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17.12.07, Neidorf, Pascual, and Shippey, eds., Old English Philology

17.12.07, Neidorf, Pascual, and Shippey, eds., Old English Philology

This festschrift emerged out of its editors' conviction that Fulk is "the greatest Old English philologist to emerge during the twentieth century" (1). The essays ably substantiate that claim and offer an appropriate tribute because most address issues Fulk has worked on and many use philological methods comparable to his. Such methods remain necessary, for as co-editor Leonard Neidorf writes in his introduction, "without the constraints imposed by philological knowledge, modern scholarship can easily succumb to meretricious interpretations that, although they cannot be reconciled to the facts, accord well with anachronistic and ethnocentric assumptions held by contemporary readers" (3). The constraints of philology, as Fulk has shown, and these essays often confirm, provide a necessary and intellectually responsible way to establish, access, and navigate texts of the past. Using philological method, Fulk gave us a reasonable chronology of Old English poetry, dated and edited Beowulf, and produced important editions, metrical and linguistic studies, and other work besides. His work will be useful and will last, floating above a flotsam of scholarship mostly unread and useless. This book in his honor and shadow contains 21 essays, including several on meter and a number of linguistic or word studies. Most advance compelling arguments as they simultaneously demonstrate imitable methodology.

Following Neidorf's introduction "R.D. Fulk and the Progress of Philology," which characterizes Fulk's methods and notes his contributions and influence, the first seven essays treat topics involving Old English meter. Rafael J. Pascual's "Sievers, Bliss, Fulk, and Old English Metrical Theory" corrects misinterpretations of Fulk's (and Bliss's) metrical theory by explaining how Fulk has shown Bliss's theory to be inferior to that of Sievers and not a continuation of it. Fulk corroborated and corrected Sievers, for instance, by noting the metrical role of syllable quantity, and exposed a lack of empirical evidence for Bliss, e.g., Bliss's notion that regular verses may contain fewer than four positions. Thomas Cable's more tentative "Ictus as Stress or Length: The Effect of Tempo," with reference to Fulk's ideas about syllable length determining metrical ictus, explores how that linguistic principle might have affected tempo in Old English poetry, tempo being perhaps a structural feature, not merely a matter of performance. In his essay, "Metrical Criteria for the Emendation of Old English Poetic Texts" Leonard Neidorf places Fulk alongside Sievers as the two great metrists who redefined the field of Old English. He laments that more people have not accepted Fulk's findings about the reliability of meter as a tool in textual criticism. The essay compares texts of Old English poems found in multiple manuscripts to argue that, contrary to the views of some scholars, vernacular poets did not intentionally compose unmetrical verses. Metrical scholarship, Neidorf contends, deserves a more prominent place in textual criticism and literary studies.

Continuing the focus on meter, "The Suppression of the Subjunctive in Beowulf: A Metrical Explanation," by Jun Terasawa, notes that uniquely in Beowulf clause types that elsewhere mostly take verbs in the subjunctive mood (e.g., concessive and temporal clauses) eschew the subjunctive in favor of the indicative in order to form metrically acceptable verses. Another essay on Beowulf, Geoffrey Russom's "Metrical Complexity and Verse Placement in Beowulf," which subscribes to the word-foot theory of Old English meter, pushes the kind of probabilistic reasoning used by Fulk to consider how the complexity of a poetic half-line affects its relative frequency and its placement in a line of poetry. Mark Griffith's "Alliterating Finite Verbs and the Origin of Rank in Old English Poetry," looks at undisplaced finite verbs, whether and why they alliterate, and like Fulk and Pascual questions the basis for some of Bliss's conclusions about Old English metrical practices. Griffith concludes that register and style, not primarily syntax or meter, explain the alliteration of such finites. Donka Minkova's "Prosody-Meter Correspondences in Late Old English and Poema Morale" stresses the importance of syllabification in understanding how the poetry works and investigates linguistically-grounded resolution and its possible persistence in the homiletic Middle English poem of her title. Ultimately, she does not find in it the persistence Fulk has claimed for it. What explains some of the structure of the poem is not resolution but conscious avoidance of particular phonological strings. More generally, by the end of the Old English period, and certainly in the Middle English period, resolution was a metrical convention, not a phonological issue. This essay challenges Fulk in a way few of the essays in the festschrift do. I suspect the honorand would agree that amicable scholarly disagreement is necessary if it corrects and advances collective scholarship. Subsequent essays, while not so neatly grouped as the first seven, mainly treat lexical and linguistic issues and sometimes pick up areas mentioned in the earlier essays on metrics. Aaron Ecay and Susan Pintzuk's "The Syntax of Old English Poetry and the Dating of Beowulf" suggests that syntax has been underused as a dating tool. The authors agree with Fulk, and argue against Amos, on the reliability of linguistic tests for dating Old English poetry. Engaging in corpus linguistics, and noting different kinds of clause-level syntactic variation over time, they explain that Old English is a less V2 language than is often stated and conclude that syntactic evidence confirms non-syntactic evidence for an early date. George Clark's "The Anglo-Saxons and Superbia: Finding a Word for it" takes issue with Hans Schabram's claims about the word's chronological and geographical distributions and shows how Old English writers understood the word in as many as 41 ways as needed in their own dialectal and cultural contexts. Anatoly Liberman's brief "Old English gelōme, gelōma, Modern English loom, lame, and Their Kin" skillfully navigates the rough waters of etymology before landing on solid ground that shows how loom (verb and noun) and lame are etymologically related to Old English gelōme 'often'. One empathizes with Liberman's pessimism regarding the low place of etymological study and historical linguistics broadly in academic institutions.

Another word study, Haruko Momma's "Worm: A Lexical Approach to the Beowulf Manuscript," sheds light on the polysemous and widely distributed wyrm. More interesting, perhaps, is the approach taken by this "codex-specific word study" (203) in showing how the distribution of wyrm in the Nowell Codex may tell us the kind and/or register of a given text we are reading. Stefan Jurasinski's "Wulfstan, Episcopal Authority, and the Handbook for the Use of a Confessor" clarifies the still uncertain role Wulfstan of York played in the creation of this text by focusing on historical context and on what the text says, somewhat eccentrically, about penance, making penance more public and granting a lesser role to priests and a greater role to bishops. Another corpus-based approach, Christopher M. Cain's "Some Observations on e-caudata in Old English Texts" reminds us, with a particular case-study, that normalization of orthography in edited texts can obscure and hide meaningful linguistic data. Though it is tricky to track, and cannot easily be tracked comprehensively, ę does more than substitute for æ, the usual explanation. For instance, use of e-caudata might have been conditioned by text type, or Latin context, or scribal center. More is at stake than mere phonology or orthography, and editors and readers should take note. "The Poetics of Poetic Words in Old English," by Dennis Cronan, uses ideas of Roman Jakobson to assert that Old English word studies can be a means to an end, not just an end in themselves. Through individual word studies we can learn the aesthetic value of poetic vocabulary, which is larger than many think, as a whole. Old English vocabulary can be poetic in many ways beyond its distribution or metrical function, ways that have aesthetic and semantic, ultimately even cultural, value (e.g., embodying heroic ideology). Poetic vocabulary is artful, not merely mechanical.

Daniel Donoghue's "Dream of the Rood 9b: A Cross as an Angel?", a textual and semantic study, reviews proposed solutions to a well-known crux and proposes instead that engel in the line refers not, as often translated, to an 'angel,' whose nature is as a celestial being, but to the speaking cross itself, whose function is as a messenger. Charles D. Wright's "The Fate of Lot's Wife: A 'Canterbury School' Gloss in Genesis A," a source study with ramifications for dating, uses sealtstan in the poem, what Lot's wife becomes, to link the Genesis A poet to Theodore's teaching about her, perhaps thus proving a Canterbury School gloss is a source for an Old English poem. Combined with other evidence, this indebted use of the word might help date the poem early, pre-750 or earlier. In "Metrical Alternation in The Fortunes of Men," Megan E. Hartman compares metrical data from other poems to show that Fortunes, unusually, contains many metrical patterns and discursive strategies that, used in conjunction with narrative, add emotional weight to the poem. Shifts in metrical patterning, Hartman claims, can indicate different genres, each with its own lexical and syntactic distinctions. Fortunes uniquely combines two genres, narrative and gnomic, in an aesthetically and emotionally rich, and also more personal, manner. Andy Orchard's "The Originality of Andreas," another insightful and data-rich essay in Orchardian fashion, tries to pin down this unusual poem which seems to have borrowed from both Beowulf and Cynewulf. Examining diction, especially compounds and formulas, shared between Andreas and its possible Old English sources, Orchard demonstrates how the poet consciously engaged his sources in ways that make his style both innovative and recognizably traditional.

Using historical and material evidence such as charters, Rory Naismith's "The Economy of Beowulf" looks at relations between exchanges of treasure in the poem and actual economic processes among elites in Anglo-Saxon society. While the poem contains little "real" historical economy, it is rich in the symbolic economy of honor. The poet understood historical economies, especially the symbolic value exchange had for elites, whether of charters in the real world or of gifts of treasure in the world of the poem. Tom Shippey's "Beowulf Studies from Tolkien to Fulk" narrates how since the watershed moment of Tolkien's essay on the poem scholars have disagreed about the poem and fought for the soul of Beowulf studies. Tolkien inspired literary critics who found in the poem artful structures and themes but whose approaches eventually became stale and comfortable. The field was jolted and reinvigorated by the 1980 Toronto dating conference, with differing views on many sides and late-daters speaking loudly. Enter Fulk, who emerged with characteristic philological rigor and reasoning, and in his monumental A History of Old English Meter and elsewhere asserted a probable early date for the poem. Shippey maintains that Fulk's book "deserved to be--and may yet become--the most influential work published in Anglo-Saxon literary studies during the twentieth century" (404). This work and subsequent publications by Fulk, including his co-edited edition of the poem and his edition and translation of its manuscript, help us see past the subjective and ahistorical interpretations of the poem Tolkien, however ironically, inspired. The book concludes with a complete list of Fulk's publications (more than a hundred), a basic index, and a Tabula Gratulatoria.

When reviewing edited collections, it is a truism to say that the contents are uneven, and Festschriften are often more celebration than substance. However, with this festschrift the truism is almost proved false. This is a first-rate collection whose essays make contributions to the field and honor Fulk appropriately with substance, insight, and sound argumentation. Essays very often build on Fulk and sometimes imitate his own methods, thus simultaneously substantiating Fulk's importance to scholarship and advancing new work in related areas. Generally, the essays read well, proposing arguments with evidence and using logical structures and clear language. Given the subject matter, some technical discussions, e.g., those concerning meter, can be hard to understand, but nowhere do the authors write murkily. The book is carefully edited, with few typographical errors.

Anglo-Saxonists, if we can still be called such, inhabit a moment in which scholarly and professional values, priorities, methods, and access are being loudly proclaimed, denounced, or debated. These conversations, one hopes, will open the discipline without compromising core values or closing down time-tested scholarly approaches. In such a climate of opinion, this volume, with its focus on philology (another fraught word), is welcome. Anglo-Saxon studies, and medieval studies generally, needs scholars who have the skills and inclination, as well as the disciplinary acceptance, to do the fundamental work of philology. For often the work of philologists, including Fulk and many of the contributors here, is what scholars rely on when they do other, newer kinds of work. Without philology, the discipline disappears.