Traditions of the apostles in Old English literature
This chapter, by Hugh Magennis, considers the theme of the interpretation and application of Christian knowledge as reflected in treatments of the apostles in vernacular writings in Anglo-Saxon England. The acta of the apostles originated in the East but were transmitted and reworked by western writers, not least in pre-Conquest England. Surveying depictions of the apostles in Old English, Magennis’s chapter emphasises the definitive place that the apostles occupy within Christian systems of knowledge and understanding but also examines how traditions of the apostles are appropriated and reconceived by Anglo-Saxon writers (including the poet of Andreas, whose reworking of his source is considered in greater detail in the chapter in this volume by Richard North).
In the opening chapter Sándor Chardonnens focuses on medieval collections on dream divination. Taking account of a vast corpus of such writings, widely dispersed chronologically and geographically, he argues that alphabetical and thematic dream books, dream lunaries and mantic alphabets belong to the same branch of divination, that of oneiromancy, but that they were rarely anthologised in clusters within the same collection. He investigates patterns of transmission of dream divination in manuscripts and early printed texts in order to understand whether the ways in which those three types of dream divination were clustered together may give us an indication of genre awareness.
In this chapter Denis Renevey examines the ways in which writers in the Greek world and, later, western religious teachers used the name of ‘Jesus’ in contemplative practices, and offers ‘answers as to the way in which knowledge of the power of the name “Jesus” was appropriated for different purposes in the two differing Christian traditions, and according to distinct spiritual ideologies’. Renevey discusses the influence of Origen in the development of knowledge about the powerful potential of the name of Jesus and goes on to highlight the attachment to the name in Orthodox liturgical practice from about the ninth century, an attachment that in the fervency of its language anticipates western traditions of affectivity. Among western writers, Renevey focuses on Anselm of Canterbury and Bernard of Clairvaux, the former promoting affective use of the name in personal devotion, the latter in a communal monastic context, as part of a well-conceived devotional scheme.
The Introduction begins by placing the present volume in the context of previous and current work on the subject of medieval knowledge. It goes on to give an outline of medieval perspectives on the meaning, value and transmission of knowledge, noting the influence of classical authors and tracing the development of ideas about knowledge through the writings of key Christian thinkers. Isidore of Seville is identified as the key influence of the medieval encyclopaedic tradition and particular attention is paid to the authoritative work of Augustine, Bede and Aquinas. The introduction relates aspects of these medieval perspectives to specific chapters of the book and also highlights the relationship between religious and secular traditions. It ends with a succinct outline of each chapter.
Like the previous chapter, Michelle Brown’s contribution represents an instance of the integration of Christian and pre-Christian Germanic knowledge in the early Middle Ages. Brown explores the context and meaning of the distinctive late-tenth-century rune-stone carved at the royal burial ground of Jellinge in Denmark, viewing the monument as a book in stone and a symbol of conversion and of changing political agendas in Scandinavia in the tenth century. Ranging widely across early medieval art, Brown explains that the stone (like the Auzon/Franks Casket, to which she also alludes) draws upon both Christian and pagan Norse traditions ‘to form a new, integrated iconography that formed a distinctive expression of the Scandinavian experience of cultural synthesis and conversion’.
In this chapter Marilina Cesario addresses the subject of weather forecasting in the Middle Ages as revealed in the meteorological prognostics that survive abundantly from throughout the period but particularly from the eleventh century onwards. The chapter focuses in particular on one fifteenth-century medical manuscript from Germany containing an anthology of seven Latin weather texts. Cesario edits and translates the texts for the first time and offers detailed discussion of them. She finds that these treatises contribute to their manuscript’s overarching interest in natural philosophy and that they were mostly given theoretical rather than practical usage, having their place in a context of academic learning (eruditio). One item stands out from the others, however, a puzzling salt prognostication found uniquely here. This text relies not, it is argued, on erudite knowledge but on knowledge acquired empirically and appears to have been designed for practical use.
Richard North’s chapter argues that the Old English verse saint’s life Andreas (on the apostle St Andrew) appropriates the secular epic poem Beowulf for mock-epic purposes, turning knowledge of Beowulf, a poem which by implication must have been famous in Anglo-Saxon England, to a new Christian purpose. Andreas is seen to offer through its mock-epic style a satirical commentary on the heathen nostalgia of Beowulf. In Andreas knowledge of secular literature and its version of the past is astutely re-appropriated for religious purposes, being absorbed into and transcended by a Christian celebration of the true heroism of the saint. This chapter adds a new dimension to the understanding of Anglo-Saxon literary history and the place of secular tradition within it.
The dimension and layout of books containing Old English
Donald G. Scragg
In the final chapter in the book Donald Scragg focuses on the very practical issue of the size and the layout of Old English manuscripts from the eighth century to the first half of the twelfth, in order to explore the role of books in the transmission of thought, knowledge and practical experiences of the age. The chapter considers how the dimensions of surviving books can give clues ‘about their intended use, about how they were created and about what that may tell us about the role of the written vernacular in the society of early England’.
Emily Wingfield’s chapter examines treatments of Queen Margaret of Scotland (d. 1093), beginning with the Life written by Turgot, prior of Durham, at the request of Margaret’s daughter the English queen Matilda, a work that highlights Margaret’s literacy and learning; Margaret’s role as reader and writer is shown to be emphasised also in later treatments. The subject of this chapter is thus not a branch of knowledge but the perceived learning of an important female individual and the significance of that learning in constructions of her as a saint. The chapter examines the way in which books function as vehicles for Margaret’s sanctity and political power and suggests that the Life itself is designed to model the life of a learned and holy queen for Margaret’s daughter, Matilda. Wingfield then considers how later verbal and visual accounts of Margaret develop this tradition so that she comes to function as an advisor of princes as well as princesses, her sanctity being shown to inhere ‘quite specifically, in her literacy’.
This chapter, by Suzanne Conklin Akbari and Asa Simon Mittman, addresses the subject of cartography and medieval perceptions of geographical space, specifically in relation to Jerusalem. The chapter pays particularly attention to the map of the city in a manuscript from twelfth-century Flanders, doing so in the context of an overview of medieval map-making which stresses the symbolic function of maps within a Christian view of the physical world, with Jerusalem the ideal city at its centre. For the composer of the map examined here, however, Jerusalem is not just an ideal, but a real city. Thus theological understanding is strikingly combined with the practical knowledge.