Andrea Schutz

title.none: Orchard, Pride and Prodigies (Andrea Schutz )

identifier.other: baj9928.0401.025 04.01.25

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Andrea Schutz , St. Thomas University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Orchard, Andy. Pride and Prodigies: Studies in the Monsters of the Beowulf-Manuscript. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003. Pp. xi, 352. ISBN: $35.00 0-8020-8583-0.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.01.25

Orchard, Andy. Pride and Prodigies: Studies in the Monsters of the Beowulf-Manuscript. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003. Pp. xi, 352. ISBN: $35.00 0-8020-8583-0.

Reviewed by:

Andrea Schutz
St. Thomas University

The Beowulf-manuscript contains five texts: Judith, the Passion of St. Christopher, the Wonders of the East, the Letter of Alexander the Great to Aristotle, and Beowulf itself. There may at first glance seem to be little connecting these texts which range in nature from biblical, to patristic, to secular Latin, to popular Germanic, but following Kenneth Sisam's idea that the Beowulf-manuscript might be a collection of monster tales, Orchard argues that the manuscript in fact demonstrates a twin interest in the outlandish and the deeds of "overweening pagan warriors from a distant and heroic past." This is what he calls pride and prodigies. More to the point, Orchard argues that one can perceive a change in Anglo-Saxon teratology through this manuscript.

The first two texts make certain binaries quite clear: both Judith and St. Christopher feature believers versus non-believers, the oppressed versus their oppressors, and the humble who are exalted while the proud are humbled. However, in neither of these two texts is the real monster obvious. In Judith, Holofernes must be regarded as the monster because of his disbelief, but physically he is human. In the Passion of St. Christopher, by contrast, it is the saint who appears as dog-headed and who is ostensibly the monster; throughout his passion, however, it becomes clear that the pagan king is actually the more inhuman.

In the first two texts, then, we see not just the world of men contrasted with the monsters, but a mixing and mingling between them. This mingling is most clearly seen in the last three texts in the manuscript, "each of which can be said to be centrally concerned with monsters, and with the activities of mighty pagan men" (18). Orchard notes contiguous connections between the texts: Judith and the Passion of St. Christopher are united by their depictions of saintly forbearance overcoming regal arrogance; the Passion and the Wonders of the East share an interest in the half-human, half-monster; the Wonders and the Letter of Alexander share tales of "a mighty pagan monster-slayer," and in Alexander and Beowulf monster-slaying is central.

What is interesting, Orchard argues, is that the value of the monster slaying itself changes: whereas the "Christian" figures of Judith and Christopher demonstrate their virtue in slaying their monstrous enemies (Christopher indirectly), Alexander, Beowulf and all the other monster-slayers, become more and more suspect because they act for the sake of personal glory and honor. Ultimately, as comparisons with other texts such as the Liber Monstrorum and the Icelandic Grettis saga show, the pagan heroes themselves become monstrous to Christian sensibilities. The issue, then, is not just the tension between pride and prodigies, but between a pagan past and Christian present, between an era which extolled human glory and one which deplored vainglory. The texts of the Beowulf-Manuscript therefore demonstrate a gradual demonization of pagan heroism, and valorization of Christian "monster-slayers." Not surprisingly, perhaps, these latter heroes are celebrated in traditional heroic forms and vocabularies. The famous exploits of mighty pagans live on, but as monitory entertainment. As Orchard concludes, this codex mixes in prose and verse Christian and heroic themes, physical and psychological worlds, "showing unforgettably how prodigious pride can make monsters of men, and providing an emphatic answer, after all, to Alcuin's ungenerous question: sic Hinieldus cum Christo ('this is what Ingeld has to do with Christ')" (171).

Pride and Prodigies is made up of six studies plus a number of very useful appendices: I The Beowulf-Manuscript, II Psychology and Physicality: the Monsters of Beowulf, III The Kin of Cain, IV The Liber Monstrorum, V The Alexander-Legend in Anglo-Saxon England, VI Grettir and Grendel Again. The Appendices are the Latin texts, Old English texts, and translations of The Wonders of the East and The Letter of Alexander to Aristotle, and the Latin text, translation, and sources and analogues of the Liber Monstrorum. The book is therefore as useful for its appendices as it is for its argument. Indeed, this is generally a very useful book for anyone interested in the Germanic epic hero, the monstrous, or even the cultural shift from pagan past to Christian present. The book's strengths are unquestionably in the thoroughness of Orchard's research-- the notes and bibliography are an endless treasure-trove-- and the completeness of his argument. This is a book written for the specialist, but miraculously accessible to the student, too: everything is translated, frequently by Orchard himself; the argument is clear, and the style is vivid and engaging. In short, Pride and Prodigies is a very good study of a topic receiving increased attention. It should certainly be an early stop on any scholar's road through medieval teratology.