Hasenfratz, Robert and Thomas Jambeck. 2005. Reading Old English: A Primer and First Reader. West Virginia UP. xx + 553 pages + 7 ills. + fold-out table. 1933202017 (paper). http://www.readingoldenglish.com/
The past five years have brought readers of Old English a bloom of introductory grammar books, at least nine by my count. With this sudden, noteworthy upswing one might think the field of learning Old English had never been healthier, not to mention academic publishing. Instead, I believe this bloom represents three things: first, dissatisfaction with the dominant text, Mitchell and Robinson's A Guide to Old English (now in a 7th edition with two additional reading selections); second, distress that other, favoured grammars and readers have fallen out of print; third, fracture of the academic marketplace and of the knowledge of grammar and linguistics students can be expected to possess.
I have not read, let alone taught, each of these nine recent books (Hough and Corbett's Beginning Old English was published this February; McGillivray's untitled book, likely developed from his longstanding web-course, will be published soon.) But, of the grammar books I do know, they can be sorted into two camps: those which feature a compact though dense primer separate from readings [Mitchell-Robinson; Sweet-Davis/Sweet-Whitelock; Moore-Knott]; and those based on a progressive schema which work chapter by chapter and use simplified readings and practice exercises to illustrate grammar instruction [Bright-Cassidy-Ringler; Marckwardt-Rosier; Drout-Gilchrist]. One might also note from this list of conjoined names that there is something peculiarly collaborative and trans-generational about writing grammar books.
Hasenfratz and Jambeck's Reading Old English: A Primer and First Reader is a welcome addition—despite its sundered title—to the second group and stands as the most progressive, thorough and newly conceived in terms of structure and visual design. Would, however, that this effort from scratch have maintained care in editing and typesetting, logic in its order and layout, and attention to how much a student can be expected to achieve in a week's work. Because Hasenfratz and Jambeck's textbook comes across a hybrid between the straightforward and the dense, between ease of use and the exhausting, I am not sure it will provide an optimum lesson experience. That criticism spoken, the book decidedly points the way to what a new Old English grammar textbook should look like and how it should operate; I believe that a second edition could yet displace Mitchell and Robinson.
First to be praised is the book's handsome original design: it is a generously spaced workbook, 8" by 8", with healthy margins throughout for students to commit glosses; likewise, the body-text font (an uncited Junius?) is clear and appropriately sized, especially in the glossaries. The cover is colourful and features hand-lettering, a pale manuscript background and a columnar zoomorph; this pretty patterning reappears at the head of each chapter. (One drawback: the cover needs to be stiffer to make the book easier to write in.) Not only is this book visually inviting, it represents the first time an Old English grammar has taken advantage of word-processing to do more than just headers and columns: here we have half-tone tables, charts and exercises; marginal glosses (though their font-size is tiny); and copious use of bold, italics, and indentation. The 'word-processing' layout of the book may deter some who would see it as low-brow but for students this is the right approach.
The book comprises eleven chapters (each with multiple lessons, exercises and readings), two appendices, a selection of additional readings (Ælfric's Colloquy, Four Lives of Æðeldryð, Wife's Lament) and a main glossary (extensive but not encompassing). There is no index. The narrative voice of the book is generally clear but also curiously concessive, frequently hedging its points and advice and alluding to material "not yet covered"—a refrain which vexes quickly.
This mixed narrative tone is perhaps a function of the book's intriguing variation on the usual sequence of grammar instruction. For example, the weak verbs come early in Chapters 3 and 4, yet personal pronouns are delayed until Chapter 7, though nicely paired there with reflexives and relatives. Regular nouns come in Chapters 2 and 3, but 'rarer' nouns wait until Chapter 10. Most interesting is Chapter 5, 'Learning How to Translate'. After a thorough discussion of clauses and subordination, this chapter takes an arguably too-difficult pair of 'sentences' from Beowulf and guides the reader through the progressive stages of parsing them. This is the most novel chapter of the book and may well symbolize a 'make-or-break' session for the student. I worry, however, at ad-hoc material jammed in this lengthy chapter: why are verb tenses suddenly interjected (surely belonging Chapters 3-4?); why too are the dative rule and genitive rule introduced (surely belonging with case in Chapter 2?). Oddly too, there is no closing chapter to bookend Chapter 5 or show the way forward to greater powers of reading. The main section of the book thus ends bluntly with impersonal verbs.
Hasenfratz and Jambeck's book suffers from a surfeit of order even as large concepts remain discussed nearly ad-hoc. The rigourous schema of chapters and sub-points within those chapters hits a level of specification four layers deep; worse, this schema is far from intuitive and even spills over into the sidebars. Mitchell can be castigated for his numbing numeration (O, never to see § again) but a student cannot surely be expected to divine that the main function of the genitive case is best explained at 2.11.3.a in the chapter on nouns. And while the book is tirelessly cross-referenced—indeed every single word in each glossary has a numerical home—there are numerous errors in this referencing and in the cross-referencing between main text and appendices. Also frustrating is the book's lack of focus on case, surely the most vital concept for a beginning student to master. Case assuredly deserves its own chapter yet here is slotted in after discussion of Indo-European noun stems, between offset exercises. The presentation of case is similarly slighted in the appendix on basic grammar, as is the subjunctive, another notorious stumbling point.
The freshest point of instruction is the inclusion of explanatory excerpts from Ælfric's Grammar. Thus, we see Ælfric's words on case, nouns, adverbs and so forth offset in half-tone blocks. These provide commentary and historical continuity on the practice of learning language. They also serve as blocks of 'original' Old English (which, I would add, would otherwise not appear until page 83). I would wish to see a future edition of this book quote extensively from the corpus of Ælfric's elegant prose, especially in the grammatical examples and practice sentences. Such a move would cement an overall theme, one already present in the additional readings.
As it stands, the examples and practice passages are drawn too much from Beowulf (it is as if the book is a joust between giants). Moreover, these Beowulf excerpts are too hard and appear odd when rendered as prose sentences. There are plenty other sources as well: welcome bits of Alfred, the Gospels, the Chronicle, and so on, but they are not cited as such and so an opportunity to speak directly to the breadth of Old English is lost. Scholars likewise looking for discussion of dialects and early versus late West-Saxon will be disappointed; no such distinctions are broached formally, though it is positive that illustrative passages have not been normalized. Happily, the book's defined reading passages are engaging and varied: Riddle 82; Wonders of the East; Prognostics; Monastic Sign Language; Vercelli Homily IX; and the famous Human Foetus. A future edition should nonetheless incorporate more poetry, particularly easier selections such as the catalogue poems.
Each of the two extensive appendices is, initially, more carefully composed than main portion of the book; however, the first on basic grammar gets bogged down in the superfinety of clauses and phrases and the second on sound changes becomes a profusion of long, dense paragraphs which are harder to follow than the corresponding discussion in the two chapters on strong verbs. The problem here is one of hybridity. There is simply too much information, too much debt to the syntax of Mitchell and the phonology of Hogg. Beginning students need neither. The appendix on sound changes is also a failure of layout. It is ungenerous and blocky and lacks a visual scheme to aid the eye in following the changes of any one word. I gave up wading through it.
There is a third, unofficial, appendix tucked in the 'Additional Readings': A Quick Guide to Old English Poetry. This is the most fluidly written and properly-keyed section of the whole book. My only suggestion would be to add a manuscript image from the Exeter Book to illustrate how poetry is typically (though not exclusively as the book suggests) inscribed on the leaf in the same manner as prose.
Last, I must discuss the profusion of typographical errors and inconsistencies of layout. They are too numerous too ignore, especially in the main glossary and the fold-out table at the back. They suggest the process of editing was unfinished and that a medley of various draft-stages still peeks through, despite five proofreaders being listed by name. There is an errata sheet on the book's website,1 but I have found at least six typographical errors not listed there: 161–hominess; 290–lack of superscript; 3807#8211;seized for 'snuck'; 408–"ends in voiced"; 455–"celebration of 's…"; 491–"raÎd". An alert, if chagrined, reviewer at Amazon.com has already pointed out the problems with the adjectives paradigm in the fold-out table. In defence of Hasenfratz and Jambeck, the Old English in the glossaries, exercises and reading selections of the eleven main chapters appears to be wholly without error, all macrons intact.
In a sense, this is a remarkable book: a newly conceived, attractive, expansive, reasonably-priced text that could become the standard guide, certainly in America, for learning to read Old English in a single-semester course. And, if it can be said that the true test of an Old English grammar book is its ability to discuss the gradation and sound changes of strong verbs, then the book succeeds. However, until a second, corrected and revised edition appears, the best option in my opinion is to use Marsden's excellent Cambridge Old English Reader, which has a rather bald grammar appended to its wonderful breadth of selections, and to work up from there at a level appropriate to the knowledge of one's students.
1. See http://www.readingoldenglish.com/ for an updated list of errata pertinent to the initial print-run of the book. The copy for review was provided from this initial printing which has since been corrected by West Virginia UP. [Back]
Université Laval, Québec
O'Neill, Patrick. 2001. King Alfred's Old English Prose Translation of the 'First Fifty Psalms'. Cambridge, MA: Medieval Academy of America Books. vii + 362 pages. 0915651130 (hardcover). $50.
The Fifty Prose Psalms beginning the Paris Psalter is a copy of the first surviving sustained close translation of a book from the Old Testament into any European vernacular. Yet, depsite this remarkable priority, the text has long been the poor sister of King Alfred's programme of vernacular literacy.
There have been scant few essays since Colgrave's 1958 edition for Early English Manuscripts in Facsimile and it was not until Bately's superb 1982 lexicographical study that the long-disputed proper attribution to King Alfred could be upheld. Two other scholarly efforts of note are Frantzen's book chapter in his King Alfred and an essay by their now-editor on the introductions. Even Nicole Discenza and Paul Szarmach, whose careers have maintained consistent focus on Alfredian texts, have not treated the Fifty Prose Psalms.
So, while scholars may prefer to write about the Prose Preface to Alfred's Pastoral Care as opposed to that translation in itself, they now apparently don't wish to write about the Fifty Prose Psalms at all. This may be due to the deficient 1907 edition by Bright & Ramsay and perhaps also because so much of what was written by 19th and early 20th century scholars has proven erroneous. But likelier culprits are the field's general distrust of writing on King Alfred and a perceived lack of merit or interest in the quality of the translation. However, after this long-awaited edition by Patrick O'Neill, there will be no call to return for counter-judgment to previous critical works and no reasonable excuse for looking past Alfred's effort. O'Neill's work is that thorough and overwhelming.
This edition represents a cumulative effort of some fifteen years' work. As the first full, proper edition of an Alfredian text since Carnicelli's maligned 1969 presentation of the Soliloquies,2 O'Neill's is deservedly the best edition of any of Alfred's works. There are none of the lapses in source, orthographical and grammatical study that beset Carnicelli's edition. In many ways, O'Neill's is the sole acceptable working edition of an Alfredian text. This will ameliorate with the twinned projects on the Boethius by Godden and Kiernan soon to be completed.
One could query why the works of Alfred's translation programme have in particular fallen out of the purview of the Early English Text Society. There is Sweet's two volume Pastoral Care (1870-1), so influential in determining the course of Old English works in that series, and, by a broader definition, the Old English Bede and Orosius. But, with the exception of Bately's 1980 remastering of the Orosius, none has been updated in the EETS and neither the Soliloquies nor the Boethius will have appeared. This can be contrasted with the series' bias towards later prose, especially by Ælfric and anonymous homilists. Indeed, I would venture that not being published in EETS has hurt the distribution of O'Neill's book and not only its prestige but its usefulness. The edition was not available in my university library nor in surrounding university libraries. Yet, this book is essential and necessary, not only as an outstanding publication in its own right, but as an avenue of expansion for Alfred's ideas and as a port of access to scholars tracing the historical reception and literary valuation of the Psalms.
O'Neill's edition comprises a full introduction (sub-divided into chapters on manuscript, psalm introductions, sources, method of translation, language, and authorship), an extensively marked-up text, generous commentary on seemingly every line of text, a full glossary with inflections, and bibliography. There is no index.
O'Neill handles the layout and characteristics of the manuscript in thorough, if straightforward fashion. In so doing, he does not treat the sheer oddity of the Paris Psalter, notably its ledger-like dimensions and its compilation of unrelated texts, with any degree of surprise. Although these features have been carefully described elsewhere (see Colgrave and Toswell), it would have been preferable to emphasize how incongruous and yet deluxe a production the Paris Psalter is. O'Neill is braver in positing a devotional audience for this codex, suggesting a "wealthy lay patron" although one "out of touch with contemporary psalter developments", not least for using the obsolete Roman Office in the post-Benedictine mid-eleventh century (18). I would add that reproductions of the layout and scribal hand should have been provided to give a basic picture of the codex; without these, the book's treament of paleography and codicology is compromised. Colgrave's facsimile edition is hardly widely available, nor easily carried on one's person.
O'Neill's surpassing strength is his knowledge of the complex array of sources behind the production of the text. From what appears a morass of overlaid, internally contradictory sources and commentaries he is able to elucidate, word for word and sense for sense, seemingly every possible axis of influence on the translation: four versions of the Psalms (Vetus Latina, Romanum, Gallicanum, Hebraicum); allegorical commentaries (Cassiodorus, Jerome, the Breviarium in Psalmos of Ps. Jerome, and the anonymous Glosa Psalmorum, which I have found of great interest at key passages); and historical commentaries (chiefly Theodore of Mopsuestia, via Julian of Eclanum's translation and an Epitome, and also the Expositio Psalmorum, which similarly forwards a profoundly literal interpretation).
For the introductions, O'Neill demonstrates how these favour the historical, or 'Davidic' interpretation over the allegorical. For the psalms themselves he offers every point which suggests the paraphrast used the Gallicanum, or possibly the Hebraicum, over the Romanum, or where two readings are given via hendiadys. O'Neill is particularly convincing in arguing the importance of source texts and commentaries of Irish provenance, as opposed to Carolingian. Indeed, he suggests that the best explanation for the paraphrast's wide range of sources is not individual borrowings from this mass of texts but "to posit that [he] drew them all from a single source of Hiberno-Latin origin, perhaps a heavily glossed (Gallicanum) Psalter" (44). While this is a wise use of Ockham's razor, it nonetheless leads to discussion of how these Irish sources and such a glossed psalter came to Alfred's court, for the evidence of the other works of the translation programme, as well as Alfred's named helpers Grimbald and John, demonstrates a clear axis of Carolingian influence.
O'Neill is likewise secure in proving the interrelation of the Fifty Prose Psalms with Alfred's other translations—the Pastoral Care, Boethius and Soliloquies. O'Neill buttresses Bately's argument that the linguistic features of the text are early West-Saxon by demonstrating further correspondence: "The linguistic evidence of phonology, accidence, vocabulary, and syntax is consonant with early West Saxon origins and Alfredian authorship" (76). Moreover, in the last chapter of the introduction, O'Neill details "numerous agreements" between the Fifty Prose Psalms and Alfred's works in "content and phrasing" (80).
It seems a bit odd to me, then, that this summary chapter, 'Authorship', while still thorough, is less pleasing. Some of the arguments seem a stretch as O'Neill aims to supersede Bately's more confident work. However, O'Neill does write that there are further correspondences left for his commentary. Although he shows in this chapter his exemplary command over the Alfredian canon and its idiosyncrasies of language and doctrine, this is curiously balanced against a reluctance elsewhere in the book to grant that Alfred is the translator of the Fifty Prose Psalms. Apart from the title nowhere else in the book is Alfred named as the author of the Old English version; instead, this figure is always coded as "the paraphrast"; this is at least dismissive if not outright pejorative, especially since three chapters of the introduction serve amply to make this case.
O'Neill also accepts, rather too readily, the familiar line of argument that Alfred is "pragmatic", always fond of "concrete" arguments; still, while he is less ready to show the grace and music of Alfred's translation than Bately and Frantzen, he is laudatory. The majority of Anglo-Saxon scholars will see this as proper balance, given the bias against Alfredian skill and authorship; I regard it as something of a missed opportunity to carry the case for the virtue of Alfred's work as literature, as a purposeful extension of the Psalms.
In presenting the text of the Fifty Prose Psalms, the layout of this edition is not ideal; indeed, an Early English Text Society book is more magisterial. To start, while padding out the book, a fresh page for each psalm would make matters more wieldy. As it is, the text suffers from an abundance of markers and a paucity of spacing which combine to overload the eye at first run-through. Not least of the former is the dual-Arabic number system keyed to the Gallicanum; this can be frustrating to the reader trying to follow verse by verse since there is an inevitable multiplicity and lack of correspondence, especially where Alfred's translation is free or extended. Modern punctuation has also been given.
O'Neill has stripped the text of its Latin rubrics and omitted the Romanum psalter which pairs the Old English translation. While this is appropriate as the particular Romanum in the left column of each folio is not the source text of the West-Saxon on the right, O'Neill has nonetheless divorced all Latin from the translation. While the Fifty Prose Psalms may well have come to the scribe of the Paris Psalter in freestanding form, I believe O'Neill could have paired the Old English in columns with a stable English Romanum text (such as the Vespasian Psalter) and then inserted Gallicanum readings in italics where the paraphrase clearly draws from them. Although comprising a false text, it would make following the Old English easier, grant basic access to the Latin, allow for clearer commentary, and better preserve the sense of the manuscript context.3
As is customary with proper scholarly editions, no modern English translation is provided. While this is traditional practice, I find it unfortunate here. First, the Psalms are a tougher translation test than may first appear, given their poetic opacity and preference for repetition and emotional outburst. The De Consolatione requires sustained clarity as well as an asesthetic and mathematical appreciation of meter; Augustine himself admits his Soliloquies are laboured; but the Psalms are the words of David, effectively the songs of both the Lord in His tribulation and the Hebrew people. The stakes are at once profound, prophetic even, and yet personal. Second, Alfred himself argues for the importance of translation, something which Henry Sweet chose to disregard—indeed resorting on occasion to the Latin original of the Pastoral Care—and despise.
O'Neill's commentary, while enormously helpful, is prone to excessive use of abbreviations. These accumulate to such a degree as to seem a private shorthand for O'Neill, whereas a wearied reader must resort to a list at book's end. The glossary is complete and cites all inflections; this is helpful in parsing difficult passages. Capital-lettered headwords are pleasing, but the layout after that could be easier to read as there are oddly long hyphens between grammatical parsing and respective words. The format of "gsm––stanes" vexes the eye tracing a long list of a dozen or more inflections across narrow columns.
I do not wish to downgrade O'Neill's tremendous effort here, but for his edition to lack a both Romanum and a modern English translation is to limit its usefulness to Old English specialists. An opportunity is lost for scholars working on a comparative study of the Psalms and for a wider reception of the Alfredian programme. For a non Anglo-Saxonist, this text may appear too daunting or obscure.
What is most powerful about O'Neill's book is what we learn about Alfred's pattern of sifting from various sources. The author, this Alfred of the Fifty Prose Psalms, is less original and seemingly far more beholden to his sources than could be inferred from the other translations. But the sheer range and variety of the sources drawn from, if applied by analogy to his other translations, will explode the sense of conservatism and debt which has coloured our understanding of the other translations. No wonder why we can't follow the sources of the Boethius; if Alfred had a similar range of sources and commentaries his library and his helpers must have been far stronger and his options far more heavily debated than we have previously imagined. There is a touch of the King James Bible committee here in going on to compose the Fifty Prose Psalms, with all that body's internal divisions and counter-doctrines, but there is a consistent silent hand guiding things as well, above the fray of emotional outburst and earthly reasoning.
This Alfred is less and much more than we have met before. O'Neill's edition finds the text's measure and has anticipated where a reader captures any divergence or apparent originality; the explanation and source quote is almost always at hand in the commentary. And yet he hews too closely to scholarly regard to carry away the thick forest of sources so wonderfully captured by Alfred's most famous figure. It's what it all means beyond the text that O'Neill remains silent on.
For example, I believe O'Neill could comment on the Judaic character of the work, on how this translation serves as further evidence of the Anglo-Saxon myth of origin as a new chosen people in a new state of Jerusalem and how Alfred mediates this. After all, Alfred's lawcode opens with a Mosaic prologue. Even Andrew Scheil's excellent recent book The Footsteps of Israel: Understanding Jews in Anglo-Saxon England neglects mention of the Fifty Prose Psalms.
As a historical and technical piece of work O'Neill's book is without flaw. But, from a reader's perspective, it could be more user-friendly, more beautifully designed, and less guarded in its ideas. It is solid, wise scholarship of the first order but it does not aim for something of wonder, of the mystic song that is the Psalms.
Bruce Gilchrist lectures at Université Laval, Québec and is the co-author with Michael Drout of King Alfred's Grammar. He also assisted in editing The Postmodern Beowulf: A Critical Casebook, eds. Eileen A. Joy and Mary K. Ramsey, West Virginia UP, 2007.
2. See also editions by Bill Griffiths of the Meters of Boethius and Ingvar Carlson of one manuscript of Alfred's Pastoral Care. [Back]
3. See the online edition of the Fifty Prose Psalms by Richard Stracke, who gives a Romanum text parallel with the Old English, plus glossary. Also online are translations by Michael Treschow of the Old English introductions and Alcuin's De Psalmorum Usu Liber. [Back]
Tyler, Elizabeth M. 2006. Old English Poetics: The Aesthetics of the Familiar in Anglo-Saxon England. York: York Medieval Press. 202 pages. 1903153204 (hardcover).
Elizabeth Tyler's study of the function and significance of conventional poetic formulas and verbal repetition in Old English poetry addresses concerns such as poetic style, structure and theme in the context of more contemporary critical preoccupations such as ideological inquiry, historicism, oral culture and, most interestingly, the author. Tyler's introduction frames her book as a much-needed intervention: her study of conventional language for treasure seeks to correct the tendency to view a poem's traditional or formulaic language as part of a disembodied phenomenon rather than the carefully considered aesthetic choice of an individual or series of individuals, a tendency resulting from our lack of information about Anglo-Saxon writers, our modern distaste for focus on authorial intention, and the lasting impact of Oral-Formulaic and Reception Theories. Furthermore, Old English Poetics calls attention to the way our modern aesthetic preferences for variety and originality in poetry have caused readers of Old English works to overlook or underestimate the important stylistic, thematic and even ideological functions of repetition and manipulation of traditional words, phrases and collocations within a single poem, and across the canon. To explain how Anglo-Saxon poets engaged thoughtfully with these recurring features, Tyler coins the phrase "the aesthetics of the familiar". The "aesthetics of the familiar", she explains, refers to specific features of poetic language which come to be 'familiar' to poet and audience through repetition. Tyler focuses on the Old English poetic language of treasure, a subject which features in several Old English poems and enables Tyler to examine how ideologically-charged formulaic language is used across the corpus of Old English poetry, as well as across different literary, social and historical contexts.
The book's first chapter, "Treasure and Old English Verse", demonstrates the remarkable stability of Old English key terms for treasure (namely, maðm, hord, sinc, gestreon, and frætwe). Beginning with a survey of the language of treasure in a number of poetic works, this chapter reveals the many meanings of treasure as a sign of beauty, wealth, nobility, power and generosity in secular verse, and, often, transience, avarice and futility in works with a religious interest. Here Tyler establishes the principle of treasure as a thematic touchstone, a site where the at-times conflicting and complementary significances of material wealth, and of nostalgia for a past where treasure loomed large in the lives of the nobility, come to the fore through the use of conventional poetic representations. One extremely useful point which emerges in this chapter is that Old English poetic language for treasure remains focused squarely, almost obsessively, on gold treasure throughout the Anglo-Saxon period, despite the historical fact that the Anglo-Saxon economy ran on silver and coinage, especially in the later periods. This disconnect between the poetic treatment of treasure as gold and the historical reality of silver shows the persistence of the traditional language for treasure, and its conscious use by poets interested in the "aesthetics of the familiar".
Chapter two presents the raw data of Tyler's inquiry: a thorough survey of all the major collocations of words for treasure, such as 'bearm and maðm', 'word and hord', 'brytta and sinc', and so forth, this chapter demonstrates the potential for inventiveness within the conventional language for treasure. At sixty-two pages, this chapter is rather dense and occasionally tedious; however, it is filled with insights about each of the five key words under consideration, and the poems in which they are found. Since Tyler refers back to the most pertinent aspects of these collocations in subsequent chapters, this lengthy section could be skipped by readers who want to quickly glean the gist of the book. On the other hand, chapter 2 would be of great use to anyone interested in the semantics of the language of treasure, or in reading a carefully researched and highly readable word-study.
Tyler's third chapter critiques the oral-traditional view for its insistence that a poet's use of a formula must serve exclusively utilitarian, rather than stylistic, thematic or aesthetic purposes. She examines the concept of the formula in its semantic, lexical, syntactic, thematic and aesthetic dimensions in order to redefine the use of formulaic language in Old English as a conscious choice on the part of poets to participate in a deliberately maintained tradition, and as an expression of the Anglo-Saxon stylistic preference for reiterating and manipulating the familiar phrase. In chapter four Tyler engages us in looking at verbal repetition within single poems as structural and thematic devices and as sites of instructive word-play. Here Tyler militates against the frequent charge that Old English poems are needlessly repetitious. Rather, she argues, repetition of words within a poem is often (though not always) intentional, purposeful and meaningful, engaging the poet and audience in a kind of verbal game based on shared expectations about familiar poetic language. The final section of chapter four highlights the ways that poets, such as the Beowulf-poet, use the conventional language of treasure to critique the traditional society from which such phrases originate, as well as how the adaptation of the language of treasure to Christian themes shows the flexibility of the familiar to encompass new ideas.
The final chapter, "Poetics and the Past: Traditional Style at the Turn of the First Millennium", applies Tyler's findings to a roughly datable work: The Battle of Maldon. Here Tyler confronts the problem of historicizing Old English verse by looking at how the Maldon-poet consciously uses the conventional language of treasure to paint Byrhtnoth as a noble, heroic, and appropriately gold-laden figure of the old order, faced with the new Viking order characterized by the use of money to buy "grið" and "frið" (protection and peace—both Old Norse loanwords). The poet's application of gold imagery and the language of treasure to Byrhtnoth marks him in rank as an ealdorman, and transforms him into an "idealized figure of Æthelred's England" (168), while ultimately acknowledging that neither nostalgia nor tribute can adequately solve the Viking crisis.
Tyler concludes her study with an appeal for "models for the composition of Old English poetry which do not exclude history by ascribing agency to tradition rather than poets" (171). Old English Poetics begins to fulfill this need for new models. Tyler's provocative claims for the agency of the poet as an individual artist are sure to unsettle those who are accustomed to viewing Old English literature as the timeless monolith it purports to be, or who, in the absence of reliable information about the works' authors, have become used to seeing Old English poetry as the outgrowth of an amorphous oral tradition or community. Her careful study of each word, formula, collocation and repetition of the conventional language of treasure across the corpus and especially in Beowulf, uses philological techniques to argue for a fresh and ideologically-significant perspective on the deliberately archaic poetry of the Anglo-Saxons. On the whole this book should appeal to scholars interested in Old English poetic style, especially formulaic language and the 'appositive style', as well as those interested in word study, and the significance of treasure in Old English literature and culture.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign