Literature and Theatre

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in Rebel angels
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This chapter considers the fall of the angels in Old English saints’ lives, wherein holy men and women articulate the narrative as though it were a charm, a verbal defence mechanism offering spatial, geographical, and bodily protections. Just as Anglo-Saxon charms master something threatening by defining and reciting its name, properties, and origins, so too in Elene and Juliana do Cynewulf’s saintly protagonists Judas Cyriacus and Juliana master their demonic tempters by identifying them and recounting their originary sin. While in these poems the origin narrative is itself apotropaic, in Andreas the fall of the angels narrative is linked to the protective power of the baptismal seal (or sphragis) that safeguards Christians against the devil. Similarly, Guthlac A relates how Guthlac disarms his demonic tormentors by recounting the story of their fall and by expressing his faithful expectation that he will be one of their replacements in heaven.

in Rebel angels

This chapter argues that the poet of Genesis B imagines Satan’s crime as a failure to accept sovereign checks on his power and limits upon his territorial ambitions. Irish vernacular adaptations similarly depict how Satan views humankind as rival-inheritors of lands to which he feels entitled. These accounts, found in texts such as Saltair na Rann and Lebor Gabála, derive from the apocryphal ‘Life of Adam and Eve’. We see how both Anglo-Saxon and Irish authors adapt apocryphal traditions for a powerful socio-political effect, imagining features of their own ecclesiastical and secular administrations as mimetic representations of divine structures.

in Rebel angels

Chapter 5 considers how the poet of Christ and Satan portrays Satan’s attempts to disrupt Christ’s authority in both heavenly and earthly territories. I approach the poem through the liturgical traditions of the Rogationtide festival, when Anglo-Saxons participated in three days of ‘perambulations’ meant to demarcate communal boundaries. The poem’s eccentric chronology and bizarre conclusion – in which Christ forces Satan to measure the ymbhwyrft (‘circuit’) of hell with his hands – can be understood as an inversion of Rogation rituals whereby Satan parodies his own condition of lordlessness as he circuits the spaces of hell. By situating his poem within the framework of liturgical and localised practice, the poet appeals to an audience readily familiar with the primary goals of Rogationtide, namely, the purification of earthly boundaries in the interest of making oneself a suitable heir to otherworldly geographies.

in Rebel angels
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in Rebel angels

This chapter considers the proems of land charters that evoke the angelic rebellion. After providing an overview of the legal outlook surrounding treachery and rebellion from the age of Alfred – whose legal reforms sought to establish that landed entitlements were privileges descending from kings – onwards, I consider this social context alongside Genesis A, a vernacular poem that includes a striking episode detailing earthly creation alongside the doctrine of replacement using distinctly legal terminology. The connection between the charters and the biblical story thus allow us to see how notions of replacement may have had physical, earthly repercussions, and how new modes of sovereignty emerged through a growing reliance on biblical authority.

in Rebel angels

This chapter considers renderings of the fall of the angels narrative in the homilies of Ælfric and Archbishop Wulfstan of York. Ælfric explores the complex relationship between sovereigns and disobedient subjects, imagining the angelic fall as a crisis of individual agency. Wulfstan adopts Ælfric’s approach in the wake of the viking invasions. With Wulfstan, I work to overturn some predominant readings of his famous Sermo Lupi ad Anglos (namely, that he characterises the vikings as heralds of Antichrist). Armed with the doctrine of replacement as his rhetorical weapon, Wulfstan suggests that the English body politic has instead come to resemble the rebel order of angels, implying that the vikings could supplant them and take their place as ‘replacements,’ inbound colonisers destined for heavenly seats. Just as the originally pagan Anglo-Saxons had been replacements for the sinful Christian Britons, Wulfstan urges Anglo-Saxon Christians not to cede to the vikings their providential role in salvation history.

in Rebel angels
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Space and sovereignty in Anglo-Saxon England

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.

Proems evoking the fall of the angels reach an apex of expression in the ‘New Minster Charter’, the prime textual forerunner to the Benedictine Reform. The charter’s author portrays the secular clerics at Winchester as a subversive threat to English ecclesiastical unity by aligning their alleged sinful behaviour with that of the ‘pride-filled angels’. I examine how the Winchester charters attest to the potency of biblical narrative in the lived experience of Anglo-Saxons through their depiction of adversaries to the English Christian community and in their aim to legally establish the secular canons as rebels. I also consider how these charters were not the first English documents to imagine disobedient and disorderly ecclesiastics as earthly replicas of the rebel angels, but represent part of a longer tradition of viewing the church as a reflection of the heavenly polity.

in Rebel angels
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Through a discussion of spatial practice in Irish verbal and literary culture, the Conclusion paints an encompassing picture of the resilience and ubiquity of circling spatial practice in Irish culture. While this practice, literary and cultural, is rooted in the Middle Ages, it is nonetheless still prevalent and globally influential in contemporary literary culture, as evidenced by Seamus Heaney’s poetry. The conclusion emphasizes the circling poetical device of dúnad, but also considers various visual images of circling spatial schemes, including illuminated insular gospels, mazes or labyrinths, plans of Jerusalem holy structures, maps and depictions of the cosmos, as well as schemes of the ogam alphabet. Spatial practice, and circling movements through material and imaginative landscapes, are a driving force in diverse forms of Irish cultural production.

in A landscape of words