The Medieval Review 13.03.04

McWilliams, Stuart. Saints and Scholars: New Perspectives on Anglo-Saxon Literature and Culture in Honour of Hugh Magennis. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2012. Pp. vii, 288. $99.00. ISBN: 9781843843030. . .

Reviewed by:

Scott Gwara
University of South Carolina
GWARAS@mailbox.sc.edu

This immaculately edited, exceptionally erudite, and handsome homage volume on Anglo-Saxon subjects offers an Introduction, sixteen original essays, two poems, and a bibliography of publications written by its honoree, Professor Hugh Magennis. Having contributed lasting scholarship on Old English hagiography, Aelfric studies, literary representations of community (especially feasting and drinking), the translation history of Beowulf, and Old English language generally, Magennis is praised for recognizing that "Old English has never lost its vitality" (1). In his Introduction McWilliams situates these newly gathered contributions relative to Magennis's own academic interests and professional leadership.

Elaine Treharne discusses the "Life of St Margaret" in Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 303, a potentially Anselmian post-Conquest text (ca. 1150). No specific Latin source can be identified for this saintly vita, in which sensual awareness as much as physical engagement (in prayer, reading, etc.) convey the Christian experience of divine presence. Incongruous descriptions--the dragon is both "exotic and glorious...horrifying and grotesque" (11)--evoke an imaginative presence, and correspondingly heighten one's experience of it. By contrast, Treharne finds that a "loss of...sentient faculties" leads to a moral blindness analogous to damnation. Treharne persuasively contextualizes this emotional empathy in twelfth-century spirituality.

Concerned with illustrations in the Old English Hexateuch (London, British Library MS Cotton Claudius B.iv), Jonathan Wilcox explores textual versus visual sexuality in the Tamar episode, and male weeping in the story of Joseph and his brothers. While suppressing the imaginative evocation of Onan's masturbation, Tamar's scene with Judah (her father-in-law) is subtly erotic, as the staff extending from Judah "penetrates" the arm-ring he has just bestowed on Tamar. Wilcox then diagnoses the emotional tensions in the story of Joseph, concluding that a depiction of a powerful leader's private weeping in a public space may indicate "apparent friendliness and underlying suspicion" (27). Observing the substitution of OE beorclyfa "beer-hall" in Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 201 for OE beddclyfa "bed-chamber" in Claudius B.iv, Wilcox brilliantly implicates warrior reticence in a scene setting vengeance against forgiveness.

Juliet Mullins profitably turns to the sources of Aldhelm's prose treatise on virginity in a clever analysis of the saints treated there. While most appear in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum, at least one curious omission is St. Anastasius. Mullins proposes a link to the Eucharistic prayers of Franco-Irish sacramentaries, which replicate Aldhelm's order of saints: "Felicity, Anastasia, Agatha, Lucia." More innovative is Aldhelm's sequence of male saints, which arguably derives from formulas of the Eastern liturgy. With its oriental origins, the litany, too, might supply another structuring principle of the De virginitate. An implicit dissemination of such texts through Theodore (of Tarsus) and Hadrian bolsters Mullins' deductions.

Robert Upchurch's analysis of Cambridge, University Library MS Gg.3.28 presents "Aelfric's vision of reformed pastors and pastoral care between c. 995 and c. 1000" (55). An excellent, balanced introduction to the subject, this contribution intuits multiple audiences for the homilies, "interested in sources, aware of scriptural variation, and sufficiently periti ('learned') to require an apology for a simplified explanation" (60). Aelfric contrasts monastic and secular clergy, asserting similar, if slightly less stringent, expectations for secular vocations. In fact, Upchurch notes the convergence of monastic versus secular identities in Aelfric's understanding of pastoral care, even in light of monastic seclusion. OE lareow "teacher" occurs with terms for priest in contexts suggesting that the pastoral missions of baptism, preaching, and confession are just as educational as they are sacramental. Upchurch confesses that his analysis of Gg.3.28 exposes a theoretical outlook rather than a "programme of pastoral care" (74), but he cannot be faulted for this outstanding synopsis.

Focusing on Vercelli Homily VII, which forms part of an Advent group within the Vercelli homilies, Jane Roberts uncovers and explicates the intertext of Dives and Lazarus (Lc 16.19-31). Samantha Zacher has lately identified the source of Vercelli VII in a Chrysostom homily, and Roberts shows how Aelfric references the Dives narrative. Rather than eliminating difficult Latin formulations, the homilist shapes his work, Roberts concludes, in light of the Lucan parable. Originally composed for the second Sunday of Pentecost, this homily urges moderation in its reflection on the dichotomy of gluttony (OE oferfyll) and hunger (OE hunger).

The transvestite saint Eugenia is the subject of E. Gordon Whatley's hagiographical study. Identifying a "patina of historicity" (92) in Eugenia's legend, Whatley underscores key parallels with Thecla's vita, noting even the transposition of Thecla's ordeals to events of Eugenia's Passio. This detailed analysis reveals the narrative construction of Eugenia's biography from other congruent sources, including those found in Rufinus's Historia monachorum. Yet Whatley proves the ingenuity of the borrowings for Eugenia's legend. Illustrating a dependence on the biblical episode of Joseph and Potiphar's wife, Whatley goes on to adduce analogues to Melantia--who falls in love with Eugenia while the saint is disguised as a monk. Eugenia's profile as a medicus evokes Agnodice and Phryne in secular pre-Christian fabulae authored by Hyginus. Disguising herself as a man to learn medicine, Agnodice lifts her skirts to prove her innocence as a seducer (like Eugenia baring her breasts), while the prostitute Phryne, again like Eugenia, exposes herself in court. By these parallels among many others Whatley provides a rich context for the composition of Eugenia's vita.

In a study of Aelfric's homily XXXVI In Natale Plurimorum Apostolorum from the second series of Catholic Homilies, Joyce Hill elucidates why the text should appear among regulatory materials (now Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 190 partes A, B) compiled, annotated, and edited by Leofric, bishop of Exeter. The absence of a title in five of six copies of this homily suggests to Hill a flexible, non-liturgical ("anodyne") use. Hill accepts Godden's position that Aelfric extended homily XXXV In Natale Unius Apostoli from the second series of Catholic Homilies. The lesson there from Io 15.12-16 is found widely. The source of homily XXVI as well as its lesson from Lc 10.1-7 come from Gregory the Great's seventeenth homily on the Gospels. Aelfric's adaptation differs considerably, however, and following an exceptional analysis of Gregory's treatment, Hill finds emphases on the "well-being of the secular church" (116) and "the proper conduct of teaching and preaching" (117). Leofric incorporated it into a regulatory compendium, Hill sensibly concludes, because its message affirmed his reformist principles.

In a compelling analysis of the mythology surrounding Kind Alfred's educational "program," Malcolm Godden torpedoes long-standing deductions. After delineating implicit chronologies for Alfred's vernacular and Latin literacy, he reinterprets a fundamental passage from Asser's "Life of King Alfred": "Nam primo illo tempore scripto, confestim legere et in Saxonica lingua interpretari, atque inde perplures instituere studuit." Latin legere and interpretari convey that Alfred "reads" and "construes" passages that Asser has copied into the king's Enchiridion (a personal notebook)--not that Alfred instantly translates Latin. Furthermore, the phrase perplures instituere means "to set down many more flosculi"--"excerpts" that Asser has added to a newly prepared quire--not that Alfred proposes to teach others this newfound literacy. Exploring neglected parallels between Alfred's preface to the Old English Pastoral Care, Asser's "Life of King Alfred," Einhard's "Life of Charlemagne," and a letter from Fulk of Reims, Godden finds differences in the understanding of "foreigners" and their influence on policy. Asser ultimately fabricates a legendary account of the king's education, pedagogical mission, and importation of foreign intellectuals.

Mary Clayton's rigorous essay traces the influence of the seventh- century Hiberno-Latin De duodecim abusivis, especially its sixth abuse on the "dominus sine virtute" (astutely analyzed) and its ninth on the unjust king. Surviving in over 400 manuscripts, the two primary recensions of this text inflected theoretical perceptions of kingship in pre-Conquest England. Letters by Boniface, Cathwulf, and Alcuin, the first Anglo-Saxon coronation ordo (ca. 850), Oda's Constitutiones, the so called "Promissio regis," Wulfstan's Institutes of Polity, and a full translation by Aelfric, as well as references in his homilies, saints' lives, and Grammar disclose the contexts in which De duodecim abusivis circulated. The Aelfrician contexts receive a generous and sensitive analysis in which Clayton identifies a criticism of resolve among the king and witan. In his own translation Aelfric's focus on "justice rather than wisdom" (159) reveals the responsibilities of "pastoral kingship" (160).

Practices of fasting are surveyed Christina Lee's comprehensive handling of multiple authorities, including Patristic sources, penitentials, monastic rules, saintly vitae, and the vernacular poem, "Seasons for Fasting." Observing that ascetic fasting was discouraged in the period, Lee shows how moderation retrained consumption. Especially in the later, Reform period, and for Aelfric in particular, such restraint evinced obedience, for community regulations dictated the terms of abstention. Interestingly, Lee considers female self-restraint, which controls libido, noting the absence of the hunger strike (my term) common in Irish sources, where starvation was meant to elicit divine favor. As much as feasting, then, fasting was communal, a social as well as religious custom.

Elizabeth Okasha brings a comprehensive understanding of Anglo-Saxon metalwork to the now-famous inscribed strip of the Staffordshire Hoard. Defining the term "strip" precisely, she identifies eight other such objects with inscriptions. Coming from Numbers 10.35 (or Psalm 67.2, less likely), the Staffordshire legend reads, "Surge, domine, disepentur inimici tui et fugent qui oderunt te a facie tua." A clear parallel emerges in the York helmet, with its liturgical formulation, "In nomine domini nostri iesu sancti spiritus dei et omnibus decemus amen oshere christi." This pair of inscriptions coincides in language, date, and text, and the texts are repeated in both instances. Okasha concludes that, since the Staffordshire strip is not curved, it must have been intended for a reliquary, shrine, or cross carried in battle. The verse from Numbers identifies the Ark of the Covenant in similar terms. She calls the strip "a symbol of divine help and protection on the battlefield" (194).

In a penetrating article on the twelve "nights" of Christmas, Marilina Cesario delves into Old English prognostics, a genre that Roy Liuzza and L. S. Chardonnens have studied with considerable insight. Supplying an (Old English) edition and translation of these sunshine prognostics in Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Hatton 115 (with variants from Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 391), Cesario alleges the largely "auspicious function of the sun" (199). This learned analysis includes transmissional evidence, as well as Latin parallels and Middle English analogues from an unstudied Longleat manuscript. The prognostics are fully collated in an appendix. Cesario concludes that these divinations, like so many others from pre-Conquest England, circulated as booklets among a "learned and ecclesiastical readership" (208).

Focusing on OE hleahtor "laughter" and OE leahter "sin," Donald Scragg examines the loss of initial h in late Old English vocables beginning hl-, hn-, and hr-. Scragg proposes that h was no longer expressed in such words, for the letter is omitted when justified, and added when unjustified, in texts dating from ca. 960. While Aelfric never uses OE hleahtor for "laughter," Scragg finds inorganic hleahtras in three Aelfrician copies of an Ascension homily from the first series of Catholic Homilies. This orthography may have originated at Cerne Abbas, though two of the three sources have connections to Worcester. A Palm Sunday homily has hleahtrum, but this is hard to interpret. In fact, most confounding is unhistoric h- fourteen more times in Hand 1 of the Worcester manuscript, London, British Library MS Royal C.xii. These have been systematically erased. Scragg ingeniously concludes that "readers in the period of Aelfric...read as we do, by absorbing word-pictures within the wider context of sentences and paragraphs" (223).

Mary Swann turns to a related reading activity--glossing--in an examination of London, Cotton Faustina A.x, Aelfric's Grammar and Glossary, an Old English translation of the Benedictine Rule, and "King Edgar's Establishment of the Monasteries." While Melinda Menzer has brilliantly intuited a focus on language instruction for this manuscript, Swann discloses a broader relevance. Psalm verses drawn from the Vulgate suggest rumination on the vernacular, recalling "texts from a mental library," a habit of monastic and scribal practice.

Perhaps in appreciation of Magennis's recent scholarship on Beowulf translation, Chris Jones unearths evidence for Old English instruction in universities and schools. Old English in the American academy spread from the University of Virginia, but John Seely Hart taught the subject at Central High School, Philadelphia, from 1850 (243). In England Sir James Murray taught Old English at Hawick Academy and sought to publish a textbook. Reverend William Barnes authored texts with Old English emphases from 1829, culminating in Se Gefylsta, an 1849 primer on Old English for school children that included excerpts and a glossary. Jones offers enlightening new perspectives on Barnes's educational program and linguistic rigor, as well as the cultural expectations of English language purity. Curiously, Oxford professor John Earle published a similar grammar for young readers in 1866, apparently attempting to consolidate an incipient appeal. Looking back on this "road not taken," Jones cautiously anticipates continued Old English instruction.

In their joint submission on medieval scholarship and the creative imagination, John J. Thompson and Ivan Herbison use Old English verse (Beowulf, "Caedmon's Hymn") to highlight "Anglophone heritage and identity" (255) for the (predominantly Irish) poets coming of age during Magennis's career. A new book called The Word Exchange presents 123 original translations of Old English poems by 74 poets, twenty of them Irish. Apparently, the success of Seamus Heaney's remarkable translation of Beowulf has made Old English...fashionable. Reflection on the training offered by John Braidwood at Queen's University before Magennis evokes an undergraduate truism: Old English is alien, difficult, and rewarding. Recalling both Germanic and Irish sources, evocative poems by Medbh McGuckian ("The Honey Vision: A Lament") and Ciaran Carson ("The Scholar") document the influence of medieval learning on modern verse. Correspondingly, these poems impart the literary community's respect for Magennis, his influential teaching, his sensitivity to medieval parlance, and his own creative scholarship.

Stuart McWilliams has edited this volume so judiciously that each contribution echoes Magennis's versatility, erudition, and urbanity. An account of the book's thematic subjects would include the interplay of Latin and vernacular, the relevance of source studies, the cultural enrichments (or distortions) of translation, the philological foundations of persuasive argument, and the exercise of linguistic sympathy in analysis. In scope as much as rigor, then, Saints and Scholars has both honored Magennis and extended his professional achievement.