Sunday, June 29, 2008

Medieval Literature I Didn't Know 1.b

Finally, I'd like to get around to answering Jonathan Jarrett's statements on my Original Post. Jonathan points out: "Brandon and Prof. Muhlberger, I guess what Larry is guiding us towards is a suggestion that the `others' here are the new Danish rulers of the period 1016-42. I could imagine anyone looking at Harold Harefoot's court in this frame would have thought things had come to a pretty pass."

Well, not steering toward, but at least trying to entertain as a possible interpretation of the poem. One of the things (more in a subsequent post) that the poem does is uphold Set A (Bede, Aelfric, those saints/monks) against the "Now" in which teaching the people is not done. Certainly after the Benedictine Reform petered out (Wulfstan notwithstanding) with the new Viking kingdom etc, that description fits pretty much anything after that point.

Note that the emphasis is on TEACHING, what was being taught in terms of Christendom. The contrast and emphasis falls on "those guys taught the people in English vs. these guys now do not teach the people [at all]". Thus, the emphasis is not one of LANGUAGE, it isn't the language sermons are delivered in that has changed, but the existence of teaching vs. the nonexistence of teaching. One might even read the line that mentions the English language as saying "These taught the people (even) in English". There certainly seems a decline of Christian teaching as Aethelred's reign draws to a close and we go into Cnut and following.

Jonathan continues: The Æfric/Alcuin thing is a weirdness too; it might be argued that it reflects confusion, suggesting a later date, or maybe one could say that the author knew of Charlemagne's court's habit of learned Biblical by-names for the court scholars and had mockingly or affectionately assigned Æfric a learned Carolingian by-name...

That's a good point, but I've become convinced by my own argument I think. Since last week I've taken a look at the beginning of the text of the OE translation of the Interrogationes. Aelfric starts by describing Alcuin and the text. It would be easy for a reader to think that the preamble about Alcuin applied to the "translator" since the prologue in the Worcester copy doesn't mention Alcuin in a historical context nor that the original was a Latin text. The original poet simply misunderstood.

Jonathan continues: What I'm getting at is, are there any contents which could not be assigned happily to a pre-Conquest date? As it stans it seems to be a copy of a pre-Conquest MS, so you have questions of use and audience several times, original poem, first gathering, recopying by the Tremulous one. Worcester all the way? I could believe in a Worcester self-image as the last redout of learning in a vulgar age, somehow, but for all that time? Or is the piece just lucky enough to be foudn by someone sympathetic every now and then? I love these sorts of questions, even when they have no answers...

Not that I know of: what remains of the manuscript is extremely fragmentary, and only a few leaves have all their text. The three identifiable texts are the Grammar and Glossary, our poem, and the Soul and Body poem, anything else remaining is so fragmentary that it has not been identified. So yes, use, audience, survival of Old English into such a late period, and what the Tremulous Hand was up to....apparently he felt comfortable enough with English earlier than his time to take on early works and one might surmise that this manuscript represents works in Old English he thought worthy to copy. But of the 3, two seem to be pre-1066, suggesting a strong possibility, though not absolute, that the third might be as well.

More anon....great questions folks, and thanks!

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