Old English Verse Saints Lives

Old English Verse Saints Lives

ROBERT E. BJORK
Copyright Date: 1985
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctt2tv509
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  • Book Info
    Old English Verse Saints Lives
    Book Description:

    Critics have traditionally treated the Old English poems about saints as individual, autonomous works, relating but little to one another except in a broadly generic way. Bjork challenges the traditional view with an examination of the major structural feature that all the poems share: direct discourse.

    Syntactical and rhetorical analyses of the five poems reveal a consistent use of spech in creating stylistic norms or ideals - stylistic icons - in spiritually perfect figures. In all the poems the speech of the saints in formal, rhetorical, and balanced, the stylistic analogue both of their immutable fith and of the Christ-saint figural connection. The speech of all other characters is measured against this standard; their ability or inability to meet the saintly ideal in language reflects their level of spiritual awareness.

    The consistency with which these patterns appear sheds new light on the conventions of Old English poetic hagiography.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7805-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-27)

    Saints’ lives, insistently didactic and erected on a fixed set of conventions, have fared poorly in modern criticism. Considered too simplistic, they escaped serious notice in English before 1916¹ and even then were studied from an historical, not an artistic, perspective. Critics have lately reconsidered the Old English vernacular lives, however, with illuminating results. Daniel G. Calder, for example, has demonstrated the legitimate art ofJuliana, Guthlac A,andGuthlac B;² Jackson J. Campbell has shown that Cynewulf skilfully manipulates traditional symbolism to create a unified Elene,³ while other critics such as John Gardner have delineated the poem’s structure;⁴ and...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Old English Words as Deeds and the Struggle towards Light in Guthlac A
    (pp. 28-44)

    The first life we take up appropriately displays particular interest in verbal deeds, manifesting that interest at several points. The poet makes the words-deeds theme explicit six times (lines 60–1, 252b–4, 579–81, 618–19, 720–1a, 790–4a) and alludes twice to the efficacy of language: he states that Guthlac ‘ne wond ... for worde’ (did not turn before the words [294a]) of the railing demons, and the saint himself proclaims that the demons will never turn him ‘of pissum wordum’ (from these words [376a]).¹ InGuthlac Athe necessity of matching imposing deeds to significant words...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Saintly Discourse and the Distancing of Evil in Cynewulf’s Juliana
    (pp. 45-61)

    The movement towards light and the development of the words-deeds theme, gradual and incremental inGuthlac A,occur quickly and dramatically inJuliana.Here an obvious structure, a simple theme, and a wealth of stylistic detail all conspire to make the didactic purpose intensely clear, so clear that there has never been any controversy over the precise meaning of the poem. Changed significantly over its Latin source to intensify the whiteness of the saint and the blackness of Affricanus, Eleusius, and the demon,Julianaillustrates the triumph of Christian virtue over satanic wrong. The characters in this spiritual combat polarize...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Judas with a New Voice: Revelatory Dialogue in Cynewulf’s Elene
    (pp. 62-89)

    InJulianaCynewulf explores the fundamental antithesis between good and evil, Christian and pagan, as he records the struggle between two eternally opposed spiritual powers. The construction of the poem is ritualistic and ultimately rather simple, defining for us through a careful manipulation of discourse the invincibility of the one true faith. The poet faces a more complex problem inElene,a poem that is essentially a double saint’s life. Not dealing here with polar embodiments of pure good and pure evil, with the wholly saved and the unequivocally damned, Cynewulf must express Elene’s realized and Judas’s potential power without...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR The Artist of the Beautiful: Immutable Discourse in Guthlac B
    (pp. 90-109)

    In the Old English saints’ lives thus far discussed we have seen the poets use direct discourse and its syntactic and rhetorical features consistently, subordinating them to larger thematic matters and to the total poetic vision of their works. Despite the complex execution in the first two poems, both always focus unequivocally on the saints themselves and serve clear didactic purposes.Elene,however, more complex, more subtle, yet still unmistakably didactic, tends to shift focus from Elene to her antagonist (or victim), as Cynewulf manifests his theme by elaborating the character of the human, vacillating Judas, who becomes the poem’s...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Typology and the Structure of Repetition in Andreas
    (pp. 110-124)

    This book begins with a study of the words-deeds theme in Old English, showing its particular importance to hagiography. In every instance of saintly discourse in the poems, we have seen the theme at work. The saints’ words become their acts, and the poets create immutable iconographic ideals to express the doctrine of the Logos. The theme continues to play a crucial role even inAndreas,a poem difficult to categorize. The poet states the theme explicitly – ‘Nu ∂u miht gehyran, / hyse leofesta, // hu us wuldres weard / wordum ond dædum // lufode in life,’ Now you can...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 125-132)

    Although hagiography has received the attention of some major scholars in this century, chiefly Gordon Hall Gerould,¹ Hippolyte Delehaye,² Charles W. Jones,³ and Theodor Wolpers,⁴ the focus has never been on the aesthetics of the Old English branch of the genre. This particular branch is too small and the scope of the work these scholars undertake too large to accommodate in any detail five vernacular poems.⁵ But even essays with a more limited focus, such as Rosemary Woolf’s⁶ and Raymon S. Farrar’s,⁷ are not sufficiently limited to delineate specifically the stylistic or aesthetic principles of Old English poetic hagiography. Woolf...

  11. Abbreviations
    (pp. 134-134)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 135-160)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 161-172)
  14. General Index
    (pp. 173-177)
  15. Index of Lines
    (pp. 178-180)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 181-181)