Sunday, September 20, 2009

An Embarrassing Compliment and a New Bleg

Well, trying to complete two papers and prepare for the job market, so posting, answering emails and the like have taken a back seat. But I had an winsome embarrassment recently I thought I'd post.

I have a friend earning her PhD at a foreign uni thousands of miles away. I do not know her adviser or this adviser's work. But my friend is doing a chapter on Aelfric....and adviser suggested that she look up this Larry Swain fellow who has done some work on Aelfric recently.....which cracked my friend up...I mean, she was in my wedding! It made me laugh too, but nervously. How did someone whom I do not know in a country I've never visited hear about work I've not published? Sadly, I doubt that my dissertation on Aelfric will stand scrutiny from real scholars; I'd like to think I can do much better in future (I suppose most of us had or have that feeling). At the same time that I want to run and hide my diss from public view, I'm also a bit chuffed that a scholar in a foreign country whom I do not otherwise know has heard of celebrity, any press is good press?

On the bleg side of things, I'm compiling a list of important manuscripts and inscriptions from the early medieval period, 400-1100. What do you folks think are the most important items in that category?

Monday, September 07, 2009

Things Keeping Me Busy

Hello. Its been a bit since I've updated. I do have a few things in the drafts, but life has been interrupted by the need to complete a long overdue paper for a collection and write a second for another collection due VERY VERY SOON plus some other projects hanging out there--not to mention Heroic Age 13, papers coming for HA 14 and 15, Congress 2010 abstract, Years Work in Old English Studies reading and writing, and the beginning of the school year. I thought I'd share abstracts on a few of the things I've been working on, in no particular order of importance or due date.

The Wundenlocc Maid and the Head in the Bag

The Old English poem Judith has been debated in the last quarter century as to what it might mean and how it should be read. Many have read the poem, particularly the decapitation scene, as a statement about gender, or women in society, or as sexual. Others have read the poem as a Christian allegory based on popular exegesis of the biblical Judith. Others have puzzled about the fusion of the heroic and Christian in the poem. By examining some of the vocabulary, some analogues, and the poet's word-play in the decapitation scene, this paper seeks to demonstrate that the Judith poem belongs in the heroic genre and does not support a gendered, sexual, allegorical reading.

Whose Text for Whom?

The purpose of this paper is to explore the scribes and audiences of the Aelfric of Eynsham's Letter to Sigeweard. From the date of Aelfric's original letter, circa 1005, through to the early 17th century, there is evidence of scribal activity and of the many different types of audiences of this letter. This paper explores the scribes and their practices in the manuscript copies and editions from the 11th to the 17th centuries, attempts to determine where possible the purposes for preservation of the letter, and seeks to observe any and all evidence of the intended audiences of each stage of preservation and use of the letter.

(This is a reshaping of large parts of chapter 3 with some sections of chapter 2 from the ol' diss).

Cynewulf's Catalog of Charismata in Christ II

I don't think the editors of the volume read this blog, but I'm working on the gifts Christ gives in Christ II...I have a great deal of information that hasn't been adduced before, but I'm still working on just where this puppy is going other than giving gobs of info.

Texts of Terror: Vita S. Edmundi and Judith as Responses to the 10th Century Vikings

The late tenth century saw the production of the majority of the literature that survives from the period, or the copying of older literature into the current manuscript contexts. The period also witnessed the return of the Vikings in force beginning in 980 and almost constantly from 992 onwards until 1016 and the reign of Knut. There are several saints’ tales and scriptural translations that survive from this period that include a beheading as a central moment in the narrative. Two of those stories are the Vita S. Edmundi, the story of the East Anglian king who lost his head willingly to the Vikings in a Christ-like self-sacrifice, and the poetic adaptation of the biblical book Judith into an old English heroic poem, a story of the beleaguered people of God attacked by a heathen foe delivered in the poem by the agent of God, Judith who beheads the leader of the enemy.

These two stories have very different presentations of how the English should respond to the Viking incursions. The Vita, its Latin form written by Abbo of Fleury while he was in England at the behest of St. Dunstan, suggests a holy acquiescence and acceptance of the events, emphasizing the saint’s holiness and prayerfulness through his passion.

The Judith poem presents a much different approach. The poem departs from the Biblical source in significant ways, including deemphasizing Judith’s sexuality, and increasing the black and white tension between a fully evil Holofernes and a holy Judith. The latter takes advantage of the sins of the former and kills him; the poet takes the opportunity to introduce into his poem a long battle scene that is not in his source with the result that the heathen enemy is routed.

Ælfric of Eynsham included a translation of the Vita in his Lives of Saints in the 990s, and also had paraphrased the biblical book in a sermon to a group of nuns c. 1002-05, remarking that Judith was an example of holiness. However, circa 1005-06 Ælfric also wrote to a local nobleman that Judith also was an example for Anglo-Saxons to fight against the heathen foe.

It is possible, perhaps even likely, that Ælfric knew the poem. But even if he did not, his comment demonstrates that there was current an understanding of Judith that is presented in the poem: armed resistance to the heathen enemy by God’s people.

Thus, in the Benedictine Reform movement of the late tenth century, there exists two very different approaches advocated as responses to the Vikings. One of those is compliance and acceptance perhaps even of death based in a local saint’s tradition. The other is based in a poetic treatment of the Biblical text and the poem, like Beowulf whose manuscript the Judith poem shares, that advocates resistance to unbelieving monsters. It is this tension that this paper explores.

Redeeming the British: The British Other in Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale

In this tale, Chaucer relates a version of the story of Constance, daughter of the Roman Emperor, married off to the Sultan of Syria who is martyred, cast on the ocean and is brought to Northumbria where she eventually marries King Alla and has a son, only to once again be cast upon the ocean to fall into a pagan land and eventually find safety and be reunited with Alla her now Christian husband.

In contrast to his sources, and his friend John Gower and his version of the tale, Chaucer makes several references to the British and British Christians in his vision of early Anglo-Saxon Northumbria. The purpose of this paper is to explore why Chaucer does this and to argue that there's politics afoot in his redemption of the British Christians from the negative portrayal he knows from Bede and Gildas.

(First, a nod to Karl Steele who pointed this out on ITM months ago and on which I have written a little in recent months, though my posts have so far been in reaction Jeffery Cohen's response to my initial responses to Karl.)

I've been working on a post regarding some elements of peer review and academic publishing, but I've not the time to really work on it for a week or two, so this will have to do.