Stephen J. Harris

title.none: Karkov, Text and Picture in Anglo-Saxon England (Stephen J. Harris)

identifier.other: baj9928.0212.002 02.12.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Stephen J. Harris, University of Massechusetts at Amherst,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: Karkov, Catherine E. Text and Picture in Anglo-Saxon England: Narrative Strategies in the Junius 11 Manuscript. Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England, 31. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Pp. xii,225. $69.95. ISBN: 0-521-80069-2.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.12.02

Karkov, Catherine E. Text and Picture in Anglo-Saxon England: Narrative Strategies in the Junius 11 Manuscript. Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England, 31. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Pp. xii,225. $69.95. ISBN: 0-521-80069-2.

Reviewed by:

Stephen J. Harris
University of Massechusetts at Amherst

With this volume, Catherine Karkov provides us a wonderful introduction to the Junius manuscript. She answers a long-standing complaint about illustrated manuscripts in general and Oxford Bodleian Library Junius 11 in particular; as Thomas Ohlgren put it most succinctly in 1972, "To ignore these illustrations is to ignore the manuscript as it was intended to be read" (199). And not since Sir Henry Ellis' 1832 edition or Israel Gollancz's 1927 facsimile edition of the complete manuscript, both relatively rare volumes, have all the manuscript illustrations appeared in print. Editions of the poem from that of Franciscus Junius in 1655 to George Philip Krapp's 1931 edition for Columbia University's six-volume Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records, have treated the text of the poem exclusive of the sometimes startling illustrations. Karkov's aim is to read "the book as a book and not as a series of isolated and unillustrated poems" (181). Monsters snap at words, characters stare at truncated phrases, and gestural allusions from picture to picture tie together otherwise distinct episodes and poems. The illustrations have intrigued Anglo-Saxonists for generations, and there is much exemplary work available on them; but Karkov's volume finally offers the bewildered newcomer a starting-point, an overview of the scholarship, and a lesson in the complexities of reading illustrated Anglo-Saxon manuscripts. In addition, Karkov has raised to prominence some important questions about the role of the illustrations in connecting the manuscript's poems, and about "the themes of production and reproduction, reading and writing, order vs. disorder, and the relationship of the biblical past to the contemporary Anglo-Saxon world" (45). This book is a welcome addition to what has become an indispensable series in Anglo-Saxon studies.

The Junius manuscript is one of the four major codices of Anglo-Saxon poetry (the others are the Vercelli Book, the Exeter Book, and Cotton Vitellius A.xv). It sits a foot high, comprises 116 folios or 232 pages in seventeen quires, and was written in southern England in the late tenth or early eleventh century. Two illustrators provide forty-eight drawings in the Winchester style which give out at page 88, after which drawing spaces remain unfilled. Karkov provides an appendix of possible subjects of these missing drawings, having both collated scholarly opinion and compared Junius 11 with Cotton Claudius B.iv, an early eleventh-century Old English Hexateuch illustrated with over four hundred drawings. Junius 11 contains four poems, one of which is treated in two parts: Genesis (divided into A and B), Exodus, Daniel, and Christ and Satan. The first three poems, copied by one scribe, are Old English versions of the Vulgate, substantially expanded in parts, and severely reduced in others. The final poem, Christ and Satan, copied later by three scribes, is comprised of three episodes: a complaint by a fettered Satan and his angry hell-bound minions, a brief account of time from the Harrowing to the Last Judgment, and the temptation in the wilderness. The call and response of Satan and his rebel angels evokes Milton's Paradise Lost so tantalizingly that generations of Miltonists have wondered inconclusively at a connection. Perhaps they will be reinvigorated by Karkov's overview of the owners and editors of this manuscript in chapter 6. Each of the poems has been much edited and has received a vast amount of attention over the last two centuries. Given the depth of learning necessary, few scholars or critics today are equal to the task Karkov successfully completes.

The manuscript first appears in the historical record in the keeping of the Leiden lexicographer Johannes De Laet, who borrowed it from Archbishop Ussher, who in turn bought it from Sir Simonds d'Ewes before 1650 (182). Franciscus Junius, librarian to Thomas Howard, got the manuscript from Ussher in 1651 or 1652, published an edition in 1655, and bequeathed the volume to Oxford, whereupon it came into the Bodley in 1677. As it contained Old English paraphrases of Scripture, it was soon attributed to Caedmon, the lay brother of Whitby who received the gift of poetry while asleep in a cow shed (not to be confused with Cadmus, founder of Thebes, who followed a cow). The Venerable Bede told the story of Caedmon in the Historia Ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum IV. 24. There, Bede relates that Caedmon crafted songs about Genesis, the exodus from Egypt, other stories from Scripture, and the incarnation, passion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. To many early Anglo-Saxonists from Junius to Jacob Grimm, this sounded just like the contents of Junius 11. For good reason, then, Junius 11 has long been known, and not uncontroversially, as the Caedmon manuscript.

Karkov begins her study by asking whether the drawings constitute "part of a coherent whole" (6). Critics have long considered the possibility that Junius 11 constituted just such a thing, but as Karkov argues, they rarely read "the pictorial narrative as one level within the manuscript's larger narrative structure" (6). It is Karkov's declared task to do so. She points to a tradition of "symbolic Psalter illustration" (8), described by Kathleen Openshaw and Robert Deshman, which may have influenced the typological schema of Junius 11. Karkov describes by way of example how an unusual drawing of Enoch (the seventh in line from Adam, not the son of Cain), on mss. p. 60 -- open book in his left hand, haloed, and trodding on a small dragon -- while not echoed in the text, is nevertheless echoed in later images of Christ harrowing Hell (thus the dragon), and in images of books and reading as a means of salvation (Enoch was said to have invented writing). She does not explain the halo, which nevertheless probably signals the tradition that Enoch walked with God, was translated bodily into Heaven, and is one of the truly righteous. These are not illustrations of the text so much as "an interactive visual gloss" (14), much as Ohlgren argued in 1969, or a visual translation. They are integral to the reading process, which Karkov argues in her second chapter, since "any illustration introduces a pause in the reading process and indicates that we must stop to study the image and its meaning before proceeding with the textual narrative" (25). Zoomorphic initials are "used for rhetorical emphasis" (31) such as marking the "conception...enactment...and result" of Satan's plot against Adam and Eve (32). And the poses of subjects, a vertical or horizontal composition, or a repetition of certain elements "establish relationships between particular scenes or figures" (40) by pointing to other drawings and alluding to other texts. Clearly, this manuscript was a site of contemplation. Its multiple allusions forward and backwards imply a book that had to be reread many times before it could be grasped in its entirety.

The drawings introduce several themes or "secondary narratives" (45) which apply to the four poems as a whole. These themes are addressed in chapter 3, a thoroughly compelling and informed close reading of Genesis. Perhaps most compelling is Karkov's discussion of the pictorial treatment of Eve, which differs from the textual treatment. It is an interest to which Karkov returns often in this book, augmenting what she has written elsewhere on the topic. The Fall in this manuscript, like the Fall in Paradise Lost, is not easily interpreted, and blame cannot be easily assigned. Rabbinical readings of the Fall suggest that the prelapsarian Adam and Eve knew good from evil since they had been informed by God of the law; but Satan confused this certain knowledge, and our legacy as readers is the juridical confusion such moments in interpretation engender. Karkov explains the multiple effects of such confusion, as well as the confusion of signs both visual and written. There is also a section on exile, noting Adam's backwards glance at Paradise (while Eve looks on ahead) and its contradiction in Lot's wife's backward glance at Sodom (while Lot looks on ahead). Cain and his descendants raise the issue of genealogy and social order; Seth's genealogy leads to Noah, the story of the flood, and its relation to the Last Judgment; and thence to Abraham and his issue. Dizzying sometimes is the speed with which a wide variety of topics is covered, moving in one paragraph from images of hands to light and dark, thence to Eve, Michael, ladders, doors, visions, and space. Amid the always engaging swirl, historical references and eschatological allusions link to signify the cyclical nature of reference and time, which is further illustrated by visual repetition among the drawings. It is "the linking of beginnings and ends that forms a recurring pattern throughout the Junius manuscript" (87).

This thematic reading of Genesis is then extended to the rest of the manuscript in chapter 4. First among themes "is undoubtedly the cycle of Fall and Redemption that runs uninterruptedly from the Creation to the Last Judgement" (101). This claim runs up against the thesis of chapter five, in which Karkov appears to argue that the body is "central to the Junius 11 poems" (143). Nevertheless, Karkov treats of words, signs, and readers; visions; dreams; and the "complex layering of speech and speech-acts" (106) that comprise this manuscript. There is an awkward but interesting excursus on the Dream of the Rood (117-19) which is linked to Exodus chiefly through the construction "noun waes on noun." Karkov claims this is a rare poetic construction, appearing only three times in the extant poetic corpus (117, n. 61); but a search of the poetic corpus indicates dozens of such constructions, or almost 800 instances if one permits "pronoun waes on noun." Chapter five continues Karkov's thematic approach, turning to the book and the body. Five may be the least convincing chapter, since it depends on the premise that Genesis is about "the creation of the body" (143). Some readers will not easily suspend their disbelief in this respect without mention of the importance of soul, intellect, will, reason, or any other uniquely human quality that is thought to define us as a species. The ambiguity of the term "body," certainly not exclusive to Karkov, lends itself to a largely superficial identification of "the body" with persons, communities, physical human bodies, the hulé of Christ, books, and literary audiences. Ambiguity in terminology also compromises claims such as one in which the knowledge of Lot by his daughters is equated with little qualification to the knowledge of Noah by his sons (166). These very minor quibbles aside, this chapter will undoubtedly prompt much response, and it is always good criticism which yields more criticism.

The final chapter takes up the story of the manuscript per se, its owners, editors, and author(s). It is a fascinating read, and an indispensable lesson in the import of paleography and codicology to literary study. There is a short bibliography and a brief index following an appendix. Text and Picture in Anglo-Saxon England is a thoroughly engaging study, and one to which every student of illustrated or illuminated medieval manuscripts should be sent immediately. It will be of interest to scholars of Old English poetry, manuscripts, art, the history of the book, gender, narrative, semiotics, and medieval culture generally. I should also note that this is an engaging book, superbly written in clear and energetic prose. The energy is addictive, and reminds one that these thousand year-old poems and illustrations still fascinate, compel, and inspire their readers. As Karkov concludes, the makers of Junius 11 offered "narrative strategies [which] locate modern readers right alongside their Anglo-Saxon counterparts, still standing in expectation of the Last Judgement, and still engaged in the process of reading, writing, and rewriting the book of poems" (202). Though thanks to Text and Picture, we may be a little wiser now about the process.