Paul Cavill

title.none: Muir, The Exeter Anthology (Paul Cavill)

identifier.other: baj9928.0706.001 07.06.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Paul Cavill, University of Nottingham,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Muir, Bernard J., ed. with programming and design by Nick Kennedy. The Exeter DVD: The Exeter Anthology of Old English Poetry. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2006. Pp. DVD. $425.00 (book and DVD) 0-85989-631-5. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.06.01

Muir, Bernard J., ed. with programming and design by Nick Kennedy. The Exeter DVD: The Exeter Anthology of Old English Poetry. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2006. Pp. DVD. $425.00 (book and DVD) 0-85989-631-5. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Paul Cavill
University of Nottingham

Bernard Muir has been editing and working on the Exeter Anthology for thirty years, and this DVD presents the fruits of his labor in the slimmest of dimensions. The 7 mm deep DVD, easily overlooked on the bookshelf, gives no impression either of the immense amount of work that went into its production, or of the weight and size of Exeter Book itself. The Chambers facsimile (The Exeter Book of Old English Poetry [London: Percy Lund, 1933]) leaves the reader in no doubt that the Exeter Book is a substantial manuscript, but the DVD images are weightless. If that is a fault, it is one that most scholars will be willing to forgive for the privilege of having access to vivid, sharp, precise and minutely examinable photographs of the whole Exeter Book. And a privilege it is, too: even if Muir's editing were nonsense (and it is very far from that), the DVD would make the book available to scholars in a way that preserves the manuscript itself from damage, is an unquestionable improvement on the 1933 facsimile, and allows leisurely and detailed study. The work has the added bonus of a thoroughly competent edition of all the poetic texts and some DVD 'extras'.

The core of the work is Muir's scholarly edition of the Exeter Anthology, and a facsimile of the complete Exeter Book. I think it is worthwhile distinguishing between the whole manuscript as it presently stands, the "Exeter Book"--with all the legal and ecclesiastical preliminaries of different dates and in different hands--and the main text of the manuscript, which Muir prefers to call the "Exeter Anthology." The distinction is implicitly made by Muir himself: he does not edit the interesting preliminaries, though the material relating to the donation of the book and the later inventories is pretty thoroughly discussed. Muir argues for a structured and purposive collection of verse texts as the focus of the book, thus justifying his use of the term "anthology;" but this remains a matter of debate, and Hugh Magennis's term "compilation" might be more accurate (English Studies 76 [1995]: 475).

We may take the edition first. The DVD incorporates Muir's book-based edition, bibliography and commentary from the second edition of The Exeter Anthology of Old English Poetry, in two volumes (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2000). A great deal of work has been done by scholars on practically all aspects of the manuscript and its texts since then, but the solid achievements of Muir's edition, updating and replacing the Krapp and Dobbie ASPR Exeter Book (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), remain. New textual readings based on close reading and examination of the manuscript, and thorough discussion of earlier editions and emendations, make the work an essential resource for the scholar and advanced student.

The less advanced student seeking discussion of the literary or generic features of the texts for use in assignments will be disappointed. So will the student looking for a glossary: while translations of lines are given often enough in the commentary, and recorded translations of several of the poems can be played through a computer sound system, this does not constitute any more than occasional help for the linguistically inexpert. And, of course, translations are also interpretations, and opinions will differ on these matters. "Gesweotula nu þurh searocræft þin sylfes weorc,/ soðfæst, sigorbeorht" (Advent Lyric 1, 9-10a) is translated "Reveal now through your skilful artifice your own work, you who are steadfast in truth and radiant in victory:" this negates (not implausibly) the possibility that line 10a might refer to the object "weorc:" and it uses the now-common translation "steadfast in truth" for "soðfæst" where arguably the gloss "righteous" might be more appropriate.

The texts are conservatively edited, for reasons Muir sets out in the introduction. He avoids normalizing, particularly, because the Exeter Anthology is a coherent witness to the orthography of probably a single scribe of the late tenth century. His introductory linguistic notes cover a great deal of material economically. A welcome separate section for each text or set of texts on sources and analogues details the main Latin parallels and very occasional Old English ones. The bibliography is very extensive, though not all of the works listed are discussed: Muir does not seem to interact with Gunhild Zimmermann's ideas in The Four Old English Poetic Manuscripts (Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1995), for example, though the book is listed.

The facsimile itself is marvellous. There is detailed commentary in the introduction on the physical and structural aspects of the manuscript, its binding, gatherings, prickings, defects and damage, drypoint markings, marginalia, division and organization of contents, handwriting, capitals, punctuation and spellings. The photographs of the manuscript are so good that many of the non-textual features like drypoint markings are visible. There are different views available: verso and recto of the open book, an individual page, or thumbnails of pages of the whole book. Using the cursor and clicking on the magnifier, one can magnify small areas of the manuscript for detailed examination, or drag the magnifier over the width of the page. One can open the edited text alongside the page, click on the line-by-line commentary from the text or from the "hot" areas shown on the manuscript, and access the bibliography. There are selected text readings and recordings of performed Latin chants (for the Advent Lyrics). Very welcome is the reproduced introductory material from the 1933 facsimile, and that work's photographs of the damaged folios with the medieval patches removed to make visible some letters now unreadable. Nearly everything on the DVD is accessible simultaneously or by simply switching screens.

Some major criticisms of the earlier printed editions of Muir's work have been rendered obsolete by the DVD. Susan Deskis commented that "Muir's large bibliography is so arranged as to be practically useless" (Speculum 72 [1995]: 536), but now, the earlier editions' division between pre-1930 and post-1930 criticism has been removed, the criticism is listed in alphabetical order of author (not by date, as had been the case with the pre-1930 criticism earlier), and the bibliographical details of any work are available at the click of the mouse. Magennis's strictures (English Studies 76 [1995]: 475) about poor page-layout and typography are also now no longer relevant given the screen formatting of the text.

In some minor areas there are imperfections, however. For example, the note in the earlier editions pointing out that Advent Lyric 1, line 4, "heafod" in the edited text is written "heafoð" in the manuscript, has been removed from the commentary on the text and only appears in the "hotspot" on the manuscript; the headnote remarks that Wulf and Eadwacer is "a poem which continually challenges reader's [sic] to come to terms with it," unchanged from the first edition (p. 571); "Adams 1665" should be "Adams 1906" in the bibliography. In order to get the commentary on particular lines, I could not just go from page to page in the manuscript and click: I had to go through the contents, to the relevant poem, then click on the commentary.

In summary, this DVD brings together a scholarly philological edition of the poems similar in scope to Krapp and Dobbie's ASPR edition but updating it, with a facsimile that not only includes the important parts of the earlier Chambers facsimile but far surpasses it in the clarity, detail, and portability of the images. Though there are still minor criticisms that might be levelled at this work, it makes the Exeter Book accessible to scholars in a way that has not been possible before. It is a magnificent achievement.