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Anglo-Saxon Vernacular Literary Culture

Summary and Keywords

Literary culture in Anglo-Saxon England flourished in two languages—Anglo-Latin and Old English—although the written record of that flourishing is uneven. The literature in these languages of culture did not develop in isolation from each other: vernacular literary works often show a keen awareness of Latin texts and textual practices. Vernacular literature in Old English was precocious in its early expansion from secular and religious poetry to homiletic and documentary prose, as well as translations of the Bible, saints’ lives (in prose and in verse), histories, and philosophical works. The best known of all Old English works is Beowulf, and close behind are the short lyric poems generally, though misleadingly, known as elegies. Not always clear from even the best Modern English translations is the way that these intense poems share techniques of composition and echoes of shared formulas with other long and short poems. The saint-heroes of Elene, Juliana, and Judith share heroic values and poetic language with Beowulf and The Wanderer. This kind of appropriation—where the language of secular poetry was repurposed for religious subjects—was the miracle Bede saw in Cædmon’s Hymn.

Old English literary prose developed in the late 9th century in conjunction with a program of translation from Latin associated with King Alfred. Within a relatively short time, Anglo-Saxon scholars translated into Old English Gregory’s Dialogues, Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy, Augustine’s Soliloquies, the first fifty psalms, and, further, Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica and Orosius’s World History. The late 10th and early 11th centuries saw an efflorescence of Old English prose, particularly in the works of Ælfric of Eynsham and Archbishop Wulfstan of York. Spanning the 9th century to the 12th, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports and reflects on the events of its time, in verse and in prose.

Keywords: Alfredian literature, Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Ælfric, biblical poetry, Cædmon, Cynewulf, heroic poetry, lyric and lament, vernacular, Wulfstan

Literary culture, at least etymologically, points to writing, and vernacular literary culture in early England was the product of a particular dynamic of literacy, both in terms of the individual and of the society’s acculturation to books.1 The material conditions of reading and book culture in Anglo-Saxon England are important to understanding the kinds of literature its writers produced, the patterns of its production, its varied interests, and its functions. While early studies of orality and literacy in Anglo-Saxon England emphasized their separation, more recently, scholarship on the subject has recognized that neither existed in a pure state and that orality and literacy interfaced in complex social networks. One could be “in” literacy simply by interacting in a culture that knew and used books.2 For example, while Bede insists that Cædmon was completely illiterate, the cowherd interacted with the learned, literate monks of Whitby as they read scripture to him. From this interaction, he produced vernacular religious poetry in collaboration with them; he was both taught by them and, in effect, teaching them.3 Illustrating a different dynamic, King Alfred, ignorant of letters as a youth but desiring a book his mother offered as a prize to whichever of her sons could “learn” it, had it read to him, memorized its contents, and won the prize. Later, he learned to read English and Latin, his biographer Asser attests, and afterward he required his judges to learn the content of law books, either by learning to read or by having the books read to them.4 Even the process of reading included oral behaviors: boys being taught to read learned by memorizing the lessons that were set for them each day and were required to recite them aloud as proof that they had learned them. Readers generally subvocalized what they read.5 Such early reading was also a process of hearing.

In the same way as “reading” and “literacy” require historical particularization for the social situation of Anglo-Saxon England, so do “libraries” and book circulation. When reading the literature of Anglo-Saxon England in printed editions or digital format, whether in Old English or in translation, it is easy to overlook the often difficult material conditions for producing and acquiring information in early medieval England. Such conditions affected the composition, the content, and the transmission of all texts. Anglo-Saxon libraries (which is to say collections of books) varied in their numbers and types depending on the century and the religious foundation in question. The collection of books available to Venerable Bede (d. 735) at Monkwearmouth-Jarrow, comprised, in Michael Lapidge’s judgement, the largest library from the Anglo-Saxon period: the books might have numbered two hundred. But surviving booklists suggest that most libraries in the period were small: “seldom surpassing sixty or so books,” numbers small enough that “library” books were normally stored in chests.6 The production of books and their circulation were also subject to the vicissitudes of economics, travel, and warfare. The exchange value of a deluxe book—Benedict Biscop, the great Northumbrian book collector, exchanged one such book he had bought in Rome with King Aldfrith for an amount of land that could support eight families—speaks to both the costliness of book production and to books as a gauge of monastic assets.7 The Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were not isolated. There were, at different times, influxes of books and scholars especially from the Continent, but also from Ireland. From the 9th century on, there were numerous Norse speakers in England, but until the Dane Cnut (r. 1016–1035) succeeded as king of England, the plunder and destruction undertaken by Norse-speaking Viking invaders were responsible, certainly in the 9th century, for the loss of books, the abandonment of monastic foundations, and a catastrophic decline in learning and literacy.8

The question of Anglo-Saxon schools is a difficult one. Most schools were parts of monastic foundations or associated with cathedrals, and it is likely that there were never very many at any given time.9 While the schooling available in England in the 8th century was superb, schools were virtually wiped out in the violent chaos of the 9th century.10 Education in 10th-century England is a narrative of development, with an influx of foreign scholars, patronage of the laity, and development of schools in monasteries and cathedrals.11 Parchment was always at a premium, and for teaching and learning, wax tablets, which could be smoothed over and reused, were widely employed. But much information was retained in memory, since Latin texts were not always available for consultation, and books weren’t easily referenced even when they were available.12 Memory played a critical role in the composition and transmission of early medieval texts regardless of the literacy of the writer.13

Old English Literature

The vernacular literature surviving from Anglo-Saxon England comprises a rich variety of work in verse and prose: heroic as well as hagiographic verse; lyric and lament; commemorative poems; riddles; wisdom poems; didactic, religious poems, prayers, and liturgical verses. The range of prose is similarly varied: translations of a wide range of Latin texts, including books of the Bible; homilies and sermons; saints’ lives; prayers and liturgical texts; scientific works; the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; wills, recipes, and varia. Old English poetry (with some notable exceptions) is anonymous, and most of it is contained in four great manuscripts.

For various reasons, most Old English poems cannot be more closely dated than to the terminus ad quem of their manuscripts, which are themselves dated paleographically, generally with a quarter-century margin of error.14 The controversy over the date of Beowulf dramatizes the general difficulties of dating any but a small number of Old English poems, among them, Cædmon’s Hymn, Bede’s Death Song, the Leiden Riddle, and, perhaps, the verse prologues and epilogue accompanying the Alfredian translations. For other Old English poetry, the only certain information about dating is given by its earliest manuscript (or in the case of most of the poetry, its only manuscript). In Beowulf studies, a troubling question in dating is how a poem that admires Danes and Danish military culture could possibly have been written in England at any time during the two periods of violent Viking invasions. While Beowulf was long considered among the earliest of surviving Old English poems (its part of London, British Library, Cotton Vitellius A. xv, fols. 94–209 [the “Beowulf Manuscript” or the “Nowell Codex”] is dated on paleographical evidence to just after 1000), the 1981 collection The Dating of Beowulf upended the general consensus with a number of contributors arguing a late date. Among these was Kevin Kiernan, who argued for redating the manuscript to the reign of Cnut. And Roberta Frank argued on the basis of “congruence” between Beowulf and skaldic verse a plausible date of composition between 890 and 950.15 In the last thirty-five years, there have been a number of arguments that advanced a date of composition in the 8th century on paleographical grounds and metrical grounds.16 But the controversy continues unabated: a recent collection relitigates the argument for late dating, just as Helen Damico has pressed an argument for reading Beowulf in connection with the Danish court of Cnut and his sons.17

By contrast, Old English prose (from the late 9th century on) that can be ascribed to authors is often more closely datable.18 It is important to remember that what has survived is in large measure the product of chance, transmitted by manuscripts that escaped, in the last thousand years, plunder, fire, religious zealotry, and bookbinders.

Critical Practices

An Overview of Approaches

A useful way to understand the development and range of critical practices at work on the vernacular literature of Anglo-Saxon England is to look at those practices used for reading Beowulf, its best-known and probably most-read work. It is hardly startling to observe that any literature is read through contemporary lenses, and when the poem first came to be read in the 19th century (following the earliest editorial and linguistic work to recover the poem), Beowulf was read as an early English epic, redolent of the continental, barbarian, pagan, Germanic past.19 However archaizing 19th-century literary readings might be (and their temperature can be taken by reading contemporary translations of the poem),20 in the first decade of the 20th century professional opinion considered the poem early, with its manuscript state the result of continuing performance by minstrels, during which much pagan material had been quietly dropped in order to conform with Christian sensibilities.21 H. M. Chadwick effectively summarized that understanding in his book The Heroic Age: “the great bulk of the poem must have been in existence—not merely as a collection of lays or stories, but in full epic form—an appreciable time before the middle of the seventh century.”22 This idea would be strongly contested thereafter. Three ideas at the center of this approach to the poem would, to a greater or lesser extent, occupy criticism of Beowulf (and by extension, much of Old English poetry) through the greater part of the 20th century: the circumstances of the composition and transmission of Beowulf; its connection to the continental, Germanic past; and its relationship to the developing Christian culture of England in the years following its conversion (begun 597 ce). Much that was written on the poem at this time was technical, investigating matters of language, dialect, and, particularly, the historical information the poem was thought to contain. This is the industry that J. R. R. Tolkien parodied in his groundbreaking “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”: “So they pushed the tower over, with no little labour, in order to look for hidden carvings and inscriptions … [and] they also said (after pushing it over): ‘What a muddle it is in!’”23 In this essay, Tolkien recalled the field to the poetry of Beowulf, and a quick inspection of the MLA International Bibliography from 1950 through the mid-1980s on will demonstrate how critical interest in the poem, as poem, quickly grew and developed strong lines of interpretation: tracing in the poem its possible oral origins and techniques of composition; its genre(s) and literary sensibilities; and its Christian theological underpinnings. But it will also show how critical approaches to reading Old English verse (and at times Old English prose) are imbricated in a narrative of development and disruption.

A strong trend developed in the criticism of Beowulf (and by extension the rest of Old English poetry) following the application of Milman Parry’s and Albert Lord’s work applying the poetics of contemporary Serbo-Croatian oral poetry to Homeric epic.24 Francis P. Magoun’s 1953 article on “The Oral-Formulaic Character of Anglo-Saxon Narrative Poetry” was fundamentally disruptive to earlier understandings of Old English poetry by applying the Parry and Lord hypothesis to read the poetic formulas shared across all classical Old English poetry as evidence of oral composition.25 While the particular definition of formula might vary, a formula was generally understood to comprise “a rhythmic-syntactic-semantic complex one half-line in length.”26 Beyond the study of formula, composition, and type-scene, oral-formulaic analysis proved considerably adaptive. In a fundamental study of audience and formulaic poetry, John Miles Foley drew on reception theory to argue for understanding the aesthetics of formulaic poetry as a dynamic of expectations shared by audience and poet.27 In a different direction, Andy Orchard explored the use of formula in literate Latin composition and most recently has extended the study of half-lines to show filiations of authorship across the Cynewulfian canon.28

The emphasis on tradition underlying oral formulaic criticism proved unsettling to those who understood poetry as the intentional, artistic production of a single individual—the central formalist, critical tenet of New Criticism. In that view, the achievement of the “Beowulf poet” (a construct that has served as the given name for the mind behind the poem) seemed to be cheapened by a model of composition that made the poem as we have it the incremental production of unnumbered performers. However unsettling oral formulaic criticism proved to be for author-based models of reading, Edward B. Irving’s A Reading of Beowulf (1968) meant to be disruptive in a different direction by using formalism to free the poem of the shared burdens of philological and historical criticism. It presented itself as a reading, attentive to structure, to poetry, and to the existential struggles of an individual, and it found itself opposed to what appeared group-speak in formulaic criticism.29

A different challenge to both oral formulaic criticism and high formalism followed the lead of D. W. Robertson, who would trace all medieval literature to allegory, via Augustine.30 Margaret Goldsmith’s The Mode and Meaning of Beowulf (1970) offered a full-throated interpretation of Beowulf as a “historical epic with moral and allegorical significance,” reading the poem as a product of the Christian monastic intellectual project of Anglo-Saxon England.31 And it suggested the importance of understanding the relation of any vernacular work to the intellectual tradition with which it was in conversation. A short-hand for this latter approach to reading was source criticism, a project less interested in Robertsonian religious, allegorical interpretation than in identifying Latin, generally patristic, forebears for the texts investigated.32 Source criticism proved to be the dominant approach to prose texts until the 1980s. Its fundamental assumption was that composition was literate, and that one could discern the influence of the Latin learning behind the vernacular writings. More recently, in Pride and Prodigies, using this approach, Andy Orchard connected the monsters of Beowulf with the Latin tradition.33 Christine Rauer investigated the use of analogues (rather than sources as such) in understanding the composition of Beowulf and, particularly, the productive influence of Latin hagiography in Beowulf’s fight with the dragon.34

Approaches, 1980s to the Present

The 1980s saw the publication of a number of critical works designed to expand or frankly disrupt the then-dominant critical ways of reading Old English. Feminist scholars drew attention to the presence and function of women in Beowulf, a poem dominated by men.35 Moving into the 1990s, feminist scholarship on Beowulf (and extending to the larger corpus of verse and prose) shifted to think in terms of issues of gender and power, using the increasingly sophisticated tools of contemporary critical theory, drawing on cultural materialism, psychoanalysis, queer theory, and deconstruction, to name the dominant few.36 A book with a long view of same-sex relations brought queer theory to bear on the literature of Anglo-Saxon England.37 And reading Old English texts through gender and sexuality continues as a vigorous practice.38

Three such works, disruptive in different ways, impacted the critical practices of the subject. In 1990, Allen Frantzen published Desire for Origins, a call for an explicit embrace of then-current critical theory, cast as a critique of various approaches to reading Old English texts, particularly the sources projects.39 Kevin Kiernan’s Beowulf and the Beowulf Manuscript, published originally in 1981, ignited a still continuing controversy by arguing a late date for the poem, but even more consequentially, in its minute examination of the manuscript, inspired a move to return to manuscript criticism in the reading of Old English texts.40 No less revolutionary was his Electronic Beowulf, which brought the manuscript of the poem, in stunning resolution, to any reader whose computer could read a CD-ROM.41 A number of manuscripts and manuscript collections are now electronically available, and they make it possible for the reader to evaluate the edited texts they read.42 A very different project begun in the 1970s launched a revolution in how the field now reads Old English texts, prose and verse. This is the ongoing, online Dictionary of Old English, whose great precision and detailed citation of contexts has raised the bar for translation and analysis.43 Even more so, the searchable database at the heart of the project has enabled swift and accurate searches of words and phrases and exhaustive searches of contexts and comparative usage.44

The last two decades have seen a multiplicity of approaches to Old English literature more generally.45 While it is impossible to mention all in detail, approaches through land, landscape, and anthropology offer productive ways to see ancient verse afresh.46 Investigations of Anglo-Saxon psychology have offered new models of their understanding of mind and emotion.47 And finally, an approach to Old English poetry that had receded since the waning of formalism has made a strong return in considering poetics and in reading through New Formalism.48 A recent book that shows us new ways to think about poets in networks and about reading both Anglo-Latin and Old English poetry puts paid to the romantic image of the oral bard and the solitary poet.49

Old English Poetry

Old English poems do not easily fit into tidy generic categories. Unlike classical poetry, where individual genres were marked by specific metrical forms, Old English verse has only one metrical system, with five dominant metrical types. Each metrical line comprises two half-lines, each with two heavy stresses. The half-lines alliterate across the caesura.50 This meter is used across any generic boundary current literary sensibilities might propose: elegy, epic, riddle, lament, prayer. The poetic diction proper to Old English verse is shared as well across all the different kinds of poetry: formulas in Cædmon’s Hymn are found multiply elsewhere in the corpus: “heofonrices weard” (line 1b; guardian of the heavenly kingdom),51 can be found in other poems some two dozen times, including in Genesis A and in Metrical Charm 1. Similarly, characteristic tropes may be found widely across different forms of verse. Old English poetry was thus composed from and judged against a traditional poetic discourse. But that tradition was dynamic, and the surviving corpus of Old English poetry shows the many productive ways in which tradition was negotiated.52

Standard contemporary generic groupings, most notoriously “epic” and “elegy,” are thus of limited significance in describing the different kinds of Old English poetry.53 The following groupings, made on the basis of content, describe a considerable portion of Old English poetry: poems of the heroic life; short poems of lyric and lament; religious verse, including biblical poetry, verse saints’ lives; liturgical verse and prayers; wisdom literature; and riddles.54

Poems of the Heroic Life

Beowulf is the best known of all Old English poems, multiply translated and widely anthologized (often to the dismay of high-school readers).55 It is a poem that celebrates social relations among elite males within an ethos of a warrior culture from the distant past and the poetic conventions of the bonds between lord and retainer. The narrative divides into three actions in which Beowulf, a warrior with the strength of thirty men, fights three terrifying monsters: Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon. Each contest is incrementally more difficult, posing different challenges. Against Grendel, Beowulf bears no arms, preferring to wrestle his opponent. Against Grendel’s mother, in her underwater hall, Beowulf finds his grip no match for her power and can only defeat her with the help of a marvelous sword revealed to him in her hall. Against the dragon, the now-aged King Beowulf fights alone with sword and iron shield. When his chosen men run away in fear, only one, Wiglaf, remains behind to assist Beowulf in slaying the dragon. But in this contest, Beowulf pays for his victory with his life.56

When the poem is reduced to such a bare outline, one can see why beginning students often react to Beowulf with irritated puzzlement. Reading for the plot misses the delicate negotiations of habitus—those of king and queen, old man and young man, lord and retainer—that are explored. It misses the work of the poem’s evocation of heroic conventions, the unspoken “rules” by which the characters were judged and within which they might gain lasting fame. It misses the economy of exchange, where treasure circulates in the unequal relation between a lord (who distributes treasure) and a retainer (whose body in war is his medium of exchange).57 It misses the poem’s ethos of life in the face of death: that death is preferable to disgrace, and glory worth giving one’s life. And it misses the poetics through which all this is achieved: a heroic diction shared across a number of Old English poems, a pleasure in the slow building of detail, whether it be in a loving description of armor, or treasure, or of a marvelous sword; or in the careful use of apposition to brake the action and heighten tension.58

“Cuþe he duguðe þeaw”59 (He knew the custom of the duguð [the group of proven retainers]). This half-line, describing Wulfgar’s demeanor as he approaches the throne to persuade Hrothgar to see Beowulf, speaks to the poem’s careful observance of precedence and ritual. It judges Wulfgar’s behavior approvingly because he knows and follows custom. Beowulf’s following diplomatic speech to Hrothgar shows him also to understand duguðe þeaw, as do Wealhtheow’s and Freawaru’s ritual actions in the hall in sharing out the mead (lines 611–641; 2016b–2024a). And clearly Wealhtheow’s speech advising Hrothgar to reward Beowulf lavishly with wealth from the hoard but to leave the kingdom to his own kin shows both her understanding of duguðe þeaw and her prudent navigation of the demands of lordship and kinship (lines 1169–1191).

The poem’s orientation toward what it appreciates as the old values shows in the characters’ citation of wisdom and proverb as well as their shared understanding of how one is required to behave.60 When Beowulf tells Hrothgar,

  • Selre bið æghwæm
  • þæt he his freond wrece     þonne he fela murne (lines 1384b–1385)

  • (It is better for a man to avenge his friend than that he mourn much)

his statement both calls on communal wisdom and announces his future action. Required actions in the lord-retainer relation are often cast as voluntary (Hrothgar says he will reward Beowulf with splendid treasure, but the action is necessary and expected). At other times expected actions are marked for praise after the fact (Scyld’s domination of neighboring tribes is assessed by “þæt wæs god cyning” [11b; that was a good king]). While the poem values the heroic behavior implicit in the lord-retainer relation and depends on it for the unfolding of its action, it also shows us its failure. After the cowards flee the dragon fight, Wiglaf moves forward to help Beowulf. And he brings at the request of the dying Beowulf sumptuous treasure from the dragon’s hoard so that Beowulf might see what he had paid for with his life (lines 2747–2808). His speech to the returning cowards both epitomizes the heroic conventions of the war band that drive the poem and poignantly illustrates their failure:

  • Wiglaf maðelode,     Weohstanes sunu;
  • sec sarigferð     seah on unleofe:
  • “Þæt, la, mæg secgan     se ðe wyle soð specan
  • þæt se mondryhten,     se eow ða maðmas geaf,
  • eoredgeatwe     þe ge þær on standað,
  • þonne he on ealubence     oft gesealde
  • healsittendum     helm ond byrnan,
  • þeoden his þegnum,     swylce he þrydlicost
  • ower feor oððe neah     findan meahte–
  • þæt he genunga     guðgewædu
  • wraðe forwurpe     ða hyne wig beget” (lines 2862–2872)

  • (Wiglaf spoke formally, the son of Weohstan, a man sick at heart, he looked at the hateful men: “Indeed, a man who wishes to speak the truth can say this, that the lord who gave you the treasures, the armor that you stand in there—when he often gave helmets and breastplates on the mead bench to warriors in the hall, a lord to his retainers, the most splendid such [armor] he could ever find either far or near—that he completely, grievously threw away that war equipment when war came upon him.”)

Wiglaf’s angry speech verbalizes what the cowards and all who hear of their actions already know: that gifts in the hall are given on the principle of do ut des (I give in order that you give). The “gifts” are not free: the costly armor in which the men stood were mortgages on their lives. In bestowing these gifts, Beowulf actually threw them away, because the cowards did not stand by their lord when war came. As a result, Wiglaf tells them, their loss will be absolute: they will ever after forgo the receiving of treasure and weapons, lose the property rights of their kin, and lose all honor. “Deað bið sella / eorla gehwylcum     þonne edwitlif” (lines 2890b–2891; Death is better for any man than a life of disgrace). The vast hoard of the dragon, described with the same close attention as the treasures twice brought from Hrothgar’s hoard as counter gifts for Beowulf’s heroic actions, now is taken back to the Geats to be destroyed on Beowulf’s funeral pyre. But this counter gift from his people will end the treasure’s circulation and render it as useless (unnyt) as it had been before. Beowulf had bought the treasure with his life (“mine bebohte … feorhlege,” lines 2799b–2800a); his people return it in a sacrificial gift that will likely mean their destruction.

Using the same master tropes, The Battle of Maldon, a poem that survives in a fragmentary state, commemorates the heroic fight of an English force against Vikings marauders in a battle in August 991.61 The poem has the two sides separated by a tidal channel, whose low-water ford could be defended by a single man. Effectively at a standoff, Byrhtnoth, ealdormann of Essex, decides to permit the Vikings to cross to the mainland to engage in battle. The battle itself is remembered in the E text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle by a spare record of the death of Byrhtnoth and the subsequent payment of £10,000 in tribute.

But The Battle of Maldon is not a Chronicle entry. It casts the meeting of the opposing armies as a fateful set of exchanges: first with defiant words across the water, then with deadly blows given and repaid, and then with the retainers giving their lives after the death of their lord, Byrhtnoth. And the engine of those exchanges is the diction and the conventions of the lord-retainer relation. The poem takes its energy and poignancy from the demands of that relation; the poem’s tragedy and its glory are products of different realizations of those obligations.

When Byrhtnoth falls valorously in battle, three brothers betray their duty to him by running away. One of them, Godric, who had received many horses from Byrhtnoth, leapt onto his dead lord’s own horse and galloped away. Like the cowards in Beowulf, the disgrace of these three brothers and others who ran with them is explained in terms of their obligations to their lord:

  • Flugon on þæt fæsten     and hyra feore burgon,
  • and manna ma     þonne hit ænig mæð wære,
  • gyf hi þa geearnunga     ealle gemundon
  • þe he him to duguþe     gedon hæfde (lines 194–197)

  • (They fled to the woods and protected their lives, and more men then was at all fitting, if they had remembered all the favors he had done for their advantage)

But the failure of these men to honor their obligations is the poem’s foil for the valiant remaining few, who vow to give up their lives rather than to return home after Byrhtnoth’s death. Their suicidal loyalty is cast in terms of what is owing to their beahgifa (treasure-giver). The rest of the poem features speeches of resolve to honor their lord by fighting to the death.62 If The Battle of Maldon blames Byrhtnoth’s decision to engage the enemy as pride or overconfidence (lines 89–90), it magnifies his conduct and that of his loyal men in the culture’s idiom of heroic poetry.63 Like Beowulf, these men gain dom (glory) and nobility in defeat by facing death without caring for their lives. At a time when England was facing continuing harrowing assaults from Viking marauders, the nostalgic idioms of heroic poetry perhaps offered some consolation.64

The diction and conventions of heroic poetry are used to very different effect in a praise poem in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (s.a. 937) commemorating the victory of King Athelstan and his brother Edmund against a host of Scots and Norsemen.65

  • Her Æþelstan cyning,     eorla dryhten,
  • beorna beahgifa,     and his broþor eac,
  • Eadmund æþeling,     ealdorlangne tir
  • geslogon æt sæcce     sweorda ecgum
  • ymbe Brunanburh.     Bordweal clufan,
  • heowan heaþolinde     hamora lafan,
  • afaran Eadweardes,     swa him geæþele wæs
  • from cneomægum,     þæt hi æt campe oft
  • wiþ laþra gehwæne     land ealgodon,
  • hord and hamas.66

  • (In this year Æthelstan the king, lord of the warriors, ring-giver of heroes, and his brother also, Ætheling Edmund, won with the edges of swords everlasting glory at battle around Brunanburh. The offspring of Edward split the shield wall, hewed the linden battle shields with the leavings of hammers, as was natural for them from their ancestors so that at battle often against each one of their enemies they protected the land, the hoard and the homes.)

Although some historians have regretted the inclusion of verse in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (as lacking particular historical detail), the Chronicle poems performed considerable ideological work for the House of Wessex through their deployment of heroic formulas casting individual kings in the heroic mantle of a remembered past.67 Here King Athelstan’s victory at Brunanburh is framed in the mold of all the glorious past battles of the Cerdicing line. The king’s lineage is thus praised, and the brothers are affirmed as worthy to be in that line. The “leavings of hammers” (a kenning for “swords”; compare Beowulf, “homera lafe,” 2829b), and the epithets “lord of warriors” and “ring-giver of heroes” (compare The Battle of Maldon, “beahgifa,” 290b) are sharp departures from the usual discourse of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; they are poetic triggers, used to connect Athelstan and his brother to a shared literature of heroic valor and remembered glory. And in this way, the poem presses the diction of heroic poetry to ideological work in the prose context of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.68

Shorter Poems of Lyric and Lament

While the meter, formulaic diction, and heroic conventions of Old English poetry transcend the boundaries of subject matter, the deployment of three formal features of verse—voice, tense, and affect—mark sharp distinctions between poems of heroic action and those of lyric and lament.69 Beowulf and The Battle of Maldon, for example, are poems that present heroic action in the idealized past (a trait they share with epic); their tense is the preterite and speeches are marked as delivered in the past, “Beowulf maþelode” (line 1817a; Beowulf spoke formally). The poems of lyric and lament, all found in the Exeter Book, speak in the here and now with the fiction of present speech: “Mæg ic be me sylfum     soðgied wrecan, / siþas secgan” (lines 1–2b; I can recount a true story about myself, speak of my journeys), The Seafarer begins.70 The Wife’s Lament is closely similar: “Ic þis giedd wrece     bi me full geomorre, / minre sylfre sið” (lines 1–2a; I recount this story about myself very sorrowful, my own life’s journey).71 The function of ic (I) in the two types of poems similarly differs. In the poems of heroic action, set in the distant past, ic works primarily as a shifter, marking the change in the poem from the narrator’s voice to quoted speech. The lyric ic, however, offers the fiction of unmediated access to the voice of the poem, a voice demanding to be heard in the here and now. As tense and voice work together in Old English lyric poems to create a fiction of immediate presence, they also allow the irruption of affect—longing, mourning, regret, resignation—and invite the reader’s or hearer’s response in the poems they structure.

Suffering, loss, the passage of time, and the resolve to endure are shared subjects of the poems that have conventionally been classified as “elegies.”72 The lyric ic in The Wanderer, The Seafarer, The Wife’s Lament, and Deor speaks in the present about the loss of geographic and social place.73 The Wanderer is a man without a lord, and his loss of everything that had moored him is figured through familiar heroic conventions: he treads the path of exile (“wræclast”); no longer inside the hall to pay homage and receive gifts, he is friendless (wineleas); outside, cold and alone, his only companions are seabirds. The Seafarer likewise follows the paths of exile (“wræclastas”) and details the bitter cold he suffers on the sea. That he has chosen the life of an exile (wræcca) in the pious hope that voluntary exile from his homeland might earn a reward in the heavenly home does not much ease his physical sufferings or his loneliness.74 The Wife of The Wife’s Lament uses the tropes of lordship, loyalty, and life in the hall to figure her misery dwelling alone in an earth cave. Banished by her husband, she calls herself “wineleas wræcca” (a friendless exile) in a striking appropriation of the diction and conventions of the lord-retainer relation.75 Deor, the poet of the Heodeningas who lost his position to another, voices his misery by recalling the suffering of legendary figures from the past: the hamstringing of Welund, the rape of Beadohild, the afflictions of the Goths under Eormanric. And each vignette is punctuated by a refrain that offers his only consolation: “Þæs ofereode,     þisses swa mæg”76 (That passed; so can this).

For the Wanderer, time destroys: the poem’s ubi sunt catalogue conjures past happiness in the images of warrior culture—the bright cup, seats at the feast, treasure-giving, a horse, glory—all these are gone and replaced by tumbled walls and the misery of driving hail.77 For Deor, who has lost everything, the passing away of time offers hope that even his current wretchedness must pass. The Seafarer and the Wife share the misery of the unhappy present. Unlike The Wanderer and The Seafarer, which offer the hope of eternal happiness in the life hereafter, The Wife’s Lament offers no consolation beyond the present moment of her painful longing (langoþ).

Religious Poetry

The preponderance of Old English poetry is devoted to religious topics broadly considered: one of the four great manuscripts of verse, Oxford, Bodleian Library, Junius 11 (the Junius Manuscript) contains four poems translated from the Old Testament, Genesis A and Genesis B, Daniel and Exodus; a second part of the manuscript preserves Christ and Satan, a poem on the harrowing of hell.78 Judith, a poem on the biblical heroine’s beheading of Holofernes, follows Beowulf in Vitellius A. xv.79 Three long poems on different aspects of the life of Christ open the Exeter Book.80 Saints’ lives in verse have prominent places in the Vercelli Book and in the Exeter Book: these include Andreas and Elene in the former, and Juliana and the two Guthlac poems (Guthlac A and Guthlac B) in the Exeter Book.81 The Dream of the Rood, a visionary poem on the Cross, is in the Vercelli Book.82 And there are shorter religious poems, occasional and liturgical, found in various manuscripts, early and late.83

When Bede recounted the story of Cædmon in his Ecclesiastical History (IV.24), he cast it as a narrative of conversion to the religious life following a miraculous gift: after a life in which he could not (or would not) sing, in a dream Cædmon received the power of adapting secular poetry to religious themes.84 The praise song that Bede paraphrases in Latin was the result of this gift. (The earliest manuscripts of the Ecclesiastical History add Cædmon’s Hymn in Old English as a gloss.) Bede’s account understands Cædmon’s gift of song as a divine benediction of vernacular poetry: henceforth, religious themes might be appropriately cast in the traditional language of Old English verse. And the account also ascribed to Cædmon a set of poems on biblical history that led early scholars to attribute to him the poetry of the Junius Manuscript. No one now credits that attribution: the individual poems of the Junius Manuscript are radically different in their approaches to rendering their biblical texts.85

The poems Genesis A and Genesis B, although written without a break in the manuscript, are very different achievements in translating the Bible into verse, though both adapt the Latin text to the conventions of Old English poetry. Genesis A hews fairly carefully to the book of Genesis; Genesis B, a translation from a 9th-century Old Saxon poem, now inserted into Genesis A, expands on the Genesis account of the fall of Adam and Eve. Satan, though bound in hell, is a lord whose retainers have fallen with him. He appeals to them to make their way to Eden, to ensnare Adam and Eve, and, by getting them to sin, regain Eden for the fallen angels:

  • “Gif ic ænegum þegne     þeodenmadmas
  • geara forgeafe     þenden we on þan godan rice
  • gesælige sæton     and hæfdon ure setla geweald
  • þonne he me na on leofran tid     leanum ne meahte
  • mine gife gyldan     gif his gien wolde
  • minra þegna hwilc     geþafa wurðan
  • þæt he up heonon     ute mihte
  • windan on wolcne     þær geworht stondað
  • adam and eue     on eorðrice
  • mid welan bewunden.”86

  • (If I ever gave princely gifts to any thane when we sat happy in that good kingdom and controlled our positions of power, then he could not repay my gift in any better time, if any one of my thanes would yet consent to it, that he might … fly up into the sky where Adam and Eve stand created in the earthly kingdom, surrounded by happiness.)

Satan, envious and impotent, is, nonetheless, the leader of the demonic war band. His appeal works on the heroic logic of the gift. He reminds his retainers that he had rewarded them lavishly in a happier time. Now is the time for them to pay what they owe.87

Exodus, also in the Junius Manuscript, is a very different approach to biblical translation, and stylistically one of the most brilliant of Old English poems. It is exuberant in its creation and deployment of images, compounds, and hapax legomena. The density of its imagery has evoked comparison with skaldic poetry88 and the subtlety of that same imagery bespeaks a deep familiarity with Latin biblical poetry.89 The poem is firmly in conversation with the standard tropes of war poetry (the beasts of battle make an appearance, lines 161–169), but the descriptors “cwyldrof” (bold in killing) and “wælceasega” (choosers of the slain) to describe the beasts, both hapax legomena, bear the imprint of the Exodus poet. Together, these poems speak to the compelling interest the Old Testament has for Anglo-Saxon audiences.

The Poems of Cynewulf

Four Old English poems with religious subjects (Elene, Fates of the Apostles, Christ II [Ascension], and Juliana) share variations on a complex runic “signature” at their conclusions, spelling the poet’s name and asking for prayers. These “signatures” identify them as the work of an otherwise unknown poet, Cynewulf.90 These four, although on different subjects, are also united in their translating earlier Latin works into verse.91 Elene, an account of the Finding of the True Cross by Saint Helena, mother of the emperor Constantine, and Juliana, relating the passion of Saint Juliana, a young Christian woman from Nicomedia, portray two very different kinds of women (a queen and mother; a virgin martyr) as valiant heroes. At the command of her son, Elene leads a band of warriors to the Holy Land to find Christ’s Cross. The poem describes her sea-journey in “wæghengestas” (line 236b; wave horses, or ships) over the “merestræte” (line 242a; sea road). The Jewish elders she encounters refuse to tell her the location of the True Cross, and much of the poem deals with her struggle with Judas, a wise Jew whom she imprisons in a pit until he finally reveals the location of the Cross. Following the revelation, Judas is converted to Christianity and becomes Bishop Cyriacus.92

The agon in Juliana is about virginity and Christianity. Promised by her father to a powerful pagan, Eleusius, Juliana declines marriage unless he converts. Eleusius has Juliana tortured in an effort to force her to give in. Much as in Elene, the action in Juliana is an exchange of speeches, in which Juliana shows herself resolute. When she is thrown in prison, she meets a devil in the guise of an angel, whom she exposes and forces to confess his wicked deeds against humankind. Her virginity preserved, Juliana is dispatched by a sword, and the wicked Eleusius dies with his warriors at sea.93

With less conclusive evidence, Guthlac B, an account of the hermit saint of Crowland, and Dream of the Rood, a vision of the cross, have been proposed as part of the Cynewulfian canon.94 The latter is an extraordinary poem cast as a dream vision, in which the cross on which Christ suffered and died speaks of its own horror in being made the instrument of crucifixion.95 In it, Christ is portrayed as a warrior who strips to mount the cross: “geong hæleð – (þæt wæs God ælmihtig) / strang ond stiðmod” (lines 39–40b; young warrior—that was God almighty—strong and resolute). Strikingly, the cross describes the blood and the holes of the nails as its own suffering, transferring the account of agony to itself: “Þurhdrifan hi me mid deorcan næglum.     on me syndon þa dolg gesiene, / opene inwidhlemmas” (lines 46–47a; they pierced me with dark nails; the wounds are visible on me, open malicious wounds). When Christ is taken down after his death, the cross is grievously wounded by arrows (line 62b; “mid strælum forwundod”). The prosopopoeia of the Dream of the Rood makes it one of the most affecting of Old English religious poems.


Prosopopoeia is the rhetorical device by which ordinary objects are given a voice to speak of themselves. It is the dominant device of the Old English riddles of the Exeter Book, which represent a very popular genre of early medieval poetry.96 There are several surviving collections of Anglo-Latin verse riddles, and a number of the Exeter Book riddles show knowledge of that tradition and translate some of them.97 While the Anglo-Latin riddles usually provide the solution to the puzzle in their manuscript copies, the Old English riddles leave us guessing. A number of the most challenging Old English riddles have occasioned a large number of suggested solutions.98 By no means the most elusive, K-D 49 has been “solved” as “falcon-cage,” “bookcase,” “oven,” and “pen and ink.”99 But other riddles are considerably less puzzling (or irritating): K-D 23 cleverly (and unusually) names itself in the first half-line, “Agob is min noma” (Agob [Old English bow spelled backward] is my name).

The speaking objects of the Old English riddles are humble objects (a key, a churn, a rake), implements of war (mail coat, bow, spear, ?helmet), liturgical objects (chalice, Bible), writing implements (pen, ink, a pen and fingers), familiar and not-so-familiar animals (ox, cuckoo, a songbird of some sort, ten chickens), and elements (wind, water, ice). Exeter Riddle K-D 40 (“Creation”) translates Aldhelm’s final riddle, “Creatura” with a typical strategy, using two Old English lines for one line of Latin. At times reverent, at times obscene (and often everything in between), the riddles were a genre of verse that allowed high art as well as low wit. (What could the solution “One-Eyed Seller of Garlic” have elicited but groans, even in the 10th century?) This riddle may speak for them:

  • Oft ic sceal wiþ wæge winnan     ond wiþ winde feohtan,
  • somod wið þam sæcce,     þonne ic secan gewite
  • eorþan yþum þeaht;     me biþ se eþel fremde.
  • Ic beom strong þæs gewinnes,     gif ic stille weorþe;
  • gif me þæs tosæleð,     hi beoð swiþran þonne ic,
  • ond mec slitende     sona flymað,
  • willað oþfergan     þæt ic friþian sceal.
  • Ic him þæt forstonde,     gif min steort þolað
  • ond mec stiþne wiþ     stanas moton
  • fæste gehabban.     Frige hwæt ic hatte.100

  • (In battle I rage against wave and wind,
  • Strive against storm, dive down seeking
  • A strange homeland, shrouded by the sea.
  • In the grip of war, I am strong when still;
  • In battle-rush, rolled and ripped
  • In flight. Conspiring wind and wave
  • Would steal my treasure, strip my hold,
  • But I seize glory with a guardian tail
  • As the clutch of stones stands hard
  • Against my strength. Can you guess my name?101)

Old English Prose—Early and Late

The description “vernacular prose” encompasses a wide range of writings from the work-a-day to carefully crafted literary expressions. Vernacular prose was the vehicle for recipes, prognostics, science and chronology, wills, chronicles, and laws, as well as translations of notable Latin works of history, theology, and philosophical speculation. It was a primary vehicle for transmitting religious truths to the faithful, and in this form, as homilies, sermons, and lives of saints, Old English vernacular prose had its longest continuing impact, still actively adapted and copied into the 12th century.102 This section examines the developing arc of Old English literary prose from the late 9th to the 12th century.

Old English literary prose developed in conjunction with a remarkable late-9th-century project of translating Latin works into the vernacular. As such, it was a central element in Anglo-Saxon vernacular literary culture, perhaps its most brilliant invention. Since the late 7th century, following the consolidation of Christianity across the kingdoms of what would later become England, English authors had written in Latin, the language of culture, whose wide usage on the Continent promised Anglo-Saxon writers a readership beyond England’s shores.103 The state of learning in England was so well advanced that English religious houses found themselves, in the 8th century, in the fortunate position of being able to send missionaries, scholars, and books to the Continent.104 The works of England’s best-known Latin writers, Aldhelm, Bede, Boniface, and Alcuin, were studied on the Continent, and in later centuries copies from continental scriptoria would find their way back to England as its monasteries were re-established in the mid-10th century. From its apex in the 8th century, literary culture in England (which was to say a decidedly Latin literary culture) declined in the decades of the “First Viking Age.”105 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, writing from a distance of a century, records the first landing of Vikings in the entry for 787 [recte 789], and throughout the 8th century, the English kingdoms were repeatedly attacked, with East Anglia, Mercia, and Northumbria overrun between 869 and 875. Wessex alone survived, and between 871 and 878, King Alfred fought a series of desperate actions, managing a victory at Edington in 878. It would not be until the 890s that there was sufficient peace for Alfred to contemplate what was, in effect, a revival of written culture.106 Such a revival would have a very different shape from the literary culture of the preceding centuries.

Alfred and the Alfredian Project

The announcement of the Alfredian project comes in the form of a preface to the Old English translation of Gregory the Great’s Regula pastoralis, a work treating the spiritual and pastoral obligations of bishops, and including, in effect, a manual on preaching. The distribution of this work, the Old English Pastoral Care, intended for each episcopal see, can be assigned with unusual precision to 890X897 from the dating of its earliest manuscript, Oxford, Bodleian Library, Hatton 20.107 While the Old English Pastoral Care renders Gregory’s treatise fairly closely, it extends the Latin’s scope in the early chapters to consider not simply the power and obligations of bishops but also of kings. The Latin treatise’s concern with the formation of bishops and the proper use of their power may have driven its selection as perhaps the first work of the project of translation: bishops (whatever their level of Latinity) were responsible for Christian education, and that education had foundered after decades of war. The Preface, in the voice of King Alfred, surveys the power of previous kings and the former state of learning in England, particularly literacy in Latin, and proclaims a program of translation to recover, in whatever degree possible, the learning of the past:

Ða ic ða ðis eall gemunde, ða wundrade ic swiðe swiðe ðara godena wiotona ðe giu wæron giond Angelcynn, & ða bec eallæ be fullan geliornod hæfdon, ðæt hie hiora ða nænne dæl noldon on hiora agen geðiode wendan. Ac ic ða sona eft me selfum andwyrde & cwæð: Hie ne wendon ðætte æfre menn sceolden swæ reccelease weorðan & sio lar swæ oðfeallan; for ðære wilnunga hie hit forleton, & woldon ðæt her ðy mara wisdom on londe wære ðy we ma geðeoda cuðon. Ða gemunde ic hu sio æ wæs ærest on Ebreisc geðiode funden, & eft, ða hie Creacas geliornodon, ða wendon hie hie on hiora agen geðiode ealle, & eac ealle oðre bec. & eft Lædenware swæ same, siððan hie hie geliornodon, hie hie wendon ealla ðurh wise wealhstodas on hiora agen geðiode.108

(When I recalled all this, then I marveled very much at the good wise men who once were throughout England—they had learned all books completely—that they did not wish to translate any portion of them into their own language. But I then immediately after answered myself and said: They did not expect that people would become so careless and that teaching would be so diminished; they let [translation] go for their desire that they wished that wisdom would be greater here in the land the more languages we knew. Then I recalled how the law was first encountered in the Hebrew language, and afterwards, when the Greeks had learned it, then they translated all of it into their own language, and all the other books. And afterwards, the Romans similarly, after they had learned it, translated all of it through wise interpreters into their own language.)

This passage follows the Preface’s opening argument that regrets the current distressed conditions of the English people, who had suffered from increasingly destructive Viking incursions. The Preface was written during a time of peace in the last decade of the 9th century (by the early 890s, Alfred, king of the West-Saxons in the 870s, had begun to be described as king of the “Anglo-Saxons”) after Alfred had, against improbable odds, halted the Viking incursions.109 In the voice of the king, the Preface epitomizes the destruction of literary culture as a virtual disappearance of Latin literacy: that very few could understand the divine services or read a letter in Latin south of the Humber, and not many north of the Humber could either.110 The kingdom’s decayed Latinity becomes, in the Preface, the reason for a radical program for literacy in the English language, argued on the basis of historical precedents for translation. Just as the Greeks first translated the “Law” (meaning, perhaps, the Pentateuch, or possibly the Old Testament), and then translated the other books, the Romans followed suit. These cultural appropriations of scripture offered a model to the English for translating Latin works into their vernacular.

The repetition of “gemunde” in the passage above (echoing three earlier occurrences in the Preface), frames the king’s reflections on a glorious past. However nostalgic, the iteration of “gemunde” advances its argument for a vigorous present and future program. If the decline of Latin literacy is to be mourned, the passage argues, the English could nonetheless, on the model of the Greeks and the Romans, engage in a program of translation to bring into their own language the most important of earlier (Latin) texts.111 As the Preface continues, the voice of the king goes on to announce a project of translating those books “ða ðe niedbeðearfosta sien eallum monnum to wiotonne”112 (that are most necessary for all men to know) aided by the several scholars Alfred assembled at his court.113 Those translations that have been explicitly connected with this project are, in addition to the translation of Gregory’s Regula pastoralis, known as the Old English Pastoral Care: the Old English Boethius, the Old English translation of Augustine’s Soliloquies, and the prose version of the first fifty psalms.114 The program adumbrated there was not simply ambitious: it effectively enhanced the status of the vernacular by conceiving of English literary culture as a conversation with great works in Latin conducted in Old English.

Although early Old English prose is often syntactically loose (note the intruded ond clause in the first sentence above), the Preface shows a careful structure and a stylistically attentive use of repetition on the macro level in building its argument. Until fairly recently, it was accepted that King Alfred himself wrote the Preface following his translation of the Regula pastoralis. To Alfred’s work as a translator were also attributed the Old English Boethius, the Old English version of Augustine’s Soliloquies, and the translation of psalms one through fifty into Old English prose. In recent years, Malcolm Godden has upended this consensus in questioning whether the king wrote anything at all, and arguing that something like the Carolingian Paul the Deacon’s preface to his Homiliary appears to have been a model for the Preface to the Pastoral Care.115 Whatever models the Preface may have looked to, its argument for programmatic translation into Old English speaks uniquely to the Anglo-Saxon vernacular situation and to Old English literary culture in the late 9th century.

This activity did not occur in a vacuum.116 About a decade before the production of the Old English Pastoral Care, the Mercian Archbishop Wærferth translated for King Alfred Gregory the Great’s Dialogi (Dialogues) a collection recounting the lives of Italian saints and their miracles, as well as (in book 4) a consideration of questions about the soul and what happens after death.117 Possibly earlier still was the Old English Martyrology, a collection of narratives of lives and passions of saints.118 Two additional translations, once considered part of Alfred’s canon, but now understood to be separate, though perhaps inspired by the Alfredian project, are the Old English translation of Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum and the Old English translation of Orosius’s Historiarum adversus paganos libri septem.119 The Old English Orosius takes considerable liberties with its text, changing emphasis, adding and subtracting material, updating references, and incorporating glosses.120 The Old English prose that results from this energetic translation is written, in the words of Janet Bately, in a “fluent, effective, and generally lucid style.”121 Its most famous account of the voyages of Wulfstan and Ohthere, an addition that inserts a further geography of the north into Orosius’s classical worldview, is perhaps an early- 10th-century interpolation.122

The four texts comprising the Alfredian core of that translation project make a curious set of choices to commit to the vernacular. While one might argue the pastoral utility of translating the psalms, and while the Preface explicitly argues the need for an Old English version of the Regula pastoralis, it is difficult to see why Boethius’s De consolatione Philosophiae (The Consolation of Philosophy), a late antique philosophical work, seemed integral to a program of vernacular education. It is still more difficult to understand how Augustine’s early Soliloquia (an early dialogue between Augustine and Reason on the soul) struck anyone at Alfred’s court as “niedbeðearfosta” (most necessary) in the prevailing conditions.123 Especially challenging intellectual texts in content and in style, their choice for translation is even more puzzling since the Latin Soliloquies did not enjoy a wide circulation in the 9th century, and the Old English Boethius represents the first vernacular translation of this Latin philosophical work, whose revival in Continental studies was likely owing to another Englishman, Alcuin.124

The Old English Boethius is central to understanding the early project of translating and adapting Latin texts for Anglo-Saxon readers. Translations into the vernacular are the product of countless decisions on the meaning of words and ideas, attempts to understand alien social practices and make them comprehensible. Such translations worked to accommodate a worldview from another time, language, and culture to that of early medieval England. But understanding the context of the adaptations—lexical, explanatory, and aesthetic—that the translator(s) of the Old English Boethius made is not simple, in part because both its date and authorship are now under question.125 Appreciating the choices the translator(s) made to explain and accommodate the Latin text to a vernacular audience is further complicated by the unpublished state of critical evidence, thousands of explanatory Latin glosses to the Latin Consolation preserved in scores of manuscripts.126 These glosses are an essential part of the early medieval cultural conversation on De consolatio Philosophiae and its reflex in the Old English Boethius.

The first state of the Old English translation, made in prose, survives now in a late-11th- or early-12th-century manuscript (known by its siglum B).127 The second state of the translation, a version that imitates the alternation of prose and verse in Boethius’s prosimetrical Latin text, survives in a damaged manuscript of the mid-10th century (known by its siglum C).128 Neither manuscript can help with fixing the date of the translation, and it is possible that the person who provided the verses to match Boethius’s metra was different from the individual(s) who originally translated the text.

The Old English Boethius shows us a vigorous engagement with Boethius’s difficult philosophical text and a willingness to shape and adapt the 6th-century Latin to the needs of a later, vernacular audience. The interlocutor of Boethius the prisoner in the Latin text is Philosophia (Philosophy, gendered feminine). Their dialogue records the process of healing the prisoner’s grief by recalling him to the philosophy he had earlier studied in private life. In the Old English, the interlocutor is Wisdom (Wisdom, gendered masculine) and at other times Gesceadwisnes (Reason, gendered feminine); and Boethius, the prisoner, is often called Mod (Mind, gendered neuter). The translation was not always up to the Latin’s difficult philosophical arguments: the Old English Boethius abandons the Latin book V’s difficult reconciliation of Providence and free will in favor of a discussion of creatures who are free (angels and humans) and other created beings (Old English Boethius, prose 32) in a move that shows the translation’s turn to more familiar homiletic themes. But this is not to say that the translation is uninformed or unlearned. The Old English translation’s handling of the story of Orpheus (DCP 3m12) illustrates how it tackled unfamiliar references, called on learned resources, and developed in the process a characteristic prose style. The following selection shows the Old English translation’s strategies of accommodating the 6th-century Latin verse text to a vernacular audience over three centuries later. In it, Orpheus, after the death of his beloved wife, Eurydice, descends into hell in an effort to get her back:

  • et dulci ueniam prece
  • umbrarum dominos rogat.
  • Stupet tergeminus nouo
  • captus carmine ianitor;
  • quae sontes agitant metu
  • ultrices scelerum deae
  • iam maestae lacrimis madent.129

  • (and he asks the lords of the shades for mercy with his sweet prayer. The three headed porter charmed by his unaccustomed song is amazed; the goddess avengers of wicked deeds who pursue the guilty with fear, now filled with sadness, overflow with tears.)

  • þa ðohte he ðæt he wolde gesecan helle godu, and onginnan him oleccan mid his hearepan and biddan þæt hi him ageafan eft his wif. Þa he ða þider com, þa sceolde cuman þære helle hund ongean hine, þæs nama wæs Ceruerus, se sceolde habban þrio heafda, and ongan fægenian mid his steorte and pleigan wið hine for his hearpunga. Ða wæs þær eac swiðe egeslic geatweard, þæs nama sceolde beon Caron; se hæfde eac þrio heafda and se wæs swiðe oreald. Ða ongon þe hearpere hine biddan þæt he hine gemundbyrde þa hwile ðe he þær wære, and hine gesundne eft ðonon brohte. Þa gehet he him þæt, forþam he wæs oflyst þæs seldcuþan sones. Ða eode he furður, oð he gemette ða graman gydena ðe folcisce men hatað Parcas, þa hi secgað þæt on nanum men nyton nan are ac ælcum menn wrecan be his gewyrhtum. Ða hi secgað þæt wealdan ælces monne wyrde. Ða ongann he biddan hiora miltse; þa ongunnon hi wepan mid him.130

  • (then he thought that he would seek out the gods of hell and try to charm them with his harp and entreat them to give him back his wife. When he came there, then the hound of hell came toward him; his name was Cerberus, who had three heads. And he began to wag his tail and play with him because of his harp playing. There was also there a very terrifying gatekeeper whose name was Charon; he also had three heads and was extremely old. Then the harper asked him that he protect him while he was there and afterwards bring him back safe. Then he promised him that, because he was captivated by that rare music. Then he [Orpheus] went further, until he encountered those fierce goddesses which common people call Parcae, who, they say, have no pity on any man, but punish each man according to his deeds. They say they control every person’s fate. When he began to ask their mercy, they began to weep with him.)

Immediately obvious from a comparison of the Latin and the Old English is the length of the translation and its addition of considerable explanatory information. Boethius’s verse is taut and allusive, expecting immediate recognition of the referents of tergeminus … ianitor (three-headed porter) and ultrices … deae (avenging goddesses) from his classically trained audience. The Old English translator(s) felt it necessary not only to explicate the Old English references to Cerberus, Charon, and the Furies but to build the scene for the vernacular audience, providing narrative markers for temporal coordination as Orpheus moves through hell (“when he came there”; “then he went further”). Just prior to the Orpheus story, the translation adds a comment completely independent of the Latin: the Old English observes, by way of assurance that the story is essential to Wisdom’s point, that Plato had observed that the man who wants to give an example ought not to choose one too dissimilar to his point.131 The Old English will go on to draw its own conclusions from its classical example.

Orpheus the Thracian poet (uates Threicius) is a harper in the Old English version, whose visit to the underworld is met first by Cerberus, the Latin’s reference to the three-headed gatekeeper (tergeminus … ianitor). The huge dog’s fierceness is blunted by Orpheus’s charming music, and he becomes puppy-like, with a wagging tail. In a complete addition to the Latin metrum, Charon is named and identified (mistakenly) as a three-headed gate keeper and of great age; further narrative detail is added in giving Charon the motive to keep Orpheus safe because he is entranced by the music.132 Boethius’s avenging goddesses are also supplied a classical name in the Old English, and the added detail that they take pity on no one but punish according to an individual’s desserts.133 In each instance the information about these goddesses is carefully distanced from fact: “as they say” marks the account as fable (labelled as “leasum spellum” [“false stories,” what we would call “fiction”] earlier on). The story is given as a bispell, an example that is not meant to be accepted as fact but rather as illustration. When Orpheus loses his wife, after looking back to her as she follows him up from hell, the Latin offers an explicit application to Boethius the prisoner: whoever looks back down into the depths (with a play on “inferos,” both things that belong to the underworld and the dead themselves) will lose whatever excellence he might have brought with him. The Old English translation refashions this statement as an explicitly Christian moral to the fable, once again marked as leasan spell: “Ðas leasan spell lærað gehwilcne man þara ðe wilnað helle þeostra to flionne and to þæs soðan Godes liohte to cumenne, þæt he hine ne besio to his ealdum yfelum swa þæt he hi eft swa fullice fullfremme swa he hi ær dyde”134 (These false stories teach each one who wishes to flee hell and to come into the light of the true God, that he not look upon his old evil deeds so that afterwards he commit them as fully as he had previously done).

The Old English translation shows a remarkable fund of knowledge here, and it is likely that the details it deploys come from the commentary tradition on the Latin text.135 Its knowledge of the classical tradition is accompanied by a concern to convey that information in a carefully structured Christian, moral context. The deployment of that tradition shows the translator(s)’s deep concern for the understanding of the Old English audience and the effort at cultural accommodation achieved by increasing the narrative density of the work. The second state of the translation, which took the prose translations of Boethius’s various, difficult meters, and re-presented them in Old English verse, suggests a further aesthetic development of the translation in its attempt to imitate the prosimetrical shape of the Latin Consolation.136 That this work had a later, appreciative, Old English readership is attested by an admiring comment in Æthelweard’s late-10-century Chronicle, that Alfred translated the work so that “not only for scholars, but for any who might hear it read, the tearful passion of the book of Boethius might be brought to life,” and a quotation of the Old English Boethius in one of Ælfric’s works.137

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a critical text for understanding the development of Old English literary prose since it gives us contemporary writings in different forms in both Early and Late Old English. The title “Anglo-Saxon Chronicle” (ASC) is actually an umbrella term that covers an assemblage of annals likely begun at the court of King Alfred in the late 9th century.138 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was kept up thereafter (in its various versions), albeit irregularly, up to the middle of the 12th century. (The last entry in E is dated 1154.) The ASC includes a wide variety of prose writing: there are single-line annals and lengthy concatenations of events for a year. By contrast with these, there is an extraordinarily patterned narrative of King Cynewulf, his valiant, single-handed fight against Cyneheard and his men, and the two ensuing fights between their supporters who prefer death to settling with their lord’s slayer.139 The entries for the years of King Alfred’s reign and the reign of Æthelred II offer detailed accounts of events and at times bitter political reflections. And the ASC also contains a number of verse entries, best known among them The Battle of Brunanburh.140

Calling on an all too familiar memory of the recent past, the writer of the C text (s.a. 1011) memorializes the distress of the present in a bitter judgement on the singularly unheroic tactics of the English in dealing with the Viking invasions in the reign of Æthelred II: “Ealle þas ungesælða us gelumpon þuruh unrædas þæt man nolde him a timan gafol beodon oþþe wið gefeohtan. Ac þonne hi mæst to yfele gedon hæfdon, þonne nam mon frið 7 grið wið hi, 7 naþelæs for eallum þissum griðe 7 gafole hi ferdon æghweder flocmælum 7 heregodon ure earme folc, 7 hi rypton 7 slogon” 141 (All these misfortunes happened to us because of bad counsel, because neither tribute nor battle was offered to them [the Vikings] on time; but when they had done their evil, then peace was made with them. And nonetheless, for all this peace and tribute, they went wherever they wanted in hordes, and they harried our wretched people and robbed and slaughtered). But there are few comments pithier in the ASC than the E Chronicle’s despair at the hardships of 1085: “7 aa hit wyrsode mid mannan swiðor 7 swiðor”142 (And among the people it always got worse and worse).

Later Old English Prose

Anglo-Saxon literary culture would see yet another revival, this time in the wake of the Benedictine Reform of the mid-10th century, a religious movement imported from the Continent that endeavored to renew monastic life on the model of the Rule of Saint Benedict by recalling its followers to earlier, stricter ideals and practices. The towering figures of the Benedictine Reform in England are Saints Dunstan (c. 910–May 19, 988), Æthelwold (904X909–August 1, 984), and Oswold (d. February 28, 992), who, in conjunction with King Edgar (r. 959–975), founded or refounded a number of important monasteries and, with King Edgar’s favor, enjoyed considerable political influence.143 A number of monks from reformed Benedictine houses went on to become bishops, making the monastic cathedral a distinctive feature of Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastical culture. There was, as well, a distinct ideology of reform, with those of the monastic party arguing at every opportunity against the secular canons (priests who could marry), whom they opposed and replaced.144 In the wake of the founding or refounding of reformed monastic houses, particularly at Glastonbury, Canterbury, Winchester, and Worcester, scholarship in both languages became a hallmark of Anglo-Saxon literary culture. Of the three great reformers, Æthelwold, bishop of Winchester (963–984), had the greatest effect on vernacular scholarship, and those educated at Winchester in his time used a distinctive “Winchester” vocabulary. 145 His student Ælfric of Eynsham would go on to be the greatest stylist of Old English prose. Unsurprisingly, most of the manuscripts surviving from Anglo-Saxon England date from the late 10th century and after.

Homilies, Sermons, Saints’ Lives

Much of the vernacular prose writing dating from around the last quarter of the 10th century (or a little before) is broadly instructive and comprises texts used for preaching.146 Although homilies and sermons are frequently lumped together under the general rubric of “homily,” the two terms refer to two distinct kinds of preaching text. A homily is an exposition of the gospel text in a mass, and it usually paraphrases the gospel in Old English and then proceeds to explicate its main points.147 A sermon is less liturgically constrained: the topic of a sermon is catechetical or exhortatory, aimed at religious formation or improving the religious practice of the congregation.148 Saints’ Lives were, at least conceptually, a separate genre, but in fact, lives of saints were often preached on the occasion of their feast days, and the collecting of such lives in legendaries was often motivated by liturgical concerns.149 Ælfric of Eynsham’s two collections of Catholic Homilies, while mostly devoted to homiletic exposition of the day’s gospel, have a number of “homilies” celebrating saints on their feast days.150

Much of the homiletic literature surviving from Anglo-Saxon England is anonymous.151 While the preaching texts by Ælfric and Wulfstan (discussed below) generally observe the distinction between homily and sermon, the corpus of anonymous vernacular homilies (dating from the mid-10th to the 12th century) are less liturgical and tend more to mixtures of homiletic themes. Joyce Hill observes that their “recurrent subjects … include penitence, judgement, eschatology, and instruction on vice and virtues and on such basic Christian practices as prayer, fasting and tithing.”152 While there are numerous manuscripts containing vernacular homilies, two important collections are gathered in early manuscripts: the Blickling Homilies and the Vercelli Homilies.153 The latter also contains unique copies of some major Old English verse (see “Old English Poetry” above).

The two greatest vernacular prose stylists of Anglo-Saxon England, Ælfric of Eynsham and Wulfstan the Homilist, were contemporaries with markedly different projects, writing, and preaching styles.154


Ælfric of Eynsham (c. 950–c. 1010) is the best known and certainly most prolific writer of Old English prose.155 His earliest works, the Catholic Homilies, comprise two series of forty homilies on gospels, saints’ lives, and Christian living (= CH 1, CH II).156 Other notable works include a collection of Lives of Saints made at the request of Ealdorman Æthelweard and his son Æthelmær,157 and a translation of the first twenty-two chapters of Genesis, made also at the request of Æthelweard. In addition to his liturgical and homiletic interests, Ælfric was much concerned with the transmission of knowledge to and by a well-trained monastic clergy. Between 992 and 1002 while at Cerne, he wrote a Latin Grammar, a Latin-Old English Glossary, and a Colloquy for teaching introductory Latin.158 While Ælfric’s Colloquy is a widely read introductory text in contemporary Old English courses, the text used is a back-translation from Ælfric’s Latin Colloquy, which had early on been glossed in Old English.159

In all of his writings, concerns about orthodox interpretation were never far from Ælfric’s mind. He was extremely careful about the sources of his homilies and the accuracy of his adaptations of them, explaining how it was necessary to cleave to the interpretations of the great church fathers, especially Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory I. Failure to do so was to risk not simply unorthodoxy but to stray into error and be no better than a heretic. He characteristically rejects material that he considers specious and is especially concerned about the miswriting of his texts.160 In one sense, this authorial concern might seem precociously modern; but Ælfric is primarily addressing the possibility of introducing error into his texts, and he adjures any copyist of his works to get that copying right, or at least fix his errors, lest he introduce heresy (gedwyld). So concerned is he about the inadvertent introduction of error into his work that he includes the same warning to copyists in the prefaces to both CH I and CH II: “Micel yfel deð se ðe leas writ buton he hit gerihte, swilce he gebringe ða soðan lare to leasum gedwylde”161 (He does great evil who writes what is incorrect, just as if he delivered true teaching over to lying heresy).

The importance of “true teaching” is critical to understanding Ælfric’s grammatical works, translations, and homiletic writings. The Old English Preface to his Grammar cites the decay of knowledge in the 9th century lamented by King Alfred and ascribes that condition to the 10th century until the revival of learning in the Benedictine Reform:

[I]s nu for ði godes þeowum and mynstermannum georne to warnigenne, þæt seo halige lar on urum dagum ne acolige oððe ateorige, swaswa it wæs gedon on Angelcynne nu for anum feawum gearum, swa þæt nan englisc preost ne cuðe dihtan oððe asmeagean anne pistol on leden, oðþæt Dunstan arcebisceop and Aðelwold bisceop eft þa lare on munuclifum arærdon. 162

(Therefore God’s monks and servants are to be warned zealously that holy learning in our day not cool and vanish, just as had happened in England for a number of years, when no English priest knew how to compose or understand a letter in Latin, until Archbishop Dunstan and Bishop Æthelwold revived learning in monastic life.)

Crucial to such learning is knowledge of Latin, which Ælfric describes as “seo cæg, ðe ðæra boca andgit unlicð”163 (the key that unlocks the meaning of books). Only with sound Latin can one understand what a text says and interpret correctly.

Ælfric is thus much less sanguine than King Alfred about vernacular translation, and part of that mindset may well be attributed to Ælfric’s responsibilities as teacher and later abbot.164 When his noble patrons, Ealdormen Æthelweard and Æthelmær, requested that he translate Genesis from the beginning to chapter twenty-two, Ælfric expresses concern in his Preface to the work that translating scripture into the vernacular is “swiðe pleolic” (very perilous) because the unlearned, who know nothing of scriptural exegesis, may be led astray.165 Because, as Ælfric insists, correct interpretation requires a strong command of Latin grammar and training by knowledgeable teachers, most of the laity, even if they are able to read Old English, are still in danger of reading ad litteram (literally) and missing the spiritual sense of scripture.

We see an illustration of Ælfric’s concern for correct interpretation, orthodox sources, and the transmission of truth in his closing comments to his second homily on the Assumption of Mary:

Þis godspel is nu sceortlice getrahtnod … Hwæt wille we eow swiðor secgan be ðisum symbeldæge, buton þæt maria cristes modor wearð on ðisum dæge of ðisum geswincfullum middanearde genumen up to heofenan rice to hire leofan suna, ðe heo on life abær, mid ðam heo blissað on ecere myrhðe a to worulde. Gif we mare secgað be ðisum symbeldæge þonne we on ðam halgum bocum rædað þe ðurh godes dihte gesette wæron, ðonne beo we ðam dwolmannum gelice þe be heora agenum dihte oððe be swefnum fela lease gesetnyssa awriton. Ac ða geleaffullan lareowas Augustinus, Hieronimus, Gregorius, and gehwilce oðre þurh heora wisdom hi towurpon.166

(This gospel [Luke 10: 38–42] has now been briefly expounded … What do we want to we say further to you about this feast day, except that Mary, the mother of Christ, on this day was taken up from this wearisome world to the heavenly kingdom to her beloved son, whom she brought into this world, and with whom she will rejoice in eternal joy forever. If we say more about this feast day than we read in the holy books which were set down through God’s direction, then we would be like the heretics who have written many false accounts through their own direction or through dreams. But the devout teachers Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory and others like them have overthrown them [the accounts or the heretics] with their wisdom.)

As Ælfric closes this homily on the gospel for the feast of the Assumption, he reminds his audience that he has completed his exposition of the text. He concludes by recalling the significance of the feast, which commemorates the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven (August 15). With that spare summary, he makes clear that apocryphal accounts of Mary’s assumption are to be avoided because they are wrong and possibly heretical.167 In this comment, we see his characteristic efforts to follow strictly orthodox interpretation, not simply by avoiding apocryphal narratives but by choosing for his adaptations patristic writings. By naming the great fathers and identifying them as his sources, he associates himself with their teaching.

What is clear as well from this passage is the limpid style for which Ælfric is justly famous. His sentences show careful subordination of clauses and a deliberate brevity. Compared to the Hermeneutic Latin fashionable at the time, Ælfric’s Old English prose is utilitarian and modest—an exercise in the Low Style.168 But Ælfric experimented with another, more ornamented and rhetorically heightened prose form. In a number of Lives of Saints and in some homilies, he created an alliterative, rhythmical prose that balances between prose and verse.169

  • “Eala þu leofa cyning, þin folc lið ofslagen,
  • and þu næfst þone fultum þæt þu feohtan mæge,
  • and þas flotmen cumað, and þe cucenne gebindað
  • butan þu mid fleame þinum feore gebeorge,
  • oððe þu þe swa gebeorge þæt þu buge to him.”
  • Þa cwæð Eadmund cyning swa swa he ful cene wæs,
  • “Þæs ic gewilnige and gewisce mid mode,
  • þæt ic ana ne belife æfter minum leofum þegnum
  • þe on heora bedde wurdon, mid bearnum and wifum,
  • færlice ofslægene fram þysum flotmannum.”170

  • (“Oh, beloved king, your people lie slaughtered, and you do not have the support with which you might fight. And the Vikings will come and they will take you captive unless you protect your life by flight.” Then King Edmund replied, as he was most brave, “I desire and wish in my heart, that I not remain alive after my dear thanes who were with their children and wives suddenly slaughtered in their beds by these Vikings.”)

This exchange between a bishop and the king, a dramatic moment in the passio of the East Anglian king, Saint Edmund, illustrates the careful construction of Ælfric’s rhythmical prose. Skeat’s editorial presentation as verse (the manuscripts do not distinguish any line breaks spatially) helps clarify the ways in which Ælfric’s four-stress prose lines borrowed conventions from Old English verse. In this kind of prose, Ælfric regularly (though not always) binds the two halves of a line by alliteration, here on nominals (for example, alliterating “fultum” and “feohtan” and “fleame” and “feore”), but he is also content to alliterate on verbs (“cumað” and “cucenne,” “leofa” and “lið”), whereas classical Old English verse has strong rules that give precedence to nominals. King Edmund’s inversion of the lord-retainer relation celebrated in heroic poetry (that a retainer give up his life for his lord) draws additional rhetorical pointing from the apparent double alliteration in the second to last line: “bedde wurdon mid bearnum and wifum.” But Ælfric eschews poetic diction: the effect comes from the style not the diction.171

Ælfric’s works were widely popular, copied and adapted often without attribution. Their impact was felt well into the 12th century.172

Wulfstan the Homilist

Wulfstan the Homilist (d. May 28, 1023) was archbishop of York (1002–1023), bishop of Worcester (a see he held in plurality with that of York, 1002–1016), and, before his elevation to archbishop, bishop of London (996–1002).173 His life before he became bishop of London is unknown. He was legislator for two kings: he wrote law codes for King Æthelred II (V–X Æthelred), and after the accession of Cnut as king of England, he wrote four codes for Cnut (Cnut 1018; Cnut 1020, I–II Cnut).174 The vision of society outlined in Wulfstan’s Institutes of Polity exacted an identical commitment to God’s law from secular and religious authorities: “Cyningan and bisceopan, eorlan and heretogan, gerefan and deman, larwitan and lahwitan gedafenaþ mid rihte for Gode and for worulde, ðæt hi anræde weorðan and Godes riht lufian”175 (It is proper that kings and bishops, earls and leaders of armies, reeves and judges, scholars and those learned in the law, for God and for the world, be unanimous in loving God’s law). The dire consequences of straying from that law were, in Wulfstan’s eyes, being enacted in their times through the divine punishment of the Viking invasions.

The most recent edition of Wulfstan’s preaching texts, edited by Dorothy Bethurum as The Homilies of Wulfstan, identified some twenty-five vernacular compositions as genuine.176 Jonathan Wilcox extended this list by a number of homilies, fragments, and other pieces, and others may follow.177 Wulfstan’s preaching texts are only loosely called “homilies.” They are more properly sermons—catechetical and exhortatory—with a number of sermons on eschatological themes, sermons on baptism, the Creed, Christian life, and punishment for sins, on the duties of bishops, and on evil times. Perhaps the archbishop’s best known sermon bears a title that he gave it, the Sermo Lupi ad Anglos (Sermon of the Wulf to the English).

Anglo-Saxon Vernacular Literary CultureClick to view larger

Figure 1. The rubrics and opening of Wulfstan’s Sermo Lupi ad Anglos in London, British Library, Cotton Nero A. i, fol. 110r. © The British Library Board, reproduced by kind permission of the British Library.

“Lupus” (wolf) puns on the first element of his English name (“Wulf-”) and was the pen name he used to identify a number of his writings. The following selection from the Sermo Lupi samples some of Wulfstan’s concerns, compositional methods, and stylistic identifiers:

Ac ealne þæne bysmor þe we oft þoliað we gyldað mid weorðscipe þam þe us scendað. We him gyldað singallice, 7 hy us hynað dæghwamlice. Hy hergiað 7 hy bærnað, rypaþ 7 reafiað 7 to scipe lædað; 7 la, hwæt is ænig oðer on eallum þam gelimpum butan Godes yrre ofer þas þeode, swutol 7 gesæne?

Nis eac nan wundor þeah us mislimpe, forþam we witan ful georne þæt nu fela geara men na ne rohtan foroft hwæt hy worhtan wordes oððe dæde, ac wearð þes þeodscipe, swa hit þincan mæg, swyþe forsyngod þurh mænigfealde synna 7 þurh fela misdæda: þurh morðdæda 7 þurh mandæda, þurh gitsunga 7 þurh gifernessa, þurh stala 7 þurh strudunga, þurh mannsylena 7 þurh hæþene unsida, þurh swicdomas 7 þurh searacræftas, þurh lahbrycas 7 þurh æswicas, þurh mægræsas 7 þurh manslyhtas, þurh hadbrycas 7 þurh æwbrycas, þurh siblegeru 7 þurh mistlice forligru.178

(And all the humiliation which we often suffer, we repay with honor to those who harm us. We pay them continuously, and they humiliate us daily. They harry and they burn, spoil and plunder, and carry off the plunder to their ships; with all these things that have happened, what can it be other than God’s anger, clear and visible, toward his people?

It is no wonder that it goes badly for us, because we know full well that now for many years people have not cared what they do in word or deed, but this people have become, as it may appear, very sinful through different kinds of sins and through many transgressions: through mortal sins and through crimes, through avarice and through gluttony, through theft and through robbery, through selling men into slavery and through vicious heathen customs, through deceits and through treacherous practices, through breaches of the law and through frauds, through attacks on kinsmen and through slayings, through violations of holy orders, and through adulteries, through incest and through various kinds of fornication.)

In this urgent jeremiad, delivered before the Witan (the assembled counselors to the king) in February 1014, Wulfstan ascribes the desperate condition of England in the ongoing Viking raids to God’s terrible anger at the sinful behavior of the English people.179 In earlier legislation that he had written for King Æthelred II, masses, processions, fasting, and penitence had been enjoined on all the Christian people of England.180 In the Sermo Lupi, Wulfstan calls his audience to accept that the present suffering of the English people was punishment for sin.181 This idea was an ancient one: Psalm 105: 40–45 recalls that God, angry with his people, delivered them to their enemies, but he had mercy on them when they repented. Wulfstan warns the Witan that just as Gildas understood the defeat of the Britons by the Anglo-Saxons to be the result of British sins, the present sins of the Anglo-Saxons, even greater than those Gildas described, have earned God’s wrath and require repentance.182

The passage is written in what Dorothy Bethurum has termed Wulfstan’s “impassioned” style:183 it builds its effect by accretion and by catalogue; its pleonasm creates an overwhelming sense of the weight of the sins committed by the English. The brief, pointed balance of “We him gyldað singallice, 7 hy us hynað dæghwamlice” (We pay them continuously, and they humiliate us daily), referring to the extortionate tribute the English paid in the vain hope of buying peace, contrasts with the extended concatenation of evils that follow. But the sentence inextricably links the English and the Vikings by its artful, mirrored syntax and echoing word endings. The thesis—that Viking depredations are the result of God’s anger—is brief. The elaborate catalogue that follows delivers the message. But reading this catalogue of evils in Modern English makes its elements appear much looser than they are in the Old English text. The Old English passage organizes its catalogue by alliteration and alliterative doublets, by similiter cadens, by compounding with the same base words, by rhythm, and by sound.184 To take a section of the catalogue virtually at random: “þurh morðdæda 7 þurh mandæda, þurh gitsunga 7 þurh gifernessa, þurh stala 7 þurh strudunga” illustrates Wulfstan’s characteristic organization of ideas in two-stress phrases that are often marked by alliteration (here on m, g, and s), repetition (þurh), and repeated inflectional endings (similiter cadens on the accusative feminine plural -a; elsewhere the phrases show the masculine plural accusative -as). Wulfstan also repeats base words in compounds (-dæda; elsewhere -brycas). Its appeal is sensuous, at times incantatory in its repetitions; its message urgent.185 Wulfstan’s style, as Andy Orchard has pointed out, is essentially that of oral preaching, and its devices are used in aid of a preaching context.186

Wulfstan’s preaching was very much of its moment. Unlike the works of Ælfric, which were much copied and adapted into the 12th century, Wulfstan’s work was copied in the later 11th century but saw little use thereafter.187

Online Dictionaries

Dictionary of Old English: A to H online, ed. Angus Cameron, Ashley Crandell Amos, Antonette diPaolo Healey, et al. (Toronto: Dictionary of Old English Project, 2016) is the latest edition of this state-of-the art dictionary.

Bosworth Toller” online (Bosworth, Joseph. An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary: Based on the Manuscript Collections of the Late Joseph Bosworth. Edited by Thomas Northcote Toller. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1898) is available but does not contain Alistair Campbell’s 1972 “enlarged addenda and corrigenda” to the 1921 supplement by T. Northcote Toller.


Fontes Anglo-Saxonici provides a searchable database of the sources of many Old English writings. (Note the project remains incomplete.)

Editions and Manuscripts

Parker Library on the Web (proprietary access) offers an unparalleled resource for Anglo-Saxon manuscripts in general.

The Electronic “Beowulf,” ed. Kevin Kiernan, programmed by Ionut Emil Iacob, 4th ed. (2015) offers a searchable, facing-page edition of the poem with manuscript images and edited text.

The Bodleian Library offers scalable images of the Junius Manuscript (Oxford, Bodleian Library Junius 11).

The Vercelli Book (Vercelli, Biblioteca Capitolare CXVII) is currently available only in a beta version.


The Old English Newsletter Bibliography Database contains the searchable Old English OEN Bibliography Database from the annual bibliographies of the Old English Newsletter from 1973 to 2009. The site indicates that it adds new items annually.

Oxford Bibliographies in Medieval Studies is an ongoing project that provides individual bibliographies on topics and authors in Old English, including Ælfric, Bede, Beowulf, Exeter Book, Junius Manuscript, King Alfred, Old English Language, Old English Literature and Critical Theory, Religious Poetry, Ruthwell Cross, Vercelli Book, and Wulfstan.

Further Reading

Campbell, James, Eric John, and Patrick Wormald. The Anglo-Saxons. London: Penguin, 1991.Find this resource:

    Early English Manuscripts in Facsimile. 29 vols. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1951–2001.Find this resource:

      Fulk, R. D. and Christopher Cain. A History of Old English Literature. 2nd ed. Chichester, U.K.: John Wiley and Sons, 2013.Find this resource:

        Gneuss, Helmut and Michael Lapidge. Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts: A Bibliographical Handlist of Manuscripts and Manuscript Fragments Written or Owned in England up to 1100. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015.Find this resource:

          Godden, Malcolm and Michael Lapidge, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

            Krapp, George Philip and Elliott Van Kirk Dobbie, eds. Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records. 6 vols. New York: Columbia University Press, 1931–1954.Find this resource:

              Lapidge, Michael, John Blair, Simon Keynes, and Donald Scragg. The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England. 2nd ed. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.Find this resource:

                Niles, John D. Beowulf and Lejre. Edited by John D. Niles and Marijane Osborn. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 323. Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2007.Find this resource:

                  Stodnick, Jacqueline and Renée R. Trilling, eds. A Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Studies. Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.Find this resource:

                    Sutton Hoo Ship Burial. Google Arts & Culture, The British Museum.

                    Whitelock, Dorothy, ed. English Historical Documents, c. 500–1042. 2nd ed. London: Eyre Methuen, 1979.Find this resource:

                      (+ David C. Douglas and George W. Greenaway, eds. English Historical Documents, 1042–1189. 2nd ed. London: Eyre Methuen, 1979.)Find this resource:


                        (1.) I would like to thank Nicole Guenther Discenza and Emily V. Thornbury for their helpful suggestions and Jennifer Lorden for assistance in preparing this contribution.

                        (2.) D. H. Green described such an individual as “quasi litteratus.” See his Medieval Listening and Reading: The Primary Reception of German Literature, 800–1300 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 288. On the intermingling of oral and literate practices in the copying of Old English verse see Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe, Visible Song: Transitional Literacy in Old English Verse (Cambridge, 1990; repr. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

                        (3.) Bertram Colgrave and R. A. B. Mynors, eds. and trans., Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), bk. 4, ch. 24, pp. 414–421.

                        (4.) Simon Keynes and Michael Lapidge, eds. and trans., Alfred the Great: Asser’s Life of Alfred and Other Contemporary Sources (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1983), ch. 23, p. 75 and ch. 106, pp. 109–110.

                        (5.) For an overview see Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe, “Orality and Literacy: The Case of Anglo-Saxon England,” in Medieval Oral Literature, ed. Karl Reichl (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2012), 121–140. See also Mechthild Gretsch, “Literacy and the Uses of the Vernacular,” in The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature, 2nd ed. Malcolm Godden and Michael Lapidge (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 273–294. On approaches to orality and literacy (here as “medieval communication”) see Marco Mostert, A Bibliography of Works on Medieval Communication (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2012), esp. 9–22, and his bibliography, 237–333 and 347–383. On Vokalität and Schriftlichkeit see Franz Bäuml, “Verschriftliche Mündlichkeit und vermündlichte Schriftlichkeit,” in Schriftlichkeit im frühen Mittelalter, ed. Ursula Schaefer (Tübingen, Germany: Narr, 1993), 254–266. For verse see Ursula Schaefer, Vokalität: Altenglische Dichtung zwischen Mündlichkeit und Schriftlichkeit, ScriptOralia 39 (Tübingen, Germany: Narr, 1992).

                        (6.) Michael Lapidge, The Anglo-Saxon Library (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 37, 57, and 61–62.

                        (7.) Michelle P. Brown, The Book and the Transformation of Britain, c. 550–1050: A Study in Written and Visual Literacy and Orality (London: British Library, 2011), 129. For a discussion of materials and techniques of book production in Anglo-Saxon England, and a helpful glossary of technical terms, see Michelle P. Brown, Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts (London: British Library, 1991), 46–57.

                        (8.) On books, learning, and contemporary scholarship in Latin, Norse, and Irish see the individual contributions by Rosalind Love, Richard Dance, and Máire Ní Mhaonaigh in “Books Most Needful to Know”: Contexts for the Study of Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Paul E. Szarmach, Old English Newsletter Subsidia 36 (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2016).

                        (9.) Michael Lapidge, “Schools, Learning and Literature in Tenth-Century England,” in Anglo-Latin Literature, 900–1066 (London: Hambledon Press, 1993), 1–48 and 469 at 3.

                        (10.) For an overview of schools and learning see Patrizia Lendinara, “The World of Anglo-Saxon Learning,” in The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature, ed. Malcolm Godden and Michael Lapidge, 295–312. See also the important essay by Michael Lapidge, “Schools,” in the Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England, 2nd ed., ed. Michael Lapidge, John Blair, Simon Keynes, and Donald Scragg (Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014), 421–423.

                        (11.) Lapidge, “Schools, Learning and Literature,” 3–4. On the possibility that Ælfric of Eynsham received his early education in a non-monastic setting, perhaps in the context of a “minster or manorial churches in the aftermath of earlier Alfredian reforms,” see Christopher A. Jones, “Ælfric and the Limits of ‘Benedictine Reform,’” in A Companion to Ælfric, ed. Hugh Magennis and Mary Swan (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2009), 67–108 at 107.

                        (12.) For representative images of manuscripts see Brown, Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts, passim. See also the various electronic resources and reproductions discussed below.

                        (13.) Mary Carruthers, The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

                        (14.) For a standard dating practice, see N. R. Ker, A Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Anglo-Saxon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957), xx–xxi.

                        (15.) Helmut Gneuss and Michael Lapidge, Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts: A Bibliographical Handlist of Manuscripts and Manuscript Fragments Written or Owned in England up to 1100 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015), item 399. Kevin S. Kiernan, “The Eleventh-Century Origin of Beowulf and the Beowulf Manuscript,” in The Dating of “Beowulf,” ed. Colin Chase (Toronto, 1981; repr. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998), 9–21; Roberta Frank, “Skaldic Verse and the Date of Beowulf,” in The Dating of “Beowulf,” ed. Colin Chase, 123–139.

                        (16.) See D. N. Dumville, “Beowulf Come Lately: Some Notes on the Palaeography of the Nowell Codex,” Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen und Literaturen 225 (1988): 49–63. Michael Lapidge, “The Archetype of Beowulf,” Anglo-Saxon England 29 (2000): 5–41. R. D. Fulk, “On Argumentation in Old English Philology, With Particular Reference to the Editing and Dating of Beowulf,” Anglo-Saxon England 32 (2003): 1–26; and his A History of Old English Meter (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992). And for a review of the controversy see Roberta Frank, “A Scandal in Toronto: The Dating of Beowulf a Quarter Century On,” Speculum 82.4 (2007): 843–864.

                        (17.) Leonard Neidorf, ed., The Dating of “Beowulf”: A Reassessment (Cambridge, U.K.: D. S. Brewer, 2014); Helen Damico, “Beowulf” and the Grendel-Kin: Politics and Poetry in Eleventh-Century England (Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2015).

                        (18.) See the individual discussions of dating in “Old English Prose—Early and Late,” below.

                        (19.) For perspectives on the earliest efforts to study Old English texts see Timothy Graham, ed., The Recovery of Old English: Anglo-Saxon Studies in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, 2000). On English philology in the 19th century see Haruko Momma, From Philology to English Studies: Language and Culture in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

                        (20.) For example, William Morris’s 1895 confection for Beowulf, 232b–33: “Then mind-longing wore him,/And stirred up his mood to wot who were the men-folk,” quoted in R. M. Liuzza, “Beowulf”: A New Verse Translation (Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2000), 218–219.

                        (21.) For a survey of the reading practices for Old English literature in the 20th century up to 1975 see John D. Niles, Old English Literature: A Guide to Criticism with Selected Readings (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2016).

                        (22.) H. Munro Chadwick, The Heroic Age (Cambridge, 1912; repr. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967), 56.

                        (23.) J. R. R. Tolkien, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics,” Proceedings of the British Academy 22 (1936): 245–295 at 248. For a more recent reflex of using Beowulf for historical research see Michael J. Enright, “Lady With a Mead Cup: Ritual, Group Cohesion and Hierarchy in the Germanic Warband,” Frühmittelalterliche Studien 22 (1988): 170–203.

                        (24.) See, for example, Milman Parry, “The Homeric Language as the Language of an Oral Poetry,” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 43 (1932): 1–50; and Albert B. Lord, The Singer of Tales (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1960).

                        (25.) Speculum 28 (1953): 446–467. In a comparatist vein across different traditions, this work was developed by Jeff Opland, Anglo-Saxon Oral Poetry: A Study of the Traditions (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1980); John D. Niles, “Beowulf”: The Poem and its Tradition (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983); John Miles Foley, Traditional Oral Epic: “The Odyssey,”“Beowulf,” and the Serbo-Croatian Return Song (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990); Karl Reichl, Singing the Past: Turkic and Medieval Heroic Poetry (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000); for a wide survey of the individual traditions see the individual essays in Reichl, Medieval Oral Literature. On the various investments in searching for oral poets see John D. Niles, “The Myth of the Anglo-Saxon Oral Poet,” in his Old English Heroic Poems and the Social Life of Texts (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2007), 141–187.

                        (26.) See Niles,“Beowulf”: The Poem and its Tradition, 126 (italics removed). For a survey of some key poetic strategies see Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe, “Diction, Variation, the Formula,” in A Beowulf Handbook, ed. Robert E. Bjork and John D. Niles (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997), 85–104.

                        (27.) John Miles Foley, Immanent Art: From Structure to Meaning in Traditional Oral Epic (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991). See n. 5 above for a bibliography of works using and adapting the oral-formulaic hypothesis.

                        (28.) Andy Orchard, The Poetic Art of Aldhelm (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994); see also the discussion of the verbal art of the poem in his A Critical Companion to “Beowulf” (Cambridge, U.K.: D. S. Brewer, 2003); his book on the craft of Cynewulf’s poetry is forthcoming.

                        (29.) Edward B. Irving Jr., A Reading of “Beowulf” (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1968). Later, Irving would adopt some of the positions of oral-formulaic theory in Rereading “Beowulf” (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989).

                        (30.) D. W. Robertson Jr., A Preface to Chaucer: Studies in Medieval Perspectives (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1962).

                        (31.) Margaret Goldsmith, The Mode and Meaning of Beowulf (London: Athlone Press, 1970), 254.

                        (32.) See the searchable database Fontes Anglo-Saxonici. Because this project remains incomplete, a source that does not appear for a given query cannot be considered conclusive evidence. See the continuing project, Sources of Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture, and its first volume, Sources of Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture: A Trial Version, ed. Frederick M. Biggs, Thomas D. Hill, and Paul E. Szarmach, with the assistance of Karen Hammond (Binghamton: Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, State University of New York at Binghamton, 1990). For a sample range of interests and approaches see Via crucis: Essays on Early Medieval Sources and Ideas: In Memory of J. E. Cross, ed. Thomas N. Hall with assistance from Thomas D. Hill and Charles D. Wright (Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2002).

                        (33.) Andy Orchard, Pride and Prodigies: Studies in the Monsters of the Beowulf-Manuscript (Cambridge, U.K.: D. S. Brewer, 1995; reprint Toronto, 2003). Compare the Scandinavian approach in G. N. Garmonsway and Jacqueline Simpson, eds. and trans., Beowulf and Its Analogues, including “Archaeology and Beowulf” (revised 1980) by Hilda Ellis Davidson (London: Dent, 1980).

                        (34.) Christine Rauer, “Beowulf” and the Dragon: Parallels and Analogues (Cambridge, U.K.: D. S. Brewer, 2000).

                        (35.) Helen Damico, “Beowulf”’s Wealhtheow and the Valkyrie Tradition (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984); and Jane Chance, Woman as Hero in Old English Literature (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1986).

                        (36.) Gillian R. Overing, Language, Sign, and Gender in “Beowulf” (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990); Clare A. Lees, “Men and Beowulf,” in Medieval Masculinities: Regarding Men in the Middle Ages, ed. Clare Lees (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994), 129–148; Mary Dockray-Miller, “Beowulf’s Tears of Fatherhood,” Exemplaria 10.1 (1998): 1–28; Stacy S. Klein, Ruling Women: Queenship and Gender in Anglo-Saxon Literature (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006); and examining patristic scholarship and the structures of patriarchy, Clare A. Lees and Gillian R. Overing, Double Agents: Women and Clerical Culture in Anglo-Saxon England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001).

                        (37.) Allen J. Frantzen, Before the Closet: Same-Sex Love from “Beowulf” to “Angels in America” (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).

                        (38.) For a bibliography see below, n. 45.

                        (39.) Allen J. Frantzen, Desire for Origins: New Language, Old English, and Teaching the Tradition (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1990).

                        (40.) Kevin Kiernan, Beowulf and the Beowulf Manuscript, rev. ed. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996).

                        (41.) Electronic “Beowulf,” 3rd ed., ed. Kevin Kiernan, programmed by Ionut Emil Iacob (London: British Library, 2011). The fourth edition is available online at

                        (42.) For the other major manuscripts containing Old English verse see, Oxford, Bodleian Manuscript, Junius 11, available online at Early Manuscripts at Oxford University; and Bernard J. Muir and Nick Kennedy, eds., Exeter Anthology of Old English Poetry: The Exeter DVD (Exeter, U.K.: University of Exeter, 2006) (Exeter, Exeter Cathedral MS 3501). The Vercelli Book (Vercelli, Biblioteca Capitolare CXVII) is currently available only in a beta version at Vercelli Book Digitale. An unparalleled resource for the Anglo-Saxon manuscripts in general is Parker Library on the Web (proprietary access).

                        (43.) Angus Cameron, Ashley Crandell Amos, Antonette diPaolo Healey, et al., eds., Dictionary of Old English: A to H online (Toronto: Dictionary of Old English Project, 2016).

                        (44.) Antonette diPaolo Healey with John Price Wilkin and Xin Xiang, comps., Dictionary of Old English Web Corpus (Toronto: Dictionary of Old English Project, 2009).

                        (45.) For an annotated bibliography of current critical methods see Renée R. Trilling, “Old English Literature and Critical Theory,” Oxford Bibliographies in Medieval Studies 28 (April 2016).

                        (46.) Margaret Gelling, “The Landscape of Beowulf,” Anglo-Saxon England 31 (2002): 356–379; Nicholas Howe, Writing the Map of Anglo-Saxon England: Essays in Cultural Geography (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008); Scott Thompson Smith, Land and Book: Literature and Land Tenure in Anglo-Saxon England(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012); John M. Hill, The Cultural World in “Beowulf” (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995); and Peter S. Baker, Honour, Exchange and Violence in “Beowulf” (Cambridge, U.K.: D. S. Brewer, 2013).

                        (47.) Leslie Lockett, Anglo-Saxon Psychologies in the Vernacular and Latin Traditions (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011); Britt Mize, Traditional Subjectivities: The Old English Poetics of Mentality (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013); Antonina Harbus, Cognitive Approaches to Old English Poetry (Cambridge, U.K.: D. S. Brewer, 2012).

                        (48.) See Fred C. Robinson, “Beowulf” and the Appositive Style (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1985); and Elizabeth M. Tyler, Old English Poetics: The Aesthetics of the Familiar in Anglo-Saxon England (York, U.K.: York Medieval Press, 2006). On the assimilation and adaptation of Latin rhetorical figures in Old English verse translations see Janie Steen, Verse and Virtuosity: The Adaptation of Latin Rhetoric in Old English (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008). For New Formalism see Renée R. Trilling, The Aesthetics of Nostalgia: Historical Representation in Old English Verse (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009); and Manish Sharma, “Beyond Nostalgia: Formula and Novelty in Old English Literature,” Exemplaria 26.4 (2014): 303–327.

                        (49.) Emily V. Thornbury, Becoming a Poet in Anglo-Saxon England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

                        (50.) On the difficulty of genre in Old English see John Miles Foley, “How Genres Leak in Traditional Verse” in Unlocking the Wordhord, ed. Mark C. Amodio and Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003), 76–108. For an analysis of literary devices to signal genre in the openings of Old English poems see Paul Battles, “Toward a Theory of Old English Poetic Genres: Epic, Elegy, Wisdom Poetry, and the ‘Traditional Opening,’” Studies in Philology 111.1 (Winter 2014): 1–33. The classic introduction to Old English meter is that by Alan Bliss, An Introduction to Old English Metre, Old English Newsletter Subsidia 20 (Oxford, 1962; repr. with an introduction by Daniel Donaghue, Binghamton, NY: Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, SUNY-Binghamton, 1993); more recently, Jun Terasawa, Old English Metre: An Introduction (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011) offers an accessible introduction.

                        (51.) Elliott Van Kirk Dobbie, ed., The Anglo-Saxon Minor Poems, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records (ASPR) 6 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1942), 106. Unless indicated otherwise, all translations are my own.

                        (52.) Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe, “Old English Literature and the Negotiations of Tradition,” in A Companion to British Literature, Vol. I: Medieval Literature 700–1450, ed. Roberta DeMaria Jr., Heesok Chang, and Samantha Zacher (Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014), 16–29.

                        (53.) For a discussion of the problem see Allen J. Frantzen, Anglo-Saxon Keywords (Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 118–121.

                        (54.) For wisdom literature see T. A. Shippey, Poems of Wisdom and Learning in Old English (Cambridge, U.K.: D. S. Brewer, 1976).

                        (55.) The standard edition is R. D. Fulk, Robert E. Bjork, John D. Niles, eds., Klaeber’s Beowulf and The Fight at Finnsburg, 4th ed. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008). For a facing prose translation see R. D. Fulk, ed. and trans., The Beowulf Manuscript: Complete Texts, and The Fight at Finnsburg, Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 3 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010). For a verse translation see R. M. Liuzza, ed. and trans., Beowulf, 2nd ed. (Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 2012).

                        (56.) For a detailed summary of the plot see Orchard, A Critical Companion to “Beowulf,” xvii–xix.

                        (57.) See “The Economy of Honour in Beowulf” in Hill, The Cultural World in “Beowulf,” 85–107; and Baker, Honour, Exchange and Violence in “Beowulf.” On the poetics of treasure see Elizabeth M. Tyler, Old English Poetics.

                        (58.) On the imagery and values of heroic life in Old English literature see Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe, “Values and Ethics in Heroic Literature,” in The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature, ed. Malcolm Godden and Michael Lapidge, 101–119.

                        (59.) Fulk et al., Klaeber’s “Beowulf,” line 359b. All citations of Beowulf are to this edition.

                        (60.) Susan E. Deskis, “Beowulf” and the Medieval Proverb Tradition (Tempe, AZ: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1996).

                        (61.) D. G. Scragg, ed., The Battle of Maldon (Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 1981). All citations of The Battle of Maldon are to this edition. For a fascimile, transcription, and facing translation see D. G. Scragg, ed., The Battle of Maldon AD 991 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991), 2–31.

                        (62.) For an overview see Rosemary Woolf, “The Ideal of Men Dying With Their Lord in the Germania and in the Battle of Maldon,” Anglo-Saxon England 5 (1976): 63–81.

                        (63.) On the translation of “ofermode” (pride or overconfidence) see Helmut Gneuss, “The Battle of Maldon 89: Byrhtnoth’s ofermod Once Again,” Studies in Philology 73 (1976): 117–137.

                        (64.) Two other fragmentary heroic poems are Waldere (F. Norman, ed., Waldere [London: Methuen, 1933]) and The Fight at Finnsburg (Fulk et al., Klaeber’s “Beowulf”).

                        (65.) For the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, see below under “Prose.” For an edition of the poem see Alistair Campbell, ed., The Battle of Brunanburh (London: W. Heinemann, 1938).

                        (66.) Dobbie, The Anglo-Saxon Minor Poems, pp. 16–20, lines 1–10a.

                        (67.) On the representation of the heroic ethos in the Chronicle entry on Cynewulf and Cyneheard and in the poems of the ASC see Renée Trilling, “The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in Context,” in The Cambridge History of Early Medieval English Literature, ed. Clare A. Lees (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 232–256 at 239.

                        (68.) On literary convention, nostalgia, and history in Old English poetry see Trilling, Aesthetics of Nostalgia.

                        (69.) Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe, “The Wife’s Lament and the Poetics of Affect,” in Old English Tradition: Essays in Honor of J. R. Hall, ed. Lindy Brady, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies (Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies), forthcoming, 2018.

                        (70.) George Philip Krapp and Elliott Van Kirk Dobbie, eds., The Exeter Book, ASPR 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), 143. All citations of Exeter Book poems are to this edition. The Exeter Book, Exeter, Exeter Cathedral Library MS 3501, is dated to “x2” (about the middle of the second half of the 10th century). See Gneuss and Lapidge, Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts, item 257. It is a miscellany of Old English poetry, a “mycel englisc boc” (a large book in English) given by bishop Leofric of Exeter to the cathedral library in 1072.

                        (71.) Krapp and Dobbie, The Exeter Book, 210.

                        (72.) Anne L. Klinck, ed., The Old English Elegies: A Critical Edition and Genre Study (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1992) includes the following under the generic label “elegy”: The Wanderer, The Seafarer, The Wife’s Lament, Deor, Wulf and Eadwacer, The Ruin, Resignation, The Husband’s Message, The Riming Poem and Riddle 60. The last three fit less securely in the group. For a facing translation of the first eight of these poems see Robert E. Bjork, ed. and trans., Old English Shorter Poems, Volume II: Wisdom and Lyric, Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 32 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014).

                        (73.) See Emily V. Thornbury, “Lyric Form, Subjectivity, and Consciousness,” in A Companion to British Literature, Vol. I: Medieval Literature 700–1450, ed. Roberta DeMaria Jr., Heesok Chang, and Samantha Zacher, 30–47. For an edition of these four poems see John C. Pope, ed., Eight Old English Poems, 3rd rev. ed. by R. D. Fulk (New York: W. W. Norton, 2001).

                        (74.) The classic reading of The Seafarer as a peregrinus pro amore Dei is by Dorothy Whitelock, “The Interpretation of The Seafarer,” in The Early Cultures of North-west Europe, ed. Cyril Fox and Bruce Dickins (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1950), 259–272. Hugh Magennis, “The Solitary Journey: Aloneness and Community in The Seafarer,” in Text, Image, Interpretation: Studies in Anglo-Saxon Literature and Its Insular Context in Honour of Éamonn Ó Carragáin, ed. Alastair Minnis and Jane Roberts, Studies in the Early Middle Ages 18 (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2006), 303–318, sees a movement from solitary renunciation to an imagination of heavenly community.

                        (75.) Stacy S. Klein, “Gender and the Nature of Exile in Old English Elegies,” A Place to Believe In: Locating Medieval Landscapes, ed. Clare A. Lees and Gillian R. Overing (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), 113–131.

                        (76.) Krapp and Dobbie, The Exeter Book, 178–179.

                        (77.) R. M. Liuzza, “The Tower of Babel: The Wanderer and the Ruins of History,” Studies in the Literary Imagination 36.1 (Spring 2003): 1–35. A classic treatment of the ubi sunt motif is James E. Cross, “Ubi Sunt Passages in Old English—Sources and Relationships,” Vetenskaps-Societeten I Lund Årsbok (1956): 23–44.

                        (78.) For a bibliography see Leslie Lockett, The Junius Manuscript, Oxford Bibliographies in Medieval Studies. In addition to the edition in ASPR (George Philip Krapp, ed., The Junius Manuscript, ASPR 1 [New York: Columbia University Press, 1931]) are the following individual editions: A. N. Doane, ed., Genesis A: A New Edition, rev. ed. (Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2013); A. N. Doane, ed., The Saxon Genesis: An Edition of the West Saxon Genesis B and the Old Saxon Vatican Genesis (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991); Peter J. Lucas, ed., Exodus, rev. ed. (Exeter, U.K.: University of Exeter Press, 1994); and R. T. Farrell, ed., Daniel and Azarias (London: Methuen, 1974). On the Anglo-Saxon interest in the Old Testament as a pre-history of their own sense of being the Chosen People see Nicholas Howe, Migration and Mythmaking in Anglo-Saxon England (New Haven, CT, 1989; repr., Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001); and Samantha Zacher, Rewriting the Old Testament in Anglo-Saxon Verse: Becoming the Chosen People (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013).

                        (79.) Mark Griffith, ed., Judith (Exeter, U.K.: University of Exeter Press, 1997). The poem is incomplete at the beginning.

                        (80.) Jackson J. Campbell, ed., The Advent Lyrics of the Exeter Book (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1959). For translations of Christ I (Advent) and Christ III (Christ in Judgement) see Mary Clayton, ed. and trans., Old English Poems of Christ and His Saints, Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 27 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013).

                        (81.) In addition to the editions in ASPR 2 and 3, see Kenneth R. Brooks, ed., Andreas and the Fates of the Apostles (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961); P. O. E. Gradon, ed., Elene, rev. ed. (Exeter, U.K.: University of Exeter Press, 1996); Rosemary Woolf, ed., Juliana, rev. ed. (Exeter, U.K.: University of Exeter Press, 1993); and Jane Roberts, ed., The Guthlac Poems of the Exeter Book (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979). For translations of Andreas and Guthlac A see Clayton, Old English Poems of Christ and His Saints. On style see Robert E. Bjork, The Old English Verse Saints’ Lives: A Study in Direct Discourse and the Iconography of Style (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985).

                        (82.) Michael Swanton, ed., The Dream of the Rood (Exeter, U.K.: University of Exeter Press, 1996); references to the text are to this edition. For a translation see Clayton, Old English Poems of Christ and His Saints.

                        (83.) For the latter see Christopher A. Jones, ed. and trans., Old English Shorter Poems, Volume 1: Religious and Didactic, Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 15 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012).

                        (84.) Editions of the West-Saxon and Northumbrian versions are given in ASPR 6, 106–107; for images of all the manuscript versions see Daniel Paul O’Donnell, “Cædmon’s Hymn”: A Multi-Media Study, Edition and Archive (Cambridge, U.K.: D. S. Brewer in association with SEENET and the Medieval Academy of America, 2005). Andy Orchard discusses the Latin background in “Poetic Inspiration and Prosaic Translation: The Making of Cædmon’s Hymn,” in “Doubt Wisely”: Papers in Honour of E. G. Stanley, ed. M. J. Toswell and E. M. Tyler (London: Routledge, 1996), 402–422.

                        (85.) For individual studies and an important bibliography, see Michael Fox and Manish Sharma, eds., Old English Literature and the Old Testament (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012), bibliography, 339–378.

                        (86.) Doane, The Saxon Genesis, lines 409–420a.

                        (87.) For the meter of Genesis B see Doane, The Saxon Genesis, 65–88.

                        (88.) Roberta Frank, “What Kind of Poetry is Exodus?” in Germania: Comparative Studies in the Old Germanic Languages and Literatures, ed. Daniel G. Calder and T. Craig Christy (Cambridge, U.K.: D. S. Brewer, 1988), 191–205.

                        (89.) Miranda Wilcox, “Creating the Cloud-Tent-Ship Conceit in Exodus,” Anglo-Saxon England 40 (2011): 103–150.

                        (90.) R. D. Fulk, “Cynewulf: Canon, Dialect, and Date,” in Cynewulf: Basic Readings, ed. Robert E. Bjork (New York: Garland, 1996), 3–21 at 18–19, argues “there is still justification for regarding the works of Cynewulf as standing between the biblical narratives of the Junius Manuscript and Beowulf, on the one hand, and some of the more pedestrian creations of the century following the Benedictine Reform …”

                        (91.) For identification of the Latin sources see Michael J. B. Allen and Daniel G. Calder, trans., Sources and Analogues of Old English Poetry: The Major Latin Texts in Translation (Cambridge, U.K.: D. S. Brewer, 1976), 79–83; 57–69; 121–132; and 35–39. For the Latin text lying behind Juliana see Michael Lapidge, “Cynewulf and the Passio S. Iulianae,” in Unlocking the Wordhord, ed. Mark C. Amodio and Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe, 147–171. For the Latin text behind Fates of the Apostles and the implications for dating see John M. McCulloh, “Did Cynewulf Use a Martyrology? Reconsidering the Sources of The Fates of the Apostles,” Anglo-Saxon England 29 (2000): 67–83.

                        (92.) On the poem’s anti-Jewish rhetoric see Andrew P. Scheil, The Footsteps of Israel: Understanding Jews in Anglo-Saxon (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004).

                        (93.) Shari Horner, The Discourse of Enclosure: Representing Women in Old English Literature (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001).

                        (94.) Robert J. Bjork, ed. and trans., Cynewulf. Poems. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 23 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013).

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

                        (96.) The best edition is that of Craig Williamson, ed., The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977). Krapp and Dobbie, The Exeter Book, number 95 riddles (= K-D 95). Williamson edits to yield 91 riddles.

                        (97.) Aldhelm, Alcuin, Boniface, Eusebius, and Tatwine all wrote Anglo-Latin literary riddles. See Andy Orchard, “Enigma Variations: The Anglo-Saxon Riddle-Tradition,” in Latin Learning and English Lore: Studies in Anglo-Saxon Literature for Michael Lapidge, ed. Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe and Andy Orchard (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005), I: 284–304. On the arrangement of the Exeter Book riddles see Mercedes Salvador-Bello, Isidorean Perceptions of Order: The Exeter Book Riddles and Medieval Latin Enigmata (Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2015). Orchard has a two-volume edition and facing page translation of the Anglo-Latin riddles as well as the riddles of the Exeter Book in press with Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library.

                        (98.) For a sample see Donald R. Fry, “Exeter Book Riddle Solutions,” Old English Newsletter 15.1 (1981): 22–33.

                        (99.) Williamson, Old English Riddles, 289.

                        (100.) Krapp and Dobbie, eds., The Exeter Book, 188–189 (K-D 16).

                        (101.) Craig Williamson, trans., A Feast of Creatures: Anglo-Saxon Riddle-Songs (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982), 74 (Anchor).

                        (102.) For useful translations of a wide variety of Old English prose texts see Michael Swanton, ed. and trans., Anglo-Saxon Prose (London: Dent, 1975).

                        (103.) On the range and variety of writing in Latin see Michael Lapidge, “Anglo-Latin Literature,” in his Anglo-Latin Literature: 600–899 (London: Hambledon Press, 1996), 1–35; Rosalind Love, “Insular Latin Literature to 900,” in The Cambridge History of Early Medieval English Literature, ed. Clare A. Lees, 120–157, and David Townsend, “Latinities, 893–1143,” in the same volume, 530–553. On the development of the Christian church in England see John Blair, The Church in Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

                        (104.) The classic study is Wilhelm Levison, England and the Continent in the Eighth Century (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1966). See also the essays in Hans Sauer and Joanna Story, eds., Anglo-Saxon England and the Continent (Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies), 2011.

                        (105.) C. 780–900. In a letter to Bishop Higbald, Alcuin laments the sack of Lindisfarne in 793 (Alcuin, Epistolae, ed. E. Dümmler, MGH, Epp. 4 [Berlin, 1895], Epist. 20, 57–58). Anders Winroth makes the translation by S. Allott (Alcuin of York [York, U.K.: William Sessions, 1974]) available at Viking Sources in Translation.

                        (106.) For a survey of Alfred’s career and a translation of the major texts from his reign see Simon Keynes and Michael Lapidge, eds. and trans., Alfred the Great, Asser’s Life of King Alfred and Other Contemporary Sources (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin Books, 1983). On Alfred’s “educational programme” see Donald Bullough, “The Educational Tradition in England From Alfred to Ælfric: Teaching utriusque linguae,” in Carolingian Renewal: Sources and Heritage, ed. D. A. Bullough (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991), 297–334. On Alfred and the shift to vernacular prose see David Pratt, The Political Thought of King Alfred the Great (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), chap. 7.

                        (107.) Gneuss and Lapidge, Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts, item 626. An image of fol. 1r can be found at MSS. Hatton, the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, under the heading “MS Hatton 20.”

                        (108.) Henry Sweet, ed., King Alfred’s West-Saxon Version of Gregory’s Pastoral Care, EETS o.s. 45, 50 (London, 1871–1872; repr. with corrections by N. R. Ker, London: Oxford University Press, 1958), I: 5–7.

                        (109.) In the 780s the Vikings occupied the east midlands and East Anglia. On the military and political situation see Simon Keynes, “Alfred the Great and the Kingdom of the Anglo-Saxons,” in A Companion to Alfred the Great, ed. Nicole Guenther Discenza and Paul E. Szarmach (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2015), 13–46.

                        (110.) “Swæ clæne hio wæs oðfeallenu on Angelcynne ðæt swiðe feawa wæron behionan Humbre ðe hiora ðeninga cuðen understondan on Englisc, oððe furðum an ærendgewrit of Lædene on Englisc areccean; 7 ic wene ðætte noht monige begiondan Humbre næren” (Sweet, ed., King Alfred’s West-Saxon Version, I: 3). On the decline of learning see Lapidge, “Latin Learning in Ninth-Century England,” in his Anglo-Latin Literature: 600–899, 409–439 and 515 at 438.

                        (111.) See Nicole Guenther Discenza, The King’s English: Strategies of Translation in the Old English Boethius (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005); and Robert Stanton, The Culture of Translation in Anglo-Saxon England (Cambridge, U.K.: D. S. Brewer, 2002).

                        (112.) Sweet, King Alfred’s West-Saxon Version, I: 7.

                        (113.) The king’s Welsh biographer, Asser, names a number of scholars from Mercia, Canterbury, and the Continent who assisted in the project of translation. See William Henry Stevenson, ed., Asser’s Life of King Alfred Together with the Annals of Saint Neots (Oxford, 1904; repr. with an article by Dorothy Whitelock, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959), chaps. 77–79.

                        (114.) For editions see Malcolm Godden and Susan Irvine, eds., The Old English Boethius: An Edition of the Old English Versions of Boethius’s “De Consolatione Philosophiae,” 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009); Wilhelm Endter, ed., König Alfreds des Grossen Bearbeitung der Soliloquien des Augustinus, Bibliothek der angelsächsischen Prosa 11 (Hamburg, 1922; repr. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1964); and Patrick P. O’Neill, ed., King Alfred’s Old English Prose Translation of the First Fifty Psalms, Medieval Academy Books 104 (Cambridge, MA: Medieval Academy of America, 2001). For a general bibliography see Nicole Guenther Discenza, “Alfred the Great: A Bibliography with Special Reference to Literature,” in Old English Prose: Basic Readings, ed. Paul E. Szarmach, with the assistance of Deborah A. Oosterhouse, Basic Readings in Anglo-Saxon England 5 (New York: Garland, 2000), 463–502; and the list of works cited in A Companion to Alfred the Great. See also Paul E. Szarmach, “Alfred the Great,” Oxford Bibliographies Online.

                        (115.) See Malcolm Godden, “Prologues and Epilogues in the Old English Pastoral Care, and Their Carolingian Models,” JEGP 110 (2011): 441–473, esp. 49–53. For his arguments on the authorship question see his “Did King Alfred Write Anything?” Medium Ævum 76 (2007): 1–23; and his “The Alfredian Project and its Aftermath: Rethinking the Literary History of the Ninth and Tenth Centuries,” Proceedings of the British Academy 162 (2009): 93–122. Alfred’s authorship has been vigorously argued by David Pratt, “Problems of Authorship and Audience in the Writings of King Alfred the Great,” in Lay Intellectuals in the Carolingian World, ed. Patrick Wormald and Janet L. Nelson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 162–191; Janet M. Bately, “Did King Alfred Actually Translate Anything? The Integrity of the Alfredian Canon Revisited,” Medium Ævum 78 (2009): 157–215; and Janet M. Bately, “The Dating of Old English Prose: Some Problems and Pitfalls, with Special Reference to the Alfredian Canon,” in The Kemble Lectures on Anglo-Saxon Studies, 2009–2012, ed. Alice Jorgensen, Helen Conrad-O’Briain, and John Scattergood (Dublin: Trinity College), forthcoming, 2017.

                        (116.) For an important survey of 9th-century vernacular writing see Susan Irvine, “English Literature in the Ninth Century,” in The Cambridge History of Early Medieval English Literature, ed. Clare A. Lees, 209–231.

                        (117.) Hans Hecht, ed., Bischofs Waerferth von Worcester Übersetzung der Dialoge Gregors des Grossen, Bibliothek der angelsächsischen Prosa 5 (Leipzig, 1900–1907; repr. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1965). On its readership see David Johnson, “Who Read Gregory’s Dialogues in Old English?” in The Power of Words: Anglo-Saxon Studies Presented to Donald G. Scragg on His Seventieth Birthday, ed. Hugh Magennis and Jonathan Wilcox (Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2006), 173–204.

                        (118.) Its most recent editor, Christine Rauer, believes the work was composed between 800 and 900. See Rauer, ed. and trans., The Old English Martyrology: Edition, Translation and Commentary (Cambridge, U.K.: D. S. Brewer, 2013), 3.

                        (119.) Bertram Colgrave and R. A. B. Mynors, eds., Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Oxford Medieval Texts (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969); and Thomas Miller, ed., The Old English Version of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, EETS o.s. 95, 96, 110, 111 (London, 1890–1898; repr. London: Oxford University Press, 1959). For a study of the translation see Sharon Rowley, The Old English Version of Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica (Cambridge, U.K.: D. S. Brewer, 2011). On the Old English Orosius see Janet M. Bately, ed., The Old English Orosius, Early English Text Society, s. s. 6 (London: Oxford University Press, 1980).

                        (120.) For an overview of the text and contemporary scholarship see Janet M. Bately, “The Old English Orosius,” in A Companion to Alfred the Great, ed. Nicole Guenther Discenza and Paul E. Szarmach, 313–343.

                        (121.) Bately, ed., The Old English Orosius, ci.

                        (122.) Bately, ed., The Old English Orosius, 13.29–18.2.

                        (123.) See Paul E. Szarmach, “Augustine’s Soliloquia in Old English,” in A Companion to Alfred the Great, ed. Nicole Guenther Discenza and Paul E. Szarmach, 227–255. Leslie Lockett is preparing a facing edition and translation of the Anglo-Saxon versions of Augustine’s Soliloquies for Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library.

                        (124.) Fabio Troncarelli, “Afterword: Boethius in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages,” in A Companion to Boethius in the Middle Ages, ed. Noel Harold Kaylor Jr. and Philip Edward Phillips, Brill’s Companions to the Christian Tradition 30 (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2012), 519–549 at 533–534. Adrian Papahagi argues for Theodulf of Orléan’s importance in transmitting the Consolation in “The Transmission of Boethius’ De consolatione philosophiae in the Carolingian Age,” Medium Ævum 78.1 (2009): 1–15.

                        (125.) See n. 115 above.

                        (126.) For a survey see Rosalind Love, “Latin Commentaries on Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy,” in A Companion to Alfred the Great, ed. Nicole Guenther Discenza and Paul E. Szarmach, 82–110. For a discussion of the complexity of the evidence, see Joseph Wittig, “The ‘Remigian’ Glosses on Boethius’s Consolatio Philosophiae in Context,” in Sources of Wisdom: Old English and Early Medieval Latin Studies in Honour of Thomas D. Hill, ed. Charles D. Wright, Frederick M. Biggs, and Thomas N. Hall (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007), 168–200. Malcolm Godden, Rohini Jayatilaka, and Rosalind Love are currently completing a project to publish these glosses: see the Boethius in Early Medieval Europe project, Oxford University.

                        (127.) Oxford, Bodleian Library, Bodley 180 (Gneuss and Lapidge, Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts, item 555.5). For a description see Godden and Irvine, Old English Boethius, I: 9–18. For a comprehensive discussion of the translation see Nicole Guenther Discenza, “The Old English Boethius,” in A Companion to Alfred the Great, ed. Nicole Guenther Discenza and Paul E. Szarmach, 200–226.

                        (128.) London, British Library, Cotton Otho A. vi, fols. 1–129 (Gneuss and Lapidge, Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts, item 347). For a description see Godden and Irvine, Old English Boethius, I: 18–24. See also Susan Irvine, “Fragments of Boethius: The Reconstruction of the Cotton Manuscript of the Alfredian Text,” Anglo-Saxon England 34 (2005): 169–181 and plates.

                        (129.) Ludwig Bieler, ed., Anicii Manlii Severini Boethii Philosophiae Consolatio, CCSL 94 (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 1984), p. 64, 3m12, lines 27–33.

                        (130.) Godden and Irvine, Old English Boethius, I: 336–337. The C-text (Prose 23, I: 490, lines 16–30), which leaves this portion of the text as prose, calls the Parcae “fates” not “goddesses.” Otherwise, the differences are primarily orthographic.

                        (131.) Godden and Irvine, Old English Boethius, I: 336 (lines 190–192).

                        (132.) On the addition of Charon see Godden and Irvine, Old English Boethius, II: 419.

                        (133.) They are here called Parcae (the Fates), at variance with Eumenides, the name for the Furies that Boethius presumably alluded to. See the commentary on this translation in Godden and Irvine, Old English Boethius, II: 420.

                        (134.) Ibid., I: 337 (Prose 23, lines 247–250).

                        (135.) For a detailed exploration of the sources of the Old English text see Joseph S. Wittig, “King Alfred’s Boethius and Its Latin Sources: A Reconsideration,” Anglo-Saxon England 11 (1982): 157–198, who argues that the translation shows independent use of various Latin texts; see also the commentary in Godden and Irving, Old English Boethius, II: 415–423, who suggest that the additions are likely from the glossing tradition.

                        (136.) For a discussion of the Old English verse of the C-version see the contribution by Mark Griffith, “The Composition of the Metres,” in Godden and Irvine, Old English Boethius, I: 80–134.

                        (137.) Alistair Campbell, ed., The Chronicle of Æthelweard (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1962), 51. Walter W. Skeat, ed., Ælfric’s Lives of Saints, EETS o.s. 76, 82, 94, 114 (Oxford, 1881–1900; repr. as two volumes, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1966), item 17, p. 382, lines 260–265. See Malcolm R. Godden, “Ælfric and the Alfredian Precedents,” in A Companion to Ælfric, ed. Hugh Magennis and Mary Swan (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2009), 139–163 at 151–157.

                        (138.) For a translation of the two primary manuscripts, A and E, with added materials from other Chronicle manuscripts, see The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, trans. and ed., Michael Swanton, rev. ed. (London: Phoenix, 2000). Editions of the individual Chronicles have been published; the three most important versions are: A, Janet M. Bately, ed., The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, A Collaborative Edition, Volume 3, MS A (Cambridge, U.K.: D. S. Brewer, 1986); C, Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe, ed., The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, A Collaborative Edition, Volume 5, MS. C (Cambridge, U.K.: D. S. Brewer, 2001); and E, Susan Irvine, ed., The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: A Collaborative Edition, Volume 7, MS E (Cambridge, U.K.: D. S. Brewer, 2004).

                        (139.) “Cynewulf and Cyneheard” is a much-anthologized excerpt from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. For an analysis of the narrative in the context of heroic conventions see O’Brien O’Keeffe, “Values and Ethics in Heroic Literature,” 104–105.

                        (140.) See above, under “Beowulf and Poems of the Heroic Life.”

                        (141.) O’Brien O’Keeffe, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Volume 5, MS C.

                        (142.) Irvine, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Volume 7, MS E, s.a. 1085.

                        (143.) For an overview see Joyce Hill, “The Benedictine Reform and Beyond,” in A Companion to Anglo-Saxon Literature, ed. Phillip Pulsiano and Elaine Treharne (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), 151–169; and on the limits of the reform movement see Jones, “Ælfric and the Limits of ‘Benedictine Reform’”. See also Mechthild Gretsch, The Intellectual Foundations of the English Benedictine Reform (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999); and P. A. Stafford, “Church and Society in the Age of Ælfric,” in the Old English Homily and its Backgrounds, ed. Paul E. Szarmach and Bernard F. Huppé (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1978), 11–42. For wide background see Michael Lapidge, The Cult of St Swithun (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003).

                        (144.) Rebecca Stephenson, The Politics of Language: Byrhtferth, Ælfric, and the Multilingual Identity of the Benedictine Reform (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015).

                        (145.) See Michael Lapidge, “Æthelwold as Scholar and Teacher,” in Bishop Æthelwold: His Career and Influence, ed. Barbara Yorke (Woodbridge, U.K.: Boydell Press, 1997), 89–117. On the writings associated with the Reform and on “Winchester” vocabulary see Hill, “The Benedictine Reform and Beyond,” esp. 155–157.

                        (146.) For an excellent introduction to and survey of the texts and the practices of preaching in Anglo-Saxon England see Mary Clayton, “Preaching and Teaching,” in The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature, ed. Malcolm Godden and Michael Lapidge, 159–179. See also Joyce Hill, “Reform and Resistance: Preaching Styles in Late Anglo-Saxon England,” in De l’Homèlie au Sermon: Histoire de la Prédication Médiévale, ed. Jacqueline Hamesse and Xavier Hermand (Louvain-la-Neuve: Institut d’Études Médiévales, 1993), 15–46. On the construction of the audience’s identity through the performativity of a homily (or sermon) see Mary Swan, “Constructing Preacher and Audience in Old English Homilies,” in Constructing the Medieval Sermon, ed. Roger Andersson (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2007), 177–188. For an important study that argues homilies, sermons, and saints’ lives as cultural practices that deserve study in both their discursive and aesthetic forms see Clare A. Lees, Tradition and Belief: Religious Writing in Late Anglo-Saxon England (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), esp. 1–45.

                        (147.) On homilies and homiliaries see Clayton, “Preaching and Teaching,” 162.

                        (148.) On early sermons in general see Thomas N. Hall, “The Early Medieval Sermon,” in The Sermon, ed. Beverly Mayne Kienzle, Typologie des sources du moyen âge occidental, fasc. 81–83 (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2000), 203–269. On the distinction between homily and sermon in Old English see J. E. Cross, “Vernacular Sermons in Old English,” in The Sermon, ed. Beverly Mayne Kienzle, 560–596 at 562–565.

                        (149.) See Michael Lapidge, “The Saintly Life in Anglo-Saxon England,” in The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature, ed. Malcolm Godden and Michael Lapidge, 251–272, esp. 263–264. See also the individual contributions in Holy Men and Holy Women: Old English Prose Saints’ Lives and Their Contexts, ed. Paul E. Szarmach (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996). For a helpful discussion and survey of Old English hagiographical writing see Hugh Magennis, “Approaches to Saints’ Lives,” in The Christian Tradition in Anglo-Saxon England: Approaches to Current Scholarship and Teaching, ed. Paul Cavill (Cambridge, U.K.: D. S. Brewer, 2004), 163–183.

                        (150.) Malcolm Godden counts “about twenty-six pieces” in the two volumes of the Catholic Homilies “that might be designated hagiography,” in his “Experiments in Genre: The Saints’ Lives in Ælfric’s Catholic Homilies,” in Holy Men and Holy Women, ed. Paul E. Szarmach, 261–287 at 262. On the anonymous lives of saints see D. G. Scragg, “The Corpus of Anonymous Lives and Their Manuscript Context,” in Holy Men and Holy Women, ed. Paul E. Szarmach, 209–230.

                        (151.) On the anonymous Old English homilies see D. G. Scragg, “The Corpus of Vernacular Homilies and Prose Saints’ Lives Before Ælfric,” Anglo-Saxon England 8 (1979): 223–277, esp. 264–266.

                        (152.) Hill, “Reform and Resistance,” 21.

                        (153.) Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Library, W. H. Scheide Collection, 71 (Gneuss and Lapidge, Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts, item 905). Richard Morris, ed., The Blickling Homilies of the Tenth Century, EETS 58, 63, 73 (London: Trübner, 1874–1880); on the homilies see D. G. Scragg, “The Homilies of the Blickling Manuscript,” in Learning and Literature in Anglo-Saxon England: Studies Presented to Peter Clemoes on the Occasion of His Sixty-Fifth Birthday, ed. Michael Lapidge and Helmut Gneuss (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 299–316. Vercelli, Biblioteca Capitolare, CXVII (Gneuss and Lapidge, Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts, item 941); D. G. Scragg, ed., The Vercelli Homilies and Related Texts, EETS, o.s. 300 (London: Oxford University Press, 1992). On the prose of the Vercelli book see Samantha Zacher, “Rereading the Style and Rhetoric of the Vercelli Homilies,” in The Old English Homily: Precedent, Practice, and Appropriation, ed. Aaron J. Kleist (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2007), 173–207. See also Elaine Treharne, “The Form and Function of the Vercelli Book,” in Text, Image, Interpretation: Studies in Anglo-Saxon Literature and its Insular Context in Honour of Éamonn Ó Carragáin, ed. Alastair Minnis and Jane Roberts (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2007), 253–266. For a bibliography see Paul E. Szarmach, “The Vercelli Book,” Oxford Bibliographies Online.

                        (154.) On the relations between Ælfric and Wulfstan and their differing interests see Malcolm Godden, “The Relations of Wulfstan and Ælfric: A Reassessment,” in Wulfstan, Archbishop of York: The Proceedings of the Second Alcuin Conference, ed. Matthew Townend, Studies in the Early Middle Ages 10 (Brepols, Belgium: Turnhout, 2004), 353–374. On the difference between their approaches to preaching see Milton McC. Gatch, Preaching and Theology in Anglo-Saxon England: Ælfric and Wulfstan (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977), 21.

                        (155.) For a bibliography of his work see Aaron J. Kleist, “An Annotated Bibliography of Ælfrician Studies: 1983–1996,” in Old English Prose: Basic Readings, ed. Paul E. Szarmach (New York: Garland Publishing, 2000), 503–547. See also “Bibliography,” in A Companion to Ælfric, ed. Hugh Magennis and Mary Swan, 423–453. See Joyce Hill, “Ælfric,” in Oxford Bibliographies in Medieval Studies.

                        (156.) These are dated to between 989 and 995. See Malcolm Godden, Ælfric’s Catholic Homilies: Introduction, Commentary and Glossary, EETS s.s. 18 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), xxxv. For editions of the two series see Peter Clemoes, ed., Ælfric’s Catholic Homilies: The First Series, Text, EETS s.s. 17 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997) (= CH I); Malcolm Godden, ed., Ælfric’s Catholic Homilies: The Second Series, Text, EETS s.s. 5 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979) (= CH II). For a list of Ælfric’s works and their dating see Peter Clemoes, “The Chronology of Ælfric’s Works,” in The Anglo-Saxons: Studies in Some Aspects of their History and Culture Presented to Bruce Dickins, ed. Peter Clemoes (London: Bowes and Bowes, 1959), 212–247.

                        (157.) Skeat, Ælfric’s Lives of Saints.

                        (158.) Julius Zupitza, ed., Aelfrics Grammatik und Glossar: Text und Varianten, 4th ed. with an introduction by Helmut Gneuss (Berlin, 1880; Hildesheim, Germany: Weidmann, 2003); G. N. Garmonsway, ed. Ælfric’s Colloquy, rev. ed. (Exeter, U.K.: University of Exeter Press, 1978).

                        (159.) The manuscript is London, British Library, Cotton Tiberius A. iii (Gneuss and Lapidge, Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts, item 363).

                        (160.) For example, CH I, 30 and CH II, 29 (both homilies on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin) and an apocryphal story of a vengeful Saint Thomas and the servant (CH II, “Excusatio dictantis,” 298). On the latter see Godden, “Ælfric and the Alfredian Precedents,” 139–163 at 163.

                        (161.) CH II, p. 2, lines 46–47 (repunctuated). For Ælfric’s educational interests see Thomas N. Hall, “Ælfric as a Pedagogue,” in A Companion to Ælfric, ed. Hugh Magennis and Mary Swan, 193–216. On the deployment of Latin grammar for the formation of monastic identity see Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe, Stealing Obedience: Narratives of Agency and Identity in Later Anglo-Saxon England (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012), chap. 2.

                        (162.) Zupitza, Aelfrics Grammatik und Glossar, p. 3, lines 9–16.

                        (163.) Zupitza, Ælfric’s Grammar and Glossary, p. 2, lines 16–17.

                        (164.) Helen Gittos, “The Audience for Old English Texts: Ælfric, Rhetoric and ‘the edification of the simple,’” Anglo-Saxon England 43 (2014): 231–266, argues that readers of vernacular texts were likely clergy.

                        (165.) Richard Marsden, ed., The Old English Heptateuch and Ælfric’s Libellus de Veteri Testamento et Novo, vol. 1, EETS 330 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008–), 3–7 at 3. On Ælfric’s noble patrons see Catherine Cubitt, “Ælfric’s Lay Patrons,” in A Companion to Ælfric, ed. Hugh Magennis and Mary Swan, 165–192.

                        (166.) CH II, pp. 258–259, lines 110–125 (repunctuated).

                        (167.) On the apocryphal accounts to which Ælfric refers see Malcolm R. Godden, Ælfric’s Catholic Homilies: Introduction, Commentary and Glossary, EETS s.s. 18 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 248–249 and 592.

                        (168.) On Ælfric and Hermeneutic Latin see Christopher A. Jones, “Meatim sed et rustica: Ælfric of Eynsham as a Medieval Latin Author,” Journal of Medieval Latin 8 (1998): 1–57 at 54–55 and 57. Compare Rebecca Stephenson, “Ælfric of Eynsham and Hermeneutic Latin: Meatim sed et rustica Reconsidered,” Journal of Medieval Latin 16 (2006): 111–141. On Ælfric’s rhetorical strategies see Gabriella Corona, “Ælfric’s Schemes and Tropes: Amplificatio and the Portrayal of Persecutors,” in A Companion to Ælfric, ed. Hugh Magennis and Mary Swan, 297–320 at 300–308.

                        (169.) On Ælfric’s rhythmical style see John C. Pope, ed., Homilies of Ælfric: A Supplementary Collection, EETS 259, 260 (London: Oxford University Press, 1967–1968), I: 105–136; Malcolm R. Godden, “Experiments in Genre: The Saints’ Lives in Ælfric’s Catholic Homilies,” in Holy Men and Holy Women, ed. Paul E. Szarmach, 261–287 at 276–281, sees in Ælfric’s Life of Cuthbert (CH II. 10) the foundation of his later development of rhythmical prose; Gabriella Corona, “Ælfric’s (Un)Changing Style: Continuity of Patterns from the Catholic Homilies to the Lives of Saints,” JEGP 107.2 (April 2008): 169–189, argues against a hard division between prose and verse. Thomas A. Bredehoft, Early English Metre (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005), 81–90, argues that these compositions are actually verse.

                        (170.) Skeat, Ælfric’s Lives of Saints, II: 314–335, at 318, lines 68–77 (repunctuated). For an edition of the Life of Edmund (set as prose) with notes and glossary see Ælfric. Lives of Three English Saints, ed. G. I. Needham, rev. ed. (Exeter, U.K.: University of Exeter, 1976).

                        (171.) See Pope, Homilies of Ælfric, I: 122–123.

                        (172.) For an argument on the use of the Catholic Homilies in late Anglo-Saxon England, see Jonathan Wilcox, “The Use of Ælfric’s Homilies: MSS Oxford, Bodleian Library, Junius 85 and 86 in the Field,” A Companion to Ælfric, ed. Hugh Magennis and Mary Swan, 345–368. On the continuing use of Ælfric’s work see Elaine Treharne, “Making their Presence Felt: Readers of Ælfric, C. 1050–1350,” A Companion to Ælfric, ed. Hugh Magennis and Mary Swan, 399–422. See also Mary Swan, “Ælfric’s Catholic Homilies in the Twelfth Century,” in Rewriting Old English in the Twelfth Century, ed. Mary Swan and Elaine M. Treharne (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 62–82.

                        (173.) For a bibliography see Jonathan Wilcox, “Wulfstan,” Oxford Bibliographies in Medieval Studies.

                        (174.) On Wulfstan’s achievements and “intellectual growth” over the period 1006–1020/21 see Patrick Wormald, “Archbishop Wulfstan: Eleventh-Century State-Builder,” in Wulfstan, Archbishop of York: The Proceedings of the Second Alcuin Conference, ed. Matthew Townend, Studies in the Early Middle Ages 10 (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2004), 9–27 at 17–22; see also his Appendix for a chronology of Wulfstan’s works (26–27). For an edition and translation of the law codes see The Laws of the Kings of England from Edmund to Henry I, ed. and trans. A. J. Robertson (Cambridge, 1925; repr. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009). For a discussion and translation of Wulfstan’s political writings see Andrew Rabin, ed. and trans., The Political Writings of Archbishop Wulfstan of York (Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 2015).

                        (175.) Karl Jost, ed., Die “Institutes of Polity, Civil and Ecclesiastical”: ein Werk Erzbischof Wulfstans von York, Schweizer Anglistische Arbeiten 47 (Bern, Switzerland: Francke Verlag, 1959), 62.

                        (176.) Dorothy Bethurum, ed., The Homilies of Wulfstan (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957).

                        (177.) Jonathan Wilcox, “The Dissemination of Wulfstan’s Homilies: The Wulfstan Tradition in Eleventh-Century Vernacular Preaching,” in England in the Eleventh Century: Proceedings of the 1990 Harlaxton Symposium, ed. Carola Hicks (Stamford, U.K.: Paul Watkins, 1992), 199–217 at 200–201.

                        (178.) Bethurum, Homilies of Wulfstan, 267–275 at p. 272, lines 123–138. See also Dorothy Whitelock, ed., Sermo Lupi ad Anglos, 3rd rev. ed. (London: Methuen, 1963). For a translation of Sermo Lupi see Dorothy Whitelock, ed., English Historical Documents, c. 500–1042, 2nd ed. (London: Eyre Methuen, 1979), 928–934. J. E. Cross, “Vernacular Sermons in Old English,” in The Sermon, ed. Beverly Mayne Kienzle, 560–596, also provides a translation at 591–596.

                        (179.) On the date and occasion see Jonathan Wilcox, “Wulfstan’s Sermo Lupi ad Anglos as Political Performance: 16 February 1014 and Beyond,” in Wulfstan, Archbishop of York, ed. Matthew Townend, 375–396. On the desperate conditions during the later years of Æthelred’s reign see Simon Keynes, “An Abbot, An Archbishop, and the Viking Raids of 1006–1007 and 1009–1012,” Anglo-Saxon England 36 (2007): 151–220 at 179–189.

                        (180.) The code is VII Æthelred. For an edition and translation see The Laws of the Kings of England, ed. and trans. Robertson. For the historical background, see Simon Keynes and Rory Naismith, “The Agnus Dei Pennies of King Æthelred the Unready,” Anglo-Saxon England 40 (2012): 175–223.

                        (181.) On the work of testimony and witnessing in the process of subject formation see Andrew Rabin, “The Wolf’s Testimony to the English: Law and the Witness in the ‘Sermo Lupi ad Anglos,’” JEGP 105.3 (2006): 388–414, esp. 402.

                        (182.) Alcuin’s citation of Gildas comes by way of a letter of Alcuin to Æthelheard, archbishop of Canterbury, arguing from Gildas’s De excidio Brittaniae that the same calamity was happening in his day. See Whitelock, Sermo Lupi, pp. 65–66, n. to lines 184–199, and most recently Gareth Mann, “The Development of Wulfstan’s Alcuin Manuscript,” in Wulfstan, Archbishop of York, ed. Matthew Townend, 235–278 at 245–246.

                        (183.) Bethurum, Homilies of Wulfstan, 89.

                        (184.) On language and style see Richard Dance, “Sound, Fury, and Signifiers; or Wulfstan’s Language,” in Wulfstan, Archbishop of York, ed. Matthew Townend, 29–61.

                        (185.) Jonathan Davis-Secord argues that Wulfstan achieves rhetorical emphasis through the use of “low-frequency compounds,” a heightened rhetoric delivered at a time of great social disruption. See his Joinings: Compound Words in Old English Literature (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016), 101–108. See further his “Rhetoric and Politics in Archbishop Wulfstan’s Old English Homilies,” Anglia 126.1 (2008): 65–96.

                        (186.) A. P. McD. Orchard, “Crying Wolf: Oral Style and the Sermones Lupi,” Anglo-Saxon England 21 (1992): 239–264, esp. 258.

                        (187.) On the afterlife of Wulfstan’s sermons see Jonathan Wilcox, “Dissemination of Wulfstan’s Homilies,” 214–217, and his “Wulfstan’s Sermo Lupi ad Anglos as Political Performance,” 373–396 at 392–396.