Carol Neuman de Vegvar

title.none: Szarmach and Rosenthal, eds., Preservation of Anglo-Saxon Culture (de Vegvar)

identifier.other: baj9928.9903.008 99.03.08

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Carol Neuman de Vegvar, Ohio Wesleyan University, cndevegv@CC.OWU.EDU

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1999

identifier.citation: Szarmach, Paul, and Joel Rosenthal, eds. The Preservation and Transmission of Anglo-Saxon Culture: Selected Papers from the 1991 Meeting of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists. Studies in Medieval Culture, Vol XL. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997. Pp. xx, 488. $50.00 ISBN 1-879-28890-7(HB). ISBN: $20.00 ISBN 1-879-28891-5(PB).

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 99.03.08

Szarmach, Paul, and Joel Rosenthal, eds. The Preservation and Transmission of Anglo-Saxon Culture: Selected Papers from the 1991 Meeting of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists. Studies in Medieval Culture, Vol XL. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997. Pp. xx, 488. $50.00 ISBN 1-879-28890-7(HB). ISBN: $20.00 ISBN 1-879-28891-5(PB).

Reviewed by:

Carol Neuman de Vegvar
Ohio Wesleyan University

The Preservation and Transmission of Anglo-Saxon Culture: Selected Papers from the 1991 Meeting of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists is a volume of conference proceedings emerging from press after a delay of seven years. Academic publication in print media moves slowly in the best of circumstances, but seven years is still a bit more time in press than is customary. The editors, Paul Szarmach and Joel Rosenthal, explain this delay in their preface; the volume seems to have been lost at sea in a storm of editorial relocation and press closure. Potential readers, however, should not be put off by the delay in the appearance of this volume; it has much to recommend it, and Anglo-Saxon studies as a field has not sprinted so far ahead since 1991 as to render out of date the many worthwhile articles presented here .

In the title of this volume; the operative word is "selected". The biennial meetings of (ISAS) are centered on a predetermined theme, and although papers are often included in the conference itself that are not directly concerned with the theme, those included in this volume are those which focused on the theme of the 1991 conference, identical with the title of this volume. This provides the volume with an internal thematic coherency all too often missing in volumes of conference proceedings; and Szarmach and Rosenthal have put together a sequence of articles which not only cluster into thematically unified groups but also seem to enter into dialogue with one another. As a result the volume as a whole is a thought-provoking and thoroughly interesting read from one end to the other.

The series of articles in the volume is introduced by Fred C. Robinson's "Transmitting What Is Preserved: How Are We Doing?" Framed as an informal after-banquet talk, it is a sometimes acerbic, occasionally hilarious, and strongly personalized summation of the current state of the discipline. Although he addresses both recent advances and setbacks in a broad range of areas, Robinson focuses on the application of contemporary critical theory to Anglo-Saxon studies, lambasting critical theorists as undercutting the status of Old English literary studies by questioning the value of traditional approaches just at the moment when the field as a whole is under the cost- cutting scrutiny of institutions, and when students question the value of studying the past in any form. I for one believe that the self-scrutiny of the discipline is healthy; that critical theory enlivens discourse within the field and raises new issues for consideration, and that Anglo-Saxon studies is big enough a tent to hold both traditional and newer approaches. Further, although the old and the new are often set in opposition to each other, there are many areas of mutual compatibility where approaches from critical theory can help to frame inquiries using more traditional methods, as in Joyce Hill's essay in the present volume (see below). Nonetheless, I agree with both Robinson and not incidentally the theorists as well that the content of the message is at least in part in its reception by differing audiences; that a critique of the value of the field as it stands may at the same time be a breath of fresh air, even a transformative experience, for persons already versed in the subject and a dangerous tool in the hands of institutional presentists who would prefer not to spend another dime on anything medieval.

The first section of the essays that make up the balance of the volume is dedicated to historiography. As the volume is made up of papers delivered at the first meeting of ISAS to be held in the United States, the historiographic articles appropriately examine the origins and development of particular aspects of Anglo-Saxon studies in the United States; history, literature and linguistics, and manuscript collection,. The first two essays, Robin Fleming's "Henry Adams and the Anglo- Saxons," and J.R. Hall's "Nineteenth-Century America and the Study of the Anglo-Saxon Language: An Introduction," form an interesting pair, not least because of the implied historical contradiction that while Anglo-Saxon history scarcely got off the ground in nineteenth-century America, Old English literary studies burgeoned in the same time period; what is not explained is why these fields didn't both flourish or perish. Both disciplines could serve to foster a sense of historical identity for an economic and social elite; Hall notes that for history, this approach could and did accommodate an anti- immigrant, anti-Semitic and racist element which isolated and devalued Anglo-Saxon history produced in the United States. Why did this not occur in literature? Hall points out the international character of Anglo-Saxon literary and linguistic studies in the United States, involving both emigre scholars from Germany and Americans who studied in Germany; here, awareness of international standards may have helped to fend off parochialism. Another aspect of the answer may concern access to necessary resources; whereas it might have been possible by nineteenth-century standards for relatively indigent scholars, once trained in Germany, to study Old English literature from published editions while residing in the United States, the documents necessary to historians were less comprehensively available in print to scholars who lacked the means for repeated transatlantic travel, so that historians who were able to make such journeys were likely to identify with the elite whose agendas their texts came to support. In her essay, "'My Professor of Anglo-Saxon Was Frederick Klaeber': Minnesota and Beyond," Helen Damico paints a poignant portrait of one of the founding figures of twentieth-century Anglo-Saxon literary studies in the United States. A German emigre scholar at the opposite end of the economic spectrum from Fleming's wealthy Henry Adams; Klaeber is presented as a perennial outsider, first by choice in Minnesota, and then ironically in his native Germany after his return. In the context of Hall's article, Damico's Klaeber emerges as the last in a long series of German or German-trained scholars who laid the foundations and set the standards of Anglo-Saxon literary and linguistic study in the United States. Rounding out the historiographic section of the volume is William Stoneman's "'Writ in Ancient Character and of No Further Use': Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts in American Collections," which narrates and provides a useful separate chronology for the peregrinations of Anglo-Saxon materials through public and private collections in the United States. Stoneman draws attention to several contemporary issues: the recent reemergence of private collectors as major players in the manuscripts market; the deaccessioning of manuscripts by major institutional holders; the commodification of manuscripts by investors interested only in their potential resale value; and the problem of identifying and cataloging Anglo-Saxon leaves that may have been incorporated into handwriting sampler portfolios, or, one might add, the bindings of later books, many of them probably housed in smaller institutions unaware of what they have.

The second section of Preservation and Transmission concerns "Medieval Reception of Anglo-Saxon England." In "The Franks and the English in the Ninth Century Reconsidered" Janet L. Nelson, as ever, brings clarity to complexity in demonstrating the mutual political usefulness of Franks and Anglo-Saxons in both the ecclesiastical and the secular sphere. Nelson shows Anglo-Saxons imitating Frankish stratagems and vice versa, often through the expedient of manipulating Roman connections or precedent, to sustain prospective heirs or to justify demands that the citizens provide labor to maintain fortifications; Rome also serves as the foundation of claims to apostolic mission that authorize Fulk of Rheims' offer of patrocinium to Alfred. George H. Brown's "The Preservation and Transmission of Northumbrian Culture on the Continent: Alcuin's Debt to Bede," ably shows the extent to which Alcuin based his scholarship, and indeed his identity as a scholar, on Bede's precedent; the article is also insightful in its demonstration of the extent of the connection between Jarrow and York. Although comprehensive in its survey of the linked opus of its two principals, the article raises a number of unanswered questions. To what extent does Alcuin's use of Bede as source reflect the faithful quotation of intellectual filial piety, or does Alcuin amend, add to, or redirect Bede's words to his own ends? Also, as Brown himself points out, Alcuin was not the exclusive conduit for Bede into the Carolingian world; to what degree did other continental scholars avail themselves of Bede's methodologies in exegesis, education, and other areas without Alcuin's mediation? In his "The Preservation of Anglo-Saxon Culture After 1066: Glastonbury, Wales and the Normans," David A.E. Pelteret examines a charter of ca. 1100-1104 in which Robert de la Haye gives the church of Bassaleg (Gwent) to Glastonbury; the bounds of the parish are given in Old English for the benefit of "the natives." This is a striking demonstration not only of the continuing use of Old English among the population of England a generation after the Norman Conquest but also of the recognition by their Norman overlords of the usefulness of the Old English vernacular in making oneself understood. Pelteret convincingly presents his charter as evidence that rumors of the death of Old English literary culture in 1066 are greatly exaggerated, a claim borne out by later articles in the same volume (Fischer, Millar and Nicholls). He notes that historians have not examined such documents more comprehensively because of artificial boundaries between disciplines, segregating Anglo-Saxon from Anglo-Norman studies, and between nationalities, separating what happened within the borders of Wales from events in England. He also provides a lively guide to walking the bounds of the parish of Basseleg that seems an invitation to Anglo-Saxonists to put down their books and head for the field. Finishing out this section of the volume is Herbert R. Broderick's "The Influence of Anglo-Saxon Genesis Iconography on Later English Medieval Manuscript Art." Broderick traces certain compositional and iconographic elements, including "cosmic discs," angels holding bowls of light, and figures grasping their frames, from Anglo-Saxon into later English Genesis illuminations. His argument of iconographic continuity is convincing but raises questions concerning the context of transmission: is this reuse of images based on citations of specific models known to the intended audience, perhaps in a monastic house where an individual source manuscript was a revered treasure of the community, or is this pragmatic cribbing of widely used and generally familiar compositional or iconographic elements?

The third section of the text, "Present State and Future Directions: Art and Archaeology," opens with may well be the last article to be published posthumously under the name of the late and deeply lamented Robert Deshman, "Anglo-Saxon Art: So What's New?" Deshman points out the perennial caveats in the reconstruction of the context of early Anglo-Saxon art: the extensive loss of art objects and the nontransparency of contemporary textual descriptions; the prospects are brighter for later Anglo-Saxon art for which more contextual information is available. He offers a warning against construing iconographic content by the assembly of a "daisy chain of largely unrelated exegetical texts" (p. 250); and although one might argue that the associative powers of a medieval audience of religious professionals, based on an extensive memory of perhaps unrelated texts, should not be underestimated, Deshman is right in that the availability of adduced texts, at the very least, must be demonstrated for the context of perception if not also of production. Work by Carol Farr and Eamonn O Carragain (see note 1) has demonstrated that the ever-present liturgy certainly also served as a repository of iconographic associations. Deshman points out that recent art historians have sometimes abandoned traditional source study for the examination of social context; he rightly points out that the two approaches are linked rather than antithetical and should be pursued in tandem. In "Not Why But How: The Contribution of Archaeological Evidence to the Understanding of Anglo-Saxon England," Rosemary Cramp notes that texts are as problematic for archaeologists as they are for Deshman's art historians. She rightly posits that archaeology is more able to discover not so much individual will as social process, but without the predictability argued by processualists in the 1960's and 1970's. Cramp accepts the fundamental assertion that artifacts may be bearers of meaning; she notes that accurate interpretation of that meaning is uncertain but worth the attempt; she points to potential meaning in the emergence of regional differences within categories of Anglo-Saxon objects, and also to the grave deposit evidence for increasing differentiation of wealth and poverty. Cramp also discusses the increasing importance of environmental archaeology and the potential interpretive value of the masses of information emerging from this approach. One emergent problem she explores is the ambiguous or changeable nature or function of sites, as at Flixborough and Whithorn. She suggests that archaeologists' analyses of local processes may lead to an understanding of wider social trends, which may in turn provide contextual information for textual history. In their introduction to this volume, Szarmach and Rosenthal query whether interdisciplinarity remains as worthy a cause in the 1990's as it was in the 1980's; in particular they challenge the relevance of archaeology for the text-based disciplines. In Cramp's article Szarmach and Rosenthal may find an answer to their challenge, a clear statement of the potential usefulness of archaeology for text scholarship in the 1990's and beyond.

The fourth section of the volume, entitled "Literary Approaches," concerns issues of orality and literacy. In "Ceteris Imparibus: Orality/Literacy and the Establishment of Anglo-Saxon Literate Culture," Ursula Schaefer contrasts the introduction of literacy in Anglo-Saxon England with counterpart processes under colonialism, as described by Jack Goody. Relying in part on the work of Patrick Wormald (see note 2), she argues that control of literacy in England was not vested in a mandarinate as it was in colonial situations. She adduces the example of King Alfred as an example of a literate member of the laity; this particular example, however, stretches the point: does royal literacy make literacy in general any less a feature of elite life? King AlfredÃs literacy does not demonstrate access to literacy for the lower ranking laity; if anything Asser's extensive narration of Alfred's acquisition of this skill suggests it was not universal among the lay elite. Schaefer further notes that the monastic orders were open to all social ranks, but Bede's descriptions of monastic communities suggest that, to some degree, social rank was carried into monastic life; although Schaefer and Wormald are undoubtedly correct in arguing that access to literacy was not consciously denied to anyone, it is not clear that, beyond a basic knowledge of scripture learned by rote from oral recitation, opportunities for higher levels of literacy were routinely extended to all members of monastic communities. Schaefer asserts that the introduction of literacy did not interfere immediately with other forms of social and cultural organization; however, it would be difficult to argue that the chronicling of kings' actions, and other supports to royal authority provided by the written word had no impact on the development of concepts of kingship within a few generations. In the second essay of this section, " Subjectivity/Orality: How Relevant Are Modern Literary Theories to the Study of Old English Poetry? What Light Can the Study of Old English Poetry Cast on Modern Literary Theory," Rosemary Huisman notes that whereas from the seventeenth century onward the reader of poetry assumes an implied poet who speaks from the vantage point of a single narrator, in Old English poetry a more generalized viewpoint is taken, where the reader sees the action from several vantage points, not all of them associated with persons (ie. the sea in Exodus). These multiple viewpoints coincide with redundant variation and an interest in situational and operational frames of reference, both deriving from orality. Huisman argues that the voice of the individual author is not present in Old English poetry to deconstruct or displace; the author is not distinct from a narrator/character or narrator/speaker within the poem. However, as Huisman notes, the frequent use of the first-person plural subject ("'we' with narrator function") draws the reader in to endorse and consolidate community values. Huisman does not explore further the cooptative power of this use of "we," or the social role and possible contexts of poetry that this function of poetic discourse implies.

The final section of the volume, "Manuscript Studies," explores the transmission of Old English texts, both within and beyond the Anglo-Saxon period. Jonathan Wilcox leads off with "Variant Texts of An Old English Homily: Vercelli X and Stylistic Readers." Establishing the stemmatization of his homily (Blickling IX/Napier XLIX), Wilcox notes two forms of stylistic variation, abbreviation and expansion. Both of these forms of alteration have an impact on the rhythms of the prose which Wilcox attributes to considerations of prose style; as Wilcox himself notes the revisions were made by user scribes who intended to preach the text themselves, the intended impact of oral delivery may also have been a factor. Certainly, as Wilcox notes, these scribe preachers were conscious of their audiences: in the N-text the author may well have added Latin quotations to give authority to his message. One question Wilcox raises is whether such adjustment to the texts of homilies are typical; there is insufficient evidence of the fate of Aelfric's homilies and this particular homily is sufficiently loosely structured to facilitate adjustments of the type it sustained. The subsequent essay, by Andreas Fischer, on "The Hatton MS of the West Saxon Gospels: The Preservation andTransmission of Old English," also traces textual alterations, in this case to the West Saxon Gospel text in the post-Conquest period to the thirteenth century. Fischer interests himself here predominantly in lexical change, noting that alterations arose from three factors: modernization, variation, and misinterpretation. All three are particularly interesting in the context of the editorial transformation of a sacred text. Peter J. Lucas follows with "Franciscus Junius and the Versification of Judith; Francisci Junii in Memoriam: 1591-1991," which examines Franciscus Junius's versification of Judith by the insertion of metrical pointing. Lucas's close reading of Junius's work provides a counterargument to Krapp's assessment of Junius's editing as inconsistent and inaccurate (see note 3); Lucas demonstrates that Junius was ninety percent accurate, and that even his errors reveal his intelligence, his scholarly honesty, and his intuitive grasp of Old English poetry. Perhaps the most important essay for nonspecialists in this section of the book is Joyce Hill's "The Preservation and Transmission of Aelfric's Saints' Lives: Reader-Reception Theory in the Early Middle Ages," which studies text alterations within the Anglo-Saxon period. Taking her cue for contemporary reception theory, Hill notes that a text's existence is constituted of a series of reception events in which the text is redefined by the readers; in Anglo-Saxon England, appropriation by readers is often literal, involving reconceptualization and sometimes the rewriting of the text itself. Aelfric wrote his hagiographies for specific monastic or lay audiences, and he requested specifically that these works be transmitted unaltered, yet as can be discerned from Hill's careful comparative analysis, his intent was not honored. Hill speaks out for the value of close reading of this material as furthering understanding of Aelfric's political and intellectual role in the Anglo-Saxon church; she responds to Allen Frantzen's critique of source study as a sterile pursuit of 'pure origins' (see note 4) by characterizing it as an ongoing dialogue in time in which the author himself joins in the process of "rewriting" the traditions by which he is defined. Such analysis is dependent on the assembly of data, but for Hill such assemblies are the vital basis of broader analyses that can reveal the human events and relations behind the texts. For Hill, as in Cramp's view of archaeological data, close reading is useful in that it can provide a foundation for wider social interpretations. Robert McColl Millar and Alex Nicholls provide the final article of the volume, on "Aelfric's De Initio Creaturae and London, BL Cotton Vespasian A..xxii: Omission, Addition, Retention, and Innovation," a highly technical linguistic analysis of a thirteenth-century manuscript of a homily of Aelfric, written at the end of the currency of usage of Old English. The homily is clustered with three other vernacular homilies, apparently for private devotion and perhaps also public use. The authors focus on changes to the text in the context of ongoing sound changes in the progressive shift from Old to Middle English. Left unanswered here is the question of the identity of the intended audience; if the texts are being transcribed in Old English, often in an obsolete form by the standards of the day, by whom is the text to be read or heard?

The volume is well produced in all aspects except the reproductions of photographs of manuscript illuminations illustrating Broderick's and Deshman's articles, which lack sufficient gradations for clarity and are in some cases slightly out of focus. The volume has remarkably few editorial glitches; one possible error which alters sense is found in George Brown's essay on page 163 where "the student-pupil relationship" should in all probability read "the teacher-pupil relationship." Print is clear with gracious line spacing, and the felicitous cover design by Linda Judy is worthy of emulation.


1. Carol Farr, The Book of Kells; Its Function and Audience (London: British Library, 1997); Eamonn O Carragain, "The Ruthwell Cross and Irish High Crosses: Some Points of Comparison and Contrast," in Ireland and Insular Art A.D. 500-1200, ed. Michael Ryan (Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 1987); inter alia.

2. Patrick Wormald, "The Uses of Literacy in Anglo-Saxon England," Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th ser., 27 (1977), 95-114.

3. George Philip Krapp, The Paris Psalter and the Meters of Boethius, vol. 5 of The Anglo-Saxon Poetic Record (New York: Columbia University Press, 1932), xliv.

4. Allen Frantzen, Desire for Origins: New Language, Old English, and Teaching the Tradition (New Brunswick, Rutgers University Press, 1990).