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Pride and Prodigies

Pride and Prodigies: Studies in the Monsters of the Beowulf Manuscript

Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    Pride and Prodigies
    Book Description:

    In this series of detailed studies, Andy Orchard demonstrates the changing range of Anglo-Saxon attitudes towards the monstrous by reconsidering the monsters ofBeowulfagainst the background of early medieval and patristic teratology and with reference to specific Anglo-Saxon texts.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-5709-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Andy Orchard
    (pp. ix-x)
    Andy Orchard
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  6. CHAPTER I The Beowulf-Manusctipt
    (pp. 1-27)

    It was Kenneth Sisam who first considered that theBeowulf-manuscript may have been compiled on the basis of an interest in monsters which is exhibited by at least four of the five texts it contains; he mused that a medieval cataloguer, seeking to sum up the contents of the manuscript, might well have described it as a ‘book of various monsters, written in English’ (Liber de diversis monstris, anglice).¹ Since then, numerous commentators have accepted and built on Sisams suggestion, generally in seeking to explain the transmission of Beowulf, and the chance preservation of a poem the great literary merits...

  7. CHAPTER II Psychology and Physicality: The Monsters of Beowulf
    (pp. 28-57)

    The central importance of the monsters inBeowulfhas been underlined many times since J. R. R. Tolkien first highlighted their significance, arguing that in the struggles of Beowulf against his various monstrous foes the poet wished to portray the noble image of ‘man at war with the hostile world, and his inevitable overthrow in Time’.¹ Kenneth Sisam took a more sanguine view, suggesting that ‘the monsters Beowulf kills are inevitably evil and hostile because a reputation for heroism is not made by killing creatures that are believed to be harmless or beneficent – sheep for instance’.² Both scholars, however,...

  8. CHAPTER III The Kin of Cain
    (pp. 58-85)

    The only biblical events certainly alluded to inBeowulfwe Cain’s killing of Abel and the Flood, which together are described in three separate passages (lines 102–14, 1258–68, and 1688–93).¹ The poet links both biblical themes through the ‘race of giants’ (giganta cyn), who sprang from Cain’s exile and curse, rose up against God, and were punished for their presumption by the Flood. Grendel and his mother come from similar stock, being themselves of the kin of Cain, although they are not of precisely the same race of giants; the poet is careful to use the biblical...

  9. CHAPTER IV The Liber monstrorum
    (pp. 86-115)

    All or part of the so-calledLiber monstrorum de diversis generibus(‘Book of monsters of various kinds’) is extant in no fewer than five manuscripts, all dating from the ninth or tenth cenuries.¹ That the work enjoyed a certain vogue in the period is further evident from two entries in an arguably ninth-century book-list from Bobbio which relate to manuscripts now lost.² Amongst the sources freely plundered by the author is Isidore’sEtymologiae, published shortly after 636, and Michael Lapidge, pointing out that the extensive corruption to be observed in all the extant manuscripts seems to indicate an advanced state...

  10. CHAPTER V The Alexander-Legend in Anglo-Saxon England
    (pp. 116-139)

    The Old EnglishLetter of Alexanderto Aristotle has excited little attention over the years: the standard edition is old and rather unreadable, and the text problematic.¹ Accordingly, any critical interest has always tended to focus on linguistic and editorial matters rather than on any perceived literary interest.² Recent work in other fields, however, has greatly enhanced understanding of the reception and transmission of the LatinEpistola Alexandri ad Aristotelemupon which the Old English version is based, and such studies throw the comparative neglect of theLetterinto still greater relief.³ TheLetterraises several important questions about the...

  11. CHAPTER VI Grettir and Grendel Again
    (pp. 140-168)

    Grettis saga Asmundarsonaris amongst the best-loved tales of medieval Iceland, and has been described as ‘the last of the great Icelandic sagas’.¹ The author ofGrettis sagaborrowed freely from a great number of written sources, including a now-lost biography of Grettir composedc. 1280 by Sturla Þórðarson.² Mention is made of five other sagas in the course of the narrative, of which three still survive, and the unacknowledged use of eleven further vernacular Icelandic sources has been detected.³ It is also clear, however, that in the final part of the saga now known asSpéarþáttrthe author has...

  12. Postscript
    (pp. 169-172)

    The texts of theBeowulf-manuscript, then, together with theLiber monstrorumandGrettis saga, share more than a twin interest in the dangers of human pride and in battles against outlandish monsters; all are concerned with the relationship between pagan past and Christian present, and with the tension between an age which extolled heroic glory and an age in which vainglory was condemned. Such a tension is evident in the very language of the texts, in which words and themes from the heroic pagan past are transformed in Christian usage. The heathen warriors and monster-slayers, such as Hercules, Alexander, Beowulf,...

  13. Appendices:: Texts, Translations, and Sources

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 173-174)
    • APPENDIX Ia The Wonders of the East: Latin text
      (pp. 175-182)
    • APPENDIX Ib The Wonders of the East: Old English text
      (pp. 183-184)
    • APPENDIX Ic The Wonders of the East: A translation of the Old English text
      (pp. 185-203)
    • APPENDIX IIa The Letter of Alexander to Aristotle: Latin text
      (pp. 204-223)
    • APPENDIX IIb The Letter of Alexander to Aristotle: Old English text
      (pp. 224-224)
    • APPENDIX IIc The Letter of Alexander to Aristotle: A translation of the Old English text
      (pp. 225-253)
    • APPENDIX IIIa Liber monstrorum: Latin text
      (pp. 254-254)
    • APPENDIX IIIb Liber monstrorum: A translation
      (pp. 255-317)
    • APPENDIX IIIc Liber monstrorum: Sources and Analogues
      (pp. 318-320)
    (pp. 321-342)
    (pp. 343-352)