contributor.author: Lilla Kopár

title.none: Anlezark, Water and Fire (Lilla Kopár)

identifier.other: baj9928.0801.010 08.01.10

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Lilla Kopár, Catholic University of America, kopar@cua.edu

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Anlezark, Daniel. Water and Fire: The Myth of the Flood in Anglo-Saxon England. Manchester: Manchester University Press, distr. by Palgrave Macmilan, 2006. Pp. x, 398. $74.95 (hb) 0-7190-6398-1. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.01.10

Anlezark, Daniel. Water and Fire: The Myth of the Flood in Anglo-Saxon England. Manchester: Manchester University Press, distr. by Palgrave Macmilan, 2006. Pp. x, 398. $74.95 (hb) 0-7190-6398-1. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Lilla Kopár
Catholic University of America
kopar@cua.edu

The biblical story of the Flood is one of the key moments in Christian history. Not only is it an event of universal significance that established a new beginning in the relationship between men and God, but it has also provided fertile soil for exegesis from the literal to the allegorical levels, and became an evergreen motif in literature and art. The story of Noah and the Flood was imported into Anglo-Saxon England with the coming of Christianity in the late sixth century and, according to Daniel Anlezark's persuasive argument, it became a crucial narrative for the Anglo-Saxons to understand their own place in salvation history. Anlezark's monograph meticulously traces every single example of the occurrence of the Flood motif, obvious and less obvious, in Anglo-Saxon textual sources, from exegetical commentaries to letters, genealogies, historical narratives, and poetry. He discusses the changing models that the narrative of the ancient Flood and its apocalyptic counterpart, the flood of fire, offered for the Anglo-Saxons from the Bedan period of ecclesiastical consolidation through the first Viking attacks to the age of apocalyptic fear in the early eleventh century.

After a general-though rather dense-theoretical introduction (which still bears the taste of the carefully backed-up dissertation out of which the monograph grew), the book is divided into six chapters. Chapter one discusses the place of the Flood narrative in the Bible and its patristic interpretations in order to shed light on its reception in the Anglo-Saxon sources and the Anglo-Saxons' respect of and reliance on the Fathers of the Church.

Chapter two considers the Venerable Bede's views on Noah and the Flood and offers a series of close readings of In Genesin and other Bedan commentaries (with lengthy quotations in Latin and Modern English translation on almost every page). Bede's frequent and detailed treatment of the Flood allows the author to discuss virtually every key concept of Christian exegesis and Bede's views thereof (the structure of Church, baptism, salvation history, the role of the elect, eschatology) as well as his interest in numerology, the scientific nature of heaven, and the threat of various heresies. Bede relies heavily on earlier exegetical traditions, particularly the Fathers of the Church, except for their idea of Noah as a preacher, which he rejects. The story of the Flood proves to be a treasure trove for the resourceful exegete and scholar of Jarrow and Anlezark's discussion reveals the true nature of Bede and his writings. However, it is hard to disentangle the single threads of the colorful exegetical textile of Bede. Though the chapter's subdivisions are useful, a stricter line of argumentation and analysis, and a limit on the number of verbatim quotes from Bede's numerous and sometimes repetitive mentioning of the theme of the Flood, would have offered more guidance to the reader.

Chapter three is devoted to the post-Bedan reception of the Flood story, both strictly orthodox and less so. With the coming of the Vikings, and in their wake a rising apocalyptic sentiment, Noah and the Flood narrative gained new significance and offered new ways of understanding the contemporary history of the Anglo-Saxons. In the context of pressing apocalypticism, which heavily exploited the ancient Flood and the eschatological flood of fire, the author discusses two little-known homilies on the heterodox "Sunday Letter" (concerning the consequences of failed sabbatical observances) and the related story of the ninth-century Irish deacon Niall, whose vision, which attempted to validate the divine origin of the letter, was recorded in the (now lost) book of Pehtred. The two related homilies elaborate on the role of Noah as apocalyptic preacher (contradicting Bede) and predict the imminent coming of the flood of fire. The apocalyptic fear in ninth-century England is further evidenced by the 839 entry in the Annals of St-Bertin recounting a similar (or possibly the same) vision. In the wake of the Viking attacks, a new understanding of the role of the ruler, both secular and ecclesiastical, developed in which the ruler was to be a leader of his nation or community in penitence-an idea addressed in Alcuin's letters and internalized and elaborated on by King Alfred. In this context the Flood myth also gained a new emphasis as an archetypal battle between the rebellious and foolish giants (signifying wicked and foolish rulers) and their Creator, which would ultimately result in punishment and destruction. Alfred's allusions to Germanic legend and his interest in the classical myth of the Titans is indicative of the expansion of the biblical narrative to include alternative historical traditions-an attempt also evident in contemporary royal genealogies. The classical parallel of the Titans' war allows for a recasting of the Flood narrative as a battle between heaven and earth, an idea which is also found in the Old English poetic records (see below). In the context of the Benedictine reform-itself a response to a contemporary need for guidance and hope-it is not surprising to see Aelfric's carefully orthodox response to the less orthodox tradition of interpretation of the Flood in the Sunday Letter homilies.

The integration of the Flood myth into Anglo-Saxon culture is best demonstrated in the numerous allusions to it in Old English poetry. In chapter four Anlezark examines three narrative poems in which the Flood theme is given special prominence: Genesis A, Exodus, and Andreas. While the references in the first two poems are obvious, in Andreas neither Noah or the Flood are mentioned explicitly, but rather they are alluded to typologically in the structure of the poem. All three poems share a focus on the themes of covenant (as form of social and familial obligation) and apocalypse, both of which originate in and emerge from the interpretation of the Flood narrative. In contrast to homiletic treatments, the poetic treatment of the Flood raises the biblical story to the level of a cosmic battle. These poems represent various degrees of recasting the Flood narrative in Germanic heroic terms, according to which God features as a powerful war-leader forging a new covenant or pledge (OE waer) after having been victorious with his water-army. The exploration of the use of the term waer and its cultural implications are excellent, and Anlezark's detailed observations on the three texts, based on a painstakingly careful study of vocabulary, are thought-provoking (although not always new). In the overall presentation of the findings, however, the details sometimes overshadow the main line of argumentation, leaving the reader wishing to see land in the flood of quotes.

Chapter five takes us into the realm of genealogies and explores the West Saxons' creative introduction of an apocryphal ark-born son of Noah (usually called Sceaf). Sceaf was the link by which native traditions could be integrated into the biblical past in order to create a place for the Anglo-Saxons in salvation history. The author convincingly rejects Thomas Hill's argument that the apocryphal ark-born son of Noah came from Pseudo-Methodius, and suggests that it was introduced by Archbishop Theodore from a Syrian tradition. In spite of the careful treatment of the subject in Christian terms, the argument has a minor short-coming. Besides a brief mention on page 281, in the discussion of Sceaf there is no mention of the Indo-European origins and parallels of the myth of the archetypal, sea-born founder of nations. The picture can hardly be complete without considering the native traditions of genealogies, particularly after having acknowledged Alfred's and his contemporaries' particular interest in harmonizing Germanic and classical legendary accounts with Christian biblical history.

There is no doubt that chapter six on Beowulf is the book's real tour de force-here is where Anlezark's wit and philological accuracy shine most clearly. His argument that Beowulf demonstrates an interest in the relationship between the mythic biblical past, Germanic legend, and national history fashioned on the core narrative if the Flood is well grounded in and supported by the evidence presented in the previous chapters. In a series of sub-sections the author examines various uses of and (obvious and less obvious) allusions to the Flood motif throughout Beowulf, discussing, among others, various references to giants, the Grendelkin and their underworldly abode, the dragon, and the closing scene of Beowulf's death. He also discusses two relevant textual parallels. Elements of Beowulf's encounter with the dragon recall Andreas, and Anlezark shows how these parallels are grounded in the typological imagery of the Flood, as well as in textual borrowings and allusions on the part of the Andreas poet. Anlezark also points out numerous curious parallels between Beowulf and Solomon and Saturn II. He suggests that the two texts share not only a common intellectual milieu but also a common textual tradition based on their shared debt to a (now lost) insular Visio Pauli. The close connection between the texts has implications for the dating of Beowulf: if Solomon and Saturn II is dated to the Alfredian or immediately post-Alfredian period, then the Beowulf poem (at least in its present form) should be around that date too. This view is supported by the infusion of Germanic mythological characters into contemporary Wessex royal genealogies via Noah's apocryphal fourth son, which is reminiscent of the fusion of historical traditions via the Flood myth apparent in the two poems. The promise of salvation in the Flood story offered salvation to the Anglo-Saxons, and furthermore to all Germanic peoples by virtue of their shared origins.

This otherwise powerfully argued chapter has two minor shortcomings. Considering the crucial role of the giants in Norse mythology, particularly in the context of creation and eschatology, a discussion of the origins and understanding of the race of giants in Beowulf and Solomon and Saturn II can hardly be complete without considering the native Germanic inheritance (in spite of all the limitations of the Old Norse-Icelandic sources in an Anglo-Saxon context). This is particularly the case because, according to the author's own argument, these texts clearly reflect an interest in combining and harmonizing different cultural traditions in order to create a unified mythological past. A glimpse at the Germanic origin of the race of giants would thus have helped to fully contextualize the texts. (A recent monograph on the subject is Katja Schultz, Riesen. Heidelberg: Winter, 2004.) The other shortcoming (which in fact applies to the book as a whole) is the lack of consideration of contemporary visual representations. In discussing the lair of the Grendelkin as a reference to Hell, a longer discussion of the rich and inventive insular iconography of Hell (beyond a brief reference to the Utrecht and Harley Psalters on pages 322-323) would have been fruitful.

Anlezark's book is a response to a long-standing scholarly interest in the Flood narrative, both in a general Western European cultural context and in specific Old English texts. It is the first monograph on the subject in Anglo-Saxon studies, and thus a unique and creative undertaking of a scholar who clearly demonstrates a detailed knowledge of both Old English and Anglo-Latin sources, as well as the ability to perform careful philological analysis. The various puzzle pieces here put together give a clearer picture of Anglo-Saxon literary culture and self-fashioning. In spite of its minor shortcomings, it is a carefully researched and thought-provoking monograph-a worthy recipient of the book prize of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists, which it was awarded in the summer of 2007.