The Aesthetics of Nostalgia

The Aesthetics of Nostalgia: Historical Representation in Old English Verse

RENÉE R. TRILLING
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 352
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442697935
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  • Book Info
    The Aesthetics of Nostalgia
    Book Description:

    Aesthetics of Nostalgiareads Anglo-Saxon historical verse in terms of how its aesthetic form interacted with the culture and politics of the period.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9793-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. Introduction: The Form of History
    (pp. 3-27)

    The image of the Germanic lord, seated at the head of the mead-hall and calling for the scop to sing the history of his ancestors, is an iconic, if anachronistic, cultural artefact, yet it continues to inform many readings of Anglo-Saxon poetic texts. Certainly the first Anglo-Saxonists approached the poetry by picking apart texts likeBeowulfandWidsithfor historical information about the pre-Migration Germanic peoples, searching for the site of the Battle of Brunanburh, and mapping the narrative ofThe Battle of Maldononto the terrain of Essex. As J.R.R. Tolkien reminded everyone in 1936, however,Beowulfis poetry...

  6. 1 Art and History in Old English Heroic Poetry
    (pp. 28-63)

    The refrain ofDeorhas long been an interpretive crux for Anglo-Saxon scholars. Rare enough as a device in Old English poetry, this refrain –Þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg[that passed away, so can this] – is semantically as well as formally obscure.² The phrase lacks a clear nominative, and the subject of the singular third person verbsofereode[passed away] andmæg[can] might be ‘it,’ or perhaps ‘he’ or ‘she,’ but that subject remains unexpressed. The genitivesþæsandþisseslikewise point to an unidentified substantive; literally translated, the refrain must read something like ‘With respect to that [it]...

  7. 2 In Principio: Origins of the Present in Anglo-Saxon Biblical Verse
    (pp. 64-124)

    The miracle of Cædmon’s gift of song has often been read as the origin of Anglo-Saxon vernacular poetry, and with good reason. Few moments in Bede’sHistoria ecclesiasticaare so frequently cited, perhaps because the story resonates with both pathos and triumph: an illiterate cowherd hides in shame from his turn at the harp, until he is given the divine ability to compose religious verse unequalled before or since.² With this divine gift, Cædmon becomes an Anglo-Saxon prophet, instructing his people in the history and doctrine of their faith.³ For Bede, the story also fittingly extends the story he tells...

  8. 3 Verse Memorials and the Viking Conflict
    (pp. 125-174)

    In a small chapel in the southeast corner of Ely Cathedral, above the tomb of the sixteenth century bishop Nicholas West, there is a row of seven arched niches created to commemorate seven benefactors of Ely from the late Anglo-Saxon period.¹ The niche on the far right holds the remains of Ealdorman Byrhtnoth, who fell fighting the Vikings at the Battle of Maldon in 991 AD and is honoured as a hero in the roughly contemporaneous poemThe Battle of Maldon. In the niche on the far left rest the bones of Archbishop Wulfstan of York (d. 1023 AD), who...

  9. 4 Poetic Memory: The Canonical Verse of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
    (pp. 175-213)

    When Tacitus describes the Germans and their interest in their own history, two key features are immediately apparent: their investment in tracing their ancestry to euhemerized gods, and the record of the past in ‘traditional songs.’¹ The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle demonstrates a similar investment in tracing origins and in traditional songs, though its deployment of these factors differs significantly from that of the Germans Tacitus describes. When the author of the Chronicle’s A-text begins the narration of Anglo-Saxon history with a genealogy built on the traditional heroic model, he invokes that nostalgic past in the service of interpreting and authorizing the...

  10. 5 Transitional Verse in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: Changing the Shape of History
    (pp. 214-252)

    The close connection between the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the people whose history it purports to represent is perhaps one reason why the Chronicle holds such fascination for readers; because it tells us how the Anglo-Saxons thought about their relation to the past, it can also tell us how they pictured themselves as a part of the history they were writing. As we saw in the previous chapter, the picture of Anglo-Saxon England that emerges from the earlier, southern manuscripts of the Chronicle is heavily (though not exclusively) informed by the ideology of West Saxon kingship and by a notion of...

  11. Conclusion: The Past in the Present
    (pp. 253-260)

    By the time the Peterborough chronicler enters his mournful rhyme s.a. 1104 lamenting the suffering and loss that characterize, for him, post-Conquest history, both Anglo-Saxon England and the poetic tradition associated with its heroic heritage have fallen into ruins. The scop no longer sings in the hall of his lord’s heroic deeds; hall, scop, and hero are all things of the past, lost along with the dominion of the island. English poetry goes into hiding for the better part of two centuries, driven out by the cultural ascendancy of Latin and Anglo-Norman literature. When it does begin to resurface during...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 261-286)
  13. Index
    (pp. 287-296)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 297-297)