Verse and Virtuosity

Verse and Virtuosity: The Adaptation of Latin Rhetoric in Old English Poetry

JANIE STEEN
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 320
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442689572
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    Verse and Virtuosity
    Book Description:

    While there is little evidence of formal rhetorical instruction in Anglo-Saxon England, traditional Old English poetry clearly shows the influence of Latin rhetoric.Verse and Virtuositydemonstrates how Old English poets imitated and adapted the methods of Latin literature, and, in particular, the works of the Christian Latin authors they had studied at school. It is the first full-length study to look specifically at what Old English poets working in a Latinate milieu attempted to do with the schemes and figures they found in their sources.

    Janie Steen argues that, far from sterile imitation, the inventiveness of Old English poets coupled with the constraints of vernacular verse produced a vital and markedly different kind of poetry. Highlighting a selection of Old English poetic translations of Latin texts, she considers how the translators responded to the challenge of adaptation, and shows how the most accomplished, such as Cynewulf, absorb Latin rhetoric into their own style and blend the two traditions into verse of great virtuosity. With its wide-ranging discussion of texts and rhetorical figures, this book can serve as an introduction to Old English poetic composition and style.Verse and Virtuosity,will be of considerable interest to Anglo-Saxonists, linguists, and those studying rhetorical traditions.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8957-2
    Subjects: Linguistics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-6)

    The inventiveness of much Old English verse derives from the blend of the native poetic tradition, rooted in an oral Germanic past, with a new Latin culture that is mostly Christian and bookish. Vernacular verse thrives on the tension between this highly literary Latin learning and an inherited poetic style that appeals to ‘the auditory imagination.’¹ Strands of Latin influence – biblical and classical, insular and continental – pervade Old English verse so deeply that the poems can not be understood without appreciation of their sources.² But while it is generally accepted that Latin models have shaped the subject-matter of many Old...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Knowledge of Rhetoric in Anglo-Saxon England
    (pp. 7-20)

    The description of rhetorical patterns has often been the meticulous matter of hair-splitting taxonomy.¹ But to understand the nature of vernacular poetry and the possible influence of Latin rhetoric on it, mere classification is inadequate. We have to explain why certain rhetorical patterns are there, and if these patterns are indeed Latinate, we should clarify how they might have come to be there. Many scholars who claim to have spotted Latinate rhetorical devices in Old English poetry have tended simply to take it for granted that vernacular poets must have been rhetorically trained, or at least well versed in the...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The Patterns of Latin and Vernacular Verse
    (pp. 21-34)

    Any study of rhetorical devices needs precise and agreed terms. But rhetorical terminology is a potential minefield: classical terms have a troubled ancestry of confusion rather than clarification. An inconsistent nomenclature had gained ground even by the Roman period, leading Quintilian to lament that ‘writers have given their names to all [patterns], but they are various, and suit the imagination of each author.’¹ This confusion persists today. On the one hand, terms such as ‘palillogia’ or ‘epanalepsis’ have each been used to describe several different schemes.² On the other hand, the same device is sometimes called by different names: ‘envelope...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The Figure of The Phoenix
    (pp. 35-70)

    At first glance,The Phoenixlooks much like any other Old English poem: it opens with an ornamental initial, it is written in an Insular hand, and is preserved in the leaves of that celebrated vernacular miscellany, the Exeter Book.¹The Phoenixbears all the hallmarks of formulaic style, so much so that it is often associated with the beast fables known as the Old EnglishPhysiologus,² and was once thought to have been composed by Cynewulf.³ But these conventional English features belieThe Phoenix’sorigins in Latin literature. For the poem describes that fabulous creature of the classical imagination,...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR A Dead End? Judgment Day II
    (pp. 71-88)

    This chapter examines the style of the Old English poemJudgment Day II,a vernacular rendering of the Latin poemDe die iudicii,variously attributed to Bede or Alcuin.¹ Our focus will be on how a late tenthcentury Old English poet responds to explicitly biblical Anglo-Latin verse, which shuns the sophistries of classical rhetoric in favour of a plainerChristian rhetoric.² As we shall see, the adaptation of this Christian verse is characterized first and foremost by its faithfulness to the source, resulting in a highly ‘Latinate’ rendering, one that has shed many of the traditional features of vernacular verse,...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Through the Looking-Glass: Riddles 35 and 40
    (pp. 89-109)

    This chapter examines two Old English riddles, numbers 35 and 40, which alone among the Exeter Book collection are close renderings of Anglo-Latin poems by Aldhelm, abbot of Malmesbury and bishop of Sherbourne (c. 640–709), hailed as the father of Anglo-Latin literature and the ‘first English man of letters.’¹ Exeter BookRiddle35 is a vernacular version of Aldhelm’sLorica(‘Breastplate’), number 33 from his collection of one hundredEnigmata.² An earlier Northumbrian version of thisEnigmahas survived, known asThe Leiden Riddle,as it is preserved in a manuscript (Rijksuniversiteit, Voss. Lat. Q. 106) held in the...

  11. CHAPTER SIX The Verse and Virtuosity of Cynewulf
    (pp. 110-138)

    The previous chapters have each discussed the method of close poetic translation in an anonymous vernacular rendering of a Latin poem. In this final chapter, a different type of adaptation will be considered: a more mature (even if not necessarily later) stage in the process of the absorption and integration of Latin rhetoric into the Old English poetic tradition. I will examine some rhetorical patterns in Cynewulf’s poems, primarily inElene, Christ II,andJuliana,which are not close translations of any one Latin poem, but rely loosely on Latin prose sources.¹

    Cynewulf is one of the few named Old...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 139-140)

    This book has attempted to illuminate a delicate matter, the influence of Latin rhetoric on Old English verse. Whereas it is widely accepted that some vernacular poets made use of Latin schemes and tropes, it is not entirely clear how they gained their knowledge of these figures. There is insufficient evidence to show that the mastery of such devices was acquired from rhetorical manuals or from schooling, so we cannot just take it for granted that Old English poets were using Latin devices consciously, or that they were familiar with their learned names and roles. I argued that a more...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 141-190)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 191-226)
  15. Index
    (pp. 227-238)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 239-240)