Over six hundred years before John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Anglo-Saxon
authors told their own version of the fall of the angels. This book brings
together various cultural moments, literary genres, and relevant comparanda to
recover that story, from the legal and social world to the realm of popular
spiritual ritual and belief. The story of the fall of the angels in Anglo-Saxon
England is the story of a successfully transmitted exegetical teaching turned
rich literary tradition that can be traced through a diverse range of genres:
sermons, saints’ lives, royal charters, riddles, as well as devotional and
biblical poetry, each genre offering a distinct window into the ancient myth’s
place within the Anglo-Saxon literary and cultural imagination.
works of medieval men and women who subsequently fashioned for it an improbable literary legacy. From Bede’s In Genesin to Werferth’s Dialogues and the translated works of Alfred’s circle, to the documents recording the dissensions and proclaiming the triumphs of Benedictine Reform, to the sermons of Ælfric, and the biblical poetry of the JuniusManuscript, we see how the fall of the angels muscularly crisscrossed literary, theological, and political spheres, revealing the porous boundaries between them. Along the way, I have argued that Anglo-Saxon authors used
ritualised demarcation of boundaries can also be seen across the spaces of hell at the end of the Old English Christ and Satan . 4
Scholars frequently characterise this final poem of the JuniusManuscript as obscure or even confused because it follows an unorthodox chronology in placing the Harrowing, Ascension, and Last Judgement before Christ’s Temptation in the wilderness. Furthermore, the poem concludes with a peculiar, unsourced episode in which Christ orders Satan to measure the ymbhwyrft (‘circuit’) of hell with his hands. 5 Not long after Satan embarks on his
angels complements Werferth’s translation of the Dialogues and fits in well with the political concerns expressed throughout the Alfredian corpus. In Genesis A and elsewhere, Satan is uniquely imagined as a powerful nobleman or veteran retainer who betrays his lord’s munificence in a struggle for power and landed supremacy; he is subsequently banished from his homeland, doomed to wander in exile. The poet of Genesis A , the first poem in the illustrated codex known as the JuniusManuscript (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Junius 11), imagines heaven much like the
Colonization of the Promised Land’, in Wendy Scase et al. (eds), New Medieval Literatures , 4 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 39–60.
10 Howie, Claustrophilia: The Erotics of Enclosure in Medieval Literature (New York: Palgrave, 2007), p. 33.
11 I cite Lucas's edition. Peter J. Lucas (ed.), Exodus , rev. edn (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1994). Other editions, like Krapp's, emend ‘Afrisc meowle’ to ‘Afrisc neowle’, intending the phrase to mean ‘prostrate Egyptian’. The JuniusManuscript , ASPR 1 (New York
41 A possible example of some version of this image in early medieval England is seen in the bird-feet and ?drones protruding behind the seated figure in the JuniusManuscript (Oxford, Bodleian Library, Junius 11), p. 57, available at http://image.ox.ac.uk/show?collection=bodleian&manuscript=msjunius11 (accessed 3 February 2019). The text here is the genealogy of Genesis 4–5; the figure is usually interpreted as Cainan enthroned, but Linden Currie, who kindly brought this image to my attention (pers. comm.), suggests association with Jubal, ‘the
metrical rules of Old
English poetry; part two is a catalogue of Old English poetry subdivided by genre; the third section is the only part which John
had fully completed and prepared for publication and contains a
translation and discussion of Cædmon’s Hymn, Widsith (which
the Conybeares titled ‘The Song of the Traveller’) and Beowulf.
The final section of the book serves as an appendix and consists
of transcriptions and translations from the Exeter Anthology, the
Alfredian Boethius and the JuniusManuscript which were left
unfinished at the time of John Conybeare
, l. 2365b). The poet’s reflection upon this command is to the point, stating that ‘heo wæron leof gode ðenden heo his halige word healdan woldon’ (they were loved by God while they desired to keep his holy word, ll. 244b–5). Following this, God surveys his creation one last time and affirms his wish for Adam and Eve to dwell in happiness.
The subsequent flashback closely resembles chronological ‘interruptions’ that occur elsewhere in the JuniusManuscript with the so-called ‘Patriarchal digressions’ in Exodus recounting Noah (ll. 362–76) and Abraham (ll. 377
Gardner, The Construction of Christian Poetry in Old English
(Carbondale, IL, 1975 ), pp. 30–2, argued
the poem’s rhetorical merits in terms of its patterning of
words and images. See Francis Lee Utley, ‘The Flood Narrative
in the JuniusManuscript and in Baltic Literature’, Studies
in Old English Literature , ed. Stanley B. Greenfield
(Eugene, OR, 1963 ), pp. 207–26, at p
The mythological element in Beowulf has presented problems of interpretation for well over a century. There can be little doubt that the myth of the Flood has an important place in the imagination of the Beowulf poet who refers directly to the destruction of the giants in the primeval deluge. Malcolm Godden has noted that 'as Grendel is introduced by a reference to the Old Testament legend which described the origin of monsters, so his end is announced by an allusion to the biblical myth of their destruction.' There is no doubt that the poet associates the giant Grendel with hell, his obvious spiritual home. The unnatural fusion of fire and water in the abyss is not the only ingredient that the hell in Solomon and Saturn II shares with Beowulf, and which both share with the tradition of the Vision of St Paul.