that “Beowulf is, in overwhelming mass, an admiring account of heroic action, focused with special intensity on a single figure (there is nothing in the poem that is not directly related to Beowulf), and a somewhat less admiring account of the heroic world in which action takes place” (p. 189). It thus disparages many religious interpretations of the poem.

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  • Klaeber, Friedrich. The Christian Elements in Beowulf. Translated by Paul Battles. Kalamazoo, MI: The Medieval Institute, 1996.

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    Klaeber covers the major Christian motifs in the poem (“Creation,” “God, the Lord of All Things,” etc.) discussing previous scholarship on contested passages and providing sources and analogues from the Bible, patristic writings, and other Old English poems. He then discusses the significance of the material.

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  • Orchard, Andy. Pride and Prodigies: Studies in the Monsters of the Beowulf Manuscript. Cambridge, UK: Brewer 1995.

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    The works in the Beowulf Manuscript, the Liber monstrorum, and the Grettis saga “share more than a twin interest in the dangers of human pride and in battles against outlandish monsters; all are concerned with the relationship between pagan past and Christian present, and with the tension between an age which extolled heroic glory and an age in which vainglory was condemned” (p. 169).

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  • Rauer, Christine. Beowulf and the Dragon: Parallels and Analogues. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2000.

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    Rauer examines both the medieval secular Germanic tradition of dragon-fights and the previously neglected early Christian hagiographic accounts in which saints overcome these monsters.

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  • Robinson, Fred C. “The Tomb of Beowulf.” In “The Tomb of Beowulf” and Other Essays on Old English. By Fred C. Robinson, 3–19. Oxford: Blackwell, 1993.

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    After surveying the practice of deifying heroes in western European culture, Robinson focuses on the Christian response to it known to the Anglo-Saxons and then articulated by them. It explains, he argues, the second funeral ceremony at the poem’s end as an apotheosis, which would have suggested to a learned audience the heathen and thus damned nature of the society depicted in the work.

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LAST MODIFIED: 06/26/2012

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195396584-0065

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