Authors, Audiences, and Old English Verse

Authors, Audiences, and Old English Verse

THOMAS A. BREDEHOFT
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442698413
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  • Book Info
    Authors, Audiences, and Old English Verse
    Book Description:

    Authors, Audiences, and Old English Versere-examines the Anglo-Saxon poetic tradition from the eighth to the eleventh centuries and reconsiders the significance of formulaic parallels and the nature of poetic authorship in Old English.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9841-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Bibliographic Note
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-2)
  6. Introduction: Authorship and Anonymity in Old English Verse
    (pp. 3-38)

    Surveys of Anglo-Saxon poetry often begin with a comment about the essential anonymity of Old English verse: modern readers typically understand Old English verse to be a highly traditional genre, characterized by shared formulaic diction, traditional expression, and – relatedly – anonymous composition. Discussing the anonymity of Old English verse, Sarah Larratt Keefer has recently made the point as follows:

    It was generally unusual to know the names of any poets composing verse … [T]he name and a brief biography of Cædmon, but no readily ascertainable works, are all we know of this earliest of English poets; a second name, and the...

  7. 1 Manuscript Audiences and Other Audiences
    (pp. 39-64)

    Bede’s story of Cædmon is virtually unique within the body of Old English verse in depicting both a particular act of poetic composition and specifying its original audiences (the dream figure, Cædmon’s reeve, Abbess Hild, the ‘more learned men’). Nevertheless, it is important to recall that Bede’s presentation of Cædmon’s work in the body of theHistoria ecclesiasticaby a (lengthy) incipit only (and in Latin translation) serves to remind us that, no matter how clearly Bede sets Cædmon up as an author, his authorial status is more or less explicitly disconnected from any guarantee of textual authority, precisely because...

  8. 2 The Audience for Saxon Songs in the Late Ninth Century
    (pp. 65-103)

    Asser’sLife of King Alfredcould hardly be clearer in stressing Alfred’s lifelong interest in what Asser describes as ‘carmina Saxonica’ (‘Saxon songs’; Stevenson 59).¹ Asser suggests that Alfred listens to such songs ‘die noctuque’ in chapter 22 (by day and night; Stevenson 20). We are also told that Alfred reads and learns such poems by heart in chapter 76 and that his children learn them in chapter 75. In a famous and much-discussed story in chapter 23, Alfred wins a boyhood competition among his brothers (and organized by his mother) for the ownership of a book of poems with...

  9. 3 Literate Poetic Composition in Tenth-Century Classical Poems
    (pp. 104-145)

    The earliest tenth-century Old English poem to survive in a contemporary manuscript can probably be found in St Petersburg, Russian National Library O. v. XVI. 1.¹ This manuscript consists of sixteen leaves, mostly taken up by a Latin grammatical treatise (identified by Gneuss,Handlist, as Priscian’sInstitutio de nomine, pronomine et verbo) that was apparently copied in the first part of the tenth century (Ker, ‘Supplement’ 127). Folio 15r includes the following maxim:

    A scæl gelæred smið, swa he gelicost mæg,

    be bisne wyrcan, butan he bet cunne.

    (adapted from Ker, ‘Supplement’ 127)

    (The learned smith must always work as...

  10. 4 What Has Ælfric to Do with Maldon?
    (pp. 146-170)

    The opening lines of Ælfric’sLetter to Wulfgeatare printed in Assmann’s edition as follows:

    Ic Ælfric abbod on ðisumEngliscumgewrite

    freondlice grete mid godes gretinge

    Wulfget æt Ylmandune! (Letter to Wulfgeat, Assmann I, 1–3a)

    (I, Abbot Ælfric, in this English writing, greet Wulfgeat at Ylmandune in a friendly manner, with God’s greeting.)

    Here, Ælfric names himself directly, within his text, in a fashion that might recall the apparent self-naming seen in Alfred’s and Wulfsige’s respectiveMetrical Prefaces, while also specifying a singular, named intended audience. Especially in comparison to his own prefaces (which are usually aimed at...

  11. 5 Eleventh-Century Traditions of Formulaic Composition
    (pp. 171-198)

    In a recent essay, Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe has examined the eleventh-century poemThe Death of Alfred, preserved inAnglo-Saxon Chronicleannal 1036CD. Noting the extensive use of rhyme and other metrical peculiarities inThe Death of Alfred, O’Brien O’Keeffe traces the rhetorical and aesthetic antecedents of the poem to the Ælfrician homiletic tradition, rather than to the tradition of classical verse:

    What [Alfred’s] suffering and death might sustain, however, is treatment within the rhetoric of the suffering of the martyrs as part of a movement to cult him. The aesthetic appeal in this commemoration is in the eleventh century more...

  12. 6 Conclusion
    (pp. 199-208)

    My attempt to survey the field of Old English verse through the unlikely lenses of ‘author’ and ‘audience’ has largely operated on a single crucial observation: an examination of the development and use of a ‘literate-formulaic’ method of poetic composition at or before King Alfred’s court in the late ninth century allows us to at least partially trace audiences (if, most often, they are probably unintended audiences) for a surprising number of Old English poems, precisely because some readers were poets in turn, recycling rare or unique usages from earlier poems in their own, newer works. The vision of the...

  13. Appendix: Two Unrecognized Late Old English Poems
    (pp. 209-216)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 217-230)
  15. Index
    (pp. 231-238)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 239-239)