Klaeber, Friedrich J., R.D. Fulk, Robert E. Bjork, and John D. Niles, eds. 2008. Klaeber's Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg: Edited, with Introduction, Commentary, Appendices, Glossary, and Bibliography. Toronto Old English Series 21. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. cxc + 497 pages. ISBN 978-0802098436 (hardcover), ISBN 978-0802095671 (paperback).
§1. Beowulf might well be dubbed "the tale that would not die;" some might prefer to amend that to "the tale that should not be." Yet today—some thousand years or so after its sole known manuscript was committed to parchment, about five hundred years since that copy escaped destruction in the Dissolution of the Monasteries, almost three hundred years since it was hurled from the window of a burning library, and less than two centuries since its first modern edition—Beowulf not only survives but even flourishes. The opening years of the twenty-first century have seen not only new Modern English translations but also video games, comic books, rock operas, and multiple films based on Beowulf. That is not bad for a millennium-old tale of heroic fantasy set against a background of misty septentrional antiquity.
§2. It is both appropriate and welcome, then, that the new century has also brought us a freshly updated version of Friedrich Klaeber's Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg. This work, first published in 1922 but perhaps best known through its third, supplemented edition of 1950, has a justly earned reputation as a "Bible" for Beowulf studies. Its magisterial presentation of essays on numerous facets of the poem and its study, as well as a now-standard edition of the text itself accompanied by copious notes and glossaries, has exercised a powerful influence on scholars and students of the poem for most of the last century. Of course, much of what has kept Klaeber's work relevant stems from his continual and exhaustive labors of revision and expansion. In the sixty years since Klaeber's death, however, Beowulf scholarship has seen continuous and vigorous growth while Klaeber's Beowulf and its supporting matter had perforce stood still—until, at long last, the appearance of this new, fourth edition in 2008.
§3. Beowulf scholarship has always strongly reflected its times, and the fourth edition of Klaeber's Beowulf (as its front cover proclaims it) is no exception. For one thing, it is a collaborative work—a practical approach in an age when few scholars can claim complete familiarity with all aspects of the poem and its study. It is likewise something of a mash-up; while Klaeber's general design and a substantial quantity of his own text remain intact, the new editors have added, altered, moved, or removed a great deal in bringing the work up to date. Mostly, however, it seems they have added. When comparing the 2008 edition with the 1950 edition, one is immediately struck by the two facts: though the size of the typeface has remained roughly the same, the new edition has both significantly larger pages and rather more of them. The notes and commentaries have gained over fifty pages, as has the introduction (which has been divided into more sections, placed in a revised order, and given new titles); the appendices have gained around twenty pages. In comparing the actual content of the new edition with that of 1950, the changes generally come across as both appropriate and in keeping with the spirit of Klaeber's own life-long endeavors to maintain maximum value, relevance, and currency to students of the poem in a manageable, book-sized package.
§4. Retrofitting the best of six decades of ever more voluminous scholarship into that book-sized package—even with the noted enlargements—was doubtless no easy task. Perhaps few, if any, current Beowulf scholars can justly claim the comprehensive knowledge that Klaeber possessed in his day, if only because of the dauntingly vast bibliography that now confronts us. This surely forced certain limitations on the new edition in terms of the space available in a printed book. For example, many citations appear in aggressively abbreviated forms that give even veteran bibliographers pause. Similarly, the reader who seeks to "reach the requisite material for a serious study" (as was one of Klaeber's chief intentions for his book) will find that the list of works cited is really a list of "works cited frequently, as well as works of especial importance," but that there is little indication of how frequently cited or especially important a work needed to be for inclusion in that list. Likewise, in apparent contrast to the general policy of expansion evident elsewhere in the new edition, the works cited section now runs only to about twenty pages—slightly fewer than the 1950 edition's bibliography and several bibliographic supplements. Although the new edition includes helpful pointers to external bibliographic resources, this inevitably detracts from the one stop shop feel of earlier editions, and one wonders whether the production of an electronic edition might have helped overcome such limitations.
§5. Along these lines, the new editors have made a set of supplementary Web pages available in addition to the printed book's apologetically-toned references to additional printed bibliographies. Admittedly, these are buried deeply within the University of Indiana's Web site (currently at http://www.indiana.edu/%7Eklaeber4/), though they are also findable from the rather more modern-looking (and findable) faculty page of editor R.D. Fulk (currently at http://www.indiana.edu/~engweb/faculty/profile_rFulk.shtml). Though these online supplements represent a step in the right direction, or at least good intentions on the parts of the editors, their potential remains largely unfulfilled. They give the impression of a half-hearted and incomplete setup with a surprisingly outdated 1990s web design aesthetic. None of the four content pages of supplementary information—"Bibliography", "Editions", "Critical Studies", and "Resources and Links" —includes more than a few dozen linked items; many of these are to external sites, and one need not look hard to find broken links. The accessible items themselves are something of a mixed bag, including links to external bibliographies, materials in Google Books, and a locally held scan (perhaps a scanned photocopy) of the bibliographies and bibliographical supplements from Klaeber's third edition. This latter is not unwelcome, though a well-presented and searchable bibliography that incorporated the new editors' additions alongside Klaeber's original entries would have been better. Indeed, it must be said that there remains a clear opportunity—perhaps even a need—to build a more modern and comprehensive website that serves as a genuine hub for academic information on Beowulf and its related scholarship: a true "e-Klaeber" in both spirit and execution.
§6. Appropriate moves toward digital formats might open up new possibilities for presenting material and discussion to contemporary students who have been raised in an always-on multimedia storm. For example, while the illustrative figures at the front of the new edition are more extensive, more recent, and of better quality than those provided in 1950, they remain a set of static, black-and-white images that may appear curiously antiquarian to the modern student. Considering approaches to update to the presentation of the content—in ways that actually enhance the utility of the updated content rather than merely providing flash and bang—would be a gauntlet worth taking up for future revisions, whether in print or as an e-book. Given that Helen Damico's foreword in the new edition reminds us of Klaeber's "taste for 'innovation,'" this is something of which the grand old man himself might have approved.
§7. Not everything calls for modernization, of course, and the actual edition of the poem remains substantially Klaeber's. Some cosmetic but useful technical enhancement comes in the form new diacritical aids to readers; for example, "dots above" now mark palatalized ċ and ġ. Following more recent manuscript studies, the new edition dispenses with line 2229 from the 1950 edition, though sensibly retains its line numbering (skipping straight from line 2228 to 2230). Readers from both the literature and language sides of study will be interested in the appearance or disappearance of certain named characters. For example, heal-gamen, which was "hall-entertainment" in the 1950 edition, has become the character Heal-gamen, Hrōðgār's poet. Likewise, 1950 edition's Mōd-þrȳðo is effectively replaced by the new edition's Fremu (or, in other words, the 1950 edition's adjective fremu meaning "good, excellent" is now seen as the name of a person characterized by mōd-þrȳð, "force of will, arrogance"). The edition of the Finnsburg fragment, now improved by a facsimile of Hickes's text, also hews more closely to that text, with the person of [H]naef in line 2 of the 1950 edition restored to nǣfre "never" (and at the end of line 1). On the vexed question of date, the new edition remains largely in line with Klaeber's understandings. Although the topic is now approached with more caution than was perhaps typical in Klaeber's day, and due consideration is given to the wide-range of arguments put forward on this issue since Klaeber's day, linguistic and metrical considerations seem to predominate in a continued preference for an earlier rather later date. This may be either hailed or reviled as a conservative approach, though equally it seems unlikely that any decision on this issue could possibly please all the people all the time.
§8. A modernized editorial approach, and one that doubtless draws on ample classroom experience, seems evident in the reorganization of the commentaries and other supporting material. Perhaps of particular note is the division and expansion of Klaeber's "Language, Manuscript" and "Genesis of the Poem" sections into "Manuscript", "Language and Poetic Form", and "Date, Origins, Influences, Genre" sections, all of which sport substantially augmented texts. Separating discussion of the manuscript from other topics seems appropriate in the light of debate over the relationship of our manuscript to any earlier versions, while distinct and enhanced focus on linguistic topics is probably necessary in an age when fewer students (or even professors) will necessarily come to the poem with the philological preparation (or appreciation) that Klaeber might have expected. Likewise, the new subsection on "Meter and Alliteration"—no doubt strengthened through recourse to editor R.D. Fulk's prodigious expertise in these areas—serves to orient modern users perhaps less familiar with such topics than their predecessors.
§9. The content of the commentaries and supporting material also probably benefits from a more generally cautious or circumspect approach. Even simple changes, such as the alteration of the section headings "The Fabulous or Supernatural Elements" and "The Historical Elements" from the 1950 edition to, respectively, "The World of Monsters and Myth" and "The World of Humans" seems to recognize that though modern readers might view the fabulous and the historical as clearly distinct, the original poet or audience may not have done so (at least in the same way). In another salient example, the regnal dates Klaeber once suggested for various legendary kings have been quietly disposed of, reflecting a now greater air of uncertainty over any relationships between the poem's content with actual history. Equally, views that the poem nudges and winks about future feuds amongst the Scyldings—a preoccupation of many early twentieth-century scholars, Klaeber among them, which depends largely on comparisons with medieval Scandinavian analogs—are treated much more cautiously. Yet at the same time, awareness of and reference to the recent archaeological excavations of the pre-Viking halls near Lejre—issues covered much more widely in editor John D. Nile's indispensible 2007 collection Beowulf and Lejre—are brought into the discussion with appropriate nuance and erudition.
§10. Even so, the modernizing approach is not always applied consistently. For example, the "The Danes" subsection retains text from Klaeber's earlier editions that could naturally be read as implying that the details for a genealogical tree of the Danish royal line were extracted from the poem, even though subsequent text (also retained from earlier editions) admits that, for example, the tree's identification of Hrōðwulf as Hālga's son is inferred from later Scandinavian sources (most, though not all, of which specify Hrolfr as Helgi's son). Had we only Beowulf as witness, of course, we might reasonably suppose that Hrōðwulf (described in the poem only as Hrōðgār's nephew) could just as well be son of Heorogār or even some other unmentioned brother of Hrōðgār. Although we may be justified (in this case, at least) in admitting inferences from related traditions—as Klaeber and many of scholars of his time likely did almost without question—it might have seemed more in keeping with the new edition's generally more critical and cautious tone to highlight instances of learned speculation or reconstruction more clearly and consistently.
§11. Wholly new discussions—especially where these engage with perhaps less familiar aspects of the poem's study—may seem ambiguous. For example, in new passages touching on Leake's (1967) suggestions about possible relationships between the name Getae in classical sources and the poem's Ġēatas, the new edition repeats the oft-made observation that the short vowel in the former name "does not correspond" to the long diphthong in the latter name, additionally citing a number of sources that "point out linguistic obstacles standing in the way of an identification of the Ġēatas with the Getae." However, the new edition also suggests that the appearance of the Getae in the Liber Monstrorum "doubtless … points to this same English name [Ġēatas]" and that the author of the Liber Monstrorum "equated the native term [Ġēatas] for these people with a name familiar from Latin literature [Getae] on the basis of guesswork." As readers may at this point also recall (from discussion earlier in the introduction) that not all of the names in Beowulf share exact linguistic correspondence with their presumed Scandinavian counterparts (facts that seem to occasion much less scholarly excitement than do hypothetical relationships between Getae and Ġēatas), readers may then wonder if they should understand Anglo-Saxon poets and scribes as having been more likely to employ philologically correct reconstruction techniques or guesswork when choosing names. In such cases, it might have been possible to afford the reader more clarity about the issues under debate. In the case of this particular example, while philology assures us Ġēat- could not have evolved through natural oral processes from Get- (thereby closing one door), in the case of a written production (which, at least in the form we have it, Beowulf certainly is) medieval writers could and did use name forms that were not linguistically cognate with analogs in other traditions (thereby leaving other doors, if not open, at least unlocked).
§12. Nevertheless, while readers particularly versed or interested in different aspects of the poem's study may find various such minor matters to trouble themselves over, this should not distract us from the undoubted value of this new fourth edition of Klaeber's Beowulf, which represents a substantial and laudable victory in the enormously difficult task of maintaining a classic work's modern utility as a general introduction to and edition of this great poem. Any question as to whether it should remain a premier resource for students and scholars may be safely answered in the affirmative—for it both upholds and expands on Klaeber's own aims. If it sometimes struggles to be as all-encompassing as earlier editions, this is perhaps principally because the work's vision has begun to exceed the practical carrying capacity of the physical book's form. We should expect—or at least hope—that further revisions and editions will continue to appear (ideally before another sixty years pass), and we might eagerly anticipate the innovations that twenty-first century publication and distribution technologies, as well as new directions in scholarship, might bring to enhance this enduringly useful work on the enduringly compelling Beowulf.
Leake, Jane Acomb. 1967. The Geats of Beowulf: A Study in the Geographical Mythology of the Middle Ages. London: University of Wisconsin Press.
Carl Edlund Anderson
Universidad de La Sabana
Bintley, Michael D. J. 2015. Trees in the Religions of Early Medieval England. Anglo-Saxon Studies 26. Woodbridge: Boydell Press. x + 194 pages. ISBN: 9781843839897.
§13. In this book, Michael D. J. Bintley charts a wary path through contested academic disputes about the transition from "paganism" to "Christianity" in Anglo-Saxon England. The so-called "nativism versus anti-nativism" debate began in Irish studies with James Carney's Studies in Irish Literature and History (1955), in which Carney asserted that early medieval texts were produced by Christians for Christians and thus contained no information about pre-Christian Irish religion, but merely models of "paganism" derived from Old Testament descriptions of the Canaanites and suchlike. Anti-nativism could be defended after a fashion if texts alone were considered, but in the past two decades has become an impossible position as archaeology and material culture studies, as well as more sophisticated textual approaches, extended knowledge of early medieval culture. However, the grip of anti-nativism has only been slackened, not broken, and the scholars who work in its wake are still very cautious on the topic of "paganism." Bintley notes that his study "considers the representation of trees within Anglo-Saxon Christian contexts, not as a means of preserving fossilised pre-Christian beliefs, or as enduring heathen customs, but as a valuable part of early English Christian culture" (2). This acknowledgement is doubly valuable in that it dismantles the essentialist idea of a pure Christianity (that Carney would certainly have championed) and allows for a mixed and enculturated Christianity, what would have, in older scholarship, been termed "syncretistic."
§14. The "Introduction" discusses a range of methodologies that contribute to Bintley's approach, including archaeologist Ian Hodder's notion of "entanglement" (5), Graham Harman's "object-oriented ontology" (6), Timothy Morton's "Dark Ecology" (7), and "Deep History" as propounded by Daniel Smail and Andrew Shryock (7). There is also a brief survey of existing research, focused on archaeological studies by Martin Carver, Brian Hope-Taylor, Sarah Semple and others, works about early medieval plants and trees by Della Hooke and Matthew Hall, and more ambitious studies of Anglo-Saxon religion in the context of Scandinavian paganism by Clive Tolley, Richard North, and Ursula Dronke. The terrain of the book is mapped, covering religion (both pre-Christian and Christian), Germanic and Anglo-Saxon cultures, trees, and related phenomena such as pillars, rods, staffs, and crosses.
§15. Chapter 1, "Holy Trees and Inculturation in the Conversion Period," opens with a consideration of the synergies between the Paschal season and the Ango-Saxon deity Eostre, and the hybridization seemingly encouraged by Gregory the Great's letter to Mellitus (AD 601). Three case studies are considered: the wooden posts at Yeavering, the standing crosses of Bewcastle and Ruthwell, and the Byzantine silver bowls from Sutton Hoo. The great posts at Yeavering, which may have been as tall as the surviving Northumbrian stone crosses of Bewcastle and Ruthwell, are hypothesized to have "supplanted stone, potentially acting as symbols of religious and political change" (35). Yeavering was abandoned after Edwin's death in 633 according to Bede, and Bintley, following David Hinton, suggests that the shift represented by the move was part of a two-part shift, not only to leave behind its pre-Christian past, but also to mark a political change. The standing crosses are known from the surviving stone examples, but there were wooden crosses, identified as rod, treow, and beam, terms that draw attention to their origin as trees. Vine-scroll ornament found on the stone crosses is discussed as an inculturative motif, bridging "from the worship of a holy tree or trees to that of Christ's cross" (49), and crosses and trees are drawn into a relation with poems including Elene and The Dream of the Rood. Bintley claims the Byzantine bowls are significant because the "central rosettes adorning each of these bowls may have been understood as the flower of a sacred tree" (59). This first chapter offers little that is new in the treatment of the Yeavering posts and standing crosses, though the interpretation of the bowls is certainly distinctive.
§16. Chapter 2, "Anglo-Saxon Holy Trees and their Northern European Counterparts," discusses trees as meeting places (such as Augustine's Oak, mentioned by Bede), place-names that reference trees, and named trees in charters. The second part addresses trees in Germanic religion, such as Yggdrasill and other "world trees," drawing upon Clive Tolley's reformulation of Mircea Eliade's classic—now quite unfashionable—typology of "cosmically significant trees" (80). The description of the grove at Uppsala by Adam of Bremen, the oak of Jupiter in the Life of St Boniface, the Irminsul of the Saxons, and Tacitus' Germania and the sacred grove of the Semnones are then briefly reviewed. This chapter reveals the tensions that arise when texts that arguably are evidence of paganism are used, not to mention theorists like Eliade, now decried by revisionists as an essentialist (without touching upon his right-wing politics), to support research that purportedly rejects the existence of (or perhaps only the scholarly recoverability of) a "Germanic religion." Disavowal tends to be followed by unacknowledged use of disavowed sources.
§17. Chapter 3, "Rewriting the Holy Rood in Anglo-Saxon Spiritual History," mines Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica for references to how "holy trees, posts and battle-standards were co-opted into the mythologies of the new faith" (92). The discussion moves to the Sandbach crosses of Cheshire, less well-known than the Ruthwell and Bewcastle crosses, and both assigned to the ninth century by Jane Hawkes. Bintley notes that the iconography seems mostly concerned with the antecedents of Christ, and links this theme to the Junius 11 manuscript, which contains the great poems Genesis, Exodus, and Christ and Satan, among others. Two further poems, De Die Iudicii and Judgement Day II, are analyzed in light of the "arboreal spiritual refuge" they portray (112). The grove motif in a range of sources, and its connection to both apocalypse and rebirth is detailed. Bintley concludes that "the arboreal or horticultural setting—whether natural or constructed—[is] presented as a sacred space in which individuals, through meditation, prayer and reflection, might open their minds to commune with supernatural powers" (127). This chapter is genuinely original and interesting, and for once the studied neutrality of linguistic formulations that encompass both "paganism" and "Christianity" without naming either, does not detract.
§18. Chapter 4, "The Human Forest: People and Trees in Early Medieval England and Scandinavia," opens with an ecological reflection on the need to reconcile humans with animals and vegetation, and moves to the identification of trees and people in Old Norse verse and prose. The imagery of humans and trees is a sustained theme in Scandinavian pre-Christian religion, with "the creation of humans from trees or wood" (141) and this motif is traced by Bintley through various Anglo-Saxon poems, including Wulf and Eadwacer and Phoenix from the Exeter Book. His conclusion is that the dendrological quality of humans was known to both pagans and Christians, and formed yet another inculturative bridge. The brief conclusion reiterates the contents of each chapter.
§19. Trees in the Religions of Early Medieval England is a creditable addition to the literature on both "Germanic pagan" and "Christian" trees in the early medieval period, and deserves a wide readership. The arguments presented by Bintley are on the whole quite conservative, and much of the content is not original, but is rather an intelligent synthesis. These cautionary remarks are not intended to detract from the fact that the book moves the study of holy trees in Anglo-Saxon England forward more than a few steps, and thus deserves a sizeable readership.
Carole M. Cusack
University of Sydney
Bryant, N., trans. 2015. The Complete Story of the Grail. Chrétien de Troyes' Perceval and its Continuations. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer. li + 573 pages. ISBN 9781843844006.
§20. Around AD 1190, Chrétien de Troyes left his last masterpiece Perceval or Le Conte du Graal (The Story of the Grail) unfinished, suspended almost in mid-sentence. The famous author from the Champagne region was probably overtaken by death, and therefore unable to finish his most intriguing and enigmatic romance.
§21. In Le Conte du Graal, which was dedicated to Philip I, Count of Flanders, Chrétien fully exploited a romance structure of alternating heroes, contrasting the established and beloved Gauvain, Arthur's nephew and champion, with the young and inexperienced outsider Perceval. Both knights, in their own way, struggle to find out what Arthurian knighthood should be about. Perceval's goal is the Grail, the main object of the romance and a mysterious dish which seems to symbolize a form of knighthood inspired by nonviolence, nourished by Christian charity. Gauvain, on the other hand, gets tangled up in his adventures, and promises to go after the Longinus's spear that pierced Jesus's side.
§22. Evidently, as Nigel Bryant puts it, Chrétien's romance was "too good and too intriguing to leave" (p. xvii), and, therefore, it prompted a considerable response, in the form of translations, reworkings, and independent works all over Europe. Chrétien's own poem was taken up by four authors who finally finished it, the first as early as c. AD 1200 and the last one around AD 1225, collectively composing another 69,000 verses. We know the names of three of them: Wauchier de Denain, Gerbert (probably Gerbert de Montreuil), and Manessier. Their works are known as the Continuations of the Perceval and survive in fifteen manuscripts. Some of them only contain Chrétien's text and the anonymous First Continuation, the so-called Continuation Gauvain, which is known in three redactions of differing length. Other manuscripts contain two or three Continuations, while in two codices all four works have survived.
§23. The Complete Story of the Grail offers an English prose translation of Le Conte du Graal and all the Continuations, supplemented by the so-called Elucidation Prologue and the Bliocadran. Both texts are preludes to the entire textual corpus. The Bliocadran, named after Perceval's father, renders a response, not to the unfinished end of Chrétien's romance, but to the likewise mysterious beginning of the story. Another addition in Bryant's translation is the independent conclusion to the Second Continuation which has survived in only one manuscript.
§24. Whereas the Continuations have attracted increasing attention from scholars in recent years, Bryant's The Complete Story of The Grail is the first volume in which the entire corpus of Continuations can be read together with Chrétien's text. Hitherto, scholars had to use different editions and separate translations of parts of the corpus. As such, Bryant has done Arthurian scholarship a huge favor. It is now possible to experience a continuous reading of this overwhelming number of adventures, characters and story lines, which are often, for obvious reasons, contradictory. Specialists of Old French will probably continue using the invaluable editions of William Roach and Williams and Oswald, because of the fact that a translator who uses modern prose cannot capture the different styles and atmosphere of the originals, written in verse. Moreover, it needs to be emphasized that the combination of texts, presented in this volume, combines the content of various manuscripts; as such it does not represent the medieval situation.
§25. Be that as it may, The Complete Story of The Grail helpfully provides a complete overview of the textual tradition for the benefit of a wider readership of undergraduates and medievalists from fields outside French Studies. All modern readers, scholars and others, may wonder how the medieval audiences of the manuscripts in which the Continuations have survived must have found their way in this ongoing, confusing story, even if they were guided through the adventures by performers. Bryant seems to view the corpus as a long-lasting TV series. He helps his audience by inserting modern chapter titles, although he does not explain that they are his own. Another good point is that Bryant discusses the specific characteristics of each individual text in his introduction. He emphasizes the connections and differences between the Continuations and frequently uses appropriate quotations from his own translation.
§26. The translation itself is modern, and in my opinion, quite accurate; it stays close to the Old French. This can easily be cross-checked because Bryant provides line numbers from the printed editions in his table of contents. I compared some episodes to the Old French editions, and noticed that Bryant's translation especially underscores the lively narrative style of dialogues, which makes it all the more legible, despite the difficulty of capturing the specific style of each verse text in a prose translation. In addition, Bryant takes care to alert his readers to repetitions, scribal confusions, and cross-references in footnotes. Finally, the volume is completed by a small glossary in which Old French words are explained, such as the names of different kinds of horses in romances, e.g., the "destrier," the finest of all warhorses. A useful index of names and places has also been added.
§27. Of course, the Complete Story of the Grail is quite a commercial title, since there are, independent from the Continuations, other Grail texts, such as La Queste del saint Graal, Robert de Boron's Joseph of Arimathea, or Perlesvaus. However, we now have a complete translation of a highly intriguing and quite unknown textual corpus, which can find its way to a much wider audience outside academia.
University of Amsterdam
Pohl, Benjamin. 2015. Dudo of Saint-Quentin's Historia Normannorum: Tradition, Innovation and Memory. Writing History in the Middle Ages. Woodbridge: York Medieval Press. xii + 313 pages, 1 map, 7 figures, 22 plates. ISBN: 9781903153543.
§28. If a reader were to take away one point from Benjamin Pohl's book on the Historia Normannorum (HN), it should be this: that engaging with the manuscripts of historic texts is not only desirable but may well be essential in understanding the role of such texts in the societies that produced them. This book is of value not only to historians of early Normandy but also to medieval historians more generally, as it goes beyond a simple exploration of the Normans' first commissioned history, and provides evidence which makes an important contribution to our understanding of the literary culture of the Latin West. At its heart, it is a carefully reasoned work of manuscript studies, contextualized within broader discussions about cultural memory and the role of historical writing within it. It is divided into four sections, the first entitled "The Manuscripts," the others respectively "Tradition," "Innovation," and "Memory," a formulation echoed by the book's subtitle. Throughout, what are in some cases relatively technical arguments about manuscript production are elaborated in a clear and coherent fashion, and thought-provoking ideas are advanced as Pohl engages with and sometimes rejects established thinking about the nature and purpose of Dudo's work.
§29. The weight of the analysis rests on Pohl's thorough and comparative examination of the 14 extant manuscripts of the HN, something which unaccountably has not been undertaken before. The existing Latin edition of the text, from 1865, drew from only seven manuscripts, one now lost to us; the preceding edition, of 1619, drew from only two (36–7). Pohl's work enables him to offer a resolution to debates about redactions of the text from which the metrical poetry is absent (his evidence suggests their exemplars include the poems), and to draw our attention not only to punctuation suggesting that the poetry, at least, was intended to be read aloud, but to the discovery that one manuscript was designed as a fully illustrated copy, commissioned in the mid-late eleventh century, and that Anglo-Norman monks perhaps weren't quite the skillful Latinists that ideas of a twelfth-century renaissance might lead us to believe.
§30. These findings offer space in which the nature and function of the HN can be rethought, which Pohl goes on to do, dividing the life cycle of the text into three periods, of codification (up to c. 1100), canonization (c. 1100-1175) and re-contextualization (c. 1175 onwards), as it engaged different audiences and came to hold different meanings. Important here, Pohl explains, was the role of the HN in situating the Normans as inheritors not only of classical legitimacy (through the mechanism of translatio imperii) but as participants in Carolingian forms of dynasty-making-imitatio imperii. This was paired with a teleological account which sought to represent the Normans' Viking past as the starting point on a journey to their contemporary position as a chosen Christian people; a "usable past for the present," as Pohl suggests (258).
§31. These compelling arguments constitute the main thrust of the book, and are a fascinating and informative read. I found myself left with a range of questions which arose naturally from the work, mostly from Pohl's use of the idea of cultural memory. Although the field of cultural memory work is established, the relationship between history and memory remains problematic; in the medieval environment, where our access to the past occurs purely through designed and privately produced texts, I felt like it needed a more detailed exploration. We lack the modern public activity of journalism, for example, or the immediacy of oral history, and in response to Pohl's assertion that the HN was designed as a "literary medium of the Normans' cultural memory" (129), I wondered how our conceptions of history fit into this picture. The notion that presentations of the past were inscribed and reinscribed by or for different audiences or generations, although arguably a crucial mechanic of cultural memory (224), does not seem to move us far away from history, in its position as a series of discourses about the past. And when we consider that these inscriptions are ultimately iterations of a hegemonic discourse which did not admit the alternative voices we might ordinarily expect to find and value in memory work, this seems again more like history: produced and controlled by those with the power to do so. So while the iterative process is certainly reminiscent of the appropriative and reappropriative processes described by cultural studies, it does not seem to be a form of resistance which drives that activity. Does the HN simply record cultural memory, rather than acting as a medium for its transmission or the site of its construction? Is that just what history does?
§32. This is not, of course, to reject Pohl's astute identification of the mnemonic qualities of the various components of the HN—the metrical poetry, the illustrations. He demonstrates effectively that Dudo's work was designed to be memorable, and became so to an increasingly broad audience. And in unraveling the traditions around the text, and in bringing a fresh perspective to the interpretation of the manuscript evidence, he has made a valuable and significant contribution to the study of early Norman history. So, in summary, this is a fine book, an enjoyable read, and it generated interesting questions.
Birmingham City University
Published on 9-Apr-2016
Conti, Aidan, Orietta Da Rold and Philip Shaw. Eds. 2015 Writing Europe, 500–1450: Texts and Contexts. Essays and Studies Collected on Behalf of the English Association. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer. xvii + 198 pages. ISBN: 9781843844150.
§33. This volume of nine essays gathers diverse topics under the canopies of manuscript studies and textual criticism. The papers variously touch on production and dissemination of manuscripts, textual and cultural transmission, and multilingualism and trans-lingual adaption. Some papers proceed from 2012's "Writing Europe before 1470" colloquium at the University of Bergen, while others developed beyond the event. The collection's broadness in time and space is captured by its title: studies include material from Norway in the northwest to Bulgaria in the southeast, and span across the Middle Ages.
§34. Discussions, however, reach beyond a purely medieval timeline. The first paper, "Medieval Manuscript Studies: A European Perspective" by Orietta da Rold and Marilena Maniaci, provides a status quaestionis of manuscript studies from a European Anglophone perspective. Developments and trends in the methods and practice of codicology and palaeography are highlighted, as are ongoing issues of terminology and internationalism. Lamenting regional and linguistic divides, the authors aim to cite a high proportion of non-Anglophone research and scholars; together with the current field overview, this may be particularly useful for non-specialists, or new students of manuscript studies.
§35. The following paper, "The DigiPal Project for European Scripts and Decorations" by Stewart Brookes, Peter A. Stokes, Mathilda Watson, and Débora Marques de Matos, provides a concise overview of the aims, methodology, and outcomes of the well-known computer-assisted palaeography tool. Two case studies then demonstrate how DigiPal's framework has since been adapted for additional databases: ScandiPal, using a corpus of pre-1100 fragments from Scandinavian archives authored by Watson, and SephardiPal, using Hebrew manuscripts from medieval Iberia, by Marques de Matos. This paper shows that DigiPal fulfills its aims for studying, describing, and demonstrating features of English Vernacular minuscule, as well as its goal of adaptability for other studies.
§36. The volume then embarks on a number of regional studies. Nadia Togni's "Italian Giant Bibles: The Circulation and Use of the Book at the Time of the Ecclesiastical Reform in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries" investigates the provenance of a selection of these remarkable manuscripts, as well as associated giant liturgical manuscripts. Togni identifies four regions of circulation and use, and argues that patrons and users were politically, culturally, and economically important, with special ties to reform efforts and the papacy. Further, the movement of these Giant Bibles and liturgical manuscripts reveals a network of reforming communities and leaders in this period, and provides a snapshot of the dynamics of the dissemination of texts and ideas.
§37. In "Isolation or Network? Arengas and Colophon Verse in Frisian Manuscripts around 1300," Rolf H. Bremmer Jr. uses a selection of charter arengas—introductory statements resembling proverbs which explain why the judgment was being recorded—and colophon verses to demonstrate that Frisian scribes followed the same conventions as contemporaries elsewhere. By using similar diplomatic and rhetorical devices while working in both Latin and vernacular, these "borderland" scribes show that they participated in transregional writing trends. Further, recipients of their work may also have expected such formulas be used, which suggests a higher level of pragmatic literacy in Frisia around 1300 than previously accepted.
§38. Annina Seiler's "Writing the Germanic Languages: The Early History of the Digraphs <th>, <ch> and <uu>" draws from the earliest material included in this volume. Seiler's analysis of eighth-century Anglo-Saxon use of these three digraphs posits that they originated with the Merovingians as a means of spelling Frankish names in Latin. Previous hypotheses propose that <th> and <ch> derived from Old Irish phonology; while Irish influence is not entirely discounted, Merovingian orthography provides an explanation for <uu> (which was also adopted into Old High German), which is unaccounted for by Irish phonology.
§39. The following three papers share a theme of cross-cultural literary and linguistic adaption. Using a variety of pre- and post-Conquest texts, George Younge shows in "The New Heathens: Anti-Jewish Hostility in Early English Literature" the changing perception of Jews in England in both language and literature. Whereas Jews were only theoretically known from texts in Anglo-Saxon culture, closer cultural, educational, and economic ties to the Continent introduced anti-Jewish hostility as a by-product, which was bolstered by anxieties surrounding Christian identity following the Anarchy (1134–1154).
§40. In "Latin Composition in Medieval Norway" Aidan Conti argues that Norway likely had a comparable Latin literary culture to that of the rest of Scandinavia in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, despite scanty surviving textual material. Although much of the manuscript evidence was destroyed in the Reformation, devotional and "loose" private objects show that medieval Norwegians followed the rest of the Roman Church in using Latin as the language of their faith while retaining their vernacular for daily communication.
§41. Similarly to how post-Conquest England absorbed Continental hostilities following new cultural exposure, and medieval Norwegians selectively adopted Latin from their European peers, the literary culture of Wales underwent changes due to increased access to external ideas. In "Translating Europe in Medieval Wales," Helen Fulton explains that a new gentry ruling class in the thirteenth century drove a boom of translation and adaption into the fifteenth century. Affinity for French literary themes, availability of Latin books and scribes in new monasteries, combined with a deep-seated vernacular culture resulted in new translations and adaptions fine-tuned for Welsh audiences.
§42. This volume's final paper, "Charms among the Chants: Verbal Magic in Medieval Bulgarian Manuscripts" by Svetlana Tsonkova, discusses Bulgarian verbal charms preserved in Old Church Slavonic manuscripts. Explaining the types of texts they accompany, their monastic provenance, and their roots in oral folklore, Tsonkova argues that although non-canonical, charms were seen as practical, culturally, and socially approved, and familiar methods to cope with crises, and thus crossed into written culture.
§43. Although there is no single clear thread throughout this collection, this can be viewed as a strength. Its breadth enables an appealing platform for interesting, well-researched material which might otherwise be presented only in specialist journals, in national languages. While not a "front-to-back" read, so to speak, Writing Europe, 500–1450: Texts and Contexts effectively offers useful discussions for a broad community of scholars interested in the intersection of texts and manuscripts.
Coded on 5-Apr-2016; Published on 9-Apr-2016
Snook, Ben. 2015. The Anglo-Saxon Chancery: The History, Language and Production of Anglo-Saxon Charters from Alfred to Edgar. Anglo-Saxon Studies 28. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press. xvi + 234 pages. ISBN: 9781783270064.
§44. Ben Snook's thorough and useful monograph is one of those books for which the subtitle provides a more accurate description of its contents than the title does. Presumably most readers will approach this volume expecting a detailed discussion of the opposing arguments brought about by those who in past decades have been involved in the so-called "chancery debate," but in fact that debate never takes center stage in this book. The author is not interested in demonstrating the existence of an Anglo-Saxon chancery in the tenth century, as his volume seems to move from the assumption that others have already done that; nor does he try to establish how the royal writing office might have worked in practice. What Dr. Snook is interested in is the vocabulary and stylistic features of the Latin portions of the Anglo-Saxon royal diplomas issued between the late ninth century and the end of Edgar's reign. This is a topic which has recently attracted a lot of attention, and rightly so, given the unique literary characteristics displayed by the Anglo-Saxon actes de la pratique. But while previous publications have normally focused on either specific draftsmen or charters from a given reign, Snook is the first to provide a comprehensive study on the most significant period of Anglo-Saxon charter production.
§45. The volume proceeds chronologically starting with a first chapter on the charters of Alfred and Edward, which opens by paying special attention to the significant stylistic developments of ninth-century Mercian charter production. The treatment of the material presented here sets the tone for what is to come afterwards, though it can be observed that for several of the charters discussed in this section (e.g., Sawyer nos. 179, 193, and 205) that are preserved thanks to their having been copied into the cartularies produced at Worcester in the eleventh century, it would have been preferable to take into account more fully the important issues related to their transmission and the reasons which have made several scholars doubt their authenticity. This is particularly striking in light of the importance given in the book's introduction to what Snook calls the "archival principle of diplomatic criticism, whereby the individual character, textual history and transmission of a particular archive are considered essential to building an understanding of the charters contained in it" (26). From the literary characteristics of ninth-century Mercian charters and their heavy reliance on typically Aldhelmian vocabulary and devices such as alliteration, hyperbole, and hyperbaton, the attention moves on to Wessex and Kent, where knowledge of Aldhelm seems to have been more superficial at this time. However, it is in the period between the ninth and the tenth centuries that Snook, following on from the studies of Dorothy Whitelock and Simon Keynes, identifies a merging of Mercian literary style and West Saxon practices, which seems to be probably due to the important presence of Mercian ecclesiastics at Alfred's court.
§46. The second chapter is dedicated to Æthelstan's reign, a remarkable period for charter production for both quantitative and qualitative reasons, while the third chapter is entirely devoted to the most outstanding of all Anglo-Saxon charter draftsmen, known as "Æthelstan A." He composed almost half of the king's extant charters and has been tentatively identified with Bishop Ælfwine of Lichfield. With him the literary features of the royal diplomas' proems and sanctions reached unprecedented levels. As well as analyzing in detail his innovative taste for unusual and obscure vocabulary and his imitation of Aldhelm's style, Dr. Snook interestingly suggests that 'Æthelstan A' came from Worcester, or at least that he may have received some education there. A late ninth-century manuscript of Worcester provenance, containing Aldhelm's prose De virginitate, is mentioned as possible evidence of direct access to Aldhelmian vocabulary and constructions. Incidentally, the shelfmark for this very manuscript cannot be "Oxford, Bodleian Library, Harley 5.f.iii" (106, n. 35); the author probably meant to write "London, British Library, Royal 5.f.iii."
§47. The last two chapters cover the period between the death of Æthelstan in 939 and the end of Edgar's reign in 975. In the first case the attention focuses on the main diplomatic traditions of the 940s and 950s, namely the "mainstream" charters, the "alliterative" ones and those produced by "Dunstan B." The last chapter, meanwhile, is devoted to the diplomas issued in Edgar's time, when it is possible to identify at least four contemporaneous agencies responsible for charter production, including that known as "Edgar A." As with "Æthelstan A," scholars have often tried to identify specific individuals behind the labels used to refer to such agencies. Dr. Snook seems happy to accept some of these identifications, as in the case of Bishop Cenwald of Worcester, who would have been responsible for the "alliterative charters," although he is clearly less happy with the identification of "Edgar A" with Æthelwold or any other scribe based at Abingdon. This is of course a tricky matter with which the author on the whole deals wisely, by noting that while it was common for leading ecclesiastics to be responsible for drafting royal diplomas, this "does not mean that charter production reverted to the locality from which that ecclesiastic hailed" (172).
§48. Dr. Snook manages to achieve a lot in this monograph, allowing the reader to follow the political, religious, and cultural developments of the period while learning about the stylistic features of the different diplomatic traditions identified. He also provides numerous useful tables showing the innovative vocabulary that can be attributed to each of the agencies with which the book deals. In the space at disposal it is not possible to do justice to the many insightful points made in this volume, including for instance the reiterated suggestion that formularies must have been more common in Anglo-Saxon England than normally assumed. At the same time, however, it must be noted that occasionally the author struggles to make the differences among the tenth-century diplomatic traditions which he describes fit his underlying narrative of a continually active central royal writing office. Clearly more work needs to be done in this regard. Nevertheless, this remains an important achievement for which Dr. Snook must be congratulated.
Universidad del País Vasco UPV/EHU IKERBASQUE, Basque Foundation for Science
Coded on 5-Apr-2016, Published 9-Apr-2016