18.10.22, North/Bintley, eds, Andreas

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Andrew Scheil

The Medieval Review 18.10.22

North, Richard and Michael Bintley, eds. Andreas: An Edition. Exeter Medieval Texts and Studies . Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2016. pp. xiv, 378. ISBN: 978-1-78138-271-4 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Andrew Scheil
University of Minnesota

The reviewer sincerely apologizes for the tardy appearance of this review.

The long Old English narrative poem Andreas (1722 lines, its title a modern convention) is an over-the-top baroque masterpiece. An adaptation of what was originally a late antique apocryphal apostolic romance, Andreas tells the missionary story of St. Andrew's rescue of his fellow missionary Matthew, imprisoned in an exotic city in the Great Beyond of the world. Andrew rescues his fellow apostle and other prisoners, and then undergoes his own hagiographic agon at the hands of the native cannibal Mermedonians. After a succession of miracles and bloody torments, Andrew of course triumphs over his pagan enemies, conversion wins the day, and all is well. Along the way, our Old English poet applies the full native power of the Anglo-Saxon poetic tradition to his source materials and the results is a macabre Christian mash-up of heroic poetry and typology.

This new authoritative edition of Andreas is a triumph of scholarship and replaces the previous standard scholarly editions by Kenneth Brooks (1961) and by George P. Krapp for The Vercelli Book volume of the Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records (1932). [1] These previous editions will still have their uses: the Brooks edition has a solid commentary and glossary (and though out of print is readily available on the used book market in various reprints); the ASPR edition is a serviceable conservative text (now floating about the internet in many easily accessible and convenient formats because it is out of copyright). One should also note here the excellent recent facing-page edition and translation of the poem in the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library volume by Mary Clayton, Old English Poems of Christ and His Saints; her book is not intended as a standard scholarly edition, but it is an avenue to the original text nonetheless. [2]

This very welcome new edition by North and Bintley, however, supersedes all of the above as the authoritative edition for scholars. All serious libraries that support medieval studies research will need a copy; individual scholars will want a copy, but whether they can afford to buy one will be a different matter: the hardback edition is too expensive for classroom use or most personal libraries. I am certain I speak for many in the hope that Liverpool University Press will at least consider doing a limited paperback run of this volume, as they do for most of the excellent "Exeter Medieval Texts and Studies" series.

The edition's substantial 115-page "Introduction" (almost a full monograph on the poem, essentially) is divided into seven subsections: 1. "The Poem and its Analogues" (1-8); 2. "The Manuscript" (8-26); 3. "Language and Dialect" (26-48); 4. Section 4 "Metre and Prosody" (48-57); 5. "Poetic Style" (57-81); 6. "Mermedonia" (81-96); 7. "Date and Authorship" (97-115). Most of these subsections of the introduction are self-explanatory; they are all models of exacting scholarship and wonderful use of all the research resources of contemporary Anglo-Saxon studies. The editors' coverage of Andreas scholarship throughout the volume--introduction, text, commentary, glossary--is comprehensive. One can admire the lucid presentation of complex material: e.g., the tangled questions about the poem's sources and analogues; the dense scholarship concerning the accretive copying and putative antecedents of the poem's single manuscript witness, Vercelli, Biblioteca Capitolare, ms. cxvii, commonly known as "The Vercelli Book." The sections on "Language and Dialect" and "Metre and Prosody" come around to verify the mainstream scholarly consensus about these subjects, but do so by taking full account of important work since the early 1960s.

Subsection 5 on "Poetic Style" is where the editors thoroughly discuss one of the best-known areas of scholarly debate about the poem: its apparent knowledge of Beowulf and of Cynewulf's poetry (the latter a more recent addition to the intertextual discussion). The editors follow the work of scholars such as Andy Orchard in determining that the Andreas poet indeed had direct knowledge of these prior poems. In their view, the similarities among these poems is not due to general oral-formulaic coincidence or an inept attempt to apply a "Beowulfian" style (both previous scholarly views), but rather that the Andreas poet is an ambitious and original artist commenting and alluding to previous poems in the tradition in a complex, effective way.

Subsection 6 on "Mermedonia" takes us through the geographic, spatial and material representations in the poem: e.g., the mythic land of Mermedonia, boundaries and borderlands, meeting places, pagan sites and Christian churches, cityscapes and prisons, pillars and pathways. In this wonderful section the editors show how the spaces and places found in the late antique Christian source-text were filtered through and transformed by a native early medieval/Anglo-Saxon sensibility.

Subsection 7 on "Date and Authorship" picks up threads found in all the preceding sections to develop a very specific argument about the poem's origin, sure to be seen by most as too much of a reach. It would not be possible to summarize this entire complex argument in a review of this length and discuss it responsibly; it builds upon a wide variety of different kinds of evidence: historical, textual, linguistic, material, and so forth. In the interest of fairness, it is perhaps best to let the editors speak for themselves, in the final paragraph of the Introduction, summarizing their argument:

"So we end with a big hypothesis. One half of this is that Andreas was

composed in Wessex by a Mercian priest who alludes to St Bartholomew's

shrine by means of a borrowing from Cynewulf, who was familiar with

working councils, and who performed his poem some time after Alfred

reoccupied London and continental advisers began to enable Alfred's

educational reforms: thus, from c. 888 onwards, and before or when Asser

wrote his Life of Alfred in 893. This period of about five years was also the

civic and intellectual zenith of Alfred's reign. On the strength of what seems

to be his loan of Cynewulf's reference to St Bartholomew, we suggest that

the poet was Æthelstan, Alfred's chaplain from Mercia. The other half of the

hypothesis is that the exemplar of Andreas and Fates is traceable to the second

half of the tenth century in Wilton (or Shaftesbury, or Sherborne) by comparison

with St. Edith of Wilton and the Salisbury Psalter. Above, it is suggested that

Edward's great-granddaughter Edith, in her convent at Wilton in the 970s,

copied these poems as a gift for Dunstan,who had them recopied into the

Vercelli Book in St Augustine's. Other theories may do better, but ours is

that priest adventurer Æthelstan, some time after returning from the shrines

of St Bartholomew in Macedonia and St Thomas in Asia Minor, and very

approximately in 890, composed Andreas for the court in Winchester, and

that he left a copy in Ramsbury when he died there as bishop of Wiltshire in

927 (114-115)."

This is not a mainstream view of the poem's composition, and using a chain of evidence in this way is not typical in the contemporary scholarly study of Old English poetry. This particular reviewer does not find the final hypothesis convincing, but I believe it is better to air such arguments and discuss them, rather than squelch possibilities.

After the introduction, North and Bintley present the Old English text of the poem, edited in a generally conservative fashion, with vowel lengths usefully marked by macrons. Emendations are clearly denoted as such throughout the text. A running modern English translation is presented on the lower half of each page; not a "facing-page" format, but rather a "split-page" format. The translation is into Modern English prose, but attempts to match as best as possible the Old English line for line and is thus typographically set as "poetry" might be. The translation is somewhere between an exceedingly literal rendering and something slightly more artistic or interpretative. The editors explain that "the policy with the translation is to offer a guide to the original which the reader may affirm or alter with reference to the Glossary" (116). So the intention is not primarily to provide an artistic translation designed for easy reading, independent of the Old English text; it is more of an old fashioned "crib," designed to be more useful to the reader who knows at least some Old English and is able to move carefully between Old English text, translation, and glossary. This is certainly an interesting and defensible choice; it makes sense given that there are many other full translations of Andreas available for casual reading by the non-expert. As a result, the translation here does produce clumsy odd-sounding moments, but no doubt the editors are aware of this. See, for example, Andrew's response to God early in the poem, lines 285-89:

"To Him then did Andrew give answer

'Us a desire incites to that territory,

great hope of mind to that famous town,

dearest chief, if to us you will only

make on the tide your generosity known."

This follows the Old English text, word-order and all, almost as literally as possible while retaining some intelligibility (barely). Awkward passages like this abound, but again if one understands the purpose of this translation as a kind of gloss and guide to study more than something with aesthetic ambitions, it works.

Andreas is a fascinating and under-appreciated Old English poem, worthy of far more and varied scholarly study than it has received; it also, incidentally works very well in the classroom. Learned and precise, Richard North and Michael Bintley's superb new edition will bring this often-bizarre, but always interesting composition to the next few generations of twenty-first century scholars.



1. Kenneth R. Brooks (ed.), Andreas and the Fates of the Apostles (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961); George P. Krapp (ed.), The Vercelli Book, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1932).

2. Mary Clayton (ed. and trans.), Old English Poems of Christ and His Saints, Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 27 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013).

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