Bintley, Michael D. J. and Thomas J. T. Williams. 2015. Representing Beasts in Early Medieval England and Scandinavia. Anglo-Saxon Studies 29. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press. xii + 295 pages. ISBN: 9781783270088.
§1. The intersection of medieval studies and animal studies is an exciting field that is swiftly gaining momentum. In this topical book, Michael Bintley and Thomas Williams have gathered a collection of eleven stimulating essays which tackle animal representations in Anglo-Saxon England and Scandinavia during the early Middle Ages. The range and scope of the book is one of its greatest strengths: the assorted contributions examine a vast range of animal species from a wide variety of perspectives, and take into account language and literature, artistic and documentary sources, archaeology and material culture, and onomastic and place-name evidence. Most of the chapters focus on Old English literature and Anglo-Saxon England, but these often use Old Norse and Viking material as comparative evidence to provide a more holistic lens into the ways in which animals were thought about throughout northern Europe.
§2. Despite its impressive interdisciplinary breadth, the types of questions that are flagged up in the Introduction and the book's back cover are rarely explored in its chapters. Consequently, there is an unsettling disjunction between what the book says it will do and what it actually accomplishes. In particular, there is a conspicuous lack of theoretical perspectives utilized throughout the book's chapters, despite the introductory premise that such methods constitute its central purpose. The Introduction begins with a description of the Torslunda helmet and argues that "the categories of beast and human are inextricably blurred, confused, confounded" (1); and "It is precisely this sort of ambiguity in the representation of beasts and beast-identities that lies at the heart of this collection of papers" (1). Unfortunately, the chapters in this volume rarely stop to ponder the permeable boundaries between human and animal, and the Introduction's clear focus on this subject consequently feels misplaced. Also, because this book examines the relationship between humans and the natural world, "it inevitably engages to some degree with ecology and ecocriticism" (5). How the authors engage with ecological and ecocritical discourse, however, is extremely unclear; for example, the index entry "ecology, ecocriticism, eco-philosophy" only guides the reader towards pages 5–8 of the Introduction. Moreover, one wonders why perspectives from more relevant contemporary disciplines, such as human-animal studies (/animal studies, critical animal studies, etc.) are not introduced and deployed throughout.
§3. The term "beast" is also problematic. The editors acknowledge that the Old English deor or Old Norse dýr" might be more appropriate than a Middle English word (with roots in the Latin bestia via the Old French beste). It should also be noted that in most medieval texts, such as Isidore of Seville's highly influential Etymologies and the ubiquitous bestiary tradition, the Latin bestia refers solely to wild mammals, whereas this volume addresses a far greater range of animal species. Nevertheless, the Introduction is intelligent, learned, and interesting, providing the necessary fodder for the reader to continue with enthusiasm. Every single contribution is thoroughly well-researched, replete with extensive references and helpful charts, images, and drawings. There is a fastidious attention to detail from start to finish and each chapter offers fresh insight into the way animals were depicted and thought about. The chapters are not divided by disciplinary approach, but rather by subject matter; the transition from one subject to the next is smooth and sensible.
§4. In the first chapter, Noël Adams takes great lengths to explain how Anglo-Saxon animal art is uniquely poised between the realism of Classical tradition and the myths and legends of Germanic tradition. The significance of Classical influence is too often neglected in the study of Anglo-Saxon visual culture, and the influence of Roman, Late Antique, and Byzantine imagery is unpacked with careful attention to detail, especially in relation to the important and common representations of the animals of the hunt. Sue Brunning then examines the links between snakes and swords in Viking-Age Scandinavia; she focuses on serpentine ornament on a variety of artifacts, as well as written descriptions of swords as serpents in contemporary literature. She successfully—and more so than most contributors, theoretically—explores the complex relationship between humans, animals, and objects, destabilizing the boundaries between these categories and demonstrating their mutability. Continuing the theme of serpents and serpentine imagery, Victoria Symons then focuses her discussion on the complex relationship between dragons and runes in both Old English and Old Norse literature, as well as rune stones with dragon decorations from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. She effectively argues that dragons and runes, symbolic of concealment and revelation, are set in opposition to one another in ways that reveal underlying social anxieties about wealth and its distribution.
§5. The following two chapters focus on ravens, starting with Marijane Osborn's study of a tiny Viking-age sculpture discovered at Lejre in 2009, which depicts an enthroned figure flanked by a pair of ravens. This figure is usually identified as Óðinn with his avian companions Huginn and Muninn; an assumption that Osborn interrupts, but does not disprove, occasionally using some bemusingly eccentric material as unproblematic evidence for actual raven behavior (such as personal anecdotes, email exchanges, and YouTube videos). Eric Lacey then focuses upon the "blithe-hearted" raven in Beowulf, whose song heralds sunrise over Heorot; he examines the raven's ambiguous symbolism (of both triumph and impending doom) and draws connections with early Germanic, Anglo-Saxon, and Old Norse evidence. Although well-researched, both of these chapters would benefit from inclusion of skaldic poetry, in which ravens figure prominently.
§6. László Sándor Chardonnens next addresses similar textual questions about the exotic beasts of Anglo-Saxon prognostics. He questions how the early English would have imagined such animals, which were only familiar from foreign religious texts and not from quotidian experience. In a unique but fitting contribution, Richard North then discusses the curious depiction of a pet pig in a Latin poem written by Luxorius of Carthage (c. 520). He links the pig with boar cults in Vandalic and other Germanic cultures through a range of documentary and material sources, suggesting that Luxorius's depiction of a pet pig in a Roman villa can be seen as a parodic depiction of his Vandal rulers. The boar motif continues with Williams's chapter: one of a number of animals associated with warfare in Anglo-Saxon England, he places beast symbolism in a wider cosmology that equated violence with the bestial and the monstrous, and thus outside the sphere of regular human behavior.
§7. The connection between beasts and the wilderness is further developed by Bintley, who also considers how landscapes and settlements were attributed with specific qualities, and dangerous beasts, both real and imagined, occupied marginal spaces on the fringes of human society. Particularly interesting—and here, the types of theoretical questions flagged up in the Introduction are now pertinent—is how landscapes can be made monstrous by their human inhabitants if they behave like beasts and reject Christian virtues. The final two chapters focus on place-name evidence from charters and other sources: the most enduring evidence for human-animal interaction in Anglo-Saxon England, for their influence is left imprinted on the landscapes of today. John Baker demonstrates how place-names reflect the smallest of beasts: invertebrates (both vital to our ecosystems, and almost always neglected in academic study). Finally, Della Hooke examines what place-name evidence reveals about how people interacted with a wider range animals in their natural environments. Here we see the depth of the Anglo-Saxons' knowledge of their local surroundings and the beasts with whom they shared their lands.
§8. In sum, the contributions to this book offer a fascinating journey through the various ways in which different animal species were thought about and represented in the medieval mind. Questions about the boundaries between human and animal, however, and other related theoretical questions which probe more deeply into the material, are infrequently addressed. It is unfortunate that there is no conclusion to this book, which might have summarized the findings of the various chapters, including whatever theoretical insight might be gleaned. The similarities and differences between the evidence from Anglo-Saxon England and Scandinavia was a theme examined throughout the book, but there is no closure offered in terms of conclusive results or future questions, nor on the varying depictions of animals before and after the conversion to Christianity. What do the various chapters offer when considered in culmination, what patterns can be detected throughout the material surveyed, and what might come next?
§9. According to the Introduction, "In many ways this book endeavours to set a precedent for the further exploration of these relationships, by reflecting both on certain topics that are already the focus of long-established study, and on others that have received comparatively little attention" (3). A precedent is undoubtedly established in many ways; numerous historicist and positivistic approaches to animals are promulgated and new ground is forged within the mutable intersection between medieval studies and animal studies, offering insight and elucidation to the benefit of both disciplines. Animals are deserving of far more critical consideration in the study of the middle ages and the chapters in this book provide a useful starting place for future research and further, deeper inquiry.
Home, Malasree. 2015. The Peterborough Version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: Rewriting Post-Conquest History. Anglo-Saxon Studies 27. Woodbridge: Boydell Press. ix + 184 pages. ISBN: 9781783270019.
§1. Everyone working on the history or language of twelfth-century England is undoubtedly familiar with the E text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ASC), also known as the Peterborough Chronicle (PC). In her monograph on the PC as post-Conquest historiography, Malasree Home examines the transformation of the ASC at Peterborough and the connections between the PC and other histories. The book represents the recent trend in ASC scholarship of focusing not on "the Chronicle as a coherent unified construct" (5) or on its transmission history, but on one of its witnesses. That said, it is not the Peterborough manuscript itself that is under scrutiny; apart from several mentions of its neatness, Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Laud Misc. 636 is not studied in terms of its material features as such, but of its contents, and the context of its production and use.
§2. The book begins with a 20-page introduction to "The text, the world, and Peterborough Abbey," which briefly explains both the traditional and newer approaches to research on the ASC and provides an overview of the witnesses to the chronicle. The author's main interest lies in understanding the nature or identity of the PC, which reflects the needs of Peterborough Abbey and, more broadly, the context in which the local version of the ASC was produced. The four chapters that follow, most of them forty pages in length, discuss these issues in detail; they contain enough repetition and cross-references to be readable as separate studies as well.
§3. Chapter 1, "Textualising the past," examines the Peterborough Interpolations, made in the early 1120s, when the bulk of the text as we now have it was copied. The author shows that the scribe indeed created much more than a copy of the "proto-E" version, which Peterborough had received from Canterbury. The Interpolations can be divided into diplomatic and non-diplomatic, the former incorporating into the text material from charters and other documents—some of which are of spurious authenticity—in order to validate the remarkable history and possessions of the monastery. The latter do not draw on the same type of evidence but add local information to the text. The Interpolations are carefully interwoven with the narrative of the received chronicle and firmly link the version to a particular place, distinctly localizing what had traditionally been a national history.
§4. In Chapter 2, "Continuing the Chronicle," the author discusses the contents and format of the two Continuations. She argues convincingly that the First Continuation has the same author-compiler as the Interpolations, who was probably also the scribe. It is at this stage, in the 1120s, that the E version is a "living" chronicle, with annals being written nearly contemporaneously with the events they report. The Second, or Final, Continuation, written in the mid-1150s, is different: while it shares the annalistic structure of the preceding parts of the PC, events are actually not recorded chronologically by the Second Continuator, who also introduces new lexical choices and narrative strategies to the chronicle. What does remain, and is characteristic of this version of the ASC as a whole, is an ideological focus on Peterborough Abbey, whose glorious past and ability to survive and thrive despite adversity are highlighted in the text. The continuators also display awareness of the tradition and genre of the chronicle, which they simultaneously maintain and reshape.
§5. In Chapter 3, "Making the Chronicle: form, genre, identity," the author moves from the PC to other historiographical texts produced in twelfth-century England, considering the complexities of compiling them. Particular attention is paid to the Canterbury or F text of the ASC, which was also based on the "proto-E" version. The F text and the PC are generically hybrid, incorporating charter material—a departure from the vernacular tradition—but both versions nonetheless retain the annal structure, which is used in some but not all of the near-contemporary Latin histories. Moreover, the F and E versions were written to highlight and promote the centers of Canterbury and Peterborough, respectively. The author argues that vernacular chronicles, particularly the "proto-E" text, were valued and used well into the twelfth century, although Latin historiography, including house histories, would take over soon enough.
§6. In the final chapter, we return to Peterborough. "Beyond the Chronicle: the perspective of house history" focuses on the other texts produced during and after the compilation of the PC at Peterborough, particularly the Latin house history of the abbey, the Chronicle of Hugh Candidus. The author underlines continuity between the PC and the Latin history and refers to the Second Continuator as Hugh's "immediate predecessor" (154). Compared to the Interpolations and the Continuations, Hugh's chronicle provides more detailed accounts of the land transactions and other possessions of the abbey and also focuses more on the hagiographical and the miraculous. Despite their different languages and formats, both texts nonetheless seek to serve the abbey's interests and enhance its image, an overarching interest in the historiographical culture of Peterborough.
§7. The Bibliography contains over 150 items, including a number of publications from the 2010s as well as books and articles by such well-known scholars in the field of ASC and PC studies as Janet Bately, Cecily Clark, David Dumville, Susan Irvine, and Dorothy Whitelock. The Index is short and mainly covers texts, genres, authors, and people discussed in the chronicles. Footnotes are used in the book for both references and elaborations, and they often provide quotations from the PC in Old (or very early Middle) English with translations into Present-Day English.
§8. The Peterborough Version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: Rewriting Post-Conquest History is a valuable addition to ASC research. It provides a wealth of information about and insights into the PC and its twelfth-century context, indicating how fruitful it is to concentrate on one version of the chronicle in its own right. Historical linguists will be particularly interested in the way a historiographically-orientated scholar considers the vocabulary, grammar, and discursive features of the text, in addition to its contents. Chapters 1 and 2 indicate that awareness of linguistic features is crucial for analyzing the text, whereas in Chapters 3 and 4, it is the multilingual context of text production that is emphasized. The author argues that the shift from vernacular chronicle to Latin house history in the second half of the twelfth century did not depend on the higher status of Latin alone—or the "eclipse" of English as a language of writing after 1066, which some textbook-type accounts of the history of English may still suggest—but was instead associated with the changing needs of the abbey, reflected in transitioning to a new form and a different language of historiography. Overall, the book also serves as an invitation to further analyses of the ASC, be they historiographical, narrative, or linguistic.
Martin, Toby F. 2015. The Cruciform Brooch and Anglo-Saxon England. Anglo-Saxon Studies 25. Woodbridge: Boydell Press. 406 pages, 5 color, 58 black and white, 44 line illustrations. ISBN: 9781843839934. Associated on-line database at http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archives/view/asbrooch_na_2015/.
§1. The cruciform brooch is an instantly identifiable artifact of the first phase of the Anglo-Saxon period (the fifth and sixth centuries AD). In its simplest form, as a long brooch with high bow, knobs on the head and, usually, a long-snouted animal head on the foot, it emerges out of Late Roman Iron Age brooch traditions in north-west Europe. In Britain, the earliest examples have the focus of their distribution in eastern England and they form part of a series of new influences that signal new arrivals from across the North Sea. Out of these early brooches emerge a series of insular types, which penetrate further into England, and develop into increasingly large and exaggerated forms, most notably as the large ornamented brooches previously defined as "florid." The cruciform brooch in all its forms has become a signature of the Anglian cultural group of northern England, the Midlands, and East Anglia. Similar brooches from Kent represent a short-lived and semi-independent series.
§2. This book makes a major contribution to the subject. It represents a well-organized, in-depth examination of all aspects of the brooch's typology, development, and socio-cultural context. The material is ably handled in a comprehensive and authoritative manner. The author has fine writing skills and often produces quotable lines and examples of le mot juste in relation to highly complex matters. There are some debatable areas in the latter half of the book, but the critique presented below should be seen as an attempt to open up a dialogue on issues which perhaps deserve further consideration. They do not detract from the volume's value as a research tool.
§3. The early chapters are concerned with the development of a new typology and its dating. The author courteously doffs his hat to earlier contributions, especially Catherine Mortimer's doctoral thesis. Since Mortimer completed her study in 1990, many more brooches have been added to the corpus through the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and improved methods of statistical analysis have allowed a reconsideration of the evidence. While the major features of Mortimer's system have been retained, her five main categories have been reduced to four. Martin's groups now represent increasing levels of complexity in design, from the simple plain narrow brooches of Group 1 to the large florid examples of Group 4. Each group has been divided into sub-groups, in turn divided into types. The system has been clearly delineated, with illustrations of the individual diagnostic features and representative examples of each type, together with maps to show the distribution of finds. The group divisions have been tested by correspondence analysis, although it is a pity that here, and in the next chapter, only select tables and charts have been included, so that the reader cannot check the conclusions. This may have been a constraint of the publisher's house style.
§4. Dating has been approached by seriation of design elements and an examination of the relationship of the brooches to each other and to other classes of artifact, including the beads of Brugmann's chronologies. The relative dates have been translated into absolute ones by links into Scandinavian and Continental chronologies. The result is a three-phase sequence which in its essentials corresponds with Mortimer's. Group 1 brooches, mostly found in cremations, have been placed in Martin's Phase A (c. 420–475), Groups 2, 3, and some of Group 4 fall together in Phase B (AD c. 475–550), while only late variants of Group 4 brooches occur in Phase C (AD c. 525–560/70). Some internal developments have been observed within Phase B, but many of the brooch types of this phase overlap with each other.
§5. The remaining chapters use the sorted and dated material to examine the social and cultural context of the brooches. In "Cycles of exchange and production," the raw materials, manufacturing techniques, and the repair and re-use of the brooches are considered in relation to the ways in which they connect patron, maker, and wearer. It was surprising to find that Justine Bayley's papers on metallurgy were not employed here, but there are some significant observations on the shorthand meaning of design details, and in particular on how the abstract Style I ornament was used "to authenticate an item as part of a valued and recognisable tradition" (159).
§6. In "Migrants, Angles, and Petty Kings," the history of the brooch is reviewed within the context of the migration into Britain, the establishment of an "Anglian" identity and the rise of a ruling class. Some of this is standard fare, but of particular importance is the connection made between the brooches as carriers of a half-remembered Anglian identity and the known origin myths of later ruling houses. Both use created histories to legitimize and impart authority to individual lineages. To view the brooches as indications of an emerging elite in the later fifth century, however, is perhaps pushing the evidence (or his use of the term "elite") too far. While there may have been temporary leaders at this stage, many would view this as a period in which individual farming families were going through a process of individuation from the wider group, followed by a phase of competition between families, which only later led to the formation of a stable elite. That brooches could help to establish identity during the individuation process, however, is certainly an important point.
§7. The chapter on "Bearers of Tradition" is concerned with how the brooches were worn and the women who wore them to clasp their garments. In this reviewer's opinion, this is the weak area in the book and, while it is very detailed, it lacks the clarity of thought observed in the preceding sections. For example, Table 17 gives percentages of bodies buried with cruciform brooches in 20 cemeteries, but disregards the time-spans of the cemeteries. Some of them extend into the 7th century, well outside the range of cruciform brooches, and the percentages quoted are therefore not a meaningful index of brooch use. Martin is correct in saying that cruciform brooches were used for two purposes, as clasps on the shoulders for the garment known as the peplos and as front fasteners on the cloak, but his discussion of age groups does not distinguish between the two garments and ignores evidence that the peplos was adopted at a much earlier age than the cloak or shawl (as described in the Walton Rogers 2007 volume which he references). It is incorrect to say that there is little evidence for headgear (195), since the head veil is one of the best represented garments in Anglo-Saxon graves. The criticism of the remarks made by Owen-Crocker and Walton Rogers on the types of brooches used to fasten cloaks (197) is in both cases based on a misreading of our respective statements on the subject. As a feminist, I was surprised to see my name associated with some rather old-fashioned views on women (229)—a case of being quoted out of context. Perhaps the author ran out of time with this section. If so, it is a pity, since a more accurate assessment of the costume and textile evidence would almost certainly have supported and endorsed some of his earlier theories.
§8. These are not irrecoverable errors. They come at the end of a major, multifaceted piece of work that fully deserves the attention of both professional archaeologists and academics.
Last Modified: 16-Jun-2017
Pinner, Rebecca. 2015. The Cult of St. Edmund in Medieval East Anglia. Woodbridge: Boydell Press. xii + 276 pages + 4 color plates. ISBN 9781783270354.
§1. Rebecca Pinner's interdisciplinary study of St. Edmund focuses on the development of his cult, both at the abbey of Bury St Edmunds and, more broadly, in the regional context of East Anglia, from its origin in the ninth century to the 1539 dissolution of the abbey. The book is divided into three parts: part I considers "how, why and when" (22) the legend was transformed from a brief account in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to multiple and much more elaborate later versions; part II examines the material manifestations of the cult, offering a reconstruction of a pilgrim's experience visiting St. Edmund's shrine; and part III considers how Edmund's cult in areas of East Anglia outside of Bury compares to the perception and presentation of the saint in the abbey's own precincts.
§2. Part I reviews the hagiographic tradition from its origin in the Passio Sancti Eadmundi written by Abbo of Fleury in the tenth century to its final flourishing in the long and ornate Lives of Saints Edmund and Fremund written by John Lydgate in the fifteenth century. The opening chapter on Abbo is followed by one on Herman's De Miraculis Sancti Eadmundi and its revision (with significantly different emphases) as a two-part compilation most likely written by Abbot Samson and Osbert de Clare. The next chapter focuses on manuscripts containing both Edmund's vita and his miracula—especially New York Pierpont Morgan Library MS M. 736, which offers both textual and visual narrative. The latter takes two forms: a sequence of miniatures that give their own version of Edmund's story, and thirty-nine decorated initials, fifteen of which offer "an interpretive gloss to the text" (72). A chapter entitled "The elaboration of the hagiographic tradition" then follows, exploring various expansions of the legend, including De infantia Sancti Eadmundi by Geoffrey of Wells (a prequel to the Passio), and the great hagiographic compendium made at Bury in the late fourteenth century (Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 240), which includes forty-five new miracles. Part I of the book ends with an analysis of Lydgate's poem in light of its original composition for presentation to King Henry VI. The chapters constituting this longitudinal approach to Edmund's legend make reference to a large body of scholarship, which Pinner cites most often to demonstrate how her findings largely confirm the insights offered by other scholars. While Pinner's discussion, by contextualizing significant differences in the depictions of Edmund found in the various iterations of his legend, adds further weight and texture to our understanding of the contours of this narrative tradition, I nevertheless would have liked to see a greater emphasis on her own ideas and original argument here.
§3. Part II, the shortest section of the book, focuses on what can be known of the physical shrine and Edmund's relics, and it is in some ways an experiment in informed reconstruction of a largely inaccessible past. Here Pinner switches gears from analyzing narratives about Edmund to thinking about physical artifacts, space, and place. She marshals an impressive array of details about what is known or can be reconstructed about Bury to guide readers, as virtual pilgrims, on a visit to Edmund's shrine. Her point here is that the medieval encounter with Edmund's sanctity was overwhelmingly sensory and "orchestrated with knowing skill by his monastic guardians" (137). A highlight of this part is the discussion of the relics and secondary altars that existed in the vicinity of Edmund's shrine, creating spatial associations and juxtapositions that, as Pinner shows, would have drawn the attention of visitors to specific aspects of Edmund's sanctity, thereby shaping a perception of the saint that would have differed in certain ways from that which is offered by the hagiographies.
§4. The book's third part looks beyond the immediate environs of the abbey to explore the dissemination of Edmund's cult throughout East Anglia by means of such artifacts as pilgrim badges, which depict Edmund as a "more munificent intercessor" (171) than the punitive saint represented on the abbey's home grounds, who was clearly meant to be seen as the defender of Bury's rights and privileges. Evidence of the spread of the cult into outlying areas can also be witnessed in the many images of Edmund decorating East Anglian churches. Pinner argues that "these various visual identities once again demonstrate the complexity of Edmund's saintly identity" (226)—he was, after all, a virgin, a martyr, a king, a warrior-turned-pacifist, a punitive intercessor, and a healer. The final chapter of this section turns to depictions of Edmund in sermon manuals and legendary collections produced outside of Bury, which feature Edmund as a universal "exemplar of holy living (and dying)" (237), a less specific representation of the saint than seen elsewhere that would have been useful in the preaching and private devotional contexts for which these texts were produced. This treatment offers a telling foil to the rather different emphases of the texts Pinner discusses in part I, which dwell instead on Edmund's kingship and specifically East Anglian identity.
§5. In addition to the wealth of descriptive material offered in the three main sections of the volume, Pinner includes as appendices a synoptic account of Edmund's legend and a chronology of events and texts associated with his cult. The book also features a map of East Anglia (unfortunately printed too small for the place names to be easily readable), four color plates, eight black-and-white figures, and three tables. These are welcome supplements, but the press would have been wise to allow for the inclusion of more visual aids to help readers move through the long sections of the book featuring dense descriptions of visual materials. Despite these drawbacks, Pinner has done scholars of St. Edmund a great service by amassing in a single volume a formidable account of the surviving witnesses to his textual and material cult in its medieval East Anglian context.
Last Modified: 14-Jun-2017
Kears, Carl, and James Paz, eds. 2016. Medieval Science Fiction. King's College London Medieval Studies 24. Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer. Xxvii + 304 pages. ISBN 9780953983889.
§1. This collection of fourteen essays responds to ongoing conversations in both academia and the general public concerning whether or not there is such a thing as "medieval science fiction" and how, why, and in what ways medieval subjects find their ways into modern science fiction narratives. Its contributors—scholars, librarians, writers of science fiction, and the director of the Vatican observatory—are as wide-ranging in their interest and expertise as is the subject matter itself, which ensures that there is something here for anyone with a connection to the material either through medieval studies, medievalism, science fiction, or some combination of the three. I will begin with a summary of the book's contents, then examine in more detail those essays with immediate interest for scholars working on The Heroic Age's focus period of the fourth to thirteenth centuries.
§2. Following a foreword by James Hannam on the relationship between medieval science and medieval fiction is an introduction by editors Carl Kears and James Paz that acknowledges the controversy that surrounds describing any texts from the medieval period using the modern phrase "science fiction" while also providing compelling reasons for doing so. Together, the foreword and the introduction offer an excellent foundation in medieval science which will be useful to non-specialists for following the arguments of the later essays. Following the introductory materials, the collection is conveniently divided into parts, each of which comprises one to three essays dealing with a specific theme within the overarching subject of the volume: "Science & Fiction in the 'Dark Ages;'" "Time & Space Travel;" "The Alien;" "Technologies & Manmade Marvels;" "Distant Planets, Distant Futures;" and "Making Medieval Science Fiction." Of these, the first four parts include essays specifically addressing Old English and early medieval subjects, as described below.
§3. Part One consists of a single essay: Daniel Anlezark's "Is Beowulf Science Fiction?" Acknowledging in the first sentence of the essay that "the most obvious answer to the question 'Is Beowulf science fiction?' is 'no'" (39), Anzelark develops a probing study of the scientific elements in the poem, considering whether and to what end its medieval readers might have recognized and/or used that scientific information in reading and interpreting the poem's contents. In the first essay in Part Two, "The Future is a Foreign Country: The Legend of the Seven Sleepers and the Anglo-Saxon Sense of the Past," Roy Liuzza lends his trademark incisive, lively, and lucid prose to a discussion of ways in which Anglo-Saxon representations of time travel might be read in companionative fashion alongside modern tales of time travel, arguing that "if we allow ourselves to look past the strict definitions and dismantle the genre a bit to consider the various stylistic elements, affective moments, and tropes of plot or character it contains, we cannot help but notice the many resonances, parallels, and echoes between medieval and modern works" (61). Part Three likewise opens with an essay addressing an early medieval subject, the "green children" of Woolpit recorded in the twelfth-century chronicles of Ralph of Coggeshall and William of Newburgh. In "'Those two green children which Nubrigensis speaks of in his time, that fell from heaven', or the Origins of Science Fiction" Mary Baine Campbell offers a summary of the story in its various iterations and a description of its transmission down to the present day, noting its place in the philosophical concept of "chronosynclastic infundibulum" attributed to Kurt Vonnegut and defined as "a wormhole in time and space 'where all the different kinds of truth fit together'" (130). Following Campbell in the same section is Denis Ferhatovic's study of "Aliens and Anglo-Saxons in Edwin Morgan's 'The First Men on Mercury'" which examines in depth Morgan's interest in and intentional use of Old English epic generic conventions in his own fiction. And finally, in Part Four, James Paz's "The Medieval Dying Earth" begins with a quotation from Jack Vance's Tales of the Dying Earth and a corresponding one from "The Wanderer" to contextualize his discussion of the similar ways in which modern science fiction and Old English elegies describe a vanishing or dying world.
§4. While the essays noted above are those which specifically address subjects that fall within the purview of the readership of The Heroic Age, all the contributions to this collection offer something to scholars and fans of science fiction more generally, and deserve at least a passing read-through. The collection as a whole is absorbing, entertaining, and deeply thought-provoking, particularly in its sustained insistence that the typical, often unnecessarily divisive categories of "medieval," "medievalism," "fantasy," and "science fiction" be more intentionally and critically interrogated through the lens of medieval influence on modern science fiction. While it covers a great deal of ground, the focus is predominantly on the English tradition (a notable exception being the essay by Alison Harthill on Conrad Kyeser's early fifteenth-century German war treatise Bellifortis); this focus leaves wide open the possibility of further work on the idea of "medieval science fiction" beyond the English tradition—for example, extending into the Nordic and Western and Eastern European cultures—so that we might consider this book an attractive and compelling beginning foray into the discussion, rather than a definitive final word on the subject of medieval studies and science fiction. The editors and contributors alike are to be congratulated on their significant achievement in bringing our attention to an important, too-often overlooked, and exciting scholarly conversation.
Camp, Cynthia Turner. 2015. Anglo-Saxon Saints' Lives as History Writing in Late Medieval England. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer. 246 pages. ISBN 9781843844020.
§1. Cynthia Turner Camp's study of the vernacular hagiographies produced by monasteries in late medieval England reveals an historiographic trajectory that, Camp argues, was key to the preservation of monastic identity and the reformation of monastic ethical behavior in the fifteenth century. Camp identifies monastic communities' concern over their temporal and ethical distance from saintly exemplars as motivation for a literary shift in the production of Anglo-Saxon vernacular hagiographies, particularly those saints' lives which provide an historical connection for contemporary monasteries and their members to provide themselves with both a communal identity that could preserve the monastery's political prerogatives and an individual identity that could bolster personal piety. Camp argues that the aims of these historiographical hagiographies had different literary effects: "hagiographers' innovations lie not in what they say, but in how they say it" (14, emphasis in original). Hagiographers needed to displace the historical distance between their subjects and their readers in order to successfully promote their political and ethical agendas, and they did so by working with "operations of absence, amnesia, and aspiration" (11) to manipulate formal, temporal, and imaginative structures within their hagiographies. Utilizing Michel de Certeau's theory of history writing, Camp concludes that historiographical hagiographies of Anglo-Saxon saints were successful insofar as they were able to construct believable narratives connecting the saint of the past to the monastic needs of the present, but they were always in the process of unwriting themselves due to the "incommensurate distance" (5) between the hagiographers and their subjects. The unifying motive among all the hagiographers in Camp's study, however, was to re-imagine English history in such a way that England's contemporary circumstances could find future improvement.
§2. The introduction to Camp's book provides the reader with a full appreciation of the complexities involved in writing history, especially when this history is being represented through the literary genre of hagiography. Because hagiography presents the life of a holy person who exists eternally after death and continues to intervene in history, the saint can never be relegated simply to an historical past. The saint transcends his or her historical moment, residing in the aevum of the eternal present, making any historical description of the saint's life subject to a constant referent to the present moment. Similarly, the purpose of hagiography is exemplary: the genre motivates its readers to imitate the past pious actions of the saint in the present. The continual reference to the present is what makes hagiography so desirable as a vehicle for institutional historiography and reform; however, Camp argues, this feature is also what makes saints' lives perennially destabilizing as a foundation for historical connections with the past. Attempts to establish historical roots for monastic houses rely on omissions of historical fact. This "forgetting" becomes necessary to forge historical connections between saint and institution, creating sites of tension in which the entire historiographic project is liable to crumble and highlighting the "ultimate inability of saintly stasis to guarantee historical continuity" (21).
§3. The following five chapters of Camp's book provide compelling and interesting illustrations of the kind of historiographical successes and difficulties described in the introduction. The first three chapters focus on the hagiographies of three popular Anglo-Saxon virgin abbesses: Edith of Wilton, Audrey of Ely, and Werburg of Chester. The last two chapters concentrate on the relationship between monastery and monarchy in the lives of kings Edward and Edmund. The first chapter highlights the life of Edith of Wilton in the Wilton Chronicle (c. 1420) and how certain aspects of her life were re-imagined in order to place female intervention at the heart of early English history, thereby creating what Camp terms "medieval women's history writing" (29). However, in order to accomplish this, Camp notes, the Chronicle is required to ignore, for instance, that Edith's refusal of the crown results in the crowning of the inept Æthelred, and that Edith's incorrupt corpse was actually partially decayed. This historical "forgetting" (62) makes Edith's role in England's dynastic continuity unstable, resulting in historiographic tensions that threaten the Chronicle's envisioning of "women's history". However, Camp also reads the Chronicle's life of Edith, following Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, as a successful attempt to demonstrate to the Lancastrian dynasty that "a woman's community could be useful to the crown" (63). I question whether "usefulness to the crown" can be conflated with an example of "women's history writing" in any truly revisionist way, since a large part of women's "usefulness" to male power in all forms of history writing has been through legitimization; hence the perennial importance of the legitimizing narrative of the chaste queen and the illegitimizing narrative of the unchaste queen. Replacing the chaste queen with the holy abbess in a narrative of male dynastic legitimacy, regardless of the abbess's real political influence, does not seem to me a particularly innovative mode of "women's history writing." Nonetheless, Camp demonstrates effectively how the life of a saint could be reworked to situate a religious community like Wilton within the purview of contemporary political history as it was unfolding.
§4. The second chapter on St. Audrey of Ely shifts the focus from political possibilities to ethical ones. While most hagiographies focus on Audrey's utility as an ethical model for monastic individuals, some hagiographers found her genealogical fecundity useful for legitimizing monastic houses which had only tenuous connections to foundational saints. Camp finds potential pitfalls in both methods of dealing with Audrey's vita, arguing that Audrey's virginity despite her two marriages makes any attempt to legitimize through biological heredity a dead end. Audrey's holiness is based in large part upon her refusal to compromise her virginity and contribute to her kinship group through physical generation, thereby problematizing attempts to attach monastic groups to her through blood relation. On the other hand, Camp argues that attempts to create spiritual kinship with Audrey and her Ely sisterhood through ethical imitation are also prone to instability because of the temporal distance between Audrey's monastic ideal and contemporary monastic corruption. While Audrey was able to inspire ethical imitation in her Anglo-Saxon followers during her life and immediate afterlife, her spiritual legacy is barred from generating diachronically without contemporary modifications to and moderations of her historical-ethical reality.
§5. In the third chapter, Camp uses Henry Bradshaw's Life of Werburge (c. 1513) to illustrate a synthesis between the binaries of diachrony and synchrony found in Audrey's hagiographies. Although Bradshaw also makes use of the same historical "forgetting" as the Wilton Chronicle to re-imagine Werburg's life, his methods of doing so, Camp argues, successfully bridge the gap between the saint in history and the saint in eternity. Bradshaw emphasizes the genealogical connections that coalesce in Werburg, making her body the repository of the combined holiness of the entirety of her saintly kin. As Werburg's supposedly incorrupt body is eventually subject to complete decay, Bradshaw relocates this repository of hereditary holiness from Werburg's physical body to the shrine in which her remains are kept. The shrine becomes the symbol of the presence of her holiness, and the shrine's presence within the monastery acts as the guarantor of the monastery's rights and privileges. It also acts as the ever-present call to holiness for monastic individuals, emphasizing ethical perfection as "process, not product" (109, emphasis in original). Camp points to Bradshaw's rhetorical skill as the catalyst by which the shift from bodily integrity to enshrined dust becomes an acceptable transition, highlighting the language of gemology used to refer to Werburg, both in her living body and her enshrined corpse, as well as to her shrine itself. In this way, Camp sees Bradshaw's historiographical hagiography as striking the best balance between monastic historical stability, contemporary communal prerogatives, and individual ethical reformation.
§6. The final two chapters on Edward and Edmund tackle the knotty relationship between kingship and saintliness, as well as between the monarchy and the monastery. The chapter on Edward emphasizes the difficulty of rendering a virgin saint and king politically useful or even saintly without some very necessary historical "forgetting" (149). Due to his holiness, Edward lived chastely and produced no heir, thereby creating the circumstances for the success of the Norman Conquest. No discussion of his saintly virginity can avoid this problematic historical fallout. Camp suggests that this is why English kings like Richard II favored pictorial renditions of Edward rather than narratives. Edward's narrative only emphasized his political failings, making his vita impossible for a king to emulate; his pictorial symbolism, however, could carry the weight of his holiness without the dilemma of his dynastic failure. Pictorial hagiography could also promote multiple, and sometimes competing, narratives, as Camp illustrates in the case of Lydgate's Edmund and Fremund, which was presented to Henry VI as a gift of the Bury St Edmund's monastery. Lydgate's poetic rhetoric, Camp argues, positions the poet as the "shrinekeeper" or mediator between Henry and Edmund, and Lydgate's poem becomes the medium through which the king gains access to Edmund's holy assistance. The illustrations within the manuscript, however, depict the monastic community of Bury St Edmund's, the location of Edmund's physical shrine, as the mediator between Henry and the saint: to gain Edmund's assistance, Henry must go to the shrine. Reading this manuscript would have provided Henry with somewhat competing narratives of prerogative, even though both narratives ultimately encourage the king to be devoted to Edmund and support those who have dedicated their lives to imitate the saint's example.
§7. Camp's book provides an insightful look at the intersection of historiography and hagiography, emphasizing its key features and its inconsistencies. Her reconstruction of the cultural concerns of monastic authors in the fifteenth century provides a pertinent framework through which to investigate issues of authority and legitimization in the hagiographies under examination. Although it may have been helpful to support her discussions of the ethical problems of saintly emulation with an exposition of the theological emphasis on imitation inherent in medieval Christianity, Camp's study as a whole provides useful and interesting points of departure for further investigations in both historical and literary studies in late medieval England.
§1. The Stories Set Forth With Fair Words examined by Kalinke are medieval romances in Iceland, the riddarasögur. Medieval romance was introduced to the thriving literary scene of late thirteenth-century Iceland in the form of translations of French courtly and epic literature. In turn, the translated riddarasögur inspired the Icelanders "to try their own hand at this imported narrative type" (vii), resulting in what usually is referred to as the indigenous riddarasögur.
§2. The aim of the book is to explore "the foundation, growth and flowering of romance in Iceland" (viii), and through close readings as well as comparisons of variants, Kalinke guides us through the interlingual and intralingual history of these romances, from translation, through revisions, scribal intervention and adaptation—to the indigenous Icelandic riddarasögur, a flourishing genre successfully combining "foreign and indigenous narrative matter" (163). As Kalinke emphasizes, "the Icelanders' enthusiasm" for these stories, "has not been shared by modern scholars," and she observes that the riddarasögur "are not necessarily inferior narratives; rather, they are a different type of narrative" (vii). The common bipartite division of the genre based on the origin of the texts, translated or indigenous, highlights their differences, disguising the evolution of a genre, the work of copyists, scribes, redactors, editors, continuators and eventually authors—a gradual process of cultural transfer and acculturation resulting in the Icelandic romances. Kalinke refers to these riddarasögur as "a different type of narrative" (my emphasis), and treats the genre as such when exploring the evolution of medieval romance in Iceland in the seven chapters that follow, from the "Translations in Norway" (chap. 1), to the "Icelandic Romance as Critique and Sequel" (chap. 7), thus tracing the development of the genre from the original thirteenth-century translations to the creation and development of the indigenous Icelandic riddarasögur.
§3. Throughout the book, well-chosen examples illustrate the vital impact of Icelandic scribes on the genre, initially acting "more as editors than scribes" (viii) when copying the translations from French, but eventually making independent and substantial contributions in textual transmission. In some cases, the scribe turns into a "continuator" or an "author," for instance through the added conclusion to the translated Elíss saga ok Rósamundar. Taking into account different redactions of the texts opens up the material and shows just how the Icelanders were "Tinkering with the Translations" in chap. 2, but this "tinkering" eventually becomes more substantial, more independent, and the Icelanders are enhancing, modifying and—eventually—re-creating, and re-inventing the genre. Drawing on two translated chansons de geste, Flóvents saga (provenance unknown) and Bevers saga (derived from the Anglo-Norman Boeve de Haumtone), chapter 3 discusses foreign themes and motifs contributing to the assortment available for Icelandic authors. Chapter 4 addresses two sagas, Mágus saga jarls and Hrólfs saga Gautrekssonar, and focuses on the authors' "intent on eloquence, an eloquence achieved through amplification" (63). These tales, "already circulating in Iceland" (91), were rewritten into longer versions. Their most striking alteration is the transformation from third-person narrative to "one enriched with extensive dialogue" (91), but, as Kalinke demonstrates, the authors altered the structure, added characters and plot elements, and even incorporated shorter tales. The next step of the evolution of medieval romance in Iceland is the "Icelandic Innovations" of chapter 5. The focus and meaning of the narrative of the three texts examined are transformed in the hands of the Icelandic redactors, who, through revisions marked by their literary and social context, tell existing stories if not better, at least differently.
§4. Chapter 6 turns to the three oldest original Icelandic romances; Bærings saga, Konráðs saga keisarasonar, and Mírmanns saga. Although quite different, these sagas all "manifest not only the impact of the translations on the composition of romance in Iceland, but also the ingenuity and inventiveness of Icelandic authors in composing narratives in a new genre" (114).
§5. The final chapter, entitled "Icelandic Romance as Critique and Sequel," is founded on the idea of authors being members of literary societies, and responding to the narratives, motifs and themes that surround them. Kalinke examines Jarlmanns saga ok Hermanns and Þjalar-Jóns saga, two sagas inspired by and written as responses to Konráðs saga keisarasonar, and finds both sagas "illustrative of the creation and development of Icelandic romance" and "the product of cultural transfer and acculturation" (161).
§6. The book deals with far more than the movement of texts; it also examines the movement of motifs and themes from Europe's geographical, religious and cultural center to the geographical periphery of Iceland, where the imported material was embraced and adapted to new means. Medieval Icelanders were critical readers of literature from a variety of genres and origins, as well as skilled translators, redactors and authors, and Kalinke skillfully demonstrates that this is no unilateral cultural transfer, as the Icelandic riddarasögur combine the indigenous and the foreign. As shown by Kalinke, the Icelanders invented and adapted the riddarasögur-genre through alterations that were aimed at improving the texts, both rhetorically and structurally. Furthermore, Kalinke examines the incorporation of native folkloristic and mythological motifs as well the use of "Latin encyclopedic literature, … geographical treatises, lapidaries and bestiaries" (163) in the riddarasögur. The aspect of acculturation, rather than cultural transfer, also becomes apparent in the representation of motifs like emotions and gender, senses and desire.
§7. Kalinke's book is a brilliant and superbly-written history, but, as the author tells us explicitly, not a comprehensive survey of romances in medieval Norway and Iceland. The author's vast knowledge of the material results in carefully chosen texts, allowing her to present an extensive and accomplished study of the evolution of medieval romance in Iceland. The material is treated with a seeming effortless ease that could, but should not, fool the reader. Looking at a single redaction of a text covers up the kaleidoscope of influences, choices, and voices—as Kalinke's ease when presenting this, is both the result of, and somehow disguises, her monumental work with these texts.
§8. This study of medieval texts, translation and transmission, and acculturation should thus be of interest for medievalists concerned with cultural adaptation as well as textual transmission, and not only specialists from the field of Old Norse. Even though the medieval Icelanders' enthusiasm for romance recently has been shared by a number of scholars, most studies have focused on individual works. This is the first study to truly acknowledge and highlight the evolution of the riddarasögur, regardless of their origin, translated or indigenous. Previous studies that come to mind deal with more specific groups of the riddarasögur—segments, rather than the evolution of the genre: the translations (Sif Rikhardsdottir, 2012, Medieval Translations and Cultural Discourse: The Movement of Texts in England, France and Scandinavia, Cambridge: D.S. Brewer), the Arthurian material (Marianne Kalinke (ed.), 2011, The Arthur of the North: The Arthurian Legend in the Norse and Rus' Realms, University of Wales Press), and a group of riddarasögur incorporating and re-using encyclopedic writing and historical thought (Geraldine Barnes, 2014, The Bookish Riddarasögur. Writing Romance in Late Mediaeval Iceland, University Press of Southern Denmark).
§9. Sadly, although listed in the table of contents, my proof copy did not include an index, and I became once again aware of how heavily I rely on these, and how essential they are.
§10. Stories Set Forth With Fair Words breaks new ground in terms of both the material examined, and the approach to these texts, especially in regard to the impact of the translated epic poems. Kalinke's book is itself a story set forth with fair words. However, it is also the sharing of knowledge, a stringent and elegantly written book—a book to be enjoyed and reread.
Williamson, Craig. 2017. The Complete Old English Poems. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. xiii + 189 pages. ISBN 9780812248470.
§1. Translations from Old English, mostly of its poetry, have proliferated in the past thirty years. It is difficult to surmise how many versions of Beowulf are running about (a Beowulfian þrītiġ?) But to what end goes all this rendering? Something like this needs to be asked whenever the academy commissions a translation, regardless of the text. An act of translation is a powerful engagement with temporality; it performs a carrying over of time itself edniwinga andweard cuman (coming into the present renewed) (Andreas l. 783 [translation mine]). It allows distant voices to speak again through the static of their difference, and brings one experience of a distant culture into clearer focus. Translations are an important way that the academy presents an interpretation of a text and its significance, often influencing generations of subsequent scholars afterwards. With such sway comes a need for mindfulness, and translations are much stronger when they are accompanied by lucid statements arguing and defending their particular intervention in the life of the text. Only by acting with clear intentions can scholars negotiate the troubled waters of translation, and avoid drowning their cherished texts in a bathtub of good intentions.
§2. The good news is that with the present volume Williamson has created a powerful, ethical, and alluring set of translations. We have satisfied at last a real desideratum: a new, vigorous translation of the complete Old English poems performed by an expert who has perfected his art over many years of work. Some of these translations have appeared in print before: several were featured in Williamson's 2011 Beowulf and Other Old English Poems and in his classic 1982 adaptation of the Exeter Book Riddles, A Feast of Creatures. Everything else is new, and there is a lot of it to behold, including some translations based on poetry discovered since the first modern collation of verse, the famous Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records (ed. Krapp and Dobbie 1931–1953).
§3. Williamson announces up front that these are "modern alliterative, strong-stress" renderings of the complete verse, something that has not yet appeared in print. Prose translation has mostly dominated the field, in collections heavily selected and often condensed. Williamson acknowledges that his translations are not always literally rendered—that he is working for effect and power and not accuracy. This statement is valuable for informing an audience's decision about how to use his work, and tells us much about his intentions. I have no problem with this kind of decision, and do not find it detracts from the effectiveness of his work. I would rather have it stated up front what one's technique has been, and the process that a translator has used, rather than avoid the topic and mimic a kind of impersonal (and faux-)objectivity.
§4. The introduction by T. A. Shippey, himself a previous translator of the verse, sets the stage with a radically fresh-feeling approach to the aesthetic and intellectual issues presented by Old English poetry. You will not miss the all-too-standard crabbed commendations of the theological traditions lying behind the verse, as if Old English poetry was tradition and nothing more. Much more welcome is his examination of the competing truth claims and methods of wisdom that motivate the various types of verse. Old English poetry is described as a response to the world of early ancestors—a cultural and emotional statement, as well as ideological. The verse is applauded as verbal, dialectical, strategic, rhetorically sophisticated, and a means of accessing the mentality and habitus of these people. Shippey's observations give indications of why the verses survived their transition to literacy, and provide insight into what these cultures found useful about their poetic traditions.
§5. Williamson's work ranges from more or less "faithful" to impressive interpolation or adaptation. All of it reads extremely well, and where he goes afield, there is always good reason to do so—an acknowledgment of some critical conversation, or tipping the hat to sometimes latent potential in the verse. None of it feels anachronistic or imposed; rather it is just good translator's judgment, refreshing to see in such a major production.
§6. Take for example, the conclusion of the cryptic dramatic monologue "Wulf and Eadwacer":
þæt mon eaþe tosliteð þætte næfre gesomnad wæs,
uncer giedd geador (18–19)
Williamson adapts these lines as such:
It's easy to rip an uneven stitch
Or tear the thread of an untold tale—
The song of us two together (524)
The sewing imagery is added, of course, but entirely implicit in the verb toslitan, one of whose meanings is given as "to rend material, a garment" (BT). The referent of "þæt" if it is a direct object, is unclear, though answered by the "þætte" clause in the second half-line. What is easily torn asunder? A specific object does not come until the final, incomplete line, but it is metaphorical, not literally present. An adaptor could easily jump in with this new idea in the poem, though it could be objected that this domestic register stereotypes the female speaker in the domestic sphere—perhaps contrary to the poem's political drama. But the interpolated imagery is compelling, fleshing out the gnomic force of this final moment. It domesticates its wild enigma—some may say too much—but it's here, and it is powerful nonetheless.
§7. Among the volume's more notable translations are the (pseudo-)Alfredian Meters of Boethius. These late verses have been infrequently studied and even more rarely translated, so seeing them at all is pretty exciting. I have long said that a fresh translation brings neglected texts into new light, and encourages revitalized scholarship. Again, Williamson plays loose, digging into the energy and implications of each poem in adapting them. Here are a few lines from the "Proem" to the collection:
þy læs ælinge ut adrife
selflicne secg, þonne he swelces lyt
gymð for his gilpe. (6–8a)
Williamson's translation is as follows:
Hoping that these verses might help the vain
To lift up their minds, temper their pride,
Escape boredom, and embrace the good (851)
As a crib his version does not work—it's hardly literal here, and the grammar of the original is deliciously unusual and convoluted. The last part, if translated literally, would be something like "when he, light in such things, is corrected for his boasting"—but to what quality does swelces point (the "ardor" or the "selfishness")? The verse is confounding here, seeming to lose focus, and Williamson steps in to give it some clarity, piling up clauses of purpose not found in the original. But I must emphasize that this works poetically, especially the chiming "m" sounds throughout in varying positions. The verse becomes sharper, more purposeful. Is it accurate? Hardly. But that's not the point. The point is to excavate the interest in these texts, give them space to breathe new air.
§8. As for usefulness, I would rate this volume highly. It is far too expensive to ask a student to buy, unless one were planning on covering more than 75% of the poetry in a course. There are already open-access resources online that are more than adequate for most anything that could be assigned. If one wants a volume for a scholar's shelf, a resource to augment one's readings of the original, then this book is necessary. Skip Dunbarton Oaks, and go directly to Williamson, for a cost-effective and convenient (even if large) volume. When consulting a translation, one needs something that stimulates the possibilities of the verse, not just commends hoary traditions. In most cases, Williamson does exactly that—sharing a unique experience of the verse, celebrating its power, reveling in its possibilities.
Englert, Anton, and Athena Trakadas, eds. 2009. Wulfstan's Voyage: The Baltic Sea Region in the Early Viking Age as Seen from Shipboard. Maritime Culture of the North 2. Roskilde: Viking Ship Museum. 374 pages illustrated. ISBN: 9788785180568.
Crumlin-Pedersen, Ole. 2010. Archaeology and the Sea in Scandinavia and Britain: A Personal Account. Maritime Culture of the North 3. Roskilde: Viking Ship Museum. 184 pages illustrated. ISBN: 9788785180056.
§1. These attractive volumes are the second and third contributions to a series inaugurated in 2007 by the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Denmark with Ohthere's Voyages (2007). The first volume contains the travel reports of a ninth-century Norwegian mariner, called Ohthere in Old English, who claimed to live "furthest north of all Northmen" and whose voyages took him beyond the North Cape of Norway to the White Sea and southward to the trading emporium to Hæþum "at the Heaths," that is, Hedeby on the Schlei fjord in the Baltic. This second volume adds a further, briefer report by an Anglo-Saxon traveler named Wulfstan, who sailed east from Hedeby to Truso at the mouth of the Vistula in Estland, home of the Aestii, an Old Prussian or Baltic people mentioned by Tacitus in the late first century AD, presumably ancestors of modern Estonians. This trading settlement near the later medieval town of Elblag was dominated by merchants and craftsmen with strong Scandinavian ties, especially to the Swedish island of Gotland. Their chief products of exchange seem to have been furs, slaves, and amber paid for in silver. Both Ohthere's and Wulfstan's reports are included in King Alfred's late ninth-century translation into Old English of Orosius's fifth-century Latin world history Against the Pagans. Janet Bately here edits and translates Wulfstan's account. The volume includes 24 essays with maps, photographs, figures, extensive bibliographies, a list of the 30 contributors, and an index.
§2. Wulfstan's itinerary offers a brief eyewitness account of the southern Baltic region during the later ninth century, matched only by Rimbert's Vita Anskarii (c. 875). In advance of the Wismar symposium, from 4–8 July 2004, the Viking Ship Museum sponsored a reenactment of Wulfstan's voyage in a replica knörr or cargo ship Ottar, modeled on an early eleventh-century Norwegian vessel Skuldelev 1. Even though this recovered ship was built a century and a half after Wulfstan made his voyage, it is considered a good approximation of the kind of vessel he might have used. Its hull is clinker-built—that is, made of overlapping planks of pine, oak, lime, and birch, sixteen meters in length, 4.8 meters in the beam, with a draft of 1.2 meters, carrying (in the case of the Ottar) seventeen metric tons of stone ballast in place of a cargo. A crew of five men and three women sailed the Ottar in good weather 390 nautical miles from Hedeby, Germany, to Gdánsk, Poland, in a little over four days and nights, demonstrating that it was possible to traverse the long and narrow Schlei fjord without the aid of oars and completing the whole journey powered by a single square sail of ninety square meters. Regular four-hour watches of four sailors apiece were sufficient in stable winds to maintain the Ottar's course, which was determined by sight rather than compass with the shoreline or prominent landmarks visible above the horizon during most daylight hours. However, the Ottar pursued a more direct easterly route along the southern coast of the Baltic than did Wulfstan's vessel, which seems, after rounding the Danish island of Falster, to have crossed northeast to Danish Scania on the southern tip of the Scandinavian peninsula, thus bypassing the Wendish islands of Darß, Hiddensee, and Rügen on the southern Baltic shore. Anton Englert and Waldemar Ossoski suggest that Wulfstan's crew chose this less direct route in order to maximize their time in Danish waters, both for protection against pirates in general and to avoid being seen by the Slavic-speaking communities on the north German coast. After skirting the southern shore of the island of Bornholm, Wulfstan's ship headed southeast across the open Baltic, "hiding at sea," as Jan Bill suggests (348), on its way to the Pomeranian coast and Vistula delta. Bill argues that Wulfstan's "way of travelling—day and night, without making landfall—was very much intended to minimise the risk of being intercepted" (352) and that the slower travel time of Wulfstan's voyage may not only have been due to its more circuitous route and less favorable sailing conditions. Wulfstan may also have traveled as part of a convoy, like that joined by Ansgar on his voyage from Denmark to Sweden, although in the latter case, security in numbers failed when the group was driven against the shore by pirates, losing their ships and cargo, but saving their lives. George Indruzewski and Jon Godal suggest that Wulfstan's preference for open water might also reflect anxiety about the many navigational hazards presented by the rocky coasts of the southwestern Baltic.
§3. As his title suggests, Ole Crumlin-Pedersen's book is a more individual reflection on his half-century of distinguished work on the archaeology of these northern seas, offering in revised form his six Rhind lectures, which were given to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in Edinburgh on 25–27 April 2008. The book begins with an account of his study of northern European seafaring, noting that the recovery of ancient vessels is only part of a much larger reconstruction of the geography and anthropology of early societies connected to the sea. Crumlin-Pedersen then reviews what we know about boats and ships before AD 800, beginning with those excavated from the Mesolithic period and moving on to the Hjortspring boat (c. 350 BC), Nydam boat (c. AD 320), a Roman vessel from Mainz (c. 400), and the Sutton Hoo ship of East Anglia (c. 600). He notes that the lines of the twenty-seven-meter-long Sutton Hoo vessel reveal that it was "designed for rowing rather than for going under sail against the wind" and that "no evidence of a mast and rigging were observed during the excavations in 1939 and later" (69). The nautical record then goes dark for the next two centuries until the Oseberg ship (c. 820), which includes a mast, rigging, and sail, as well as a redesigned hull and well-developed keel to help it better to withstand lateral stresses under sail. Since Celtic and Roman vessels used sails, Crumlin-Pedersen ponders the late introduction of the sail into northern ship designs, concluding that for some centuries these vessels had been "dependent on a large crew to defend the ship and any valuables on board during risky periods of enemy action and piracy. Therefore, numerous men were needed on board and consequently also at hand to serve as rowers for passages along coasts or up rivers. These voyages could be undertaken independently of the wind as long as it was not blowing too hard, and by rowing in shifts they could continue throughout the day without interruption" (97–98). Oared vessels were also cheaper to build, he notes, since providing a sail and properly keeled hull required about double the capital investment of a rowing ship.
§4. Crumlin-Pedersen discusses the development of Anglo-Saxon and Viking longships during the tenth and eleventh centuries, downplaying the notion that King Alfred single-handedly invented this longer, narrower, speedier rapid-response vessel in the 890s to counter Viking attacks upon the coasts of England. While admitting that the "father of the British navy" may have influenced Scandinavian longship designs, Crumlin-Pedersen argues that it was increased trade in northern waters, generating rich tariffs for royal coffers, that drove the need for specialized men-of-war to protect the sea-lanes, though oftentimes the very pirates who preyed upon them were rival, exiled, or renegade princes who had the wherewithal to afford these swift but expensive vessels.
§5. Crumlin-Pedersen's fourth chapter reviews the development of trading ships from the early seventh century through the hulks and cogs of the later Middle Ages. For instance, the Gokstad ship (buried c. 895) was a multi-purpose vessel designed to carry about seven tons of cargo or plunder, plus a crew of thirty to forty men. Soon, however, nautical styles bifurcated into longships for transporting warriors like the Ladby ship (c. 925) or Hedeby 1 (c. 985) and broader, deeper knarrir for hauling goods, like the Äsekärr (c. 1000) and Skuldelev 1 (c. 1030), the model for the trader Ottar used in the reenactment of Wulfstan's voyage.
§6. Crumlin-Pedersen's fifth chapter charts the "maritime landscape," including trade networks over both land and sea, the positioning of defenses and early warning systems, navigational barriers, portages, canals, boathouses, and place-names containing the element snekke, which refers to a Danish warship at the low end of the longship class, a vessel used as part of local ship levies for coastal defenses. And finally, the author considers the symbolism of the ship in the prehistoric and Viking age cultures of the North, concluding that ships had served to signify the movement of the dead to the Other world long before the later myth of Valhalla, Odin's hall where individual male champions feast and fight until the end of time. Instead, Crumlin-Pedersen notes that seaborne vessels were used in the graves of both men and women from the Bronze Age on and were thus more likely to have been associated with old fertility cults of the Vanir, signifying the eternal cycles of night and day, winter and spring, death and life.
§7. Together, the three volumes in this series by the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde offer a well-illustrated introduction to the nautical culture of the Baltic and North Seas during the early Middle Ages, now enhanced by the many individual studies collected by James H. Barret and Sarah Jane Gibbon in Maritime Societies of the Viking and Medieval World (Oxbow Books, 2016).