Thursday, July 06, 2017

The Congress Paper

What’s in a name? Everything in this case. The question I want to explore

today a little bit is the use in Old English and in Old Saxon of the name

“Heliand” for Jesus Christ and suggest that it is not as straightforward a

choice as one is accustomed to consider it. The term is sometimes used as a

name for Jesus, sometimes as Jesus’ title; but most modern commentators are

accustomed to translating or glossing it as “the savior.” I am now uncertain

that we should, and that it actually means something else which effects the

image, the Christology presented by the Heliand poet.

The term occurs only in Old English and Old Saxon as a reference to

Jesus. We have no examples in Old Franconian or anything early enough from

that language to tell us how Jesus was conceived in the vernacular there. In

Gothic we have of course most of the New Testament, and no equivalent form of

“heliand” as a name or title exists there. Nor is such a term used in Old

Norse Christian texts. So we must ask why those two vernaculars, English and

Saxon, adopted that term and for what purposes.

We may at the outset here posit two things: that the Anglo-Saxons were

converted before the Saxons and that the Anglo-Saxons had a hand in the

eventual conversion of the Saxons. So to find our answers, we must first look

at the Anglo-Saxon material.

. The term is defined as “healer, savior” in the Bosworth Toller, an

issue to which we will return shortly. Often Hælend appears alone as a name,

often in conjunction with the definite article signifying a title. Most often

in a homily or biblical translation, this is the Old English term to use for

many words referring to Jesus: Jesus, Christ, Jesus Christ, salvator are the

chief examples. The name derives from the past participle of the halian which

means “to heal, to save (in the sense of healing, making hale)” and is

related to the adjective hale and the noun health. The –end ending is a

word-formation tool in Old English and added to make an agent, often used to

create agent nouns from past participles of active verbs. Thus, the word

means “a healer.” 1

Here the scholar encounters something of a difficulty. Bosworth Toller

is slowly being superseded by the Dictionary of Old English project at the

University of Toronto. These lexicographers have defined Hælend as

specifically referring for the most to Jesus Christ, a or the Savior. 2 The

difference between these two lexicographical tools in defining this term has

in large part to do with a shift in the methodology employed in delimiting

the semantic fields of morphemes between the late nineteenth and late

twentieth, early twenty-first centuries. This difference, however, also

illustrates an important issue in Old English with regard to Jesus, the


That issue is: when and why did the past participle of the verb “to

heal” become the name and title for Jesus glossing the Latin “salvator.” The

answer to this is not very simple. As is well known, the name “Jesus” is a

Latinization of IhsusIhsus) in Greek, itself a transliteration of the

Hebrew יֵשׁוּעַ (Yesua), a shortening of the earlier form יְהוֹשֻׁעַ (Yehoshua)

which our modern English Bibles render Joshua. It is the meaning of the name

“Jesus” though that captured the attention of the church fathers and our

early Anglo-Saxon writers. Yehoshua means “God saves,” a combination of the

Tetragrammatan (YHWH) with a verb “yasha” meaning to save or rescue. Thus,

“God saves.”

This information was widely available to late antique and medieval

readers: Moses changes Joshua’s name in Numbers 13 commemorating God’s

salvation of Israel; this name change is mentioned again along with a

reference to the meaning in Sirach (aka Ecclesiasticus) 46:1-2. In a work

1 See Bosworth, Joseph. "An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary Online." Hǽlend. March 21, 2010. Accessed December 23,


2 Dictionary of Old English: A to H online, ed. Angus Cameron, Ashley Crandell Amos, Antonette diPaolo Healey et

al. (Toronto: Dictionary of Old English Project, 2016).

titled in Latin Interpretatio Hebraicorum Nomium and ascribed to Philo of

Alexandria, the Greek author specifically mentions the change of name and its

meaning. 3 Origen knew this work and added to it names of the New Testament.

Origen’s work influenced Eusebius of Caesaria. St. Jerome knew both Origen’s

work and Eusebius’; he edited and added to create his own influential Liber

Interpretationis Hebraicorum Nominum. 4 Eusebius’ work was translated into

Latin and with the Hebrew Bible/Christian Old Testament, Pseudo-Philo’s work,

Eusbius’ work, and Jerome’s all available in Latin to the early medieval

interpreters of the Bible, the equation of “Jesus” with “God saves” was

firmly established.

The Hebrew Bible/Christian Old Testament contains a number of names

that the text explains their meaning, especially if there is a name change.

The authors of the New Testament picked up on this. And so did the Anglo-

Saxons. The Anglo-Saxons enjoyed word games. The Old English Riddles

demonstrate this clearly; naming conventions and the importance of names is

also evident. 5 While so far as is known there were no known Hebrew readers in

3 Philo, and Charles Duke Yonge. 1993. The works of Philo: complete and unabridged. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson

Pub. And Philo. On Flight and Finding. On the Change of Names. On Dreams. Tnslated by F. H.

Colson, G. H. Whitaker. Loeb Classical Library 275. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1934.In

addition to the train of tradition outlined subsequent to this note, this text was also translated into Latin in the Late

Antique period, and was available in Anglo-Saxon England.

4 Jerome. n.d. Liber interpretationis hebraicorum nominum. Library of Latin Texts. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers.

5 On the importance of word-play in Old English see also: Frederick Robinson, “The Significance of Names of Old

English Literature,” Anglia 86 (1968): 14–58. See also Frederick Robinson, “Some Uses of Name Meanings in Old

English Poetry,” Neuphilologishe Mitteleiungen 69 (1968): 161–71. 1. Kintgen, Eugene R. "Wordplay in The

Wanderer." Neophilologus 59 (1975): 119-27. Hall, J. R. "Perspective and Wordplay in the Old English Rune

Poem." Neophilologus 61 (1977): 453-60. Bately, Janet. "Bede and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle." Saints, Scholars

and Heroes: Studies in Medieval Culture in Honour of Charles W. Jones. Ed. Margot H. King and Wesley M.

Stevens. Collegeville, MN: HMML, Saint John's Abbey and University, 1979. 1: 233-54.Stewart, Ann Harleman.

"Inference in Socio-Historical Linguistics: the Example of Old English Word-Play." Folia Linguistica Historica 6

(1985): 63-85. Martin, Lawrence T. "Bede' s Structural Use of Wordplay as a Way to Truth." From Cloister to

Classroom. Ed. E. Rozanne Elder. Cistercian Studies 90. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, Western

Michigan University, 1986. 27-46.Wollmann, A. "Early Christian Loan-Words in Old English." Pagans and

Christians: the Interplay between Christian Latin and Traditional Germanic Cultures in Early Medieval

Europe. Ed. T. Hofstra, L. A. J. R. Houwen, and A. A. MacDonald. Mediaevalia Groningana 16. Groningen: Egbert

Forsten, 1995. 175-210.Damon, John Edward. "Disecto capite perfido: Bodily Fragmentation and Reciprocal

Violence in Anglo-Saxon England." Exemplaria 13 (2001): 399-432. Stanley, Eric Gerald. "Playing upon Words,

I." NM 102 (2001): 339-56. Stanley, Eric Gerald. "Playing upon Words, II." NM 102 (2001): 451-68.

Anglo-Saxon England, the explanation of Jesus’ name’s meaning was not lost on

Old English authors.

The locus classicus for this is Matthew 1:21. In that verse, the angel

of the Lord is appearing to Joseph in a dream and telling him that he is

about to be a father miraculously. Furthermore, the boy’s name is to be

Jesus. The Latin Vulgate reads: Páriet autem fílium : et vocábis nomen ejus

Jesum : ipse enim salvum fáciet pópulum suum a peccátis eórum. 6 To a person

reading Hebrew or Aramaic, as some posit the original readers of Matthew may

have been able to do at least on a limited basis, 7 this understanding is

somewhat obvious. The wordplay of “God saves” and “Yeshua” though is

completely lost once the text is in Greek. In fact, the Greek text does not

even attempt a linguistic connection between the name and the reason the text

gives for that name. The Greek text simply gives the verb “to save” in the

explanatory phrase and transliterates the name into “Iesous.” 8

The Latin text of the Vulgate follows the Greek text for the most part.

As in Greek, the linguistic connection between Jesus’ name and its meaning is

a connection that does not work in Latin. So once again his name is

transliterated. There is a slight difference in most Latin texts. Rather than

as in the Greek text where the name Jesus is explained with the verb “swzw”,

to save, the Latin text reads as given above contains a variation seldom

noticed, though likely not of

does show a potentially different understanding of the Christ event. 9

6 The Vulgate text is taken from: Weber, Robert, Roger Gryson, Bonifatius Fischer, Hedley Frederick Davis Sparks,

and Jean Gribomont. 2007. Biblia sacra iuxta Vulgatam versionem. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft.

7 At least since the second century Church doctrine taught that Matthew was the first gospel written and that it was

originally written in Hebrew. This derives directly from the subapostolic writer Papias, whose writings are no

extant. Several early writers, however, cite Papias’ statement, including Irenaeus of Lyons, Tertullian, and later

Eusebius of Caesarea and Jerome. Papias was a disciple of the apostle John, or so Irenaeus informs his readers, and

if true his testimony goes back to the first century. Papias states: περὶ δὲ τοῦ Ματθαῖου ταῦτ’ εἴρηται· Ματθαῖος μὲν

οὖν Ἑβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ τὰ λόγια συνετάξατο, ἡρμήνευσεν δ’ αὐτὰ ὡς ἧν δυνατὸς ἕκαστος. Concerning Matthew,

he writes: Matthew wrote the oracles of the Lord in Hebrew and each interpreted (or translated) as best

he was able.

8 τεξεται δε υιον και καλεσεις το ονομα αυτου ιησουν αυτος γαρ σωσει τον λαον αυτου απο των αμαρτιων αυτων

The grammatical structure of the Latin sentence in Matthew 1:21

encourages the Old English translator. Combine that structure with meaning

discussed above and the love of word play, and the name Hælend becomes an

obvious choice. Though late in the period when the name for Jesus, Hælend, is

already traditional, Aldred’s gloss to the Lindisfarne Gospels at Matthew

1:21 translates: “…genemne đu nama is hælend đa ilca ec forđon hal doeđ he

gegewerccas folc his.” The connection between the name Hælend and “hal” in

the next clause reflects the meaning of the name, at least as Anglo-Saxons

understood it, as well utilizes a word play between the adjective and the

past participle. Unlike the Latin and previous translations, however, the

literal meaning of the Old English is: “You will call his name Healer because

he will make his folk whole/hale/healed.” The linguistic connection between

hal and Hælend is made obvious. 10

The gospel glosses are not the only texts that make these

identifications. Ælfric of Eynsham repeats this identification often.

Catholic Homilies I.6 is one example: þæt is iesus: & on urum

gereorde hælend: for þan þe he gehælde his folc fram heora synnum. 11 The Old

English Martyrology likewise remarks on this connection. 12

These examples, however, are rather late in the history of the

Christianization of England. The change from “God saves” as the understood

name to Haelend, Healer, as the vernacular name of Jesus in Old English must

9 In addition to the Vulgate, most Vetus Latina manuscripts containing this verse also have this reading. Three

exceptions are Codex Bezae d, Codex Sangallensis δ, and Codex Bobbiensis k. These three follow the Greek text

with a verb “to save” explaining the meaning of the name.

10 London, British Library, Cotton ms. Nero D.IV fol 29v. The gloss to the Rushforth Gospels

reads: þu nemnest his noma hælend he selfe soþlice he gehæleþ folc his from hiora synnum following the secondary

reading in the Vetus Latina mentioned previously. the West Saxon Gospels at Matthew 1:21translates the Vulgate as

follows: Witodlice heo cenđ sunu ond þu nemst his name Halend. 10 The text leaves the subordinate clause out of the

equation. The West Saxon Gospel text transcribed from London, British Library, Royal ms. 1.A.XIV fol. 34r.

11 Aelfric, and Peter Clemoes. 1997. Æelfric's Catholic homilies: the first series : text. Oxford: Oxford University

Press for the Early English Text Society.


have come before it becomes so frequent in tenth and eleventh century texts.

Even the late ninth century martyrology is late for these purposes. The first

reference to Jesus as Hælend comes from the poem Dream of the Rood, line 25

where Hælendes treow, the Healer’s tree is used to describe the cross. If

then Jesus is already known by Hælend that early, the identification and use

of hal, halian, and Hælend for “saved, to save, and Savior” must have already

occurred. It is difficult to trace how early this understanding of the person

of Jesus entered into Anglo-Saxon thought since most of the early Anglo-Saxon

texts that speak of Christianity were written in Latin. Nonetheless, they may

give us some idea of how this developed.

The Venerable Bede would be a likely place to find the equation of

Latin “salvator” with Old English Hælend. Regrettably the equation is not in

Bede. Bede does discuss the meaning of Jesus’ name regularly. In his sermon

on the Naming of Jesus (Homilia I.6) Bede cites Isidore of Seville in saying:

“Iesus hebraice latine salutaris siue salvator dicitur.” 13

It is this phrase from Isidore that may have given the Anglo-Saxon

church the idea to translate “Jesus” as Hælend. Salvator is defined as a

savior, a preserver and is used by the Latin fathers, the Vulgate, and

medieval writers to translate the Greek “soter”, savior. Salutaris on the

other hand indicates health, well-being, wholeness. It is this slight

difference in semantic fields that may have suggested to the Anglo-Saxons a

somewhat different approach and understanding of Jesus.

Bede does not mention the Old English wordplay, not in his sermons on

the birth of Jesus nor on his naming. In the Commentaria in Lucam, Bede

discusses the meaning of Jesus’ name with numerology. Even though Bede is in

fact quite interested in Hebrew meanings of names and words, including Jesus

13 Bede’s homilies. “In Hebrew Jesus is called “salutaris” or “salvator” in Latin.” Isidore book 6.

and Christ in his theology, very much reading the New Testament into the Old,

he eschews delving into his native tongue. 14

Given Bede’s, and other Anglo-Saxon writers working in Latin, choice of

language, then, as well as audience, the choice of Hælend for the name of

Jesus emphasizing a healing aspect did not come from the monastic or Latin

Christological concerns. It is more probable that the choice was made for

evangelical reasons, even if suggested by Isidore’s phrase. As Bede

illustrates in his lives of Cuthbert, while the nobility received some

catechetical instruction, especially those taught Latin, the people received

little. Bede’s ideal bishop traveled his diocese teaching the lay people in

their own language as much as ministering to monks, priests, and nobility. 15

Turning to the Heliand then, the text knows the names/terms “Jesus”,

“Christ”, and the like but the poet chooses to give Jesus’ name as “Heliand”

at least at the Annunciation where Gabriel instructs Mary on the name to give

Jesus. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly is the fact that the poet calls

Jesus/Heliand the “heleandero bezt”, the best of healing men, four times

throughout the text. The only other epithet used more often is “barno bezt”,

best of children. The poet also uses the term “neriando Crist” four times as

well; nerian in Old Saxon is a word defined as “to heal.” This emphasis on

the healing power, and deeds of Jesus, illustrates the importance that

healing had for the Germanic populace during this conversion period.

In addition, the Heliand poet emphasizes the healing miracles of Jesus,

Heliand. Perry Harrison told us a year ago that the poet excises many of the

miracles recorded in the Diatesseron and chooses instead to focus on certain

miracles. Of the thirty-one miracles in Tatian’s harmony, the Heliand poet

chooses thirteen. Of that thirteen, seven deal with healing the sick or

raising the dead. Further, two of the healing miracles are sections of the

14 Damian

15 Bede’s lives; abbots of…, letter…..

epic that the poet uses to demonstrate key elements of Christology. In fitt

28, the healing of the lame man, the poet emphasizes Christ’s divinity in

terms that the ninth century would understand. In the healing of the men born

blind, the poet expands on the nature of sin and salvation. In fact, it is in

that scene too that the poet at last engages in epic address, addressing the

audience of the poem for the first and only time, as well as other epic

goodness. 16

The Heliand is important in this study in that it provides a window on

Anglo-Saxon missions not otherwise afforded to us. The Carolingians in

converting the Saxons relied heavily on Anglo-Saxon monastic foundations,

particularly that of Fulda, where the Heliand was likely written. One may

speculate that Old English biblical poems such as Genesis A and Exodus

influenced and inspired biblical literature of the Saxons, Genesis B and The

Heliand. The source text for the latter, Codex Fuldensis, spent time in

Anglo-Saxon England in the late seventh and early eighth centuries before

coming to Fulda where that version of Tatian’s Diatesseron had an influence

on readings in the Lindisfarne Gospels among other texts. 17 Certainly the term

“hælend” as the name of Jesus and which the Anglo-Saxons seem to have

invented, would have been exported to Saxony as it is not the most obvious

term to translate Latin salvator or the semantically unknown Jesus.

Briefly the Christological implications of Jesus as healer extend

beyond the healing of the body that the miracles preserved in the Heliand

would indicate. In Augustine of Hippo’s notion of sin, sin and evil are

twisted good that Christian salvation puts to rights, a hurt that needs

healing. Jesus, Healer, in these terms then makes explicable to a Saxon

audience the need for the incarnation and passion. All this without giving up

the notions of the warrior Christ, whose vicar is the king himself.

Suggesting that the king, while a warrior, is also a healer of his people,

leading very quickly to notions of the Healing touch of the King and other

Christianized sacral rolles of that king. These Christologies, the healing

warrior king, are in the forefront of The Heliand and were aids to converting

the Saxon people.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Heroic Age Issue 17

On behalf of the Heroic Age board and my co-editor, I would like to announce the first parts of Issue 17!!  That will be further explained below. We are very happy to release these well-deserving materials out to our readers.

The forgoing also means the completion of Issue 16 of the journal. Truth be told, this issue has been done for some time, and I am just getting around to announcing it.  We have two articles in the general section and two related to Alcuin along with a translation of Alcuin’s De Virtutibus et Vitiis. The issue is rounded out with two columns and book reviews.

There have been a number of changes here at HA. Brad Eden who was our book editor, and has been since the beginning of The Heroic Age, has moved on to other projects. He does so with our very great and deep thanks for all the service he has done for the journal. For a time, Thjis Porck acted as our book review editor, but he too has moved on to other projects. So we now welcome Krista Murchison of Leiden University.

In addition to book review editor, columnist John Soderberg is now an associate editor as is Heather Flowers. Melissa Ridley Elmes and Richard Scott Nokes join our editorial board.  In addition we have new columnists!  Mary Kate Hurley joins us taking over and rethinking the Babel column. Richard Ford Burley takes over the Electronic Medievalia column from Dan O’Donnell who also has moved on to other projects though remains a stalwart board member.

Looking ahead, the editorial team has decided to change our release policy. Whereas since our inception we have released whole issues as the issue has been completed, we are now moving to a model that, at least in my view, is more consistent with our open source, internet environment. Now, we will release each column, article, or review as it completes our process and is ready, called a “rolling release.” Each issue will be a calendar year. And as fortune would have it, the current issue number coincides with the century’s year: 17.  So that’s all good!

We have growing pains. We have issues with not enough hands to do the work. Both co-editors teach 4/4 loads at their respective institutions plus carry on their own research and service requirements. Some who help are graduate students trying to finish dissertations. Some are undergraduates. Some are senior scholars lending a hand.  In short, HA is an all-volunteer organization and receives no support from any institution: neither in the form of graduate assistants nor in release time for the editorial team. So any help is appreciated.

The above paragraph outlines some of the issues we have in producing the journal. We welcome any new volunteers who would like to lend a hand. We need social media people, copy editors, section editors, coders, and of course authors! Both Deanna and I are working hard to ensure that the journal begins to appear more regularly, but that depends largely on how many capable hands we have assisting us.

Throughout the rest of this calendar year, additional articles, columns, and reviews will appear under the “current issue” tab, and I will try to make announcements as each is added. We are already in the planning stages for Issue 18, so if you have something you would like to submit for that issue, now is the time to send it in.

Thank you all for your support and patronage of The Heroic Age through the years. Believe it or not, our first issue was in 1999! I would like to especially thank my longsuffering co-editor Deanna Forsman, our associate editors, Heather Flowers and John Soderberg, my production assistant, Sarah Sprouse, and one of my former students, Nicole Mentges who provided copy editing services. And thank you for reading!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Looking for Papers

Merovingians and Their Neighbors
Sponsor: The Heroic Age
Session Organizer: Deanna Forsman

Contact: Deanna Forsman North Hennepin Community College 7411 85th Ave. North Brooklyn Park, MN 55445 Phone: 763-488-0405

Recent scholarship has suggested that the political landscape of early medieval northwestern Europe owed a greater debt to the Huns, as opposed to the Romans or Germanic peoples. This session invites paper proposals that examine the Merovingian Kingdoms within the context of their relationships with their neighbors. We are particularly interested in papers that examine traditionally studied relationships from new perspectives and papers that examine little-studied interactions.

Echoes of Columbanus
Sponsors: The Heroic Age, ASIMS
Session Organizers: Deanna Forsman and James Lyttleton

The Irish ascetic Columbanus is the most famous example of the classic peregrinus: an individual who chooses a life of exile among foreigners as a form of religious devotion. Columbanus is also famous for his monastic establishments and Rule, as well as his interactions with royalty and the bishop of Rome. This session seeks to further explore the long-term influence of Columbanus in multiple venues. Papers will examine the influence of the Columbanian Rule on ascetic practice, the relationship between monastery and royalty, sources of spiritual authority, the practice of peregrinatio, etc.

Contact: Deanna Forsman North Hennepin Community College 7411 85th Ave. North Brooklyn Park, MN 55445 Phone: 763-488-0405

Monsters III: Monstrous Acts of HeroismCo-sponsors: MEARCSTAPA, The Heroic Age
Session Organizers: Deanna Forsman and Asa Simon Mittman
Contact: Asa Simon Mittman California State Univ.–Chico Dept. of Art and Art History Chico, CA 95929-0820 Phone: 530-898-6885;
Are there times when heroic acts might, from another perspective, be seen as monstrous? How are Crusader tales narrated in Muslim sources, expulsion tales in Jewish sources, battles from the losing side, slaying tales told by dragons? If we listen for the subaltern to speak, what will we hear? Can we hear the legitimate laments of Grendel's mother, or understand the actions of Lanval's fairy lover? How didretinues of “Saracen” princes perceive the oft-valorized scenes of conversion? Should we praise St. Patrick for cursing inlets and killing the local “wizards” upon his arrival in Ireland? Other saints are valorized for acts of mortification, self-mutilation, and willful starvation. What do we learn if we shift our perspectives, if we re-view these images and narratives from other angles? We invite panelists for a roundtable on “Monstrous Acts of Heroism,” and welcome analysis of surviving texts and image, as well as creative and speculative retellings of medieval tales.

Friday, September 16, 2016

A Small Bit of Self Promotion

A long, long overdue post in so many ways.  Three things:

1) I have an article that has now appeared in the summer issue of Anglia!  I'm rather pleased by this, though I still prefer my original to what was published,  but still I'm very happy about this and very proud of this article.

2) At long last my book, Aelfric's Letter to Sigeweard, is in the publisher's hands, Witan Press.  Hopefully that will appear this fall.

3) The other thing is that I am looking to move to another position if I can land one.  I should be able to, but it would be grand to teach 3/3 or even, dare I hope, 2/2 and have some time to think, research, think, and write.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Wooty Woo!!

Hey, now you can guess why I chose the ol' ruminate as the title of my blog:

Monday, May 16, 2016

Kzoo 2016

"Well, I'm back." Truly some of the saddest and most profound words to end a novel. For this post, "Well, it's over." will do just as well. And it is over. Kalamazoo 2016, the 51st International Congress on Medieval Studies is over and in the books.

 Thank you denizens of the Medieval Institute and Western Michigan University for once again putting this shebang on!! The currents of Kalamazoo pulled as they are wont to do, and I saw and caught up with old friends, other old friends I was able to shake hands with as we passed each other before the currents whisked away, still others I did not see at all. People I follow on Facebook and had yet to meet in person I still did not meet in person. But I made new friends too. And to continue my loosely Heraclitian observations, no one can have the same Congress experience twice; each is different than the last, each is a truly great experience. Our tagline should be: Congress: We work hard, We play hard, We dance hard, We clean out the book exhibit! Or something.....

 My Congress is as follows. I decided a few months ago to do something different. I decided I would fly or mostly fly. The last time I flew to Kalamazoo or even part way was 1999. I was able to find a good deal on a flight from Bemidji, MN to Midway, Chicago, and then opted for the rental car. I waited for the always delightful and wonderful Yvette Kisor who rode with me to Kalamazoo. We then, as is our way and because we were both hungry and thirsty, went to Bilbo's pizza for pizza and beer, picking up Chris Vaccaro along the way. Then Yvette convinced to do the most amazing thing: get water. Smartest thing I've for years! I bought a gallon of water for my dorm room!!! What a god send! Capital idea Yvette!! To bed, then.

 Thursday morning I was at the Sources of Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture meeting at 8:30 AM. Fred Biggs is instrumental in taking the project in a new direction and things are getting published and will be coming out! Woot!! Thursday morning's session was The Lone Medievalist round table at which I heard from others about their experiences; and from my former students who gave advice about how to form a medieval club on campus. Thursday noon was the Lone Medievalist business meeting, so we talked about the project, its future, and how to help each other. I skipped the next session to finish my paper. I have to say being chair and teaching 4/4 and everything else is really not conducive to doing good scholarly work, hence the finishing of the paper at the last nute. SIGH. Hoping to change that. Anyway, that brought me to my session at 3:30 on Manuscript Layouts of Germanic Poetry where I met and heard Rachel Burns looking at spacing and graphotactics, and Professor Awesome, known as Richard Scott Nokes in increasingly smaller circles, who looked at the dwarf charm and posited it as two charms, which would make a heck of a lot more sense. We all had pretty pictures. I like pretty pictures.

Thursday night was typical of a Congress: wine hour with colleagues, dinner with colleagues--this year at the wonderful Saffron Indian place--, and then receptions to discuss more loverly medieval stuff.

Friday, I rose, got coffee at the shop in the book exhibit and skipped the morning session to spend time shopping for books. For lunch, Wendy Hennequin and I went to Shwarma King! I love that place!! In the first afternoon session, I attended one of the Bede sessions, with three good papers that I am still digesting. I "learned" a fact there that I am embarrassed to admit I did not know, and changes some things I thought about the early 8th century. Always good. The second session of the afternoon was a bit difficult. As many know, Steven Cartwright died this past year. Steve was always generous and kind and a good scholar. He is missed. He was to preside over a session about Abelard and I was asked to take over. So,we talked about Steve, dedicated the session to him and read 3 Abelard papers. Very interesting material, and this was my "not in my field" session for the year.

 I will say something too. Steve's work should be carried on. Get in touch with Liz Teviotdale who was going to check about access to Steve's computer and work if someone would like to step forward and see it to completion.

Friday evening I attended the Anglo-Saxonist dinner for the first time in several years. I had a good seat and good company, the wine was very good and food was tasty. We were going to go to Bell's afterward, but by the time I played taxi and we got down to Bell's there was a line to get in, it was raining, and there was no parking, so we just came back to the receptions Friday.

Saturday morning after some lovely coffee, I attended the roundtable The Business of Old English which I thought was handled well and discussed important issues of the academic business side of things. Saturday lunch was at Olde Penninsula brew for the driver but I did have a loverly burger and salad. Afternoon sessions included at 1:30 The Afterlives of Bede where I heard 3 very interesting papers, including Breanne Leake whom I have at last now met face to face. The 3:30 session had me at Anglo-Saxon Law in honor of the taken way too early Lisi Oliver. Friend Bruce Gilchrist was in that one with 111 slides and even more mandibles!

Saturday evening, after a meeting of the Heroic Age minds (and possibly recruiting another set of hands in the person of David Carlton) at the wine hour, I attended the MEARCSTAPA business meeting, a more interesting and engaged set of academics would be difficult to find. Then off to my traditional Saturday night dinner and drinks at London Grill finishing the meal off with STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING. Delicious! Because we were so late getting to the restaurant, we had a wait, so we didn't get to the dance until about 10:30. But we closed the place down, and then met up with other people to continue the conviviality.

Sunday....well, I always feel guilty about Sundays. I've read Sundays, I've presided Sundays, but as much as I have good intentions, I rarely make a Sunday session. And I didn't this year either. I hadn't been in the book room save a smidge Friday morning, so I wanted to go there and look through the rest of it before the end. Another post will follow on that. For the first time ever though, I took advantage of the shipping guy and will have some of my purchases sent to me. Last but not least, I finished my Congress by having lunch with the incredible and old-friend (emphasis on friend) Dot Porter at good ol' Food Dance!

And that was it....I packed up, moved to the Radisson for the night and am now fixin' on checking out, getting brunch, and taking a leisurely drive to Midway airport. That is my Congress report 2016.

A couple of last observations: one of the things that speaks highly of our field is that making a choice of what to attend at a given session block also means NOT attending several other desirable sessions! While it is disappointing not to be able to get to everything, it speaks well about how vibrant and active we all are. Second, my generation is becoming the old guard. That is scary. I

reencountered old friends, some more deeply than others, and I made new ones. I am grateful for each and every one. I won't mention names, because undoubtedly I'd leave someone out that should be mentioned. But many offered shoulders and support for my current crises and for that I am grateful. I hope I provided the same.

I declare the 51st International Congress on Medieval Studies a success....but it won't close for awhile as all that information simmers in our brains and influences our teaching and research.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Swain's 12 Rules for Good Reviewing

 Some time ago on Facebook, I promised or at least intimated that I want to do a quick little guide to how to be a good reader for a journal. This is in part based on my own experience on both sides of the academic publishing business. As an author myself, I have been the victim of some scathing reviews of my work.  That is not to say that my work is above criticism. Nor is it to say that I have not benefited by remarks from reviewers of my work. But it is to say that when the reviewer for a journal is overly harsh, or compares a  paper to something published on a related topic by one of the largest and most significant names in the field and remarks  that the author, that is me, has a very long way to go before he will be like X.   Yes I received such a comment put far more abrasively in a review of an article that I submitted to a journal.

 Also as an editor, I have asked various people to be reviewers for articles,  and what I've received back from said reviewer I have had to  significantly tone down the language in fact rewrite the review, because the reviewer had been so unnecessarily harsh on the author.  Being hyper critical isn't the same as offering a critique.

 So with that said here is my short guide to becoming a good reviewer/reader  for a professional journal or academic publication.

 Rule I

 This is not about you! Being a reviewer is not a platform to show the world how great a scholar you are. It is not an opportunity to showcase your vast knowledge of the subject. It is not a platform  from which you can demonstrate to all and sundry how much better you are than the author of the article or book that you are reviewing. So the first rule of becoming a good review were is to check your ego at the door.

 A good reviewer puts scholarship ahead of their own individual needs. This means that when approaching an article or book for review, it is about the contents of the article or book. How it is written, how  it is constructed, does it add to the field, does it handle evidence well, is there secondary literature, and other types of important questions that we can ask about  an article.

To be a good reviewer, then, first means a very important shift: it's about the scholarship, not about your scholarship.

Rule II

It's a teaching moment.   Reviewing an article or book is not unlike assessing student work, i.e. grading.   This is an opportunity for the reviewer to teach and help the one reviewed, or the very least collaborate if the writer is someone more senior.  Suggest revisions, suggest bibliography (that is appropriate!): always approach this with the goal of building a better paper/book rather than seeing how much you can tear down.

Rule III

When suggesting revisions make certain that they are good revisions.  I had a recent reviewer tell me that an Old English word did not say what I said it did, yet every lexicon and glossary of Old English (Bosworth-Toller, DOE, etc...even the Dict of ME) agreed with me.  Before the reviewer suggests revisions, make certain that you the reviewer are actually correct!

Rule IV

When suggesting bibliography, also make certain that you know what you are talking about.  I had a reviewer reject an article for publication.  Among the reviewer's criticisms was that I had not quoted Big Name's Very Important Book nearly enough.  But, Big Name in that Very Important Book mentioned the issue my paper was addressing once, made one point on that issue and talked about it for about a page.  I cited that page, examined his point and explanation and took it apart.  It was unnecessary to cite Big Name in that book any further because he was dealing with other things not germane to my own paper.  The same reviewer also said that my paper's argument had been made by Other Big Name in Very Big Article 30 years previously, except that Other Big Name in Very Big Article never mentioned the texts I was working on nor the chronology or causation.  In short, do not do this!  If you the reviewer refers the author to bibliography, make certain the bibliography actually fits.

Along the same lines, avoid suggesting bibliography just to suggest bibliography.  Just because an article mentions Unferth but does not in fact mean the author needs to cite every article that has examined Unferth, Reviewers should always ask themselves the question whether the bibliography they want to suggest is actually necessary to the paper's argument and examination, or is it just a case of "my bib is bigger than your bib."

Rule V

If you accept an assignment to review, make sure you actually can.  I have committed this sin far too many times.  A recent book review I am ashamed to admit took me a year and a half to kept getting in the way.  On the other hand, as an editor I've had to chase down reviewers all too often too.
We all have a tendency to view what we can do with optimism...thinking we can do more than we really can. And life has a way of throwing us curveballs...and I for one am rarely prepared for the sudden curve ball of having so much to do suddenly that I had not planned on.

All that said means have a care when volunteering.  Don't be a Larry.

Rule VI

Do not take the opportunity of double blind or anonymous reviewing as an opportunity to be snarky and rude.  Like the now ancient cartoon, "On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog."

It is easy to be high and mighty and look down one's nose at a paper or book and be absolutely snarky about it with no consequences whatsoever.  This is, however, not only rude and unprofessional, but extremely unhelpful.  I am not saying, to quote Thumper, "if you can't say something nice, don't say nothin' at all."  A review, after all, is an assessment, and sometimes that means being negative (this is circular reasoning, a non sequitur, etc).  But when comments like this need to be made, use a professional voice, not a snarky one....and refer back to Rule I.

Rule VII

Write reviews that you would like to receive.  I suppose one could say that upon this rule hang all the others.


The worst or best rejection I have ever received was "Great paper" accompanied by a rejection.  This still puzzles me: why the rejection?  Do both the editors and the author a favor and be specific on why suggesting rejection or revisions.  If you don't, then the editor has to deal with distraught author and that eats up editor's time.

Rule IX

If the submission needs cleaning up, (typos, grammar errors, citation errors) simply say so with a few examples of the problem rather than a list of everything.  This makes everyone's life more pleasant.

Rule X

Along with Rule V above, do not undertake a review that you have no or little expertise in.  If one has to study to be able to do a good review, then really the reviewer is doing a disservice rather than a service.  So if asked to do a review, be honest if it is not within your expertise areas.

Rule XI

This should go without saying, but I'll say it anyhow.  Um, the reviewer should actually read the submission....more than once is desirable.  Do not turn in a review that is based on having not read or only partially read or merely skimmed the piece.

Rule XII

Stick to the major issues!  It is easy to discuss at length a minor point in the submission, but if it isn't a major issue, touch on it lightly or not at all.  The devil is not in the details on this one.

Keep in mind that doing reviews has a dual audience and dual purpose.  First, the review and reviewer is collaborating with the editor(s) and helping the editor make a decision about the manuscript.  Second, the review is to aid the author in improving the manuscript.

As a last comment, this is about you.  No, I'm not changing my mind about Rule I!  What I mean is that the best reviewers are those who approach doing a review as a learning opportunity for him/herself as much as a service opportunity to the editor/journal/press/field and a teaching opportunity for the author.  But for yourself as a reviewer, be ready to learn.

Additional thoughts are welcome in the comments!!