The Medieval Review 15.01.06


Rauer, Christine. The Old English Martyrology: Edition, Translation, and Commentary. Anglo-Saxon Texts, 10. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2013. Pp. 416. $99.00 (hardback). ISBN: 9781843843474 (hardback).



Reviewed by:


Felice Lifshitz
University of Alberta
felice.lifshitz@ualberta.ca

Spending time with this book made me feel like a botanist romping joyfully through an expansive field of wildflowers, or a chocoholic gleefully devouring a mega-sized box of gourmet bonbons. It was just so much fun and so satisfying! This is not to minimize the scholarly gravitas of Christine Rauer's achievement in editing, translating and commenting anew on the Old English Martyrology, but rather to convey something of the enormous pleasure that awaits students of saint veneration practices when they dip into this fascinating and expertly translated text. Everyone from the most seasoned expert to the total neophyte will be able to benefit from the volume, which should immediately become both an indispensable research tool for the specialist and a stimulating way to introduce undergraduates (and even some members of the general reading public) to a broad range of medieval ideas about saints and sanctity.

Probably intended as a reference work, the Old English Martyrology presents information (sometimes including substantial narrative material) in calendrical order on roughly 450 historical and legendary characters both foreign and native alongside additional cosmological, calendrical and historical data. The compiler drew on hundreds of sources, many of which Rauer and her colleagues (above all the late James Cross) have been able to identify. According to Rauer, he (or possibly she) was probably active between c. 800 and c. 900. Rauer thus reiterates what has long been the scholarly consensus concerning the date of composition of the encyclopedia, but cautiously insists that this dating is merely probable, and that "the last word may not have been spoken" (3). She is even more cautious when it comes to identifying the martyrologist's geographical and dialectical home; the most she is willing to say is that "the Old English Martyrology presents all the phonological features which one could expect from a text suspected to have been composed in a ninth-century environment where persons of Mercian and West Saxon and possibly Kentish linguistic origin mingled" (6). Rauer calls for more research in this area, as well as on every other possible aspect of the text (such as whether the martyrologist had some background as a glossator, or had some connection to Alfredian circles, or was Cynewulf, or was actually several people working as a team); it appears as if everything "still needs to be assessed" (8), that "all possible scenarios still need to be considered" (11), that every question "remains open" (15) and "difficult to answer" (15). Rauer's reticence is frustrating coming from a scholar who has been publishing on the Old English Martyrology since 1999, and who surely must be the undisputed current expert on the subject. The introduction effectively synthesizes the main points of Rauer's previous publications in the field, but I was hoping for a more definitive interpretive statement to introduce and accompany what will certainly be the definitive edition and commentary on the text. Rauer's judicious approach may well be justified, but it is nonetheless disappointing.

In every other way, however, this magnum opus is flawless. Rauer's edition of the text is based on all six surviving medieval manuscripts, and one early modern copy, all of which are fragmentary (as a diagram of the dates covered by each witness on p. 23 conveniently illustrates). Like previous editors, Rauer has retained London, British Library Cotton MS Julius A.x fols. 44-175, of the late tenth or early eleventh century, as the Leithandschrift; this witness preserves the transmission that is closest to the original compiler's text. A separate branch of transmission preserves a revised version, made not long after the original, that "is frequently clearer in style, often edits out difficult lexis and clumsy syntax, and has a greater West Saxon dialectical component in its language" (24). All the variant readings from the most important witness to this transmission (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 196, a late eleventh-century manuscript from Exeter) are reported in the apparatus. Unlike previous editors, Rauer has been able to draw on the substantial amount of research (her own and that of her colleagues) undertaken since the last publication of the text (Günter Kotzor's 1981 edition for the Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften), whether on the Old English Martyrology itself or on related texts and contexts. Rauer has reconstructed the martyrology in light of this information, with a particular focus on the hundreds of Latin texts that have been identified as the compiler's sources. She has also provided almost one hundred pages of commentary on the martyrology, including bibliographic references to all the relevant scholarship. There are also appendices containing separate editions of the shorter manuscripts, a glossary, and indices for persons, texts and geographical terms.

By including a modern English translation of the martyrology, Rauer hopes to stimulate new interest in the text. By raving about her translation in this review, I hope to further that aim. I would recommend this book for the private library of virtually every medievalist, and certainly for everyone who works on saints. If a paperback version were made available, I would use the book in a variety of classes (such as "Saints, Relics and Miracles" or "Medieval Culture" or "Anglo-Saxon England") and I think other instructors would do so as well. I hope the publisher will consider taking this step.



Copyright (c) 2015 Felice Lifshitz



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