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Satan Unbound

Satan Unbound: The Devil in Old English Narrative Literature

Peter Dendle
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Satan Unbound
    Book Description:

    The devil is perhaps the single-most recurring character in Old English narrative literature. Dendle argues that the devil?s nebulous character reflects anxieties in the early medieval understanding of the territorial distribution of the moral cosmos.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7958-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. 1. Introduction
    (pp. 3-18)

    The devil is the most frequently appearing character in Old English poetry, and possibly in all Old English literature. Anglo-Saxon authors, poets, and translators evidently felt that reified representations of evil formed an integral component of mythological narrative, especially in such hagiographical works as the proseLife of BenedictandLife of Margaretand the poeticJulianaandGuthlac A. Understanding the responses of Anglo-Saxons to the devil of the Latin source texts, as well as recognizing the innovative uses of the devil in insular literature, allows us more fully to understand these enigmatic, and often quite alien, literary forms....

  6. 2. The Devil as Tempter
    (pp. 19-39)

    Everyone knows that the devil tempts us to sin - for some, in fact, this is hisraison dʹêtre. He tries to distract us from God and from all things spiritual, turning our attention rather to ourselves - to our bodies and to all the transient concerns of this world. By doing so, of course, he unwittingly provides us with a means of testing our faith (1 Corinthians 10.13), and as a lawyer inveighing accusations against humankind (in Job and Zechariah), he offers us the opportunity to prove ourselves worthy of salvation. Like the Crucifixion of Christ, the existence of...

  7. 3. The Role of the Devil
    (pp. 40-61)

    Almost a hundred years ago Abbetmeyer proposed a two-part classification system for representations of the devil in Old English poetry, which applies equally to prose narratives. On the one hand are ′epic′ treatments of Satan such asGenesis AandB, and on the other, semidramatic pieces which he calls ′plaints of Lucifer,′ includingChrist and Satan, Phoenix, and the verse saints′ lives.¹ Abbetmeyer′s implicit premise that an original ′plaint of Lucifer′ ur-text was subsequently cannibalized by diverse authors has been rendered obsolete by oral-formulaic theory, but his division does reflect a twofold attitude toward medieval representations of the devil...

  8. 4. Exterior Evil and the Landscape of Old English Narrative
    (pp. 62-86)

    The essential premise of ′the demonic′ as a metaphor for the instigation of moral evil is that sin is at some root level external to the self.¹ The demon is wholly other, the impulse toward evil introduced from without. The integrity of the individual is not compromised when demons are expelled or vices are eradicated; rather the original purity of the prelapsarian self – which has nothing of the demonic in it - is restored. C.W. Marx identifies otherness in the abstract as the very essence of the medieval devil:

    And, in exploring medieval constructions of the Devil, one is...

  9. 5. The Devil and the Demons
    (pp. 87-114)

    ′Look,′ explains Father Karras to Regan′s hysterical mother in William Friedkin′s screen version of William Peter Blatty′sThe Exorcist, ′your daughter doesn′t say she′s a demon; she says she′s the devil himself. Now if you′ve seen as many psychotics as I have, you′d realize that′s the same thing as saying you′re Napoleon Bonaparte.′ This is a modern problem, not a medieval one. Our intuition is to take epithets such asadversarius Dei,auctor criminum, andantiquus hostisto refer specifically to the devil rather than to his lesser demons, but if we insist on making much of this difference, we...

  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. 6. Conclusion
    (pp. 115-122)

    From the depersonalized, naturalistic demons of the charms andSolomon and Saturn, inhering in the animate and inanimate world at every level, to the iconographic and highly stylized tantrums of the ′hagiographic demon′ who verbally articulates evil suggestions directly into the ear of all-too-acquiescent pagans, to the more distant and stately devil performing the static roles of the mythological scenes of salvation history, Old English literature presents a variegated spectrum of demonic forms and functions. Soldier,scop, trapper, farmer, knot-maker, bird, whale, and wolf, the forms of the devil permeate every region of the social and natural spheres.¹ This very...

  12. Appendix: The Devil as Idiom
    (pp. 123-124)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 125-164)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 165-186)
  15. Index
    (pp. 187-196)