Gernot Wieland

title.none: Swan and Treharne, eds., Rewriting old English in the Twelfth Century (Gernot Wieland)

identifier.other: baj9928.0205.002 02.05.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Gernot Wieland, University of British Columbia,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: Swan, Mary and Elaine Treharne, eds. Rewriting Old English in the Twelfth Century. Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England, 30. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Pp. iv, 211. ISBN: 0-512-62372-3.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.05.02

Swan, Mary and Elaine Treharne, eds. Rewriting Old English in the Twelfth Century. Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England, 30. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Pp. iv, 211. ISBN: 0-512-62372-3.

Reviewed by:

Gernot Wieland
University of British Columbia

Swan and Treharne intend to be "deliberately contentious" with the title they have chosen for the book, since one usually thinks of the Old English period coming to an end within a generation or two of William's Conquest. Any contentiousness, however, quickly dissipates under the onslaught of the facts: Old English material written before 1066 continued to be copied well into the twelfth century, and some Old English texts can clearly be shown to have been composed long after the political era of the Anglo-Saxons had ended. The book's first success consists in drawing attention to this post-Anglo-Saxon Old English material and removing any contentiousness from the title. During the twelfth century the political elite spoke Norman French and the clergy, regardless of ethnic descent, could communicate in Latin. Why then were Old English texts re-copied? The book's second success, in my opinion, lies in the contributors' readiness to admit that there are no easy answers. After a thorough study of the material in front of them, they make tentative and well-founded suggestions but never any outright claims. This is not scholarly caution taken to the point of timidity, but the courage to admit that more work needs to be done to arrive at those elusive answers. The third success of the book, finally, consists in having done this work and laid a solid foundation for future research.

Aside from an introduction, the book contains ten essays, all published for the first time in this collection. The contributors clearly are aware of each others' papers, and either they, or the editors, make sure they provide continuity from one essay to the next. In this sense, the present collection is far superior to many of the miscellanies now on the market: the essays in Rewriting Old English support each other, learn from each other, one answers a question which the other by necessity had to leave unexplored, and a third refers to the argument of yet a different essay. The dialogue between the essays, the progression and even suspense that has been established make this book exciting to read. An Index of Manuscripts and a General Index round out the volume and make a quick search of individual topics possible. An overall bibliography of primary and secondary works cited would have been a useful addition, but the book's worth is not diminished by its absence.

Now to the individual contributions. Swan and Treharne co-wrote the Introduction which, as is customary, provides brief abstracts of the essays in the volume. In the manner of a Forschungsbericht, moreover, it presents an excellent overview of work done on Old English texts in the twelfth century. The outstanding contributions of the past, however, do not answer all the questions, and hence the need for Rewriting Old English. Even this book is not considered definitive, but the writers of the Introduction express their hope that it "will serve to increase the interest in post-Conquest English manuscripts and writings, and facilitate future research" (p. 10).

Elaine Treharne begins the series of actual articles with a contribution entitled "The production and script of manuscripts containing English religious texts in the first half of the twelfth century." She examines the codicology and palaeography of five manuscripts, and by scrutinizing all letter forms she is able to provide a slightly closer dating than Ker in his English Manuscripts in the Century after the Conquest, though the data do not provide enough evidence to allow closer localization as well. The manuscripts are Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 302 and 303; London, British Library, Cotton Faustina A ix; Oxford, Bodleian Library, Hatton 116; and Cotton, Vespasian D xiv. Plates that enable the reader to follow her arguments are provided for all manuscripts except for Hatton 116. Most useful are her suggestions on the gradual evolution of the script of English manuscripts throughout the first half of the twelfth century. Though she does mention that these manuscripts are portable, utilitarian, and economical, and that copying them was "a marginal activity," she leaves speculation as to the uses to which the manuscripts were put to the next contributor.

This is Susan Irvine with the article "The compilation and use of manuscripts containing Old English in the twelfth century." Irvine begins with an enumeration of all the Old English works copied in the twelfth century, and concludes that there was a widespread interest in Old English texts. Is that interest, however, merely antiquarian or were these manuscripts put to other uses as well? In order to answer that question, she concentrates on manuscripts containing homiletic material, and among these she chooses the ones that were both copied and compiled in the twelfth century. Taking these criteria, she is left with four manuscripts: CCCC 303; Vespasian D xiv; Cambridge, University Library, Ii. 1.33; and Oxford, Bodleian Library, Bodley 343. CCCC 303 contains a collection of homilies, most by Aelfric. The homilies are arranged chronologically, but the texts themselves are drawn from a variety of exemplars, which suggests a twelfth-century compilation rather than just straightforward copying. Moreover, some Old English texts such as the Lives of St. Nicholas, Giles and Margaret must be post-Conquest translations, since their Latin originals were penned after 1066. Though the manuscript does not contain preacher's marks, the text may have served for preaching to a secular vernacular audience. Vespasian D xiv, like CCCC 303, compiles homilies from different sources and contains post-Conquest translations from Latin. The manuscript's provenance is Rochester, but the scribbled addition "ego ancilla tua" would suggest that Vespasian D xiv was not used as a preaching text by the monks of Rochester, but rather as private reading material by an English-speaking nun at an unknown location. CUL Ii. 1.33 seems to have been used for private reading as well, and Bodley 343 possibly as "a secondary source for preaching material," as it does not contain any overt preachers' marks. Since these manuscripts do not contain any explicit signs of the use to which they were put, inferences must be drawn from the provenance, transmission history, and arrangement of each manuscript, and -- if available -- from the marginalia in it.

Mary Swan, "Aelfric's Catholic Homilies in the twelfth century," re-examines some of the material already discussed in the previous papers, though from a different point of view. She is interested less in whole manuscripts, as were Treharne and Irvine, but in individual "composite" homilies, i.e. homilies that consist of a mixture of Aelfrician and other material. She takes her data from Vespasian D xiv; CUL Ii. 1.33; London, Lambeth Palace 487; and London, British Library, Cotton Faustina A x. The creation of composite homilies, so Swan's contention, will tell us something about the intended audience, and, by implication about the use to which the manuscripts were put. She notes a more conversational style, examples of quoting/glossing from memory, and an audience other than a monastic one. These findings overlap to some extent with those of Irvine's paper. Swan adds a further point, namely that the homilies were re-used not because of Aelfric's fame as a homilist, but because of the usefulness of the homilies.

Jonathan Wilcox' paper, "Wulfstan and the twelfth century" continues the examination of Old English homilies being re-used after the end of the Anglo-Saxon period. Specifically, Wilcox seeks to determine why Wulfstan's homilies, unlike Aelfric's, did not enjoy great popularity. He briefly comments on the few homilies, both Latin and Old English, that were re-used in the twelfth century, and then concentrates on one homily in Lambeth 487 which is based on Wulfstan's "Be Godcundre Warnunge." In a close analysis, Wilcox demonstrates how Wulfstan adapts Leviticus 26 to the specific historical situation of the time around 1010 in which he composed the homily. The twelfth-century adapter saw a similarity between the Viking attacks and the tempestuous times of the civil war between Stephen and Maud, and therefore re-used the homily. The historical specificity of Wulfstan's other homilies, however, made them resistant to later adaptation. Aelfric's homilies, in contrast, were not so solidly rooted in one specific historical period, and could therefore more easily be re-used and adapted.

Loredana Teresi's essay "Mnemonic transmission of Old English texts in the post-Conquest period" picks up a topic suggested by Swan, namely that certain homilies were compiled mnemonically, i.e. without recourse to a written exemplar. She makes her case with an analysis of the homily Be Heofonwarum and Beo Helwarum which is found in both CCCC 302 and Faustina A ix. Certain elements of this homily, as e.g. the mention of Enoch and Elias, or the description of the dragons, show similarities to other appearances of these elements in the extant literature, but never close enough that one could argue for a direct source. She correctly suggests that "themes" rather than "texts" have been transmitted here, and the slippage indicates faulty memory rather than incorrect copying. She pushes the argument a bit too far when she suggests "oral transmission" (p. 116). While it is possible that the compiler of the homily had heard another homilist use the same topos, remembered parts of it and then used whatever s/he remembered in the compilation of Be Heofonwarum, it is equally possible that s/he had read the topos in her/his youth, remembered parts of it, and then in advanced age used and embellished whatever s/he remembered. I have no quarrel with "mnemonic" transmission, but need to be convinced that "oral" transmission lies at the root of the variations. Nonetheless, regardless of whether the compilers used whatever they had heard or what they had read, Teresi can convincingly show that memory played an important role in the compilation of Old English homilies in the twelfth century.

With Joana Proud's essay "Old English prose saints' lives in the twelfth century: the evidence of the extant manuscripts," the book moves away from homilies and on to saints' lives. Hagiography, Proud concludes, was treated differently from homilies. There seem to be fewer texts, possibly because eleventh-century scriptoria had created enough saints' lives to fill the need. The saints who were venerated changed, with emphasis being placed on universal saints and saints with first-grade status. The nature of the text also differed: homilies could easily be excerpted and adapted to different feasts, but saints' lives with linear narratives could not. Whatever changes there are to Aelfrician saints' lives seem to be due more to eleventh-century than to twelfth-century scribes and compilers. Proud warns that the conclusions she reached are tempered by the small number of extant manuscripts, but nonetheless suggests that Old English hagiography flourished into the second half of the twelfth century.

Whereas Proud examined whole manuscripts, Susan Rosser in "Old English prose saints' lives in the twelfth century: the Life of Martin in Bodley 343" concentrates on one single saint's life to determine the potential audience of the Old English hagiographic texts. The compiler of Bodley 343 takes Aelfric's Lives of Saints version of the Life of Martin, but cuts almost fifty percent. Omitted are, for instance, the historical background, Martin's fights against heretics, his foundation of a monastery, his election as bishop, and his dealings with Roman emperors. The compiler concentrates on Martin's miracles, but seems to have chosen many of them more because of their conciseness than their importance for Martin. The retained texts are faithful to their originals; the Life of Martin in Bodley 343 is not mnemonically transmitted. Rosser cautiously suggests that the concentration on Martin's miracles suggests a lay rather than a monastic audience. R. M. Liuzza, in "Scribal habit: the evidence of the Old English Gospels," takes advantage of a fortunate coincidence: the three manuscripts Oxford, Bodleian Library, Bodley 441 (s. xi), London, British Library, Royal I A. xiv (s. xii med), and Oxford, Bodleian Library, Hatton 38 (s. xii/xiii) form a chain of exemplar and copies spanning close to 200 years. It would therefore appear as though they could tell us a lot about the development of English in these two centuries. Liuzza, however, finds that in the transmission of the Gospel a fine balance is created between the exemplar, the scribe's training and his/her dialect. On the one hand, the later scribes will modernize the vocabulary, add glosses, and even rearrange the text they copy; on the other, they will retain phonological forms of the exemplar even when their pronunciation is known to have shifted. When re-spelling is introduced, it often reflects changes in orthography rather than in pronunciation. Scribal habits of the period are "multifaceted and not entirely predictable" (p. 164).

Phillip Pulsiano, in "The Old English gloss of the Eadwine Psalter," carefully examines the various layers of glossing in that manuscript. The Psalter's glosses are notorious for their complex nature. Basing his analysis on a full collation of the first fifty psalms of all surviving glossed Anglo-Saxon psalters, Pulsiano is able to pull the various strands apart that have been woven together in the Eadwine Psalter (=E). Earlier psalters have had their influence on it: the Vespasian Psalter, which is closely related to the Cambridge Psalter (=A/C), and the Regius Psalter (=D). As a matter of fact, Pulsiano can show that the corrections in E tend to "bring the gloss in line with that in D" (p. 185). There is more, however: the relationship of A/C to D to independent glosses is roughly 2:1:4, and this raises the question as to the origin of the independent gloss. Accepting an argument made earlier by Berghaus, he suggests a date of around the year 900 as the date of origin of the gloss. Since E is the only witness of this independent gloss, this suggestion comes as a bit of a surprise and this reader would have liked to see a summary of Berghaus' argument and possibly additional arguments by Pulsiano for this date rather than, say, 950 or 1000. All the same, Pulsiano's data leave no doubt that his analysis of the various strands of glosses is correct. And so is his conclusion that the glosses in E while not particularly helpful for the understanding of earlier glosses nonetheless reveal a lot about the history of their compilation.

The last chapter of the book, Wendy Collier's "The Tremulous Worcester hand and Gregory's Pastoral Care," examines the aims and methods of the man whom in another context she calls a thirteenth-century Anglo-Saxonist. The Tremulous Hand can be seen in some twenty manuscripts, but here Collier concentrates on his annotations in the Latin version of Gregory's Cura Pastoralis in Glasgow University Library, Hunterian 431 and in the Alfredian translations thereof in Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 12 and Oxford, Bodleian Library, Hatton 20. Hunterian 431 clearly is the seminal text for his Latin annotations to the two Old English translations. Collier concludes that the Tremulous Hand had more than an antiquarian interest. There is evidence for a practical application, namely to make the text intelligible to himself and to others, possibly for both teaching and preaching in the vernacular, and possibly for the production of "some kind of vernacular pastoral handbook" (p. 207).

As this synopsis of the book's chapters hopes to convey, Rewriting Old English contains a wealth of material, is tightly argued, advances our knowledge of a neglected corpus of Old English texts, and is absolutely essential for any future research on the topic.