Early Medieval English Life Courses: Cultural-Historical Perspectives (Explorations in Medieval Culture) 2021048667, 9789004499294, 9789004501867, 9004499296

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Early Medieval English Life Courses: Cultural-Historical Perspectives (Explorations in Medieval Culture)
 2021048667, 9789004499294, 9789004501867, 9004499296

Table of contents :
Contents
Acknowledgements
Illustrations and Tables
Abbreviations
Notes on Contributors
Introduction: Conceptualizing the Life Course in Early Medieval England
Part 1 Defining and Dividing the Life Course
Chapter 1 The Ages of Man and the Ages of Woman in Early Medieval England: From Bede to Byrhtferth of Ramsey and the Tractatus de quaternario
Chapter 2 Weapon-Boys and Once-Maidens: A Study of Old English Vocabulary for Stages of Life
Chapter 3 Alcuin and the Student Life Cycle
Part 2 The Life Course and the Human Body
Chapter 4 Treating Age in Medical Texts from Early Medieval England
Chapter 5 ‘Lazarus, Come Forth’: Pregnancy and Childbirth in the Life Course of Early Medieval English Women
Chapter 6 The Theology of Puberty in Early Medieval England
Part 3 Intergenerational Dynamics
Chapter 7 Naming and Renaming: Names and the Life Course in Early Medieval England
Chapter 8 Moving on from ‘the Milk of Simpler Teaching’: Weaning and Religious Education in Early Medieval England
Chapter 9 Treasure and the Life Course in Genesis A and Beowulf
Part 4 Life beyond the Human
Chapter 10 The Life Course of Artefacts
Chapter 11 From Field to Feast: The Life (and Afterlife) Course of Cereal Crops in Early Medieval England
Afterword: History, Archaeology, and Osteology in Conversation
Bibliography
Index

Citation preview

Early Medieval English Life Courses

Explorations in Medieval Culture General Editor Larissa Tracy (Longwood University) Editorial Board Tina Boyer (Wake Forest University) Emma Campbell (University of Warwick) Kelly DeVries (Loyola University Maryland) David F. Johnson (Florida State University) Asa Simon Mittman (csu, Chico) Thea Tomaini (usc, Los Angeles) Wendy J. Turner (Augusta University) David Wacks (University of Oregon) Renée Ward (University of Lincoln)

volume 20

The titles published in this series are listed at brill.com/emc

Early Medieval English Life Courses Cultural-Historical Perspectives Edited by

Thijs Porck Harriet Soper

LEIDEN | BOSTON

Cover illustration: Diagram of the ages of woman in Cambridge, Gonville and Caius College, ms 428/428, fol. 28v. By permission of the Master and Fellows of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. The Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available online at https://catalog.loc.gov lc record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2021048667

Typeface for the Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic scripts: “Brill”. See and download: brill.com/brill-typeface. issn 2352-0299 isbn 978-90-04-49929-4 (hardback) isbn 978-90-04-50186-7 (e-book) Copyright 2022 by Koninklijke Brill nv, Leiden, The Netherlands. Koninklijke Brill nv incorporates the imprints Brill, Brill Nijhoff, Brill Hotei, Brill Schöningh, Brill Fink, Brill mentis, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Böhlau Verlag and V&R Unipress. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, translated, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission from the publisher. Requests for re-use and/or translations must be addressed to Koninklijke Brill nv via brill.com or copyright.com. This book is printed on acid-free paper and produced in a sustainable manner.

Contents Acknowledgements vii List of Illustrations and Tables viii Abbreviations x Notes on Contributors xi Introduction: Conceptualizing the Life Course in Early Medieval England 1 Thijs Porck and Harriet Soper

Part 1 Defining and Dividing the Life Course 1

The Ages of Man and the Ages of Woman in Early Medieval England: From Bede to Byrhtferth of Ramsey and the Tractatus de quaternario 17 Thijs Porck

2

Weapon-Boys and Once-Maidens: A Study of Old English Vocabulary for Stages of Life 47 Daria Izdebska

3

Alcuin and the Student Life Cycle 90 Darren Barber

Part 2 The Life Course and the Human Body 4

Treating Age in Medical Texts from Early Medieval England 117 Jacqueline Fay

5

‘Lazarus, Come Forth’: Pregnancy and Childbirth in the Life Course of Early Medieval English Women 140 Caroline R. Batten

6

The Theology of Puberty in Early Medieval England 159 Elaine Flowers

vi

Contents

Part 3 Intergenerational Dynamics 7

Naming and Renaming: Names and the Life Course in Early Medieval England 181 James Chetwood

8

Moving on from ‘the Milk of Simpler Teaching’: Weaning and Religious Education in Early Medieval England 210 Katherine Cross

9

Treasure and the Life Course in Genesis A and Beowulf 229 Amy Faulkner

Part 4 Life beyond the Human 10

The Life Course of Artefacts 253 Gale R. Owen-Crocker

11

From Field to Feast: The Life (and Afterlife) Course of Cereal Crops in Early Medieval England 287 Debby Banham



Afterword: History, Archaeology, and Osteology in Conversation 319 Jo Appleby Bibliography 325 Index 362

Acknowledgements This volume has its origins in a series of sessions at the International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds (2017, 2018) and a one-day conference at the University of Cambridge in March 2019, The Life Course in Early Medieval England, which was supported by the Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature. We would like to thank our contributors for developing their chapters with such dedication and good grace, despite working in the midst of a global pandemic. We also wish to thank the anonymous reader at Brill for their insightful comments and suggestions, which have greatly improved the book. From the proposal stage of this book’s ‘life course’ to its publication, Kat Tracy, Kate Hammond, Dinah Rapliza, and Marcella Mulder at Brill have offered all the support, enthusiasm, and careful guidance that we could have wished for – we would like to express our sincere thanks to all four for making this process a pleasure. We are furthermore grateful for support and assistance from Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge, Lincoln College, University of Oxford, and the Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society. We are greatly indebted to colleagues who have generously given their time to advise us, and we would especially like to thank Helen Appleton, Emily Kesling, Francis Leneghan, Andy Orchard, and Christine Voth. Of course, any remaining errors are very much our own. Lastly, special thanks go to Amos van Baalen for his invaluable assistance with editorial work.

Illustrations and Tables

Illustrations

1.1

The three Patriarchs as the three ages of man. London, British Library, Harley 603, fol. 52v. © British Library Board 19 Byrhtferth’s diagram in Oxford, St John’s College, 17, fol. 7v. By permission of the President and Fellows of St John’s College Oxford 36 Diagram of the ages of woman in Cambridge, Gonville and Caius College, ms 428/428, fol. 28v. By Permission of the Master and Fellows of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge 40 Visualization of the semantic field of ‘human old age’ in Old English 78 House of Kent c.600–c.755 189 House of Wessex c.900–c.1066 191 House of Bamburgh c.955–c.1125 192 Orkney hood. © National Museums Scotland 258 Pictish sculpture, St Vigeans 11, Angus, Scotland. Drawn by and by permission of Michael King 259 Bayeux Tapestry, opening scene, patched and restored, with its sixteenthcentury backcloth numbered in an eighteenth- or nineteenth-century hand. Eleventh-century. By special authorization of the City of Bayeux 260 The largest hanging bowl from Sutton Hoo. a) outside; b) inside. © The British Museum 267 The Sutton Hoo clasps. © The British Museum 269 The Benty Grange helmet. a) full helmet; b) x-ray of cross on nose-piece. © Museums Sheffield 270 Reconstruction of the Sutton Hoo shield. © The British Museum 271 The York Gospels, c. ad 1000. York, York Minster, ms Add. 1, fol. 60v. Portrait of the Evangelist Mark; fol. 61r. The opening of St Mark’s Gospel. © Chapter of York; Reproduced by kind permission 273 The Utrecht Psalter and the Harley Psalter. a) Utrecht, Universiteitsbibliotheek, Hs. 32, fol. 3v. By permission. b) London, British Library, Harley 603, fol. 3v. © The British Library Board 275 The Lindisfarne Gospels. London, British Library, Cotton Nero D. iv, fol. 34r, which includes the opening of The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5.1–10). © The British Library Board 277 Densely glossed text of Aldhelm. Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique, ms 1650, fol. 47v. By permission 278

1.2 1.3

2.1 7.1 7.2 7.3 10.1 10.2 10.3

10.4 10.5 10.6 10.7 10.8

10.9

10.10

10.11

Illustrations and Tables 10.12 10.13 10.14 10.15

10.16

ix

Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, ms 41, p. 272. © The Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge 279 Altar or processional cross from the Staffordshire Hoard. a) folded original; b) recent reconstruction. © Birmingham Museums Trust 281 The Ruthwell Cross, base of south face with added crucifixion scene. © Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture, photographer T. Middlemass 282 The Beowulf Manuscript, showing change of scribe at lines 3–4. London, British Library, Cotton Vitellius A. xv, fol. 175v. © The British Library Board 283 The Exeter Book, Codex Exoniensis, fol. 8r, with water stain, drinking vessel stain and chopping marks. © The Dean and Chapter of Exeter Cathedral 285



Tables

1.1

Divisions of the life course in Anglo-Latin and Old English texts, excluding works by Byrhtferth of Ramsey 22 Bede’s scheme of physical and physiological fours 31 Life course divisions found in works by Byrhtferth 32 Byrhtferth’s system of tetradic correspondences relating to the ages of man 37 Seven ages according to philosophers (Tractatus de quaternario 3.2–4) 44 The Tractatus author’s preferred scheme (Tractatus de quaternario 3.5–7) 44 Old English terms for ‘infancy’ 51 General terms for ‘childhood’ in Old English 53 General terms for ‘youth’ in Old English 59 Old English terms for young male and female persons 61 Old English terms for ‘adulthood’ and ‘maturity’ 69 Old English terms for ‘old age’ 77 Select Latin terms for stages of life, their senses, and Old English equivalents 81 Select Old English terms for stages of life with their Latin equivalents, showing the overlap of senses 84 Stages of life in Old English 88 Remedies mentioning the age of the patient 123 The farming year in early medieval England 295

1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 4.1 11.1

Abbreviations aspr Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records Bosworth-Toller Thomas Northcote Toller, ed., An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, Based on the Manuscript Collections of Joseph Bosworth. Oxford, 1898. Supplement, edited by Thomas Northcote Toller. Oxford, 1921. ccsl Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina doe Dictionary of Old English: A to I Online. Edited by Angus Cameron, Ashley Crandell Amos, Antonette diPaolo Healey et al. Toronto, 2018. https://tapor.library.utoronto.ca/doe/ doec Dictionary of Old English Web Corpus. Compiled by Antonette diPaolo Healey with John Price Wilkin and Xin Xiang. Toronto, 2009. https://tapor.library.utoronto.ca/doecorpus/ dmlbs The Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources online. Edited by R. K. Ashdowne, D. R. Howlett, and R. E. Latham. Oxford, 2018. http://www.dmlbs.ox.ac.uk/web/online eets Early English Text Society Fontes Fontes Anglo-Saxonici Project: World Wide Web Register. https://arts .st-andrews.ac.uk/fontes/ mgh Monumenta Germaniae Historica Auct. ant. Auctores antiquissimi Epp. Epistolae Poet. Poetae ss Scriptores n.s. New Series oed Oxford English Dictionary Online. Oxford, 2020. http://www.oed .com Original Series o.s. pl Patrologia Latina cursus completes, series Latina. Edited by Jacques-Paul Migne. 221 vols. Paris, 1844–64. (cited by volume and column) s.s. Supplementary Series All Bible quotations are from the Latin Vulgate (Biblia Sacra iuxta vulgatam versionem, edited by Robert Weber and Roger Gryson. 5th ed. Stuttgart, 2007) and the translations are the Douay Rheims translation, unless specified otherwise.

Notes on Contributors Jo Appleby is Associate Professor in Archaeology at the University of Leicester. Her current research spans three major themes: the history and prehistory of ageing from biological and social perspectives; prehistoric mortuary practices; and the reconstruction of past social structures through analysis of mortuary deposits (through archaeological and osteological analysis). Debby Banham is a medieval historian attached to the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at the University of Cambridge. Her books include Farms and Farming in Anglo-Saxon England, with Rosamond Faith, and Food and Drink in Anglo-Saxon England. She has published widely on agriculture, diet, and medicine in early medieval England. Darren Barber earned his PhD at the University of Leeds, where he submitted his 2019 thesis, “The Heirs of Alcuin: Education and Clerical Advancement in Ninth-Century Carolingian Europe.” Caroline R. Batten is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Iceland and University of Toronto. She completed her doctorate on the Old English metrical charms at the University of Oxford. Her published and forthcoming work examines gender and sexuality in Old English and Old Norse texts in relation to magic and the supernatural, understandings of disease and the body, and performative speech. James Chetwood is an Honorary Visiting Fellow in the Institute for Name-Studies at the University of Nottingham. He is currently preparing a monograph on the transformation of the personal naming system in medieval England which will be published by Amsterdam University Press. Katherine Cross is a Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of York. She specializes in the cultural history of early medieval northern Europe, and her recent publications include Heirs of the Vikings: History and Identity in Normandy and England, c.950–c.1015 (York Medieval Press, 2018).

xii

Notes on Contributors

Amy Faulkner is an Associate Lecturer (Teaching) in Old and Middle English at University College London. Her forthcoming monograph will offer a new reading of material and spiritual riches in the Old English prose translations associated with Alfred the Great. Jacqueline Fay is Associate Professor of English at the University of Texas at Arlington specializing in early medieval English literature and culture. She is co-editor of A Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Studies (Blackwell, 2012), with recent articles in English Studies and isle. Elaine Flowers is the Associate Tutor of early and medieval Church History at Ripon College Cuddesdon. She received a DPhil from the University of Oxford for her research examining Anglo-Saxon beliefs about the life journey of the soul. Daria Izdebska is a Lecturer in English Language at Liverpool Hope University. Her research interests focus on the history of emotions, diachronic lexical semantics, corpus linguistics, and Old English language and literature. Gale R. Owen-Crocker is Professor Emerita, The University of Manchester, specializing in Anglo-Saxon culture and medieval dress/textiles. Recent books include The Bayeux Tapestry: Collected Papers; Clothing the Past: Surviving Garments from Early Medieval to Early Modern Western Europe (with Elizabeth Coatsworth). Thijs Porck is University Lecturer at Leiden University. He has published on Old English textual criticism, Beowulf, medievalism, and old age, including Old Age in Early Medieval England: A Cultural History (2019). Harriet Soper is Simon and June Li Fellow in English at Lincoln College, University of Oxford. She has published on various aspects of Old English poetry, and her research focuses especially on its representation of the life course.

Introduction

Conceptualizing the Life Course in Early Medieval England Thijs Porck and Harriet Soper According to pseudo-Ingulf’s Historia Croylandensis, the tenth-century Abbot Turketyl divided the monks of Crowland Abbey into four groups according to their years spent in the monastery. From their moment of entry until their twenty-fourth year, monks belonged to the “juniores.” This group was tasked with performing duties diligently, including singing, reading and serving more senior members; these monks were also warned against overbearing pride and disrespect towards elders. The next group, having spent twenty-five to forty years in the monastery, were the “medium gradum” [middle rank] and, while they were released from minor duties, they were still expected to perform other tasks, especially managerial ones. The third rank consisted of “seniores,” who had spent forty to fifty years in the monastery; these monks were exempt from almost all choir duties and, if they had reached their forty-second year, were excused from all outdoor tasks. Turketyl’s rules further stipulated that this group was to lack in nothing, since they had sacrificed so much in the service of God. Still older monks, those who had spent over fifty years in the monastery, were called “Sempectae” and assigned a special room in the infirmary as well as a personal assistant. The “Sempectae” could do whatever they liked, inside or outside the monastery, “cum frocco vel sine frocco” [either in his frock or without it]. This oldest group of monks was to be treated with the utmost respect: “nullus eum in aliquo audeat offendere sed summa pace, animique quiete finem suum praestoletur” [no person shall presume in any way to offend him, but with the greatest peace and tranquility of mind he shall await his end].1 While purporting to be the work of the eleventh-century Abbot Ingulf of Crowland, the Historia Croylandensis is very likely a fifteenth-century forgery and it is doubtful, therefore, whether the chronicle’s description of Turketyl’s

1 Pseudo-Ingulf, Historia Croylandensis, ed. Walter de Gray Birch, The Chronicle of Croyland Abbey by Ingulph (Wisbech, 1883), 82–84, trans. Henry T. Riley, Ingulph’s Chronicle of the Abbey of Croyland with the Continuations by Peter of Blois and Anonymous Writers (London, 1854), 97–100.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2022 | doi:10.1163/9789004501867_002

2

Introduction

arrangements reflects actual tenth-century practice.2 Nonetheless, this passage raises a set of questions as to how age stratification may have functioned in early medieval England and how, on the basis of one’s progression along the life course, one might be considered part of a distinct group distinguished by physical and moral characteristics and charged with particular responsibilities towards a community and members of other age groups. This volume explores how concepts of the life course, replete with diverse biological, social, and spiritual aspects, influenced the lives, writings and art of the inhabitants of early medieval England. It demonstrates the sheer variety of ideas surrounding human aging in this period, and explores how these ideas may have impacted or even defined a person’s legal, religious and social status. A multitude of terms circulated for different phases of life, and the arrangement and associated characteristics of life phases often fluctuated in subtle ways across different sources, genres and contexts of usage. As will be seen, exegetical accounts of the ‘ages of man’ tend to foreground the profound spiritual and cosmic significance attached to certain numbers and sets, while texts more closely concerned with the daily life of monasteries often opt to connect reflections on the life course with processes of learning and teaching. Medical texts frequently draw out divisions between normative and non-normative bodies in their references to people of different ages. Meanwhile, in poetic contexts, narratives of individual human aging at times shade indistinctly into the life narratives of wider communities. In material contexts, the life courses of things often differ strikingly from human experience – objects are repaired, recycled and maintained in ways which allow them to far exceed the human lifespan. For all this variety, diverse texts and artefacts all invoke or implicate characterizations of life courses, from homilies and vernacular poetry to manuscript illustrations and the Bayeux Tapestry. With the exception of some archaeological studies,3 most previous scholarly investigations in this area have focused on a single phase or aspect of the human life course, striving often to elucidate the experience of previously ‘mute groups’, such as children or the elderly.4 Notable examples include Sally 2 See, e.g., David Roffe, “The Historia Croylandensis: A Plea for Reassessment,” English Historical Review 110 (1995): 93–108, who notes that the Historia Croylandensis makes use of some original pre-Conquest documents. 3 Two notable examples include Nick Stoodley, “From the Cradle to the Grave: Age Organi­ zation and the Early Anglo-Saxon Burial Rite,” World Archaeology 31 (2000): 456–72; Sally Crawford, “Overview: The Body and Life Course,” in The Oxford Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology, ed. David A. Hinton, Sally Crawford, and Helena Hamerow (Oxford, 2011), 625–40. 4 On ‘mute groups’, see Crawford, “Body and Life Course,” 627–31.

Conceptualizing the Life Course

3

Crawford’s Childhood in Anglo-Saxon England (Stroud, 1999), Susan Irvine and Winfried Rudolf’s edited volume Childhood and Adolescence in Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture (Toronto, 2018), and Thijs Porck’s Old Age in Early Medieval England: A Cultural History (Woodbridge, 2019). The present volume builds on these studies in contesting that it is especially productive to try to understand how early medieval English life stages relate to, or are defined against, each other, while keeping the whole continuum of the life course in view. Furthermore, given the many complex ways in which norms of life development are articulated in this period, investigation of these sources benefits from a comparative approach not only across different life stages, but across different kinds of source material. Therefore, the contributions to this volume both consider how different life stages may be connected with each other, and move across the many different traditions involved, aiming to show maximal sensitivity to different genres, practices and cultural contexts. With its specific focus on the nature of early medieval English texts and contexts, this volume aims to develop the insights of previous scholarly enterprises working with a broader temporal focus, such as J. A. Burrow’s The Ages of Man: A Study in Medieval Writing and Thought (Oxford, 1986), as well as wide-ranging surveys of medieval Europe, such as Isabelle Cochelin and Karen Smyth’s Medieval Life Cycles: Continuity and Change (Turnhout, 2013) and Shannon Lewis-Simpson’s Youth and Age in the Medieval North (Leiden, 2008). Although the passage of life might profitably be termed life cycle or lifespan, among many other labels, the phrase life course is preferred here, as it avoids the biological and recursive connotations of life cycle,5 as well as the firmly quantitative resonance of lifespan. The term life course is well established in adjacent fields of enquiry, developed initially within sociology but now playing a key role in archaeological studies of the medieval period.6 The label shares with life cycle the denotation of “[t]he course of human existence from birth, through childhood and maturity, to old age and death; spec. one that is characteristic of a particular culture,” as well as signifying, beyond the realm of the human, “a course or evolution from a beginning, through development and productivity, to decay or ending.”7 The phrase life course is furthermore appropriate in signaling a linear progression to some degree, but with the 5 oed, s.v. life cycle, 1.a., “The sequence of stages through which an individual organism passes from origin as a zygote to death, or through which the members of a species pass from the production of gametes by one generation to that by the next.” 6 On the background of the term life course see Roberta Gilchrist, Medieval Life: Archaeology and the Life Course (Woodbridge, 2012), 1–6. With reference to the early medieval period, see Crawford, “Body and Life Course,” 627–28. 7 oed, s.v. life cycle, 1.b, 2.

4

Introduction

liquid connotations of course simultaneously allowing for a multitude of currents moving at once,8 which reflects what we find in early medieval traditions concerned with human and non-human aging. The contributions to this volume thus each consider different manifestations of issues pertaining to human aging across the literature, culture and thought of early medieval England, examining diverse literary, linguistic, medical, and material traditions. 1

Defining and Dividing the Life Course τί ἐστιν ὃ μίαν ἔχον φωνὴν τετράπουν καὶ δίπουν καὶ τρίπουν γίνεται; What is that which has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and twofooted and three-footed?9

The ‘Riddle of the Sphinx’ and its answer (a human who, as an infant, crawls on all fours; as an adult, walks on two legs; and, as an elderly person, walks with a cane) is one well-known example of the life course conceptualized as falling into different phases. From Antiquity, through the medieval period, and indeed up until the present day, divisions of life into stages ranging from three to twelve can be found across a variety of textual and visual sources.10 These schematizations provide options for understanding the shape of the human lifespan as a whole, and for framing various phases of life in relation—or contradistinction—to each other. Each phase may be presented as imbued with a 8 9 10

oed, s.v. course, ii.11.a, “the path taken by a […] flowing stream.” Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3.5.8, ed. and trans. James G. Frazer, The Library, Volume I: Books 1–3.9, Loeb Classical Library 121 (Cambridge, MA, 1921), 346–47. For a wide-ranging study of the division of the life course, see Franz Boll, “Die Lebensalter. Ein Beitrag zur antiken Ethologie und zur Geschichte der Zahlen,” in Kleine Schriften zur Sternkunde des Altertums, ed. Viktor Stegemann (Leipzig, 1950), 156–225. For the medieval period in particular, see Burrow, Ages of Man; Elizabeth Sears, The Ages of Man: Medieval Interpretations of the Life Cycle (Princeton, 1986); Mary Dove, The Perfect Age of Man’s Life (Cambridge, 1986); Michael Goodich, From Birth to Old Age: The Human Life Cycle in Medieval Thought, 1250–1350 (Lanham, 1989); Monica Chojnacka and Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, eds., Ages of Woman, Ages of Man: Sources in European Social History, 1400–1750 (London, 2002); Cochelin and Smyth, Medieval Life Cycles. For twentieth-century representations, see for example Ithell Colquhoun, Ages of Man, 1944, oil on panel, 11½ × 7″ (29.4 × 18.2cm), Tate, London; Henry Moore, Seven Ages of Man, 1982, lithograph on paper, various dimensions, Tate, London; and Richard Kindersley, The Seven Ages of Man, 1980, an aluminum sculpture situated on Queen Victoria Street, London. The latter two of these works draw overtly on Jaques’ account of the seven ages in Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

Conceptualizing the Life Course

5

set of characteristics, thus forming stages of biological, intellectual and moral development, and carrying a complex range of connotations. The essays in this section of the volume address such issues of schematization, terminology, association and connotation in the context of early medieval England. Thijs Porck’s contribution is a natural starting point for the volume as a whole, since it provides an overview of the extant schematizations of the human life course, as found in the cultural record of early medieval England. He covers how homilies, encyclopedic works and visual artworks from this period featured various schemes, ranging from three to six ‘ages of man’. His overview suggests a fairly uniform tradition of life course schematization in early medieval England, a conclusion that is partially in line with what Isabelle Cochelin had claimed for early medieval Europe as a whole.11 Porck next discusses an intriguing diagram in Cambridge, Gonville and Caius College, ms 428/428, which uniquely visualizes four stages of life as four women. While this diagram has been ascribed to the early eleventh-century monk Byrhtferth of Ramsey, this first comprehensive analysis of the diagram within its manuscript context reveals that this attribution is unlikely. Rather, the diagram and its accompanying text seem to stem from a time when alternative ideas were introduced into the discourse on the human life course during the twelfth century; as such they represent a shift away from the tradition of life course schematizations in pre-Conquest England. Next, Daria Izdebska examines the words that denote the individual stages of human life in Old English. This lexical-semantic analysis of Old English age vocabulary brings to light not only how many stages were distinguished in lexical terms, but also focuses on how these words interact with matters of class, status and gender roles. For instance, Izdebska notes how there is a much larger set of lexical items associated with men than with women, as there are with youth and maturity when compared to old age. Her analysis also illuminates the various connotations of terms denoting youth and old age, ingrained in the vocabulary of early medieval England: Old English words like frod ‘old and wise’ and cniht ‘boy, servant’ reveal how some concepts overlapped. Through a comparison with modern-day notions of the life course, Izdebska is able to elucidate the distinctive nature of early medieval English age vocabulary. Darren Barber’s chapter shifts our attention from Old English age vocabulary to the Latin terms that were used to refer to individual stages of life. Traditionally, scholars have viewed these Latinate terms as notoriously slippery, with the onset of old age (senectus), for instance, starting at anywhere 11

Isabelle Cochelin, “Introduction: Pre-Thirteenth-Century Definitions of the Life Cycle,” in Cochelin and Smyth, Medieval Life Cycles, 1–54.

6

Introduction

between 35 and 72 years of age.12 Barber challenges this notion of authorial imprecision by showcasing how precisely Alcuin of York used the terms infantia, pueritia, adolescentia, and iuuentus. For Alcuin, these terms did not only refer to very specific age ranges, he also ascribed to these stages distinct moral characteristics and prescribed particular forms of education for each. Barber showcases how, in Alcuin’s writing, these four gradus aetatis represent a set pattern of probationary and confirmatory steps toward mental and spiritual maturation. Together, these three chapters provide the foundation for further contributions to this volume, which together consider how the stages of life denoted by these Old English and Latin terms were approached and elaborated in various discourses, ranging from medical traditions, exegesis and homilies to Old English poetry. 2

The Life Course and the Human Body Qui iacet in lecto, quondam certabat in arvis Cum cervis, quoniam fessa senectus adest. Qui olim strato laetus recubabat in ostro, Vix panno veteri frigida membra tegit. Longa dies oculos atra caligine claudit, Solivagos athomos qui numerare solent. Dextera, quae gladios, quae fortia tela vibrabat, Nunc tremit atque ori porrigit aegre cibos. Clarior ecce tuba subito vox faucibus haesit, Auribus adpositis murmura clausa ciet. He who once hunted in the fields for the stag lies in bed, now that weary old age is at hand. He who once reclined joyously on his purple couch can scarcely cover his chill limbs with an old rag. The long day closes in black darkness eyes which used to count each solitary wandering mote. Hands which once brandished swords and mighty weapons now tremble and can barely convey their food to their mouths.

12

Shulamith Shahar, “Who Were Old in the Middle Ages?,” Social History of Medicine 6 (1993): 319.

Conceptualizing the Life Course

7

Voices, clearer than trumpets, suddenly stick in the throat summoning up a subdued whisper for attentive listeners.13 Aging is in large part a biological process, characterized by physical changes in the body. It is common in present-day medical practices to distinguish between various stages of life and develop treatments aimed at particular age groups. Within the societies of early medieval England, archaeologists have been able to highlight the physical experiences of people in various stages of life,14 but textual allusions to physical characteristics of the aging process remain relatively understudied. Early medieval English writers were nonetheless well aware of how time brings about changes in the human body, and how such changes might be stratified into multiple distinct phases. A notable example is the Old English description of the development of the fetus, which distinguishes between ten separate monthly stages, each marked by physical changes in the body of the fetus.15 Observations of the physical characteristics of the aging process are not limited to the medical corpus, however. Homilists and exegetes drew on physical characteristics associated with youth and old age to interpret passages of the Bible and reveal divine plans for humankind;16 poets, too, drew on concepts of distinct life stages.17 The contributions to 13 14 15 16

17

Alcuin, De rerum humanarum vicissitudine et clade Lindisfarnensis monasterii, lines 101– 10, ed. and trans. Peter Godman, Poetry of the Carolingian Renaissance (London, 1985), 130–33. See particularly Nick Stoodley, “Childhood to Old Age,” in Hinton, Crawford, and Hamerow, Oxford Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology, 641–66. László Sándor Chardonnens, “A New Edition of the Old English ‘Formation of the Foetus’,” Notes and Queries, n.s. 47 (2000): 10–11. For the role of physical characteristics of old age in Old English homilies, see, e.g., Thijs Porck, “Gerontophobia in Early Medieval England: Anglo-Saxon Reflections on Old Age,” in Sense and Feeling in Daily Living in the Early Medieval English World, ed. Maren Clegg Hyer and Gale R. Owen-Crocker (Liverpool, 2020), 219–35, 278–82. For a summary of previous scholarship, see Harriet Soper, The Life Course in Old English Poetry (forthcoming). J. R. R. Tolkien famously perceived the structure of Beowulf as a contrast between youth and old age, in “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics,” in Interpretations of Beowulf: A Critical Anthology, ed. R. D. Fulk (Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1991), 33, 35. More recent studies include Thomas D. Hill, “The Age of Man and the World in the Old English Guthlac A,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 80 (1981): 13–21; Burrow, Ages of Man; Jordi Sánchez-Martí, “Age Matters in Old English Literature,” in Lewis-Simpson, Youth and Age, 205–25; Porck, Old Age in Early Medieval England, particularly 177–211; Harriet Soper, “Reading the Exeter Book Riddles as Life-Writing,” Review of English Studies, n.s. 68 (2017): 841–65; Shu-han Luo, “Tender Beginnings in the Exeter Book Riddles,” and Stacy S. Klein, “Parenting and Childhood in The Fortunes of Men,” both in Irvine and Rudolf, Childhood and Adolescence, 71–94, 95–119.

8

Introduction

this section of the volume address the role of the life course in medicine and also look at how two physically transformative stages of life (pregnancy and puberty) were addressed in various textual traditions, ranging from charms to homiletic texts. Jackie Fay’s chapter looks at the role that age plays in the Old English medical corpus, consisting of the Old English Herbarium, the Leechbooks and the Lacnunga. She finds that age-related terms, as well as references to the gender of the patient, are relatively rare in these texts, suggesting that the normative body assumed by most remedies is a man who is neither a child nor an elderly person. Age-specific remedies that do occur in the corpus give an impression as to what physical conditions were assumed most common for children (teething problems, growing pains and epilepsy) and the elderly (visual disorders, digestive problems). Interestingly, some remedies prescribe the use of (parts of) a child’s body as part of a cure, notably for those problems associated with old age: child’s urine is a cure for poor eyesight and sleeping next to a fæt (‘fat’) child can alleviate stomach-ache. As such, while the young body may have been peripheral and nonnormative in a pre-Conquest medical context, it was also a powerful source of healing. Also discussing the Old English medical tradition, Caroline Batten focuses on a number of charms and remedies dealing with miscarriage, stillbirth and prolonged labor. Batten argues that these obstetric texts shed a unique and revealing light on a separate stage in women’s life courses: the pregnancy stage, marked by danger and marginality, as well as proximity to death. These early medieval English remedies portray the pregnant female body as liminal, problematic and contaminated. Batten, like Fay, detects the strong presence of a gender bias in the Old English medical corpus, which considers the body of an adult man to be the norm. The contribution by Elaine Flowers considers another stage of life defined by a physical change in the body: puberty. Focusing on religious texts, including homilies, penitentials and monastic rules, Flowers demonstrates how puberty was generally portrayed in terms of bodily and cognitive growth, while, at the same time, churchmen expressed a concern over puberty’s connection to sin. With the onset of puberty came a new susceptibility to sexual desire: monastic rules warned against the potential consequences of uncontrolled pubescent bodies, and adolescent saints, by way of example, chose lives of chastity when puberty set in. Like Fay and Batten, Flowers notes a gender bias in the treatment of the aging body, as the religious writings from early medieval England seem disproportionally weighted towards the experiences of men over women. Each of the contributions to this section of the volume reveal how, in early medieval English writings, physical traits associated with individual stages of

Conceptualizing the Life Course

9

the human life course intersected with other cultural frameworks, particularly those of gender, religion and morality. Whether in medical texts or religious discourse, the transitions of the aging body are linked intimately to a wide range of other sociocultural notions. 3

Intergenerational Dynamics Ful oft þæt gegongeð, mid godes meahtum, þætte wer ond wif in woruld cennað bearn mid gebyrdum ond mid bleom gyrwað, tennaþ ond tætaþ, oþþæt seo tid cymeð, gegæð gearrimum, þæt þa geongan leomu, liffæstan leoþu, geloden weorþað. Fergað swa ond feþað fæder ond modor, giefað ond gierwað. God ana wat hwæt him weaxendum winter bringað.18 It very often happens through God’s powers, that a man and a woman bring into the world children through births and they clothe them with colors, they tend to and caress them, until the time comes, it goes with the passing of years, that the young limbs, the members fixed with life, become fully grown. Thus father and mother carry and lead them, they give and they provide. God only knows what the winters will bring to them, growing up!

One crucial aspect of studying the life course through history is contemplating how various generations interact or are presented as interacting. Adult parents take care of young children; adult children may need to take care of elderly parents; disabled adults were at times cared for by relatives,19 including parents and children. Grandmothers could take an interest in the upbringing of their granddaughters,20 while fathers could be concerned over the succession by their sons. Intergenerational dynamics are therefore central to the chapters that make up this section of the volume. 18 19 20

The Fortunes of Men, lines 1–9, ed. T. A. Shippey, Poems of Wisdom and Learning in Old English (Cambridge, 1976), 58–63. On this passage as a well-established focal point for the discussion of childhood in Old English texts, see Klein, “Parenting and Childhood,” 95–119. See Christina Lee, “Disability,” in A Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Studies, ed. Jacqueline Stodnick and Renée R. Trilling (Chichester, 2012), 30. See, e.g., Porck, Old Age in Early Medieval England, 224–26.

10

Introduction

James Chetwood takes an onomastic perspective on the life course, focusing on name-giving practices. When parents name a child, they symbolically signal the child’s membership of a family and its belonging to a wider community. Intergenerational links could be established through the passing down of names (or parts of names) of both living and deceased family members. Chetwood suggests that this practice grew more common in later centuries, as the rite of naming a child became more public and outward-facing. As such, the act of naming a child became increasingly influenced by the aspirations of the parents within the wider social context that they inhabited. Chetwood also describes how, as people grew older, their names could be adapted. Chetwood notes how the adoption of bynames, in particular, can denote various aspects of one’s social identity after reaching adulthood, ranging from physical health, occupation, gender and, of course, age. Such recorded names as Burewold Horloc [grey locks] and Adam Witegos [white goose] may, for instance, indicate the advanced age of these two men. These and similar communitycreated bynames reveal how such personal traits as age could define one’s social standing. The focus of Katherine Cross’s contribution lies on another facet of the relationship between parents and child: weaning. Expanding upon archaeological and osteological analyses of infant feeding practices in early medieval England, Cross explores how Anglo-Latin authors used the image of weaning as a potent metaphor for religious education. Cross demonstrates how religious writers came to associate the image of weaning in particular with conversion and, therefore, it is often found in the hagiography of missionary saints such as Willibrord, Boniface and Leoba. The texts Cross discusses present actual weaning as a meaningful transition in the life of a child; as a metaphor for conversion, the process of weaning stands for a gradual introduction to Christianity, aided by motherly love and care. Amy Faulkner explores another kind of intergenerational dynamic, drawing attention to the close relationship between individual human lifespans and those of wider communities. Focusing on the Old English poems Genesis A and Beowulf, Faulkner highlights the crucial place of material inheritance and transmission of wealth in poetic depictions of succession and dynastic continuity. The genealogical sections of Genesis A foreground a recurring element that is not present in its biblical source: the inheritance of wealth by the successors to a dead patriarch. This element, Faulkner argues, is presented as an important stabilizing factor in the succession from one generation of rulers to the next. In cases where a legitimate heir is absent and the community’s wealth cannot be transferred to the next generation, as in the closing scenes of Beowulf, this is a sign of a community’s instability and looming collapse.

Conceptualizing the Life Course

11

The three contributions in this section all highlight how intergenerational dynamics, ranging from name-giving practices and weaning to succession, could all be imbued with symbolic significance. More than practicalities, these interactions between members of different age groups were of great cultural importance in early medieval England. 4

Life Beyond the Human Senescunt quę eterna non sunt. æghwæt ealdað þæs þe ece ne byð.21 Everything which is not eternal grows old.

This Latin-Old English proverb, added to the Royal Psalter by an eleventhcentury hand, articulates a very simple idea: humans are not the only ones to become old, to experience decline and “to grow frail or wear out with age, decay, deteriorate.”22 The Old English term eald is applied to words, books and ideas, while the natural world, too, is understood as subject to aging, such that it falls into a condition of physical decline in its sixth and last age.23 The Old English poem Solomon and Saturn ii, for instance, explicitly compares the withering effect of passing Time on Nature to the human aging process.24 In the last section of this volume, two contributions continue this train of thought and apply the idea of the life course to, respectively, material artefacts and socioeconomically crucial cereal crops. 21 22 23

24

London, British Library, Royal 2 B.v, fol. 6r. doe, s.v. ealdian, 2. On the semantic range of eald, and the many non-human entities it is applied to, see doe, s.v. eald, and Ashley Crandell Amos, “Old English Words for Old,” in Aging and the Aged in Medieval Europe: Selected Papers from the Annual Conference of the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto, Held 25–26 February and 11–12 November 1983, ed. Michael M. Sheehan (Toronto, 1990), 95–106. For a re-evaluation of Amos’s lexicographical study, see Thijs Porck, “Growing Old among the Anglo-Saxons: The Cultural Conceptualisation of Old Age in Early Medieval England” (unpublished PhD thesis, Leiden University, 2016), 59–72, 239–94. On the world’s sixth age in connection with Old English poetry, see, for instance, G. V. Smithers, “The Meaning of The Wanderer and The Seafarer,” Medium Ævum 26 (1957): 144–53. See also, notably, Christine Fell, “Perceptions of Transience,” in The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature, ed. Malcolm Godden and Michael Lapidge, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, 2013), 180–97. On this passage, see Thomas D. Hill, “Saturn’s Time Riddle: An Insular Latin Analogue for Solomon and Saturn ii lines 282–291,” Review of English Studies, n.s. 39 (1988): 273–76; Porck, Old Age in Early Medieval England, 91–93.

12

Introduction

Gale Owen-Crocker’s chapter demonstrates how examination of the ‘life courses’ of artefacts, including textiles, metalwork and manuscripts, can be highly revealing of not only the objects themselves, but also of the people who made, used, reused and eventually discarded these objects. She provides object biographies of the Orkney Hood, the Bayeux Tapestry, the Sutton Hoo Bowl and Shield, as well as a number of manuscripts. In doing so, Owen-Crocker showcases the new opportunities for research offered by the latest scientific methods of studying the various stages of life (production, use, repair, destruction, conservation) of such artefacts. At the same time, just as Faulkner has previously demonstrated in her study of inheritance and legacy in poetic contexts, Owen-Crocker contemplates how human lives are so often exceeded by the non-human, as material possessions and crafted objects persist beyond the range of a human lifespan. This volume’s last chapter, by Debby Banham, focuses on the life cycle, rather than the life course, of cereal crops. Using a wide variety of textual and archaeological sources, she outlines the yearly cycle of ploughing, sowing, tilling, reaping, mowing and threshing for grain as well as the process of baking bread and its varied uses. Ultimately, Banham demonstrates the importance of cereal crop production and procession in the structuring of people’s working lives throughout the year. On a grander scale, individual and communal experiences of growth are fundamentally underpinned by agricultural growth. These patterns of growth are not straightforwardly linear – many of the texts discussed by Banham highlight cyclical, recursive and incremental modes of conceptualizing human and vegetable development across time. On one level, the different understandings of the human life course analyzed in this volume are perhaps surprisingly distinct between different texts, genres and contexts: see Alcuin’s meticulous approach to Latin age terms, for instance, contrasted with the enigmatic generality of mann, ‘man’, in vernacular medical writings.25 In acknowledging and emphasizing such distinctions, the present volume works within the tradition that Morton W. Bloomfield once characterized as searching out “discontinuities and differences within medieval life, culture, ideas, and art as well as with our modern period.”26 In this vein, the chapters collected here are committed to uncovering the sheer diversity of ideas attached to human aging in this period. At the same time, conceptual tools and critical terminology that emerge in one area of enquiry are often full of potential in their applicability elsewhere. 25 26

See below, 90–114; 60, 61, 81, 89, 145–46. Morton W. Bloomfield, “Continuities and Discontinuities,” New Literary History 10 (1979): 409.

Conceptualizing the Life Course

13

Owen-Crocker’s concept of the ‘butterfly moment’ of artefacts, through which they may enjoy only “a brief time in the limelight of the occasion for which they were prepared,” may, for instance, usefully be extended into frameworks attached to the progression of human lives, including in linguistic and literary contexts.27 There is a sense in which the creation of a byname, as explored by Chetwood, forms another kind of ‘butterfly moment’, as a point when a person’s identity is particularly sharply perceived in terms of its significance to the wider community. The death of a martyred saint may equally be viewed from this lens,28 or the perfection of the resurrected human form of the righteous, like the revived patriarchs in the Old English poem Andreas, taking up “geogoðhade” [youthhood] and coming forward “edniwinga andweard” [anew, present].29 The concept of the life course does not begin and end with the ‘ages of man’; at times, it can take on an unbalanced shape, such that attention is clustered at a single phase or moment of particular relevance to any given context or system of values. Jo Appleby also traces the ways in which a multidisciplinary approach to the life course may be beneficial. In her Afterword, she considers the implications of the papers in this volume for osteoarchaeologial and archaeological studies of age and aging. She demonstrates how various chapters offer cautionary tales for the archaeologist who approaches age as a series of categories, without adequately considering its contextual and complex nature. In addition, Appleby notes how using concepts which are active in early medieval understandings of the life course may offer productive new ways of approaching the stages of human life for osteoarchaeologists and archaeologists. Ultimately, as the contributions to this volume show, early medieval English perceptions of the life course reflect and inform an expansive range of social, religious, physiological and literary issues. These dynamics come into focus with a new intensity when the life course is approached comparatively and holistically: when life stages are considered against one another, and when diverse sources are placed adjacently, offering sometimes synchronous, sometimes incongruous, views on their theme. Effective study of such concepts thus requires sensitivity to the nuances of generic context, linguistic distinctions 27 28

29

See below, 255–56, 267. See, for instance, Peter Brown, The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity, 2nd ed. (Chicago, 2015), 79–80, on the “miracle of pain” when martyrs are tortured and killed: “the original death of the martyr […] was vibrant with the miraculous suppression of suffering. Memories of it set up an imaginative vortex in the minds of those who thronged to the shrine.” Andreas, lines 782b–83, ed. Richard North and Michael D. J. Bintley, Andreas: An Edition (Liverpool, 2018).

14

Introduction

and historical contingency; it is only then that more sweeping conclusions about the contours of the early medieval English life course can be reached. We hope that the contributions to this volume reveal something of the fundamental importance of understandings of the life course in underpinning the value systems and discursive frameworks of early medieval England.

Part 1 Defining and Dividing the Life Course



chapter 1

The Ages of Man and the Ages of Woman in Early Medieval England: From Bede to Byrhtferth of Ramsey and the Tractatus de quaternario Thijs Porck Into how many parts should the human life course be divided? Old English and Anglo-Latin texts show a variety of answers to this question, ranging from three to six distinct stages. Individual authors, such as Bede and Ælfric, alternated between multiple schemes and even in two versions of the same text the number of life stages could differ. An example of the latter phenomenon is found in two versions of an early medieval English confessional prayer. Four stages of life are distinguished in the Old English version that was added to a late eleventh-century manuscript: Ic eom anddetta for eall þæt unriht þe ic æfre gefremede on minum cildhade oððe on minre geogoðe oððe on minre strengðe oððe on minre ylde þe æfter fulwihte agylte 7 on manegum þingum swiðe gode abealh.1 I acknowledge all the injustice which I have ever done in my childhood or in my youth or in my strength or in my old age, which I committed after baptism and with many things greatly angered God. An earlier Latin version of this prayer in the mid-ninth-century Book of Cerne, by contrast, divides the life course into three parts:

1 London, British Library, Cotton Tiberius C.i, fol. 160v. Henri Logeman, “Anglo-Saxonica Minora, I,” Anglia 11 (1889): 101–2, lines 54–57. Unless otherwise noted all translations are my own. In Thijs Porck, Old Age in Early Medieval England: A Cultural History (Woodbridge, 2019), 30–31, 50, I erroneously ascribed this citation to the related prayer in London, British Library, Cotton Vespasian D.xx, which instead reads “Ic eom andetta þara þe ic of cildhade oð þas ieldo þe ic æfter fulwihte agylte 7 on manegum ðingum swiðe gode abealh” [I acknowledge those (sins) which I committed from childhood to old age, after baptism, and with many things greatly offended God].

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2022 | doi:10.1163/9789004501867_003

18

Porck

confiteor uobis quaecumque feci in puerile aetate uel in iuuentute uel in senectute – et sepe peccaui in multis rebus multum deum inritaui.2 I confess to you whatever I committed in puerilis aetas or in iuuentus or in senectus – and I have often sinned and greatly angered God in many things.3 Life course schematizations into five or even six ‘ages of man’ are also found in the wider Old English and Anglo-Latin corpus of homilies, saints’ lives and works of a more encyclopedic nature. In visual artworks from early medieval England, renditions of the human life course occur less frequently and with less variation. Typically, these visualizations depict three male figures, differentiated for age by the presence, length and color of their beards. In this way, the three Magi are depicted on the Franks Casket and a number of early medieval English manuscripts in order to represent all of humanity: the young, the middle-aged and the elderly.4 Similarly, the Harley Psalter and Eadwine Psalter follow their Carolingian exemplar, the Utrecht Psalter, in depicting the three Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) as the three ‘ages of man’: the first has a slumped neck and a long white or grey beard, the figure in the middle has a black beard, while the third figure is a beardless youth (see Fig. 1.1).5 Only one figural depiction of the human life course of a possible preConquest origin departs from this threefold facial hair motif. This depiction, found in Cambridge, Gonville and Caius College, ms 428/428, visualizes four 2 Cambridge, University Library, ms L1.1.10, fol. 47v, ed. Arthur B. Kuypers, The Prayer Book of Aedeluald the Bishop, Commonly Called the Book of Cerne (Cambridge, 1902), 92–95, lines 15–17. On the relationship between these prayers, see Thijs Porck, “Two Notes on an Old English Confessional Prayer in Vespasian D.xx,” Notes and Queries, n.s. 60 (2013): 493–98. 3 In the translations from Latin throughout this contribution, including those by others, Latin age terms infantia, pueritia, adolescentia, iuuentus, senectus and senium, etc., are untranslated, since modern English equivalents (infancy, childhood, adolescence, youth, old age and senility) do not fully capture the often fluctuating early medieval meanings of these words. See, e.g., Adolf Hofmeister, “Puer, iuvenis, senex: Zum Verständnis der mittelalterlichen Altersbezeichnungen,” in Papsttum und Kaisertum: Forschungen zur politischen Geschichte und Geisteskultur des Mittelalters: Paul Kehr zum 65. Geburtstag dargebracht, ed. Albert Brackmann (Munich, 1926), 287–316. 4 For a general discussion of the three Magi as the three ages of man, see Elizabeth Sears, The Ages of Man: Medieval Interpretations of the Life Cycle (Princeton, 1986), 91–94; for the early medieval English material, see Porck, Old Age in Early Medieval England, 25–28. 5 For this unique depiction of the three Patriarchs, see Porck, Old Age in Early Medieval England, 28–29.

The Ages of Man and the Ages of Woman

19

figure 1.1 The three Patriarchs as the three ages of man. London, British Library, Harley 603, fol. 52v © british library board

stages of life, using distinctively female figures (Fig. 1.3 below).6 This visualization has received scattered attention in existing scholarship on the medieval life course and its dating and localization is a matter of debate. John Burrow briefly discussed the diagram and its accompanying text, the Tractatus de quaternario, and identified them as the works of an anonymous twelfth-century author of continental origin.7 By contrast, Elizabeth Sears ascribed the visualization and the text to an anonymous author writing in early twelfth-century England,8 as did Isabelle Cochelin.9 Roberta Gilchrist, lastly, opted for a much earlier date and linked the depiction of the four ages of woman to a named individual: “a rare 11th-century example produced by Byrhtferth, a monk of 6 Gonville and Caius College, ms 428/428, fol. 28v. The manuscript is foliated twice in modern pencil due to an error in the foliation in the top right corner (it erroneously counts fol. 27 as fol. 26); in referring to the manuscript, I follow the foliation in the bottom right corner. 7 J. A. Burrow, The Ages of Man: A Study in Medieval Writing and Thought (Oxford, 1986), 20–22. 8 Sears, Ages of Man, 23–25. 9 Isabelle Cochelin, “Introduction: Pre-Thirteenth-Century Definitions of the Life Cycle,” in Medieval Life Cycles: Continuity and Change, ed. Isabelle Cochelin and Karen Smyth (Turnhout, 2013), 1–54, at 32–33.

20

Porck

Ramsey Abbey.”10 Before providing a detailed analysis of this depiction of the life course in its manuscript context, this chapter will give a broad overview of the various schematizations of the life course in early medieval England and, in particular, those found in works ascribed to Byrhtferth of Ramsey. In doing so, this chapter not only serves as an introduction to the issue of life course schematization in early medieval England, it also provides the necessary context to determine whether or not the diagram of the four ages of woman can indeed be attributed to one of the most prolific English authors before the Norman Conquest, Byrhtferth of Ramsey. 1

Life Course Schematizations in Old English and Anglo-Latin Texts

One of the most insightful contributions to the knowledge of early medieval conceptualizations of the human life course is Cochelin’s overview of “more than eighty life-cycle definitions in a variety of sources between the third century and 1200” from all over Western Europe.11 Her overview, neatly summarized in a helpful table, provides an insight into the variability of medieval ideas about how the human life course could be stratified. Early medieval authors variously divided life into three to seven stages, using fluctuating and at times contradictory terminology. However, between the sixth century and c.1120,12 Cochelin observes a more uniform system of life course stratification. The thirty-four texts from this time period show remarkably less variation than those of earlier and later dates, enabling Cochelin to establish one overarching life course definition: between the sixth and the early twelfth centuries, the life cycle can contain three, four, five, six or seven ages, because the three main phases, pueritia, iuuentus, and senectus, can each be divided into two and, exceptionally for senectus, even into three ages. A life cycle of three is comprised of the three main phases; one of four means that one of the three phases has been subdivided and so on. Whatever the number of subdivisions, we are still facing one unique, if very flexible, way of conceiving the ages of man.13 10 11 12 13

Roberta Gilchrist, Medieval Life: Archaeology and the Life Course (Woodbridge, 2012), 253. Cochelin, “Pre-Thirteenth-Century Definitions,” 1. The date c.1120 is that of the Tractatus de quaternario and its diagram and, as Cochelin, “Pre-Thirteenth-Century Definitions,” 32 n. 99, notes, this date is debatable; see below. Cochelin, “Pre-Thirteenth-Century Definitions,” 11.

The Ages of Man and the Ages of Woman

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This scheme in sources dated between 500 and c.1120 is further characterized by an almost systematic division of senectus into two or even three stages. Cochelin suggests that a division of old age into two stages may possibly stem from the distinction between an active ‘green’ old age and a ‘grey’ old age marked by bodily decline.14 Since Cochelin’s overview includes only four Anglo-Latin texts (two by Bede, one by Alcuin and one by Byrhtferth),15 the question remains whether this flexible life course definition, with its underlying tripartite structure, fully represents early medieval English ideas of the human life course. Cochelin’s table can be complemented by an overview of sixteen attestations of the ages of man in Anglo-Latin and Old English texts, here presented as Table 1.1. This table includes only those texts that explicitly describe a schematization of the life course into different stages, from beginning to end, and excludes works by Byrhtferth of Ramsey, which are discussed separately below.16 The first column provides information about the text and the three following columns with bold outline represent the three main phases identified by Cochelin: pueritia, iuuentus and senectus. Whenever an author subdivided any of these three main phases, this is indicated by dividing the cell in that particular column; age limits (the supposed end point of a particular stage of life) are added wherever they occur. The texts are listed in a rough chronological order.17

14

15 16

17

Cochelin, “Pre-Thirteenth-Century Definitions,” 14. For this distinction between green and grey old age, see also Pat Thane, “Old Age in English History,” in Zur Kulturgeschichte des Alterns: Toward a Cultural History of Aging, ed. C. Conrad and H.-J. von Kondratowitz (Berlin, 1993), 31–32. Cochelin, “Pre-Thirteenth-Century Definitions,” 24, 27–28, discusses Bede’s De temporibus and De temporum ratione, the Commentaria in s. Joannis euangelium by Alcuin and the work of Byrhtferth of Ramsey. This means that references to individual life stages, such as those in Alcuin’s writings discussed in the contribution by Darren Barber in this volume, are not included unless a full range is given from birth to old age. Nor have more allusive references to the human life cycle in Old English poetry been included. For these references, see, e.g., Harriet Soper, “Reading the Exeter Book Riddles as Life-Writing,” Review of English Studies 68 (2017): 841–65. A full analysis of each text is beyond the scope of this contribution and can be found in Porck, Old Age in Early Medieval England, 16–51. The texts that are not discussed in the current chapter are provided with footnote references to the original primary source followed by a short explanatory note.

22 Table 1.1

Porck Divisions of the life course in Anglo-Latin and Old English texts, excluding works by Byrhtferth of Ramsey

Main phases (Cochelin) Bede, De temporibus 16 Bede, De temporum ratione 35 Bede, De temporum ratione 66 Bede, In Lucae evangelium expositio Willibald, Vita Bonifatiia Alcuin, Commentarii in s. Joannis evangelium Ps.-Bede, Collectanea Confessional prayer in Book of Cerne Various encyclopedic notes Blickling Homily XIVb

pueritia

infantia

pueritia

infantes

infantia

pueritia

pueritia

iuuentus

adolescentia iuuenilis aetas

adolescentes transgressores

senectus

senectus aetas / senilis decrepita aetas senes

adolescentia / iuuentus

senectus aetas decrepita / senilis aetas senectus

senectus

adolescentia iuuenilis aetas

infantia

pueritia

adolescentia iuuentus

infantia

pueritia

adolescentia iuuentus

grauitas

infantia pueritia 7 14 puerilis aetas

adolescentia iuuentus 28 49 iuuentus

senectus senium / 77 decrepitas senectus

infantia 7

adolescentia iuuentus 27/28 48/49

senectus senium / 70/77/80 decrepitas

pueritia 14

iugoþ

midfyrhtnes

senectus

yldo

a Willibald, Vita Bonifatii 9, ed. Reinhold Rau, Bonifatii epistulae. Willibaldi vita Bonifatii (Darmstadt, 1968), 522. In this text, the life of Boniface is divided into five stages. b Richard Morris, ed., The Blickling Homilies of the Tenth Century, EETS o.s. 58, 63, 73 (London, 1874–80), 161, 163. This text differentiates between three stages in the lives of the parents of John the Baptist.

23

The Ages of Man and the Ages of Woman Table 1.1

Divisions of the life course in Anglo-Latin and Old English texts (cont.)

Main phases (Cochelin)

pueritia

iuuentus

senectus

Ælfric, homily for the Common of a Confessor (Assmann iv) Ælfric, sermon for the Octave of Pentecost (Pope xi)c Ælfric, homily on the decapitation of John the Baptist (Catholic Homilies I, xxxii)d Ælfric, homily for Septuagesima Sunday (Catholic Homilies ii, v) Wulfstan, “De temporibus Antichristi”e Confessional prayer in Cotton Tiberius C.i

cildhad

weaxend cnihthad

forwered yld

cild

geonge menn

ealdan

yld

cildhad

cnihthad

geðungen wæstm / fulfremeda wæstm

cildhad

cnihthad

yld geðungen wæstm / fulfremeda wæstm

cild

cildhad

medeme ylde mann

geogoð

strengð

forwerod ealdnyss

eald geðungen mann

yld

c Ælfric, Homilies of Ælfric: A Supplementary Collection, ed. John C. Pope, eets o.s. 259–60 (Oxford, 1967– 68), hom. 11, lines 112–17. This text relates the three types of deaths (bitter, immature and natural) to three ages of man. d Ælfric, Catholic Homilies: The First Series, ed. Peter Clemoes, eets s.s. 17 (Oxford, 1997), hom. 32, ll. 208–11. Four stages of life mentioned in the context of the changing nature of the human body. e Wulfstan, Eschatological Homilies, ed. and trans. Joyce Tally Lionarons (2000), http://webpages .ursinus.edu/jlionarons/wulfstan/Wulfstan.html. In this text, the three stages refer to the physical forms that the shapeshifter Simon Magus takes on in his confrontation with Saints Peter and Paul.

24

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On the whole, these early medieval English texts conform to what Cochelin had observed for the bulk of texts made between the sixth century and c.1120: the life course was typically conceptualized as consisting of three main phases (pueritia, iuuentus, and senectus), which could each be subdivided.18 While many life course definitions feature senectus divided into two stages, a division into three stages as found in some of Cochelin’s examples, is not present in the early medieval English corpus. Cochelin’s further suggestion that a subdivided old age in these schemes stems from a distinction between active advanced age and old age proper cannot be verified for the early medieval English material, since in some of these texts even the first stage of senectus is defined by bodily weakness. In fact, as I have demonstrated elsewhere, old age in early medieval England was more broadly conceived of as a single long phase, starting at the age of forty-eight, forty-nine, or fifty and characterized specifically by physical decline.19 Cochelin rightly notes that early medieval life course definitions cannot be presumed to be representative of society at large. They typically stem from a learned, ecclesiastical milieu and were produced by male authors.20 This holds true for the texts included in Table 1.1 as well. Those early medieval English authors who commented on the human life course typically followed earlier models by Church Fathers, such as Gregory the Great, Augustine of Hippo and Isidore of Seville. Their influence on early medieval English life course schematization is traced in the following section. 2

The Learned Context: Biblical Exegesis, Patristic Tradition and Natural Philosophy

Medieval authors who commented on a threefold division of the life course mostly did so in the context of biblical exegesis. Biblical triads, such as the three Magi and the three Patriarchs, could be interpreted as representing different stages of human life and, as a group, they could represent all of mankind.21 A good example of this approach is Bede’s interpretation of Christ’s Parable of the Three Vigils (Luke 12.36–38). In this parable, Christ compares his disciples to servants awaiting their lord’s return from a wedding during three vigils – in

18 19 20 21

Cochelin, “Pre-Thirteenth-Century Definitions,” 11. Porck, Old Age in Early Medieval England, 49. Cochelin, “Pre-Thirteenth-Century Definitions,” 2. Porck, Old Age in Early Medieval England, 25–29.

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25

Bede’s commentary, each of these vigils represents a stage of life during which a person might turn to God: Prima quippe uigilia primaeuum tempus est, id est pueritia; secunda adulescentia uel iuuentus quae auctoritate sacri eloquii unum sunt dicentis: laetare iuuenis in adulescentia tua; tertia autem senectus accipitur. Qui ergo uigilare in prima uigilia noluit custodiat uel secundam ut qui conuerti a prauitatibus suis in pueritia neglexit ad uias uitae saltim in tempore iuuentutis euigilet. Et qui uigilare in secunda uigilia noluit tertiae uigiliae remedia non amittat ut qui et in iuuentute ad uias uitae non euigilat saltim in senectute resipiscat.22 Indeed, the first vigil is the youthful time, which is pueritia. The second, adolescentia or iuuentus, which according to the authority of the sacred word are the same, saying: ‘Rejoice, O iuuenis, in your adolescentia’ (Eccles. 11.9).23 The third, moreover, is accepted to be senectus. Therefore, whoever did not want to be awake during the first vigil, should observe the second, so that whoever has neglected to turn away from vices in pueritia, is at least watchful of the ways of life in the time of iuuentus. And whoever did not want to be alert during the second vigil, may they not let go of the remedies of the third watch, so that whoever is also not watchful of the ways of life in iuuentus, at least recovers their senses in senectus. Bede’s commentary, which explains that it is never too late to turn to a Christian way of life, was copied verbatim from a homily by Gregory the Great (c.540–604).24 In his Old English homily for the Common of a Confessor, Ælfric of Eynsham interpreted the three Vigils in a similar manner, following Bede or 22 23

24

Bede, In Lucae evangelium expositio, ed. D. Hurst, ccsl 120 (Turnhout, 1960), 257, lines 1039–58. The notion that adolescentia and iuuentus are interchangeable terms, backed up by the quotation from Ecclesiastes 11.9, is indicative of one of the recurring problems in medieval writings about the human life course: the relative fluidity of the terminology. See, e.g., Hofmeister, “Puer, iuvenis, senex,” 287–316. In most other early medieval divisions of the life course in Table 1.1, adolescentia denotes the stage of life preceding iuuentus. In his exposition of the four ages of man in his De temporum ratione, Bede used the term adolescentes to denote the second stage of life, but avoided terminology related to iuuentus altogether, opting for transgressores instead. Whenever Bede divided the life course into six stages of life, he did distinguish between adolescentia and iuuenilis aetas as the two stages preceding senectus; see below. Gregory, Homiliae in evangelia, ed. R. Étaix, ccsl 141 (Turnhout, 1999), hom. 13, lines 74–82.

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Gregory as well as Haymo of Auxerre, and he uses the terms “cildhade” [childhood], “weaxendum cnihthade” [growing youth/adolescence] and “forweredre ylde” [worn-out old age] to render the three stages of life.25 In another homily, Ælfric interpreted another one of Christ’s parables in terms of the ages of man. In this case, he favored a fivefold division of life to interpret Christ’s Parable of the Vineyard (Matt. 20.1–16). According to Ælfric, people could become Christians during five different periods in their lives and still reap the same reward, analogous to how, in the parable, workers were called to a vineyard at five different hours: Eornostlice þonne sume beoð gelædde on cildhade to godum ðeawum and rihtum life. sume on cnihthade. sume on geðungenum wæstme. sume on ylde. sume on forwerodre ealdnysse. þonne bið hit swylce hi beon on mislicum tidum to ðam wingearde gelaðode.26 Truly some are led in childhood to good deeds and a righteous life, some in youth, some in mature growth, some in old age, some in worn-out old age; then it is as though they had at diverse times been called to the vineyard. Ælfric’s Old English text is a near word-for-word translation of the corresponding passage in a homily by Gregory the Great, showing once more how many of these early medieval English definitions of the life course find their origins in patristic writings.27 Patristic tradition also underlies a number of early medieval English life course definitions that refer to six individual stages of life. Bede and Alcuin, for instance, both drew on Augustine of Hippo when they related the six ages of man to the sex aetates mundi [six ages of the world].28 In various works, Augustine had propagated the idea that the world passes through six ages which correspond to the human life course: infantia (from Adam to Noah), pueritia 25 26 27 28

Bruno Assmann, ed., Angelsächsische Homilien und Heiligenleben (Kassel, 1889), hom. 4, lines 67–83. For a discussion of Ælfric’s sources, see Porck, Old Age in Early Medieval England, 22. Ælfric, Catholic Homilies: The Second Series, ed. Malcolm Godden, eets s.s. 5 (London, 1979), hom. 5, lines 101–6. Milton McC. Gatch, Preaching and Theology in Anglo-Saxon England: Ælfric and Wulfstan (Toronto, 1977), 93–94; Malcolm Godden, Ælfric’s Catholic Homilies: Introduction, Commentary and Glossary, eets s.s. 18 (Oxford, 2000), 383–84. Alcuin’s use of this motif in his Commentarii in s. Joannis evangelium is discussed in Burrow, Ages of Man, 84–85; Porck, Old Age in Early Medieval England, 39–41.

The Ages of Man and the Ages of Woman

27

(from Noah to Abraham), adolescentia (from Abraham to David), iuuentus (from David until the Babylonian captivity), senioris (from the Babylonian exile to the coming of Jesus Christ) and, finally, senectus which would last until the end of time.29 Bede included a version of this Augustinian division into six ages in both his De temporibus and his De temporum ratione. In both texts, he distinguished between infantia, pueritia, adolescentia, iuuenilis aetas, senilis aetas / senectus and aetas decrepita30; the most elaborate treatment of this sixfold scheme is the one in his De temporum ratione: Quae uniuersali est deleta diluuio, sicut primam cuiusque hominis obliuio demergere consueuit aetatem; quotus enim quisque est, qui suam recordetur infantiam? […] Haec quasi pueritia fuit generis populi Dei et ideo in lingua inuenta est, id est Hebrea, a pueritia namque homo incipit nosse loqui post infantiam, quae hinc appellata est, quod fari non potest. […] Haec quaedam uelut adolescentia fuit populi Dei, a qua aetate quia incipit homo posse generare […]. A qua uelut iuuenali aetate in populo Dei regum tempora coeperunt, haec namque in hominibus aetas apta gubernando solet existere regno. Quinta quasi senilis aetas […] [i]n qua, ut graui senectute fessa, malis crebrioribus plebs Hebrea quassatur. Sexta […] aetas […] sed ut aetas decrepita ipsa totius saeculi morte consumenda.31 This (First Age) was wiped out in the universal Flood, just as the first age of every person is usually submerged in oblivion, for how many people can remember their infantia? … This (Second Age) was, so to speak, the pueritia of God’s people, and therefore it is discovered in a language, that is, in Hebrew, because from pueritia on, when infantia is over – which is so called because an infant cannot speak – a person begins to learn to speak…. This (Third Age) was like the adolescentia of the people of God, because from this age on, a person can reproduce…. From this (Fourth) Age – iuuenilis aetas, so to speak – the era of the kings began among the people of God, for this age in man is normally apt for governing a kingdom. The Fifth Age – senilis aetas, if you will – … in this Age the Hebrew people were weakened by many evils, as if wearied by heavy senectus…. 29 30

31

Sears, Ages of Man, 54–61. Bede, De temporibus 16, ed. C. W. Jones, Opera didascalica, ccsl 123 C (Turnhout, 1980), 600–601; Bede, De temporum ratione 66, ed. C. W. Jones, Opera didascalica, ccsl 123 B (Turnhout, 1977), 463–64. Also discussed in Cochelin, “Pre-Thirteenth-Century Definitions,” 24. Bede, De temporum ratione 66, ed. Jones, 463–64.

28

Porck

The Sixth Age … like aetas decrepita, this (Age) will come to an end in the death of the whole world.32 While this life course schematization features a subdivision of old age, both parts, according to Bede, are marked by decline; as such, this life course definition does not feature a transition from a young, active old age to a weakened old age. In addition to the works of Augustine, Isidore of Seville’s treatments of the sixfold division of life in his Differentiae and Etymologiae were highly influential in the early Middle Ages.33 For instance, Isidore’s divisions are found in two ninth-century works once ascribed to Bede and Alcuin, respectively.34 Isidore’s work on the life course was also regularly copied in the form of encyclopedic notes that are found in various manuscripts from early medieval England.35 One of these notes demonstrates some of the variability in this sixfold division in terms of the length in years ascribed to each stage: Prima ætas infantia .vii. annis. Secunda. pueritia . xiiii. tertia adulescentia .xxvii. annis. Quarta iuuentus . xlviii. uel .viiii. annis. Quinta senectus usque ad .lxx. uel .lxxx. annos. ab anno .lxxesimo, uel xxxesimo. Senium id est decrepitus et nimium senex dicitur. Infantia habet unam ebdo­ madam annorum. id est vii. annos pueritia alios .vii. adulescentia duas 32 33

34

35

Bede, The Reckoning of Time, trans. Faith Wallis (Liverpool, 2004), 157–58. Isidore, Differentiae 2.19, pl 83, cols. 81b–c; Isidore, Etymologiae 11.2.2–8, trans. Stephen A. Barney, W. J. Lewis, J. A. Beach, and Oliver Berghof (Cambridge, 2006), 241. In both texts, Isidore gives six ages, but he gives different age limits and names for the last three: in the Differentiae, infantia (7), pueritia (14), adolescentia (28), iuuentus (49), senectus (77) and senium (no age limit); in the Etymologiae, infantia (7), pueritia (14), adolescentia (28), iuuentus (50), grauitas / senioris aetas (70), senectus / senium (no age limit). The ninth-century Collectanea Pseudo-Bedae gives a sixfold division of life, with the age limits as found in Isidore’s Differentiae; Collectanea Pseudo-Bedae, ed. and trans. Martha Bayless and Michael Lapidge (Dublin, 1998), no. 378. Michael Lapidge, “The Origin of the Collectanea,” in Collectanea, ed. and trans. Bayless and Lapidge, 12, notes that the material in this text derives either from Ireland, England or the Continent: “the majority of its localizable contents originated either in Ireland or England, or in an Irish foundation on the continent.” Isidore’s discussion in the Etymologiae is the source for the treatment of the six ages in the Disputatio puerorum, once ascribed to Alcuin. The latest editors of this text now refute this attribution, hence it has not been included in Table 1.1 above; The Disputatio puerorum: A Ninth-Century Monastic Instructional Text. Edited from Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, 458, ed. Andrew Rabin and Liam Felsen, Toronto Medieval Latin Texts 34 (Toronto, 2017). On these notes, see Kees Dekker, “Anglo-Saxon Encyclopaedic Notes: Tradition and Function,” in Foundations of Learning: The Transfer of Encyclopaedic Knowledge in the Early Middle Ages, ed. Rolf H. Bremmer Jr and Kees Dekker (Paris, 2007), 279–315; Porck, Old Age in Early Medieval England, 40–43.

The Ages of Man and the Ages of Woman

29

ebdomadas. id est anni .xxviii. Iuuentus iii. ebdomadas. id sunt anni .xlviiii. Senectus .iiii. ebdomadas. id sunt. anni . lxxvii. ebdomadas .xi. Senium nullo certo annorum numero finitur. The first age, infantia, (lasts to) seven years. The second, pueritia, (to) fourteen years. The third, adolescentia, (to) twenty-seven years. The fourth, iuuentus, (to) forty-eight or -nine years. The fifth, senectus, to seventy or eighty years. From the seventieth or eightieth year, senium, which is decrepitas, and is said to be old age beyond measure. Infantia has one hebdomad of years – this is seven years – pueritia another seven. Adolescentia has two hebdomads – this is twenty-eight years. Iuuentus has three hebdomads – these are forty-nine years. Senectus has four hebdomads – these are seventy-seven years (or) eleven hebdomads. Senium is not ended by any certain number of years.36 In listing a range of different age limits for each stage, this note conflates various versions of the six ages of man, combining as it does the cut-off points for each stage in Isidore’s Differentiae (7, 14, 28, 49, 77) and Etymologiae (7, 14, 28, 50, 70), as well as adding three more alternative age limits (27 for adolescentia, 48 for iuuentus and 80 for senectus).37 As such, this note is an amalgamation of slightly differing divisions of the six ages of man that circulated in early medieval England. Another major intellectual tradition that influenced the way authors looked at the human life course in the Middle Ages was natural philosophy. This tradition primarily influenced those authors who conceptualized a life course of four and later seven stages.38 A fourfold division of human life, analogous to four seasons in the course of a year, is generally attributed to the Greek philosopher Pythagoras (c.570–c.495 bc).39 Later, other sets of four, such as the

36

37

38 39

Edition and translation from Dekker, “Anglo-Saxon Encyclopaedic Notes,” 283, 314. This note occurs in at least five manuscripts from early medieval England, dated between the ninth and eleventh centuries. The note is included in Cochelin’s overview as “Manuscript from Paris (Tenth Century),” Cochelin, “Pre-Thirteenth-Century Definitions,” 27. The age limit 27 for adolescentia is also found in the anonymous ninth-century Disputatio puerorum 3.3, ed. Rabin and Felsen, 43, line 691; the age limit 48 for iuuentus is also used in Byrhtferth’s famous diagram; see below. The notion that senectus ends at the age of 70 or 80 may be based on Psalm 89.10 (“The days of our years in them are threescore and ten years. But if in the strong they be fourscore years”); Bible references and translations are from the Douay-Rheims translation of the Latin Vulgate. Burrow, Ages of Man, 12–54. The Four Seasons of Human Life: Four Anonymous Engravings from the Trent Collection, ed. H. F. J. Horstmanshoff et al. (Rotterdam, 2002), 40–41.

30

Porck

elements and the humors, were incorporated into this tetradic scheme.40 In early medieval England, this interrelation between the physical and physiological fours is first found in Bede’s De temporum ratione. Here, Bede describes how the four ages of man correspond to four other sets of ‘fours’: the seasons, the qualities, the elements and the humors. First, the four seasons are linked to four qualities: spring is moist and hot, summer is hot and dry, autumn is dry and cold and winter is cold and moist. These same four qualities are found in the four elements, air, fire, earth and water. Analogous to the four seasons and four elements, people can be divided into four age categories: infantes, adolescentes, transgressores and senes.41 Bede then connects the four ages to the four bodily humors and outlines the typical behavioral characteristics that these dominating humors produce within mankind: Et quidem sanguis in infantibus maxime uiget, in adolescentibus cholera rubea, melancholia in transgressoribus, id est fel cum faece nigri sanguinis admixtum, phlegmata dominantur in senibus. Item sanguis eos in quibus maxime pollet facit hilares, laetos, misericordes, multum ridentes et loquentes; cholera uero rubea faciunt macilentos, multum tamen comedentes, ueloces, audaces, iracundos, agiles; nigra bilis stabilis, graues, compositos moribus, dolosos que facit; phlegmata tardos, somnolentos, obliuiosos generant.42 Indeed, blood is at its most active in children, red bile in young people, melancholia (that is, gall mingled with the dregs of black blood) in the middle-aged, and phlegmatic humors dominate in the elderly. Moreover, blood makes those in whom its potency is greatest cheerful, joyous, tender-hearted, much given to laughter and speech; red bile makes people lean, even though they eat a lot, swift, bold, irritable and agile; black bile makes them stolid, solemn, set in their ways and gloomy; phlegmatic humors produce people who are slow, sleepy and forgetful.43 Bede’s rendition for the physical and physiological fours is set out schematically in Table 1.2.44 40 41 42 43 44

Sears, Ages of Man, 9–16. Bede, De temporum ratione 35, ed. Jones, 391–95. Bede, De temporum ratione 35, ed. Jones, 392–93. Bede, Reckoning, trans. Wallis, 101. For a discussion of Bede’s sources, see Porck, Old Age in Early Medieval England, 33.

31

The Ages of Man and the Ages of Woman Table 1.2

Bede’s scheme of physical and physiological fours

Qualities Season Elements Ages of man Humors

moist and hot spring air infantes blood

hot and dry summer fire adolescentes red bile

dry and cold autumn earth transgressoresa black bile

cold and moist winter water senes phlegm

a Bede’s use of the term transgressores is unusual and it is not entirely clear which stage of life he might be referring to here. Cochelin, “Pre-Thirteenth-Century Definitions,” 24, interprets the term as denoting the stage of life starting at the age of forty-nine, usually denoted as grauitas or senectus in other early medieval life course definitions, especially since Bede ascribes to the transgressores “grauis” [solemn] behaviour. To this, we can add that Bede in his exposition of the Parable of the Three Vigils had noted how adolescentia and iuuentus were equivalent terms. However, in most other medieval definitions of the life course, adolescentia ends at the age of twenty-eight and rarely directly precedes the onset of old age and it does not do so in Bede’s rendition of the six ages of man, where adolescentia is followed by iuuenilis aetas. Moreover, Byrhtferth of Ramsey, who based his discussion of the four ages on Bede, interprets Bede’s transgressores as representing iuuentus (see below). As such, Bede’s fourfold division here seems to represent a single, undivided first stage of pueritia (the infantes), a subdivided stage of iuuentus (represented by the adolescentes and transgressores) and a single, undivided last stage of senectus (the senes).

To sum up thus far, when commenting on the human life course, early medieval English authors typically followed earlier traditions and, depending on the genre in which they were writing, they could unproblematically alternate, as in the case of Bede, between three, four or six ages of man. 3

Byrhtferth of Ramsey on the Human Life Course

Byrhtferth of Ramsey was one of the most prolific English authors in Latin and Old English with an oeuvre that ranges from computus to hagiography. His most famous work is his Manual or Enchiridion (1010–1012), which was intended as a handbook for the use of a now-lost Computus that he had produced earlier. This Computus, a collection of diagrams, formulae and texts on the subjects of time and numerology, has been reconstructed on the basis of three twelfth-century manuscripts, which also contain diagrams that are explicitly attributed to Byrhtferth.45 He also wrote two saints’ lives, devoted 45

Byrhtferth, Enchiridion, ed. and trans. Peter S. Baker and Michael Lapidge, eets s.s. 15 (London, 1995).

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Porck

to St. Oswald and St. Ecgwine.46 In addition, Byrhtferth may also have been a glossator: a set of explanatory glosses to Bede’s De natura rerum and De temporum ratione have been ascribed to Byrhtferth,47 and some glosses that survive in manuscripts of the Enchiridion and the Vita s. Ecgwini may also have been made by him.48 Throughout his works, Byrhtferth found ample occasion to refer to the various stages of the human life course, as the overview in Table 1.3 demonstrates.49 Table 1.3

Life course divisions found in works by Byrhtferth

Main phases (Cochelin) Enchiridion 1.1, lines 102–13 Enchiridion 1.1, lines 120–33 Enchiridion 4.1, lines 74–84 Glosses to E 4.1, lines 74–84 Enchiridion diagram 3 Enchiridion diagram 13 Enchiridion diagram 15

46 47

48 49

pueritia

pueritia

iuuentus

adolescentia

senectus

iuuentus

senectus

cildhad / cnihtiugoð cildiugoð / cildyld pueritia adholescentia

geþungen yld

swyðe eald yld / yld

iuuentus

senectus

cildhad

cnihthad

fulre yld

pueritia pueritia pueritia

adolescentia adolescentia adolescentia

geþungen yld iuuentus iuuentus iuuentus

senectus senectus senectus

For these texts and a complete overview of Byrhtferth’s writings, see Byrhtferth, The Lives of St Oswald and St Ecgwine, ed. and trans. Michael Lapidge (Oxford, 2009), xxx–xliv. See Michael Lapidge, “Byrhtferth of Ramsey and the Glossae Bridferti in Bedam,” Journal of Medieval Latin 17 (2008): 384–400. The identification of Byrhtferth as the author of these glosses is controversial, cf. John J. Contreni, “Old Orthodoxies Die Hard: Herwagen’s Bridferti Ramesiensis Glossae,” Peritia 22–23 (2011–2012, 2013): 15–52. Regardless of the identity of the author, these glosses will not be discussed here, since the notes to the chapters in De temporum ratione that are relevant to this contribution (chapters 35 and 66) do not touch on the ages of man. The glosses were published from a now-lost manuscript in Johannes Herwagen’s 1563 edition of Bede’s works; they are reprinted in pl 90; for the glosses on chapters 35 and 66, see cols. 457d, 520–21. Byrhtferth, Lives, ed. and trans. Lapidge, 305. The references to the Enchiridion and its diagrams are to Byrhtferth, Enchiridion, ed. and trans. Baker and Lapidge. References to the Vita s. Ecgwini are to Byrhtferth, Lives, ed. and trans. Lapidge.

33

The Ages of Man and the Ages of Woman Table 1.3

Life course divisions found in works by Byrhtferth (cont.)

Main phases (Cochelin)

pueritia

De concordia mensium atque elementorum

pueritia / infantia 14 pueritia pueritia pueritia 7/8

Vita s. Ecgwini preface Vita s. Ecgwini 1.6 Glosses to vse 1.6

iuuentus

senectus

adolescentia 28

iuuentus 48

senectus 70/80

adolescentia adolescentia adolescentia 14

iuuentus iuuentus iuuentus 50

senectus senectus senectus

This overview shows a particular consistency in Byrhtferth’s use of Latin terminology and his preference for a fourfold division of the human life course. Less consistent was his use of vernacular age terminology. In the main text of his Enchiridion, Byrhtferth used no fewer than three different terms to render pueritia (cildhad, cildiugoð and cildyld) and two terms for senectus (swyðe eald yld and yld), while giving only one vernacular translation for adolescentia (cnihtiugoð) and iuuentus (geþungen yld). If the Old English glosses to the Enchiridion are indeed Byrhtferth’s own, they add another two vernacular alternatives: cnihthad for adolescentia and fulre yld for senectus. Thus, Byrhtferth’s work demonstrates the difficulty of finding Old English alternatives for Latin age terminology.50 Byrhtferth seems to have based his preference for a fourfold division of the human life course on Bede’s rendition of the physical and physiological fours in De temporum ratione, a text with which he was certainly familiar.51 In Book One of his Enchiridion, Byrhtferth outlines how the four seasons, elements and ages are all connected through their shared qualities. He provided his text in Latin, intended for reformed monks, and in Old English, for secular clerics. The Latin text runs as follows:52 50 51 52

See also Daria Izdebska’s contribution to this volume. Parts of this text were probably part of his Computus and one now-lost manuscript contained a set of explanatory glosses to Bede’s De temporum ratione that may be Byrhtferth’s; see note 47 above. For a discussion of Byrhtferth’s Old English rendition of this passage, see Philippa Semper, “Byð se ealda man ceald and snoflig: Stereotypes and Subversions of the Last Stages of the Life Cycle in Old English Texts and Anglo-Saxon Contexts,” in Cochelin and Smyth, Medieval Life Cycles, 290–91.

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Ver et pueritia consentiunt; adolescentia et estas assimilantur; autumnus et iuuentus consociantur; hiems et senectus deficiuntur. Ver humidum et calidum, aer humidus et calidus; pueritia humida et calida. Sanguis, qui in pueris pollet, humidus et calidus est. Aestas calida et sicca; ignis calidus et siccus; adolescentia calida et sicca. Colera rubea crescunt in ; calida et sicca . Autumnus siccus et frigidus; terra sicca et frigida; iuuentus sicca et frigida. Colera nigra in autumno crescunt; sicca et frigida sunt. Hiemps frigida et humida; aqua frigida et humida; flegmata dominantur in senibus. Colera nigra (id est melancolia) in transgressoribus uiget (id est qui iuuentute sunt). Spring and pueritia go together; adolescentia and summer are similar; autumn and iuuentus are associated; winter and senectus decline. Spring is moist and hot, air is moist and hot, pueritia is moist and hot. The blood which prevails in children, is moist and hot. Summer is hot and dry; fire is hot and dry; adolescentia is hot and dry. Red choler flourishes in adolescentia; it is hot and dry. Autumn is dry and cold; earth is dry and cold; iuuentus is dry and cold. Black choler flourishes in autumn; it is dry and cold. Winter is cold and moist; water is cold and moist; phlegm prevails among the aged. Black choler (that is, melancholy) flourishes in those in a state of transition (that is in their iuuentus).53 As Michael Lapidge has demonstrated, Byrhtferth’s text here relies heavily on a gloss by Remigius (d. 908) on Boethius’s De consolatione philosophiae. Lapidge further notes that some discrepancies in wording between Remigius and Byrhtferth suggest that he is also drawing on Bede’s discussion of the four ages in De temporum ratione.54 Specifically, Byrhtferth clarifies what Bede had meant with the unusual term “transgressores” to denote the third age category. While Cochelin has suggested that for Bede “transgressores seems not to refer to iuuentus, but more probably to the stage starting at forty-nine” [i.e. senectus],55 Byrhtferth defines the transgressores as those who are in iuuentus, a stage of life that, according to him, lasts until the age of 48 or 50.56 53 54 55 56

Byrhtferth, Enchiridion 1.1, lines 103–13, ed. and trans. Baker and Lapidge, 10–13. Michael Lapidge, “Byrhtferth at Work,” in Words and Works: Studies in Medieval English Language and Literature in Honour of Fred C. Robinson, ed. Peter S. Baker and Nicholas Howe (Toronto, 1998), 31. Cochelin, “Pre-Thirteenth-Century Definitions,” 24; see also note a to Table 1.2 above. These age limits are not mentioned in the Enchiridion but elsewhere; see below.

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Byrhtferth used the same Latin terminology for the four ages (pueritia; adolescentia; iuuentus; senectus) elsewhere in the Enchiridion, as well as in a number of diagrams that were used to illustrate parts of the work. These passages and diagrams repeat the links between the ages, seasons and elements, and further develop the idea of tetradic correspondences. One diagram links the four ages to the four wind directions, while another draws a connection with four spiritual virtues: pueritia is equated with the West and justice, adolescentia with the North and prudence, iuuentus with the East and temperance and senectus with the South and fortitude.57 One further diagram survives in the two twelfth-century manuscripts that likely contain versions of the Computus compiled by Byrhtferth, for which the Enchiridion was intended as a handbook. This diagram is known as ‘Byrhtferth of Ramsey’s diagram of the physical and physiological fours’, although Byrhtferth himself called it De concordia mensium atque elementorum [On the concord of the months and elements].58 The diagram (Fig. 1.2) visualizes how various aspects of the universe (the elements, seasons, ages of man, wind directions and months) all exist in perfect symmetry. In line with the discussion in the Enchiridion, the four ages correspond to the four seasons, elements and wind directions in sharing the same combination of qualities. Breaking with his consistent use of Latin age terminology throughout the Enchiridion, Byrhtferth here supplies infantia as an equivalent term for pueritia. In addition, this diagram adds age limits for each stage of life: pueritia or infantia ends after fourteen years, adolescentia after twenty-eight years, iuuentus ends after forty-eight years and senectus ends after seventy or eighty years. Byrhtferth’s age limits for the first two ages correspond with those propagated by Isidore of Seville,59 while the age limit for senectus (ending at seventy or eighty) is likely inspired by Psalm 89.10 (“The days of our years in them are threescore and ten years. But if in the strong they be fourscore years”). The information provided by Byrhtferth throughout his Enchiridion and the diagrams ascribed to him is summarized in Table 1.4. 57

58 59

These diagrams are reconstructed as figures 13 and 15 in Byrhtferth, Enchiridion, ed. Baker and Lapidge, 76–77, 86–87. For a discussion of these diagrams and their didactic function, see Philippa Semper, “Doctrine and Diagrams: Maintaining the Order of the World in Byrhtferth’s Enchiridion,” in The Christian Tradition in Anglo-Saxon England: Approaches to Current Scholarship and Teaching, ed. Paul Cavill (Cambridge, 2004), 121–37. London, British Library, Harley 3667, fol. 8r; Oxford, St. John’s College, 17, fol. 7v. The diagram is reproduced as Appendix A. 3 in Byrhtferth, Enchiridion, ed. Baker and Lapidge, 373–74. See note 33 above.

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figure 1.2 Byrhtferth’s diagram in Oxford, St John’s College, 17, fol. 7v by permission of the president and fellows of st john’s college oxford

37

The Ages of Man and the Ages of Woman Table 1.4 Byrhtferth’s system of tetradic correspondences relating to the ages of man

Ages

pueritia / infantia

adolescentia

iuuentus

senectus

Qualities Humors Seasons Elements Wind directions Virtues Age limits

moist and hot blood spring air West justice 14

hot and dry red bile summer fire North prudence 28

dry and cold black bile autumn earth East temperance 48

cold and moist phlegm winter water South fortitude 70 / 80

Outside of the Enchiridion and its associated diagrams, Byrhtferth used the four ages of man explicitly to structure his saint’s life of Ecgwine, bishop of Worcester (?693–717) and founder of Evesham Abbey. This Vita s. Ecgwini (1016–1020) is divided into four books, in accordance with the fourfold division of the life course. In doing so, Byrhtferth hopes to demonstrate “qualiter […] sanctus Dei presul Ecguuinus enituerit in pueritia, fulserit in adolescentia, floruerit in iuuentute et in senectute ceu emeritus miles permanserit” [how St Ecgwine, the holy bishop of God, shone during pueritia, glittered in adole­ scentia, blossomed in iuuentus and in senectus remained like a veteran soldier].60 A set of glosses in the only extant manuscript of the Vita s. Ecgwini have been ascribed to Byrhtferth by Lapidge on account of the correspondence they show with Byrhtferth’s other works. The glosses to the Latin age terms in the Vita s. Ecgwini are as follows: pueritia: .i. .viii. annis [that is 8 years] adolescentia: .xiiii. annis [14 years] iuuentute: .l. annis constat [lasts until 50 years] senectute: innumeris annis constat [lasts innumerable years] pueritia: .vii. annorum constat [lasts seven years] adolescentia: .i. .xiiii. [that is 14 years] senectute: .i. .l. Sicut sunt quattuor etates hominis, sic sunt quattuor uarie­ tates mundi uel quattuor elementa (.i. ignis, aer, humor, aqua) uel tempora anni (.i. uer, estas, autumpnus, hiemps). [that is fifty. Like there are four ages of man, so there are four parts of the world and four elements 60

Byrhtferth, Vita s. Ecgwini 1.6., ed. and trans. Lapidge, 216–19.

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(that is fire, air, earth, water) and four seasons (that is spring, summer, fall and winter)]61 The notion in these glosses that the four ages can be linked to the four parts of the world, the four elements and the four seasons is indeed similar to what Byrhtferth propagated in his computistical handbook. The age limits for the ages, however, do not correspond to those provided in his most extensive diagram De concordia mensium atque elementorum. While the number of years for adolescentia (14) may in fact refer to the duration of stage of life, rather than the age limit, the age limits provided for pueritia (7/8), iuuentus (50) and senectus (innumerable years) are clearly different from those in the diagram (14, 48 and 70/80, respectively). It is possible that these numbers were adjusted in the transmission of the glosses or the diagram or that Byrhtferth, not unlike people such as Isidore of Seville, worked with differing age limits per stage of life. At the end of the Vita s. Ecgwini, Byrhtferth attempts to place the four ages of man in an elaborate allegorical framework: Ecgwine is described as attacking each of the four Gates of the Devil’s city in the four successive stages of his life; the four Gates are each manned by two evil leaders, whose wives represent eight deadly sins.62 As Lapidge has noted, the execution of this allegory is “idiosyncratic and inconsistent throughout.”63 Ecgwine first defeats Pride and Vainglory at the Eastern gate in his adolescentia; Anger and Strife are defeated next at the Southern gate, in his pueritia; at the Western gate, “ab adolescentia” [after? adolescentia, i.e. iuuentus?], the wives named Sodom and Gomorrah are defeated; and, lastly, in presumably the last stage of his life, Ecgwine defeats Fornication and Filth. In Byrhtferth’s allegory, the order of the ages as well as their links to the four wind directions are unlike those found in the Enchiridion and its associated diagrams, but its overall message is clear: the saint overcame sin throughout his life, from childhood to old age. With the exception of Byrhtferth’s confused tetradic allegory in the Vita s. Ecgwini, his treatment of the ages of man is marked by consistency throughout his works. The Latin terminology shows almost no variation, barring a single use of infantia as an equivalent for pueritia in his De concordia mensium atque elementorum. The qualities, seasons and elements that are linked to the four ages of man are consistently in line with the tradition represented by Bede. As will be demonstrated below, this consistency makes it unlikely that the 61 62 63

Byrhtferth, Lives, ed. and trans. Lapidge, 314. Translations mine. Byrhtferth, Vita s. Ecgwini 4.1–4, ed. and trans. Lapidge, 269–77. Byrhtferth, Lives, ed. and trans. Lapidge, 269 n. 5.

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diagram of the four ages of woman in Gonville and Caius College, ms 428/428 can be ascribed to Byrhtferth. 4

The Diagram in Gonville and Caius College, ms 428/428

The unique diagram in Gonville and Caius College, ms 428/428 (see Fig. 1.3) indicates the correlation between individual stages of life, depicted as women, and the bodily humors and their associated qualities. The earliest stage, at the top of the diagram, features a depiction of pueritia, shown cross-legged and raising her hand, possibly dancing. The text in the diagram associates pue­ ritia with the humor phlegm and the qualities “frigida et humida” [cold and moist]. The next stage, iuuentus, is depicted on the right side of the diagram, as a woman wearing a dress and holding up a stylized plant. Her associated humor is blood, along with the qualities “calida et humida” [warm and moist]. Mirroring iuuentus on the left side of the diagram is senectus, depicted as a woman with long braided hair, sitting on a chair and winding thread off her drop spindle onto a niddy noddy, or skein winder, to make skeins (balls of yarn). Her humor is identified as the warm and dry humor red choler or yellow bile. At the bottom of the diagram, decrepitas, depicted as a seated elderly woman, spins fiber into thread, using a distaff and drop spindle. Her associated humor is black choler or black bile, cold and dry. If the plant held by iuuentus is a flax plant, the last three images of the diagram show the process of spinning yarn in a chronological fashion: the harvesting of the flax plant; containing the unspun fiber on a distaff and spinning it into yarn with a drop spindle; and, lastly, making the yarn from the drop spindle into skeins, useful for measuring out, dying and storing the spun threads.64 The order of the spinning process is not matched by the order of the four life stages depicted: decrepitas (typically the last stage of the life course) spins the yarn, while senectus makes the yarn into skeins. Before placing the diagram in Gonville and Caius College, ms 428/428 and the contents of its accompanying text within the context of early medieval English 64

I am grateful to Christina Petty for helping me identify the objects and activities depicted in this diagram. Sears, Ages of Man, 24–25, has suggested that the spinning process here may be related to the idea of the ‘thread of life’ and that the artist chose to use female figures to represent the ages because of the connection between the thread of life and the female Fates. However, the four female figures may also simply represent the grammatical gender of the names of the ages, as is the case with other humanoid figures in this manuscript.

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figure 1.3 Diagram of the ages of woman in Cambridge, Gonville and Caius College, MS 428/428, fol. 28v by permission of the master and fellows of gonville and caius college, cambridge

life course schematizations and those of Byrhtferth of Ramsey in particular, the manuscript context needs to be sketched. The manuscript is in a single hand and contains only one text, the Tractatus de quaternario. This text is a handbook on tetradic cosmology, outlining the “quaternarii uim et potentiam” [the strength and power of the number four] as it recurs in the four wind directions, four seasons, four elements and various other tetrads.65 The text is divided into four booklets, each containing multiple chapters. Commenting on the manuscript’s illumination, M. R. James has noted how “[t]he volume is full of large initials and diagrams, roughly 65

Gonville and Caius College, ms 428/428, fol. 1r.

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but effectively executed. The figure-drawing is very unskillful, not so the ornament.”66 The diagrams are typically circular rotae divided into four parts, depicting humanoid representations of the four elements, the four humors, the four parts of the world, the four seasons, the four turning points of the sun, the four crescents of the moon and several other tetrads. The humanoid figures typically correspond to the grammatical gender of the nouns that they depict: in the rota depicting the four seasons, for instance, the feminine nouns hiemps ‘winter’ and estas ‘summer’ are depicted as women, while neuter ver ‘spring’ and masculine autumnus ‘autumn’ are male.67 Each of these sets of four is connected to the four qualities: hot and cold; dry and moist. The manuscript’s origins, whether English or continental, are unclear. The ornamented initials are in a continental, German style and the Pregothic round minuscule script, too, has a number of continental, German features. In particular, the form of the Tironian et, the little flag at the end of the e and the shapes of the nasal stroke and the narrow long s suggest that the scribe was trained in Germany.68 The hand can be dated to around 1150, on the basis of the presence of a number of ‘kissing’ and ‘biting’ letters.69 While the scribe may have been trained in Germany, this does not necessarily exclude the possibility of an English provenance for this manuscript, since many continental scribes worked in England after the Norman Conquest.70 A later annotation on fol. 36v shows that the manuscript must have been in England at least by the fourteenth century, since a fourteenth-century hand added the following, typically English motet: Jhesu fili virginis rex celestis angminis vbi nil tristicie nichil est molestie. Set pax et concordia et eterna gloria ihesu pie 66 67 68 69

70

M. R. James, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Library of Gonville and Caius College (Cambridge, 1907–14), 500. Gonville and Caius College, ms 428/428, fol. 32v. I am grateful to Erik Kwakkel who helped me localize and date the script. Erik Kwakkel, “Kissing, Biting and the Treatment of Feet: The Transitional Script of the Long Twelfth Century,” in Turning Over a New Leaf: Change and Development in the Medieval Book, ed. Erik Kwakkel, Rosamond McKitterick, and Rodney Thomson (Leiden, 2012), 78–126. See, e.g., Erik Kwakkel, “Hidden in Plain Sight: Continental Scribes in Rochester Cathedral Priory, 1075–1150,” in Writing in Context: Insular Manuscript Culture, 500–1200, ed. Erik Kwakkel (Leiden, 2013), 231–61.

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Jesus, son of the Virgin, king of the heavenly hosts where there is no sorrow nor affliction. But only peace and harmony and perpetual glory. O blessed Jesus.71 This addition suggests that the manuscript was likely in England two centuries after the text was written. Another potential indication that the manuscript was in fact made in England is that the book is dedicated to one “Hernalde frater dilectissime” [most beloved brother Hernaldus].72 Hernaldus is a name that, in this spelling, occurs in English sources of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, even though the name itself is typically assumed to be a continental German import.73 In sum, the manuscript seems to be the work of a scribe trained in Germany who was writing around 1150, possibly in an English monastery. 5

The Tractatus de quaternario on the Ages of Man

While the manuscript itself was definitely not produced by Byrhtferth of Ramsey, a number of eye-skips in the text suggest that the scribe may have been working from an earlier copy (or possibly a draft version of his own work). Further analysis of the contents of the text, therefore, is necessary in order to see how the diagram and its accompanying text relate to ideas about the human life course in early medieval England, particularly in the light of its possible attribution to Byrhtferth, whose texts and diagrams also survive in twelfth-century manuscripts. The Tractatus author starts his discussion of the human life course by outlining a traditional fourfold division of the four ages and their accompanying complexions: Est autem prima ętas adolescentia que secundum quorumdam opinionem calidę et humidę complexionis est. Et est ab ortu natiuitatis usque ad xxv vel xxx annum. Est et iuuentus calidæ et siccæ secundum eosdem 71 72 73

This motet is discussed by Renata Pieragostini, “Rediscovering Lost Evidence: Littleknown Fragments with English Polyphony in Bologna,” Music & Letters 92 (2011): 350–51, who does not mention the attestation in Gonville and Caius College, ms 428/428. Gonville and Caius College, ms 428/428, fols. 1r, 29v. See Thorvald Fossner, Continental-Germanic Personal Names in England in Old and Middle English Times (Uppsala, 1916), 33–35. The spelling Hernaldus for the German name Arnold is found in various English documents, whereas the German spelling is typically Arnoldus, although Hernoldus is also found. See Adolf Socin, Mittelhochdeutsches Namenbuch: Nach oberrheinischen Quellen des 12. und 13. Jahrhunderts (Hildesheim, 1966), s.vv. ‘Arnoldus’, ‘Hernoldus’. I am grateful to James Chetwood for sharing his views on this name in the context of twelfth-century England.

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complexionis ad xlv vel l annum perseuerans. Est et senectus frigida et sicca lv vel lx annum apperens a finibus suis. Huic succrescit senium frigidę et humidę complexionis. Quę etas sui temporis cursus termino uitę metitur.74 The first age is adolescentia which according to the opinion of some is of hot and moist complexion and this is from the onset of birth until 25 or 30 years. And, according to the same, iuuentus is of a hot and dry complexion, continuing until 45 or 50 years. And senectus is cold and dry, appearing at its end 55 or 60 years. Senium, of a cold and moist complexion, succeeds them, which age of its course of time measures until the end of life. The fourfold system here is similar to that found in Byrhtferth’s work in connecting this same sequence of humoral qualities (from hot and moist to cold and moist) to four consecutive stages of life. However, it differs from Byrhtferth in the terminology used as well as in the age limits attributed to each stage. Indeed, the Tractatus author here, as both Sears and Cochelin have noted, follows a system found in the Isagoge ad Tegni Galieni by Johannitius (Ḥunayn Ibn Isḥāq), the ninth-century Arabic physician whose work was translated into Latin at the end of the eleventh century.75 In three following chapters, the Tractatus discusses “rurs alia secundum philosophus etatum discretio” [yet another division of ages, according to philosophers].76 This turns out to be a sevenfold division of life, into infantia, pueritia, adolescentia, iuuentus, senectus, senium and decrepitas (see Table 1.5). The author explains that the “phisici” [physicians] divided the life course into four, in accordance with the four humors and the four qualities, while these philosophers based their seven ages on the seven planets. This correlation between the ages and the planets is ultimately derived from Ptolemy, whose works only became available in the mid-twelfth century, when they were translated from Arabic into Latin.77 Another crucial difference between the first fourfold scheme and this sevenfold scheme in the Tractatus is the sequence of qualities associated with the consecutive life stages. Whereas the scheme of the physicians shows a development from hot and moist (blood) to cold and moist (phlegm), the scheme of the philosophers has human life start out as cold and moist (phlegm) and end cold and dry (black bile). 74 75 76 77

Gonville and Caius College, ms 428/428, fols. 29v–30r. Sears, Ages of Man, 163 n. 69. Cochelin, “Pre-Thirteenth-Century Definitions,” 33, rightly notes that the Tractatus author pushes back old age by ten years, since Johannitius has iuuentus end at the age of 35 or 40. Gonville and Caius College, ms 428/428, fol. 30r. See Sears, Ages of Man, 52; Burrow, Ages of Man, 36–38.

44 Table 1.5

Porck Seven ages according to philosophers (Tractatus de quaternario 3.2–4)

Age term infantia pueritia (Age limit) (7) (14) Planet Qualities

Moon cold and moist

adolescentia iuuentus senectus senium (21) (35) (45) (55)

Mercury Venus dry, partly hotter and cold, partly less moist moist, partly hot

Sun hot and dry

Mars less hot, drier than the sun

decrepitas (70/80)

Jupiter Saturn partly hot, colder and drier partly cold, dry

Subsequently, the Tractatus author tries to synthesize both schemes and produces a scheme which is deemed “ueritate assistere” [to attend to the truth]. Naturally, the fourfold scheme of the physicians is preferred, but the Tractatus links this to the arrangement of humoral qualities proposed by the philosophers. The author also proposes yet another set of age limits, unlike the other two sets enumerated earlier: Table 1.6 The Tractatus author’s preferred scheme (Tractatus de quaternario 3.5–7)

Age (Age limit)

pueritia / adolescentia iuuentus (14) (45/50)

senectus (60/65)

senium (–)

Humor Qualities

phlegm cold and moist

red bile hot and dry

black bile cold and dry

blood hot and moist

The author then proposes, without providing a rationale, to change the names of the four ages into the traditional terms pueritia, adolescentia, iuuentus and senectus.78 Notably, these terms are still different from the ones used in the diagram of the ages of woman (pueritia, iuuentus, senectus and decrepitas), which does, however, show the same distribution of qualities (from cold and moist to cold and dry). In the remainder of the text on this subject, the Tractatus author defends at length the correlation between the ages and their proposed qualities, albeit without any further explication of the terminology used or the age limits provided. For instance, the author notes how children might seem hot because of their constant movement but those physicians who ascribe the 78

As Sears, Ages of Man, 24 has noted, this set of terms is similar to that used by Byrhtferth of Ramsey, which may have led some to connect the scheme to Byrhtferth.

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quality hot to children mistake this heat for natural heat. In fact, the author claims, children are actually cold and moist and people gradually lose moisture throughout their lives. This loss of moisture is caused by switching from watered-down food to more solid foods later in life and because of the “emissionem pubertatis puerilis […] libidinis […] etiam successiui seminis” [the discharging of youthful puberty, lust and also of superfluous seed].79 Hence, the last stage of life is ‘dry and cold’, just like the wood that fueled a fire ends up as cold, dried-out charcoal. As such, the Tractatus author dismisses the physicians’ claim that the ultimate stage of life, senectus or senium, is marked by the quality moist. This moistness, according to the Tractatus author, is “non naturalis sed accidentalis” [not natural but accidental]; it is caused by the degeneration of nerves, muscles and fat, not the kind of life-giving moisture that stands at the beginning of life: “pueri sua humiditate excrescant, senes incurvantur” [children grow through their moistness, old people become curved].80 Since natural moisture that is consumed in the first two stages of life does not return naturally, the last stage of life must be marked by natural dryness. From the above reading, it becomes clear that this text, like the manuscript itself, cannot be attributed to Byrhtferth of Ramsey. Instead, we are dealing with an unnamed author who is responding to new ideas about the human life course that entered Western European medical discourse between the end of the eleventh century and the middle of the twelfth century. In fact, the text appears to be one of the first of its kind to explicitly problematize the existence of varying ideas of the human life course and, in particular, the different opinions concerning the relation of the individual stages to the humoral qualities. The fourfold division that the Tractatus author eventually defends, moving from a cold and moist pueritia to a cold and dry senectus, is completely unlike the schemes propagated by Bede and Byrhtferth, which move from a hot and moist pueritia to a cold and moist senectus.



Whether writing homilies, encyclopedic works or prayers, early medieval English authors stuck to a flexible but uniform definition of the human life course into three main stages, pueritia, iuuentus and senectus. These stages could each be subdivided, resulting into divisions of life into four, five or six ‘ages of man’, which could be used interchangeably. Threefold and sixfold schemes typically followed patristic traditions of biblical exegesis, while the fourfold pattern had its basis in natural philosophy. The latter scheme features 79 80

Gonville and Caius College, ms 428/428, fol. 31v. Gonville and Caius College, ms 428/428, fol. 32r.

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most prominently in various works attributed to Byrhtferth of Ramsey, ranging from his computistical handbook with diagrams to his hagiography and glosses. The discussion found in the mid-twelfth-century Tractatus de quaternario represents a departure from the uniform system of life course stratification found in pre-Conquest texts. Specifically, the Tractatus author seeks to synthesize traditional connections between the four ages and the four humors, as found in works by Bede and Byrhtferth, with ideas about the human life course that had newly been introduced in Western Europe by the twelfth century. Incorporating insights from a sevenfold division of life, the Tractatus author comes to a new fourfold scheme with a completely different sequence of humoral qualities than that found in earlier works. The suggestion that Byrhtferth of Ramsey may have been responsible for the Tractatus and its diagram of the four ages of woman must be rejected on account of the Tractatus’s explicit dismissal of the fourfold life course definition that resounds so consistently throughout Byrhtferth’s literary output. Byrhtferth may have written a lot during his lifetime, but the Tractatus de quaternario should not be included in his ever-expanding oeuvre.

chapter 2

Weapon-Boys and Once-Maidens: A Study of Old English Vocabulary for Stages of Life Daria Izdebska Is a tween a child or an adolescent? Are young adults teenagers and, if so, when do they really become adults? What age exactly is a toddler? Though we all have a good idea of the course of human life from conception to death, the terms we use to describe specific stages of life are as fluid and changing as our cultural practices and preoccupations, and as dependent on the course of biology as they are on the social norms we impose on our biological template. In the modern age we have become used to subdividing the stages of our lives into ever smaller units – we count the life of babies in weeks and months, often marking minuscule milestones and tracking cognitive and physical developments step by step. We create new words to describe age groups as developments in science and medicine give us more insights into the minutiae of life, and as new social and cultural practices take hold, sometimes motivated by changing economic conditions. We determine the life of children based on their education and though the American term preschooler is self-explanatory, the British use of infant as a child attending infant school between ages four and eight can be at odds with the more common meaning of a baby less than one year old.1 In these terms we also encapsulate our attitudes to welcome or unwelcome behaviors. The neologism twixter applies to those who are caught ‘betwixt’ adolescence and adulthood, living with their parents when the existing social norms would have expected them to have flown the nest,2 and it reflects their suspension between previously more well-defined life stages without overt judgment, but the Japanese term parasite single, which refers to a similar phenomenon,3 is loaded with condemnation.

1 oed, s.v. infant. 2 Lev Grossman, “Grow Up? Not So Fast,” Time, January 16, 2005, http://content.time.com/ time/magazine/article/0,9171,1018089,00.html. 3 Kyoko Hasegawa, “‘Parasite Singles’: Why Young Japanese Aren’t Getting Married,” The Japan Times, December 9, 2019.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2022 | doi:10.1163/9789004501867_004

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In other words, language – the terms we use and the connotations that these terms acquire over time – is a good record of our mutually shared cultural understanding of the process of life in its chronological progression, but even to native speakers, the precise boundaries of these stages and their definitions may be difficult – or impossible – to determine. Though the lexical field for ‘stages of life’ is internally arranged in a sequential fashion, there are both overlaps and gaps in it. As we look at the Old English language as a record of the stages of life in early medieval England, the natural features of language – the fuzzy boundaries and multiple meanings – will still be there. However, the picture is further complicated by significant gaps in the surviving evidence, the literary culture that often drew inspiration from Latin models and adapted them to more native sensibilities, and the cultural bias we as researchers bring to the analysis, with our more rigid and precise understanding of the course of life. What this chapter offers, therefore, is not a rigid template, but rather a general sketch of the conceptual domain of the entire course of human life as expressed in the Old English lexicon, with all the conceptual and semantic ‘mess’ that such an analysis often entails.4 It attempts to reconstruct the cultural model (or models)5 of the course of life by selecting key terms for different stages of the course of life and looking at their senses (literal and transferred), etymologies, conceptualizations, phrasing, collocations, and frequencies to establish the possible boundaries and divisions of stages of life, as well as their cultural valences.6 Though the chapter has been structured chronologically into sections discussing infancy, childhood, youth, adulthood, and old age (in that order), as will become evident, the Old English course of life cannot be divided quite so neatly into these five categories.

4 Following Marcin Grygiel, “On the Cyclicity of Meaning Alterations in English Historical Synonyms of MAN/MALE HUMAN BEING,” in Selected Proceedings of the 2005 Symposium on New Approaches in English Historical Lexis (HEL-LEX), ed. R. W. McConchie, Olga Timofeeva, Heli Tissari, and Tanja Säily (Somerville, MA, 2006), 60–68, at 62, conceptual domain can be understood as an experiential category, i.e., the lived experience of being a human being, of which knowledge is then configured within mental spaces and given semantic structure. 5 Cf. Javier E. Diaz Vera, “Reconstructing the Old English Cultural Model for Fear,” Atlantis 33 (2011): 85–103. 6 Understanding a culture through its own terms has long been advocated by anthropological linguists, such as Anna Wierzbicka and Cliff Goddard; see, for instance, Anna Wierzbicka, Understanding Cultures through Their Key Words (New York and Oxford, 1997).

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1

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Scope and Methodology of This Study

This investigation will begin by identifying the relevant lexemes for the stages of life using A Thesaurus of Old English (henceforth toe) and the Historical Thesaurus of the oed (henceforth htoed), as other, more recent lexical, semantic or onomasiological field studies often do.7 A range of lexicographic resources (doe, Bosworth-Toller, oed, the Middle English Dictionary [henceforth med], Lewis & Short’s Latin dictionary [henceforth L&S], dmlbs, as well as the etymological dictionaries by Guus Kroonen and Vladimir Orel)8 will then be mined for senses of these lexemes to uncover conceptual links with other semantic fields and instances of polysemy. The quotations in Bosworth-Toller and doe will be treated as a type of ‘corpus’ in its own right.9 However, the main issue with relying primarily on lexicographic definitions and quotations in such linguistic analyses is the lack of information on the frequency and dispersion of terms in the entire Old English corpus, giving us a potentially false image of the salience of certain lexical items.10 Therefore, supplementary corpus searches will also be performed in the doec, using the software #LancsBox to construct more refined queries of these words in context.11 7

8

9 10

11

Jane Roberts and Christian Kay, with Lynne Grundy, A Thesaurus of Old English (Glasgow, 2017), http://oldenglishthesaurus.arts.gla.ac.uk/; Christian Kay, Marc Alexander, Fraser Dallachy, Jane Roberts, Michael Samuels, and Irené Wotherspoon, eds., The Historical Thesaurus of English, version 4.21 (Glasgow, 2020), https://ht.ac.uk/. Middle English Dictionary, ed. Robert E. Lewis et al. (Ann Arbor, 1952–2001). Online edition in Middle English Compendium, ed. Frances McSparran et al. (Ann Arbor, 2000– 2018), http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/middle-english-dictionary; Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short, A Latin Dictionary (Oxford, 1879). Online edition via Logeion: https:// logeion.uchicago.edu/about; Guus Kroonen, Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic (Leiden, 2013); Vladimir Orel, A Handbook of Germanic Etymology (Leiden, 2003). For doe, Bosworth-Toller, oed and dmlbs, see the Abbreviations page of this volume. For an example of using a lexicographic source – in this case the oed – as a corpus, see Kathryn Allan, “Using OED Data as Evidence,” in Current Methods in Historical Semantics, ed. Kathryn Allan and Justyna A. Robinson (Berlin, 2012), 17–39. Diachronic studies such as Grygiel, “On the Cyclicity of Meaning Alterations,” and Kate Wild, “Angelets, Trudgeons, and Bratlings: The Lexicalisation of Childhood in the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary,” in “Cunning passages, contrived corridors”: Unexpected Essays in the History of Lexicography, ed. Michael Adams (Monza, 2010), 289–308, often trace developments of semantic fields as well as changes in meaning of particular lexemes on the basis of lexicographic resources and the limited set of quotations present in these sources, which can lead to a sense of continuity that may not always be warranted, for instance, if a term is used in very limited contexts (e.g., one text type or one author), and does not otherwise occur in the corpus. V. Brezina, P. Weill-Tessier, and A. McEnery, #LancsBox v. 5.x. (software) (2020), http:// corpora.lancs.ac.uk/lancsbox.

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One set of data that has been challenging to integrate into the discussion of stages of life, but is nonetheless relevant, are lexemes which denote specifically a female or male human being at any (or a particular) stage of chronological development. These will be discussed in the corresponding ‘stage of life’ sections below, but a note of caution is needed as inevitably these words are highly polysemous and tie in with gender roles, sexual activity, marital, social and legal status, and even occupation, and do not always refer primarily to age, though for many of them a certain age is inherently implied. These complex relations are the subject of much insightful scholarship in a range of disciplines and reporting on all of them would exceed the scope of the present study by an order of magnitude. Thus, the discussion of the male/female person terms is focused primarily on the general semantic patterns that are directly related to age, rather than on a detailed contextual or sociohistorical analysis of each of these terms in turn.12 2

Infancy

Present-Day English (pde) has a range of words to refer to a person in the earliest stage of life, i.e. one which follows immediately after birth, is characterized by relative helplessness and dependency on the mother, and in which milk is the primary form of nourishment, rather than solid foods. Some of these words and expressions in pde are baby or babe, infant, newborn, nursling, suckling or, a more medical term, neonate. Looking at lexicalization and usage in pde, we could say that this stage of life is quite salient culturally and seen as discrete. By contrast, the vocabulary for ‘infancy’ is quite limited in Old English and overlaps to a great extent with the general vocabulary for childhood, the word cild being a good example of such an overlap (see Table 2.1). The two thesauri differ in their treatment of this field; unlike the htoed, toe does not even separate the category ‘baby/infant,’ which may reflect that the editors felt it would be an anachronism in Old English. According to the thesaurus data, the two main lexemes in this category, umbor and cild, can refer to babies, but also to children in later stages of development, though caution is advised when making sweeping assumptions about umbor, given that it is such a rare word (see below).

12

Hilding Bäck, The Synonyms for “Child”, “Boy” and “Girl” in Old English: An EtymologicalSemasiological Investigation (Lund, 1934), devotes much of his work to the concepts of ‘boy’ and ‘girl,’ with detailed accounts of the schemes of senses and quotations for each lexeme.

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Old English Vocabulary for Stages of Life Table 2.1

Old English terms for ‘infancy’

Thesaurus

Category no.

(Sub)category name

Lexemes

toe toe toe

02.03.01.04.01 02.01.04.01|02 02.01.04.01|05.05

htoed htoed

01.04.04.05 01.04.04.05.06

Child, in cradle (n.) cradolcild Infancy, the cradle (n.) cildcradol Newborn (adj.) nīwanācennedo, nīwcendo, nīwerneoa Baby/Infant (n.) umbor, cild, cradolcild Suckling (n.) dēonde (alt sp. diend), melcsucend, sucdende meolcdēond (Bosworth-Toller)b

a I am following the distribution flags employed in toe, with subscript ‘o’ marking a word occurring once or infrequently, a ‘p’ marking a word occurring only in poetry, and ‘g’ marking a word that occurs only in glosses (and often only once). A more in-depth explanation can be found on the toe website. b This word does not appear in either toe or htoed, but is mentioned in both Bosworth-Toller and doe.

The seemingly relevant compound cradolcild (with the pre-modifying noun meaning ‘cradle’) is rare as well, occurring only three times, exclusively in Wulfstan’s homilies. The related noun cildcradol, where cradol serves as the head of the compound to form a noun meaning either ‘the cradle’ as an object or metaphorically ‘infancy,’ is slightly more frequent with nine occurrences (mostly in Ælfric’s homilies and in his Lives of Saints), but only four of those relate to the stage of life, rather than the object.13 The three adjectives which can all be translated as ‘newborn’ occur only once each within the corpus and always pre-modify the noun cild. Once in the Old English Martyrology the adjective describes a child brought to baptism, and in the other two cases these render the Latin phrase recens nato ‘recently born’ and the word tenero ‘young, tender.’ Finally, the group of nouns denoting a suckling, or a nursing babe comprises a few forms based either on the verb dēon or sūcan, both meaning ‘to suck,’ with or without the pre-modifying meolc ‘milk.’ Once again, all of these are rare, appearing either in glosses or homilies to render Latin lactans ‘suckling’, often 13

The references to primary texts here and elsewhere in this contribution, unless specified otherwise, are based on the entries for these words in Bosworth-Toller, doe and/or searches in doec.

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in the context of the passage from Psalm 8.3 (“Out of the mouth of infants and of sucklings”). This suggests that while the introduction of these nouns into Old English happened under the influence of Latin thought, it was nonetheless very limited in scope. The use of verbs or adjectives together with the noun cild in more complex phrases14 is a little more common (and not limited to just the passage from Psalms), and lactans is sometimes translated with the phrase geong cild, showing that cild covers the period of infancy as well. However, this conceptualization, linking infants with feeding on breastmilk, also extends into Middle English and Early Modern English and seems to have been salient in the earlier history of English.15 The Latin word infans ‘newborn, infant’ is most often rendered in the glosses as cild (and cnæpling), but occasionally the adjective geong ‘young’ is added to the noun as a modifier. Infantia is glossed as cildhād, and occasionally specified as geonglic cildhād. However, it is also referred to as geoguþ or geoguþhād, i.e. a word most often translated as ‘youth’. It is not clear from this translation whether the Old English conceptualization of youth extended to the period of infancy, or if it was chosen to more accurately reflect the Latin term. The Latin infantia was etymologically related to the ‘inability to speak’, thus suggesting a much earlier stage of life, but it was often extended to mean the period from birth to around seven years old in Latin, i.e., ‘infancy, early childhood.’16 Geoguþ here could be seen as encompassing early childhood as well. Thus, lexical items for ‘infancy’ and their frequencies of occurrence suggest that this stage of life was neither heavily lexicalized, nor ever treated as separate from childhood in lexical terms. The lexemes that do exist in this subfield were formed on an ad-hoc basis in an attempt to translate passages from Latin and were limited to specific texts. Thus ‘infancy’ in Old English would be more naturally subsumed under and understood within the broader concept of ‘childhood,’ or even ‘youth,’ though perhaps with appropriate modifiers (such as geong) and disambiguated contextually. The Present-Day English reflex child has undergone semantic narrowing in comparison to its Old English etymon, with the sense of ‘infant’ or ‘fetus’ being replaced by the Present-Day English lexemes listed at the beginning of this section, though as the oed points out, the older sense is still retained in such phrases as to be with or have a child or in the compound childbirth.17 14 15 16 17

E.g., “of ðæra cilda muðe, þe meolc sucað;” “ða sucendan cild.” Wild, “Angelets, Trudgeons, and Bratlings,” 302. Shannon Lewis-Simpson, “The Challenges of Quantifying Youth and Age in the Medieval North,” in Lewis-Simpson, Youth and Age, 1–16; see also dmlbs, s.v. infantia. oed, s.v. child, n., sense I.1.a.

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Old English Vocabulary for Stages of Life Table 2.2 General terms for ‘childhood’ in Old English

toe category no.

(Sub)category name

Lexemes

02.03.01.04

Child (n.)

02.03.01.04|03 02.01.04.01|03 02.01.04.01|05.03

Child of gentle birth (n.) Childhood (n.) Childish, young (adj.)

02.01.04.01|05.04 02.01.04.01|05.02

Little/tender of age (adj.) Being a child/youth (pres.part.)

bearn, gebyrd, gebyrþeno, cild, lȳtling, magotimberp, umborop, wencel frēobearn cildgeoguþ, cildhād, cildylduo cildgeong, cildisc, cildlic, frumþyldeg lȳtel, mearu cnihtwesende, umborwesendep

3

Childhood

The picture of childhood and youth that emerges from a lexical analysis is complex, as it requires wrestling with non-discrete boundaries between the different (sub)stages as well as difficulties that are introduced by using Present-Day English and Latin terms that are not always well-defined and carry their own cultural valences and ambiguities. The two most common nouns for a child in Old English cild and bearn,18 occur c. 950 and c. 2450 times respectively in the corpus (not counting the additional compounds which take these as a derivational base).19 Both words can be used to denote either a person of a young age or a familial relationship of ‘offspring, descendant’ (for bearn also more specifically ‘son’ or ‘daughter’), though the predominant sense for bearn is the latter, while for cild it is the former. Etymologically, both also relate to pregnancy and childbirth: bearn comes from Proto-Germanic *barna(n)20 or *berno-(m),21 from the verb *beranan ‘to bear, to carry’ or ‘to give birth,’22 and ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European root *bher- ‘to carry.’23 Cild likely comes from Germanic kelþaz, related to Gothic 18 19 20 21 22 23

Discussed in much detail by Bäck, Synonyms for “Child”. These figures are found in the doe s.vv. cild, bearn. Orel, Handbook of Germanic Etymology, s.v. barnan; Kroonen, Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic, s.v. barna-. oed, s.v. bairn, n. Orel, Handbook of Germanic Etymology, s.v. barnan. Kroonen, Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic, s.v. barna-.

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kilþei ‘womb,’ though according to both Orel and the oed, the etymology is difficult to determine with certainty.24 Hilding Bäck proposes that the cild/bearn word pair is central to expressing the concept of ‘child,’ which the corpus data supports, but also that bearn was an earlier word, and that cild as a later word superseded it.25 Certainly, bearn occurs much more often in the poetic record in comparison to cild, both in terms of raw and normalized frequencies (i.e., per 10,000 words; in poetry it is roughly nf=18.34 for bearn and nf=0.9 for cild). Much of its high frequency in both prose and poetry, however, can be accounted for by the formulaic genitive phrases that refer to ‘men’ or ‘people’ in general. In poetry, “Godes bearn” and “manna bearn” occur 33 times each, while in prose occurrences of “Godes bearn” number over 120, and “Israhela bearn” account for a further 100 occurrences or so. Interestingly, bearn is also much more frequent than cild in glosses (nf=9.53 vs. nf=1.8), and again over 60 of those occurrences involve the phrase “manna bearn,” and 30 “dryhtnes bearn.” The high frequency of bearn over cild in poetry, especially as referring to youth rather than offspring, could therefore be a false positive. In prose, which on the whole does not use the formulaic bearn-phrases, the occurrences of bearn/cild are in fact comparable (nf=4.23 vs. nf=3.54). When referring to stages of life, both cild and bearn cover quite a wide chronological spectrum. Though in toe the only word for ‘fetus’ or ‘embryo’ is beorþor, which doe defines as ‘pregnancy, gestation,’ ‘childbirth, delivery,’ and ‘fetus, embryo; offspring, young,’26 some compounds and phrases, as well as doe data, suggest that both cild and bearn extended their usage to the period before birth as well.27 The phrase ‘to be with child, pregnant’ could be expressed as “mid cilde” and “mid bearne,” and there are a few different compound adjectives meaning ‘pregnant’ with bearn- as base and eacen ‘increased, enlarged’ as the second part of the compound, giving us literally ‘enlarged with a child.’28 24 25 26 27 28

Orel, Handbook of Germanic Etymology, s.v. kelþaz; Kroonen, Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic, s.v. kulda-; oed, s.v. child, n. Bäck, Synonyms for “Child”. doe, s.v. beorþor, byrþor, senses 1.a., 1.b., 2. This is also found by Bäck, Synonyms for “Child”, 8, 41–42. These would be bearnēaca, bearnēacen, bearnēacniende, bearnēacnod. For a good example of the bearn/cild word pair being used synonymously when referring to an unborn child see a medical charm for delayed birth “þonne þæt wif seo mid bearne and heo to hyre hlaforde on reste ga, þonne cweþe heo: up ic gonge, ofer þe stæppe mid cwican cilde” [And when that woman is with child and she goes to bed beside her husband, then she should say: I go up, step over you, with a live child] (MCharm 6, line 7). The short title here is the short title used in doec; throughout this chapter, these short titles are provided without further bibliographical information.

Old English Vocabulary for Stages of Life

55

The word pair can also refer specifically to infants or newborns, either when used as simplexes, or when occurring in such compounds as wǣpnedbearn, and wǣpnedcild, and also mægdencild and wīfcild, which denote a male and female newborn respectively.29 Cild and bearn can be used as general catch-all terms for children without specifying their gender. Though bearn does also have the more specific sense of ‘son’ or ‘daughter,’ these relate not so much to the sex of the child, but rather follow the sense ‘offspring, descendant.’ When the information on sex is needed, either the compounds with gender + cild, or alternative simplex words for ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ are used (as outlined below). Cild can also translate Latin puer and therefore specifically refer to boys in monastic or educational contexts,30 but this may suggest the translator had consciously shifted the focus to age rather than gender. In terms of age brackets, cild is used of children of schooling age of either sex in monastic contexts, but overall, it seems to be more commonly used to refer to babies, since the adjectives and prepositional phrases which collocate with the noun are centered around birth and baptism31 and their innocence, lack of understanding or ability to communicate.32 Other common modifiers include personal pronouns,33 focusing on the relationship between the parents and the child, perhaps stressing dependency and lack of agency or the kinship connection. The numerals that do occur with cild are usually quite low (e.g., twywintre, þrywintre, or eahta wintre) and the adjective geong also occurs several times. Another word with the sense ‘child,’ lȳtling, occurs c. 85 times in the corpus, both in prose and in glosses, but is absent from poetry. This word seems similar to the Present-Day English phrase little one, focusing on the defining characteristic of children as being of small size, not full-grown adults. It is also taken by Wild to be the basis for a subsequent group of size-related lexemes.34 However, the form itself does not survive with this sense into Middle English (littling is a ‘diminishing, reduction in size’), and its distribution in the corpus suggests that it may have been a nominal formation to render the Latin adjective pussilus ‘very little,’ or more often, paruulus ‘very small, little,’ which it glosses almost exclusively (38 out of 40 occ., predominantly in the Psalter 29 30 31 32 33 34

Bäck, Synonyms for “Child”, 159, 230, 233. As in the Old English translations of the Benedictine Rule or the Rule of Chrodegang. E.g., acenned, frumcenned, geboren, unboren, cwic, hǣþen, ungefullod, būtan fulluhte. E.g., unscyldig, unwittig, unscaþþig, unsprecend, dumb. E.g., ēower, heora, hire, his, mīn, ūre, etc. Wild, “Angelets, Trudgeons, and Bratlings,” 297.

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glosses).35 Even in prose, lȳtling occurs almost entirely in translated contexts,36 and when it is used in Ælfric’s homilies (10 occ.), it is found in direct quotes from the Bible, particularly in relation to the teachings of Christ on little children.37 Mostly, these occurrences refer to children already born or babies (as in the case of Herod’s murder of the Innocents), but there is also an instance where the word relates to Rebecca’s unborn twins. Even so, this usage does not seem to have become embedded in the language outside of those specific, Latn-motivated contexts and the age is size metaphor (or more specifically young is small) does not appear salient in Old English. From a brief look in the corpus, it seems that while the adjective lȳtel, meaning ‘young’, is used to modify cild or cniht ‘boy,’ these collocations do not seem to occur commonly, either.38 Bäck’s analysis supports this view, as both lȳtel and lȳtling “are dependent on the [Latin] word and have had no development of their own.”39 The remaining words for children are less frequent still, either in terms of their total number of occurrences or the occurrences of the ‘child’ sense, if they are polysemous. While gebyrd appears about 110 times in the corpus, its core meaning is ‘birth.’ It can mean ‘child’ by a metonymic extension to ‘that which is born,’ but this is rare. Gebyrþen (perhaps ‘that which is carried or born’) occurs only once, while umbor and magotimber show up three times, and wencel nine times. Susan Irvine and Winfried Rudolf describe these three lexemes as “colourful and curious words”, though I am not sure what is the nature of their ‘curiosity’, and follow Hans Schabram in his etymology of umbor as related either to Gothic wamba ‘womb’ or Latin umbo ‘boss of shield, navel.’40 35 36 37 38

39 40

Bäck, Synonyms for “Child”, 73–75, analyzes these correspondences in more detail and concludes that lȳtling depends on parvulus for most of its usage and senses, and that it occurs “exclusively in religious literature.” E.g., the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Pastoral Care, Genesis, Deuteronomy. E.g., Matt. 19.13–15 and Luke 18.15–17. Accounting for spelling and morphological variation, lȳtel cild occurs nine times in the corpus, whereas lȳtel cniht occurs eleven times. However, it should be noted that it was specifically the noun phrase lȳtel + cild/cniht, in which the adjective is used in an attributive position, that was searched for, rather than any verbal constructions or adjectives in predicative positions or phrases where, e.g., a different adjective would follow lȳtel. This could, theoretically, increase the number of hits by quite a number. A more in-depth collocational study of adjectival premodification could yield interesting results. Bäck, Synonyms for “Child”, 71. Susan Irvine and Winfried Rudolf, “Introduction,” in Childhood and Adolescence in AngloSaxon Literary Culture, ed. Susan Irvine and Winfried Rudolf (Toronto, 2018), 4–5. Cf. Bäck, Synonyms for “Child”, 78, who argues that a connection to Latin umbo is more likely and that it should be understood as ‘belly, uterus.’

Old English Vocabulary for Stages of Life

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Thus, cild, bearn, gebyrd, gebyrþen, and umbor show the sense development of birth – child. The semantic motivation behind these developments, as Marcin Grygiel notes, discussing the relations between birth and boy/ child, can be seen as a cause-effect conceptual blending, following the model of Giles Fauconnier and Mark Turner.41 Moving on to the remaining two terms, magotimber is a compound of magu ‘child, son’ and timber ‘material, frame, structure,’ which Stacy S. Klein suggests may “invoke the idea of a genealogical lineage and the family ‘tree’,”42 though it could be better understood by comparing it with a similar compound, fugeltimber, which denotes ‘a young bird.’ Rather than a link with trees or family lineages, it should be interpreted as a building metaphor, in which a bird or a child is in the process of developing, possessing the right ‘material’ or ‘structure,’ but not quite ‘built up’ or finalized yet. Finally, wencel is a polysemous word that can mean either ‘child’ of either sex or ‘servant, slave’ in Old English, and which in Middle English also developed the narrowed sense of ‘girl, maiden.’ oed derives it from *wankil- and relates it to wancol (adj.) which means ‘unstable, uncertain, fluctuating,’ perhaps echoing the uncertainty of a child learning to walk.43 In the majority of cases when it is used to mean ‘child,’ wencel alliterates with a word for woman/women in a coordinated noun phrase, either with wīf or widuwe, which is maybe also why it developed the sense ‘girl’ in Middle English, and sometimes wer is added for triple alliteration. The meaning ‘servant’ is not common – it only occurs in the translation of Gregory’s Dialogues to render Latin mancipium ‘slave, servant.’ However, the sense development child – servant is not unusual, so even this occurrence can be seen as part of a more general trend. The abstract words for ‘childhood’ as a stage of life are formed on the basis of cild and could equally have been included in the section on ‘infancy,’ although the thesauri do not classify them as such. doe gives the sense ‘childhood, infancy’ to all three lexemes – cildhād (c. 75 occ.), cildgeoguþ (4 occ.), and cildyldu (1 occ.) – a trend that continues in Middle English, with med defining chīldhōd as ‘the stage of life from birth to puberty or any subdivision

41 42 43

Marcin Grygiel, “Semantic Changes within the Domain boy in Panchronic Perspective,” Studia Anglica Posnaniensia 40 (2004): 156; Giles Fauconnier and Mark Turner, The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind’s Hidden Complexities (New York, 2002). Stacy S. Klein, “Parenting and Childhood in The Fortunes of Men,” in Irvine and Rudolf, Childhood and Adolescence, 105. oed, s.v. wenchel, n. This is also supported by Bäck, Synonyms for “Child”, 80; and Wild, “Angelets, Trudgeons, and Bratlings.” Compare with the Present-Day English toddler ‘one who toddles, i.e., walks unsteadily or in a faltering way’.

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of it; contextually: infancy, childhood, or early youth.’44 Once again, we see that youth is conceptualized as including infancy and childhood, not only from its Old English usage, but the continuation of that usage into Middle English. In sum, childhood was generally viewed as a stage that extended from before birth, included fetal development and infancy, and possibly ended at some point before puberty or the reaching of legal age. Etymologically, it had strong conceptual links with the physical realities of pregnancy and birth, by either referring to the bearing or carrying of children and the realities of birth (bearn, gebyrd, gebyrþen) or the womb (cild, umbor).45 Less frequently, it was associated with incompleteness or incompetence, and with having not yet achieved the full stage of adulthood (magotimber, wencel). Conceptualizing childhood with reference to physical size (lȳtling, lȳtel), although not absent, on closer inspection seems to predominate in Latin-inspired contexts and does not appear to have been a native conceptualization, nor to have been adopted to any great extent. 4

Youth

Though infancy and childhood were discussed separately above, there is a considerable overlap between the two, and they could also have been discussed in this present section. Youth in Old English is an even broader and conceptually fuzzy field, encompassing childhood or prepuberty, adolescence and puberty, late adolescence, or even early adulthood. Of course, using these Present-Day English terms is creating artefacts that are themselves fuzzy and non-specific, but they presuppose certain brackets or transition points. The inherent fuzziness of this semantic field is well evidenced in the Old English data as well, though it is the points of transition and the chronological placement of age brackets that distinguishes it from those of today. Youth as a stage of life is evidenced by several general abstract nouns, but there are also a range of lexemes that refer to young persons of either gender more specifically. I will examine the general concepts first, then look at terms for young people, and finally outline the most commonly found conceptualization and connotation patterns for this field.

44 45

doe, s.vv. cild-hād, cild-geoguþ, cild-yldu; med, s.v. chīldhōd, n., sense 1(a). See also Wild, “Angelets, Trudgeons, and Bratlings.”

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Old English Vocabulary for Stages of Life Table 2.3 General terms for ‘youth’ in Old English

toe category no.

(Sub)category name

Lexemes

02.01.04.01

Youth (n.)

02.01.04.01|05 02.01.04.01|04.01

Young (adj.) Young, immature, halfgrown (adj.)

02.03.01.05|03

(Collectively) the young (n.)

frumildoo, geoguþ, geoguþfeorh, geoguþhād, geoguþhādnes, geonglicnesgo, magogeoguþo, nīwnes geoguþlic, geong, geonglic mearu, sāmgungo, sāmweaxeno, ungeweaxeng, unweaxenp, ungewintredo [‘underaged’ (Law Af1)] geoguþ

4.1 Youth as a Stage of Life Though Table 2.3 may look as if it contains many words referring to youth as a period in human life, most of these lexemes are either derived from the same root or are infrequent. The main word family for this concept comprises geong ‘young’ (adj., that can also be used as a substantive e.g., ‘young man,’ ‘the young,’ at about 900 occ. in the corpus) and six nouns, out of which geoguþ ‘youth’ is most common (n., around 315 occ.). To this group, geongling can be added,46 which in toe appears in ‘youth, boy, stripling’ category (see Table 2.4), though doe defines it as a ‘young person,’ without reference to gender. These lexemes seem to belong to core vocabulary and can refer to an early stage of life, whether human, animal or plant. It is hard to trace specifically the physical or chronological age that geong would apply to, in much the same way as in Present-Day English we could use the adjective young to refer simply to the earlier stage of different age brackets.47 This usage is paralleled in Old English, where geong can modify 46 47

The noun is formed with a -ling suffix, which in Old English often has the sense of ‘a person or thing that has the quality denoted by the adjective’, see oed, s.v. -ling. Even though typically in pde youth is understood as ‘the period from puberty till the attainment of full growth, between childhood and adult age,’ a quick search for collocations in the British National Corpus shows that the adjective young can pre-modify the following nouns (in descending order of frequency): people/person (3987), man/men

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both nouns referring to childhood (such as bearn, cild, cnapa, cniht, cildhād) and adolescence or adulthood of both genders (esne, wer, hagostealdman, fæmne, mæden, wīfmann), as well as people or persons in general, regardless of gender (mann). The adjective is used as a substantive in Old English, and it has a large chronological scope from childhood to early adulthood as well. It is not uncommon to see youth in an opposing binary pair together with either maturity or old age (or both), used adjectivally (geong/eald) or nominally (geoguþ/duguþ). For the former, the comparison is usually in favor of youth, especially considering the connotations of old age as a time of decrepitude and sadness.48 For the latter pair there is a more specific sense of two groups of fighting men of different ages in Germanic societies – untrained youths and experienced warriors (see below, 72–73, for a fuller treatment), though Bäck finds geoguþ could on occasion refer to young people of both sexes,49 and certainly according to doe, it is used to refer to younger monks and younger nuns in the Benedictine Rule,50 who would likely be equally untrained and inexperienced in the monastic life as the martial geoguþ in war. Another example linking youth with inexperience can be found in Exeter Book Riddle 20, where the hagosteald could be seen as possibly sexually inexperienced.51 In addition, both hagosteald and geoguþ are used to translate Latin tiro ‘a young, inexperienced soldier, recruit.’ Among the other lexemes for youth, there is also frumildo which occurs only once and is a loan translation of Latin primaevo ‘first age, youth,’52 and nīwnes, which carries the metaphorical sense of ‘youth’ as something new, recently created or brought into being, for instance when it translates Latin iuuentus. It is hard to ascertain how frequent that sense is without a more in-depth corpus study, and certainly geoguþ is a more common equivalent for iuuentus.

48 49 50 51 52

(3955), woman/women (1707), child/children (1421), girl(s) (878), boy(s) (341), but also mother, wife, gentleman, son, etc. Thus, in present-day usage, it can apply equally to childhood, adolescence or early adulthood. The British National Corpus, version 3 (bnc xml Edition) (2007), http://www.natcorp.ox.ac.uk/. See Thijs Porck, Old Age in Early Medieval England: A Cultural History (Woodbridge, 2019). Bäck, Synonyms for “Child”, 163. doe, s.v. geoguþ, sense c.1.b, Latin adolescentiores fratres and adolescentiores sorores. Soper, “Reading the Exeter Book Riddles,” 860. doe, s.v. frumyldu.

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Old English Vocabulary for Stages of Life Table 2.4 Old English terms for young male and female persons

toe category no.

(Sub)category name

02.03.01.04|05

Male child (n.)

02.03.01.04|06 02.03.01.05

02.03.01.05.01 02.03.01.06 02.03.01.07 02.03.01.07|01 02.04.04.03.03.01 02.01.04.01|03.01 12.09.03|03.01 12.09.03|02 13.02.10.01|01.01 16.02.03.03.02|05

Lexemes

cnihtcild, hysecild, magop, mann, wǣpnedbearno, wǣpnedcild Female Child (n.) mǣdencild, wīfcild Youth, Boy, Stripling (n.) cnæpling, cnafa, cnapa, cniht, esne, geonglic, geongling, hysebeorþor, magorincp Whose beard has just come (n.) frumbyrdling Young man (n.) geonga, hyse, hyserinc Girl (n.) fǣmne, mǣg, mægden, mægþ Winsome maid (n.) healsmægeþo, wynmǣg Beardless, through youth (adj.) beardlēasog, ungebierdeg Boyhood (n.) cnihthād, cnihtiugoþ Young man without a household / hagosteald, hagostealdman, unmarried (n.) cniht A maiden, a virgin (n.) fǣmne, mægden, mægdenmann, mægþ, mēowle Young warrior (n.) hagosteald, hagostealdman, scealc, heorogeongo Young monk (n.) munuccnapa

4.2 Boys and Girls, Young Men and Women The Old English terms for young male and female persons refer to quite a broad age range, being used either for non-adult boys and girls, for people on the cusp of adulthood, or simply people who are not yet old or elderly. The male terms cniht, cnapa, hyse, and magu have a wide set of chronological senses and can refer to a child, a prepubescent boy (as in ÆHom24, in which a boy specifically of the age of 7 is referred to as a cnapa), or a young, usually unmarried man. Magu can also refer to a man without a specified age (though perhaps implied as an adult). Similarly, the female terms mægden and mægþ can refer to a female child, a prepubescent girl, or a young, unmarried woman. The poetic word mēowle is found referring to young women, virgins, or to adult married women. However, since mēowle is a diminutive of mægþ meaning

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‘little girl,’ just like its cognate, Gothic mawilō, it is likely to have been used to refer to younger girls as well. Bäck points out that poetry does not usually treat of female children, which may account for the lack of evidence for this sense.53 Two further female terms that are used to refer to young female persons, though not to children, are ides and fǣmne. Both denote young women or maidens, and unmarried women. However, ides does mean ‘wife’ in several instances and both ides and fǣmne can be used as synonyms for wīf to refer to women in general (with no indication of age or married status), and are found in apposition to each other in poetry.54 Ides has been the subject of a lot of attention in both literary criticism and etymological studies,55 and the connotations of this term seem to relate to physical, spiritual or political power, nobility, or courage, which is why it is often translated as a ‘lady,’ though in restricted contexts it clearly does mean ‘wife’ or, counterintuitively, ‘virgin.’ Fǣmne, though Bäck notes that it occurs with the sense ‘woman’ in older texts,56 is not attested as ‘wife,’ and over time shifts more towards ‘virgin’ or ‘chaste unmarried young woman.’ In addition, there are also terms for young men that seem even more restricted in terms of denoting an age category. Esne and hagosteald are both used for young, unmarried men, though in the case of esne the original sense was that of ‘a man of the servile class’ (as evidenced in a number of law codes), following on to ‘servant (of any age)’ or ‘youth,’57 while hagosteald is more often used for a young, unmarried warrior or a virgin of both genders. The suggested etymology as ‘the person who owns an enclosure’ is related to younger sons not inheriting the homestead, but a small patch of land, and as such not being able 53 54 55

56 57

Bäck, Synonyms for “Child”, 226. For instance, “fæmne æt hyre bordan […] widgongel wif” (Max i), “him Abraham idese brohte, wif, to hame […] seo fæmne wæs Sarra haten” (Gen A), or “ides sceal dyrne cræfte, fæmne hire freond gesecean” (Max i). Examples of literary criticism include Audrey L. Meaney, “The ‘Ides’ of the Cotton Gnomic Poem,” Medium Ævum 48 (1979): 23–39 and Christine B. Thijs, “Feminine Heroism in the Old English Judith,” Leeds Studies in English 37 (2006): 41–62. When providing an overview of the theories on the term’s etymology and putting forward their own proposal, Alfred Bammesberger and Joachim Grzega note that the issue has been “hotly debated.” Alfred Bammesberger and Joachim Grzega, “ModE girl and Other Terms for ‘Young Female Person’ in English Language History,” Onomasiology Online 2. Reprinted in A Recollection of 11 Years of Onomasiology Online (2000–2010): All Articles Re-Collected, edited by Joachim Grzega (Eichstätt, 2011), 228. Bäck, Synonyms for “Child”, 190. Bäck, Synonyms for “Child”, 159–60, suggests that ‘youth’ developed from ‘servant,’ not the other way around. doe seems to support it, particularly as the sense ‘youth’ is found rarely and predominantly in Aldred’s tenth-century gloss to the Lindisfarne gospels.

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to marry,58 but Tanke claims that this etymology is problematic and suggests ‘defender of the enclosure (of unknown type),’ which would make the sense ‘young warrior’ primary,59 from which ‘bachelor’ and ‘virgin’ later developed. 4.3 Boyhood, but Not Girlhood James Patrick Mallory and Douglas Q. Adams, when discussing family and household terms in Proto-Indo-European, point out that “the words for the two sexes are unevenly distributed, with the majority associated with males.”60 This pattern of lexicalization is evident in Old English. If we compare the sets of lexemes for boys and men, with that for girls and women, there is a clear disparity in the number and diversity of lexemes. Even discounting phonological or spelling variants, rare loan translations from Latin, or compounds which repeat a simplex element already on the list, there are 19 words for male persons and only 8 for female persons.61 This translates into a disparity in denoting the stages of life as related to gender as well. While ‘Boyhood’ as a stage of life is referred to with cnihthād and cnihtgeogoþ (often as a translation of Latin pueritia), an equivalent feminine abstract nominal formations of fǣmnhād (11 occ.) and mægdenhād (13 occ.) are not included in toe as age categories, but rather refer to sexual and marital status (i.e., maidenhood, virginity, or celibacy, often glossing virginitas).62 Mægþhād (which is much more frequent than the previous two lexemes, at around 190 occ.) is also used with the sense virginity or unmarried state for both men and women,63 glossing puritas, castitas, and virginitas. Potentially, we could identify two instances where the word could be used primarily in 58

59 60 61 62 63

Bäck, Synonyms for “Child”, 171; Harriet Soper, “Reading the Exeter Book Riddles as LifeWriting,” Review of English Studies, n.s. 68 (2017): 841–65, at 859; Kenichi Tamoto, “Virgin, Virginity and Maiden in Old English: The Old English Words Rendering virgo, virginitas and puella in the Anglo-Saxon Gospels: Their Semasiological Background in Anglo-Saxon Literature” (PhD diss., Jouchi Daigaku [Japan], 2001), 64. John Tanke, “The Bachelor-Warrior of Exeter Book Riddle 20,” Philological Quarterly 79 (2000): 409–27. This interpretation is also supported by Tamoto, “Virgin, Virginity and Maiden.” James Patrick Mallory and Douglas Q. Adams, The Oxford Introduction to Proto-IndoEuropean and the Proto-Indo-European World (Oxford, 2006), 203. Following toe: Male: beorn, ceorl, cnapa, cniht, esne, guma, hæleþ, hagosteald, hyse, lēod, mæcg, māga, mago, mann, scealc, secg, wǣpned, wer; Female: cwēn(e), fǣmne, frēo, ides, mægþ, mægden, mēowle, wīf. toe category ‘12.09.03 (n.) Unmarried state’, under ‘12 Social Interaction’ > ‘12.09 Marriage, state of marriage.’ Mægþhad is used to refer to both male saints (like John the Baptist, or John the Apostle) and female saints. Another good example that this term is not necessarily gendered

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the ‘age’ sense. The first is a gloss of pubertas, which dmlbs defines as ‘(age of) physical maturity, puberty, youth’, but which also implies ‘virginity’ contextually. The second example glosses Latin pedagogium, ‘a body of young people’. Considering the total number of occurrences of this noun, these are statistical outliers. 4.4 Strength and Its Lack Youth, as expressed by geong, is associated with strength not only etymologically, but also through collocations. Strength, vigor and health often co-occur with youth (e.g., geong and … strang, hwæt, guþhwæt, hal). In The Dream of the Rood, for instance, hardness and strength are expressed by two adjectives: strang and stīþmōd,64 with the first element of the compound stīþ- in its original sense referring to the physical properties ‘stiffness or hardness,’ which are then metaphorically transferred to the mind/heart. Stīþ when referring to disposition can be both a positive quality (resoluteness) or a negative one (inflexibility, obstinacy). In the Rule of St. Benedict on the correction and punishment of boys and young men (ch. 30), the adjective is used to refer to adolescents rather than children. The Latin text has “pueri” for the latter and “adolescentiorum aetate” for the former. The Old English translation renders “pueri” as “geonge cild”, but uses the noun phrase “stiðe cnapan” (and also “stiðe mædene” in BenRW) for adolescens, suggesting that a disambiguation was needed as cnapa/mæden could refer to both boys/girls and young men/ women, and the adjective stīþ would help clarify it. The adjective could be intended to mean ‘strong,’ or, as some Bosworth-Toller senses and our modern perception of teenagers would suggest, it could be used in the transferred sense of ‘stubborn’ (from ‘stiff’). The context of correction and punishment could suggest the latter. Interestingly, the characteristics of strength are contrasted by a set of occurrences quoted by doe from charters (Ch 1448 and Ch 1497 in particular), which show a specific sense of the phrase “geong mann” as a youth who is ‘not yet capable of full work’ as opposed to working men (“weorcwurðe men” or “wepmen weorcewyrþe”),65 so perhaps younger and not reaching the full physical abilities required when undertaking strenuous physical labor.

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can be found, for instance, in the Old English Herbarium, were the phrase mægþhades man, cnapa oþþe mægden ‘an unmarried person, boy or girl’ is used. In lines 39–40 Christ is described as “geong hæleþ […] strang and stiþmod” [a young warrior, strong and resolute]. doe, s.v. geong, sense I.A.1.a.iv.b.

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This state of incompleteness (which makes us recall the etymology of magotimber for child), seems to be a contrasting attribute of youth and finds its reflection in a range of rare adjectives that relate to the process of growth, defining youth as being ‘half-’ or ‘un-grown.’ Though they are rare, they form part of a broader plant metaphor which can be designated as people are plants, and more specifically age is plant growth, which will be discussed in the section on adulthood. The adjective mearu ‘tender, soft, delicate,’ which appears in the thesaurus data both in ‘childhood’ and ‘youth,’ could also belong to this trend, since mearu is used to refer to young plants, particularly in the Old English Herbarium.66 In Mark 13.28 it refers to the branch of the fig tree: “his twig bið mearu & leaf beoð acennede” [its branch is young and the leaves have grown]. The word “acennede” in this example also strengthens the relationship between plants and youth, as it is usually used to refer to human or animal birth, but also of fruits and plants with the meaning ‘to germinate, to grow.’67 But the plant connotations are not exclusive, and perhaps the main sense here, which links youth and tenderness, is that of something being easily damaged. In the Old English Herbarium, after all, the tender plants are usually crushed to bring out their healing properties. 4.5 Servitude Lexemes referring to people of young age often have the sense of ‘servant’ (of any age), particularly for members of the male sex. The associations of children with servitude are well-attested and often discussed in the European Middle Ages, and Patrick Joseph Ryan calls it a boy-youth-servant complex.68 In Old English, the sense ‘servant’ is found for cnapa, cniht, hyse, scealc, and esne, suggesting a boy or a young man who is undertaking duties as a servant or helper, and thus, by extension could refer to a servant of any age. The precise nature of the ‘service’ is likely to have varied depending on the context and the adults to whom the service or help was given. We have little evidence of the details, though Ælfric’s Colloquy presents a range of different occupations and the hardships associated them in vivid detail.69 In some cases, however, the service could have been military in nature – particularly for the older 66 67 68 69

“genim ðas wyrte swa mearwe” [take this plant as young and tender as possible] (Lch I (Herb)). In the same text, mearwe occurs around four or five times with plant matter, e.g., wyrt, croppas and leaf. doe, s.v. acennan, sense A.4.b. Patrick Joseph Ryan, Master-Servant Childhood: A History of the Idea of Childhood in Medieval English Culture (Basingstoke, 2013), 50. Ælfric, Colloquy, ed. G. N. Garmonsway (Exeter, 1991).

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noble youths. Bäck notes that cniht – from which Present-Day English knight developed – already had the sense of a military follower in the Old English period.70 The term esne could mean a ‘youth, ‘a servant’ or ‘a man of low status,’ but apart from glossing famulus and servus, it also appears to gloss Latin lixa ‘camp-follower, servant’ or ‘kitchen boy.’71 Mago, magorinc, mǣg, mægden, mægþ, and the diminutive mēowle, as well as magotimber, all based on the same root, can also be included in this group.72 The Old English word mago is polysemous and, according to Bosworth-Toller can mean ‘child, son’ in the sense of ‘offspring,’ ‘young person, servant,’ and ‘young, strong man, and man.’ Magorinc is also broad, meaning ‘child, young man, a man, warrior,’ though the sense ‘servant’ is absent. Mǣg, mægden, and mægþ all refer to a ‘girl, young (usually unmarried) woman, maiden, virgin,’ often in opposition to a married woman denoted by wīf,73 though sometimes the sense ‘woman’ is present (e.g., mægþa cynnes ‘womankind’). Though this sense does not appear in Bosworth-Toller, mægden can mean a ‘female servant’ in Old English as well, from which the senses for maiden and maid recognized in Present-Day English have likely continued.74 The sense ‘servant’ in Middle English is only attested from the 1230s on, however, so the question remains whether the usage continued throughout Old English into Middle English but went unrecorded, or whether it developed independently in Middle English, thereafter influencing the Present-Day English reflexes which have adopted 70 71 72

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Bäck, Synonyms for “Child”, 126. E.g., in CollGl 30.2 (Ker). We can find parallels for these lexemes in the early reconstructed list of family terms in pie, with both feminine and masculine forms (*maghus and *maghwiha- respectively), and which Mallory and Adams cautiously link with *magh- ‘be able’. This is also supported by Orel, who relates Gmc. *maguz to the verb *maga ‘can, be able to’ (and its Old English reflex mæg), as well as the noun mægen ‘might, strength, power’. These could be paralleled by the Latin pair uir ‘man’ – uis ‘power’. A young person is therefore one who ‘can’ or ‘is able’ to do things (perhaps in opposition to younger children). In this sense, youth once again would be associated with the growing strength, but Kroonen is a little more conservative considering *magh-u- a West European word of obscure origin. It would be interesting to further investigate if this group of words has an unambiguous link with strength or ability in Old English as well, through a more in-depth corpus study. As in LawIICn: “ne nyde man naðer ne wif ne mæden to ðam ðe hyre sylfre mislicige” [let no woman, whether she have been married before or not, be forced to a marriage which she dislikes]. oed, s.vv maid, maiden. Bäck notes that the sense ‘servant’ for mægden is very rare (2 occ.) and only one of them is unambiguous, when it translates Latin ancilla. The compound mægdenmann was likely used in the sense ‘servant or slave’ in Æthelberht’s laws. Bäck, Synonyms for “Child”, 208, 232.

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the ‘servant, help’ sense in favor of ‘young woman,’ particularly in such compounds as kitchenmaid or housemaid. This semantic range for words denoting youth is not surprising since semantic links to servitude exist in other Indo-European cognates for this word family, particularly the Celtic branch (e.g., Corn maw ‘youth, servant,’ OIr maug, mug ‘servant,’ MWelsh meudwy ‘servant of God, hermit’).75 In Old English, masculine terms show associations with ‘servitude’ more commonly than female terms, both via a greater lexicalization (more lexemes have this secondary sense), as well as more consistent and widespread usage. Perhaps this suggests that young females were not associated with servitude to the same extent as males in early medieval England. Though there is a sense that young people were different from adults as not fully capable of equal amounts of help, they were clearly able enough to provide increasing amounts of assistance as they became older. 4.6 Virginity / Unmarried State Prototypically, virginity and unmarried status are associated with youth/ adolescence, while childbearing and sexual activity are linked to entering the state of adulthood. With the introduction of monastic culture and various cults of saints, remaining chaste or celibate until old age became an alternative option, therefore extending the usual age range for virginity. In some situations, with the dearth of land and holdings, sons of nobility who could not inherit property, were forced to remain as unmarried retainers for much longer than would normally have been the expectation.76 Thus, we observe a semantic change, by which the sense related to age ‘young woman or man,’ extends to a young unmarried person, undergoes a metonymic extension to ‘virgin’ of any age and relates to sexuality instead. Both senses are then available at the same time and are disambiguated with the help of contextual cues. In Old

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Mallory and Adams, Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European, 205. As Tanke, “Bachelor-Warrior,” observes, Bede complains about this situation in his letter to Egbert, Archbishop of York: “There is a complete lack of places where the sons of nobles or of veteran thegns can receive an estate; and thus, unoccupied and unmarried, though the time of puberty is over, they persist in no intention of continence, and on this account they either leave the country for which they ought to fight and go across the sea, or else with greater guilt and shamelessness devote themselves to loose living and fornication, seeing they have no intention of chastity, and do not even abstain from virgins consecrated to God.” Translation from Dorothy Whitelock, English Historical Documents, 2nd ed. (London, 1979), 1:805.

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English, it is predominantly the female terms that gain this kind of polysemy ( fǣmne, mægden, mægþ), but some originally gendered terms which denoted young women (e.g., mægdenmann) and young men (e.g., hagusteald), become non-gendered, with a new sense of ‘virgin of any gender.’77 While Ryan suggests that “sexual positioning was the most obvious purpose of many terms of womanhood” and that the main Old English terms for females “indicated virginity, marital availability, or relationship to household heads,”78 sexuality should not be entirely conflated with marital availability. The social position of a spouse extends beyond ‘sex.’ Seen from this perspective, rather than as purely sexual, terms for men show a similar focus on virginity and unmarried or married status, particularly in the case of hagosteald, which as Harriet Soper notes, echoes the geoguð and duguð distinction between young warriors without land (and therefore unmarried) and the older, landed – and married – warriors.79 Youth in Old English seems to be a period of some contradiction – it exhibits strength, but also tenderness, the increasing requirement to help, but lack of experience or even the ability needed to work fully. It shows a broad chronological spectrum, and is also tied to emerging social roles, particularly those that are gendered. 5

Adulthood / Maturity

As can be seen in Table 2.5, the thesaurus data comprises fewer nouns than the previous categories, but more verbs and adjectives, and there is more focus on the process of aging. The main metaphorical links for this stage of life, therefore, have to do with either the process of growing/ripening (grōwan, weaxan, rīpung, etc.) or having or gaining strength (strengþ(u), duguþ, ā/gestīþian), and both groups are related to the notion of reaching full potential or ability (also expressed by geþogen and full- compounds). There are also nouns referring to adult men and women, though these are often tied to the societal roles or functions and more difficult to analyze as purely referring to age. As a result, this section will group lexemes into categories sharing the same semantic patterns in their etymology, senses and usage from the start. 77 78 79

Tamoto, “Virgin, Virginity and Maiden,” investigates the concept of virginity and lexemes associated with it in greater detail. Ryan, Master-Servant Childhood, 30–31. Soper, “Reading the Exeter Book Riddles,” 860.

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Old English Vocabulary for Stages of Life Table 2.5 Old English terms for ‘adulthood’ and ‘maturity’

toe category no.

(Sub)category name

Lexemes

02.01.04.02 02.01.04.02|01 02.01.04.02|02

To grow, grow up (v.) To approach maturity (v.) To grow up (v.)

02.01.04.02|03 02.01.04.02|04 02.01.04.02|05

To be grown up (v.) Grown to maturity, full-grown (adj.) Grown up, adult (adj.)

fullgrōwano, (ge)weaxan grōwan āstīþian, forþframianog, geonglǣcang, (ge)þēon gestīþod bēon/wesan fullweaxen, ranc

02.01.04.02|07

Maturity (n.)

02.01.04.02|07.01 02.01.04.02|08

Mature (adj.) Middle-age (n.)

02.01.04.02|09

Mature persons, elders (n.)

geþogen, geweaxen, werlic, gewintred æfteryld, rīpnesg, rīpung, geþungennes ealdlic, fullrīpodo, geþungen midfeorh, midfeorwe, midferh(þ)o, midfyrhtneso duguþ

5.1 Growing and Maturing As mentioned in the section on youth, there is a strong correlation between age and plants, and this link is more evident in the lexical range for the concept of adulthood or maturity, than for childhood or youth. Several verbs and adjectives (Table 2.5) refer to a completed process of growing or becoming ready for harvest. The verbs grōwan and weaxan ‘to grow’ are often used to express the idea of ‘increase’ of a range of concrete and abstract entities, from physical growth to a figurative one, and can be used for animals and plants, people, hair, wind, moon, the power of kingdoms, and even to emotions or cognition, like anger or pride. On occasion, weaxan and grōwan occur in a near-synonymous pair and, they can be seen as interchangeable, though weaxan is more generalized and abstract, and has a wider range of applications. Weaxan is the more common of the two in the doec and is used to refer to plants both in terms of general growth and sprouting,80 as well as being

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E.g., wyrt ‘herb,’ rixe ‘rushes,’ þornas ‘thorns,’ elebeamas ‘olive trees,’ pipor ‘pepper,’ etc.

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productive or fruitful.81 Grōwan is rarer in the corpus (c. 90 occ.) and has stronger associations with plants both through its etymology and its usage. It derives from the Germanic verb *ȝrōanan ‘grow,’ whose exact origins are unknown, but which forms the base for the Proto-Germanic *ȝrasan > Old English gærs ‘grass’ and the Proto-Germanic *ȝrōniz > Old English grēne ‘green’.82 In doec, forms of grōwan refer predominantly to plants (e.g., wyrt ‘herb,’ twig ‘branch,’ rixe ‘rushes’), whether in terms of increase in size, putting forth leaves or covering landscape with vegetation or germination and sprouting. It refers to age rarely, but by the same token the only occurrence of the compound fullgrōwan derived from it, is used to mean ‘grow to maturity’ or ‘become full-grown’ specifically in the context of age. Rīpnes, rīpung ‘maturity,’ and the adjective fullrīpod ‘fully grown’ are derived from the verb rīpian ‘to grow ripe, to mature,’ and used for e.g., vegetables/fruit/ crops (wæstmas) and fields (æceras) in autumn or harvest time. It is related to the same Germanic base as the Old English rēpan ‘to reap.’ Though these words do not occur very frequently in the corpus,83 they appear to be an instantiation of the same metaphor and refer to age as well. A short aside is due here to the word wæstm, meaning ‘fruit’ or more generally ‘produce,’ but also ‘growth’ and ‘stature, form,’ which Bäck derives from the verb weaxan with the abstract Proto-Germanic suffix *-ma-.84 It is used figuratively to refer to offspring (as the shortening of the phrase wæstm wombe ‘fruit of the womb’ or in compounds such as unwæstmbǣre ‘infertile, sterile’). While on the surface this example could also be linked to the plant metaphor, it is qualitatively different as infants rather than adults are seen as ripe fruit. This metaphorical usage has origins in religious language and, according to Bäck, can be considered “originally a Hebraism.”85 More in keeping with the previous set of words, though, the word wæstm, can also be used to refer to maturity and

81

82 83 84 85

“treowu […] wæstmum weaxe” (PPs, 57.8). Wherever the doe has not reached the appropriate fascicles yet, I have relied on a light-touch corpus search using the doec corpus files in conjunction with the software #LancsBox. The search produced around 700 occurrences for various forms of weaxan (though some may be related to weax in the sense of ‘wax,’ particularly in the Leechdom). Orel, Handbook of Germanic Etymology, s.vv. ȝrōanan, ȝrasan, ȝrōniz. Fullrīpod occurs only once, rīpnes occurs only in glosses (3 times), and rīpung – the most common of them all – comes at around 12 occ, again mostly in glosses to translate maturitas. Bäck, Synonyms for “Child”, 87. Bäck, Synonyms for “Child”, 87.

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adulthood in Old English. Ælfric uses it a few times in such phrases as “fulfre­ meda wæstm” or “fullum wæstme” [full growth] to refer to age.86 One passage, in which Ælfric uses this phrase, may provide clues as to the biological age in which one can be seen as reaching this full growth. In the homily on the nativity of John the Baptist (ÆCHom i, 25), the story roughly follows the account in Luke 1.80. But where the Gospel simply speaks of John as the boy or child (“puer”) growing up (“crescebat”) in the wilderness until his public appearance to Israel, Ælfric expands on it by saying that John lived in the wilderness “oþ fullum wæstme” [until maturity/fullness of age]. The earlier passages in Luke provide specific information about the beginnings of John’s ministry and date it to the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, generally understood to be ad. 29, which means John would have been about thirty years old at the time. In several of the examples above, we see full(-) as the first part of the compound or phrase (e.g., in fullweaxen, fullrīpod, fullgrōwan, fullum wæstme). Usually, it has an intensifying adverbial function (i.e., ‘very’) or indicates completeness (i.e., ‘entirely, fully, completely’). Fullweaxen, though it occurs rarely in Old English (at only six occurrences), has parallels in other Germanic languages (ohg follawahsan, mlg vulwassen, on fullvaxinn) and continues in Middle English with the sense ‘mature, full-grown’ and also ‘perfect, complete.’87 That point of full maturity does not have to be conceptualized as adulthood, but can sometimes blend into old age, as the only instance of fullrīpod in the corpus seems to refer to the most serious and refined of elderly rather than just adults, glossing senes, though here again the sense of achieving excellence might be intended.88 Thus, in the Old English words discussed in this section, we see conceptual links with both plants and with the notion of completeness.89

86 87 88 89

It can also be used to refer to the fullness of harvest or fruit, as in the oe translation of Lev. 26.3–5 where fulle wæstmas are used succinctly to encapsulate a much longer phrasing in the original which contains sprouts, fruits of trees and grapes or grape harvest. med, s.v. ful-waxen. In the Benedictine Rule it is used to translate Latin gravissimi et probatissimi senes. Similar links with plants and completeness can be seen in Old Norse for words formed with the prefix full- that refer specifically to being ‘full-grown’ or ‘of age’. Though they are based on different lexemes, conceptually they show some similarities with the Old English set of words. These are: fullorðinn ( “lytel cniht” in Conf 1.1.

decrepitas

senium

senex

‘aged, very old’ ‘old age, extreme age, senility’ ‘old, aged, advanced in years, an old man/woman’ 40 years and onwards.

senectus

senectus

‘grown, matured, adult’ from adolesco ‘to grow up, to grow’ (especially of age), ‘to increase, augment’

adultus

iuuenculus iuuencula

younger than seniores, i. e. between 20 and 40 years), a young person, a young man, a young woman’

forweared eald

foryldu, forwerednes, forwerennes, forwērignes, for-ealdung, hārung

eald (mann), forweoren, fullrīpod, gamol, gewintred

full yld, hārwengnes

geweaxen, geþogen, geþungen, gewintred, sprin(g)d, orped, snell, geong (1x)

geong, geongling fæmne, ides, mēowle

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Table 2.8 Select Old English terms for stages of life with their Latin equivalents, showing the overlap of senses

INFANTIA PUERITIA ADOLE­ PUBERTAS IUUENTUS SENECTUS DECRE­ SCENTIA PITAS cildhād cnihthād geoguþ midfeorh eald

+ – + – –

+ + + – –

– + + – –

– + +/– – –

– – + + –

– – – – +

– – – – +

As Tables 2.7 and 2.8 show, there is very little by way of clear-cut, one-to-one correspondences between Old English and Latin terms. This lack of consistency could be a result of a different understanding of where the transition points between different age brackets should be placed, and a much more detailed and precise nature of specific age group terms in Latin. Though Latin, too, has some overlaps, for instance adolescentia and iuuentus cover a similar age bracket (15–30 for the former, 20–40 for the latter), comparatively speaking, Old English lexis has broader remit than either of the Latins, and is often made more specific contextually, either through additional phrasal modification (such as geong wīfmann for puella or geong cild for infans) or compounding (cnæpling for infans or foryld for senium). Geoguþ (as well as related lexemes such as geongling or geong) is of a much broader scope in Old English than any of the Latin terms. It is used for infantia, pueritia, adolescentia, pubertas, and iuuentus. It is therefore much more easily defined by what it is not, i.e., not old age (senectus and decrepitas). Cildhād could translate either infantia or pueritia, which – mapping it onto the age brackets for the Latin senses – would begin at birth (for Old English even pre-birth) and end around the onset of puberty (mid-teens). Though for classical Latin the sense of ‘fetus’ is not found for infantia (L&S), it does appear in dmlbs. Perhaps this is evidence of a transfer from Old English to Anglo-Latin, where the range of cild and bearn influenced the use of infans. Such transfer could also be at work to explain why puella in L&S is very rarely a ‘slave,’ but in dmlbs the sense ‘female servant’ is not uncommon, and why puer in L&S does not refer to infants (below 7), but does in dmlbs.

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The words for boys and young men also show a considerable discrepancy, being more clearly distinguished in Latin (as puer for the former, and pubes or iuuentus for the latter).122 On the other hand, Old English cnihthād can be used for pueritia, adolescentia, and pubertas. However, while cniht translates puer, it is not used for adolescens, which is more commonly esne or geoguþ, geong. Esne, in yet another crossing of the semantic boundaries, glosses iuuenis as well, and cnapa can refer to either puer or iuuentus. Though old age seems to be the most clear-cut, with eald easily corresponding to senex, the remaining Old English words used for senium or decrepitas, formed with the intensifying prefix for- such as for-yldu or forwerednes are rare neologisms that never become established in wider usage. Most are used only once or twice in glosses, and only the past participle forwered is more frequent at 24 occ. (predominantly in Ælfric). Perhaps the only exception to the multifold correspondences is the Latin pubertas and pubes ‘the age of manhood or maturity’ which is only translated by cnihthād. This could be because the term expresses the semantic component of gender rather than age, considering that etymologically it could relate to the growth of a beard.123 Midfeorh is also limited in its use for iuuentus, but it is such a rare word that not much can be gleaned from this correspondence. 8

Conclusion

It is inevitably a hard task to interpret lexical data that show vestiges of earlier social structures, particularly with the distinction between young and old warriors, which may be not only Germanic, but perhaps to some extent more broadly Indo-European, and reconcile them with later material that is influenced by Christian and Latin thought. It is even more challenging to take the textual, literary realities found in the corpus and make them work with data from archaeology. The distinction between infants and other age groups reported by archaeologist Nick Stoodley,124 for instance, is not reflected in the 122 The note in dlmbs states that pubes is distinct from puer. dmlbs, s.v. pubes. 123 Some of the rare oe lexemes attempt to render this concept as well (perhaps as a loan translation), e.g., frumbyrdling. Frumbyrdling is also discussed in the contribution by Elaine Flowers in this volume; see below, 123. 124 Nick Stoodley, “From the Cradle to the Grave: Age Organization and the Early AngloSaxon Burial Rite,” World Archaeology 31 (2000): 456–72.

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lexicon, where infants are broadly subsumed under childhood, but the lack of marked divisions between the other age groups that Stoodley has identified is to some extent substantiated. On the other hand, there is also linguistic evidence for the two stages of child/adult, with an intermediate stage between 12 and 16 years of age, where certain conditions for ‘adulthood’ were met, but not all, as discussed by Shannon Lewis-Simpson.125 Table 2.9 is an attempt to summarize the broad overview of Old English age terminology provided in this chapter. Looking at the dividing lines (however dotted or blurry) and the slightly less hazy centers of focus for these categories, the main division does seem to be a bipartite distinction between young and old. Looking into further subdivisions, there is a broad notion of childhood that spans pregnancy, birth and early age, particularly when the infant is dependent on the mother. It is more difficult to say where childhood ends, but it may be related to the ability to help out with work – resulting in semantic developments to servitude. With this increased ability and strength, and more differentiated societal and gender roles, a person would enter the ‘youth’ stage. Though there are terms for male and female infants, these are inevitably marked compounds or phrases, but terms for ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ are simplex, unmarked terms, suggesting these are more core concepts. There is a clear gender difference here, in that the female terms are broader in scope, encompassing both ‘girls’ and ‘young women’ more easily, where the additional conceptual links are found in the secondary senses of virginity and chastity, perhaps showing a longer period of ‘girlhood’ until the young woman could be married. Though cniht and cnapa can refer to both ‘boys’ and ‘young men’, overall, the terms in this group are a little more distinct (e.g., hyse or hagosteald do not refer to ‘boys’). Perhaps this could relate to increased martial activity for the sons of warriors. As they grow in strength and vigor, they are increasingly required to participate in ‘adult’ activities, though this stage is also marked by inexperience and lack of training and, for young men, an increase in violence. With sexual maturation for this age group, we also see clearer links with virginity, chastity and unmarried state. There is not enough evidence to suggest that adulthood was seen as a category entirely separate from youth, though the terms for men as opposed

125 Shannon Lewis-Simpson, “The Challenges of Quantifying Youth and Age in the Medieval North,” in Youth and Age in the Medieval North, ed. Shannon Lewis-Simpson (Leiden, 2008), 1–16.

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to youths (both in the opposition of cniht/cnapa to wer/ceorl, and geoguþ to duguþ) create a much clearer distinction than such abstract nouns as cnihthād would suggest. Maturity, however, can be seen as a culmination point of growth (metaphorically compared with plant growth and ripening), and the reaching of full potential, as well as taking on the appropriate roles of husband and wife, and a change in status that could be related to owning land. In some cases, perhaps old age is also seen as the culmination of that journey, where wisdom and seniority are achieved fully, but frailty, senility and grief inevitably follow. If the above narrative and its summary seems a little bit too neat to be true, that is because it very likely is not. It is a flattened description of the lexical field for the stages of life spanning several centuries of linguistic and cultural developments. As the early medieval society and culture in England were changing, there may have been a few competing cultural models that left their record in the linguistic data, though for a large part the details of every-day life are not evidenced due to a primarily monastic and religious context of text production. The processes of semantic change (whether by metaphor, metonymy or loan translation) that were a response to these changes began and continued at different points in time. This, likely, accounts for such a broad range of senses for these lexemes. There is, however, enough evidence of differences between the Old English model(s) and their Latin and Present-Day English equivalents to see within that seeming chaos emerging shapes of a uniquely Early Medieval English way of understanding the course of human life.

[young]

womb, birth, pregnancy

[fetus] [infant] [child] [offspring]

cildhād

infantia, pueritia

Person pde equivalents

Stage of life in oe

Latin equivalent

[youth]

pueritia adolescentia?

cnihthād

[boy], [girl]

adolescentia, pubertas, juventus

cnihthād geoguþ

[young man], [young woman], [unmarried], [virgin]

strength (growing), servitude, virginity

[childhood]

Conceptual Links

Stage of life

Table 2.9 Stages of life in Old English

juventus adultus?

strengþu, fulfre­ meda/ geþungen wæstm, duguþ midfeorh

[man], [woman]

strength (full), ripeness, completion marriage

[maturity]

senectus senis decrepitas

yld foryld

[old man], [old woman]

grey hair, positive development, authority, wisdom, grief, lack of former excellence, decrepitude

[old age]

[old]

88 Izdebska

Female mǣdencild, wīfcild

hyse, hagosteald, mago, geong mann frumbyrdling

geonga

fǣmne, mǣg, mæg- geong wifmann, den, mægþ mægden

Select nouns Gender bearn, cild, lytling (for persons) neutral Male cnihtcild, hysecnæpling, cnafa, cild, wǣpnedcild, cnapa, cniht, mago mago

Table 2.9 Stages of life in Old English (cont.)

wīfmann (…)

cwēn, cwene, fǣmne, frēo, frōwe, ides, mægþ, mēowle, wīf,

ceorl, beorn, secg (…)

mann,

wǣpned(mann), wer,

ealdwīf, gēomēowle?

ealda, eald mann

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chapter 3

Alcuin and the Student Life Cycle Darren Barber Historians have been cautious and even skeptical when interpreting the Latin vocabulary associated with the life stages (gradus aetatis).1 Though classical and late antique tradition had defined terms like infantia, pueritia, adolescen­ tia, and iuuentus according to chronologically based categories,2 studies on early medieval education and childhood have characterized the usage of these terms as rarely adhering to this tradition.3 Pierre Riché warned that the designations for the early life stages were often applied imprecisely, and that early medieval authors used them with some ambiguity.4 But were these authors 1 This study is based on a chapter from my PhD thesis, “The Heirs of Alcuin: Education and Clerical Advancement in Ninth-Century Carolingian Europe” (PhD diss., University of Leeds, 2019). 2 For this tradition see Franz Boll, “Die Lebensalter: Ein Beitrag zur antiken Ethologie und zur Geschichte der Zahlen,” in Kleine Schriften zur Sternkunde des Altertums, ed. Viktor Stegemann (Leipzig, 1950), 156–224; Emiel Eyben, “Die Einteilung des menschlichen Lebens im Römischen Altertum,” Rheinisches Museum für Philologie, n.s. 116 (1973): 150–90; Elizabeth Sears, The Ages of Man: Medieval Interpretations of the Life Cycle (Princeton, 1986). 3 See, for example, Jean Leclercq, “Pedagogie et formation spirituelle du VIe au IXe siècle,” in La scuola nell’occidente latino dell’alto medioevo: 15–21 aprile 1971, 2 vols. (Spoleto, 1972), 1:258; Detlef Illmer, Erziehung und Wissensvermittlung im frühen Mittelalter: Ein Beitrag zur Entstehungsgeschichte der Schule (Kastellaun, 1979), 39–41; Matthew Innes, “‘A Place of Discipline’: Carolingian Courts and Aristocratic Youth,” in Court Culture in the Early Middle Ages: The Proceedings of the First Alcuin Conference, ed. Catherine Cubitt (Turnhout, 2003), 64. In his study on old age, Paul Edward Dutton observed essentially the same problem: “Beyond the Topos of Senescence: The Political Problems of Aged Carolingian Rulers,” in Aging and the Aged in Mediaeval Europe: Selected Papers from the Annual Conference of the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto, Held 25–26 February and 11–12 November 1983, ed. Michael M. Sheehan (Toronto, 1990), 84. 4 Pierre Riché, Écoles et enseignement dans le Haut Moyen Âge: Fin du Ve siècle–milieu du XIe siècle, 3rd ed. (Paris, 1999), 200–202; Riché, Education and Culture in the Barbarian West, Sixth through Eighth Centuries, trans. John J. Contreni (Columbia, SC, 1976), 447–48. Adolf Hofmeister had earlier made the observation that medieval usage of these terms could be more precise or figurative depending on literary and social context: “Puer, iuvenis, senex: Zum Verständnis der mittelalterlichen Altersbezeichnungen,” in Papsttum und Kaisertum: Forschungen zur politischen Geschichte und Geisteskultur des Mittelalters: Paul Kehr zum 65. Geburtstag dargebracht, ed. Albert Brackmann (Munich, 1926), 287–316, at 305–306. For example, Hofmeister, “Puer, iuvenis, senex,” 296, noted that the precise age ranges of the first three stages could remain understood under one heading, or a “große pueritia.”

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2022 | doi:10.1163/9789004501867_005

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only capable of using such terms in a vague sense, or were there exceptions? A careful consideration of Alcuin of York (c.740–804) provides a unique case study for observing a more technical usage of this vocabulary. In his educational works and letters, Alcuin differentiates the early life stages with a discernible degree of precision, and he appears to associate them with particular stages of educational and moral development.5 The notion that medieval authors had a vague conception of the gradus aetatis should seem odd, since Isidore of Seville had included the standard definitions for these terms in his Etymologies.6 Here, infantia lasted from birth to age seven, and pueritia from the eighth year to age fourteen. Adolescentia was different; it comprehended a longer period from the fifteenth year to age twenty-eight. This gave way to iuuentus, lasting until age fifty, which Isidore called the “firmissima aetatum omnium” [strongest of all the ages].7 Isidore provided these same definitions in his Liber differentiarum, this time in terms of hebdomades (hebdomas meaning the number seven or a period usually of seven days), referring to periods of seven years. The stages of infantia and pue­ ritia set a pattern, each consisting of seven years, or one hebdomas, but then Isidore notes that adolescentia consists of two hebdomades, or fourteen years, on account of development, or “propter intellectum et rationem” [because of intellect and reason].8 Whether they adhered to it or not, medieval authors had a well-established and definite system of the gradus aetatis available to them. For at least the last forty years, scholars have shown varying degrees of confidence when interpreting the term adolescentia in medieval sources. Perhaps to allow for inconsistencies of usage, Riché set an indefinite terminus age for adolescentia, concluding that it lasted “jusqu’à 21 ans et au-delà” [until the age

5 Edward James hypothesized that the early life stages, and specifically adolescentia and iuuentus, “were not recognized in practical terms as specific stages” in the early Middle Ages, apart from the theoretical sources that defined the stages. Still, he was careful to admit that an investigation of further sources, specifically the works of Alcuin, might yield different results: “Childhood and Youth in the Early Middle Ages,” in Youth in the Middle Ages, ed. P. J. P. Goldberg and Felicity Riddy (York, 2004), 15–16, 22. For the various divisions of the life cycle in early medieval England, predominately those found in Old English sources, see Thijs Porck, Old Age in Early Medieval England: A Cultural History (Woodbridge, 2019), 16–51. 6 Isidore of Seville, Etymologiarum sive originum libri XX 11.2.1–8, ed. W. M. Lindsay, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1911; repr., Oxford, 1957). For the English translation, see Stephen A. Barney et al., trans., The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville (Cambridge, 2006). 7 Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own. 8 Isidore of Seville, Liber differentiarum II 2.18, lines 1–7 (the quotation is line 7), ed. M. A. Andrés Sanz, ccsl 111A (Turnhout, 2006), 49.

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of twenty-one and beyond].9 Mayke de Jong heeded Riché’s warning about taking medieval references to the early life stages at face value, but still, in discussing references to children in Hildemar’s commentary on the Rule of St Benedict, she noted that Hildemar uses a definite system in distinguishing infantes and pueri from adolescentes.10 Isabelle Cochelin goes further, explaining that the early medieval definition of adolescentia, a fourteen-year period with an upper-limit age of twenty-eight, remained relatively stable until the later Middle Ages.11 For the sake of clarity and emphasis, in my translations I shall occasionally leave the terms adolescentia, adolescens, and adolescentes in their Latin forms. More recently, important works on Alcuin and clerical careers have expressed greater confidence in interpreting references to the gradus aetatis, noting instances where the use of these terms is meant to communicate their traditional and technical meanings.12 Cochelin, who is representative of this trend, provides a comprehensive summary of pre-thirteenth-century definitions of the life cycle, complete with corresponding tables.13 With regard to Alcuin, she notes his mention of the six ages of man in his Commentaria in S. Joannis evangelium, where he follows the Augustinian conception of the life cycle.14 The various conceptions of Alcuin, Augustine, and others are visually represented in Cochelin’s table listing definitions for the medieval West, an important feature of which are the vertical lines by which she separates the 9

10 11 12

13 14

Riché, Écoles et enseignement, 200. In one article, Riché translated Alcuin’s use of adole­ scentia in the most general sense possible, that of “jeunesse” [youth]: “Divina pagina, ratio et auctoritas dans la theologie carolingienne,” in Nascita dell’Europa ed Europa carolin­ gia: Un’equazione da verificare, 2 vols. (Spoleto, 1981), 2:729. Compare this with Jacques Fontaine, who had translated adolescentia with “adolescence” and the subsequent stage of iuuentus with “jeunesse”: Isidore de Séville et la culture classique dans l’Espagne wisi­ gothique, 3 vols. (Paris, 1959–83), 1:377. Mayke de Jong, “Growing Up in a Carolingian Monastery: Magister Hildemar and His Oblates,” Journal of Medieval History 9 (1983): 102–3. Isabelle Cochelin, “Adolescence Uncloistered: Cluny, Early Twelfth Century,” in Medieval Life Cycles: Continuity and Change, ed. Isabelle Cochelin and Karen Smyth (Turnhout, 2013), 147–82, at 167–70. Donald Bullough, Alcuin: Achievement and Reputation: Being Part of the Ford Lectures Delivered in Oxford in Hilary Term 1980 (Leiden, 2004), 105; Julia Barrow, The Clergy in the Medieval World: Secular Clerics, Their Families and Careers in North-Western Europe, c. 800–c. 1200 (Cambridge, 2015), 53–54. Isabelle Cochelin, “Introduction: Pre-Thirteenth-Century Definitions of the Life Cycle,” in Cochelin and Smyth, Medieval Life Cycles, 1–54. See Porck, Old Age in Early Medieval England, 50–51, for a similar table with early medieval English life cycle definitions. Cochelin, “Introduction,” 24; Alcuin, Commentaria in S. Joannis evangelium 7, pl 100:733– 1008, at col. 792C–D. For Augustine’s conception of the six ages, see also Sears, Ages of Man, 55–58.

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different life stages, some of which appear solid, while others are dashed. The prominent solid lines, Cochelin explains, represent partitions that were more clearly essential for medieval society.15 The dashed lines would then represent partitions that were less clearly essential. Cochelin observes two fundamental partitions of the early medieval life cycle, representing these with solid lines in her table: the line that separated pueritia from the stages that followed, and that which separated iuuentus from senectus. Thus, in broad terms, early medieval society emphasized three major stages: childhood (which might include infantia and pueritia), after which came “young adulthood” (the name Cochelin gives to iuuentus, which sometimes included adolescentia), and finally old adulthood.16 Although three stages emerge, Cochelin finds a striking lack of a middle age, since iuuentus belongs conceptually to the young life stages. Here, she proposes a fascinating explanation for this lack of a middle age, attributing it to an ecclesiastical or monastic perspective on life. This perspective, which emphasized communal bonds and spiritual dependence on God, she argues, would seek to avoid the notion of a “perfect age” between youth and old age, where mental and physical independence was attained.17 That an ecclesiastical and monastic perspective played a role in how clerics viewed the life stages seems beyond question. Still, an understanding of iuuentus as the “perfect age,” as representing full mental and physical prowess, would not necessarily lead clerics to associate this with spiritual independence counter to ecclesiastical values. The language of Eph. 4.13, “donec occurramus omnes in unitatem fidei, et agnitionis Filii Dei, in virum perfectum, in mensuram aetatis plenitudinis Christi” [until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to perfect manhood, to the measure of maturity of the fullness of Christ],18 referring to a vir perfectus and a mensura aetatis, conveys the notion that Jesus’s age at the time he began his ministry, thirty, or roughly the start of iuuentus, suggests a goal to be aimed at rather than avoided.19 Alcuin certainly viewed iuuenes as belonging to a perfect age 15 16 17 18 19

Cochelin, “Introduction,” 7. Cochelin, “Introduction,” 7–10. Cochelin, “Introduction,” 15–16. For the concept of “the perfect age” (perfecta aetas) over the course of the Middle Ages, see Mary Dove, The Perfect Age of Man’s Life (Cambridge, 1986; repr., Cambridge, 2009), especially chs. 6–8. The Bible translation quoted here is the Revised Standard Version. In his commentary on Ephesians, Walahfrid Strabo explained that in terms of human growth, “in virum perfectum” refers to the age that Christ had attained at the time of his death and resurrection: Epistola ad Ephesios 4, pl 114:587–602, at col. 596A. Haymo of Halberstadt also commented on this verse, remarking that some understand “in virum perfectum” to signify the age of Christ at his resurrection, whereas Haymo himself applied

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(perfecta aetas), as having reached full effectiveness in learning, teaching, and productivity. In fact, it may be argued that Alcuin viewed iuuentus as a distinct middle age, meaning that Cochelin’s dashed line between adolescentia and iuuentus in her table, at least where this represents Alcuin’s conception, might be drawn more solidly. In this way, at least for Alcuin, iuuentus appears to have meant something more like “prime of life,” still conveying the idea of “young adulthood” as Cochelin argues, and yet distinct from both adolescentia and old age. 1

Alcuin’s Differentiation of the Young Life Stages

Alcuin wrote a letter to the monks of York, which has been dated to 794,20 in which he describes his own childhood and growth to maturity while at York. Vos fragiles infantiae meae annos materno fovistis affectu; et lascivum puericiae tempus pia sustinuistis patientia et paternae castigationis disciplinis ad perfectam viri edocuistis aetatem et sacrarum eruditione disciplinarum roborastis. […] Et forte miserebitur mei Deus, ut, cuius infantiam aluistis, eius senectutem sepelietis.21 You supported the fragile years of my infancy with maternal affection, and sustained the wanton time of boyhood with tender patience, and with the disciplines of paternal correction you fully instructed me up to the perfect age of a man and strengthened me with the knowledge of holy disciplines…. And perhaps God will have compassion on me so that you will bury the old age of him whose infancy you nourished.

20 21

these words to the church, which he compared to a man who grows until he is a vir per­ fectus: In epistolam ad Ephesios 4, pl 117:699–734, at col. 720B–D. See J. A. Burrow, The Ages of Man: A Study in Medieval Writing and Thought (Oxford, 1988), 104. Hraban Maur, in his commentary on the apocryphal book of Sirach, noted that Jesus did not preach until he had reached the perfecta aetas: Commentariorum in Ecclesiasticum libri decem 7.9, pl 109:763–1126, at cols. 995D–996A. Hraban apparently relied on the commentary of Paterius, the notary of Gregory the Great, who made a collection of excerpts from Gregory’s commentaries. For Paterius see the introduction in Mark DelCogliano, trans., Gregory the Great on the Song of Songs (Collegeville, MN, 2012), 50–51; E. Ann Matter, “Gregory the Great in the Twelfth Century: The Glossa Ordinaria,” in Gregory the Great: A Symposium, ed. John C. Cavadini (Notre Dame, 1995), 216–26. Bullough, Alcuin: Achievement and Reputation, 127, 164–65. Alcuin, Epistolae 42, mgh Epp. 4:85, lines 21–23; p. 86, lines 10–11.

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Alcuin does not mention his adolescentia, and instead of iuuentus, he uses perfecta aetas to describe his prime. Nevertheless, he tracks the stages of his youth in regular order, and even completes the life cycle with senectus some lines later. In addition, Alcuin gives each stage its own unique character, and at each point he stresses the need for imparting comfort, instruction in moral discipline, and knowledge (eruditio). Among Alcuin’s writings,22 his Vita Willibrordi, composed as an opus gemi­ natum in prose and verse, is perhaps the one that stands out in sharpest relief from traditional literary convention related to the gradus aetatis. When describing a saint’s childhood, the hagiography of late antiquity and the early Middle Ages often used the topos of the puer-senex, the boy who is mature beyond his years, already possessing the saintliness of an old man.23 Martin Heinzelmann noted that when this topos was applied, it usually meant that details of the saint’s educational and moral development were excluded.24 For this reason, Alcuin represents a departure from hagiographical convention. In the prose version of his Vita Willibrordi, Alcuin tracks Willibrord’s progress with regard to his life stage (aetas), marked in years (anni) and learning. He describes how Willibrord’s father handed him over as an infantulus to the brothers of Ripon, “relegiosis studiis et sacris litteris erudiendum, ut fragilior aetas validioribus invalesceret disciplinis” [to be instructed in religious studies and sacred letters, that his weaker age might grow stronger with more vigorous disciplines].25 Alcuin then says that “ab ineunte pueritia” [from the beginning of boyhood], Willibrord progressed in mind and character through God’s grace, and as for the measure of this grace, “quantum ad tales congruit annos, concessit” [it granted as much as is appropriate to such years].26 Indeed, he does go on to 22 23

24

25 26

For a key to Alcuin’s writings, see Marie-Hélène Jullien and Françoise Perelman, eds., Clavis scriptorum latinorum medii aevi: Auctores Galliae, 735–987, vol. 2, Alcuin (Turnhout, 1999). For background see Ernst Robert Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, trans. Willard R. Trask (London, 1953), 98–101; Burrow, Ages of Man, 95–134; on the puersenex motif in Anglo-Saxon hagiography, see Porck, Old Age in Early Medieval England, 118–21. The puer-senex topos has been said to represent an “extreme compression of the notion of life cycle”: Teresa C. Carp, “Puer senex in Roman and Medieval Thought,” Latomus 39 (1980): 736. Martin Heinzelmann, “Studia sanctorum: Éducation, milieux d’instruction et valeurs éducatives dans l’hagiographie en Gaule jusqu’à la fin de l’époque mérovingienne,” in Haut Moyen-Âge: Culture, éducation et société, études offertes à Pierre Riché, ed. Michel Sot (La Garenne-Colombes, 1990), 109. Alcuin, Vita sancti Willibrordi. Das Leben des heiligen Willibrord 1.3.2, ed. and trans. Paul Dräger (Trier, 2008), 20. The English translations of this text are my own. Alcuin, Vita sancti Willibrordi 1.3.3, ed. Dräger, 20.

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describe Willibrord as mature beyond his years, as becoming aged (grandae­ vus) in terms of understanding. But Alcuin does not simply make Willibrord a puer-senex in terms of piety, he also makes him a puer-adolescens in devotion and learning: Ibique in praedicto monasterio multis profuturus puer clericatus accepit tonsuram et pia professione monachum se fecit esse et inter ceteros eiusdem sanctissimi monasterii adoliscentes enutritus, sed nulli alacritate minor, nulli humilitatis officio secundus, nulli lectionis studio inferior; sed sic cotidie boni indolis puer proficiebat, ut teneros pueritiae annos morum gravitate transcenderet, factusque est grandevus sensu, qui corpusculo fuit modicus et fragilis.27 And there in the aforementioned monastery, the boy who would benefit many received the clerical tonsure, and by pious profession made himself a monk, and he was nurtured in the midst of the others, adolescentes, of the same most holy monastery. But he was lesser than no one in alacrity, second to none in the duty of humility, inferior to no one in the diligence of reading, but daily the boy of good nature progressed so much that in seriousness of character he transcended the tender years of boyhood: and he became aged in understanding who was little and frail in body. Alcuin does not generalize in making Willibrord a child saint with an old soul; rather, he makes him a boy (puer), in the years of boyhood (pueritiae anni), at the head of his class among adolescentes.28 Alcuin continues to describe Willibrord’s development in the very next line, referring to him now as an adolescens, progressing in sacred learning (sacrae eruditiones) and character “usque ad vicessimum aetatis suae annum” [until the twentieth year of his age].29 When he heard that school learning (scholastica eruditio) was thriving in Ireland, Alcuin says that Willibrord, the “beatus adoliscens,” spent twelve years there until, having been instructed, he reached the age of a vir perfectus, and immediately after this Alcuin describes him as being in his thirty-third year:

27 28

29

Alcuin, Vita sancti Willibrordi 1.3.4–5, ed. Dräger, 20, 22. This clarifies the more general observation of Burrow, Ages of Man, 99–100. Porck, Old Age in Early Medieval England, 120–21, notes that Burrow included some cases of saints transcending their youth as examples of the puer-senex or puella-senex motif, when in fact these saints are described as possessing the maturity of adulthood rather than old age. Alcuin, Vita sancti Willibrordi 1.4.1, ed. Dräger, 22.

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Ibique duodecim annis inter eximios simul piae relegionis et sacrae lectionis magistros futurus multorum populorum praedicator erudiebatur, donec occurreret in virum perfectum et in aetatem plenitudinis Christi. Tricessimo itaque et tertio aetatis suae anno […]30 And there, for twelve years, among exceptional teachers of both pious religion and the sacred text, the future preacher of many peoples was instructed, until he reached a perfectly mature man and the age of the fullness of Christ. And there also in the thirty-third year of his age … Thus, Alcuin characterizes Willibrord’s youth as a process of learning involving each of the young life stages, and he describes the end of the twelve-year period that concludes his formal instruction as the time when Willibrord becomes a vir perfectus. It is unclear what exactly Willibrord studies at each stage of his youth, apart from the sacred text.31 Alcuin appears to treat religiosa studia, sacrae litterae, sacrae eruditiones, scholastica eruditio, and sacra lectio as generally inclusive terms for the learning that Willibrord pursues throughout his youth. What is clear, though, is that Alcuin emphasizes Willibrord’s learning, and he characterizes Willibrord’s early life in terms of distinct stages, the gradus aetatis, marked by years (anni) and even his precise age.32 In his work, The Bishops, Kings, and Saints of York, or “York Poem,” Alcuin presents his former teacher, Ælberht, as having had a model education and early career.33 Alcuin portrays Ælberht’s youth as an ordered progression of three strands of development, one in which education, age (or life stage), and ecclesiastical rank all proceed according to parallel increments, and Alcuin describes him as puer, adolescens, and iuuenis. 30 31 32

33

Alcuin, Vita sancti Willibrordi 1.4.2–1.5.1 (the main quotation is 1.4.4–1.5.1), ed. Dräger, 22. Bullough, Alcuin: Achievement and Reputation, 224–25, noted the vagueness of Alcuin’s treatment of Willibrord’s biblical instruction. Elsewhere in his hagiography, Alcuin describes the youth of St. Martin, a saint of late antiquity, only in terms of his conversion from military to religious life, adding that in his adolescentia, Martin joined himself to Hilary of Poitiers, “ut tanti viri eruditus exemplis Christianam fortior processisset ad pugnam” [so that, instructed by the examples of such a man, he advanced stronger to the Christian fight]; Alcuin, Vita s. Martini Turonensis, pl 101:657–62, at col. 659C. For Ælberht’s central role as a father-figure in Alcuin’s life, see Mary Garrison, “Early Medieval Experiences of Grief and Separation through the Eyes of Alcuin and Others: The Grief and Gratitude of the Oblate,” in Anglo-Saxon Emotions: Reading the Heart in Old English Language, Literature and Culture, ed. Alice Jorgensen, Frances McCormack, and Jonathan Wilcox (Farnham, 2015; repr., London, 2019), 238–40.

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Hic fuit ergo satis claris genitoribus ortus: ex quorum cura studiis mox traditur almis atque monasterio puerilibus inditur annis, sensibus ut fragilis sacris adolesceret aetas. De puero nec cassa fuit spes tanta parentum. Iam puer egregius crescebat corpore quantum, ingenio tantum librorum proficiebat. Sic meritis crescens annis et mente sagaci iam levita sacer condigno est ordine factus. Hunc bene dum felix adolescens gessit honorem, iura sacerdotii iuvenis suscepit honestus, cresceret ut gradibus, meritis qui creverat almis. Tunc pius et prudens doctor simul atque sacerdos […]34 He was born of fairly honorable parents by whose care he was soon given to wholesome studies, and placed into the monastery in his boyhood years, that his fragile time of life might grow in holy affections. Nor was such great hope of his parents concerning their son in vain. Soon the outstanding boy was growing up as much in body, as he was progressing in his inclination toward books. Thus growing in merits, years, and a keen mind, soon, in a grade most fitting,35 he was made holy deacon. During which time the happy youth bore this honor well, the honorable young man took up the duties of the priesthood, so that he advanced by ranks, who had grown in beneficial merits. Then, a pious and wise doctor and at the same time priest … First, Alcuin establishes a pattern where, as a puer, Ælberht grows as much (quantum) in body as (tantum) he progresses in book learning. His parallel growth in merita, anni, and mens sagax sets up a coordination of life stages and ecclesiastical ranks, where Ælberht is an adolescens as deacon, then a iuue­ nis as priest.36 In this way, he is said to have advanced by gradus, a term that clearly refers to the ecclesiastical ranks, but which is also directly applicable to 34 35 36

Alcuin, The Bishops, Kings, and Saints of York, lines 1415–27, ed. and trans. Peter Godman (Oxford, 1982; repr., Oxford, 1988), 110, 112. For the interpretation of this phrase, see Barrow, Clergy in the Medieval World, 54 and n. 136. Alcuin, Bishops, Kings, and Saints of York, lines 1422–26, ed. Godman, 110.

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the life stages as well as to education. Isidore of Seville had referred to the life stages as the gradus aetatis, and Alcuin himself, in his dialogue on Christian knowledge and wisdom, the Disputatio de vera philosophia, compares the liberal arts to gradus (steps) leading to perfect knowledge.37 2

The Young Life Stages and Levels of Learning

Alcuin connects the life stages more directly with educational development in his Disputatio de vera philosophia. This work served as Alcuin’s general introduction to the liberal arts and sometimes preceded his Grammatica in early manuscripts.38 Here, Alcuin likens the liberal arts to paths on which his pupils are to run during one stage of life, that they might be strengthened for higher studies in the next: Per has vero, filii charissimi, semitas vestra quotidie currat adolescentia, donec perfectior aetas et animus sensu robustior ad culmina sanctarum Scripturarum perveniat.39 Just so, dearest sons, let your adolescentia run daily along these paths, until your more perfect age and your mind, stronger in understanding, may reach to the heights of the Holy Scriptures. Their adolescentia is to be devoted to the more basic instruction of the arts, while their perfectior aetas (more perfect age) is associated with a stronger mind that comprehends the higher things of Scripture. Alcuin is doubtlessly alluding to iuuentus, the firmissima aetatum as Isidore defined it, since this follows directly after adolescentia. That Alcuin uses these terms according to their definitions becomes more apparent in his Grammatica, which proceeds as a dialogue between a teacher and his students, and particularly two students who represent their schoolmates under the names of Franco and Saxo. Alcuin describes them as having “nuperrime spineta grammaticae densitatis irruperunt” [very recently broken into the thickets of the density of grammar], 37 38

39

Isidore of Seville, Etymologiarum 11.2.1; Alcuin, Disputatio de vera philosophia, pl 101:849– 54, at col. 853D. Examples include Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 6404, fols. 2–4v; Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, ms lat. 7559, fols. 69–73v; St Gall, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 268, pp. 3–18; Trier, Stadtbibliothek/Stadtarchiv, Hs. 1104/1321, fols. 93v–97v. For manuscripts and bibliography, see Jullien and Perelman, Clavis, 2:162–63. Alcuin, Disputatio de vera philosophia, pl 101:854A.

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and then Alcuin has one of them relate their ages; the young Frank says that he is fourteen, and he proposes to ask questions while his Saxon counterpart, who is fifteen, responds.40 In other words, Franco is in his fifteenth year, the formal beginning of adolescentia, and he considers Saxo, just a year older, to be slightly more advanced than himself. Alcuin does more than just associate adolescentia with the liberal arts; as further examples show, when taken with the example above, he associates each of the young life stages with a particular subject, task, or level of learning. In a letter that he wrote to monks in Ireland sometime between 792 and 804, Alcuin prescribes a course of studies for their community, and in doing so he refers to the early life stages. In the opening, he addresses the monks under three headings: patres, fratres, and filii.41 Then, when describing various studies, he uses iuuenes, infantes, and the stage of adolescentia, mentioning the eldest first, the iuuenes, followed by the youngest, who must ascend by parallel increments of years and wisdom through the moral perils of adolescentia: Unde, sanctissimi patres, exhortamini iuvenes vestros, ut diligentissime catholicorum doctorum discant traditiones, et catholicae fidei rationes omni intentione adprehendere studeant, quia sine fide Deo inpossibile est placere. Nec tamen saecularium litterarum contempnenda est scientia, sed quasi quoddam fundamentum tenerae infantium aetati tradenda est grammatica, aliaeque philosophicae subtilitatis disciplinae, quatenus quibusdam sapientiae gradibus ad altissimum evangelicae perfectionis culmen ascendere valeant; et iuxta annorum augmentum sapientiae quoque accrescant divitiae. Nec ferventem adolescentiae flammam sinite per praecipitia vitiorum corruere.42 Therefore, most holy fathers, exhort your young men to learn most diligently the traditions of the catholic doctors, and to strive with every effort to understand the doctrines of the catholic faith, because without faith it is impossible to please God. Nor, however, is the knowledge of secular letters to be despised, but grammar, a certain foundation as it were, 40

41 42

Alcuin, Grammatica, pl 101:849–902, at col. 854B. Anneli Luhtala translates “irrupe­ runt” to mean “made it through,” that these pupils have completed elementary grammar: “‘Unity’ of the Liberal Arts in the Early Middle Ages,” in Flores Grammaticæ: Essays in Memory of Vivien Law, ed. Nicola McLelland and Andrew R. Linn (Münster, 2005), 60. This would have been the case for students at their age, but the idea here, in connection with their ages and the start of adolescentia, is that they are beginning these studies. Alcuin, Epistolae 280, mgh Epp. 4:437, lines 9–10. Alcuin, Epistolae 280, mgh Epp. 4:437, lines 25–32.

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is to be taught to the tender age of young children, and the other disciplines of philosophical subtlety, since by certain grades of wisdom they should be able to ascend to the highest summit of evangelical perfection; and according to the addition of years let their wealth of wisdom also increase. And do not allow the fervent flame of adolescentia to fall as a result of the precipices of vices. Alcuin assigns the task of learning the traditions of catholic doctors to iuuenes, grammar to infantes, and then, after mentioning “other disciplines” and certain gradus of wisdom, he warns against allowing adolescentia to fall. The imagery of an ascent by gradus (steps) and the need for adolescentia to remain on them applies to moral development, but it also applies to education in the liberal arts, just as Alcuin more explicitly assigns this stage of education to adole­ scentia in his Disputatio de vera philosophia. The progression is the same: adole­ scentia must climb to reach perfection and the contemplation of biblical and theological doctrine, which is the occupation that Alcuin specifically associates with the older group of iuuenes here. With regard to basic and more advanced tasks, it must be noted that the famous decree calling for the founding of schools in Charlemagne’s Admonitio generalis of 789, which Alcuin helped to compose, also names different age groups.43 It mentions the recruitment of children (infantes), refers to the schools themselves as “scolae legentium puerorum” [schools of boys who are reading], and stipulates that boys (pueri) must not be permitted to corrupt the accuracy of texts in their reading and writing, and that the task of copying certain texts must be reserved for “perfectae aetatis homines” [men of perfect age].44 These age groups, then, represent the process of education and skill development in the broadest terms: from infantes who stand at the threshold of education, to pueri, or boys undergoing basic education, to men of perfecta aetas, who have apparently completed their education. Elsewhere, Alcuin refers to pueri as belonging to one particular level of learning, namely, the acquisition of basic skills. In 796, he wrote to Eanbald ii to congratulate him on his recent installation as archbishop of York. In one 43

44

Die Admonitio generalis Karls des Großen, ed. Hubert Mordek, Klaus Zechiel-Eckes, and Michael Glatthaar, mgh Fontes iuris 16 (Hanover, 2012), 179–239; for Alcuin’s involvement, see the introduction to this edition, 47–63; Bullough, Alcuin: Achievement and Reputation, 379–86; Wilfried Hartmann, “Alkuin und die Gesetzgebung Karls des Grossen,” in Alkuin von York und die Geistige Grundlegung Europas: Akten der Tagung vom 30. September bis zum 2. Oktober 2004 in der Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen, ed. Ernst Tremp and Karl Schmuki (St Gallen, 2010), 33–48. Admonitio generalis 70, lines 318–26, mgh Fontes iuris 16:222, 224.

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passage, Alcuin advises Eanbald on how to organize his cathedral school, which was to have clearly defined groups of students and teachers who specialized in different subjects: Praevideat sancta sollertia tua magistros pueris, clero segregentur separatim more illorum, qui libros legant, qui cantilene inserviant, qui scribendi studio deputentur. Habeas et singulis his ordinibus magistros suos.45 May your holy ingenuity provide teachers for the boys. Let the boys be set apart from the clergy, separately by their practice, those who read books, those who are devoted to singing, those who are destined for the study of writing. And maintain for these individual classes their own teachers. Alcuin mentions three groups, but he describes them all using one term, pueri. By this he might be referring to boys under the age of fourteen, that is, if he intends to specify those who belong to the stage of pueritia. But might pueri also be taken in the general sense, as referring to “boys” of all ages including those who technically belong to adolescentia?46 This might at first seem a difficult problem of interpretation, but three points of observation may provide clarification. Two of these are contained in the passage itself, and the other, and most important point, can be derived from the letter’s structure. First, Alcuin lists only three school subjects: reading, singing, and writing, or basic skills that might be associated specifically with pueri. He does not mention the liberal arts, which he associates with adolescentia, nor biblical and doctrinal study, which he prescribes for those of perfectior aetas and for iuuenes in the examples cited above. Second, Alcuin says that these pueri are to be set apart from the clergy, which leads immediately to the third point of observation. For just as Alcuin advises Eanbald to separate these students from the clergy here, he himself separates them from the clergy in the structure of his letter. Even a glance at the overall structure makes it clear that Alcuin is treating the major segments of the York community in descending order. He begins by admonishing Eanbald regarding his own position, the sublimis locus (high or exalted place), then counsels him with regard to his socii, or associates, who may be classed as fellow priests, which is followed by instructions regarding deacons, subdeacons, “ceterosque ordinatim gradus ecclesiae” [and

45 46

Alcuin, Epistolae 114, mgh Epp. 4:169, lines 11–13. See dmlbs, s.v. puer.

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the other grades of the church in order].47 He then turns to advise Eanbald with regard to how pueri are to be arranged in their schooling. Based on this structure of descending order it would appear that these pueri are not deacons or even subdeacons, but rather young boys, so that Alcuin is referring to those who technically belong to the stage of pueritia. It seems likely, then, that Alcuin associates the basic skills of reading, singing, and writing directly with pueritia, even as he associates the liberal arts with adolescentia. 3

Alcuin’s View of iuuentus and iuuenes: Maturity, Good Works, and Teaching

Alcuin differentiates the early life stages in a treatise he wrote on confession, which he addressed to St. Martin’s at Tours around 797 in the form of a long letter known as Ad pueros sancti Martini. This conventionally accepted title is actually misleading, for Alcuin is concerned with more than just the “boys” at St. Martin’s.48 At the outset, Alcuin addresses himself to filii and adolescentuli,49 expressing his desire for them to prosper spiritually, “et fragiles vestrae aetatis annos in Dei servitio edocti ad perfectum senectutis diem adducere” [and to bring the fragile years of your age, thoroughly taught in the service of God, to the completed day of old age].50 He also addresses older members of the community, calling them “doctores et ductores in omni bonitate iuventutis” [teachers and guides in every virtue of young manhood].51 It might appear that Alcuin is making only a general distinction between young and old. However, in his closing remarks, he gives this final exhortation: “Agite nunc iuvenes adolescentes et pueri, liberate vosmetipsos de diabolica servitute” [Come now young men, youths, and boys, free yourselves from the devil’s servitude].52 By 47 48

49 50 51 52

Alcuin, Epistolae 114, mgh Epp. 4:168, line 10 to p. 169, line 2 (the quotation is p. 168, line 35). Michael S. Driscoll makes this point in his translated edition, though not in terms of the work’s terminology: “Ad pueros sancti Martini: A Critical Edition, English Translation, and Study of the Manuscript Transmission,” Traditio 53 (1998): 37–61, at 41. The earlier edition is Alcuin, Epistolae 131, mgh Epp. 4:193–98. By using the diminutive form adolescentuli (small young men), Alcuin could be referring to adolescentes in the first hebdomas of adolescentia, but this is not clear. Alcuin, Ad pueros sancti Martini 1–2, at 2, ed. Driscoll, 48 (mgh Epp. 4:194, lines 1, 8–9). Alcuin, Ad pueros sancti Martini 2, ed. Driscoll, 48 (mgh Epp. 4:194, line 10). Alcuin, Ad pueros sancti Martini 8, ed. Driscoll, 60 (mgh Epp. 4:198, lines 14–15). Driscoll reads iuuenes as an attributive adjective modifying adolescentes, so that “iuvenes adolescentes” refers to a single group of “young adolescents” (61), which is possible. However, as Alcuin begins the letter, he uses the terms adolescentuli and iuuenes separately, where

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stringing these terms together, Alcuin makes the point that he is not leaving anyone out of the discussion.53 It is interesting to note how Alcuin refers to older members as teachers and guides “in omni bonitate iuventutis” [in every virtue of young manhood], and thus appears to associate virtue with the stage of iuuentus. But is this his intention? A few lines later, when he takes up his theme of confession, Alcuin warns that there are many plots “contra adolescentulos” [against adolescentuli] in the form of carnal desire (desiderium carnale) and in “ceteris adolescentiae vitiis” [the other vices of adolescentia].54 In the next sentence, he says that the devil will gain no ground “si puram volunt iuvenes facere confessionem et fructus dignos paenitentiae agere, id est, ut vulneribus vulnera non superadiciant et sanata non resaucient” [if the young men purpose to make pure confession and pursue fruit worthy of repentance, that is, that they not add wounds upon wounds and injure again those that have been healed].55 Alcuin repeats this idea in his conclusion. Just after telling the iuuenes, adolescentes, and pueri to free themselves through confession, he tells them to wash the “sordes luxoriae carnis” [stains of the wantonness of the flesh] and not to repeat them, “quia posteriora vulnera peiora sunt prioribus” [because later wounds are worse than previous ones].56 Certainly, Alcuin intends that all age groups should make confession, so that the fragile years of a younger age (aetas), at whatever early stage, might ultimately be brought to the completed day of old age (per­ fectus senectutis dies). At the same time, he treats confession as the means by which the sins committed in one stage of life may be left behind in the next. Alcuin clearly implies this by associating carnal desires and wantonness with adolescentes, and associating the leaving of these behind though confession, so that healed wounds are not injured again, with iuuenes. This again points to

53

54 55 56

iuuenes is substantive, and elsewhere he addresses himself to a representative iuuenis, again where it is substantive: Alcuin, Ad pueros sancti Martini 2, 5, ed. Driscoll, 48, 54 (mgh Epp. 4:194, lines 1, 18; p. 196, line 17). Later in the ninth century, and into the tenth, other instructions on catechism and how to administer confession include references to the young life stages, treating them as distinct categories: see for example one letter by Agobard of Lyon (his ep. 19, mgh Epp. 5:239, lines 9–10), another by Wulfad of Berry (Epistolae variorum, ep. 27, mgh Epp. 6:189, line 28), and the Pseudo-Alcuin De divinis officiis (pl 101:1173–1286, at col. 1197A). In another letter to St. Martin’s, which he wrote before he became abbot there, Alcuin addresses himself to seniores, iuniores, pueri, and adolescentes, instructing the latter two groups to be subject to their teachers (magistri); Alcuin, Epistolae 51, mgh Epp. 4:95, lines 26–36. Alcuin, Ad pueros sancti Martini 2, ed. Driscoll, 48 (mgh Epp. 4:194, lines 16–17). Alcuin, Ad pueros sancti Martini 2, ed. Driscoll, 48 (mgh Epp. 4:194, lines 18–19). Alcuin, Ad pueros sancti Martini 9, ed. Driscoll, 60 (mgh Epp. 4:198, lines 23–24).

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Alcuin’s view of iuuentus as the perfect age (perfecta aetas). As with education, Alcuin views the most crucial time for moral development as the transition from adolescentia to iuuentus, from one stage fraught with vices to another in which these were supposed to cease. Further examples show that Alcuin viewed the stage of adolescentia as one of moral danger, while he regarded iuuentus as a time of flourishing strength, good works, and teaching. One example, which is reminiscent of his treatise on confession, is a letter Alcuin wrote to an unidentified English priest, perhaps directly associated with Canterbury,57 encouraging him to teach iuuenes and have them confess their sins: Et hoc summa voluntate obsecro, ut lectionis studio in docendo iuvenes deservias, eosque exhortare sepius de confessione peccatorum suorum […]. Mundandum est cor a conscientia totius mali, ut dignum habeatur sapientie vasculum.58 And this I entreat with utmost desire, that you be devoted to the study of reading in teaching young men, and exhort them rather often concerning the confession of their sins…. The heart must be cleansed from the knowledge of all evil, that it may be considered a vessel worthy of wisdom. Alcuin specifies that iuuenes are to make regular confession, but at this point he also emphasizes confession’s ultimate goal: a heart cleansed from the knowledge of all evil, which has become a “dignum […] sapientie vasculum” [a vessel worthy of wisdom]. For Alcuin this means becoming a teacher, which he soon makes clear. Before doing so, he quotes Psalm 34.14, “Depart from evil, and do good,” and he adds the comment, “nec sufficit unum ex his, nisi alterum sequatur” [nor does one of these suffice unless the other follows].59 Alcuin then immediately calls again for confession, this time specifying adolescentuli: 57

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Alcuin supported the archiepiscopal supremacy of Canterbury, which came into question after the death of Archbishop Jænberht in 792, when King Offa of Mercia had the new archbishop of Canterbury, Æthelheard, consecrated by Hygeberht, the bishop of Lichfield, thus enhancing the authority of that city. Upon Offa’s death in 796, and the seizure of the Kentish throne by Eadberht, Æthelheard, being a symbol of Mercian rule, fled his see. Then, in 801, Alcuin was instrumental in assisting Æthelheard in his journey to Rome for papal support, which would result in the suppression of Lichfield and the restoration of Canterbury to archiepiscopal supremacy; Nicholas Brooks, The Early History of the Church of Canterbury: Christ Church from 597 to 1066 (Leicester, 1984), 118–27. Alcuin, Epistolae 293, mgh Epp. 4:450, lines 26–28, 32–33. Alcuin, Epistolae 293, mgh Epp. 4:450, lines 34–35.

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“Aperiant adolescentuli vulnera sua medicis spiritalibus, ut salutem sempiternam mereantur accipere” [Let adolescentuli open their wounds to spiritual remedies, that they may merit to receive eternal salvation].60 After this, Alcuin reminds the priest to admonish a brother of his own rank, that is, another priest, to teach in order that he may be a vas utile: Saluta, obsecro, filium meum, fratrem vero venerande dignitatis tue, et de his omnibus meis verbis ammoneas illum, ut honeste vivat aliosque doceat, ut sit vas utile in domo Dei.61 Greet, I beseech, my son, indeed a brother of your venerable rank, and admonish him concerning all these my words that he may live with integrity and teach others, that he may be a useful vessel in the house of God. Given the canon law requirement of the minimum age of thirty for ordination to the priesthood,62 this other priest would likely have been at least thirty years of age and in the stage of iuuentus. This shows that even in such a brief letter, Alcuin maintains a clear progression: whereas adolescentuli are still concerned with their own salvation, iuuenes must become worthy vessels who can assist others by teaching. In another letter, Alcuin admonishes a wayward former pupil, one apparently from Britain, who is now fully grown and should be displaying the signs of full maturity. Ernst Dümmler dated this letter to the period of Alcuin’s years at Tours (796–804), a time when Alcuin was said to have received many visitors from Britain.63 It is possible that Alcuin taught this pupil at York many years prior to this letter, for enough time had passed for this pupil to gain a reputation, since Alcuin says that “tota pene […] Brittania” [nearly all of Britain] sings his praise.64 Alcuin claims to have been directly involved in three fundamental aspects of the pupil’s development: erudition (in the arts), biblical instruction, and moral character. Alcuin describes these areas of development as a chronological progression, where one aspect is added to another over time, since he 60 61 62 63

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Alcuin, Epistolae 293, mgh Epp. 4:450, lines 35–36. Alcuin, Epistolae 293, mgh Epp. 4:450, line 36 to p. 451, line 2. For the canon law age requirements for ordinations, see Barrow, Clergy in the Medieval World, 39–42. Alcuin, Epistolae 294, mgh Epp. 4:451. Some members of the community at Tours are reported to have complained about Alcuin’s numerous visitors from Britain; Wilhelm Arndt, ed., Vita Alcuini 18, mgh ss 15,1 (Hanover, 1887), 182–97, at 193–94; Rosemary Cramp briefly mentions the account: Anglian and Viking York (York, 1967), 8. Alcuin, Epistolae 294, mgh Epp. 4:451, line 20.

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describes the pupil’s development in them as parallel with his growth from infancy to full manhood: Olim te genui, nutrivi, alui, et ad perfectum virum usque Deo donante perduxi, artibus studiose eruditum, sapientiae sole inluminatum, moribus adprime ornatum.65 Formerly I bore, nourished, sustained, and, God permitting, brought you all the way up to a completed man, instructed studiously in the arts, illuminated with the sun of wisdom, adorned especially with character. Based on what has been demonstrated thus far, by perfectus vir, Alcuin likely means that the pupil has become a iuuenis, one who should be in his prime in terms of physical growth, education, and moral character. As Alcuin continues to chastise him, he repeats the three aspects of development in the same order: “Ubi est nobilissima eruditio tua? Ubi est clarissima in scripturis sacris industria tua? Ubi morum excellentia?” [Where is your most noble erudition? Where is your most celebrated industry in the Holy Scriptures? Where the excellence of character?].66 By combining the three elements of basic learning or instruction in the arts, industry in Scripture, and excellent moral character, Alcuin is making clear what he expects of a perfectus vir, or a fully trained iuuenis. Writing to his former pupils Candidus and Nathaniel sometime within 801–802, Alcuin conveys to them his wish, “ut exemplo sitis boni operis aliis in palatio iuvenibus” [that you be an example of good work to the other young men in the palace].67 Candidus was Anglo-Saxon by birth, having the English name of Hwita, and was likely Alcuin’s pupil years previously in England.68 At the time of this letter he is by no means an adolescent, nor is he in the stage 65 66

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Alcuin, Epistolae 294, mgh Epp. 4:451, lines 18–20. Alcuin, Epistolae 294, mgh Epp. 4:451, line 33 to p. 452, line 2. Alcuin describes essentially the same order of development in a letter to another wayward pupil, also dated to his years at Tours: “Quare dimisisti patrem, qui te ab infantia erudivit, qui te disciplinis libera­ libus inbuit, moribus instruxit, perpetuae vitae praeceptis munivit?” [Why have you forsaken the father who taught you from infancy, who trained you in the liberal disciplines, instructed (you) in manners, fortified (you) with the precepts of eternal life?]; Alcuin, Epistolae 295, mgh Epp. 4:452, lines 31–32. This former pupil is apparently fully grown, since Alcuin holds up as an example of piety a fellow pupil (condiscipulus) who has been raised to the rank of bishop. Alcuin, Epistolae 245, mgh Epp. 4:393, lines 18–19. John Marenbon, From the Circle of Alcuin to the School of Auxerre: Logic, Theology and Philosophy in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1981), 38–39.

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of adolescentia. A manuscript dated prior to this letter, around 800, contains what is believed to be a joint work by Alcuin and Candidus, where the contribution by Candidus is called Dicta Candidi presbiteri de imagine dei, that is, where Candidus appears as a presbyter, or priest, and likely to be at least thirty years of age.69 Alcuin goes on to say that Candidus and Nathaniel have recently made the transition from their schooling (scola eruditionis), and from the “nest” of education, to the “open skies” of public life where they may win honor: Sapientia vera est, quae ad vitam ducit aeternam; nec nobis ignobilia quaedam statuit praecepta, sed valde nobilia et omni honore dignissima; in quibus vitam possumus promereri perpetuam et inter homines laudabilem habere honorem. De quibus siquidem praeceptis saepius vos ammonui in scola eruditionis vestrae. Sed nuper, de nido paternae edocationis educti, ad publicas evolastis auras.70 True wisdom is that which leads to eternal life. Nor does it establish any ignoble precepts for us, but rather very noble ones and most worthy of every honor, in which we are able to merit eternal life and to have laudable honor among men. Indeed, concerning these precepts I rather often admonished you in the school of your instruction. But recently, led forth from the nest of fatherly education, you have flown to the open skies. Given Candidus’s probable age, it is likely that the transition that Alcuin mentions, from schooling to public life, corresponded with a transition from ado­ lescentia, in the traditional sense of around the age of twenty-eight, to the stage of iuuentus. Alcuin occasionally simplifies the life course, collapsing it down to three stages or even two halves, in order to emphasize that early life, or perhaps the first half of life, is the proper time for learning, and the time beginning at full maturity, or perhaps the second half of life, is a time for teaching and productivity. A fuller understanding of Alcuin’s thought in this respect requires 69 70

Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 6407, fol. 100v; see Heinz Löwe, “Zur Geschichte Wizos,” Deutsches Archiv für Geschichte des Mittelalters 6 (1943): 369. Alcuin, Epistolae 245, mgh Epp. 4:393, lines 19–24. In his dialogue on rhetoric, Alcuin commends the art of public speaking to the iuuenis in order to win praise, adding that one should learn from adolescentia not to fear public address. To this Charlemagne responds by naming the next life stage in descending order, saying that one should practice speaking directly from pueritia, so that he may deal confidently with public matters (publicae quaestiones): Disputatio de rhetorica et de virtutibus: The Rhetoric of Alcuin and Charlemagne, lines 1142–55, ed. and trans. Wilbur Samuel Howell (Princeton, 1941; repr., New York, 1965), 140, 142.

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some patristic background. With regard to biblical instruction, Jerome described a three-stage process of development in his commentary on the book of Ecclesiastes, which Alcuin copied in his Commentaria super Ecclesiasten. Jerome says that the three books of Solomon, that is, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon, were intended for the instruction of three maturity levels, the little child (parvulus), the man of mature age (vir maturae aeta­ tis), and the fully accomplished man (vir consummatus) respectively, and he then compares this division to the order of instruction given by philosophers, that is, the progression from ethics to natural science (physica) and finally to theology.71 The progression from parvulus to vir maturae aetatis, and then to vir consummatus, suggests chronological age, although the emphasis is certainly upon spiritual maturity or cognitive age.72 Also related to the idea of wisdom, by the early ninth century the Carolingians were aware of a standard representation of the three Magi: one depicted as a youth without a beard, one as a middle-aged man, and one as an old man with a white beard.73 Another patristic example uses a fuller description of the life stages, but it is nonetheless important for understanding the specific connection between iuuentus and productivity. In commenting on the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matt. 20.1–16), Jerome compared the laborers hired in the third, sixth, ninth, and eleventh hours to those who become believers in the stages he called pubertas, matura aetas, declinans ad senium, and ultima senectus respectively.74 Gregory the Great went on to give a definitive interpretation of the parable in keeping with the traditional life stages. The morning (mane) corresponded to pueritia, while the third, sixth, ninth, and eleventh hours corresponded to adolescentia, iuuentus, senectus, and decrepita or veterana respectively, where the full strength of iuuentus is compared to the sun at its midpoint or zenith in the sky.75 In other words, whereas Jerome simply has matura aetas at the sixth hour or midpoint of life, Gregory supplies iuuentus,

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Alcuin, Commentaria super Ecclesiasten, pl 100:665–722, at cols. 668D–669A; Jerome, Commentarius in Ecclesiasten 1.1, lines 17–30, ed. M. Adriaen, ccsl 72 (Turnhout, 1959), 247–361, at 250–51. Cochelin, “Adolescence Uncloistered,” 153, mentions the idea of cognitive age. See Sears, Ages of Man, 90–94. This depiction of the three Magi is also well attested in Anglo-Saxon England; see Porck, Old Age in Early Medieval England, 25–28. Jerome, Commentariorum in Matheum libri IV 3, lines 973–81, ed. D. Hurst and M. Adriaen, ccsl 77 (Turnhout, 1969), 174–75; Sears, Ages of Man, 83. For the exegetical tradition that compared the laborers and the hours of the day to the life stages, which probably began with Origen, see J. M. Tevel, “The Labourers in the Vineyard: The Exegesis of Matthew 20,1–7 in the Early Church,” Vigiliae Christianae 46 (1992): 356–80. Gregory, Homiliae in evangelia 1.19.2, lines 43–56, ed. R. Étaix, ccsl 141 (Turnhout, 1999), 144–45; see Sears, Ages of Man, 83–84; Cochelin, “Introduction,” 22 and n. 59.

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and Gregory’s interpretation using the traditional life stages, and his identification of matura aetas with iuuentus, could have informed Alcuin’s view. The concept of iuuentus as the high point of productivity, or the time when iuuenes must work and teach, was central in Alcuin’s more simplified descriptions of the life course. In 799, Alcuin wrote to the monks of Salzburg living under the authority of Archbishop Arno. He impresses upon them the need for biblical and spiritual learning, and just before this he gives this moral counsel: “Sit enim sanctae pacis concordia inter cunctos; vitae castitas in adolescentibus; morum gravitas in senibus; fervor operis in iuvenibus” [But let there be the concord of holy peace among all, chastity of life in youths, gravity of character in old men, fervor of work in young men].76 The presence of adolescentes and senes alone might have conveyed the general distinction of young and old, but by the addition of iuuenes, and the duty of these men to display the “fervor operis,” or prime fitness for work, Alcuin shows that he has the specific life stages in mind. By “work” Alcuin means keeping the canonical hours and psalmody, but from the context, it is clear that he also means the study of Scripture and the duty to learn in order to teach. He tells the monks to arm themselves with the knowledge of the truth so that they might resist those who contradict it: “Quomodo pugnat inermis? vel quomodo docere potest, qui discere noluit?” [How does an unarmed man fight? Or how can he teach if he has been unwilling to learn?].77 Alcuin clearly intends that all three age groups should learn, adolescentes, iuuenes, and senes, but iuuenes in particular belong to the stage at which learning must give way to the work of teaching and defending the faith. In a letter to Arno of Salzburg dated within 798–802, Alcuin explains the interpretive value of numbers in Scripture, specifically in the Psalms. He emphasizes the importance of understanding the pervading governance of numbers “per quos etiam saeculorum ordo decurrit, et nostrae vitae ratio constat” [by which both the order of the ages pass and the reckoning of our life consists].78 This is surely a reference to the dual explanation of the six ages of the world, or biblical history, in connection with the six ages of man, the individual man being a microcosm of the world, which Alcuin would have probably

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Alcuin, Epistolae 168, mgh Epp. 4:276, lines 26–27. Alcuin, Epistolae 168, mgh Epp. 4:276, line 35 to p. 277, line 1. The importance of both learning and teaching for adult clergy was well established by late antiquity, particularly in the case of Ambrose; see Giorgia Vocino, “Bishops in the Mirror: From Self-Representation to Episcopal Model. The Case of the Eloquent Bishops Ambrose of Milan and Gregory the Great,” in Religious Franks: Religion and Power in the Frankish Kingdoms: Studies in Honour of Mayke de Jong, ed. Rob Meens et al. (Manchester, 2016), 333–35. Alcuin, Epistolae 243, mgh Epp. 4:390, lines 26–27.

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encountered in Bede’s De temporibus or De temporum ratione.79 Alcuin then immediately impresses upon Arno the importance of numerological studies for iuuenes: Quocirca fas esse videtur sanctam auctoritatem vestram iuvenes exhortari ingeniosos: in talibus se exerceri studiis; discant ferventi aetatis ingenio, ut habeant maturo annorum tempore quid doceant discipulos suos.80 Therefore, it seems right for your holy authority to exhort young men of intellect to exercise themselves in such studies. Let them learn with the fervent capacity of the period of life, so that in the mature period of years they may have something that they may teach their students. Just as Alcuin associates iuuenes with the fervor of work ( fervor operis) in his letter to the monks of Salzburg, so here he says that iuuenes are endowed with the fervent capacity of their time of life ( fervens aetatis ingenium). It may be that Alcuin uses iuuenes here to refer more generally to those who are in the young life stages, or in the first half of life, but he would also understand iuuenes as referring to those who had entered the “mature period of years,” or the second half of life, which would be devoted to teaching. In 793, following a raid by Norsemen on the church of Lindisfarne, Alcuin wrote a letter of encouragement to the monks of Wearmouth and Jarrow. Among other exhortations, Alcuin emphasizes the need to learn in order that one may teach, and he identifies teaching with the coming of the aetas perfecta: Discant pueri scripturas sacras; ut aetate perfecta veniente alios docere possint. Qui non discit in pueritia, non docet in senectute.81 Let boys learn the Holy Scriptures, so that with the coming of perfect age they may be able to teach others. He who does not learn in boyhood does not teach in old age.

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Bede, De temporibus 16, ed. C. W. Jones, ccsl 123C (Turnhout, 1980), 579–611, at 600–601; Bede, De temporum ratione 66, lines 1–47, ed. C. W. Jones, ccsl 123B (Turnhout, 1977), 463–64. Alcuin would have also encountered this dual explanation in Augustine’s De diversis quaestionibus octoginta tribus 58.2, lines 40–82, ed. A. Mutzenbecher, ccsl 44A (Turnhout, 1975), 11–249, at 105–107. For the comparison of the ages of man to the ages of the world, see chapter 3 in Sears, Ages of Man, 54–79. Alcuin, Epistolae 243, mgh Epp. 4:390, lines 29–31. Alcuin, Epistolae 19, mgh Epp. 4:55, lines 21–22.

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Alcuin names pueri in connection with learning Scripture, which does not necessarily contradict his association of biblical study with iuuenes elsewhere. If his maxim, “qui non discit in pueritia, non docet in senectute,” is simply a restatement of the first sentence, then perfecta aetas would refer to old age here. In the earlier example above, Alcuin does speak of bringing life “ad perfectum […] diem” [to the completed day] of old age. Nevertheless, when he uses perfecta to modify aetas, Alcuin more often refers to the coming of iuuen­ tus, or full young manhood.82 By including the perfecta aetas along with pueri­ tia and senectus in the passage above, Alcuin conveys more than the general idea of learning while young and then teaching in old age; rather, he implies a process of learning and teaching that involves the life stages, where the coming of the perfecta aetas, or iuuentus, represents a shift from learning to teaching. The life stages that Alcuin designates as those in which one must be devoted to learning in order that one may teach are somewhat fluid, or rather, he emphasizes a full range of young life stages. In his letter to Wearmouth and Jarrow, Alcuin goes on to hold up Bede as an example to the monks, telling them to consider “quale habuit in iuventute discendi studium” [what kind of zeal of learning he had in his young manhood].83 He uses the term iuuentus instead of pueritia, the stage that he uses in the maxim, “qui non discit in pueritia, non docet in senectute.” This maxim is interesting to consider with regard to how Alcuin differentiates the young life stages, for he expresses thoughts very similar to this in two additional letters. In each letter, including the one just quoted, he sets a different early life stage in relation to senectus. In the letter above, after saying that pueri should learn, Alcuin uses pueritia. In another, he writes to a student to encourage him to pass on what he has learned. Alcuin tells him to admonish the “adulescentulos, qui tecum sunt” [youths who are with you], and immediately after this he employs the maxim, “discant in adolescentia, ut habeant, quid doceant in senectute” [let them learn in youth, that they may have something to teach in old age].84 In a third letter, Alcuin writes to a larger group of monks at Murbach, whom he divides into seniores and adolescentes. He says that seniores ought to admonish adolescentes, and just after this he 82

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Examples include Alcuin’s description of his own life (Alcuin, Epistolae 42, mgh Epp. 4:85, lines 21–23), his advice to pupils in his Disputatio de vera philosophia that they spend their adolescentia learning the arts so that their perfectior aetas may reach the heights of Scripture (pl 101:854A), and his description of how he brought a pupil up to a “perfectum virum” (Alcuin, Epistolae 294, mgh Epp. 4:451, lines 18–19). Elsewhere, Alcuin speaks of those who may die early, or before the perfecta aetas, where this refers to being fully grown; Alcuin, De fide sanctae trinitatis et de incarnatione Christi 3.20.20–24, ed. Eric Knibbs and E. Ann Matter (Turnhout, 2012), 1–147, at 130–31. Alcuin, Epistolae 19, mgh Epp. 4:55, lines 23–28 (the quotation is lines 23–24). Alcuin, Epistolae 88, mgh Epp. 4:132, lines 27–28, 30–31.

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cites the maxim, this time using iuuentus: “qui non vult in iuventute discere, in senectute scire non poterit” [he who does not want to learn in young manhood will not be able to know how in old age].85 In each of these cases, Alcuin tailors the maxim in order to apply it more directly to a particular group.86 Of course, Alcuin did not always use the vocabulary for the life stages in the technical sense; he used it figuratively as well. He wrote to Charlemagne from Tours at the close of 796 or the start of 797, informing him of the progress he had made in teaching since his arrival at St. Martin’s. In this letter, Alcuin expresses his hope to send pueri from St. Martin’s to York in order to bring back books related to schooling.87 He must be using pueri in the figurative sense here, since it is unlikely that those chosen for this mission would have been boys between the ages of seven and fourteen. Nevertheless, Alcuin’s use of the gradus aetatis in the technical sense is also present in this letter. At one point, he emphasizes the importance of wisdom for kings and framers of laws.88 After this he tells Charlemagne to exhort the iuuenes in the palace to learn in order that they may progress in wisdom in the “aetate florida” [flowering time of life], so that they may be held worthy to bring their old age (canities) to honor.89 Alcuin then offers himself as an example, describing how he sowed the seeds of wisdom through learning and teaching during the “morning” of his life, or first half of life, and how he continues to do so in the “evening,” or second half of life: Mane, florentibus per aetatem studiis, seminavi in Brittania, nunc vero frigescente sanguine, quasi vespere, in Francia seminare non cesso.90 In the morning, as my studies flowered by age, I sowed in Britain, but now with the blood growing cold, as in the evening, I do not cease to sow in Francia. Alcuin was born c.740 and left England for the Frankish court in 786,91 and so this “morning” of his life would have lasted until around age forty-six. It would 85 86 87 88 89 90 91

Alcuin, Epistolae 117, mgh Epp. 4:172, line 31 to p. 173, line 1; p. 173, lines 6–7. Alcuin applies a similar two-stage process of learning and teaching to himself in a letter to Charlemagne in 796 or 797, comparing these stages to a “morning” in which he studied followed by an “evening” period; Alcuin, Epistolae 121, mgh Epp. 4:178, lines 1–2. Alcuin, Epistolae 121, mgh Epp. 4:177, lines 4–9. Alcuin, Epistolae 121, mgh Epp. 4:177, lines 18–28. Alcuin, Epistolae 121, mgh Epp. 4:177, lines 29–32. Alcuin, Epistolae 121, mgh Epp. 4:178, lines 1–2. Bullough rejected the common belief that Alcuin heeded Charlemagne’s summons to the Frankish court soon after their meeting at Parma in 781, arguing instead that he remained in England until after the Papal legatine visitation there in 786: Alcuin: Achievement

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have been inclusive of Alcuin’s adolescentia and most of his iuuentus. Since he holds himself up as an example of one whose studies “flowered by age,” and because he views this time of flowering as a process of learning and teaching in one’s prime or maturity, Alcuin tells Charlemagne to exhort the iuuenes at the palace. Before concluding, Alcuin reiterates the importance of learning while young in order to reap rewards in old age. He quotes a passage from a letter by Jerome that commends learning throughout life, where adolescentia is associated with artes, and these, with the addition of the study of Scripture, serve to make one more learned and wiser with increasing age: Senectus vero eorum, qui adulescentiam suam honestis artibus instruxe­ runt et in lege Domini meditati sunt die ac nocte, aetate fit doctior, usu tritior, processu temporis sapientior; et veterum studiorum dulcissimos fructus metet.92 Indeed, the old age of those who have instructed their youth with noble arts, and have meditated on the law of the Lord day and night, becomes more learned with age, more expert with practice, wiser with the passage of time, and will reap the sweetest fruits of former studies. This passage reflects Alcuin’s concept of the student life cycle and his understanding of the life stages. On the one hand, he understood the broad concept that childhood and youth must be devoted to learning, and that the prime of life and old age should be given to further studies and teaching. On the other hand, he viewed the student life cycle in terms of the young life stages, or the well-defined gradus aetatis that served as the increments of a genuine progression. 92

and Reputation, 336–46, 435–37. For a recent summary of Alcuin’s time at the court, see Janet L. Nelson, King and Emperor: A New Life of Charlemagne (London, 2019), 315–16, 338. Alcuin, Epistolae 121, mgh Epp. 4:178, lines 6–9; Jerome, Sancti Eusebii Hieronymi epistulae 52.3.4, ed. I. Hilberg, 2nd ed. (Vienna, 1996), 417, lines 8–12.

part 2 The Life Course and the Human Body



chapter 4

Treating Age in Medical Texts from Early Medieval England Jacqueline Fay As Nick Stoodley aptly describes it, “[a]geing is a physical process that no one can escape, but the ways in which biological age relate to life experience are not universal, because individuals grow up and develop in specific social and cultural contexts.”1 The effect of historical difference is registered in both the physical and cultural aspects of aging, since, in the past, different modes of life, germs, food, and many other factors led to materially distinct bodies from those we currently have, while interpretive frameworks for these bodies also differ from past to present. For example, the far greater number of autoimmune diseases present in modern society than in the past serves to illustrate a physical difference in the body over time; explaining a condition as resulting from an imbalance in the four humors or from the intrusion of bacteria demonstrates a discursive distinction. That the phenomenon of aging in this way pivots between matter and discourse can readily be demonstrated in the twenty-first century. Proclamations that women in their 40s and 50s are now part of “generation ageless” serve as a good example.2 Typified by celebrities such as Michelle Obama, Julia Roberts, J. K. Rowling and Nicole Kidman, “generation ageless” describes women who would formerly be labelled as “middle aged” but who are now, through lifestyle choices, experiencing and constructing the age category they are in differently. As renowned gerontological sociologist Stephen Katz explores in his essay, “Growing Older Without Aging,” this contemporary rise in more positive models of aging has simultaneously yielded a unique “postmodern life course, moored to standards of timelessness and bodily perfection.”3 The so-called grey movement may begin with narrative re-casting and new models for self-definition but it also mobilizes a large market share for the cosmetic industry. The paradox of twenty-first century 1 Nick Stoodley, “Childhood to Old Age,” in The Oxford Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology, ed. David A. Hinton, Sally Crawford, and Helena Hamerow (Oxford, 2011), 641. 2 See, as a good example of this trend, Stella Magazine, July 2, 2017, 26–30. 3 Stephen Katz, “Growing Older Without Aging? Postmodern Time and Senior Markets,” in Cultural Aging: Life Course, Lifestyle, and Senior Worlds (Toronto, 2005), 189.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2022 | doi:10.1163/9789004501867_006

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aging under capitalism is thus this tension between culturally valorizing aging and simultaneously attempting to erase all of its physical manifestations. This relationship between the physical properties of aging and the cultural frameworks that mediate these effects for those experiencing and observing them is the nexus of any consideration of life courses.4 Scholars of life stages must chart the way that changes in individual bodies are aggregated and organized into discrete stages that can be thought of as generally experienced by everyone and that then make all bodies culturally legible and serviceable. However, scholars of early medieval life stages must do this for “specific social and cultural contexts” at a very far remove from their own. They are served by archaeological evidence for the physical effects of aging, but this alone provides a partial picture of bodily development and decline because only those conditions that produce osteological changes are accessible by means of the skeletal record. Texts in a wide variety of genres supplement the archaeological material with commentary on aging and representation of characters of different ages, but rarely is such material centrally concerned with the topic of aging itself. And little, if any, firsthand anthropological testimony exists about people’s day-to-day experience of aging. Scholars must piece together what material and textual evidence they have in order to discern that crucial balance between the embodied experience of aging and the cultural framework that supported and mediated it for early medieval English people. Medical texts would seem to be an important source on this question, with the potential to provide information about the condition of differently-aged bodies and the way each should be treated. Early medieval England, in particular, is apt for such a study because it preserves the earliest vernacular medical tradition in Europe and evidences an active culture of adapting and adding to the inherited Greco-Roman tradition of medical knowledge. However, no scholarly study has yet considered how, or even if, Old English medical remedies are inflected by age. What, if anything, do medical texts reveal about early medieval English conceptions of the life course? Do they draw on the same life stages that have been observed to determine early medieval funerary display, or that are remarked upon in other textual genres such as hagiography or heroic poetry?5 What understanding do they indicate about age-related conditions and the way that people of different ages might be differently treated? 4 The field of critical gerontology is wide-ranging; a helpful overview of some major topics is Stephen Katz, “Introduction,” in Ageing in Everyday Life: Materialities and Embodiments, ed. Stephen Katz (Bristol, 2018), 1–21. See also, Susan Irvine and Winfried Rudolf, “Introduction,” in Childhood and Adolescence in Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture, ed. Susan Irvine and Winfried Rudolf (Toronto, 2018), 3–14. 5 See Sally Crawford, Childhood in Anglo-Saxon England (Stroud, 1999), especially chapters two and three, and idem, “Overview: The Body and Life Course,” in Hinton, Crawford,

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This article will undertake a comprehensive survey of the role of age in the medical remedies contained in the Old English Herbarium, the Leechbooks, and Lacnunga, addressing the degree to which age is a factor in the preparation and administration of remedies by comparing those remedies that mention age and considering in what connection age arises. By examining whether age determines the type of remedy, dosage, ingredients, potency, frequency of application, or efficacy, I aim to discover how Old English medical texts receive and intervene in prevailing early medieval notions about life courses. Deeply laconic as they are, early medieval remedies contain the kernel of an interaction between bodies of various kinds: the individual ailing body of the patient, the substance of the remedy, and the body of the healer, or lic. This encounter is located right at the meeting point of the physical experience of aging and its social interpretation, which may play a role in determining what type of treatment, if any, is appropriate. To return to Nick Stoodley’s point, bodies change over time but the interpretive framework that classifies, names, and interprets these changes dictates the choices that might be made as to, for example, appropriate medical treatment. While this all seems very neat in the abstract, it takes only a short journey into the Old English medical corpus to find a much more interesting, if muddier, picture in which life courses are not only entangled with gender, occupation, and other social categories, as we would expect, but are also implicated in a much fuller spectrum of material associations than is usually assumed in the scholarly literature. For example, Old English remedies sometimes conflate life courses and gender, with women of all ages being categorized with the young, sick, and old; with, in other words, those bodies that are non-normative and generally perceived as weaker. At other times, though, Old English medical texts prescribe an entirely different recipe for women, or for young men, or for children than they do for the presumed normative male body. Still other remedies involve ingredients derived from female bodies at specific life stages, such as breast milk, or from children – for example, child’s urine. In this respect Old English medical texts do not presuppose a stable structure of subject/object, patient/remedy, nor do they reliably assert that a body at one life stage is fundamentally different from a body at another. Of particular interest in what follows is the especially slippery, even paradoxical, nature of bodies within certain life stages characterized both by weakness – an inability to withstand and Hamerow, Oxford Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology, 625–40; the essays in Irvine and Rudolf, Childhood and Adolescence; Jordi Sánchez-Martí, “Age Matters in Old English Literature,” in Youth and Age in the Medieval North, ed. Shannon Lewis-Simpson (Leiden, 2008), 205–25; Nick Stoodley, “From the Cradle to the Grave: Age Organization and the Early Anglo-Saxon Burial Rite,” World Archaeology 31 (2000): 456–72.

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strong treatments, for example – and also by strength, manifested in peculiar powers to heal the ostensibly stronger normative male body. As I will demonstrate, bodies even at the same life stage can be active or passive depending on the particular situation of illness and healing. The shifting properties of life stages in Old English medical texts is difficult to account for by means of a conceptual model of the life course as forged in an encounter between physical aging and social interpretation, an idea of life stages that relies upon humanist assumptions about the bounded and sovereign nature of the human itself. The view of life stages that we find in Old English medical texts instead seems to call for a posthumanist approach open to the entanglements of the human and non-human – plants, animals, implements – within ways of knowing and being. Within this model the shifting qualities of bodies within certain life stages make sense as part of vital and ever-changing relations across human and plant bodies of differing ages and gender. 1

The Old English Medical Corpus and Vocabulary for Life Stages

Over one thousand manuscript pages on medical topics survive from early medieval England, spanning the late ninth to the eleventh centuries in date.6 The English material is unique within the European context, since three important vernacular collections of medical recipes are preserved: Bald’s Leechbook, which was probably compiled in the late ninth century and survives in a manuscript dated to the first half of the tenth century, London, British Library, Royal 12 D.xvii; Leechbook III, which is a separate text contained in the same manuscript7; and Lacnunga,8 which was compiled in the late tenth or early eleventh century. In addition, an important Old English collation and translation of at least three separate Latin works – the Old English Herbarium – dated by Maria D’Aronco to the end of the tenth century, survives in four manu­ scripts, three of which are pre-Conquest in date.9 With this latter text travels 6 M. L. Cameron, Anglo-Saxon Medicine (Cambridge, 1993), 1. 7 See Bald’s Leechbook: British Museum Royal Manuscript 12 D. VII, ed. C. E. Wright (Copenhagen, 1955); and T. O. Cockayne, Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft of Early England, 3 vols. (London, 1864–66), 2. 8 London, British Library ms Harley 585 (s. x/xi, xi). See J. H. G. Grattan and Charles Singer, Anglo-Saxon Magic and Medicine, Illustrated Specially from the Semi-Pagan Text ‘Lacnunga’ (London, 1952); and Edward Pettit, ed., trans. and introd., Anglo-Saxon Remedies, Charms, and Prayers from British Library MS Harley 585, 2 vols. (Lewiston, 2001). 9 Maria Amalia D’Aronco, “The Old English Pharmacopoeia: A Proposed Dating for the Translation,” Avista Forum Journal 13.2 (Fall 2003): 9–18; idem, “The Transmission of Medical Knowledge in Anglo-Saxon England: The Voices of Manuscripts,” in Form and Content of

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another major collection translated from Latin and collated from several originally independent treatises, the Medicina de Quadrupedibus, which covers remedies based on animal ingredients.10 The extent of the early medieval English corpus testifies to a lively interest in medicine during this period and a strong desire to bring medical learning into the vernacular orbit, but perhaps more significant is the degree to which translators actively engaged with the material they were transmitting.11 While these works, for the most part, are embedded in the Mediterranean tradition of medical learning originating in Latin-, and prior to that, in Greek-language texts, the way that English compilers were reorganizing and adding to this material as they translated it demonstrates a high level of medical competence and comprehension. Detailed comparative studies of the Herbarium primarily conducted by Maria Amalia D’Aronco demonstrate that it is the work probably of a single compiling translator making considered choices in the selection, arrangement and combination of material from an array of sources in order to produce a work tailored to the needs of English users.12 Scholars of Bald’s Leechbook have long praised the work for its orderly structure, recognizing that it must have been the product of an elaborate and organized process.13 A 2004 study by Richard Scott Nokes suggests a complex multi-stage genesis for Bald’s Leechbook likely involving “a team of compilers,” at least two and probably more writers, and multiple redactors and scribes, all of whom either were “professional leeches” or worked closely with such practitioners to produce usable and effective volumes.14 As Kesling has recently argued in her 2020 monograph Medical Texts in Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture, all the Old English medical collections, “were almost certainly compiled in major ecclesiastical centers” and “reflect the learned environments in which they were compiled and copied.”15 When we examine the way that this corpus addresses the idea of life courses, Instruction in Anglo-Saxon England in the Light of Contemporary Manuscript Evidence: Papers Presented at the International Conference, Udine, 6–8 April 2006, ed. Patrizia Lendinara, Loredana Lazzari and M. A. D’Aronco (Turnhout, 2007). 10 London, British Library, Cotton Vitellius C.iii. Hubert Jan de Vriend, ed., The Old English Herbarium and Medicina de Quadrupedibus, eets o.s. 286 (London, 1984); Anne van Arsdall, Medieval Herbal Remedies: The Old English Herbarium and Anglo-Saxon Medicine (New York, 2002); and Cockayne, Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft, 1. 11 See Cameron, Anglo-Saxon Medicine. 12 D’Aronco, “Transmission of Medical Knowledge.” See also, Linda E. Voigts, “Anglo-Saxon Plant Remedies and the Anglo-Saxons,” Isis 70.2 (Jun 1979): 250–68. 13 Cameron, Anglo-Saxon Medicine, 42–5. 14 Richard Scott Nokes, “The Several Compilers of Bald’s ‘Leechbook’,” Anglo-Saxon England 33 (2004): 51. 15 Emily Kesling, Medical Texts in Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture (Woodbridge, 2020), 1.

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then, we can assume that we are engaging with something that was an active concept for early medieval English compilers, translators, and practitioners, and not an empty reflex of earlier continental notions. As Kesling, again, puts it, “rather than existing as static monuments, these collections were part of the living tradition of Anglo-Saxon medicine.”16 Ideas about life courses are capable of potentially taking on new meaning when they are decontextualized from their original linguistic and cultural setting and placed in this new sensemaking context. As table 4.1 indicates, of the approximately two thousand remedies contained in this large corpus, startlingly few specifically mention the age of patients. Of all the entries in Bald’s Leechbook, Leechbook III, the Lacnunga, the Old English Herbarium, and the Medicina de Quadrupedibus, only around thirty reference age in some way, whether that be in the context of recommending a specific type of treatment for patients of a certain age; discussing how various conditions are associated with certain ages; or referencing ingredients originating in the body of people of certain ages (such as child’s urine) or treatments that should be applied by individuals of a particular age. Since I will discuss the latter of these three contexts at greater length later in the essay, Table 4.1 below concentrates just on the first two reasons why age is mentioned in Old English medical texts, those in which the specifically aged body is the subject of illness and treatment rather than part of that treatment. Given the imperfect correspondence between Old and Modern English terms for illness, I have provided the original description along with the accepted or suggested contemporary equivalents. The low frequency of references to age in Old English medical texts, when correlated with indications of the gender of the patient, suggests that the normative body or that which is tacitly assumed by the vast majority of remedies is that of a male who is neither a child nor old. Although gender is mentioned much more frequently than age, with at my count almost one hundred instances across the same group of texts, references to age and gender collectively suggest that Old English medicine defines as exceptional, and thus requiring specific demarcation, the bodies of children, young people (or probably specifically young men), old men, and all women.17 In addition, many more of these references to age deal with children than with old people. 16 17

Kesling, Medical Texts, 4. For some exploration of this material, see Jacqueline Fay, “Medieval Gender,” in Gender: Matter, Macmillan Interdisciplinary Handbooks, ed. Stacy Alaimo (London, 2017), 35–47. Caroline R. Batten, in her essay in this volume, supports my assertion here, commenting that, “extant Old English medical texts demonstrate a notable lack of interest in female patients and female bodies” (144) and that even remedies for general conditions are written in a way that is “skewed in favor of male patients” (145).

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Treating Age in Medical Texts Table 4.1 Remedies mentioning the age of the patient

Ailment or treatment

Descriptors of age

# of remedies

Parasites, internal and external “Hnite 7 wyrmas”; “wyrmas”; “wyrmum”; “wyrmum” [nits and worms; worms; worms; worms] Blood letting “healsgunde”; “omig wæte on þære wambe”; “Be wambe coþum”; “omihte blod y yfel wæte on þam milte” [matter in neck; excess of humor in stomach; stomach disorders; inflamed blood and bad humor in spleen] Growing pain in teeth “Ðið þ[æt] cildum butan sare teð wexen”; “gif ðu gelome cilda toð reoman […] butan sare hy wexað” [so that teeth may grow in children without pain; if you frequently … children’s gums, they grow without pain] Eye disorders “Læcedomas wið eallum tiedernessum eagena”; “eagan beoþ unscearpsyno” [remedies for all weaknesses of the eyes; eyes are unsharp] Digestive problems “Be cilda wambum 7 oferfylle 7 gif him mete tela ne mylte. 7 gif him swat ofga 7 stince fule” [For children’s stomachs and over-filling and if their food is not digested well and they sweat and smell bad] Falling (possibly epilepsy) “Þy læs cild sy hreorende þ[æt] is fylle seoc oþþe scinlac” [If a child is falling, that is sick by falling or delusion] Hemiplegia “healfdeade adle” [halfdead disease]

“cild”

5

“cniht”; “geong man”; “ylde”; “giogoðe”

4

“cild”

2

“eald man”; “geong man”

2

“cild”

1

“cild”

1

Emotional disturbance “Gyf hwylc cild ahwæned sy” [If a child is upset/afraid]

“feowertigum 1 […] fiftigum wintra”; “on yldo” “cild” 1

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Table 4.1 Remedies mentioning the age of the patient (cont.)

Ailment or treatment

Descriptors of age

# of remedies

Rupture caused by a sore “Wið þæt geong man healyde sy” [For a young man who is ruptured] Problems at birth, possibly prematurity or deformity “Gif cild misboren sy” [If a child is misborn]

“geong man”

1

“cild”

1

While Old English medical texts provide too small of a sample to conclude much about the use of age-related terms, little differentiation seems evident in life stages based on vocabulary, with cild and eald or geong predominating, and the question remains as to what age ranges such generalized terms might indicate.18 As many scholars have observed, “‘childhood’ is a loaded term, full of deeply seated, culturally constructed, unconscious layers of meaning,” that have often determined the interpretation of evidence from earlier centuries about children.19 The way in which contemporary readers define the term child, from the potential age range covered by the term to the attributes and behaviors associated with it, is not necessarily the meaning for an early medieval audience, but nor may it be completely distinct. Isidore of Seville’s definition of pueritia, one of the seven life stages identified in his Etymologiae, may have underpinned some of the writing and thinking about childhood as a life stage in early medieval England, and perhaps the use of the term cild. Of the seven ages – infantia, pueritia, adolescentia, iuuentus, grauitas, senectus, and senium – Isidore associates puer with puritas, as indicating “a certain form of purity prior to the awakening of the carnal desires of adolescentia” and that extends from the seventh to the fourteenth year (although it can also be used for those of any age who manifest the childlike faith of a true believer).20 18 19 20

For a full discussion of Old English terminology for life stages, see Daria Izdebska’s essay in this volume. Sally Crawford, “Childhood and Adolescence: Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Archaeological and Documentary Evidence,” in Irvine and Rudolf, Childhood and Adolescence, 17. Andreas Lemke, “Children and the Conversion of the Anglo-Saxons in Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum,” in Irvine and Rudolf, Childhood and Adolescence, 122. For a full discussion of the various models quantifying the ages of man in early medieval England, see the first chapter “Nature,” in J. A. Burrow, The Ages of Man: A Study in

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A cniht or geong man, terms also used in the medical corpus, might then roughly correspond to Isidore’s adolescentia, a period lasting from fourteen to twenty-eight.21 However, in her study of “Childhood in the Lives of AngloSaxon Saints,” Joyce Hill finds that even the Latin terminology is used in saints’ lives produced in pre-Conquest England in ways not consistent with Isidore’s thinking; finding that vernacular terminology had an even looser relationship to Isidore’s life stages would not therefore be surprising. As Hill indicates, in Anglo-Latin hagiography for example, uir is used for a mature man while iuuenis seems to indicate youth in general rather than, as for Isidore, the period between 28 and 50.22 Iuuenis, then, could be roughly equivalent to the vernacular geong man, with both denoting an unspecific period of youthfulness between childhood and maturity/agedness. In her study of Childhood in Anglo-Saxon England, Sally Crawford confirms that Old English “vocabulary recognized the stages of childhood (cildhad) and youth (gugoðhad),” and that both burial ritual and law codes draw the line between adults and children at around 10 to 12 years of age.23 In this general schema, gugoðhad operates as a general term for a young adult: somebody who is definitively not a child, but who has not yet entered into full maturity. Precise ages are not given for this stage, which seems likely to have differed contextually and certainly according to gender. As Isabelle Cochelin finds in her wide-ranging study of prethirteenth century vocabulary used for the life cycle, the period from the sixth century to around 1120 is characterized by this consistent drawing of two broad divisions: that between childhood and adulthood, and that between youth and age.24 Although more elaborate four, six, or seven stage schemas exist, they are built by subdividing this basic three-part model. Overall, then, the terminology in Old English medical texts seems congruent with other discourses and

21

22 23 24

Medieval Writing and Thought (Oxford, 1986), 5–54; Thijs Porck, Old Age in Early Medieval England: A Cultural History (Woodbridge, 2019), 16–51. For further discussion of the use and understanding of Latin terms for life courses in early medieval England, see Darren Barber’s essay in this volume. Old English terms for childhood and youth are examined by Hilding Bäck, The Synonyms for “Child”, “Boy” and “Girl” in Old English: An Etymological-Semasiological Investigation (Lund, 1934). Bäck notes that geong man, geong, and geonga are used as synonyms for iuuenis and adolescens (168). Joyce Hill, “Childhood in the Lives of Anglo-Saxon Saints,” in Irvine and Rudolf, Childhood and Adolescence, 151. Crawford, Childhood in Anglo-Saxon England, xiv. Isabelle Cochelin, “Introduction: Pre-Thirteenth Century Definitions of the Life Cycle,” in Medieval Life Cycles: Continuity and Change, ed. Isabelle Cochelin and Karen Smyth (Turnhout, 2013), 1–54.

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practices in early medieval England that similarly demarcate only three basic life stages: children, and young and old adults. In his comprehensive study of Old Age in Early Medieval England, Thijs Porck traces the intellectual network of references to a three-fold life cycle in early medieval England.25 Based on biblical exegesis, and especially Christ’s Parable of the Three Vigils (Luke 12.36–38), the three ages of pueritia, adolescentia, and senectus are employed by Bede, drawing on Pope Gregory the Great, and then Ælfric, who designates them cildhade (childhood), weaxendum cnihthade (growing boyhood), and forweredre ylde (worn-out old age).26 The tripartite life cycle is employed by other early medieval homilists, including Wulfstan, for a wide variety of purposes, such as: exhortations to live a good Christian life whatever your age; discussion of the three types of death; and descriptions of specific biblical episodes and characters. Depictions of the three Magi as representatives of each of the life stages – a practice attested from the sixth century but present only in one text in the early medieval British tradition – can be found in the art of the time, including the Franks casket and the Bury St Edmunds Psalter. Based on these and other examples, Porck convincingly demonstrates that, “the threefold division of the life cycle enjoyed widespread popularity in Anglo-Saxon England from an early period onwards,” with all but one instance built on analogies with prominent biblical threesomes such as the Magi and the Patriarchs.27 In addition, Porck identifies at least one case, Blickling Homily xiv, where an Old English translator modifies a reference in his source to the four ages of man to, instead, a tripartite model of life stages.28 Perhaps most convincingly of all Porck’s examples, this modification indicates that the three ages of man can perhaps be considered the “default” or normative model for early medieval English thinkers, or at least those engaged in biblical exegesis. While the medical corpus is not invested in such symbolic usages of life stages, it is worthwhile noting that the three stages of childhood, youth and age that are mentioned in remedies would have readily coincided with, and made conceptual sense in terms of, the tripartite frameworks found elsewhere in early medieval English culture. As I will discuss at greater length below, it is especially significant that this three-fold structure is more prominent in these works than the four-fold schema that we might expect to

25 26 27 28

Porck, Old Age in Early Medieval England, 20–31. For further discussion, see also his chapter in this volume. Porck, Old Age in Early Medieval England, 20–21. Porck, Old Age in Early Medieval England, 31. Porck, Old Age in Early Medieval England, 22–23.

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find because of its associations with the four humors and other cosmological notions of the body’s functioning. 2

Which Remedies Mention Age and Why?

Having established the linguistic field for age in Old English medicine, the question remains of exactly how those in variant life stages are conceived to be different, and thus in need of differing treatment, and whether this difference is a matter of kind or of degree. Examining the remedies in greater detail indicates some inconsistency on this point. As table 1 indicates, some of these references to age occur in entries for distinctively age-related problems, such as the growing pains that come with getting teeth, or in a remedy for epilepsy, the onset of which is much more common in the very young. An awareness exists that certain conditions accompany a life stage and therefore can only be alleviated or “waited out” but not cured in the sense of an elimination effected by treatment. For example, Bald’s Leechbook describes how the eyes of an old man are “unsharp,” his digestion disordered, and that not much can be done about either: [e]aldes mannes eagan beoþ unscearpsyno þonne sceal he þa eagan weccan mid gnidingum mid gongum mid radum oþþe mid þy þe hine mon bere oþþe on wæne ferige. 7 hy sculan nyttian lytlum 7 forhtlicum metum 7 hiora heafod cemban 7 wermod drincan ær þon þe hie mete þicgean.29 The eyes of an old man are not sharp, so he will wake up his eyes with kneading, with movement, with riding, whether a man carries him or he rides in a cart. And they should consume small and careful amounts of meat, and comb their heads and drink wormwood before they consume food. The physical problems that attend old age, quite commonsensically, are here construed as a symptom of the life stage: not a disorder amenable to treatment so much as a set of problems to be anticipated and diminished by preventative measures. That said, this particular comment occurs halfway through 29

Bald’s Leechbook I 12. All Leechbook citations and chapter numbers are taken from Cockayne, Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft. Conan Doyle, “Anglo-Saxon Medicine and Disease: A Semantic Approach” (PhD diss., University of Cambridge, 2011), 2:37, identifies the source for this section as Oribasius, Euporistes 4.16.

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the second chapter of Bald’s Leechbook, which offers more than twenty-three remedies for eye conditions, most involving quite elaborate preparations of ingredients. The very next sentence even recommends a “god sealf” [a good salve] of pepper, salt, wine, and “swegles æppel” [an unidentified plant] for “unscearpsynum” [unsharpsighted] eyes.30 While recognizing that the functioning of certain body parts diminishes with age, and that these parts cannot thus be restored to full efficacy, Old English medicine is thus at the same time not short on options that might partially improve the patient’s condition. Other remedies that mention age address more universal problems, such as digestive disorders and parasites, the central preoccupations of the medical corpus overall presumably because they were the most prevalent conditions in daily life. As Sally Crawford observes, the inhabitants of pre-Conquest England used porous clay cooking pots that would have broken if heated to the temperatures necessarily safely to prepare meat, and the majority of the population therefore likely suffered from parasitic infection from whipworm and roundworm.31 One remedy in the Medicina de Quadrupedibus recommends applying the same remedy in different ways to adults and children in order to cure the same or related condition: Wambe to astyrigenne nim fearres geallan, somna on wulle, wrið under þæt setl neoðan, sona he þa wambe onlyseþ; do þæt ylce cildum ofer ðone nafolan, he weorpeþ ut þa wyrmas.32 To stir a stomach take a bull’s gall together in wool, bind it under the buttocks; soon it will release the stomach. Do that same to children over the navel; it [i.e. the remedy] will throw out the worms. This approach suggests that the bodies of adults and children are essentially the same, in that they can be expected to react in identical ways to the same complement of ingredients. Importantly, though, these ingredients might not be absorbed by differently-aged bodies in the same way, with the adult requiring an application under the buttocks and the child above the navel. 30

31 32

Dictionary of Old English Plant Names, ed. Peter Bierbaumer and Hans Sauer with Helmut W. Klug and Ulrike Krischke (2007–20), http://oldenglish-plantnames.org/, s.v. swegles æppel. Cockayne, Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft, 2:37, translates this as “beetle nut,” but no agreement exists on the identification of this plant. Crawford, Childhood in Anglo-Saxon England, 98. Medicina de Quadrupedibus 12.4. All citations and chapter numbers of the Medicina de Quadrupedibus are taken from de Vriend, Old English Herbarium.

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Another chapter of the same work – focusing on cures made from parts of dogs or wolves, or from their effluvia – includes a distinctive remedy for parasites living on the surface of the bodies of children in particular, even though this problem must have been widespread throughout the adult population also in early medieval England: Hnite 7 wyrmas onweg to donne ðe on cildum beoð, bærn hundes ðost 7 gnid smale, mengc wið hunige 7 smyre mid; seo [sealf] adeþ ða wyrmas onweg; nim eac þæt græs þær hund gedriteþ, cnuca, wrið on, hraðe hyt hælð.33 To do away with nits and worms that are on children, burn a dog’s excrement and grind it small, mix with honey, and smear with the salve; the worms go away. Take also that grass where a dog defecates, pound it and bind on; quickly it heals. Bald’s Leechbook includes a chapter on intestinal parasites that similarly differentiates between adults and children, described in the table of contents as, “[l]æcedomas wiþ þam wyrmum þe innan eglað monnum 7 wiþ wyrmum þe on cilda innoþe beoþ 7 wið cilda innoð sare” [Leechdoms against the worms which trouble men inwardly, and against worms which be in the innards of children, and trouble the innards of children].34 For “wyrmum þe innan eglað þam men,” the chapter prescribes a spoonful of juice from the waybroad plant and a poultice of the same plant laid over the navel, whereas for children it recommends drinking a reduction made from green mint and water.35 Although very few Old English remedies are specific to children or old people and the corpus as a whole therefore relies on the idea that bodies of different ages are fundamentally the same in nature, those remedies that are directed toward patients at certain life stages run counter to this prevailing thinking by asserting that certain plants, and modes of preparation and application are more effective on bodies of one age than they are on another. Importantly these agespecific remedies are not found only for age-related conditions like epilepsy and poor vision, but also for generalized disorders such as stomach ache and intestinal parasites.

33 34 35

Medicina de Quadrupedibus 10.15. Bald’s Leechbook I table of contents. Bald’s Leechbook I 48.

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Age and the Humors

Many remedies that mention age do so in the context of blood-letting. Typical is, for example, a remedy for intestinal problems from Bald’s Leechbook: “Gif sio adl sie to þon strang þ[æt] þas læcedomas ne onnime gif se mon sie geong 7 strang læt him blod of innan earme of þære miclan ædre þære middle ædre” [If the disease be too strong that these leechdoms not work, if the man be young and strong bleed him from the inner arm from the great vein of the middle vein].36 Such an instruction can seem entirely practical in nature, since a younger person would be more likely to be able to withstand the negative effects of the procedure.37 But references to age in the context of blood-letting are both practical and theoretical: by invoking humoral medicine, these remedies reference the most authoritative understanding of the body’s composition and operation available to the early medieval translators. However, simply to discern the presence of humoral thinking in Old English medical works does not answer the important question of the degree to which this theory shaped the overall understanding of the body’s composition, working, and progression through life stages, as these topics are engaged with in these texts in particular. How much did the translators understand about humoral theory and how did their translations work to perpetuate and disseminate knowledge about life courses, especially, in a humoral context? Some scholarly disagreement exists as to the degree to which humoral theory was understood, as opposed to being blindly received and translated, by Old English writers. The most comprehensive study of this point is the fifth chapter of Conan Doyle’s dissertation on Anglo-Saxon Medicine and Disease: A Semantic Approach.38 Here Doyle undertakes a comprehensive study of the vernacular vocabulary for the humors – wæta and oman – drawing conclusions that differ markedly from those of previous authorities on this subject, M.L. Cameron in his 1993 monograph and Lois Ayoub in her seminal 1995 article, “Old English wæta and the Medical Theory of the Humours.”39 Whereas Ayoub identified a technical vocabulary for the humors in the vernacular, Cameron found little informed engagement with the theory in Old English medical texts. Doyle, in contrast, establishes that while Old English translators neither used a distinct Old English word for humor in general nor any of 36 37 38 39

Bald’s Leechbook ii 32. For the history of blood-letting, see, D. P. Thomas, “The Demise of Bloodletting,” Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh 44 (2014): 72–77. Doyle, Anglo-Saxon Medicine. Cameron, Anglo-Saxon Medicine; Lois Ayoub, “Old English wæta and the Medical Theory of the Humours,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 94 (1995): 332–46.

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the four in particular, nevertheless, they “did their best to retain as much of the humoral information retained therein as possible, and even to explicate it by using circumlocutive phrases.”40 His comprehensive study of wæta and oman effectively demonstrates that the translators were a highly informed and skilled group, “keenly concerned with the accurate vernacular interpretation of the most complex medical theories of their day.”41 While medical texts do not themselves contain an explicit discussion of the humors – what they are and how they work – such material was available in early medieval England and clearly underpins the translators’ sensitive treatment of Latin terminology. As scholars such as Doyle – and, in addition, J. A. Burrow, Thijs Porck and Faith Wallis – have noted, humoral theory is explained very clearly in the works of Bede and Byrhtferth, both of whom linger over the cosmological and numerological embedding of the humors within the “fours,” a quadrilateral system of correspondences between the humors, the qualities, the seasons, the elements, and the ages of man.42 These correspondences demonstrate the ways that humoral theory is both spatial in nature, given that it concerns deficits and excesses in the amount of humoral fluids, and resolutely temporal, since the balance of humors shifts in response to cyclical and linear time. It is no surprise, then, that early medieval writers deeply concerned with the theory and practice of time-keeping address the humors in a theoretical sense whereas medical texts do not, especially given that the discursive mode of medical works is generally practical and oriented towards the individual remedy. In other words, early medieval remedies provide little in the way of explanation as to the why of a remedy, but focus much more on the what and the how. A vocabulary study such as Doyle’s is therefore the only way to access the implicit knowledge bank upon which this literature, and its translators, were relying. As Bede explains in chapter thirty five of his De temporum ratione, the temporal span of human life can be divided into four phases governed by its own humor: blood is most evident in children (“in infantibus”) and associated with spring; red choler is abundant in young people (“in adolescentibus”) and during summer; “melancholia” (which Bede clarifies is “gall mixed with the dregs of black blood”) characterizes those in middle-age (“in transgressoribus”) and is associated with fall; and phlegm is predominant in old age 40 41 42

Doyle, Anglo-Saxon Medicine, 1:195. Doyle, Anglo-Saxon Medicine, 1:195. Burrow, Ages of Man, 12–36; Porck, Old Age in Early Medieval England, 31–37; Faith Wallis, “Medicine in Medieval Calendar Manuscripts,” in Manuscript Sources of Medieval Medicine: A Book of Essays, ed. Margaret R. Schleissner (1995; repr., New York, 2013), 105–43.

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(“in senibus”) and winter.43 Three hundred years later Byrhtferth of Ramsey renders the same information into English, noting that, “[l]engtentima and cildiugoð geþwærlæcað, and cnihtiugoð and sumor beoð gelice, and hærfast and geþungen yld geferlæcað, and winter and yld ateoriað” [springtime and childhood accord with each other, and boyhood and summer are alike, and fall and middle age go together, and winter and old age fade away], and continuing to expand upon the associations of each stage with the humors, the seasons, and certain behaviors.44 As these passages demonstrate, Old English writers understood that the balance of humors in the body shifted with the calendar and during the patient’s life span, necessitating different treatments depending on age. However, as discussed above, this clearly demarcated fourfold approach to the lifespan is not immediately evident in the vocabulary for age within Old English medicine, even while the humoral approach is clearly present. Of Byrhtferth’s descriptors for the life stages corresponding to the four humors – cild, cniht, geþungen yld, and yld – only cild is used with any consistency in the medical corpus. The patterning and precision that fascinates Bede and Byrhtferth about the four humoral life stages does not carry over into medical works and, in addition, the paucity of references to age in vernacular remedies is surprising given that life stage is such an important consideration within humoral medicine. One possible explanation for the scarcity of references to age in Old English medical texts is that the practitioner was simply expected to know that humoral treatments should be adjusted according to age, just like they were expected either already to know or to make sensible, context-based decisions about many other details of remedies that were not always spelled out (such as amounts of ingredients, for example). An unusually expansive passage in Bald’s Leechbook makes these expectations clear by providing some instructions to the lic about the diagnostic encounter: Gif þearf sie sele hwilum wyrtdrenc. 7 gesceawa simle þonne þu þa strangan læcedomas do hwilc þ[æt] mægen sie 7 sio gecynd þæs lichoman. hwæþer hio sie strang þe heard 7 eaþelice mæge þa strangan læcedomas aberan þe hio sie hnesce 7 mearwe 7 þynne 7 ne mæge aberan þa læcedomas. Do þu ða læcedomas swilce þu þa lichoman gesie. For þon ðe micel gedal is on wæpnedes 7 wifes 7 cildes lichoman. 7 on þam mægene þæs 43 44

For the original, see Bede, De temporum ratione 35, ed. C. W. Jones, Opera didascalica, ccsl 123 B (Turnhout, 1977), 391–95. For a translation, see Bede, The Reckoning of Time, trans. Faith Wallis (Liverpool, 2004), 100–103. Byrhtferth, Enchiridion, ed. and trans. Peter S. Baker and Michael Lapidge, eets s.s. 15 (London, 1995). For the relationship between Bede’s text and Byrhtferth, see Thijs Porck’s contribution in this volume.

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dæghwamlican wyrhtan 7 þæs idlan þæs ealdan 7 þæs geongan 7 þæs þe sie gewin þrowungum. 7 þæs þe sie ungewuna swelcum þingum. Ge þa hwitan lichoman beoð mearuwran 7 tedran þonne þa blacan. 7 þa readan. Gif þu wille lim aceorfan oððe asniðan of lichoman þonne gesceawa þu hwilc sio stow sie. 7 þære stowe mægen. For þon ðe þara stowa sum raþe rotaþ gif hire mon gimeleaslice tilað. Sume lator felað þara læcedoma sume raþor.45 If there is a need, occasionally give a root-drink, and watch always when you are applying the strong leechdoms what the power and the nature of the body is. Whether it is strong and hardy and may easily bear the strong leechdoms or whether it is tender and delicate and thin and may not bear the leechdoms. Perform the leechdoms likewise as the body is. Because a great difference exists between the bodies of men and women and children. And in the strength of a daily worker or the idle or old or the young and of those who are suffering and of those who are unused to such things. Both the white bodies are softer and weaker than the black and the red. If you will carve or cut off a limb from the body then you should consider which place it is. And the strength of the place. Because certain of the places rot more quickly if carelessly tended. Some feel the leechdoms later; some more quickly. In this passage the practitioner is advised to use significant discretion in assessing the body that he or she is treating on two related dimensions: first the leech should consider the maegen, strength, and then the gecynd, kind, of the body, because together these comprise “þa lichoman gesie,” what the body is. The meanings of gecynd and maegen are worth thinking about further, especially as they relate to age and life stages. The words seem to indicate a conceptual pair, with the material form of the body, its gecynd – whether it be hard, or tender, strong or thin – operating as a visible and tangible registration of its invisible and intangible maegen, a widely-used vernacular term for strength, power, resilience and, by extension, the exercise of power and a group of military men. Both F. P. Magoun and, forty years later, Stephen Glosecki, associated mægen with ‘mana,’ a Tongan term used to define the life-force suffusing and connecting all creatures and objects.46 Mægen is both a very general term for the embodied capacity of humans, which explains why it is used in almost every genre of vernacular writing, and at the same time quite specific to early medieval English theories of physiological and 45 46

Bald’s Leechbook I 35. Stephen O. Glosecki, Shamanism and Old English Poetry (New York, 1989), 56.

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psychological functioning. Glosecki argues, for example, that mægen, along with various other words in Old English poetry such as feorh, indicates the presence of “an ethereal force given and taken by higher powers, tenuously maintained, demanding constant protection, giving bodies breath the way atmospheric pressure gives them form.”47 Bodies with more mægen are robust and capable of withstanding ”þa strangan læcedomas” [the strong leechdoms] – that is, letting blood, prescribing the consumption of certain liquid preparations, performing surgery, or other actions that probably caused harm as many times as they were beneficial. In addition, certain parts of the body have more mægen than others, a factor that should be taken into account if an amputation is required. Locations on the body with greater mægen will respond more swiftly to medication; those with lesser degrees of mægen will not only respond more slowly, but will also decline and decay more rapidly. Mægen is therefore simultaneously a characteristic possessed by bodies in their entirety – and is individually assessable by means of the shape, size, and color of those bodies – and is also known to be concentrated in certain locations of the body in ways that are predictable and shared by all bodies regardless of their differences. Mægen is not just a human characteristic but is a quality also of animals and plants, which may go partway to explaining the theoretical basis of medieval remedies. For example, the entry for Greater Periwinkle in the Old English Herbarium includes instructions about what the person harvesting the plant should say to it: “ðu glæd to me cume mid þinum mægenum blowende” [you come to me gladly with your powers blooming].48 A deficit of mægen could thus potentially be remedied by the consumption of plant or animal ingredients that transfuse mægen back into the human body from another context. As the petitioner continues in his or her address to the Greater Periwinkle, “me gegearwie þæt ic sy gescyld 7 symle gesælig 7 ungedered fram attrum 7 fram yrsunge” [make me so that I will be protected and always happy and not harmed by poison and by anger].49 Rather than being prescribed for a particular infirmity or condition, then, the Greater Periwinkle seems to enhance general resilience, both emotional and physical. Make me, the petitioner requests, supercharged with mægen. The Latin equivalent of mægen, dynamidia or virtus, is used for “the virtues of medical substances or treatments” or the power to produce “physiological effects […] on the human body.”50 What modern 47 48 49 50

Glosecki, Shamanism and Old English Poetry, 56. Old English Herbarium 179. All citations and chapter numbers are taken from de Vriend, Old English Herbarium. Old English Herbarium 179. L. C. MacKinney, “‘Dynamidia’ in Medieval Medical Literature,” Isis 24 (1936): 400; Gavin Hardy and Laurence Totelin, Ancient Botany (London, 2016), 81.

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science would analyze as phytochemical properties, or qualities of chemicals produced by plants as part of their growth and self-defense mechanisms, early medieval medicine conceptualizes as a vigorous and transferable force shared by living beings, including plants.51 In determining “þa lichoman gesie,” what the body is, the practitioner is advised also to consider gecynd, a factor affecting mægen. The Dictionary of Old English lists eleven base meanings for gecynd, most denoting a state of being or possession of qualities and properties that are innate, native, and natural.52 In the above passage, gecynd not only encompasses size and shape, as described above, but also gender, age, occupation, and level of activity, complicating somewhat the sense of what is “natural” to a body to include the “kind” of body that is in actuality produced by repeated tasks, exposure to climate, and a number of other factors. The text notes that “micel gedal” [great difference] exists between the bodies of men, women, and children, and, furthermore, those who work every day as opposed to those who are idle, and those who are used to suffering and those who are not. In what seems to be a humoral reference, the passages states that, “the white bodies are softer and weaker than the black and the red,” meaning, presumably, that those bodies with a preponderance of black bile or blood are stronger than those that are phlegmatic. Youth or age are here intermingled not only with gender, but also with characteristics, such as idleness or inactivity, that are not exclusive to certain life stages but are constitutionally more likely to be associated with them. Life course is thus one, among many, components that enter into a pragmatics of bodily natures for the early medieval healer.53 4

Children as Ingredients

As mentioned earlier, the normative body assumed by early medieval medical texts is that of an adult male. Children and women are positioned within 51

52 53

My argument here has interesting resonances with Daria Izdebska’s discussion in this volume of the “People as Plants” metaphor evident in certain Old English vocabulary terms for life stages (65). See also Caroline R. Batten’s discussion in this volume of a remedy to accelerate childbirth, in which, “The coriander seeds seem to exert some kind of forcefield that pulls the infant out of the uterus” (149). doe, s.v. gecynd. Caroline R. Batten, in her essay in this volume, makes the very important point that, given that the male adult body is the default in Old English medical texts, leaving consideration of gender and age to the individual physician means that “precisely those differences may be ignored, overlooked, or lost” (146).

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medical discourse as exceptions to this norm when it comes to patients’ bodies, but both children and women also appear as part of the remedies themselves, in the sense either that they are specified as those who should administer them or because their bodily effluvia or by-products – primarily urine and breast milk – are cited as ingredients. Thinking about life stages, as they are understood in medical texts, has to accommodate this peculiarity where those bodies typically treated as being weaker due to their age or gender are also, somewhat paradoxically, simultaneously powerful and capable of effecting cures. The idea of “remedies derived from man” was explored at great length in book 28 of Pliny’s Historia naturalis, “Remedies Derived from Living Creatures,” which generated a tradition of free-standing works on ingredients originating from the human body that circulated separately.54 Along with chapters on the benefits of saliva, ear wax, hair, teeth, blood, semen, urine, menstrual fluid, sneezes, and excrement, among other human products, this book also covers remedies derived from foreign animals (such as lions, elephants, hyenas, and crocodiles), vaguely medicinal uses of cheese and different fats, and concludes with a long set of chapters organized by condition. Like the Greek physicians, including Galen, Pliny recommends urine as a cure for a wide variety of ailments, including infertility, ulcers, dog bites, sunburn, and being pricked by a hedgehog’s spines; it is also good for taking out ink spots.55 Rather than viewing urine as waste matter, ancient medicine considers it, “a distilled product selected from the blood and containing useful substances for the care of the body.”56 According to Pliny, the urine of prepubescent children has some special qualities in curing eye disorders and the bite of one specific variety of snake, although, as is typical in the Historia naturalis, little information is provided about preparation or application.57 Children’s urine appears as an ingredient a number of times in the Old English medical corpus. For example, in a remedy for a swelling in the neck in Bald’s Leechbook, the healer is instructed to mingle together various ingredients including, “cnihtes oþþe cildes migeþan to to onlegene do on þone gund [a boy’s or child’s urine, and lay it on the tumor].58 Leechbook iii counsels, “[g]if mist sie fore eagum nim cildes hlond 7 huniges tear meng tosomne begea emfela smire mid þa eagan innan [If a mist be before the eyes, take the urine 54 55 56 57 58

Pliny the Elder, Natural History, Volume VIII: Books 28–32, ed. and trans. W. H. S. Jones (Cambridge, MA, 1963), 1–179. Vincenzo Savica, Domenico Santoro, and Agostino Mallamace, “Urine Therapy through the Centuries,” in Journal of Nephrology 24 (2011): 123–25. Savica, Santoro and Mallamace, “Urine Therapy,” 123. Pliny, Natural History 28.18, ed. and trans. Jones, 46–49. Bald’s Leechbook I 4.

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of a child and mingle with virgin honey of both equal amounts, smear the inside of the eyes with it].59 Honey does have documented antimicrobial and immunostimulatory effects due, among other factors, to the presence of compounds from the plants from which it is made; scientific studies have shown that it reduces healing times for burns and surgical wounds, and also likely ameliorates children’s coughs.60 The perceived efficacy of children’s urine, on the other hand, seems likely to be connected to a number of modes of thinking about what works, and why, which are simultaneously operative in early medieval medicine. Sympathetic medicine, the basis of many Old English remedies, suggested that characteristics or qualities could be transferred from one body (human, plant or animal) to another, in which case the aim of this particular remedy might be gaining access to the generally sharper eyesight of children.61 In addition, children’s urine might be valued more highly because of a perception of its greater purity in comparison to that of adults. Embedded here is possibly the association between puer and puritas, which I discussed earlier in the context of the seven life stages identified by Isidore, and the notion that childhood is characterized by the absence of sexual desire that marks the onset of adolescentia. In the same way, however, that pueritia is seen as a life stage that can be occupied by a person of any age who possesses a childlike faith, a state of puritas can be temporarily occupied by those beyond their childhood years. For example, the entry for Greater Periwinkle in the Old English Herbarium, which I referenced above in my discussion of plant mægen, specifies that, “ðonne ðu þas wyrt niman wylt ðu scealt beon clæne wið æghwylce unclænnysse” [when you wish to pick the plant, you should be clean of any 59

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Leechbook III 2. A Latin analogue to this remedy exists in the ninth-century Leiden Leechbook, a multilingual bifolium containing medical remedies (Leiden University Library, vlf 96A, ff. 1v–2r). For the original text of the remedy and a translation, see A. Falileyev and M.E. Owen, The Leiden Leechbook: A Study of the Earliest Neo-Brittonic Medical Compilation (Innsbruck, 2005), 19. This analogue, along with somewhat controversial arguments that the fragment contains three Old English words, suggests that the Leiden Leechbook may be linked to early medieval England. For a summary of the evidence and arguments, see Thijs Porck, “Cooked Crow’s Brains and Other Early Medieval Remedies for Headache from the Leiden Leechbook,” (blog), August 6, 2018, https:// thijsporck.com/2018/08/06/leiden-leechbook/. Erin Connelly, Charo I. del Genio, and Freya Harrison, “Data Mining a Medieval Medical Text Reveals Patterns in Ingredient Choice that Reflect Biological Activity against Infectious Agents,” in mBio 11 (2020): 1–15, https://doi.org/10.1128/mBio.03136-19. For more on the principles of sympathetic medicine, and a consideration of its usage in Old English aphrodisiac remedies in particular, please see Jacqueline Fay, “Becoming an Onion: The Extra-Human Nature of Genital Difference in the Old English Riddling and Medical Traditions, English Studies 101 (2020): 60–78.

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uncleanness].62 Other entries indicate that a particular remedy be applied by a child or even, in the case of a long discussion of stomach ailments in Bald’s Leechbook, that “[h]im hylpð eac þ[æt] him fæt cild ætslape 7 þ[æt] he þ[æt] gedo neah his wambe simle” [it also helps him if a fat child sleeps near him and that he puts it always near his stomach].63 These entries indicate that the state of childhood is associated with some special healing qualities that can be transferred in various ways from the child’s body to the body of the adult patient, whether that be by means of urine added as an ingredient or through the child’s participation in the healing ritual itself. 5

Conclusion: What Early Medieval English Medicine Tells Us about Life Stages

While the Old English medical corpus contains a paucity of direct references to age, a number of interesting conclusions can be drawn by considering how these works contribute to or fit into early medieval understanding of life courses more generally. The overall lack of attention to age reveals much about what type of body is considered normative within Old English medicine – that of an adult male – while the limited range of terminology for age indicates that medical works, like many other texts written during this time period, maintain a fairly simple tripartite notion of the life course as consisting of childhood, youth, and adulthood. Most revealing are the passing references both to the treatment and the use in treatment of non-normative bodies, especially those of children. A small number of remedies indicate that the bodies of children are considered distinctive enough to warrant a variant form of application or even an entirely different treatment from that recommended for adults. Most of the time, though, the healer would need to sensitively consider the life stage of their patient as only one among many indicators of the type and strength or power, mægen, of the body for which they were preparing treatment. Mægen is possessed not only by human bodies – and differentially according to life stage, whether a person is sick or healthy, their occupation, and gender, among other factors – but also by plants and animals. Ingredients may thus either be derived from bodies as they pass through certain life stages or their potency may be enhanced when individuals in certain life stages 62 63

Old English Herbarium 179. Caroline R. Batten, in her essay in this volume, discusses a remedy specifying that treatment be applied by a virgin, noting the alignment between healing and sexual purity (149). Bald’s Leechbook II 27.

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participate in the collection of plants or the application of remedies. Maegen can thus apparently be transferred from body to body, and from plants to human bodies, all of which intra-act, to use Karen Barad’s term for a type of process in which elements are entangled with each other rather than one in which relations occur in the space between elements, to constitute what might be called the medical encounter.64 Life stages are in this way glimpsed only in quite dynamic configurations within Old English medical works, less categorical states of being than part of emergent and provisional collocations of human and non-human elements. 64

Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Durham, NC, 2007).

chapter 5

‘Lazarus, Come Forth’: Pregnancy and Childbirth in the Life Course of Early Medieval English Women Caroline R. Batten The handful of extant Old English remedies dealing with miscarriage, stillbirth, and prolonged labor have been the subject of several studies seeking to establish them as survivals of a tradition of women-centered medicine in early medieval England.1 No analysis, however, has yet sought to determine what these texts can tell us about social attitudes towards pregnant women in the early medieval English period, and the role pregnancy may have played in the life course of early medieval English women. Medical treatment of the gravid body provides unique evidence for ideas not only about the beginning of the life course, but also about the ways in which women were expected to navigate the various stages of adult female life. Any understanding of the early medieval life course must necessarily take gender into account, considering the oppositional notion of gender to which the Old English textual record mostly adheres: “fæder and modor, / wif and wæpned” [father and mother, woman and man], as the poet of Genesis A puts it.2 Old English medical, legal, and literary texts largely assume that physical sex and socially-constructed gender are binary and conflated – that is, an assessment of a person’s physical sex based on genitalia and perceptible secondary sex characteristics determines that individual’s expected gender performance, including their role in sexual intercourse.3 Though early medieval English 1 Marilyn Deegan, “Pregnancy and Childbirth in the Anglo-Saxon Medical Texts: A Preliminary Survey,” in Medicine in Early Medieval England: Four Papers, ed. Marilyn Deegan and D. G. Scragg (Manchester, 1989), 17–26; Lisa Weston, “Women’s Medicine, Women’s Magic: The Old English Metrical Childbirth Charms,” Modern Philology 92 (1995): 279–93; Marijane Osborn, “Anglo-Saxon Ethnobotany: Women’s Reproductive Medicine in Leechbook III,” in Health and Healing from the Medieval Garden, ed. Peter Dendle and Alain Touwaide (Woodbridge, 2008), 145–61; Christine Voth, “Women and ‘Women’s Medicine’ in Early Medieval England: From Text to Practice,” in Feminist Approaches to Old English Studies, ed. Rebecca Stephenson, Robin Norris, and Renée Trilling (Turnhout, forthcoming), here 1–27; Marie Nelson, “A Woman’s Charm,” Studia Neophilologica 57 (1985): 3–8. 2 Genesis A, lines 194–95, ed. A. N. Doane, Genesis A: A New Edition, Revised, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 435 (Tempe, 2013). 3 Joan Cadden, Meanings of Sex Difference in the Middle Ages: Medicine, Science, and Culture (Cambridge, 1993); Ruth Karras, Sexuality in Medieval Europe: Doing unto Others, 3rd ed. © Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2022 | doi:10.1163/9789004501867_007

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individuals undoubtedly navigated oppositional sexual and gendered norms in a variety of ways, and though scholars of gender theory and queer theory have demonstrated that both dimorphic sex and binary gender are a matter of social construction, the vast majority of Old English texts hold to ideas of binary sex and gender, and many implicitly or explicitly assert the superiority of men and masculinity over women and femininity.4 Of necessity, therefore, this chapter uses ‘woman’ and ‘female’ to refer to those both sexed and gendered as such in early medieval English society, and ‘man’ and ‘male’ in similar ways. The archaeological record indicates that social understandings of the female life course dovetailed closely with biological markers (first menstruation, childbirth), while the male life course was less biologically-determined. Women were granted social status – as suggested by patterns in grave goods – based on the onset of fertility, engagement in childcare, and maternity.5 The attainment of adult sexual maturity and motherhood thus seem to have been two socially-recognized stages in the life course of early medieval women. The first leads to the second through pregnancy, a medically dangerous time for both mother and child. Neonatal, infant, and maternal mortality were unsurprisingly high in early medieval England.6 The textual record suggests that the (Abingdon, 2017); Joyce Salisbury, “Gendered Sexuality,” in Handbook of Medieval Sexuality, ed. Vern L. Bullough and James A. Brundage (New York, 2000), 81–102. On these ideas in Old English texts specifically, see David Clark, Between Medieval Men: Male Friendship and Desire in Early Medieval English Literature (Oxford, 2009); Hugh Magennis, “‘No Sex Please, We’re Anglo-Saxons’? Attitudes to Sexuality in Old English Prose and Poetry,” Leeds Studies in English 26 (1995): 1–27; Carol Pasternack and Lisa Weston, eds., Sex and Sexuality in Anglo-Saxon England (Tempe, 2004); Clare Lees, “Engendering Religious Desire: Sex, Knowledge, and Christian Identity in Anglo-Saxon England,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 27 (1997): 17–46; Dana Oswald, Monsters, Gender and Sexuality in Medieval English Literature (Woodbridge, 2010). 4 On the constructed nature of both sex and gender, see, for example, Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York, 1990); Anne Fausto-Sterling, Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality (New York, 2000); Rachel Alsop, Annette Fitzsimons, and Kathleen Lennon, Theorizing Gender (Oxford, 2002). 5 Nick Stoodley, “From the Cradle to the Grave: Age Organization and the Early Anglo-Saxon Burial Rite,” World Archaeology 31 (2000): 456–72; Duncan Sayer and Sam Dickinson, “Reconsidering Obstetric Death and Female Fertility in Anglo-Saxon England,” World Archaeology 45 (2013): 285–97; Roberta Gilchrist, Medieval Life: Archaeology and the Life Course (Woodbridge, 2012), 4. See also Mary Dockray-Miller, Motherhood and Mothering in Anglo-Saxon England (Basingstoke, 2000); Robin Smith, “Anglo-Saxon Maternal Ties,” in This Noble Craft: Proceedings of the Xth Research Symposium of the Dutch and Belgian Teachers of Old and Middle English and Historical Linguistics, ed. Erik Kooper (Amsterdam, 1991), 106–17. On the related devaluation of postmenopausal women, see Thijs Porck, Old Age in Early Medieval England: A Cultural History (Woodbridge, 2019), 214–16. 6 Sayer and Dickinson, “Death,” 286; Victoria Thompson, Dying and Death in Later Anglo-Saxon England (Woodbridge, 2004), 9.

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fetus was understood as a liminal being: the text on the growth of the fetus appearing in London, British Library, Cotton Tiberius A.iii notes that in the third month, the fetus is a “man butan sawle” [person without a soul], but does not explain explicitly when the soul comes into existence.7 The fetus is “cwic” [alive, moving, possibly ensouled] in the fifth month, but does not have a heart until the eighth month, and if it still remains in the womb in the tenth month it is no longer a child but a “feorhadle” [life-threatening illness]. The fetus moves between death and life, personhood and non-personhood. Arguably, the pregnant woman exists in a similarly liminal state. This chapter will suggest that the obstetric remedies found in the Old English medical corpus treat pregnancy as a separate stage in the female life course, which overlaps with but is fundamentally distinct from both wifehood and motherhood. According to these texts, the ‘pregnancy stage’ in the life course is marked by its vulnerability and marginality, its distance from the other stages of adult female development, its increased proximity to death, and the conceptual elision of woman and fetus. I will contextualize my analysis of obstetric texts by examining, firstly, attitudes towards female patients in the Old English medical texts, and secondly, burials of pregnant women and new mothers in the pre-Conquest period. I will then turn to the surviving childbirth remedies in Old English, concluding with a close reading of Metrical Charm 6, the longest and most detailed obstetric remedy in the corpus. 1

Women in Early Medieval English Medicine

Early medieval English ideas about the pregnant female body are rooted in an understanding of gender that is not only binary and oppositional, but hierarchical. Women in early medieval England had some legal rights, including property ownership and the right to consent to a marriage, but did not have the political, economic, and sexual freedoms men possessed.8 Moreover, women’s exercise of such rights was largely contingent on their marital status and relationships 7 R. M. Liuzza, ed. and trans., Anglo-Saxon Prognostics: An Edition and Translation of Texts from London, British Library MS Cotton Tiberius A.iii (Cambridge, 2011), 200. 8 See, for example, Stephanie Hollis, Anglo-Saxon Women and the Church: Sharing a Common Fate (Woodbridge, 1992); Catherine Cubitt, “Virginity and Misogyny in Tenth- and EleventhCentury England,” Gender and History 12 (2002): 1–32; Pauline Stafford, “Women and the Norman Conquest,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6/4 (1994): 221–49; Stafford, Unification and Conquest: A Political and Social History of England in the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries (London, 1989); Stafford, Queen Emma and Queen Edith: Queenship and Women’s Power in Eleventh-Century England (Oxford, 1997).

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with men.9 Though some scholars have argued that the early medieval English period was a ‘golden age’ for women,10 on balance the evidence suggests that early medieval England was not an exception to the prevailing male-dominated Christian culture of Europe in this period. Old English religious texts understand conception and childbirth in the ordinary human woman to be evidence not only of sexual sin, but of original sin.11 Indeed, a brief childbirth charm in the margins of Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, ms 41 (p. 329) addresses the patient as an incarnation of Eve and appears beside a passage in Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica in which a monk desires to free himself from oppressive sin.12 It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that women are marginalized in early medieval English medicine, both as practitioners and as patients. All physicians whose names survive in the historical record from the pre-Conquest period are male.13 There is some evidence that early medieval English women practiced medicine and midwifery, but such activities are largely attested in penitential and homiletic texts, which condemn them as inappropriate.14 The 9

10 11

12 13 14

Julia Crick, “Women, Posthumous Benefaction, and Family Strategy in Pre-Conquest England,” Journal of British Studies 38 (1999): 399–422; Anne Klinck, “Anglo-Saxon Women and the Law,” Journal of Medieval History 8 (1982): 107–21; Patrick Wormald, “On þa wæpnedhealfe: Kingship and Royal Property from Æthelwulf to Edward the Elder,” in Edward the Elder, 899–924, ed. Nicholas Higham and David Hill (London, 2001), 264–79. See Christine Fell, Women in Anglo-Saxon England (London, 1984); Helen Damico and Alexandra Olsen, eds., New Readings on Women in Old English Literature (Bloomington, 1990). As in Genesis A, lines 919–24, God’s curse on Eve: “Þu scealt wæpned-men / wesan on gewealde, mid weres egsan / hearde genearwad, hean þrowian / þinra dæda gedwild, deaðes bidan, / and þurh wop and heaf on woruld cennan / þurh sar micel sunu and dohtor” [you shall be under the rule of men, tightly bound in awe of a man, and, abject, suffer from the error of your deeds, await death, and in lamentation and weeping give birth to sons and daughters in the world through great pain]. For more examples and further discussion, see Lees, “Engendering Religious Desire,” 20–21; Carol Pasternack, “Sexual Practices of Virginity and Chastity in Aldhelm’s De Virginitate,” in Pasternack and Weston, Sex and Sexuality, 93–120; Stacy Klein, “Parenting and Childhood in The Fortunes of Men,” in Childhood and Adolescence in Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture, ed. Susan Irvine and Winfried Rudolf (Toronto, 2018), 95–119. For a discussion of numerous homilies on this subject, see Naomi Beaumont, “Mothers, Mothering and Motherhood in Late Anglo-Saxon England” (PhD diss., University of York, 2006). Lea Olsan, “The Marginality of Charms in Medieval England,” in The Power of Words: Studies on Charms and Charming in Europe, ed. James Alexander Kapaló, Éva Pócs, and William Ryan (Budapest, 2013), 135–64. Debby Banham, “Dun, Oxa, and Pliny the Great Physician: Attribution and Authority in Old English Medical Texts,” Social History of Medicine 24 (2011): 57–73. Women’s healing practices are described as heathenism in the Scriftboc, the Old English Penitential, and the Canons of Theodore, canons X16.02.01, B78.01.02, Y44.16.01,

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Old English medical corpus survives in manuscripts made at important ecclesiastical centers, including Winchester and Canterbury, and their literate monastic audiences – including any physicians who could access these texts – were almost certainly mostly male.15 Male physicians and priests, as demonstrated by several of the remedies cited below, were not excluded from the birthing chamber, and childbirth medicine as preserved in the surviving corpus does not attest to spaces (literal or conceptual) of solely female authority. Moreover, extant Old English medical texts demonstrate a notable lack of interest in female patients and female bodies. A chapter of women’s medicine has been lost from Bald’s Leechbook Book ii (the second book of remedies contained in the tenth-century medical compendium London, British Library, Royal ms 12 D.xvii), but even if that chapter had survived, it is minimal compared to the eight chapters Bald’s Leechbook II devotes to the liver alone, or the seven it devotes to the spleen.16 Some female-specific remedies can be found scattered across the medical texts, but they represent a small percentage (~2.5%) of the corpus as a whole.17 If a women-centered tradition of medicine existed

15

16

17

ed. Allen J. Frantzen, Anglo-Saxon Penitentials: A Cultural Database (2003–20), http:// www.anglo-saxon.net/penance/; Ælfric, De Auguriis, lines 148–50, Lives of Saints: Being a Set of Sermons on Saints’ Days Formerly Observed by the English Church, ed. and trans. W. W. Skeat, eets o.s. 76, 82, 94, 114 (London, 1881–1900); Assmann Homily xi, lines 123– 27, and the homily on fol. 65r of Oxford, Bodleian Library, ms Hatton 115 (texts in Winfried Rudolf, “Anglo-Saxon Preaching on Children,” in Irvine and Rudolf, Childhood and Adolescence, 48–70). On the persistent association of women and women’s healing with dangerous magic, see Audrey L. Meaney, “Women, Witchcraft, and Magic in Anglo-Saxon England,” in Superstition and Popular Medicine in Anglo-Saxon England, ed. D. G. Scragg (Manchester, 1989), 9–40; Weston, “Medicine,” 281–82. Illustrations of female midwives appear in Oxford, Bodleian Library, Junius ms 11, pp. 53, 62, 63. Weston, “Women’s Medicine,” 281–82; Deegan, “Pregnancy and Childbirth,” 17–18; Voth, “Women and ‘Women’s Medicine’,” 8; R. A. Buck, “Woman’s Milk in Anglo-Saxon and Later Medieval Medical Texts,” Neophilologus 96 (2012): 467–85; Buck, “Women and Language in the Anglo-Saxon Leechbooks,” Women and Language 23 (2000): 41–50; Monica Green, “Women’s Medical Practice and Healthcare in Medieval Europe,” Signs 14 (1989): 434–73; Green, “Gendering the History of Women’s Healthcare,” Gender and History 20 (2008): 487–518; Green, Making Women’s Medicine Masculine: The Rise of Male Authority in Premodern Gynaecology (Oxford, 2008). Deegan, “Pregnancy and Childbirth,” 17; Monica Green, “Making Motherhood in Medieval England: The Evidence from Medicine,” in Motherhood, Religion, and Society in Medieval Europe 400–1400, ed. Conrad Leyser and Lesley Smith (Farnham, 2011), 172–203. Royal ms 12 D.xvii has three books, generally referred to as Bald’s Leechbook I and II and Leechbook III. On the liver and spleen, see Bald’s Leechbook II 17–24, 38–44. All Leechbook citations and chapter numbers are taken from T. O. Cockayne, ed. and trans., Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft of Early England, 3 vols. (London, 1864–66). Voth, “Women and ‘Women’s Medicine’,” 8, counts 51 surviving remedies, out of nearly 2,000 in the medical corpus as a whole. See Bald’s Leechbook II 60 (table of contents only);

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in early medieval England and influenced the female-specific remedies in the Old English corpus, then that tradition has been mediated by texts produced largely for male audiences at scriptoria accessible largely to men.18 Women, of course, also possess livers and spleens, and there is no reason to believe that the Old English remedies for ailments that afflict all people were not used for female patients. The language used in these remedies, however, is arguably skewed in favor of male patients. The word used most often to describe the patient in remedies ostensibly meant for all people is the word man(n), mon(n). Mann most often means either ‘person, human being’ or ‘a man, male person.’19 Semantic studies of the word mann conclude that the term encompasses a spectrum of meaning, ranging from ‘person’ to ‘male person’ with gradations of gender-specificity.20 Despite the fact that the word can have an explicitly masculine denotation, several scholars have argued that this word is a ‘true neutral,’ and that its use in medical texts indicates that this corpus addresses a non-gendered patient.21 The fact that the gender-specific end of mann’s semantic spectrum exists at all, however, suggests that though the word nominally encompasses both men and women, it is not a true neutral. I suggest, rather, that the term should be considered a ‘masculine neutral’: a word that ostensibly refers to all humans, but privileges the man as the default or normative person.22 Mann can certainly include women semantically in the medical texts – indeed, in one remedy cited below, the word mann is elaborated as ‘a young man or a young woman’ – but it

18

19

20 21 22

Leechbook III 37–38; Old English Herbarium 5, 19, 22, etc. and Old English Medicina de Quadrupedibus 2–6, 10, 12. All Old English Herbarium and Medicina de Quadrupedibus citations taken from Hubert de Vriend, ed., The Old English Herbarium and Medicina de Quadrupedibus, eets o.s 286 (London, 1984). Female scribes certainly existed in early medieval England, but, as Richard Gameson notes, “they will always have been a minority”; Richard Gameson, “Anglo-Saxon Scribes and Scriptoria,” in The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, I (c. 400–1100), ed. Richard Gameson (Cambridge, 2012), 94–120, at 98. Fell, Women in Anglo-Saxon England, 17–19; Christine Rauer, “Mann and Gender in Old English Prose: A Pilot Study,” Neophilologus 101 (2017): 139–58; Buck, “Women and Language,” 45. It is possible that there is some semantic difference between mann and monn, but further study of the word is needed. Rauer, “Mann and Gender,” 143, 147; Anne Curzan, Gender Shifts in the History of English (Cambridge, 2003), 62–65, 162–65. Voth, “Women and ‘Women’s Medicine’,” 1–2; Buck, “Women and Language,” 47; Rebecca Fisher, “Writing Charms: The Transmission and Performance of Charms in Anglo-Saxon England” (PhD diss., University of Sheffield, 2011), 197–218. The phrase ‘masculine neutral’ is derived originally from the work of Luce Irigaray ( Je, tu, nous: Toward a Culture of Difference, trans. Alison Martin [New York, 1993]) and Simone de Beauvoir (The Second Sex, trans. H. M. Parshley [London, 1953]).

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is repeatedly used to refer specifically to men in these same texts. In numerous Old English medical recipes that differentiate between the sexes, women are specified by the word wif and men by the word mann, including in one remedy describing a man (mann) having intercourse with his wife (wif ) and in another dealing with urination and genitalia, suggesting that mann is an explicitly sexed term.23 In those rare cases when mann is used in female-specific remedies (those involving the uterus or vulva), in every case it appears only after the gendered word wif has already been employed in that remedy – but mann is used without any accompanying gender-specific terms in a remedy for penile swelling.24 Moreover, with only one exception, when mann appears in female-specific remedies, the compiler uses female pronouns (heo, hyre) for the patient.25 Mann is used with male pronouns everywhere else in the corpus. The term is thus a gender-neutral word that encompasses women, but explicitly presents ‘man’ as the default or archetypal patient. Bald’s Leechbook ii points out that “micel gedal is on wæpnedes ond wifes ond cildes lichomon” [there is a great difference in the body of a man and a woman and a child], but if these texts show partiality towards male patients, precisely those differences may be ignored, overlooked, or lost.26 The Old English medical texts, therefore, like most other medical texts of the early medieval period, demonstrate an implicit gendered bias. This bias also seems to have informed early medieval attitudes to pregnancy as a life stage. We now turn to evidence provided first by the archaeological record, then by Old English obstetric texts, that pregnancy was understood as an unstable state, separate from both wifehood and motherhood, marked by perceived dysfunction and proximity to death. 2

Intertwined Burials

Childbirth was undeniably dangerous in the early medieval period. Maternal mortality may have been the cause of up to fifty percent of young female 23 24 25 26

See, for example, Bald’s Leechbook I 37; Bald’s Leechbook II 1, 32 (see both table of contents entry and the remedy itself); Medicina de Quadrupedibus 10.14. For other citations see doec, Boolean search “Wif … Man/Mon/Men,” restricted to Cameron number B21. Bald’s Leechbook II 60 (table of contents entry); Leechbook III 37; Old English Herbarium 82; Metrical Charm 6 (cited below). The penile swelling remedy is in Bald’s Leechbook I 24. Herbarium 82 is the only instance in the corpus in which mann is used of a woman with male pronouns; given that elsewhere mann is used for women with female pronouns, this may be a case of scribal inattention. Bald’s Leechbook I 35.

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fatalities in early medieval England; every individual would have known a woman who died in childbirth.27 There would almost certainly have been a strong cultural association between pregnancy and fertility, on one hand, and death, on the other. Multiple burials have survived from the pre-Conquest period that contain the bodies of both women and fetuses or neonates. These double burials were performed in visually striking ways: neonates were laid across the shoulder and chest, between or next to the thighs, across the lap, and in one case under the head, of their mothers.28 While multiple inhumations appear regularly in the pre-Conquest archaeological record, such visibly intimate arrangements of the dead, which seem to mimic either affectionate touch (shoulder and chest) or the moment of birth (lap and thighs), are generally confined to the burial of neonates with women.29 Several graves survive, too, of women who almost certainly died in labor. The descended, full-term fetus remains in the pelvic girdle in these burials, a practice not continued in the later medieval period, when the body of the fetus was removed from the dead woman for separate interment.30 In one seventh-century Worthy Park grave, a woman was interred with a fetus partly extruded from her body, with the feet still in the birth canal.31 Mother and child must have been buried this way intentionally, either to avoid ‘disturbing’ the bodies of the deceased, or for the benefit of the living audience. These various arrangements of women with fetuses and neonates represent a kind of entangled death: such burials not only visually mark labor as the cause of death, highlighting its particular danger, but also seem to blur the identities of mother and child. They are at once two separate human beings and a single entity. Indeed, Metrical Charm 6, 27

28 29

30 31

Sayer and Dickinson, “Reconsidering Obstetric Death,” 286, 293; Marianne Elsakkers, “In Pain Shall You Bear Children (Gen. 3:16): Medieval Prayers for a Safe Delivery,” in Women and Miracle Stories: A Multidisciplinary Exploration, ed. Anne-Marie Korte (Leiden, 2001), 179–207. For grave locations and numbers, see Sayer and Dickinson, “Reconsidering Obstetric Death,” 288–91; Sam Lucy, The Anglo-Saxon Way of Death: Burial Rites in Early England (Stroud, 2000), 68. On children in multiple burials, see Christina Lee, “Forever Young: Child Burial in AngloSaxon England,” in Youth and Age in the Medieval North, ed. Shannon Lewis-Simpson (Leiden, 2008), 17–36; Nick Stoodley, “Multiple Burials, Multiple Meanings? Interpreting the Early Anglo-Saxon Multiple Interment,” in Burial in Early Medieval England and Wales, ed. Sam Lucy and Andrew Reynolds (London, 2002), 103–21. Sayer and Dickinson, “Reconsidering Obstetric Death,” 288–91; Deegan, “Pregnancy and Childbirth,” 17. Sayer and Dickinson, “Reconsidering Obstetric Death,” 289. As Sayer and Dickinson note, ‘coffin birth’ (postmortem expulsion of a fetus) is physiologically impossible. Cf. Sonia Hawkes and Calvin Wells, “An Anglo-Saxon Obstetric Calamity from Kingsworthy, Hampshire,” Medical and Biological Illustration 25 (1975): 47–51.

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cited below, demonstrates that dead infants were thought to negatively impact a mother’s future fertility. The infant apparently contaminates the mother in some way; they are one. In some cases, these double graves are located in burial areas otherwise designated for infant interments, further reflecting the conceptual elision of pregnant or postpartum women with their children and suggesting that at least some women who died in labor received different burial treatment than women who died of other causes.32 These burials mark the pregnant or postpartum woman as something other than an independent individual, and they suspend her eternally mid-parturition, or in the moments of first postpartum contact. Their recreations of labor suggest that pregnancy was understood as fraught or dangerous in a way distinct from other causes of death, while their displays of intersubjectivity suggest the gravid woman was, in many cases, not treated as an ordinary adult by those who buried her. For evidence that pregnancy was considered specifically to be a separate stage in the life cycle, however, we must turn to the obstetric texts themselves. 3

Old English Obstetric Remedies

The surviving Old English remedies for complications in childbirth persistently align the gravid female body with symbols of death rather than life or fertility, treat pregnancy as a state distinct from fully-realized maternity, and implicitly suggest that the female body is a source of dysfunction rather than a creator of life. Many of these themes are illustrated in a remedy for prolonged labor that appears in two similar versions. The first is found in Leechbook III, an addendum to Bald’s Leechbook, and the second appears in the Old English Herbarium, a flexible translation of the fourth-century Latin Pseudo-Apuleis Herbarius:33 Wiþ þon þe wif ne mæge bearn acenuan […] bind on þ(æt) winstre þeoh up wið þ(æt) cennende lim nioþowearde beolonan oþþe .xii. corn cellendran sædes 7 þ(æt) sceal don cniht oððe mæden. Swa þ(æt) bearn sie acenned do þa wyrta aweg þy læs þ(æt) innelfe utrige.34 32

33 34

Elizabeth Craig-Atkins, “Eavesdropping on Short Lives: Eaves-drip Burial and the Differential Treatment of Children One Year of Age and Under in Early Christian Cemeteries,” in Medieval Childhood: Archaeological Approaches, ed. D. M. Hadley and K. A. Hemer (Oxford, 2014), 95–113. Leechbook III 37; Old English Herbarium 104.2. Leechbook III 37. All translations provided in this chapter are my own.

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If (lit. ‘for/against that’) a woman cannot bring forth a child … bind on the left thigh up against the ‘kindling limb’ (vulva) the lower part of henbane or twelve grains of coriander seed, and that must give a boy or a girl. When the child is brought forth take the herbs away, lest the innards prolapse. Wið þæt wif hrædlice cennan (m)æg(e) genim þysse ylcan coliandran sæd, endlufon corn oððe þreottyne, cnyte mid anum ðræde on anum clænan linenan claþe, nime ðonne an man þe sy mægðhades man, cnapa oþþe mægden, 7 healde æt þam wynstran þeo neah þam gewealde, 7 sona swa eall seo geeacnung gedon beo, do sona þone læcedom aweg, þy læs þæs in(noðes d)æl þæ(ræ)fter (filige).35 So that a woman can quickly bring forth a child, take this same coriander seed, eleven grains or thirteen, tie them with a thread into a clean linen cloth, then have one person, who is a virgin, either a young boy or a girl, hold (the seeds) against the left thigh near the pudendum, and as soon as the entire delivery is done, take the remedy away, lest a portion of the innards follow after. The coriander seeds seem to exert some kind of force-field that pulls the infant out of the uterus, a force so strong and indiscriminate that it may pull the woman’s organs out after it and cause prolapse. Although the text asserts it will help a woman ‘bring forth’ a child, the woman’s body is in fact rendered inert by the application of the remedy. She does not deliver the baby; the baby is pulled from her. The fact that the child is still in the womb is itself the ailment, and the pregnant body is not the creator of life or agent of deliverance. In the Leechbook version of the remedy, the seeds also seem to determine the baby’s sex and gender as it is in the process of exiting the womb, transforming it from fetus to person. It is apparently up to the physician to grant the infant a sexed body; the child exits the womb still mutable, still ‘unfinished’ in some way. In the Herbarium version, on the other hand, the patient must be ministered to by a virgin. An appropriate cure for the ailing pregnant body is the presence of a body that has never been pregnant. The remedy asserts that a particular sexual ‘purity,’ which the pregnant woman necessarily lacks, is inherently aligned with life and healing. Similar themes also appear in a single-line remedy found in the medical collection London, British Library, Harley ms 585. This brief incantation for 35

Old English Herbarium 104.2.

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prolonged labor reads “Solue iube Deus ter catenis” – an abbreviation of the phrase “solve iubente Deo terrarum petre catenas, qui facis pateant caelestia regna beatis” [Peter, who makes the heavenly kingdom open to the blessed, release by God’s command the chains of the world].36 The pregnant body is both passive and static here, bound up by protracted labor, and a higher power must ‘unlock’ the woman’s flesh. Treatment of the pregnant body as an ailment in itself, and a reiteration of the idea that the pregnant woman is suspended between life and death, are even more explicitly stated in a charm copied into the homiletic manuscript Oxford, Bodleian Library, Junius ms 85: Wið wif bearn eacenu. Maria uirgo peperit Christum, Elizabet sterelis peperit Johannem Baptistam. Adiuro te infans si es masculus aut femina per patrem et filium et spiritum sanctum, ut exeas et recedas et ultra ei non noceas neque insipientiam illi facias amen. Videns Dominus flentes sorores Lazari ad monumentum lacrimatus est coram iudeis et clamabat, Lazare, ueni foras, et prodiit ligatis manibus et pedibus qui fuerat qua­ triduanus mortuus. Writ þis on wexe ðe naefre ne com to nanen wyrce, and bind under hire swiðran fot.37 For/against a woman big with child. The Virgin Mary gave birth to Christ, sterile Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist. I adjure you, infant, whether you are male or female, through the Father and Son and Holy Spirit, that you go out and depart, and in addition may you not harm this one, nor cause this one to be senseless, amen. The Lord, seeing Lazarus’ sisters weeping, shed tears at the tomb in the presence of the Jews and shouted: ‘Lazarus, come forth,’ and he came out, with his hands and feet bound, he who had been four days dead. Write this on wax that has never been used and bind on her right foot. As in the other remedies cited above, the polysemic wið, which can mean either ‘for’ or ‘against,’ highlights the fact that the ‘woman big with child’ is herself the ailment. The charm is an Anglo-Latin version of the common peperit formula, which invokes biblical mothers who experienced miraculous (virgin, sterile) 36 37

George Brown, “Solving the Solve Riddle in BL MS Harley 585,” Viator 18 (1987): 45–51. Oxford, Bodleian Library, Junius ms 85, fol. 17r–17v. Text taken from Lea Olsan and Peter Jones, “Performative Rituals for Conception and Childbirth in England, 900–1500,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 89 (2015): 406–33.

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and painless births.38 Such invocations suggest that the ideal pregnant female body is removed from sin, pain, and death in a way that an ordinary pregnant woman cannot be. The address to the fetus concludes with a recounting of the raising of Lazarus and the command “Lazare, ueni foras” [Lazarus, come forth], evidently also spoken to the infant.39 If the child is Lazarus, the female body is unequivocally the tomb. The woman herself is the place of death from which the child must be summoned into life, and the womb is not a place of creation but of mortality, a locus of death and sin. The pregnant woman is, in the moment of labor, neither a source of sexual fertility nor yet a mother; she is a grave, and she hovers somewhere between death and regeneration. The separation of pregnancy from fully-realized maternity is clear in these remedies, but Metrical Charm 6 also asserts the separation of the pregnant woman from her former status as a wife, demarcating pregnancy as a liminal state between adult sexual maturity and maternity. The text seems to consist of three remedies, presented together in Harley ms 585 because of their similar titles and related content:40 Se wifman se hire cild afedan ne mæg: gange to gewitenes mannes birgenne 7 stæppe þon(ne) þriwa ofer þa byrgenne, 7 cweþe þon(ne) þriwa þas word: Þis me to bote þære laþan lætbyrde þis me to bote þære swæran swærtbyrde þis me to bote þære laðan lambyrde. 7 þon(ne) þ(æt) wif seo mid bearne 7 heo to hyre hlaforde on reste ga, þon(ne) cweþe heo: Up ic gonge, ofer þe stæppe mid cwican cilde nalæs mid cwel[l]endum mid fulborenum, nalæs mid fægan. 7 þon(ne) seo modor gefele þ(æt) þ(æt) bearn si cwic, ga þon(ne) to cyrican, 7 þon(ne) heo toforan þan weofude cume cweþe þon(ne): Criste, ic sæde, þis gecyþed.

38 39 40

Olsan and Jones, “Performative Rituals,” 416; Elsakkers, “In Pain You Shall Bear Children,” 183–85. Olsan and Jones, “Performative Rituals,” 416. On the separation of the three remedies and for the text of Metrical Charm 6, see Edward Pettit, ed. and trans., Anglo-Saxon Remedies, Charms, and Prayers from British Library MS Harley 585: The Lacnunga, 2 vols. (Lampeter, 2001), 1:112–15; 2:318–19.

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Se wifmon se hyre bearn afedan ne mæge: genime heo sylf hyre agenes cildes gebyrgenne dæl, [w]ry æfter þon(ne) on blace wulle 7 bebicge to cepemannu(m) 7 cweþe þon(ne): Ic hit bebicge, ge hit bebicgan, þas sweartan wulle 7 þysse sorge corn. Se man se [n]e mæge bearn afedan: nime þon(ne) anes bleos cu meoluc on hyre handæ 7 gesupe þon(ne) mid hyre muþe, 7 gange þon(ne) to yrnendu(m) wætere 7 spiwe þærin þa meolc, 7 hlade þon(ne) mid þære ylcan hand þæs wæteres muð fulne 7 forswelge; cweþe þon(ne) þas word: Gehwer ferde ic me þone mæran maga þihtan. Mid þysse mæran mete þihtan þo[ne] ic me wille habban 7 ham gan. þon(ne) heo to þan broce ga, þon(ne) ne beseo heo no, ne eft þon(ne) heo þanan ga; 7 þon(ne) ga heo in oþer hus oþer heo ut ofeode, 7 þær gebyrge metes. The woman who cannot sustain her child: let her go to a dead man’s grave and step three times over the grave, and then say these words three times: This to me as a cure for the loathsome late birth, this to me as a cure for the grievous dark-colored birth, this to me as a cure for the loathsome lame birth. And when the woman is with child and she goes to her husband in his rest, then let her say: Up I go, over you I step, with a living child, not with a killing/dying one, with a full-born (i.e. full-term) one, not with a doomed one. And when the mother feels that the child is alive, then let her go to the church, and when she comes before the altar then let her say: To Christ, I said, this is made known. The woman who cannot sustain her child: let her herself take part of her own child’s grave, then after wrap it in dark wool and sell it to traders and then say: I sell it, you sell it, this dark wool and seeds of this sorrow. The person who cannot sustain a child: let her then take milk of a cow of one color in her hand and then sip it with her mouth, and then go to

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running water and spit the milk therein, and then scoop up with the same hand a mouthful of water and swallow it; then let her say these words: Everywhere I have carried the famous, strong son. With this famous, strong food I will have (him) for myself and go home.41 When she goes to the brook, then let her not look back, nor again when she goes from there; and then let her go into a house other than the one she went out of, and there let her eat food. Unusually for an Old English remedy, the patient is instructed to treat herself, without the involvement of a physician or midwife of any gender. Nor does she call on benevolent powers to assist her: when she visits the church altar, she merely declares the child ‘known’ to Christ, and does not ask for divine intercession. Scholars have made much of the fact that the charms preserve the ‘voice’ of a pregnant woman in eleventh-century England, arguing that the woman’s self-treatment demonstrates her personal agency.42 Yet this selftreatment is not necessarily a sign of voluntary autonomy, and may rather be a consequence of her separation from the community around her. The woman (or women) of Metrical Charm 6 stands almost entirely alone in the literal and metaphorical landscape. She goes to graveyards alone, to the church alone, to the stream alone. Her husband is present for one ritual, but he is inert and may indeed be asleep; at the end of the third remedy, she goes to another house and takes food, but this implied participation in a supportive network is not addressed or elaborated on in the text. Indeed, the person who feeds her is not mentioned at all. The pregnant woman is removed from ordinary life, and stands without concretely-identified or fully-present allies, even as the remedies seek to reintegrate her into communal spaces. The polysemic verb afedan primarily means ‘to feed, maintain, nourish, sustain,’ with the secondary meanings ‘to nurture, bring up,’ ‘to gestate, bring a child to full term,’ and ‘to suckle, nurse.’43 The semantic range of afedan elides multiple stages of pregnancy and delivery – conception, gestation, labor, first 41

42 43

The pronoun “me” is most likely a pleonastic reflexive dative in this line. The interpretation offered by Nelson, “A Woman’s Charm,” 6, “I wish to own myself and go home,” is perhaps anachronistic in its assumption that the phrase ‘have myself’ would connote bodily autonomy to an early medieval audience rather than simply a grammatically-awkward phrase. Weston, “Women’s Medicine,” 280; Nelson, “A Woman’s Charm,” 3; Olsan and Jones, “Performative Rituals,” 429; Voth, “Women and ‘Women’s Medicine’,” 27. doe, s.v. a-fedan.

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lactation – into a single act of nourishment and maintenance. These remedies are evidently designed for use during the period of time in which the fetus, and later neonate, depends entirely on the mother’s body. This ‘stage’ in the life course of both mother and infant is essentially marked by the fluidity of the boundaries between their identities. This stage overlaps obviously with motherhood, as it evidently continues after the successful delivery of the child and into early breastfeeding. The charm’s verbal elision of neonatal care with conception and gestation, however, suggests a conceptual division between mothering a child before weaning and mothering a child after.44 The multiplicity of afedan also makes it impossible to determine whether the first remedy is for a woman who cannot become pregnant, or one who has previously experienced a stillbirth or miscarriage. To be unable to successfully give birth to a living, uninjured child is effectively the same as failing to conceive at all. Metrical Charm 6 associates pregnancy repeatedly with death through its use of grave magic. The remedial use of burial places is not found anywhere else in the Old English medical corpus. The singling-out of pregnancy for this type of ritual suggests that at least some early medieval English physicians perceived a conceptual sympathy between pregnancy and death, and between the gravid female body and the tomb. Indeed, the correspondence between the woman who will soon contain a fetus, and the grave containing a corpse over which she steps, is notable.45 According to Metrical Charm 6, pregnancy is so deeply connected to mortality that a woman facing difficult labor or the inability to conceive must, in Victoria Thompson’s phrase, “appeal to the experts, the dead.”46 The woman’s womb is a locus of mortality that is cleansed when she engages with another locus of mortality: stepping over the grave is a gesture almost universally interpreted by scholars as leaving death behind her, shedding and transferring the dangers of childbirth gone wrong into the earth and onto the corpse.47

44

45 46 47

On the importance of weaning as a transition between stages in the life course of the child, see Katherine Cross’ chapter in this volume, 210–28. Duncan Sayer also posits that, in the early medieval English period, an infant was treated as an extension of its mother’s kin, an older child an extension of its father’s, suggesting again the essential conceptual link between women and their unweaned infants. Duncan Sayer, “‘Sons of athelings given to the earth’: Infant Mortality within Anglo-Saxon Mortuary Geography,” Medieval Archaeology 58 (2014): 78–103, at 97. Thompson, Dying and Death, 95; Weston, “Women’s Medicine,” 289. Thompson, Dying and Death, 95. E.g., Meaney, “Women, Witchcraft, and Magic,” 24; Pettit, Anglo-Saxon Remedies, 2:322; Nelson, “A Woman’s Charm,” 4; Voth, “Women and ‘Women’s Medicine’,” 14; Karen Jolly, Popular Religion in Late Saxon England: Elf Charms in Context (Chapel Hill, 1996), 109; Godfrid Storms, Anglo-Saxon Magic (The Hague, 1948), 200.

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The woman’s subsequent action and speech has drawn critical bewilderment: once she is pregnant, she steps over her living husband in bed, just as she stepped over the grave. Many scholars consider the gesture to be enigmatic or obscure.48 Some suggest that stepping over her husband is a ‘reversal’ or ‘undoing’ of the first ritual,49 but there is no reason for the woman to ‘reverse’ a beneficial magical action that separates her from death. Others argue that the woman receives life or fertility from her husband,50 yet she steps over him in precisely the same way she stepped over the grave, seemingly a gesture of transference away from the self. She is also in no need of fertility, as she is already pregnant. Two such obviously parallel actions logically should have parallel significance. Indeed, as she steps over her husband, she declares that she ‘leaves behind’ the dangerous possibilities of a stillbirth or premature delivery (“cwellendum […] fægan”), suggesting that this action, too, is about superseding or abandoning a previous state. Stepping over her husband is not a reunification with him or a sharing of his life-force: it is explicitly a casting-off. The woman metaphorically leaves her husband behind, just as she left death behind in the grave. She steps out of a central aspect of her role as wife – being a sexual partner to her husband in their marital bed – and into the liminal space of pregnancy. Indeed, according to several Old English penitentials, her husband should not have sex with her at all once her pregnancy is advanced.51 She will cease to fill that particular ‘wifely’ role as she moves out of the course of normal life and into the marginal space of expectant, but not yet realized, motherhood. It is only when the woman “gefele þæt þæt bearn si cwic” [feels that the child is alive] that the charm refers to her as “seo modor” [the mother].52 This remedy seeks to guide the patient through the transition from woman and wife to mother – with a period between the second and third rituals in which she is neither. Her declaration to Christ returns her to the community, but the fact that the verb sædan is in the past tense highlights the ambiguity of her state. When did she first make this essential statement, and why must she redeclare it now? The actual moment in which she makes the child known to Christ, and in which she is returned to Christian life and wholeness, is elided. The redeclaration of her motherhood in the church suggests that its original establishment 48 49 50 51 52

Pettit, Anglo-Saxon Remedies, 2:323; Storms, Anglo-Saxon Magic, 200; Meaney, “Women, Witchcraft, and Magic” 24; Nelson, “A Woman’s Charm,” 5. For example, J. H. G. Grattan and Charles Singer, eds. and trans., Anglo-Saxon Magic and Medicine (London, 1952), 191. Jolly, Popular Religion, 109; Thompson, Dying and Death, 95; Weston, “Women’s Medicine,” 289. Canons 14.02.01, 42.21.02, 77.04.11. Citations from Frantzen, Anglo-Saxon Penitentials. Weston, “Women’s Medicine,” 289.

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is somehow elusive, that her pregnancy is still on some level unknowable and uncertain. Even her act of social reintegration is grammatically suspect. In the second remedy, a woman must exorcise the lingering effect of a past stillbirth on her subsequent fertility. The bundle of earth and dark wool is a potent symbol and has been interpreted in a variety of ways. Some scholars argue that the object is the woman’s grief over the loss of her previous child or her ‘bad luck,’ which she removes from herself by selling it away.53 Those scholars who favor this interpretation cite J. H. G. Grattan and Charles Singer’s assertion that “selling sorrow is a common folk practice,” but there is no attestation of such a belief in English or medieval European folklore that I have been able to discover.54 Moreover, the piece of grave-earth wrapped in wool containing “sorge corn” [seeds or grains of sorrow] is a profoundly specific object, with each element bearing particular sociocultural connotations; a broad, nonspecific interpretation like ‘sorrow’ or ‘poor luck’ is perhaps inadequately sensitive to the details the text offers about the symbol itself. Several scholars suggest that the earth and cloth represent the woman’s dead child: the earth of the child’s grave represents its body, and the dark wool is a symbol of funereal grief, or perhaps an inversion of the infant’s white baptismal clothes.55 Yet arguably the object also represents the mother herself. Earth is designated as an explicitly female force elsewhere in the metrical charms, and wool is strongly associated with women given that spinning and fabric production were women’s primary occupations in early medieval England.56 This feminized bundle of potentially-fertile material containing ‘seeds’ arguably symbolizes the mother’s ailing womb. Her body has produced death rather than life: the uterus that yielded a stillborn infant is here rendered magically parallel to the grave of that same infant. The deadly womb is represented by grave-earth and filled with ‘seeds of sorrow’ rather than of life and growth. The uterus is an ambiguous locus of both mortality and fertility during a dangerous pregnancy, and the charm seeks to resolve this duality by symbolically casting out the ‘dysfunctional’ womb that has produced a dead child. According to this reading, the woman must exorcise her own flesh in order to prevent future ‘malfunction.’ 53 54 55 56

Meaney, “Women, Witchcraft, and Magic,” 24; Nelson, “A Woman’s Charm,” 5; Pettit, AngloSaxon Remedies, 2:326. Grattan and Singer, Anglo-Saxon Magic, 191. Thompson, Dying and Death, 96; Storms, Anglo-Saxon Magic, 201. See, for example, Metrical Charm 1, which addresses the earth as a mother capable of sexual intercourse with God. On the association between women and fabric production, see Fell, Women in Anglo-Saxon England, 40–45. The maternal side of the family is called the spinelhealf ‘spindle-half,’ and Eve is depicted holding a spindle-whorl when she and Adam take up their respective labors in Junius ms 11, p. 45.

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As the very multiplicity of Metrical Charm 6 suggests, however, such a remedy is not permanent: pregnancy is always dangerous. Each of these three remedies repeats the same action, casting off death and returning the woman to the living community. Such repetition, reinforcement, and reenactment suggests the instability of the pregnant woman’s status, and indeed her ability to ‘sustain’ her child will be in question at least until lactation begins. The magical prominence of milk in the third remedy suggests it is intended specifically for a woman who cannot nurse, or fears she will not be able to. The symbolic valence of the instructions is clear: the cow of one color is a symbol of purity, arguably a purity the pregnant woman lacks (cows of one color are called unmæle [spotless] elsewhere in the medical texts, the same word used of virgins).57 When the woman swallows a mouthful of running water, the abundance of the stream becomes the abundance of her body.58 The milk she spits out seems to represent her own ‘inadequate’ milk supply, which much be purged and replaced with abundance. She is then received at the house of a sympathetic community member. As in the first remedy, in which the woman moves from the graveyard to her marital bed to the church, the third remedy moves the woman from edges to center, from the stream back to the settlement and the home of another. The fact that these remedies are so concerned with moving the woman from marginal space to communal space suggests that such movement is essential for her healing.59 She exists on the edges of the human community, between life and death, between wifehood and motherhood, and she must be reintegrated and reclaimed multiple times. The body close to death must be repeatedly returned to life; Lazarus must continually be summoned forth. 4

Conclusions: Vulnerability, Intersubjectivity, and the Life Course

The obstetric remedies discussed here do not present stages in the early medieval English woman’s life course as concrete, discrete, and obviously sequential. Rather, these stages are mutable and overlapping, semantically 57 58 59

Deegan, “Pregnancy and Childbirth,” 22; DOEC, Simple Search, “unmæl-,” Cameron number B21. Meaney, “Women, Witchcraft, and Magic,” 25; Weston, “Women’s Medicine,” 291; Nelson, “A Woman’s Charm,” 6; Pettit, Anglo-Saxon Remedies, 2:327. Sayer, “Sons of athelings,” 96, suggests that a significant number of women may well have returned to their maternal homes to give birth in this period, so the ritual movement of the woman from margin to center in the charm may have been reflected in the literal movement of some expectant mothers into and out of their husbands’ communities late in pregnancy and postpartum.

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slippery – and therefore perhaps a reflection of the woman’s own liminality as she conceives and gestates. These texts treat pregnancy as a moment in a woman’s life in which she is removed from the normal course of life and draws close to death and deadly forces, a shift inherently tied to the apparent elision of her life with another’s. This vulnerable stage in the life course of both mother and child necessarily follows the woman’s attainment of a more easily defined life-stage, that of adult sexual maturity, which archaeological evidence suggests was a moment in individual development recognized socially by the early medieval English.60 Childbirth remedies take care, however, to separate the pregnant woman conceptually from sources and symbols of fertility and from her own previous status as a sexual partner, and to consistently align her instead with the grave, suggesting an essential demarcation between one life stage and another. Her pregnant status precedes and necessarily overlaps with the subsequent life stage, motherhood, but pregnancy – particularly in the early medieval period – is conditioned by the possibility that motherhood will not in fact be realized. The pregnant woman is thus treated in these texts as conceptually distinct from the mother she will hopefully become. Given high rates of neonatal and infant mortality and the dependence of the child on the mother’s body, the mother of an infant who is not yet weaned also possesses only uncertain maternity. The Old English obstetric remedies deal with the danger of pregnancy and childbirth, and the precarity of early infancy, by presenting ‘motherhood’ as an elusive and unstable state, treating female fertility and the female body as existing in close proximity to death, and highlighting the intersubjectivity of mother and child during the difficult process of creating a new life. These texts trouble simple dichotomies of female agency and vulnerability, and invite us to consider the ways in which seemingly abstract ideas about the life course may have tangibly impacted the experiences of individuals across the pre-Conquest period. 60

See note 5 above.

chapter 6

The Theology of Puberty in Early Medieval England Elaine Flowers Puberty encompasses the span of years when an individual develops the physical traits that the body requires to procreate and the psychological traits which characterize social maturation.1 Although varying from person to person, it subsists as an essential segment of corporeal existence that marks the crossing of the boundary from childhood into adulthood, yet, as a historical subject, puberty has been relatively neglected in relation to other periods of life.2 Apart from a rare few in any population with a genetic condition that prevented puberty, such as Kallmann syndrome, it can be said with certainty that each child who lived into adulthood in early medieval England shared 1 For an introduction to both the physical and recently-researched cognitive developments, see David A. Sturman and Bita Moghaddam, “The Neurobiology of Adolescence: Changes in Brain Architecture, Functional Dynamics, and Behavioral Tendencies,” Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 35 (2011): 1704–5. 2 The field of medieval studies has seen a renewed interest in childhood and growing up, a sort of second wave following the initial responses to Phillipe Ariès’ argument that “in medieval society the idea of childhood did not exist”: Centuries of Childhood, trans. Robert Baldick (London, 1962), 128. On scholarship disputing Ariès’ claim up until 1994, see Janet L. Nelson, “Parents, Children, and the Church in the Earlier Middle Ages (Presidential Address),” in The Church and Childhood: Papers Read at the 1993 Summer Meeting and the 1994 Winter Meeting of the Ecclesiastical History Society, ed. Diana Wood (Oxford, 1994), 82 n. 3. See also Barbara A. Hanawalt, “Medievalists and the Study of Childhood,” Speculum 77 (2002): 440–60. For the first responses to Ariès specifically addressing early medieval England, see Mathew Kuefler, “‘A Wryed Existence’: Attitudes toward Children in Anglo-Saxon England,” Journal of Social History 24 (1991): 823–34 and Sally Crawford, Childhood in Anglo-Saxon England (Stroud, 1999). Most recently, see the edited volume Childhood and Adolescence in Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture, ed. Susan Irvine and Winfried Rudolf (Toronto, 2018). So far, research about the transition from childhood to adulthood in early medieval England has focused on topics including age markers found at burial sites, the incipit of military participation, hagiography, and law codes handling oaths, punishment, and property, whilst also conceding that little can be found about women growing up; Crawford, Childhood in Anglo-Saxon England, 54–56, 154–67; Nicholas Orme, Medieval Children (New Haven, 2001), 328–30; Andrew Rabin, “‘Sharper than a Serpent’s Tooth’: Parent-Child Litigation in Anglo-Saxon England,” in Irvine and Rudolf, Childhood and Adolescence, 270–90; Joyce Hill, “Childhood in the Lives of Anglo-Saxon Saints,” in Irvine and Rudolf, Childhood and Adolescence, 139–61, at 150–52; Daniel Anlezark, “Of Boys and Men: Anglo-Saxon Literary Adaptations of the Book of Daniel,” in Irvine and Rudolf, Childhood and Adolescence, 244–69.

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this human experience, though never exactly in the same way. Therefore, in order to understand fully the life course during this period, one must consider how the Anglo-Saxons portrayed pubertal growth.3 The biological process of puberty in pre-Conquest England would not have involved simply bodily and cognitive developments: this transition into adulthood brought legal rights and responsibilities and generated theological consequences associated with leaving an age of spiritual innocence behind.4 I hope to advance the topic of youth further by questioning how the early medieval English Church represented the process of puberty itself.5 Finding a unified outlook on puberty cannot be achieved due to the restricted nature of the surviving sources which were largely produced within a monastic context. Moreover, Anglo-Saxon authors did not seem specifically interested in directly addressing the physiological representations of puberty in their writings. However, through the analysis of scattered incidental references from different genres of religious texts, one can tease out important insights into how the early medieval English Church from the eighth to eleventh centuries constructed and handled this transitional stage of life. The first step in doing so involves outlining modern scientific understandings of the physical and cognitive characterizations of pubescent growth in order to identify appearances of puberty in the historic written record. An investigation follows which examines the small array of biblical and patristic works describing puberty or the effects of puberty which might have been found in an Anglo-Saxon library. Analysis then turns to the language used in monastic settings which described (and thus defined) puberty in both Latin and Old English. The final section reveals how early medieval religious works demonstrate a crafted theology of puberty acknowledging both the physical and psychological developments experienced by the populace. For the body, there was a concern about the new lure of sexual temptation manifest in both hagiography and canon law, and for the mind, works including the Benedictine 3 Manuela Simoni and Eberhard Nieschlag, “Genetics of Hypogonadotropic Hypogonadism,” Hormone Research 67 (2007): 149. 4 In the span of one hundred years, England saw the age of legal authority increased from twelve to fifteen under the reign of King Æthelstan and then returned to twelve under King Cnut. For further considerations on these legal developments, see Kuefler, “‘A Wryed Existence’,” 826; Crawford, Childhood in Anglo-Saxon England, 40–42; Sarah Foot, Æthelstan: The First King of England (New Haven, 2011), 148; Rabin, “‘Sharper than a Serpent’s Tooth’,” 275–78. 5 Rob Meens and Erin Abraham have begun this process, both considering how the penitential tradition portrayed the boundaries between childhood and adulthood; Rob Meens, “Children and Confession in the Early Middle Ages,” in Wood, Church and Childhood, 55, 61; Erin V. Abraham, Anticipating Sin in Medieval Society (Amsterdam, 2017), 47–90.

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Rule, penitentials, and hagiography recognized that an individual had finally reached an age of religious understanding. 1

Puberty: The Modern and Medieval Body

Before turning to the Middle Ages, the modern scientific knowledge about puberty which will inform this chapter’s analysis should be addressed. The term ‘puberty’ here comprises the range of physical and cognitive developments which occur as an individual’s body matures from that of a child into an adult. It most commonly begins sometime between the ages of 6 and 8 with a range of underlying hormonal changes, but for historical ease this work focuses on the characteristics defined by Arnold van Gennep as “social puberty”: the outward signs of development (breast budding, facial hair, growth in height, changes in behavior) that a community is able to observe rather than those stages of “physical puberty” which, whilst starting earlier, may stay hidden or unnoticed by society for a longer amount of time.6 Breast budding is the first secondary sexual characteristic to develop in cisgender girls,7 on average emerging between 10 and 11 years of age, with menarche (the first menses) starting between two to three years after those initial signs.8 For cisgender boys, the initial secondary sexual characteristic is the start of testicular growth between the ages of 10 and 11, but more outwardly visible signs of the voice changing and the first growth of facial hair occur later between the ages of 13

6 Arnold van Gennep, The Rites of Passage, trans. Monika B. Vizedom and Gabrielle L. Caffee (London, 1960), 65, 67. 7 The term cisgender here refers to a gender identity which matches the sex assigned at birth. Judith Butler has argued that it is not just gender, but sex which is socially constructed: “And what is ‘sex’ anyway? Is it natural, anatomical, chromosomal, or hormonal[? … P]erhaps this construct called ‘sex’ is as culturally constructed as gender”; Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York, 1990), 6–7. This chapter deals with the binary portrayals of gender and sex found in Anglo-Saxon sources, understanding that these constructions would not have encapsulated the nonbinary variations of gender and sex which would have also existed, but might not have been acknowledged, in sources surviving from this time. However, for the purposes of sketching out distinctions that would have been foundational to the intellectual climate of the period, I will henceforth be referring to what would have been understood as expected biological processes of development for ‘male’ and ‘female’ bodies. 8 Jeanne Brooks-Gunn and Edward O. Reiter, “The Role of Pubertal Processes,” in At the Threshold: The Developing Adolescent, ed. S. Shirley Feldman and Glen R. Elliott (Cambridge, MA, 1990), 16–53, at 21–22; W. A. Marshall and J. M. Tanner, “Variations in Pattern of Pubertal Changes in Girls,” Archives of Disease in Childhood 44 (1969): 302–303.

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and 15, with facial hair only noticeably filling in once genital and pubic growth have finished.9 The incipit of publicly observable physical characteristics largely starts later for boys by one to two years, and “boys are on the average about two years older than girls at the age of the maximum growth spurt.”10 Therefore, from a societal perspective, whether or not a community marks menarche as “the most salient indicator of pubertal development for girls from the perspective of reproductive maturity and psychological significance,” the outwardly visible physiological changes that girls experience can be, in most cases, distinguished at an earlier age than those signs of development in boys.11 Although scientists are still researching the full range of brain maturations attained during puberty, cognitive development during this age of adolescence is still an apparent observable marker to society. Jeanne Brooks-Gunn and Edward Reiter have summarized that “studies of eeg [electroencephalogram] activity from childhood to young adulthood have demonstrated a continuous process of growth, best described by an exponential growth function, along with discrete spurts in specific parts of the brain.”12 These processes of cranial growth lead to a marked difference in mental capacity between preadolescent children and adults, as James Byrnes has described: Older adolescents and adults not only have more knowledge than younger adolescents and children, they demonstrate greater facility in making use of this knowledge to remember, reason, make decisions, and solve problems. In addition, older adolescents and adults seem to be more metacognitive, reflective, and constructivist in their understanding of the mind than younger adolescents and children.13 This increase in learning ability, reasoning, memory, and language assists society in marking an individual as separate and distinct from their existence as a child. From this scientific research there are two considerations to keep in 9 10

11 12 13

Andrea Bastiani Archibald, Julia A. Graber, and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, “Pubertal Processes and Physiological Growth in Adolescence,” in Blackwell Handbook of Adolescence, ed. Gerald R. Adams and Michael D. Berzonsky (Malden, MA, 2003), 30. Brooks-Gunn and Reiter, “Role of Pubertal Processes,” 27; Julia A. Graber, Anne C. Petersen, and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, “Pubertal Processes: Methods, Measures, and Models,” in Transitions through Adolescence: Interpersonal Domains and Contexts, ed. Julia A. Graber, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, and Anne C. Petersen (Mahwah, 1996), 23–53, at 27. Graber, Petersen, and Brooks-Gunn, “Pubertal Processes,” 31. Brooks-Gunn and Reiter, “Role of Pubertal Processes,” 30. James P. Byrnes, “Cognitive Development during Adolescence,” in Adams and Berzonsky, Blackwell Handbook of Adolescence, 241–42.

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mind when seeking out signs of puberty in Anglo-Saxon sources. First, girls are often perceived as reaching puberty before boys due to the more noticeable initial physical signs of breast budding. Second, social puberty may be measured not just through bodily growth but through observable intellectual changes. The above only discusses the fluctuating series of processes as researched through the study of modern bodies. Knowing that pubertal development is highly variable, depending not just on biological factors but also environmental and nutritional factors, what can be known about this transitional period as experienced by the medieval body through archaeological evidence? Mary Lewis, Fiona Shapland, and Rebecca Watts’s study of adolescent skeletons dated between 900–1550 from medieval England has shed some light on the ages of puberty in the Middle Ages. Lewis, Shapland, and Watts found that “analysis of a small sample of medieval adolescents suggested that both males and females began puberty around 10–12 years, as today, but that the tempo of pubertal growth was longer, with females achieving menarche between 13 and 16 years, and individuals [both male and female] being as old as 16–20 years before they were fully mature.”14 In the few written records which explicitly stated the timing of menarche from the sixth to the fifteenth centuries studied by Darrel Amundsen and Carol Diers, there is relative consistency with the archaeological evidence where “reported ages at menarche ranged from the 12th to the 15th years.”15 As such, it is likely that the onset of puberty in early medieval England was relatively similar to that in modern bodies, but a key difference lay in the fact that the speed of puberty’s changes to the body was slower, and menarche could be delayed for longer than the modern average of two years after breast budding began. Turning to the Anglo-Saxon written record, the range of ages found from archaeological evidence reflects an early medieval penitential tradition concerning the age at which one had self-authority. The Old English Scriftboc, a grouping of church canons that probably date to the tenth century, states how: Cniht oð þæt he sy .xv. winter eald . sy he on his fæder gewealdum . syððan he hine mot munecyan gyf he wile. Fæmne oð þæt heo sy þreottyene wintre oððe feowertyne wintre sy heo in hire eldrena mihtum . æfter yelde hire hlaford hi mot gifan mid hire willan 14 15

Mary Lewis, Fiona Shapland, and Rebecca Watts, “On the Threshold of Adulthood: A New Approach for the Use of Maturation Indicators to Assess Puberty in Adolescents from Medieval England,” American Journal of Human Biology 28 (2016): 49. Darrel W. Amundsen and Carol Jean Diers, “The Age of Menarche in Medieval Europe,” Human Biology 45 (1973): 363.

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A boy is under his father’s jurisdiction until he is 15 winters old; after that he is allowed to become a monk if he wishes. A virgin girl, until she is 13 or 14 winters old, is in the jurisdiction of her parents. After (that) age her father is allowed to give her in marriage with her consent.16 This canon not only offered different ages of majority based on sex, with girls reaching this (mostly undescribed) status up to two years before boys, but it also gave multiple ages for when a girl could have this ‘authority’ over herself, either at thirteen or fourteen. This might be due in part to the inconsistency of ages when menstruation began; however, there is no evidence to confirm this hypothesis.17 The source of this canon may be traced to the Penitential of Theodore, which throughout its manuscript tradition offered shifting ages: Erin Abraham has found that, depending on the manuscript, this canon could state anywhere between thirteen and eighteen years.18 These canons do not specify anything detailed about puberty, but they do demonstrate a perception that girls and boys matured differently from one another. Nicholas Orme, whose work has focused largely on the later Middle Ages, has concluded that “medieval writers understood that girls reached puberty first, and conventionally reckoned this to happen at twelve, and at fourteen for boys.”19 While one cannot write so specifically about pre-Conquest England, one can find certain agreement, at least from the Scriftboc and its source the Penitential of Theodore, that authors recognized a difference between the age of maturity in girls and that of boys. 2

A Literary Inheritance?

What, then, can be said about early medieval English religious beliefs about puberty? It helps to consider what biblical and patristic sources that discussed this phase of life, if any, might have been found in a monastic library. A 16 17

18 19

Scriftboc X13.01.00–X13.02.01, ed. and trans. Allen J. Frantzen, Anglo-Saxon Penitentials: A Cultural Database (2003–20), http://www.anglo-saxon.net/penance/. In addition, although the eleventh-century legal tract of betrothal known as Be wifmannes beweddung might have included the presence of a priest at a betrothal ceremony to give God’s blessing and make sure the future couple are not too closely related to one another, there is no telling if any other involvement, particularly with checking age and maturation, was done by the Church; Felix Liebermann, ed., Die Gesetze der Angelsachsen, 3 vols. (Halle, 1898–1916), 1:442–45; on marriage and the Church in early medieval England, see Helen Gittos, Liturgy, Architecture, and Sacred Places in Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford, 2013), 270–72. Abraham, Anticipating Sin, 85. Orme, Medieval Children, 329.

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preliminary survey seeking potential sources which discuss puberty yields few results, but those few sources encountered might still have held some sway over English thought. Although the Bible speaks about raising children correctly through diligent instruction (Prov. 22.6; Eph. 6.4; and Deut. 6.6–9, for example), it remains relatively quiet about the process of puberty. However, the epistles of Paul do include some passages of spiritual decree which clergy might have dictated to those experiencing lust for the first time. Paul’s letters do not specifically address the onset of sexual desire, but they do cast a person as sinful from the moment he or she acts upon such urges: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: That you should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor, Not in the passion of lust, like the Gentiles that know not God.”20 For Paul, those who sank to those base urges brought about by puberty were behaving like non-believers. Another possible source of information was Augustine of Hippo’s City of God.21 Augustine writes that a soul would not be affected by the many passions which he believed dominated infancy and childhood until an unspecified age of reason had been reached, when “praeceptum iam capit et subdi potest legis imperio” [it is possible to impose precepts on him and to bring him under the authority of law].22 Rather than Paul’s focus on lust as a seemingly inevitable consequence of puberty, Augustine discusses this phase of life through the lens of observable cognitive growth as a method to measure a boy’s ability to sin and, relatedly, be held legally accountable. Neither of these sources explicitly mention puberty, however. The most likely candidate for such material would be Isidore of Seville’s encyclopedic Etymologies, one of his better-known works in pre-Conquest England.23 In his 20

21

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1 Thess. 4.3–5. The Vulgate reads: “haec est enim voluntas Dei sanctificatio vestra ut abstineatis vos a fornicatione ut sciat unusquisque vestrum suum vas possidere in sanctificatione, et honore non in passione desiderii sicut et gentes quae ignorant Deum.” See also 1 Cor. 6.18. Known to at least Bede (Commentary on Genesis, Ecclesiastical History, Commentary on the Apocalypse), the anonymous translators of Orosius’s History against the Pagans, the Old English Boethius and the Soliloquies, the anonymous author of the Old English Martyrology, the poet of Genesis A, and Ælfric of Eynsham (Preface to Genesis, both series of Catholic Homilies, excerpts from Julian of Toledo’s Prognosticon): “Source Title: Civitate Dei,” in Fontes. Augustine of Hippo, De civitate Dei 21.16, ed. B. Dombart and A. Kalb, 2 vols., ccsl 47–48 (Turnhout, 1955), 2:782; Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books XVII–XXII, trans. Gerald G. Walsh and Daniel J. Honan (Washington, D.C., 1954), 376. Isidore’s Etymologies was a work known to a number of named Anglo-Saxon authors including Aldhelm, Bede, Willibald, Alfred, Ælfric, and Wulfstan the Cantor, but also to the authors of several anonymous Latin and Old English works: “Source Title: Etymologiae,” in Fontes. On the transmission and impact of Isidore of Seville’s works including the

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chapter on the human being, Isidore lists the six stages of human life which cast childhood (pueritia) as the age in which one “necdum ad generandum apta, tendens usque ad decimum quartum annum” [is not yet suited for procreating; it lasts until the fourteenth year]; the next age, adolescence (adole­ scentia), encompasses the age range from 14 to 28 when an individual could reproduce.24 Isidore makes a distinction between the second and third ages of man based on an individual’s ability to procreate and does not include a specific stage to describe the range of pubertal years. The Etymologies’ description of puberty itself is largely male-centric, focusing on the new growth of hair and sexual maturity: Puberes a pube, id est, a pudendis corporis nuncupati, quod haec loca tunc primum lanuginem ducunt. Quidam autem ex annis pubertatem existimant, id est, eum puberem esse qui quatuordecim annos expleverit, quamvis tardissime pubescat. Certissimum autem puberem esse, qui et ex habitu corporis pubertatem ostendat, et generare jam possit. Those who have reached puberty (puberes) are so called from pubes, that is, the private parts, for this is the first time that this area grows hair. There are those who calculate puberty from age, that is, they take someone who has completed his fourteenth year to have reached puberty, even though he may begin to show the signs of puberty very late; however, it is most certain that he who shows the outward signs of puberty and can already procreate has reached puberty.25 Isidore allows that variations from his given age of fourteen did occur in certain developments, but after the age of fourteen, a man could no longer be considered a puer “a puritate vocatus, quia purus est, et necdum lanuginem floremque genarum habens” [so called from purity (puritas), because he is pure and still retains, without the hint of a beard, the bloom of the cheeks].26 He offers no discussion of menarche in this work or any examination into the adolescent development of girls. In his discourse on menstruation, Isidore instead concentrates on the disparaging effect of menstrual blood on crops,

24

25 26

Etymologies in Anglo-Saxon England, see Claudia Di Sciacca, Finding the Right Words: Isidore’s Synonyma in Anglo-Saxon England (Toronto, 2008), 47–55, 58–68. Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae 11.2.3–4, pl 82:9–728, at col. 415BC, trans. Stephen A. Barney et al., The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville (Cambridge, 2006), 241. On the six stages of life in Anglo-Saxon England, see Thijs Porck, Old Age in Early Medieval England: A Cultural History (Woodbridge, 2019), 38–49. Isidore, Etymologiae 11.2.13, pl 82:416C, trans. Barney et al., 241–42. Isidore, Etymologiae 11.2.10, pl 82:416A, trans. Barney et al., 241.

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wine, and metals rather than the biological processes of it.27 The Etymologies’ depiction of puberty, therefore, centers upon the newfound ability to procreate and the growth of pubic and facial hair in boys. Those with access to the monastic libraries which might have contained the religious works discussed above would only have received a limited perspective of the physical and cognitive developments which occurred in an individual’s second decade of life. 3

The Language of the Physically Developing Body in Latin and Old English

Theological discussions of puberty would require a vocabulary with which pubescent bodies can be communicated, but early medieval English sources offer few language descriptors in either Latin or Old English for this transitional stage of life. On the Latin term adolescentia, Abraham has warned that “whilst medieval texts, including the penitentials, sporadically refer to adole­ scentia in relation to the ages of man, such usages do not necessarily correspond to modern notions of adolescence”; furthermore, “such models are not necessarily applicable to early medieval perceptions of age-related transitions of medieval females.”28 Terms such as pubertas and pubes might have been more specific, but authors did not use them with frequency and often not in conjunction with a defined age group.29 One outlier to this silence on puberty is the early ninth-century Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, ms 144 which contains a series of Latin and Old English glossaries. Previous attention paid to this manuscript has focused on its crucial place in history as one of the earliest surviving works containing a substantial amount of Old English and how it serves as testimony to Christian-Latin learning in England before the ninthcentury Viking attacks. The glossary’s definitions also reveal new insights into the cultural conceptualization of puberty. For words with the root pubes- we find: Pubes: iuvenis legitimos pilos habens Pubetenus: media pars corporis deorsum.30 27 28 29 30

Isidore, Etymologiae 11.1.140, pl 82:414B. Abraham, Anticipating Sin, 70. See also John Burrow, The Ages of Man: A Study in Medieval Writing and Thought (Oxford, 1986), 80–82. Anlezark’s short commentary on Aldhelm’s use of the word pubes when describing the Book of Daniel, however, provides an important exception to this; Anlezark, “Of Boys and Men,” 249–50. Hessels, Jan, ed., An Eighth-Century Latin-Anglo-Saxon Glossary (Cambridge, 1890), 99. Hessels transcribed “pubetenus” as “pubetemis,” but after studying the manuscript, “pubetenus” seems like the more likely transcription.

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The first gloss defines “pubes” as “a youth having legal/lawful/legitimate hair,” but the second, on “pubetenus,” is more difficult to translate. It could be discussing the downwards direction of the middle part of the body, perhaps a veiled reference to testicular descent or penile growth. Alternatively, it could be translated as “the middle part of the body when you see it from top down,” potentially either referring to the genitals, the growth of pubic hair, or both.31 In either case, the glossator acknowledged something physically different with the body’s midsection. This singular evidence of a religious community attempting to define aspects of puberty demonstrates not only the association of some type of legitimacy gained from puberty through the use of the word “legitimos,” but also a choice to allude to pubescent growth through vague language identifiers instead of specific physical terms. Terms denoting puberty are not easily found in the age-related vocabulary of Old English.32 Of the many visible physical features included in Van Gennep’s concept of “social puberty,” written testament of pubertal developments found in Old English sources focuses primarily on bodily growth and facial hair. Old English glosses for Latin words with the root pubes- sometimes include a form of the verb weaxan ‘to grow,’ as in one of the tenth-century Latin-Old English glossaries in London, British Library, Cotton Cleopatra A.iii.33 Beyond that, new beard growth was the main physical attribute of puberty found in surviving Old English sources. In his Grammar and Glossary, Ælfric translates “pubis” and “puberis” as “cniht oððe cnihthad” [youth or youth-hood (with a principally masculine connotation)] and then, directly after, defines “inpubis” with the very literal “beardleas” [beardless].34 Two further Old English glosses intensify this connection between puberty and beard growth. An eleventh-century manuscript containing excerpts of Priscian’s Institutiones Grammaticae 31 32

33 34

Thanks to Maria Sofia Merino for her guidance in interpreting this gloss. On the vague definitions and ambiguous age boundaries connected to Old English terms associated with childhood, youth, and the process of maturing, see the contribution by Daria Izdebska in this volume (53–71) and Crawford, Childhood in Anglo-Saxon England, 51–52. In a rare instance a boy might transition from cild to cniht and finally to adulthood, but oftentimes these terms offer no consistency. Puberty might be a biological process, but the term ‘pubescent’ is socially constructed, reliant on beliefs that the years someone experienced puberty marked a distinct phase of life. However, just because there was no specific term for the Modern English ‘pubescent’ does not mean that early English religion did not recognize these pre-teen and teenage years as crucially different from childhood and adulthood. The entry follows “Pubescentem: weaxende”; John Quinn, “The Minor Latin-Old English Glossaries in MS. Cotton Cleopatra A.iii” (PhD diss., Stanford University, 1956), 137. Ælfric, Aelfrics Grammatik und Glossar: Text und Varianten, ed. Julius Zupitza (Berlin, 1880), 56.

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includes the phrase “pube tenus” [a person on the cusp of having the hair associated with puberty] which is glossed by the vernacular “frumbyrdling,” a noun compounding frum ‘first’ and beard ‘beard’ or gebyrd ‘bearded.’35 Similarly, the glossed Psychomachia in Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, ms 223, which traveled to England in the ninth or tenth century, has the abbreviated form of frumbyrdling (“frymbyrdlc”) glossing “efoebos,” an alternate spelling of ephebus, by this point in the Middle Ages defined as “youth” but possibly still containing the Greek connotations of ἔφηβος: “one arrived at puberty.”36 The word frumbyrdling, surviving in only these two manuscripts, appears to be the Old English phrase which most clearly encapsulated puberty, albeit one that focuses on the perceived experiences of boys to the exclusion of those of girls. Although evidence is limited, these glosses together indicate that their authors (and perhaps others in monastic settings) considered the physical processes of puberty at least to a small degree. No other physical description associated with puberty appears to have survived so clearly in the written record; however, one further development was alluded to if not so directly stated. Penances for the first sexual acts of boys can be found in penitential literature, and these handbooks of penance could grant leeway for first-time offences of male sexual sin, designated by these texts as homosexual acts, nocturnal emissions, and masturbation.37 For example, the Old English translation of the Canons of Theodore, surviving fully in two eleventh-century manuscripts, stipulates that when a boy confessed to engaging in homosexual intercourse, the corresponding tariff varied depending on whether this were the boy’s first perceived transgression: “Gyf hit cniht 35

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Lowell Kindschi, “The Latin-Old English Glossaries in Plantin-Moretus MS 32 and British Museum MS Additional 32,246” (PhD diss., Stanford University, 1944), 208. On the rising popularity of Priscian’s Institutiones Grammaticae on the Continent in the early Middle Ages, see Margaret Gibson, “Milestones in the Study of Priscian, circa 800–circa 1200,” Viator 23 (1992): 17–34. On the use and influence of this grammar in pre-Conquest England, see Leslie Lockett, Anglo-Saxon Psychologies in the Vernacular and Latin Traditions (Toronto, 2011), 435–438. R. I. Page, “More Old English Scratched Glosses,” Anglia 97 (1979): 27–45, at 42. Page wrote that within this particular manuscript, “the Psychomachia quires are certainly the ones the Anglo-Saxons used most extensively” (32), which might suggest that more than just the glossator read these translations. For an introduction to the popularity and transmission of Prudentius’s Psychomachia in early medieval England, see Gernot R. Wieland, “The Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts of Prudentius’s Psychomachia,” Anglo-Saxon England 16 (1987): 213–31. Greek translation from Henry Liddell and Robert Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford, 1889), 338. Allen J. Frantzen, “Where the Boys Are: Children and Sex in the Anglo-Saxon Penitentials,” in Becoming Male in the Middle Ages, ed. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Bonnie Wheeler (New York, 1997), 43–66.

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sy . æt ærestan .ii. gear . gif he hit æft do .iiii. gear fæste.” [If he is a boy, for the first offense, 2 years, and if he does it again, he must fast for 4 years.]38 The majority of surviving depictions of puberty, including beard growth and the start of male sexual desires, specifically accounted for developments that were perceived to be the domain of boys. At least for boys, then, there was some recognition of the sexually maturing, physically developing body; however, Anglo-Saxon sources stayed silent on the maturation of female bodies. Menarche was a biological event which was obviously experienced, but authors chose not to write about it (along with breast development or any other physical developments). Beyond leechbooks, discussions of menstruation are most often found in reference to what acts married women and men should abstain from when a woman had “monaðadle” [month-sickness].39 One notable exception to these prescriptive abstention clauses might be found in Bede’s rendition of the Libellus responsionum within his Ecclesiastical History, located in both the original Latin and later tenthcentury English translation, where Gregory the Great responds to Augustine of Canterbury’s concerns about menstruating women receiving communion. To Gregory, it is a woman’s choice to receive the sacrament, for “[m]enstrua enim consuetudo mulieribus non aliqua culpa est, uidelicet quae naturaliter accedit” [a woman’s periods are not sinful, because they happen naturally],40 and, in Old English, “seo oferflownis þæs gecyndes hire ne mæg in synne geteled beon” [the natural overflow may not be counted as her sin].41 Whilst Bede’s work in both Latin and Old English allows for no difference in worship and participation in the sacraments based on whether a girl or woman was menstruating, there appears to be some indication that menarche might still have affected a girl’s ability to participate in religious ceremonies. Stephanie Hollis and Rob Meens have both found that evidence for a continued deepseated belief in the impurity associated with menstruation can be found in the sustained penitential tradition associated with Theodore of Tarsus, the seventh archbishop of Canterbury.42 Concerns about purity and menstruation were 38 39 40 41 42

Old English Canons of Theodore B74.01.05, ed. and trans. Frantzen. “monaðadle” in the Scriftboc X05.01.01, ed. and trans. Frantzen; “monaðaðle” in Bede, The Old English Version of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People 1.27, ed. and trans. Thomas Miller (London, 1890), 78. Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People 1.27, ed. and trans. Bertram Colgrave and R. A. B. Mynors (Oxford: 1969), 92–93. Bede, Old English Version 1.27, ed. and trans. Miller, 78–79. Stephanie Hollis, Anglo-Saxon Women and the Church (Woodbridge, 1992), 25, 36; Rob Meens, “Questioning Ritual Purity: The Influence of Gregory the Great’s Answers to Augustine’s Queries about Childbirth, Menstruation and Sexuality,” in St Augustine and the Conversion of England, ed. Richard Gameson (Stroud, 1999), 177–79.

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evident, but without any records about the lived experiences of young women, nothing certain can be said about how early medieval English Christianity processed specific female pubertal developments including, but not limited to, menarche and breast growth.43 Depending on how strictly the English Church enforced restrictions on those menstruating, there might have been some type of division placed on women as early as menarche, but the surviving written record does not describe the start of a female body’s supposed pollution. When considering the language of puberty, the pervasive influence of those who controlled the production of literature and manuscripts is readily visible. 4

Sexual Temptation and Religious Understanding: Anxieties and Opportunities

The early medieval English Church offered no sacrament which marked the transition from childhood into adulthood. In the later Middle Ages, theologians would debate the precise timing for when confirmation should take place, ultimately postponing the sacrament until puberty.44 As early as the late eleventh century, doubts also began about the inclusion of children in the sacrament of communion, but it was not until the sixteenth century at the Council of Trent that an agreement was made that the Eucharist could only be received after reaching an age of discretion.45 Even without these more obvious rites of passage, authors still infused religious significance into the developments attained during puberty. Latin and Old English sources largely did not use language which communicated the specifics of puberty, but the writings and translations of Anglo-Saxon authors still reveal an acceptance of how the process as a whole affected each individual’s spiritual life. This acceptance reflects our modern understanding that puberty encapsulates both physical and mental developments; pre-Conquest-crafted theologies reveal anxieties about the new lure of sexual temptation and display optimism about the adolescent’s growing ability to understand Christian beliefs. It is not unusual to find susceptibility to sexual sin as an important factor in the miracles of both male and female saints popularized during this time. In Ælfric’s Lives of Saints, for example, one encounters a young Saint Chrysanthus who is thrown into an opulent room with five young women who had been 43 44 45

It is worth remembering that the word menarche did not enter the English language until the early twentieth century. J. D. C. Fisher, Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West (London, 1965), 120–40. Fisher, Christian Initiation, 101–108.

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tasked by his father – described as an idolater with close connections to the Roman government – to draw Chrysanthus away from Christ through their feminine wiles. Chrysanthus resists these women, but prays to God that they might fall asleep so “ϸæt hi awræccan ne magon mid heora wodlican plegan ænige galnysse on me” [that they are unable to arouse any lust in me with their foolish play].46 In this first miracle associated with the saint, all of the women immediately fell asleep.47 The strength of this tale lies not only in Chrysanthus’s ability to reject sexual advances but also in his understanding that without God’s help, he would be unable to resist the temptation forever. A similar account may be found in Gregory the Great’s narrative of Saint Benedict’s life in Book ii of the Dialogues, translated into Old English by Bishop Wærferth of Worcester in the ninth century, where a young Benedict’s sexual temptation through a mental vision could only be stopped through God’s grace and a bush of stinging nettles.48 Although the surviving written record contains no descriptions of the biological processes experienced by pubescent girls, the genre of hagiography was still inundated with stories of women in this biological stage. Quite often, a crucial element in the narrative laid in some form of trial which the saint must endure to guard her chastity, the implication being that said saint had reached an age where she could be susceptible to sexual temptation. Aldhelm’s accounts of Saint Lucia and Saint Justina of Antioch in his early eighth-century Prosa de virginitate epitomize this narrative trope.49 Both female saints commit their virginity to God early in life, resisting those who compelled them to marriage or other sexual pursuits. In a tenth-century rendition of another early saint’s life, Ælfric of Eynsham describes Saint Agnes as a girl of thirteen who was “cild-lic on gearum. and eald-lic on mode” [child-like in years, but elderly 46

47

48 49

Ælfric, Lives of Saints: Being a Set of Sermons on Saints’ Days Formerly Observed by the English Church, ed. and trans. W. W. Skeat, eets o.s. 76, 82, 94, 114 (London, 1881–1900; repr. as one volume, London, 1966), 380–82, hom. 35, lines 65–66. Author’s own translation. It is worth noting that Ælfric only used the term cniht (lines 48, 50, 57, 70, 89) to describe Chrysanthus once the elements of sex and marriage were brought into the tale; before that, Chrysanthus was described as a cnapa (380, line 33) praised for his intelligence and knowledge of Christian religion. Ælfric, more so than any other Old English author, appears to have used the term cniht the most in association with boys who have gone through the first stages of puberty. Hans Hecht, ed., Bischofs Waerferths von Worcester Übersetzung der Dialoge Gregors des Grossen über das Leben und die Wunderthaten italienischer Väter und über die Unsterblichkeit der Seelen, 2 vols (Leipzig, 1900–1907) 2.2, 2:100–103. Aldhelm, “The Prose De virginitate” 42, 43, trans. Michael Lapidge, in Aldhelm, The Prose Works, trans. Michael Lapidge and Michael Herren (Cambridge, 1979), 108–10.

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in mind], returning from her school only to be immediately wooed by the ruler Sempronius’s son.50 Probably at the earliest stages of socially-perceived puberty, Agnes manages to cast the young suitor off, stating – with what Leslie Donovan has called the maturity of “a completely fulfilled woman” – that she already had a lover who adorned her with jewels, robes, and honor.51 Through a series of miracles she then protects her virginity even after being stripped and dragged to a brothel. Agnes is at the boundary between childhood and adulthood: she is just old enough to be considered for marriage, and likely to have begun puberty, but she is still young enough to be called “cild-lic” [childlike], a phrase which might denote an in-between stage of bodily development that the Old English lexicon otherwise lacks. The tales of female saints and the protection of their chastity contain an important distinction from those of their male counterparts: these female saints never actually appear to consider such urges in their rejection of male pursuits, as opposed to the fraught misery which some male saints experienced when trying to reject sexual temptation as we have already seen with the accounts of Saints Chrysanthus and Benedict. Regardless of the relative surety with which female saints resisted sexual desire in comparison to their male counterparts, the introduction of sexual temptation through the onset of puberty allows for a new range of trials through which they could demonstrate their sanctity. Moreover, these hagiographical accounts also offered a didactic model which the general populace could mimic in their own actions as their bodies began to feel sexual urges. Rather than depending on youths taking these morals from saints’ lives and implementing them in their own lives, the compiler of Wulfstan’s Canon Law Collection fully defines the potential consequences of uncontrolled pubescent bodies by explicitly recommending that young men and women choose a religious life or marriage once they began developing signs of socially-perceived puberty.52 According to both recensions of this collection, the new temptation 50 51 52

Ælfric, Lives of Saints, ed. Skeat, 170, hom. 7, line 9. On the puer senex motif see Patricia Healy Wasyliw, Martyrdom, Murder, and Magic: Child Saints and Their Cults in Medieval Europe (New York, 2008), 17; Porck, Old Age in Early Medieval England, 118–21. Leslie A. Donovan, Women Saints’ Lives in Old English Prose (Cambridge, 1999), 127. Wulfstan’s Canon Law Collection is a compilation of earlier canons dating to the beginning of the eleventh century and most often associated with, but not yet proven to have been compiled by, Archbishop Wulfstan of York (d. 1023). The compiler of this collection still remains unknown (Ælfric of Eynsham might have even had some influence on the text), but they appear to have taken great care in handpicking canon laws from a variety of sources. “To compose this work, information was selected from a wide range of material, including Irish synods and Latin sermons, and regulae and patristic aphorisms were rearranged under distinctive rubrics”; J. E. Cross and Andrew Hamer, eds. and trans., Wulfstan’s Canon Law Collection (Cambridge, 1999), 29–30.

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of sexual sin acquired during puberty requires immediate action. It states: “Filii, cum ad annos pubertatis uenerint, cogantur aut uxores ducere aut continentiam profiteri; sic et filie eadem etate debent eandem legem seruare” [when young men have come to the years of adolescence, they are to be urged either to marry or publicly to vow chastity; in the same way, young women at the same age should observe the same law].53 Although J. E. Cross and Andrew Hamer translate “annos pubertatis” here as “years of adolescence,” a more precise translation would be ‘years of puberty.’ This direct reference to puberty marks a clear association between reaching a state of physical maturity and the new threat of sexual sin; importantly, this warning comes not only for men but for women as well. The early medieval English theology of puberty did not solely concern itself with the recognition of an individual’s susceptibility to a new type of sin – it also understood that the cognitive developments during this stage of life played a crucial role in moral and religious understanding. For pre-Conquest authors, these changes in the mind allowed an individual to understand Christianity, but authors were divided on the ages during which these developments could take place. Penitentials and canon law collections show awareness that individuals around the age of puberty were developing certain cognitive traits to the point that they could ultimately understand the concept of sin and the process of penance. Allen Frantzen has described that these types of written works recognized the “boundaries between childhood and adulthood.”54 However, the specific year one reached an age of reason ranged greatly, and the majority of sources which survive only consider young men. One tradition, possibly established by the Rule of Saint Benedict (repopularized in the mid-tenth century), located the age of understanding the penalties of sin at 15. The Rule limits the amount of physical punishment which could be given in a monastery apart from in the case of children, when “infantum vero usque quindecim annorum aetates disciplinae diligentia ab omnibus et custodia sit; sed et hoc cum omni mensura et ratione” [there should be supervision and diligent discipline of children up to the age of fifteen on everyone’s part, but this with all moderation and reason].55 The Rule demonstrates a concern for the spiritual health of young boys “qui minus intelligere possunt quanta poena sit excommunicationis” [who cannot fully understand how serious a 53 54 55

Wulfstan’s Canon Law Collection, Recension A: Canon 99; Recension B: Canon 124, ed. and trans. Cross and Hamer, 107–8, 145. Frantzen, “Where the Boys Are,” 45. Benedict of Nursia, The Rule of Saint Benedict 70, ed. and trans. Bruce L. Venarde (Cambridge, MA, 2011), 222–23.

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punishment excommunication is].56 When Benedict’s rules about young members of monastic orders are read together, it is possible to infer that the age of 15 was recognized as a pivotal year when boys acquired theological and moral understanding. As Æthelwold of Winchester translated this into Old English in the middle of the tenth century, he did not stray far from his source, allowing those who could read only in the vernacular access to Benedict’s beliefs about mental growth, spiritual development, and the importance of the age of 15.57 Returning to Wulfstan’s Canon Law Collection, Benedict’s age of 15 may be found again, accompanied by further clarifications of the religious and legal ramifications of reaching said age: Paruulus usque annos quindecim pro delicto corporali disciplina castigetur. Post hanc uero etatem quicquid deliquerit uel si furatur, retribuat seu etiam secundum legem exsoluat. A boy is to be chastised with corporal punishment for misdemeanors until fifteen years old. After that age, however, he is to make recompense for whatever he has done wrong or if he steals, or make restitution according to the law.58 These texts reveal a branch of thought locating religious understanding and accountability at the age of 15 for boys, but not all prescriptive texts from the period present this unified approach. For the authors and followers of these texts, the age of 15 might not necessarily have signaled the culmination of mental development, but this age appears to have constituted a cognitive stage where one’s capacity for moral and religious understanding had sufficiently grown to the point that an individual could be held accountable for their actions as an adult rather than as a child.59 Those writing religious handbooks were not unified in their beliefs about the age when cognitive development allowed for proper religious thinking. 56 57

58 59

Benedict of Nursia, Rule of Saint Benedict 30, ed. and trans. Venarde, 114–15. “Cildgeongum mannum eal geferræden unþeawas styre, and hyra mycele gymene hæbben oð þæt fifteoþe ger hyra ylde; þæt þær sy gedon mid eallum gemete and mid eallum gesceade” [The entire community shall punish vices in child-young men and have great care over them until their fifteenth year in age; that (punishment) should be done with every measure and reason]; Arnold Schröer, ed., Die Angelsächsischen Prosabearbeitungen der Benediktinerregel (Kassel, 1885–88; repr., Darmstadt, 1964), 130. Wulfstan’s Canon Law Collection, Recension B: Canon 104, ed. and trans. Cross and Hamer, 139–40. This could possibly also relate to the Scriftboc canon mentioned above, which designates the age of fifteen for when boys had jurisdiction over their bodies.

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The Old English Penitential, parts of which survive in four eleventh-century manuscripts, gives a different account for when that age was reached: Se man þe hine wið nytenu besmiteð oððe wæpnedman wið oðerne mid ungesceadelicum þinge. gif he bið .xx. wintra eald man þæt he understandan mæg þæt he þa sceandlican þing & þa manfullan begæð. geswíce & andette. & fæste .xv. ger & gif se man his gemæccan hæbbe. & he beo .xl. wintra & swylce þing be gæð. geswice & fæste þa hwile þe his lif beo. & ne gedyrstlæce þæt he drihtnes lichaman underfo ær his endedæge. The man who soils himself with an animal or the male who (fornicates) with another male in an irrational way, if he is twenty years old, so that he can understand that shameful and evil thing, he is to desist and confess and fast fifteen years; and if he has a mate (wife), and he is forty years old and does such a thing, he is to desist and fast for the rest of his life, and should not presume to receive God’s body until his dying day.60 It goes on to clarify that “geonge men & andgitlease man sceal þearle swingan ðe swylce ðing begað” [young and ignorant men are to be severely beaten if they do such a thing].61 With its multi-tiered approach, this canon addresses those who had not yet reached cognitive maturity, leaving a clause open for those who never would, and marked the age when one had the ability to “understand that shameful and evil thing” at 20 years. The age of 15 appears to have been the precedent set by the Rule of Saint Benedict for what stood as an age of reason, but subsequent authors still seem to have been considering other watershed moments, inadvertently demonstrating a collective acknowledgment that processes of mental and spiritual development defied strict categorization. As the natural process of puberty means that people’s mental processes develop at different rates, it does not necessarily feel odd that Anglo-Saxon authors did not express a wholly standardized age of reason. More than just reaching a stage where it was easier to understand moral accountability and the consequences of sin, puberty was also a time when early medieval English authors believed that youths could actively choose God. Sally Crawford has already noted that for male saints, “the most significant 60 61

The Old English Penitential Y42.06.01, ed. and trans. Frantzen. The Old English Penitential Y42.06.02, ed. and trans. Frantzen; The Old English Handbook has a similar provision (D54.14.01 and D54.14.02 in Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, ms 201) including the different age groups, but it eliminates the clause about twenty being an age of understanding. For more on this canon from the Penitential and its sources, see Frantzen, “Where the Boys Are,” 53.

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transitional point in their lives came at around the time of puberty, from thirteen to fifteen years of age, but their final adult role might be delayed into their midtwenties or later.”62 Hagiographers underscored the growth of mental maturity during the teenage years of female saints as well. Goscelin of Canterbury, writing about the seventh-century Saint Wihtburh of Ely in the late eleventh or early twelfth century, describes how as an infant she was “diuina dulcedine plena” [full of divine loveliness], but emphasizes that it was during her upbringing that “mox ut intelligibiles animos ad Christi nomen quod est unguentum effusum nectar ethereum sibi permulsit” [as soon as she was able to understand, she charmed her senses with the name of Christ, which is an overflowing ointment, ethereal nectar]. Goscelin writes that Wihtburh chose Christ above all others as her bridegroom before describing how “adolescebat puella” [the girl grew to womanhood] later in the passage.63 A saint might be demonstrably chosen by God in their infancy, but Goscelin stresses that it was not until a later age, with more mental maturity, that Wihtburh could fully choose to follow the path of Christ. ÆLfric, as well, is careful to note the level of Christian understanding held by female saints, such as Saint Euphrosyne, before they chose a life of chastity.64 The progression towards becoming a full member of Christian society is thus presented as an active choice, well after baptism, to be made by each individual as they left childhood behind. With a new spiritual awareness, a young man or woman could actually understand the teachings imparted by the Church.



Evidence of the Anglo-Saxon Church’s attitudes towards puberty are scarce, incomplete, and disproportionally weighted towards describing the experiences of boys over girls, probably because those in charge of the literary production had more experience with (or were more concerned about) the pubescent male oblates within their communities. Even so, sufficient evidence survives to begin the process of revealing religious attitudes towards puberty during this time. Although authors and glossators often did not choose to describe the specific visible changes that happened to the body, surviving sources show a deep awareness and even anxiety regarding the general physical and cognitive developments which occurred. Early medieval English theology could not fail to recognize the existence of puberty when considering the new temptation 62 63 64

Crawford, Childhood in Anglo-Saxon England, 55; see also Hill, “Childhood in the Lives,” 150–52. Goscelin of Saint-Bertin, The Hagiography of the Female Saints of Ely, ed. and trans. Rosalind C. Love (Oxford, 2004), 54–57. Ælfric, Lives of Saints, hom. 33, ed. and trans. Skeat, 336.

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of sexual desire and the attainment of a state of cognitive development where one could understand religion and actively choose God. These aspects made puberty a crucial stage in the spiritual lives of both men and women where the development of the physical body was closely connected with a burgeoning religious life. Surviving evidence also illuminates how these theologically prickly subjects were exacerbated by the highly variable nature of puberty. Different religious works attempted to reckon puberty with a specific age in a similar manner to the law codes, hinting at the authors’ possible struggles defining this stage of life. The early medieval English Church might have grappled with the variable age spectrum associated with puberty, but its theology managed to transform these biological changes into spiritual opportunities.

Part 3 Intergenerational Dynamics



chapter 7

Naming and Renaming: Names and the Life Course in Early Medieval England James Chetwood The first episode of the television series The Last Kingdom shows Uhtred, the lord of Bebbanburg, talking to his second son, Osbert, following the death of his eldest son, Uhtred, at the hands of Danish raiders in 876. He tells him: “You are now called Uhtred. Uhtred son of Uhtred.” To which Osbert responds “Yes father.” Uhtred then tells the priest, Father Beocca, to show Osbert (now Uhtred) his history, to “make him understand who he is.” Father Beocca interjects, requesting permission to baptize the newly renamed boy, because “if he arrives at heaven’s gate as Uhtred, they might wonder what’s happened to Osbert.” The request seems of little consequence to the Lord Uhtred, who feels it more important to continue the history lesson for the boy who was hitherto named Osbert: “Do what you must, but do as I ask. We were kings here once boy, kings of all the lands between the rivers Tweed and Tyne … now you are the new heir of Bebbanburg. And you will die for it if needed.” The boy responds willingly, clearly distressed by the death of his older brother, and filled with a sense of duty to his father: “Yes father, and I will give you the head of the man who killed Uhtred.” The response does nothing but anger Lord Uhtred, who angrily shouts: “No, you are Uhtred!”1 The scene presents an evocative picture of early medieval English naming practices. The name Uhtred is depicted as being inextricably linked to the rulership of the fictional lords of Bebbanburg. It demonstrates the legitimacy of its bearers and a link to the history of the family as well as the lands they rule over, to such an extent that anyone not called Uhtred cannot be fit to rule. It implies a naming system in which names were passed down through a family with the aim of demonstrating lineage, patrilineal inheritance and, in the case of the aristocracy, the right to rule. However, while it is useful as an exposition device, there is little evidence to suggest that names were used in this way in ninth-century England. Names were not passed down from father to son in patrilineal displays of descent. 1 The Last Kingdom, “Episode 1,” directed by Nick Murphy, written by Stephen Butchard and Bernard Cornwell (bbc, October 15, 2015).

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2022 | doi:10.1163/9789004501867_009

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Yet the scene raises a number of relevant questions about how names were chosen and used. What motives lay behind the choice of names that parents gave to their children? How, when and why did names change during the course of a person’s life? What happened to names when people died? This chapter will attempt to answer these questions to paint a more accurate depiction of how names were used in England between the sixth and eleventh centuries. It will explore how the choice of names was used as a means of constructing individual and group identities, as well as how names were transformed, added to or even replaced completely over the course of an individual’s life. In doing so, it will help illuminate how the passing from one stage of life to another transformed the social identities of individual people. Medieval English personal names have been studied by scholars in a number of fields. The philological and linguistic works of Olof von Feilitzen, Mats Redin, Eilert Ekwall, John Insley and Fran Colman have provided in-depth etymological and grammatical studies of Old English personal names.2 The socio-onomastic and historical works of Cecily Clark and David Postles have explored how names and naming decisions developed both before and after the Norman Conquest, including the development of bynames.3 The recent Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland by Peter McClure, Richard Coates and Patrick Hanks provides historical and etymological entries on tens of thousands of surnames which have their origin in the medieval period.4 All of these works, in some way, touch on the relationship between names and the people who bore them. In doing so, they help us understand more about medieval lives and the life course, and many of these works will be drawn on here. However, there has been no study dedicated solely to the relationship between personal names and the life course in early medieval England. Leonard Neidorf’s recent chapter, “Naming Children in Anglo-Saxon England: Ethnic Identity and Cultural Change,” has made a start in this regard, but the focus on names given at birth leaves a great deal of the life course that has been largely unexplored. Anthropological works, including Richard 2 Fran Colman, The Grammar of Names in Anglo-Saxon England: The Linguistics and Culture of the Old English Onomasticon (Oxford, 2014); Eilert Ekwall, Early London Personal Names (Lund, 1947); John Insley, “Pre-Conquest Personal Names,” Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde 23 (2001): 367–96; Mats Redin, Studies on Uncompounded Personal Names in Old English (Uppsala, 1919); Olof von Feilitzen, Pre-Conquest Personal Names of Domesday (Uppsala, 1937). 3 Cecily Clark and Peter Jackson, eds., Words, Names, and History: Selected Writings of Cecily Clark (Cambridge, 1995); David Postles, Naming the People of England, c.1100–1350 (Newcastle, 2006). 4 Patrick Hanks, Richard Coates and Peter McClure, The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland (Oxford, 2016).

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Alford’s cross-cultural study of naming practices, have demonstrated the importance of acts of naming as identity-forming rituals, as well as how acts of re-nomination can reflect emergent identities and identity transformations.5 This chapter will take a similar approach to onomastic evidence from across the early medieval period, looking past naming as a one-off event, and examining it as an ongoing process that reflects the evolution of personal identity throughout an individual’s life. There are myriad reasons why a person may adopt a new name throughout the course of their life. Name changes were not uncommon for early medieval English ecclesiastical figures. Saint Boniface was named Winfred until he was renamed Boniface by Pope Gregory ii, and Bede explains how Berhtgils, Bishop of the East Angles, was also known by this name.6 Name changes could also be brought about through conversion, as in the case of Guthrum, who became Æthelstan to show his Christian credentials to Alfred.7 In other cases, fashion and fitting in was more important. Emma of Normandy was renamed Ælfgifu, at least officially, when she married her English husband Æthelred, while Orderic only took on the name Vitalis to please his fellow monks at his new monastery in Normandy, who could not pronounce his English name.8 While all these cases are interesting and illuminating in their own right, it is not possible to explore every instance or type of name change in one chapter. As such, the examples chosen here are ones that seem to be particularly useful for examining the relationship between names and the stages of the life course. Naming practices do not correspond neatly to a pattern of linear progression from birth, through various sequential life stages, to death. Indeed, birth and death are very often linked together in one act of naming. As such, the first part of this chapter will look at both birth and death together, examining the choice of name given at birth and how considerations about what to name a child changed over the early medieval English period. The second part will then explore how names were changed, transformed and added to over the course of an individual’s life by examining names created in family settings during 5 Richard Alford, Naming and Identity: A Cross-Cultural Study of Personal Naming Practices (New Haven, 1988), 81. 6 Ian Wood, “Boniface [St Boniface] (672x5?–754),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2008), https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/ odnb-9780198614128-e-2843, accessed 30 June 2020; Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People 3.20, ed. and trans. Bertram Colgrave and R. A. B. Mynors (Oxford, 1969), 246; Colman, Grammar of Names, 130. 7 Anders Winroth, The Age of the Vikings (Princeton, 2014), 52. 8 Harriet O’Brien, Queen Emma and the Vikings: The Woman Who Shaped the Events of 1066 (London, 2005), 43; Marjorie Chibnall, The World of Orderic Vitalis: Norman Monks and Norman Knights (Woodbridge, 1984), 221.

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infancy and early childhood, as well as the system of community-generated bynames that developed in the tenth and eleventh centuries. In doing so, this chapter aims to show how names in early medieval England reflected both individual and group identities, as well as how these identities changed over time. 1

A Good Name Is Better than Riches: Choosing a Name for a Child

The choice of a child’s name is an important decision – one that is rarely, if ever, done haphazardly or without thought. One function of personal names is to provide a “direct and pragmatic means of distinguishing one individual from another.”9 But names do much more than this. The act of naming a child is a symbolic act signaling the child’s membership of a society, identifying the child as a legitimate member of the group, as well as symbolizing their identity. As Alford describes: “First, [names] provide messages to the members of the society at large about who an individual is. Second, they provide messages to the named individual about who he or she is expected to be.”10 This means that most societies follow a set of rules or norms about when and how naming should take place, and the form that those names should take. Old English names were no exception. At the beginning of the early medieval period they followed what Henry Woolf describes as “traditional Germanic principles of name-giving.”11 The features of this system involved creating compound (or dithematic) names combining two elements (or themes) into one name.12 The themes were, in origin at least, lexical items taken from the lexicon of Old English. So, for example, the name Ælfgifu was formed of the themes Ælf- ‘elf’, and -gifu ‘gift.’ Similarly, Wulfstan was formed of the themes Wulf- ‘wolf’, and -stan ‘stone.’ Whether the meaning of the lexical items present played a role in the selection of names for children is a contested point. Frank Stenton, for example, argued that “at an early time the sense which a compound name bore was a matter of little importance personal or family reasons 9 10 11

12

Alford, Naming and Identity, 30. Alford, Naming and Identity, 51. Henry Woolf, The Old Germanic Principles of Name-Giving (Baltimore, 1939), 2–3. See also Leonard Neidorf, “Naming Children in Anglo-Saxon England: Ethnic Identity and Cultural Change,” in Childhood and Adolescence in Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture, ed. Susan Irvine and Winfried Rudolf (Toronto, 2018), 32–47, at 35. For more see: James Chetwood, “Re-evaluating English Personal Naming on the Eve of the Conquest,” Early Medieval Europe 26 (2018): 518–47; Cecily Clark, “Onomastics,” in The Cambridge History of the English Language: Volume I: The Beginnings to 1066, ed. Richard Hogg (Cambridge, 1992), 452–87; Colman, Grammar of Names, 103–50.

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determined the choice of a name”.13 Cecily Clark agreed, suggesting that “the combining of themes into compounds was ruled by onomastic not semantic choice.”14 However, there are numerous examples of early medieval English writers who recognized the meaning in their names, or those of others. For example, Wulfstan, Archbishop of York, commonly referred himself as Lupus [wolf] in Latin, while Heahstan, Bishop of London translated his own name to Alta Petra [high stone].15 In some cases, it was specifically made clear that the choice of name was intended to represent the virtues of the child in their future life. The monk Felix, in Life of Saint Guthlac, explained how the saint’s name translated into Latin as belli munus [gift of war]: Anglorum lingua hoc nomen ex duobus integris constare videtur, hoc est ‘Guth’ et ‘lac’, quod Romani sermonis ‘belli munus’, quia ille cum vitiis bellando munera aeternae beatitudinis. the name in the tongue of the English is shown to consist of two individual words, namely ‘Guth’ and ‘lac’, which in the elegant tongue of Latin is ‘belli munus’ (reward of war), because by warring against vices he was to receive the reward of eternal bliss.16 Similarly, in the early tenth century, a poem written to commemorate an act of investiture from Alfred the Great to the future King Æthelstan used the meaning of his name as a predictor for his future greatness. The poem is an acrostic, with the first letters of each line spelling out Æthelstan’s name, and the last letters of each line spelling out the name of the poet, Iohannes: ‘Archalis’ clamare, triumuir, nomine ‘saxI’ Diue tuo fors prognossim feliciter aeuO: ‘Augusta’ samu- cernetis ‘rupis’ eris -elH, Laruales forti beliales robure contrA. Saepe seges messem fecunda prenotat altam; iN Tutis solandum petrinum solibus agmeN. 13 14 15 16

Frank Stenton, “Personal Names in Place-Names,” in Preparatory to Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Doris Stenton (Oxford, 1970), 84–105, at 168. Clark, “Onomastics I,” 458. Wulfstan, Sermo Lupi ad Anglos, ed. Dorothy Bethurum, Homilies of Wulfstan (Oxford, 1957), 255–60; Colman, Grammar of Names, 121. Felix, Life of Saint Guthlac, ed. and trans. Bertram Colgrave (Cambridge, 1956), 76–79.

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Amplius amplificare sacra sophismatis arcE. Nomina orto- petas donet, precor, inclita -doxuS.17 Little prince, you are called by the name ‘sovereign stone’, Look happily on this prophecy for your life. You shall be the ‘noble rock’ of Samuel the seer, Standing with mighty strength against the devilish monsters. Often an abundant cornfield foretells a fine harvest. In times of peace your stoniness will soften, for You are more abundantly endowed with the holy eminence of learning. I pray that you may seek, and that God may grant, the promise of your noble names. The poem emphasizes how Athelstan’s name, “sovereign stone,” is a prophecy for his life. It foresees him being a “noble rock,” standing with mighty strength against devilish monsters. So, while there is probably an element of retrospective exploitation of name meanings in these examples, there does seem to be some evidence that the names people chose for their children contained meaning, and that the choice of the name at birth could communicate hopes for a child’s characteristics, not just in childhood, but throughout their life. Indeed, at the point of their creation, names in most languages and cultures are derived from lexical items containing meaning.18 It seems uncontentious that, at some point in the period, the meaning within Old English names was transparent and meaningful both semantically and culturally to the people who used them. It is notable how there are specific types of vocabulary that were deemed suitable for onomastic content. Insley lists these as: religion, cult and supernatural beings; war, battle and weapons; names of peoples; designations of places; collective consciousness; animal names; and adjectives denoting personal attributes.19 However, over time, the themes used in personal names change, and new themes came into use, suggesting there was still an element of onomastic innovation, perhaps reflecting a change in what people saw as important to embody in the name of the children.20 For example, 17

18 19 20

Oxford, Bodleian Library, ms. Rawl. C. 697, fol. 78v. Cited here edited and translated from Michael Lapidge, Anglo-Latin Literature: 900–1066 (London, 1993), 60–61, originally published in Michael Lapidge, “Some Latin poems as evidence for the reign of Athelstan,” Anglo-Saxon England 9 (1980): 61–98. For a facsimile and additional commentary on the poem, see Sarah Foot, Athelstan, The First King of England (New Haven, 2011), 30–33; 110– 12 and plate 4. Alford, Naming and Identity 59–60. For examples of meaningful names in Hopi culture, see Peter Whitely, “Hopitutungwni: ‘Hopi Names’ as Literature,” in On the Translation of Native American Literatures, ed. Brian Swann (London, 1992), 208–27. Insley, “Pre-Conquest Personal Names,” 377. Neidorf, “Naming Children in Anglo-Saxon England,” 44–47.

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God- ‘god, good’ appears to have been little used before the tenth century, but became increasingly frequent in the tenth and eleventh.21 It seems likely, therefore, that while perhaps not the primary motivating factor, the meaning of name elements may have played a part in the part of the decision behind some names, even if this was only as a secondary consideration. Names are also capable of carrying meaning in other ways. The passing down of names of family members, both alive and dead, as well as those of other important people is used in many cultures and societies to create links across generations, as well as act as a memorial for deceased ancestors.22 They can be used as markers of lineage, rightful inheritance and identify legitimate heirs or successors. However, this does not appear to have been the case in ninth-century Northumbria. The reuse and repetition of whole names was actually very rare in the early in the seventh, eighth and ninth centuries. The names of the Durham Liber Vitae provide evidence of this.23 As a confraternity book, the purpose of the Liber Vitae was to record the names of members of a monastic community and its benefactors, in this case most probably those of Lindisfarne and Monkwearmouth and Jarrow. The book itself would have been present on the high altar, in sight of the congregation, and the names contained within its pages allowed the individuals they referred to be remembered, and prayers offered for the salvation of their souls.24 The original core of the Liber Vitae dates from between c.690 and c.840 and contains upwards of 3,000 names, so offers an opportunity to observe the naming practices of eighth and ninth century Northumbria.25 What they show is that there was an extensive stock of personal names, with over 700 individual name forms, and strikingly few instances of name repetition, with the most common names accounting for less than 2 percent of individuals, and the top six names 21

22 23 24

25

According to Feilitzen, the God- element represented either Old English god ‘god’ or gōd ‘good’. See Feilitzen, Pre-Conquest Personal, 262. God- was not used in any of the names of the Original Core of the Durham Liber Vitae, compared with thirteen percent of the names in the list of burgesses of Colchester and twenty percent of the names in Survey 1 of the Winton Domesday. Roberta Gilchrist, Medieval Life: Archaeology and the Life Course (Woodbridge, 2005); Alford, Naming and Identity, 44–5. David Rollason and Lynda Rollason, eds., Durham Liber Vitae: London, British Library, MS Cotton Domitian A.vii: Edition and Digital Facsimile with Introduction, Codicological, Prosopographical and Linguistic Commentary, and Indexes, 3 vols. (London, 2007). Giles Constable, “The ‘Liber Memorialis’ of Remiremont,” Speculum 47 (1972): 261–77, at 263; John Davies, The Ancient Rite and Monuments of the Monastical and Cathedral Church of Durham Collected out of Ancient Manuscripts, about the Time of the Suppression (London, 1672), 28. Elizabeth Briggs, “Nothing But Names: The Original Core of the Durham Liber Vitae” in David Rollason et al., The Durham Liber Vitae and its Context (Woodbridge, 2004), 63–85, at 68.

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combined accounting for only 9 percent.26 The features of the compound naming system therefore allowed the people of ninth-century Northumbria to combine name themes in such a variety of ways that it was possible to avoid name repetition, and it essentially meant that each act of nomination involved the creation of a new unique name for one’s child. Names could, however, be used to demonstrate belonging to, or descent from, a wider kinship group. This was done through techniques described by Woolf as “alliteration” and “variation.”27 Alliteration, simply entailed repetition of the initial sound of a name. Variation took this one step further, with individual name themes being reused to demonstrate family or group belonging. This reuse could apply to both primary and secondary themes, so did not necessarily produce alliteration – although it often did. In some cases, variation could be used to combine name elements from both mother and father, to demonstrate links to both maternal and paternal kinship groups. Woolf cites the example of Wulfstan Bishop of Worcester, the son of Wulfgifu and Æthelstan, who took one element from each of their names to create his.28 Techniques of variation and alliteration therefore allowed parents to use recognizable name elements that demonstrated belonging to a kinship group, while still preserving the uniqueness of their child’s identity. The name choices of the ruling families of the early medieval English kingdoms bear this out. The example shown in Fig. 7.1 is the Kentish royal family from between c.600 and c.750. Names beginning with an E were used alliteratively for over a century and a half, and the reuse of the three protothemes Eormen-, Eorcon- and Æðel- across both female and male family members effectively created a sense of family belonging. However, there was no repetition of names. Only one name, Æðelbeorht, appeared more than once in the genealogy, and that only appeared twice, some 100 years apart. This is typical of other royal genealogies from the period.29 Demonstrating belonging to a kinship group was important, but this was not done by repeating whole names.

26

27 28 29

The sample studied here focuses on the 2,614 names of the monks and clerics of the monastic community, and discounts the names contained in of historic kings and queens, abbots and bishops, which date back before the start of the lists and feature individuals from much further afield than Northumbria. See Chetwood, “Re-evaluating English Personal Naming,” 529–34 for a more detailed study of the corpus. Woolf, Germanic Principles, 2–3. Woolf, Germanic Principles, 3. While not noted by Woolf, it is also plausible that Wulfstan was named after his illustrious uncle, also Bishop of Worcester and Archbishop of York. Woolf, Germanic Principles, provides numerous examples. See also Barbara Yorke, Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England (London, 1990).

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figure 7.1 House of Kent c.600–c.755

This reluctance to repeat names was common within areas where Germanic compound naming systems were used, which was the majority of western and northern Europe. Régine Le Jan suggest that this was because in post-Roman Germanic culture, there was no cult of ancestors, rather a belief in the corporeal and spiritual integrity of a dead person.30 Because of this, Le Jan suggests it was impossible, or at least taboo, to hand that name on to another; the name and the individual were inextricably linked. For Le Jan, the change from unique names to repeated names as being linked to the Christianization of ‘barbarian’ kingdoms, which removed this taboo and allowed people to use repeated names to demonstrate family belonging and lineage. This coincided with a shift from bilateral forms of kinship to smaller units based around the nuclear family governed by agnatic principles.31 There is some merit in this theory, but it is not completely satisfactory. As Victoria Thompson points out, many medieval Christians also believed in an indivisibility of body and soul – or at least that any division was temporary. 30 31

Régine Le Jan, “Personal Names and the Transformation of Kinship,” in Personal Name Studies of Medieval Europe: Social Identity and Familial Structures, ed. George Beech, Monique Bourin and Pascal Chareille (Michigan, 2002), 31–50, at 39–40. Le Jan, “Personal Names,” 45.

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She explains that in pre-Conquest England, death was not seen as “the end for either the soul or the body” as they would “be reunited and finally damned or saved at the end of time.”32 This suggests that any taboo should have been present in Christian naming cultures, as much as it was in pre-Christian Germanic ones. Moreover, as Le Jan herself points out, in England the direct repetition of names within a family or lineage did not begin until the late tenth century at the earliest.33 This is a significant time after the people of England had been Christianized. Le Jan is right to note, however, that techniques of alliteration and variation did gradually give way to repetition over the course of the next few centuries – just not in quite the way that she describes. 2

The Dead Walk Among Us: Naming and Commemoration

By the time of the Conquest the way people chose names for their children had transformed significantly. Rather than creating unique names for their children, names were increasingly repeated and reused, and the choice of given names began to coalesce around a small number of popular names. The shift from name uniqueness to name repetition can be seen at a macro-level in two records from the second half of the eleventh century: Survey i of the Winton Domesday (c.1057) and the list of Burgesses of Colchester from Little Domesday (1086).34 While the top six male names in the original core of the Durham Liber Vitae only accounted for 9 percent of the total, the equivalent figure for these two sources were 30 percent and 29 percent of the population respectively.35 It is also something observable in the genealogies of the tenth and eleventh centuries. The royal family of the House of Wessex (Fig. 7.2), and later, England, demonstrates this clearly. While there was still no evidence of directly passing individual names through a direct line of descendance, or from parents to children 32 33 34 35

Victoria Thompson, Dying and Death in Later Anglo-Saxon England (Woodbridge, 2012), 27. Le Jan, “Personal Names,” 43. Martin Biddle, ed., Winchester Studies I: Winchester in the Early Middle Ages – An Edition and Discussion of the Winton Domesday (Oxford, 1976); Domesday Book: Essex, ed. and trans. Alexander Rumble (Chichester, 1983), fols. 104r–106r. See Chetwood, “Re-evaluating English Personal Naming,” 537–41, for a more detailed study of the Colchester list. Cecily Clark also notes this phenomenon in the Bury Survey of c.1100, where the top five male names account for around 25 percent of the population. Cecily Clark, “Willelmus rex? vel alius Willelmus?,” in Clark and Jackson, Words, Names, and History, 280–98, at 284.

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figure 7.2 House of Wessex c.900–c.1066

at all, there was a large degree of name repetition across the kinship group. For example, two names of the brothers of Alfred the Great, Æðelstan and Æðelræd, were taken up and used within the direct line of succession. Æthelred ii, the Unready, managed to achieve a full house by naming all of his eight sons after previous kings of Wessex. Name repetition seems to have been used to indicate belonging by linking the child to different generations of the family, and quite possibly to remember individual family members after their death, although not specifically to pass down one name through each generation.

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figure 7.3 House of Bamburgh c.955–c.1125

The House of Bamburgh (Fig. 7.3) contrasts even more starkly with the earlier genealogies. There was no effort to create patterns through alliteration and variation, and there was great deal of repetition, with names such as Eadwulf, Uhtred, Ealdræd, Cospatric, Siward and Waltheof being repeated several times. Despite this, names passed down from parent to child are conspicuously absent, suggesting that repetition was not, at this point, primarily focused on direct transmission of names through a lineage. There is, however, one example of peculiarly persistent repetition. The name Ælfflæd, which appears nowhere else within the family tree, was given to three daughters of Earl Ealdred (d.1038). The evidence for this comes from Symeon of Durham, who explained that: “Comes Aldredus genuit quinque filias, quarum tres eodem nomine Ælfledæ

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vocabantur” [Earl Ealdred became the father of five daughters, three of whom were known by the same name, Ælfflæd].36 The bestowing of identical names on three daughters seems excessive, and seems more likely to have been an example of a name being passed on from sibling to sibling in the event of the first dying in infancy – as in the case of the fictional Osbert-cum-Uhtred. This demonstrates clearly the shift in naming patterns, and these two later genealogies both show how parents had become more willing to name children after other people. In the House of Wessex, this seems to reflect a will to demonstrate belonging to a wider family group, while also acting as a memorial for past family members. In the House of Bamburgh the net spreads wider, incorporating a greater array of names from outside the immediate family, emphasizing inter-generational links across extended kinship groups, but also across a wider social network of connections. The peculiar repetition of Ælfflæd as the name of three daughters demonstrates a significant change. From a system where names were created for each person, there seems to already have been a significant shift towards a system where the individual was, in a sense, born to carry a name, either as a mark of respect for another living person, or as an act of remembrance for one recently past. One reason for the transformation of this system may have been a shift in the social context in which the key rites of passage of a person’s life took place.37 Beginning in the mid-ninth century there was a profound reorganisation of English settlement and, as a result, a reorganisation of English society. The pattern of dispersed, isolated settlements based around an extended family group gradually gave way in many areas to larger, nucleated villages and polyfocal settlements.38 These changes to the social settings in which people’s public and private identities were forged may provide an explanation for why naming patterns changed. The transformation in settlement saw the creation of internally cohesive communities with an increasing sense of local identity. High reoccurrence names are often a feature of small, close-knit communities, where such names play a role in the construction of group identity.39 As Richard Alford points out:

36 37 38 39

Thomas Arnold, ed., Symeonis Monachi Opera Omnia, 2 vols. (London, 1975), 1:219. Le Jan, “Personal Names,” 39–45. Chris Dyer, Making a Living in the Middle Ages: The People of Britain, 850–1520 (Yale, 2002), 2. Ellen Bramwell, “Personal Names and Anthropology,” in The Oxford Handbook of Names and Naming, ed. Carole Hough (Oxford, 2018), 263–78, at 265–66; Bramwell, “Naming in Society: A Cross-Cultural Study of Five Communities in Scotland” (PhD. diss., University of Glasgow, 2012), 362–82.

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A unique name emphasises or proclaims a person’s individuality and uniqueness. But in all societies, individuality in excess may be socially destructive, divisive or dangerous […] High reoccurrence names […] do not emphasise a person’s individuality or uniqueness […] they do just the opposite. They call attention to similarities between namesakes.40 Moreover, a key element of this transformation of the landscape was the proliferation of local churches, local priests and, as a result, an improvement in access to baptismal places.41 Improved access to this rite of passage meant that, by the tenth century, the time-limit for baptism was reduced, from thirty days to no more than nine.42 It also meant that the baptismal ceremony was much more likely to take place within a local church. The initial act of nomination, and the baptismal ritual that went with it, therefore went from being one largely based within the framework of the family and kinship group, to one which took place under the watching eyes of the wider community. The shift in focus of this key rite from the private to the public, the familial to the communal, seems to have had an impact on name-giving. It made it an outward looking choice, designed to demonstrate a child’s belonging to the wider group through the bearing of a name chosen from a common stock. Methods such as alliteration and variation succeeded very well in producing unique names for individual children, while still marking them out as being part of an extended family group. Substituting these methods for name repetition could, in theory, have been used to demonstrate belonging to a nuclear family and lineage, marking each one out as different from neighbouring families. Instead, names became increasingly shared as communal items that demonstrated belonging to a wider community, and formed inter-generational links between new members of the community and present or past members. Whether intentional or otherwise, the cumulative effect of these individual naming decisions was to remove the distinctiveness of the names they gave to 40 41

42

Alford, Naming and Identity, 73–74. See, for example, Michel Audouy and Andy Chapman, eds., Raunds: The Origin and Growth of a Midland Village, AD 450–1500 (Oxford, 2009), 22–39; Andrew Reynolds, Later Anglo-Saxon England: Life and Landscape (1999), 111–57; Della Hooke, “The Mid-Late Anglo-Saxon Period: Settlement and Land Use,” in Landscape and Settlement in Britain: AD 400–1066, ed. Della Hooke (Exeter, 1995), 95–114; John Blair, The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society (Oxford, 2005), 368–422; Blair, Building Anglo-Saxon England (Princeton, 2018), 282–350. Richard Morris, “Baptismal Places: 600–800,” in People and Places in Northern Europe 500– 1600: Essays in Honour of Peter Hayes Sawyer, ed. Ian Wood and Niels Lund (Woodbridge, 1991), 15–24, at 15–16.

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their children, emphasising the similarity of name-bearers, rather than their differences.43 Indeed, this change in naming practices coincides with a similar shift in other ways of remembering the dead. Zoe Devlin has suggested that, before the ninth century, the choice of burial location was largely down to the family, and family groups were the main basis for remembrance of the dead.44 This changed when burial in churchyards became increasingly popular, and burials were no longer focused in family plots. The positioning of graves came to place less importance on the family, reflecting more on the deceased’s standing within the community: “each individual grave came to have its own claim on people’s commemorative activity, rather than being remembered as part of a family unit.”45 The role of objects in remembrance, such as personal belongings buried with the deceased, changed as well. They stopped being chosen by members of the family and started being selected by the individual themselves, “to be passed to family and friends to act as reminders of the deceased and of the need for their prayers.”46 As Devlin points out, the role of physical objects at a funeral can only have a transitory impact: “once buried, they cannot be revisited or manipulated.”47 In contrast, the donation of objects to individuals – both chosen by the deceased themselves – allowed for continued commemoration long after the act of burial or cremation. While a name is not a physical object, it very much belongs to a person. What greater act of remembrance is there than for an individual’s name to be given, and taken, by another human being – helping form the newly-born child’s identity, while, at the same time, remembering that of the original name-bearer? Of course, that is not to say that all children who took another person’s name did so after the original name-bearer’s death. Indeed, in many cases, they may have been a willing party in the process, and even involved in the naming ceremony itself, sometimes as a godparent, sometimes as the 43

44 45 46 47

Alford, Naming and Identity, 73–74. See also Susan Suzman, “Names as Pointers: Zulu Personal Naming Practices,” Language in Society 23 (1994): 253–72, at 268. Suzman’s study of Zulu naming practices in the twentieth century demonstrated that changes of naming practices are not necessarily intentional. While name choices and patterns changed considerably, the people choosing the names were not aware of doing anything differently, stating the same reasons as previous generations for choosing names. Zoe Devlin, Remembering the Dead in Anglo-Saxon England: Memory Theory in Archaeology and History (Oxford, 2007), 79. Devlin, Remembering the Dead, 83; See also: Zoe Devlin, “Remembering the Dead in Anglo-Saxon England: Memory Theory in Archaeology and History” (PhD diss., University of York, 2006), 264. Devlin, Remembering the Dead, 83. Zoe Devlin, “Remembering the Dead,” 258.

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priest, or even both. This was the case of Orderic Vitalis, who was given the name of the parish priest of Atcham, who baptized him and stood as his godfather. An act of nomination such as this, taking place in the heart of the community, tied the identity of its newest member to an existing one, forging links across generations. While not initially an act of remembrance, such acts would allow for commemoration to take place in due course, just as Orderic remembered his namesake while writing the epilogue to his Historia Ecclesiastica, some sixty-seven years after that original act of nomination took place.48 Rather than demonstrating uniqueness, personal name choices therefore began to focus more on demonstrating belonging to the wider social group within which the act of nomination took place. Naming for or after another person became a way of demonstrating links between a newly born child and other living people: family members, member of spiritual kin, or simply influential people in the community. The effect of this was to draw links between young and old, and the living and the dead – allowing the past to be remembered in the present. 3

Baby Talk: Names in Infancy and Childhood

Names given at birth form only part of an individual’s onomastic identity. Examining how names were altered and transformed during the early phases of a person’s life can help shed light on medieval childhood. Leonard Neidorf’s recent chapter, “Naming Children in Anglo-Saxon England: Ethnic Identity and Cultural Change,” goes a long way to proving that parents did care a great deal about what they named their children.49 Neidorf shows that there was decline in the use of name elements signaling belonging to ethnic groups, as a broader ‘English’ identity was formed.50 Similarly, he echoes Cecily Clark in suggesting that there was a particular prestige attached to Scandinavian names in the ninth and tenth centuries, then Norman names in the eleventh and twelfth.51 It certainly seems clear that prestige and outward appearance were key factors in the choice of a name. Neidorf’s conclusions are in line with other recent studies into the medieval family which have refuted Philippe Ariès’ 48 49 50 51

Chibnall, The World of Orderic Vitalis, 221. Neidorf, “Naming Children,” 35. Neidorf, “Naming Children,” 34–36. Neidorf, “Naming Children,” 41–42. See also Cecily Clark, “The Early Personal Names of King’s Lynn: An Essay in Socio-Cultural History,” in Clark and Jackson, Words, Names, and History, 241–79, for more on Scandinavian influence, as well as Clark, “Willelmus rex?,” in the same collection, 280–98, for the impact of Norman Conquest on names.

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suggestion that people in the medieval world had no awareness of childhood.52 However, while Neidorf clearly shows the importance of the choice of name to the parents, this does not necessarily reflect their hopes for the child during their childhood. Is it not possible that parents were concerned for their child’s future – naming the adult they would become, rather than the infant in front of them? Indeed, it is possible that the prestige attached to a name was one associated with name givers, rather than name bearers, and so reflecting on the family unit, rather than the child. If so, it would, to some extent, actually support Ariès’ suggestion that the medieval family was simply an “institution for the transmission of a name.”53 In truth, Neidorf is surely right to assert that parents’ name choices reflected true affection for their children. However, to fully prove this, it is necessary to look past the name given at birth and investigate how names were used within childhood. If we are to take Isidore of Seville at face value, it would seem that there was little interaction between adults and children during early childhood. He explains that the first phase of life, infantia, was named because of an infant’s inability to communicate: Infans dicitur homo primae aetatis; dictus autem infans quia adhuc fari nescit, id est loqui non potest. Nondum enim bene ordinatis dentibus minus est sermonis expressio.54 A human being of the first age is called an infant (infans); it is called an infant, because it does not yet know how to speak, that is, it cannot talk. Not yet having its full complement of teeth, it has less ability to articulate words.55

52

53 54 55

Philippe Ariès, L’Enfant et la vie familiale sous l’Ancien Régime (Paris, 1973); Jeroen Dekker and Leendert Groenendijk, “Philippe Ariès’s Discovery of Childhood after Fifty Years: The Impact of a Classic Study on Educational Research,” Oxford Review of Education 38 (2012): 133–47, at 135. See Neidorf, “Naming Children,” 32–33 for more background. For studies that support a continuity in the conception of childhood, see: Sally Crawford, Dawn Hadley and Gillian Shepherd, eds., The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Childhood (Oxford, 2018); Gilchrist, Medieval Life; Dawn Hadley and Katie Hemer, eds., Medieval Childhood: Archaeological Approaches (Oxford, 2014), including Sally Crawford, “Archaeology of the Medieval Family,” 26–38; Amy Livingstone, Out of Love for my Kin: Aristocratic Family Life in the Lands of the Loire, 1000–1200 (Ithica, 2010). Ariès, L’Enfant et la vie familiale, 313. Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae 11.2.9, ed. W. M. Lindsay (Oxford, 1911). Translation from The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville trans. Stephen A. Barney et al., (Cambridge, 2005), 241.

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According to Isidore, infantia ended in a child’s seventh year, when the next phase pueritia [childhood] began.56 It is unlikely that Isidore believed that children could not speak at all, or did not have teeth, until they reached the age of seven. His reflections may have been an acknowledgement that this first phase of life was a period of language acquisition and development.57 They also echo Augustine of Hippo’s description of his own transition from infancy to childhood, which involved learning how to speak, until he was “non enim eram infans, qui non farer, sed iam puer loquens eram” [no longer an infant incapable of speech, but already a boy, able to talk].58 Well before this transition from infantia to pueritia, however, it is possible that some Old English names, specifically lall-names and hypocorisms, show that adults did communicate with infants from a young age in a way that suggests a degree of affection.59 Lall formations are an element of child language, being words formed in early infancy, and use a simple structure, usually featuring reduplication (the repetition of nearly identical syllables) and consonant gemination (the lengthening of a consonant sound).60 Fran Colman explains how the vowels and consonants of lall-names are “typically associated with the first controlled sounds a child is physically capable of producing” and “appear to be created by the parents’ interpretation of a child’s utterances.”61 So they sometimes feature sounds from a name that a child is attempting to say, or they may simply be based on the earliest sounds that the child is able to produce (A being the most common vowel and labials being the most common consonants).62 Because of this, lall-names are often the same, or similar, in many languages, like Mama, Dada and Papa.63 As these examples demonstrate, lall-words usually refer to people or things that are of special importance to children, or particularly

56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63

Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae 11.2.2. Erin Abraham, “Out of the Mouths of Babes: Speech, Innocence, and Vulnerability in Early Medieval Perceptions of Childhood,” Eolas: The Journal of the American Society of Irish Medieval Studies 7 (2014): 46–64, at 49. Augustine, Confessions 1.8.13, ed. and trans. Carolyn Hammond (Cambridge, MA, 2014), 22–23. Redin, Uncompounded Personal Names, xxvii–xxxix; Colman, Grammar of Names, 125–46. The word lall itself is onomatopoeic meaning “to speak childishly”, originating from the Latin lallare “to sing lalla or lullaby”. oed, s.v. lall, v.; Colman, Grammar of Names, 126. Redin, Uncompounded Personal Names, xxxi; Colman, Grammar of Names, 126–27. Colman, Grammar of Names, 126; John Lyons, Semantics, 2 vols. (Cambridge, 1977), 1:218; John Anderson, The Grammar of Names (Oxford, 2007), 88–89. Colman cites Mimi as a Greek example of the former – a lall-name which is a reduced form of the given name Dimitris. See Colman, Grammar of Names, 126. Colman, Grammar of Names, 126.

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relevant to their lives.64 This is why lall-names are so often used for parents and close relatives, as well as the child themselves. A few examples of Old English names that are very likely lall formations are Abba, Babba and Lulla. There is an Abba listed as a priest in the Durham Liber Vitae, and the name occurs sixteen times in pase up to the late eleventh century.65 It is almost certainly a lall formation, formed using early childhood sounds, and similar forms existed in Latin and Gothic.66 Babba is also a widely used lall-name in many Germanic languages which is recorded numerous times in Old English sources.67 Lulla is another typical lall-name which appears regularly, including a priest and an abbot who both witnessed the same charter at Clofesho in 803.68 It is difficult to identify with absolute certainty whether any of these were spontaneous lall formations created during childhood. However, another potential example of a lall-name is belonged to Æthelburh, daughter of King Æthelberht of Kent and wife of King Edwin of Northumbria.69 Bede states that Æthelburh ‘quae alio nomine Tatae vocabatur’ [who was also called by the name Tate].70 Fran Colman believes that Tate was a lall formation, suggesting it can “readily be imagined as a child’s attempt to articulate the vowels of Æthel, and its complex medial dental fricative as a stop: attempts analogous to those that produce Dod for George.”71 This is by no means the only interpretation of Æthelburh’s alternative name. For example, Redin suggests Tate may have been a lall formation, but not one phonetically related to Æthelburh, and he prefers the idea of an etymologically meaningful byname (although without actually deciding upon one).72 Insley explains it as a short form of names in Tāt-, although surely this does not apply in the case of Æthelburh.73 So, while not certain, it is definitely plausible that Bede’s recording of Æthelburh’s 64 65 66 67

68 69 70 71 72 73

Redin, Uncompounded Personal Names, xxxi. Durham Liber Vitae, fol. 28r. Colman, Grammar of Names, 126. Redin, Uncompounded Personal Names, 83; Colman, Grammar of Names, 128–129. Babba appears in pase as the name of seven individuals, including two West Saxon ministers who witnessed charters in the reigns of Æthelberht and Alfred: “Babba 2” and “Babba 3”, Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England (pase), http://www.pase.ac.uk/, accessed 23 June 2020. “Lulla 4” and “Lulla 5”, pase, http://www.pase.ac.uk/, accessed 23 June 2020. For more on the name, see: Redin, Uncompounded Personal Names, 100; and Colman, Grammar of Names, 128–129. Colman, Grammar of Names, 130. Bede, Ecclesiastical History 2.9, 176.; Colman, Grammar of Names, 130. Colman, Grammar of Names, 130. Redin, Uncompounded Personal Names, 55. John Insley and David Rollason, “English Monothematic Personal Names,” in Rollason and Rollason, Durham Liber Vitae, 1:165–87, at 183.

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alternative name is an example of a childhood name that was coined through infant interaction with parents. Another potential example is the name of Nunna, seventh-century King of the South Saxons, who is also recorded as Nothelm.74 The lack of similarity between the two names other than the initial sound leads Redin to suggest that Nunna may have been a lall formation rather than a true short form.75 There is also a woman named Nunnae in the Durham Liber Vitae, which appears to be a lall formation.76 Like a nickname, a lall-name may eventually become a given name in its own right, and this is likely to be the case for some instances of lall-names in early medieval England. However, it seems reasonable to assume that at least some of these examples were formed as lall-names through childish interactions between infants and parents. These early acts of re-nomination, occurring only a year or so after birth, would have occurred through repeated interaction between the child and their parents. As Lyons explains: “the child creates the name …, but the parents by the interpretation they impose on [the] utterance make of it an instance of performative nomination.”77 The adoption of a child’s own words for things, and the frequent repetition of a child’s name, are features of child-directed speech – a form of simplified language that adults adopt while talking to infants and young children.78 Adults use child-directed speech to help maintain a child’s attention and to accommodate the child into a conversation, with the ultimate aim of aiding the child’s language acquisition. This is by no means a universal cultural practice. While it is common in some places, like North America, where parents frequently talk to infants from birth (or before), in other cultures, such amongst the Mayans of Mexico and Walpiri of Australia, children are not seen as appropriate conversation partners and are not addressed directly by adults.79 In this context, Isidore’s delineation 74 75 76 77 78

79

“Nunna”, pase, http://www.pase.ac.uk/ (accessed 23 June 2020). Redin, Uncompounded Personal Names, 68. Durham Liber Vitae, fol. 16r; Maria Boehler, Die altenglischen Frauennamen (Berlin, 1930), 226. Lyons, Semantics, 1:218. “Child Directed Speech (CDS),” in The Oxford Companion to the English Language, ed. Tom McArthur, Jacqueline Lam-McArthur and Lise Fontaine, 2nd ed. (Oxford, 2018), 112; Melanie Soderstrom, “Beyond Babytalk: Re-evaluating the Nature and Content of Speech Input to Preverbal Infants,” Developmental Review 27 (2007): 501–32. Erika Hoff, “How Social Contexts Support and Shape Language Development,” Developmental Review 26 (2006): 55–88, at 58–59. See also Edith L. Bavin, “The Acquisition of Walpiri,” in The Crosslinguistic Study of Language Acquisition: Volume 3, ed., Dan Slobin (Abingdon, 1992), 309–66, at 321–25; Anne Fernald and Hiromi Morikawa, “Common Themes and Cultural Variations in Japanese and American Mothers’ Speech to Infants,” Child Development 64 (1993): 637–56.

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between infants who cannot speak and children (aged seven and up) who can, could be construed as a reflection of a society in which adults did not actually speak to young children.80 However, the Life of Saint Guthlac explains that, as a young boy, Guthlac tried to “fari pueriliter temptabat” [tried to speak in the way of a child] but he “non puerorum lascivias, non garrula matronam deliramenta […] imitabatur” [imitated neither the foolishness of children nor the absurd chatter of matrons].81 This suggests that adults were aware that language learning was a process, and that young children could speak, but not in the same way as adults. Indeed, it was Guthlac’s unchildlike speech that made him stand out.82 It is precisely this context of childlike speech in which lall-names would have emerged. If this is the case, and lall formations such as Abba, Babba, Lulla, Tate and Nunna were adopted as alternative names, it seems reasonable to assume that parents in early medieval England were interacting with their children much as parents do today – by adapting their language, simplifying their sentence structure and copying the child’s own words for things in an attempt to be more engaging, to communicate with them on their level, and, ultimately, to help educate them. The second group of Old English names that could be associated with infancy and childhood are hypocorisms. While lall-names are formed through the simple reduplication of syllables contained within a name, hypocorisms are formed morphologically, through the addition of a diminutive suffix to part of a name.83 The diminutive nature of such names has the effect of making it more familiar, playful and intimate.84 Adolf Noreen describes hypocoristic names as characterizing “their objects […] from the point of view of the nursery, family life, or circle of friends.”85 In Present Day English, hypocorisms are commonly formed using a -y or -ie suffix, such Tommy from Thomas and Becky from Rebecca. Early Old English hypocoristic names were often formed with an -a suffix added to the first element of a compound name.86 Indeed, the names recorded for several kings of early medieval English kingdoms are 80 81 82

83 84 85 86

Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae 11.2.2. Felix, Life of Saint Guthlac, ed. and trans. Colgrave, 78. This description of Guthlac has echoes of Saint Augustine’s earlier comments on how and when he learned to speak, where he describes something very close to child-like speech. See Augustine, Confessions 1.8.13 and Abraham, “Out of the Mouths of Babes,” 51–52 for more reflection. Although, as with lall-names, consonant gemination is common. Colman, Grammar of Names, 136–37. Adolf Noreen, Vårt Språk (Lund, 1903), 390, cited here in translation from Redin, Uncompounded Personal Names, xxviii–xxix. As Colman explains, the term hypocorism (from the Greek ὑποκοριστικός) means ‘to speak like a child’. Colman, Grammar of Names, 126. Insley, “Pre-Conquest Personal Names,” 378–79.

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hypocorisms. The name of Offa of Mercia is most likely a hypocoristic form of Osfrith or of a name beginning with Wulf-.87 Beonna, king of East Anglia, bore a hypocoristic name formed from with the prototheme Beorn-.88 The name of Sebba, king of Essex, was probably a short form of a dithematic name such as Sæbeorht.89 These are by no means isolated occurrences. Just a few examples from the Durham Liber Vitae include Ælla, Ceolla, Cudda, Eada, Ealda, Tida and Wynna.90 Hypocoristic names were a consistent feature of early medieval England, although their form did change over time. By the time of the Conquest, names with an -a suffix were becoming less common, and names ending in -ing becoming increasingly popular, such as Leofing and Goding. Insley has also suggested a number of deuterothemes that came into use by the eleventh century were in effect used as diminutive or hypocoristic forms, including names ending in -cild ‘child’ and -sunu ‘son’, both of which explicitly referenced the bearers as being young.91 Of course, hypocorisms were not, and are not, exclusively used for children. They are sometimes used as terms of familiarity for adults, often within a close-knit group of friends. They also often become names in their own right and given at birth as baptismal names. Because of this, it is not possible to distinguish with complete certainty between a newly formed hypocorism and one which was used as a given name. However, the frequent occurrences of such forms suggests that many names were shortened during the lifetime of the bearer, sometimes to demonstrate familiarity, but surely also as terms of endearment and affection for children. Even in cases where such shortening only took place in adulthood, the diminutive nature of these names functions specifically to denote smallness and youth. The familiarity they engender arises precisely because they are the types of names used within a family. Even when not applied to a child, they are child-like. It seems unlikely that these names would be used only for adults – rather their use was extended to adults to perform the social function of indicating closeness and familiarity. So, in the case of both lall-names and hypocorisms it is possible to see how names given at birth were transformed through parental interaction during childhood. As such, it seems safe to add these names to the list of evidence in favor of meaningful and caring relationships between medieval children and their parents. 87 88 89 90 91

Insley and Rollason, “English Monothematic Names,” 181. Although it is possible that it is lall formation, as suggested in Colman, Grammar of Names, 129. Redin, Uncompounded Personal Names, 61; Insley and Rollason, “English Monothematic Names,” 168. Redin, Uncompounded Personal Names, 128. For the various instances of these names and linguistic commentary, see: Insley and Rollason, “English Monothematic Names,” 165–87. Insley, “Pre-Conquest Personal Names,” 379.

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Youth Is Wild, and Age Is Tame: Transforming Identities in Adulthood

As a person moved past childhood and into adulthood, their names continued to evolve to reflect different aspects of their identity. A common way of doing this was through bynames. These became increasingly common from the late tenth century onwards. They typically referred to one of a number of aspects of the bearer’s life, including: their relationship to another person (often a parent, but not always); a location (usually a place of residence or origin); occupation or status (such as a job or ceremonial role); and personal characteristics (often through a humorous or insulting nickname). In pre-Conquest England, bynames were not hereditary – they were created for a living person – and not every person would have borne a byname.92 However, as early as the mideleventh century, there is evidence to suggest that the use of creative bynames was on its way to becoming systematic. This can be seen clearly in the 1057 survey of Winton Domesday and the list of Burgesses of Colchester from Little Domesday. Both of these sources show widespread use of bynames used in conjunction with, or instead of, given names. In the Colchester list, almost a quarter of men are listed with a byname of some sort, while in the Winchester list it is nearly fifty percent. This does not appear to be down to any particular desire to distinguish individuals with the same given name. For example, the names Wulfgar, Colsvein and Sunric were not common names, appearing only once each in the 1057 Winton Domesday survey, yet each of these was listed with a byname: Ulgarus wantarius [Wulfgar the glover], Golsewanus presbiter [Colsvein the priest] and Sonricus hosarius [Sunric the hosier].93 In contrast, many of the bearers of the very common names, Godwine, Leofwine and Leofing, are not listed with bynames: ten of thirty in the case of Godwine; five of twelve in the case of Leofwine; and five of nine in the case of Leofing.94 So, the inclusion of these bynames does not seem to be to distinguish between namesakes. Instead, it seems likely that key role fulfilled by the bynames featured in these lists was to position individuals within a wider social matrix, referring to their role, status, 92 93 94

Although the hereditary surnames which developed in the later medieval period did originate as bynames. See P. H. Reaney and R. M. Wilson, Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd ed. (Oxford, 2005), xi–l; Postles, Naming the People, 91–92. Olof von Feilitzen, “The Personal Names and Bynames of the Winton Domesday,” in Biddle, Winton Domesday, 143–239, at 204 “wantar’”, 203 “presbiter” and 202 “hosarius”. This can also be seen in the Colchester list, whe bynames usually appear as the only name listed. Only one of the thirteen bearers of the most popular name, Leofwine, is listed with a byname. There are also four men known exclusively as Sprot [sprout; twig], a nickname for a short person.

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occupation, family relationship or standing in the community.95 For example, Alwinus Watmaungre [the wet-monger], was known, rather matter-of-factly, as a seller of drinks.96 In the same way, Edwinus faber [the smith], Alwinus presbiter [the priest] and Algarus harengarius [the herring-monger], were also known by their occupations.97 These occupational bynames also contain secondary categories of inferential information that would have been obvious to name-users. A person’s occupation was very often an obvious indicator of social status, and these bynames would have indicated the standing of that individual in the community. They would also have told people something, indirectly, about the age of their bearers – all of these occupations are very clear markers of adulthood. Nicknames also featured regularly amongst the bynames of eleventhcentury Winchester. They usually refer to something more personal about the name-bearer, such as an incident in their life or their personal characteristics. Very often, these were derogatory or insulting. For example, Aluricus Penipurs [penny-purse], was probably less than generous with his money, and Lipestanus Bittecat [cask-cat], appears to have been fond of a drink. This is not the place to delve into the meanings of nicknames of Godwinus Clawecunte [scratch-cunt] or the individual recorded simply as Balloc [bollock]; however, these names demonstrate the level to which nicknames could be offensive or defamatory.98 It is possible that insulting names such as these were used as tools of marginalization and exclusion, but they may have been humorous in nature, at least in part, and used as much as markers of belonging to the wider social group.99 Like all bynames, nicknames were created not by the name-bearer, or their parents, but were given to people by the other members of their community, and were in essence, community items. They were bestowed in response to developing characteristics and symbolized an emergent or achieved identity – rather than one which was assigned at birth.100 This social identity was one that was intrinsically connected with a new phase of life. As Alford points out, “most nicknames are created by age-mates and peers,” and this shift from the original name-givers (usually parents) 95 96

Alford, Naming and Identity, 30–33. Feilitzen, “Personal Names,” 204 “watmaungre”, 201 “faber”, 203 “presbiter” and 202 “harengarius”. 97 Feilitzen, “Personal Names,” 215 “Penipurs” and 208 “Bittecat”. 98 Feilitzen, “Personal Names,” 210 “Clawecunte” and 207 “Balloe”. 99 Stanley Brandes, “The Structural and Demographic Implications of Nicknames in Navanogal Spain,” American Ethnologist 2 (1975): 139–48, at 141–43 and Alford, Naming and Identity, 82–85. 100 Alford, Naming and Identity, 83.

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demonstrates the advancing importance of peers in the shaping of an individual’s identity.101 The bestowing of a byname can therefore be seen as a rite of passage, marking the transition from childhood, where social identity was formed by the parents, to adulthood, where social identity was formed increasingly by the wider community. Of course, as well as inferential and symbolic meaning, certain bynames did explicitly demonstrate the stage of life of the bearer. Bynames often referred to characteristics such as age, appearance, marital status, as well as physical prowess or infirmity. Hair was a common focus of nicknames, as was the lack of it, as in the case of Not [close-cropped, bald], a burgess of Colchester in 1086, whose name referred to his baldness.102 Burewoldus Horloc [grey locks] and Adam Witegos [white goose] may have still had hair, but their nicknames suggest that it was no longer the color of their youth.103 Indeed, these names can all be assumed to refer to men of a certain age, in contrast to the man known only as Brunlocc [brown locks], whose seems youthful in comparison.104 Nicknames could also refer directly to the physical frailty or infirmity of the bearers, such as Godwinus Sarz [the deaf], Edricus cecus [the blind], Godman Helteprest [the lame priest], and Goduuin uuachefet [weak feet].105 While these are not necessarily always indicators of old age, they are conditions that are more likely to have been associated with the elderly, and contrast starkly with Got flet [the fleet].106 Unlike some other examples cited above, none of these age-related nicknames are overtly insulting or offensive, but they do clearly contrast the youth of certain members of the community with the age and infirmity of others, and highlight the drawbacks of old age. Indeed, the physical manifestations of age embodied through these names mirror closely those listed by an eleventh-century scribe in the Lambeth Psalter:

101 102 103 104 105

Alford, Naming and Identity, 84. Domesday Book: Essex, fol. 105r. See oed, s.v. nott, adj. and n. Feilitzen, “Personal Names,” 212 “Horloc”, 217 “Witegos”. Domesday Book: Essex, fol. 105v. Feilitzen, “Personal Names,” 216 “Sorz”, 209 “Cecus”, 212 “Helteprest”; Domesday Book: Essex, fol. 104v. Feilitzen suggests Sorz is from the Old French sort, with Anglo-Norman nominative -s. There is also an instance of Latin surdus [deaf], most likely a translation of Old English dēaf or Old French sort, in the 1148 Winton Domesday Survey. These names mirror closely the terms Daria Izdebska identifies in her contribution to this volume as words often used to denote old age (77–79), as well as the age-related ailments listed in the medical texts explored by Jacqueline Fay in her contribution (120–29). 106 Domesday Book: Essex, fol. 104v. Daria Izdebska also notes in her contribution to this volume that words denoting speed were often used to symbolise of the strength and vitality of youth (58–65).

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Iam pertrahit me deuictum senectus ad occasum, floret uertex, hebet uisus, crescit dolor capitis, ruunt dentes, [t]remunt membra, decident tote uires. Now old age drags me, subdued, to my end, the crown of my head is blooming (i.e. growing white), my vision is fading, headache is increasing, my teeth are falling out, my limbs are trembling, my powers are completely diminishing.107 In this way, the nicknames borne by these individuals were representations of their ever-evolving identities. While many bynames may have been long-term identifiers, they were not necessarily permanent. They changed and adapted with the passage of time, just as their bodies did. As these physical changes took place, the way in which they were perceived by other people transformed, and bynames reflected this transformation in public perception. Bynames could also be a means of creating inter-generational links between members of a family or wider group of relations at different stages of life. This was done through relationship bynames. In most cases paternal relationships were emphasized through patronyms, as in the case of Godwinus Elemeressone [son of Elmer].108 But other links are emphasized in this way too, including matronyms, such as Siward Leverunessone [son of Leofrun], as well fraternal ties, as in the case of Sawinus frater Wnstani [brother of Winstan]. Downward links could also be emphasized, in the case of Alwinus pater Chepingi, [Chepping’s Father].109 The use of relationship bynames such as these was, in part, a way of linking an individual to members of their family, aiding identification by referencing a well-known relative. However, for individuals in early adulthood, patronymic bynames could also represent a phase where their identity was still implicitly grounded within the broader familial identity of their parents, and one that would be discarded in later life as their identity developed: as they found their own occupation, started their own family, or perhaps just grew fat and bald. Despite this, it is clear that many people bore relationship bynames throughout their lives, as is demonstrated by the fact that so many persist today as modern surnames. In such cases, relationship bynames helped emphasize the web of kinship relationships as they spread out throughout the 107 Max Förster, “Die altenglischen Beigaben des Lambeth-Psalters,” Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen und Literaturen 13 (1914): 328–35, at 328–29, cited with translation from Thijs Porck, Old Age in Early Medieval England: A Cultural History (Woodbridge, 2019), 80. 108 Feilitzen, “Personal Names,” 205. 109 Feilitzen, “Personal Names,” 206.

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wider community. Very often, they connected family members across generations, linking the young to the old and, as time went by, the living to the dead. For early medieval English women, the evidence is less clear, largely due to the lack of it. For example, the Winton Domesday survey of 1057 lists 277 men and just nineteen women, while the list of burgesses of Colchester from Little Domesday contains just twenty-three women alongside 251 men. Amongst these recorded women, it is striking how few are listed with bynames – just four from the Winton Domesday and none at all from the list of burgesses of Colchester. This might be because their bynames were just not recorded, or it might reflect something about the different social identities of men and women. Women, whether children or adults, may have not been as visible to, or as well integrated into, the wider social identity of the community. While the identify-forming agents of young men seem to have shifted from the family, in the shape of parents, to the wider community as they transitioned into adulthood, for women it seems like the shift that took place was from one family to another. It was her role as wife and mother which formed the basis of a woman’s adult identity. That said, unlike in many post-Conquest sources, there are no women in these two lists that are only referred to as “the wife of” or “daughter of” someone, without reference to their actual name, something which becomes very common over the next century or so.110 In contrast, all the woman referred to in these earlier lists are recorded using their given name, either alone or with an accompanying byname. Of the four female bynames in Winton Domesday, three refer either explicitly or implicitly to the stages of the life course.111 Brihtwen vidua [the widow] has a byname which refers specifically to her status as a widow. The name of Ulveva Betteslaf [Betti’s widow] refers to both her widow status and links her to her deceased husband. Finally, Leflet Ecregeles doctor [daughter of Ecregel] has a name that links her to her deceased parent.112 While this is a small sample, the focus on stage of life via marital status and family relationship is notable, particularly in the case of the two widows. Widowhood does not 110 For example, in the 1148 survey of Winton Domesday 30 percent of the women listed are referred to only by their relationship to a man with no given name. See Biddle, Winchester Studies I, 69–141 for the survey. Cecily Clark also notes this tendency amongst postConquest records of women’s names: Cecily Clark, “Women’s Names in Post-Conquest England,” in Clark and Jackson, Words, Names, and History, 117–43, at 125. 111 The fourth, Leuret de Essewem, bears a locational byname, which Feilitzen suggests refers to Ashwell in Hertfordshire (Essewelle > Ashwell). See Feilitzen, “Personal Names,” 194 “Essewem.” If this is the case, her newcomer status may have been the most prominent aspect of her identity. 112 Whether this is her mother or father is unknown, as the name is unidentifiable. See Feilitzen, “Personal Names,” 205.

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necessarily imply old age. Porck points out that Judith of Flanders was widowed twice before she reached twenty years of age, and, as Julia Crick explains, rates of mortality suggest that many men and women would have lost a marital partner by the age of thirty.113 However, widowhood certainly is a potential feature of old age, so reference to a woman in this way could indicate that the bearers were old, rather than young. In the case of Brihtwen vidua, the lack of reference to a deceased husband also gives the impression that her widowhood was not a temporary state of young woman who may yet remarry, but of a woman whose widowhood was permanent, and her defining characteristic in the eyes of the community. Indeed, both these two demonstrate that these women were in a third, distinct phase of life, being neither unmarried nor married. While this sample is small, it does suggest that female bynames were more concerned with referencing one of these three phases of life, rather than embodying any judgment of the wider community on their behavior or physical appearance – something noted by both Clark and Postles in studies of post-Conquest names.114 Therefore, system of bynames that developed from the tenth century onwards functioned, in at least in part, as a means of positioning individuals within the wider social framework. By referencing personal and physical characteristics, occupations and relationships to other people, community-created bynames were used to situate individuals within a social matrix of relationships, drawing links with other members of the community, both past and present. In many cases, they also reflected how an individual’s identity changed over the course of their lives. While for men this was often done through references to physical appearance, women’s social identities remained less outward-facing, and more linked to a family identity through references to marital status and relationships to fathers and husbands.



All things considered, the picture painted of naming practices in the Last Kingdom is inaccurate – as is Philippe Ariès’ judgment that the medieval family 113 Porck, Old Age in Early Medieval England, 218; Julia Crick, “Men, Women and Widows: Widowhood in Pre-Conquest England,” in Widowhood in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, ed. Sandra Cavallo and Lyndan Warner (Harlow, 1999), 24–36, at 25. For more on pre-Conquest widowhood, see also: Rolf H. Bremmer Jr, “Widows in Anglo-Saxon England,” in Between Poverty and the Pyre: Moments in the History of Widowhood, ed. Jan Bremmer and Lourens van den Bosch (London, 1995), 58–88. 114 Cecily Clark, “Onomastics,” in The Cambridge History of the English Language: Volume II: 1066–1467, ed. Norman Blake (Cambridge, 1992), 542–606, at 587; David Postles, “‘Gender Trouble’ (Judith Butler): Describing English Women in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries,” Nomina 24 (2001): 47–66, at 48–49.

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was concerned only with the transmission of a name and estate. Naming practices in early medieval England were not static, but the one constant is that the naming decisions were never only concerned with a direct line of transmission from parent to child. At the beginning of the early medieval period, names were created to preserve the uniqueness of a child’s name, while still demonstrating belonging to a group of kinship relations through techniques such as alliteration as variation. There is also evidence to suggest that the semantic meaning of name elements played a role in decisions, and the popularity of these fluctuated over time. By the eleventh century practices had shifted, and parents did begin to copy names more frequently. But this was not done to keep one name within one family. Naming became an outward-facing act, done in the view of the wider community, and the sharing of common names allowed connections to be made with a wider web of people. This still included the extended family group, but also friends, neighbors and other important local people. In doing so, it helped to create inter-generational links between living namesakes, as well as to remember past members of a family or community. Birth and death, celebration of new life and commemoration of the past, became intertwined within one act of naming. Baptismal names formed just one part of a person’s onomastic identity, however, and names were manipulated, transformed, added to, or even replaced completely, to reflect the changing status of that individual over time. Names used during infancy and childhood, such as lall-names and hypocorisms, allow us a glimpse into the interactions between parents and young children. They suggest that children were actively spoken and listened to during their childhood in a way that sometimes saw child-created names supersede those given at birth – at least for a time. In adulthood, names were often transformed once again, especially from the tenth century onwards, as the use of bynames became more systematic. Just as the choice of given names for children began to be more rooted in the local community, and more outwardfacing, so too were the bynames people acquired throughout their lives. They combined with the name chosen by the parents given at birth to form a more complex social identity – one that integrated them into a more complex social structure. These names explicitly and implicitly reflected the age, status and physical appearance of the bearer. They evolved throughout the life course of an individual, reflecting their changing social identity, and did so largely, without their input. These names did not reflect the hopes of parents for who their child may be, but rather the verdict of the community on who that child had become.

chapter 8

Moving on from ‘the Milk of Simpler Teaching’: Weaning and Religious Education in Early Medieval England Katherine Cross Weaning – the process by which a child transitions from complete reliance on milk to eating an adult diet – is an activity imbued with social significance for children and their caregivers, and is identified in many cultures as a period of transition between stages of the life course. In the early Middle Ages, it would also have been a period of vulnerability, not only in terms of separation between mother and child, but in heightened health risk for the child because of the removal of immune support, varied access to nutrients, and greater possibility of exposure to contaminated food.1 For caregivers, weaning may follow from or hasten the cessation of lactation, and is often accompanied by the return of the mother’s or nurse’s fertility.2 More visibly, weaning takes time and work from a caregiver, in food preparation, in encouraging an infant to eat (and perhaps in cleaning up afterwards!), and often in discouraging or limiting access to milk and breastfeeding. Yet, at the same time, weaning is often perceived as a timeless part of natural human development, and thus primary sources discussing its practice in past societies are limited. This chapter identifies a window onto the cultural and social aspects of weaning in early medieval Europe in two groups of ecclesiastical texts from the eighth and ninth centuries. First, Bede described the topic with care in his exegetical commentary on the Song of Songs, and alluded to it elsewhere in his writings; second, weaning is included as a biographical detail in three missionary hagiographies written by and about migrants from the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms to the Continent. The writers of these latter texts, who wrote in Latin 1 Rebecca C. Redfern, “Feeding Infants from the Iron Age to the Early Medieval Period in Britain,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Childhood, ed. Sally Crawford, Dawn M. Hadley, and Gillian Shepherd (Oxford, 2018), 447–66, at 451–52. I am grateful to the Late Antiquity Reading Group at the University of Sheffield for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this chapter. 2 Aspects of the impact of breastfeeding and weaning on women’s health are explored in Simon Mays, “The Effects of Infant Feeding Practices on Infant and Maternal Health in a Medieval Community,” Childhood in the Past 3 (2010): 63–78.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2022 | doi:10.1163/9789004501867_010

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while working in monastic houses founded as missionary institutions, built on the presentation of evangelization in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History and likely would have been familiar with some of his exegetical work, too: Boniface, the subject of one of the saint’s lives and founder of Fulda, wrote to York requesting copies of Bede’s works, and Alcuin, author of the Life of Willibrord, wrote his own Song of Songs commentary based largely on Bede’s.3 Moreover, all of these writers were concerned with the Christianization of northern Europe. Weaning had a particular significance in this cluster of texts, in which it appears with greater frequency than we find in other early medieval contexts. In various ways, these Northumbrian and West Saxon writers applied the image of weaning to their contemporary concern with conversion to Christianity – gathering together its traditional associations of education, care, and social transition. While such associations reveal early medieval perceptions of the spiritual significance of this stage in the life course, these discussions also provide insight into practical approaches to weaning and the social relationships that governed them. Until now, research into infant feeding in this period has been conducted by archaeologists and osteologists, in particular through the use of methods of isotope analysis on skeletal bone and dentine in order to reconstruct infant diets and estimate weaning age in past populations.4 Scientific approaches have provided information about infant and maternal health and nutrition, and begun to illuminate norms of infant feeding in early medieval Europe; insights from textual evidence may contribute to understanding of these themes. Furthermore, the texts under discussion here emerge from a period in which bioarchaeologists posit that a shift in weaning practice occurred. Analysis of skeletons from Iron Age, Roman, early medieval, medieval, and modern cemeteries from western Europe has led to the suggestion that the early medieval period saw a shift to a shorter weaning process: that, in the Roman period, weaning began before the age of 2 and lasted until the child was around 4 but, by the tenth and eleventh centuries in England, weaning was completed by age 3. This shorter weaning process then seems to have shifted earlier during the central Middle Ages, when it was more usual for weaning to be completed at around the age of 2, following the introduction of solid foods 3 Joshua A. Westgard, “Bede and the Continent in the Carolingian Age and Beyond,” in The Cambridge Companion to Bede, ed. Scott DeGregorio (Cambridge, 2011), 205–206; Hannah W. Matis, The Song of Songs in the Early Middle Ages (Leiden, 2019), 5–6. 4 Redfern, “Feeding Infants;” B. T. Fuller et al., “Isotopic Evidence for Breastfeeding and Possible Adult Dietary Differences from Late/Sub-Roman Britain,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 129 (2006): 45–54, https://doi.org/10.1002/ajpa.20244; Mandy Jay, “Breastfeeding and Weaning Behaviour in Archaeological Populations: Evidence from the Isotopic Analysis of Skeletal Materials,” Childhood in the Past 2 (2009): 163–78.

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approximately one year previously.5 Isotopic evidence alone, however, cannot explain the reasons for such a shift, nor its impact on perceptions of infancy, or the organization of childcare. While valuable, then, there are limitations with these methods. Estimates are based on limited data, they must be understood within the possibility of significant variation within populations, and in most cases the individuals analyzed are those who have died in infancy, who may well have atypical weaning profiles.6 Moreover, scientific approaches cannot pinpoint the cultural relevance of the first taste of solid food or the emotional impact of final weaning from the breast, or illuminate practices of wet-nursing and childcare in any detail (these methods, at present, cannot distinguish maternal and nonmaternal breastfeeding, for instance). This evidence thus needs to be contextualized and interpreted with reference to sources that provide information on the social organization and cultural significance of weaning. A recent archaeological study has begun to address these intersecting concerns by investigating both the ‘weaning profile’ and the mortuary treatment of eighty-six infants and children buried in four early medieval cemeteries; the researchers posit a relationship between the infants’ early weaning or lack of successful breastfeeding and their burial in ‘clusters’ around churches, suggesting that these individuals may have been under the direct care of the church rather than their mothers.7 There is also some evidence from medical texts, the study of which is the primary context in which historians have previously considered early medieval weaning (and infant feeding more broadly).8 However, both of

5 Hannah Haydock et al., “Weaning at Anglo‐Saxon Raunds: Implications for Changing Breastfeeding Practice in Britain over Two Millennia,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 151 (2013): 604–12, https://doi.org/10.1002/ajpa.22316, suggesting urbanization as the major cause of change; Chryssi Bourbou et al., “Nursing Mothers and Feeding Bottles: Reconstructing Breastfeeding and Weaning Patterns in Greek Byzantine Populations (6th–15th Centuries ad) Using Carbon and Nitrogen Stable Isotope Ratios,” Journal of Archaeological Science 40 (2013): 3903–13, suggesting a “Roman breastfeeding pattern” influenced by medical texts. 6 Chryssi Bourbou and Sandra J. Garvie-Lok, “Breastfeeding and Weaning Patterns in Byzantine Times: Evidence from Human Remains and Written Sources,” in Becoming Byzantine: Children and Childhood in Byzantium, ed. Arietta Papaconstantinou and Alice-Mary Talbot (Washington, DC, 2009), 65–83, at 67–69. 7 Elizabeth Craig-Atkins, Jacqueline Towers, and Julia Beaumont, “The Role of Infant Life Histories in the Construction of Identities in Death: An Incremental Isotope Study of Dietary and Physiological Status among Children Afforded Differential Burial,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 167 (2018): 1–12, https://doi.org/10.1002/ajpa.23691. 8 Sally Crawford, Childhood in Anglo-Saxon England (Stroud, 1999), 71–74; R. A. Buck, “Woman’s Milk in Anglo-Saxon and Later Medieval Medical Texts,” Neophilologus 96 (2012): 467–85.

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these approaches necessarily overemphasize pathology and atypical cases. In most cases, weaning is not a medical issue. This chapter, then, seeks to add a complementary perspective to previous approaches to weaning in the early Middle Ages. The group of ecclesiastical texts discussed here provides precious evidence of contemporary perceptions of weaning, suggesting that eighth- and ninth-century writers imagined it as a gradual and gentle process, and that mothers and wet-nurses held responsibility for weaning as the first step in a Christian education. The language and logic in these texts provide an example of how early medieval religious discourses, read in their literary and historical contexts, may contribute to social and cultural histories of infant feeding. 1

Exegetical Discussions of Weaning

Although little attention has been paid to them in the context of social practices, there are numerous references to infant feeding in early medieval writing. Scholars interested in the histories of childhood, mothering, nutrition and the family have overlooked these literary references because they are almost all figurative; discussions of maternal metaphors do note the gender reversal common in such usages, but rarely engage with what the primary images may tell us about infant caregivers.9 Usually, metaphors of milk-feeding and the introduction of solid food to infants are derived principally from three New Testament passages: 1 Cor. 3.1–2, “I gave you milk to drink, not meat”; Heb. 5.12–14, “you are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat”; and 1 Pet. 2.2–3, “desire the rational milk […]: If so be you have tasted that the Lord is sweet.”10 In their reception of the Apostles’ words throughout 9 10

E.g., Cassandra Rhodes, “Abbatial Responsibility as Spiritual Labour: Suckling from the Male Breast,” in Leaders of the Anglo-Saxon Church from Bede to Stigand, ed. Alexander Rumble (Woodbridge, 2012), 61–75. 1 Cor. 3.1–2: “Et ego, fratres, non potui vobis loqui quasi spiritualibus, sed quasi carnalibus. Tamquam parvulis in Christo, lac vobis potum dedi, non escam: nondum enim poteratis: sed nec nunc quidem potestis: adhuc enim carnales estis.” [And I, brethren, could not speak to you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal. As unto little ones in Christ, I gave you milk to drink, not meat; for you were not able as yet. But neither indeed are you now able; for you are yet carnal.]; Heb. 5.12: “Etenim cum deberetis magistri esse propter tempus, rursum indigetis ut vos doceamini quae sint elementa exordii sermonum Dei: et facti estis quibus lacte opus sit, non solido cibo.” [For whereas for the time you ought to be masters, you have need to be taught again what are the first elements of the words of God: and you are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat (i.e., solid food).]; 1 Pet. 2.2–3: “sicut modo geniti infantes, rationabile, sine dolo lac concupiscite: ut

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Late Antiquity and into the early Middle Ages, writers employed the image of feeding a baby as a metaphor for Christian education and pastoral care. As in the New Testament verses, the image could hold positive or negative weight – either used to chastise believers for spiritual immaturity or to provide a model of childlike longing for God. John David Penniman recently published a fulllength study on the multiple and adaptive uses of the image by early Christian writers, finishing with Augustine of Hippo.11 Yet the image of infant feeding continued to be reinvented and reapplied long after Augustine’s death and, in the early Middle Ages, with more emphasis on its practical aspects and more concern for its practical application. The early medieval writer who developed the figurative use of infant feeding in most detail was the Venerable Bede in his exegesis of the Song of Songs.12 This work, written before 716, is an important contribution to a developing exegetical tradition focused on the sensual and bodily imagery of the biblical text.13 In his commentary, Bede presents a general interpretation of the Song of Songs as an allegory in which the bridegroom represents Christ and the bride represents the Church: Bede’s work encouraged this ecclesiological interpretation to become the most broadly accepted view.14 In his allegorical scheme, Bede interpreted the frequent references to the bride’s breasts as images of the ministers of the Church; they were breasts because they provided spiritual milk to new believers. He extended the metaphor at length, through an exegetical conceit that connected the pastoral care of new Christians to breastfeeding in numerous passages. One of Bede’s innovations, extending beyond his biblical and patristic sources, was to develop the metaphor into discussion of the process of weaning from the point of view of mothers and nurses rather than of the infants themselves. Teachers were not only breasts giving milk, but teeth preparing baby-food: dentes sunt ecclesiae quia panem uerbi Dei paruulis illius ad quem manducandum ipsi non sufficiunt parant. Solent quippe ipsae nutrices

11 12 13 14

in eo crescatis in salutem: si tamen gustastis quoniam dulcis est Dominus.” [As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile, that thereby you may grow unto salvation: If so be you have tasted that the Lord is sweet.] The texts given are from the Vulgate and the translations from the Douay-Rheims version. John David Penniman, Raised on Christian Milk: Food and the Formation of the Soul in Early Christianity (New Haven and London, 2017). Bede, In Cantica Canticorum libri VI, ed. D. Hurst, ccsl 119B (Turnhout, 1983); Bede, On the Song of Songs and Selected Writings, ed. and trans. Arthur Holder (New York, 2011). Matis, Song of Songs, 24, 27–28. Matis, Song of Songs, 57; Matis, “Early Medieval Exegesis of the Song of Songs and the Maternal Language of Clerical Authority,” Speculum 89 (2014): 358–81, at 364.

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particulas panis dentibus conficere et inter lactandum paruulorum faucibus minuta mansa immittere, donec eos paulatim abstractos a lacte ad usum panis perducant. Sic sancta mater ecclesia habet doctores qui instar uberum lac doctrinae mollioris incipientibus ministrent, habet eosdem ipsos gnaros bene proficientibus panem uerbi fortioris porrigere.15 They (i.e., teachers) are the teeth of the church because they prepare the bread of the word of God for those little ones who are not capable of chewing it themselves. For the same (wet-)nurses are accustomed to prepare small pieces of bread with their teeth, and, while still suckling them, to insert little chewed-up bits between the jaws of infants, until having removed them little by little (paulatim) from milk, they lead them to the use of bread. Thus the holy mother church has teachers, who just like breasts administer to beginners the milk of softer doctrine (lac doctrinae mollioris), and she has those very same ones well practiced in offering the bread of the stronger word to those who are progressing well. In this passage, Bede drew on an idea taken from his main source for the commentary as a whole, the fourth-century exegesis of the Song of Songs by Apponius, but re-imagined it, adding, it seems, a phrase from Cicero’s De Oratore. However, as will become apparent, in both cases he completely transformed the meaning of his source texts. Bede presented weaning as a very gradual (“paulatim”) process, in which milk and baby food were given together, at the same life stage (“while still suckling them”). This emphasis was essential to his argument that pastoral care of new believers, too, should proceed “paulatim” (lines 105–106). In contrast, Apponius had used the “teeth” of the scriptural passage to draw a distinction between two classes of believers: milk-fed infants, on the one hand, and the “strongest bones in the body of the Church,” who could bite and chew solid food, on the other.16 While these latter actions did benefit other believers, Apponius’s image was 15 16

Bede, In Cantica Canticorum 2.4, ed. Hurst, lines 97–105. My translation. Apponius, In Canticum Canticorum expositio 6.6–7, ed. Bernard de Vregille and Louis Neyrand, Commentaire sur le Cantique des cantiques, 2 vols. (Paris, 1997–98), 2:134–37 (on Sg. 4.2): “Dentes itaque Ecclesiae illos opinor intellegi qui non lacte doctrinae indigent, sed infantiae transcendentes aetatem, non solum fortissimum cibum mandunt, sed etiam ut ossa fortissima in Ecclesiae corpore ad diuidendam et ruminandam carnem uerbi Dei constituti probantur.” [I believe the teeth of the church are to be understood as those who do not require the milk of teaching but, passing the age of infancy, do not just chew up the strongest food, but even, as the strongest bones in the body of the Church, are suitably placed to divide and ruminate the meat of the word of God.] My translation.

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one of digestion, with teeth passing food to ‘all the members of the Church’s body,’ rather than preparing baby-food for weaning infants. Apponius’s text, then, had suggested the image of chewing to Bede, but the earlier author used it to elaborate his central theme of the Church body working in harmony. If his teeth were teachers, they were differentiated in their roles, and provided different sustenance according to the abilities of each Christian.17 Bede, however, transformed the idea to serve his own model of pastoral care, using the weaning image to place the initiative with nurses and emphasize that it was these same teachers (“eosdem ipsos”) who catered for Christians of all stages.18 In doing so, Bede moved away from the emphases of previous commentators on the varied needs of different believers, and stressed instead the actions of the teacher which would allow every individual to progress from spiritual infancy to maturity. His vision of pastoral care was of a long-term relationship which enabled the continuing spiritual development of all believers. Into this transformation of Apponius’s idea, Bede inserted what appears to be a phrase adapted from Cicero’s De Oratore. Here, Cicero piles up metaphors for what we might call a ‘spoon-fed’ education: the tone is critical or at least dismissive, contrasting with the kind of education the talented should enjoy.19 Bede, however, repurposed a phrase describing the physical act of feeding children to refer to the appropriate model of loving education that priests should administer to new Christians, converting Cicero’s image from a negative to a positive ideal of teaching. This adaptation reflects the considerable distance 17

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Apponius, In Canticum Canticorum expositio 6.6–7, ed. de Vregille and Neyrand, 2:134–37: “et acutissimi ingenio ad diuidendas unicuique animae pro possibilitate quid conueniat diuinorum uerborum sententias. Omnes quidem dentes in uno ore consistunt, sed aliud officium agunt qui labiorum uicinitate iunguntur, qui in partes diuidunt cibum, et aliud qui diuisum ad unam subtilitatem spiritalem redactum ad omnia membra Ecclesiae sustentanda transmittunt.” [and, according to their most sharp nature, to divide up the meanings of the divine word, to each one what is suitable according to the ability of the soul. All of the teeth take their positions in one mouth, but those close to the lips carry out one duty, who divide the food into pieces, and others, who reduce each piece to one spiritual fineness, transmit them to all the members of the Church’s body as sustenance.] Matis, “Early Medieval Exegesis,” 367, has noted Bede’s focus on the doctores to the almost total exclusion of the laity, which is of particular relevance for this passage. Cicero, De Oratore 2.39.162, ed. and trans. E. W. Sutton and H. Rackham, On the Orator, 2 vols. (Cambridge, MA, 1948), 1:314–15: “Ego autem, si quem nunc rudem plane institui ad dicendum velim, his potius tradam assiduis […] qui omnes tenuissimas particulas atque omnia minima mansa ut nutrices infantibus pueris in os inserant.” [For my part, if just now I were to want a complete novice trained up to oratory, I should rather entrust him to these untiring people … for them to put into his mouth none but the most delicate morsels – everything chewed exceedingly small – in the manner of wet-nurses feeding baby-boys.]

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between a rhetorical education for elite males in first-century-bce Rome and the instruction of all new, unlearned Christians in eighth-century northern Europe. Nevertheless, the parallel with infant feeding remained effective, relevant, and specific in its material details, including the reference to wet-nurses. Alternatively, it is just possible that the similarity in phrasing is a coincidence, deriving from practices of preparing masticated baby-food common to both historical periods – and revealing the disparity in attitudes to education. The metaphor, as Bede employs it, relies on a shared understanding with his audience of weaning as gradual and directed by a caring mother or nurse. This shared understanding is essential to the representation of Bede’s view of pastoral care as an ongoing process, led by the same well-educated priests as those who care for the more advanced believers in their flocks. The question of whether this related to contemporary practices of infant feeding, or whether Bede’s presentation of weaning was dictated primarily by his ideas on pastoral care, is difficult to answer. However, it is notable that these details of the practicalities of gradual, gentle weaning contrast directly with Sally Crawford’s proposal, based primarily on tenth- and eleventh-century evidence, that the norm in early medieval England was for caregivers to instigate an abrupt transition to solid food.20 Exegetical uses of weaning in the eleventh century seem closer to this idea: Bede’s concern with providing spiritual milk and weaning gently contrasts with Catherine Karkov’s recent reading of the ‘weaning of Isaac’ image in the Old English Hexateuch (early eleventh century) as a “cut,” something to be emphasized as completed, so that “the mother’s milk […] must be discarded.”21 These contrasts between eighth- and eleventh-century practices and perceptions also correspond to bioarchaeological arguments for a shortening of the weaning process over the course of the early medieval period.22 The appeal of the metaphor to Bede is suggested by his later use of it in his Ecclesiastical History. In a well-known passage, Bede reported the words of the Ionan monk Aidan to his predecessor, who returned frustrated in his efforts to preach to the Northumbrians: Tum ait Aidan […]: ‘Videtur mihi, frater, quia durior iusto indoctis auditoribus fuisti, et non eis iuxta apostolicam disciplinam primo lac doctrinae 20 21

22

Crawford, Childhood in Anglo-Saxon England, 71–74. Catherine E. Karkov, “The Circumcision and Weaning of Isaac: The Cuts that Bind,” in New Readings on Women and Early Medieval English Literature and Culture: Cross-Disciplinary Studies in Honour of Helen Damico, ed. Helene Scheck and Christine Kozikowski (Amsterdam, 2019), 126, 130. See above (211–12).

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mollioris porrexisti, donec paulatim enutriti uerbo Dei, ad capienda perfectiora et ad facienda sublimiora Dei pracepta sufficerent’. Then Aidan said: ‘It seems to me, brother, that you have been unreasonably harsh upon your ignorant hearers: you did not first offer them the milk of simpler teaching (lac doctrinae mollioris), as the apostle recommends, until little by little (paulatim), as they grew strong on the food of God’s word, they were capable of receiving more elaborate instruction and of carrying out the more transcendent commandments of God’.23 This passage is generally identified as an allusion to 1 Cor. 3.1–2 but, in fact, Aidan’s words do not refer directly to any one biblical passage (although they do refer to Paul).24 Instead, they represent a distillation of Bede’s full exegetical treatment of “milk” for new believers, as found in his commentary on the Song of Songs and, indeed, elsewhere in his exegetical writings. Scholarly work of recent decades has explored the manifold links between Bede’s exegetical and historical writings, demonstrating the importance of such allusions for a full understanding of the Ecclesiastical History.25 In taking such an approach, Jennifer O’Reilly illuminated the significance of milk and meat in Bede’s thought, identifying his association of the weaning image with an exegetical progression inwards from the outer court of the Temple, and suggesting that Bede considered Aidan’s concerns in parallel with debates about gentile converts in the early Church. The metaphor may also have held special relevance to the conversion of the gens Anglorum through its use by Pope Gregory the

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Bede, Historia ecclesiastica 3.5, ed. and trans. Bertram Colgrave and R. A. B. Mynors (Oxford, 1969), 228–29. E.g., Lesley Abrams, Bede, Gregory, and Strategies of Conversion in Anglo-Saxon England and the Spanish New World, Jarrow Lecture 2013 (Jarrow, 2013), 7, where she also notes the metaphor’s use in a letter of Fulk, archbishop of Reims, to King Alfred. Roger Ray, “Bede, the Exegete, as Historian,” in Famulus Christi: Essays in Commemoration of the Thirteenth Centenary of the Birth of the Venerable Bede, ed. Gerald Bonner (London, 1976), 125–40; Alan Thacker, “Bede’s Ideal of Reform,” in Ideal and Reality in Frankish and Anglo-Saxon Society: Studies Presented to J. M. Wallace-Hadrill, ed. Patrick Wormald, Donald Bullough, and Roger Collins (Oxford, 1983), 130–53; Jennifer O’Reilly, “Islands and Idols at the Ends of the Earth: Exegesis and Conversion in Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica,” in Bède le Vénérable entre tradition et postérité, ed. Stéphane Lebecq, Michel Perrin, and Olivier Szerwiniack (Lille, 2005), 119–45; Julia Barrow, “How Coifi Pierced Christ’s Side: A Re-examination of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, II, Chapter 13,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 6 (2011), 693–706; Máirín MacCarron, “Royal Marriage and Conversion in Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum,” Journal of Theological Studies 68 (2017), 650–70.

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Great, ‘apostle of the English.’26 The influence of Gregory on Bede’s exegesis, as well as his ideas about pastoral care more generally, is exemplified by his compilation of Gregorian passages as the final book of his Song of Songs commentary.27 However, while scholars have identified the complex layering of meaning embedded in Bede’s references to milk and meat, the primary referent of the metaphor should not be overlooked or over-generalized. Aidan’s words contain verbal echoes of Bede’s Song of Songs commentary, demonstrating that, in writing this passage, Bede had in mind the specific image of a nurse (or mother) weaning an infant from breastmilk to baby-food.28 Bede’s phrase “lac doctrinae mollioris” or a close variant of it appears throughout his Song of Songs exegesis, and in Aidan’s words he emphasizes not only the milk’s simplicity, but its strengthening quality.29 Crucially, Aidan’s words incorporate a reference to the gradual process of weaning from milk to solid food – the new element that Bede had added in his exegesis of the Song of Songs. Again, Bede specifies that weaning is to be done “paulatim,” little by little, so that new Christians could progress gradually to that “more elaborate instruction.” In applying these ideas about pastoral care to the Northumbrian mission, Bede emphasized that conversion was not merely a rite-of-passage or oneoff event, but was an educational process, guided by an expert minister and founded on an enduring relationship – just like weaning from milk on to solid food. His presentation of this message drew upon a deep engagement with New Testament texts and the Song of Songs, a long tradition of Christian exegesis, and his modification of the conceptualization of education in Roman 26

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For instance, Gregory quotes 1 Cor. 3.2 in relation to preaching in Regula pastoralis, 3.39, though without further elaboration of the image. Jennifer O’Reilly, “Introduction,” in Bede: On the Temple, trans. Seán Connolly (Liverpool, 1995), xliv–xlv; Brian Butler, “Doctor of Souls, Doctor of the Body: Whitby Vita Gregorii 23 and Its Exegetical Context,” in Listen, O Isles, unto Me: Studies in Medieval Word and Image in Honour of Jennifer O’Reilly, ed. Elizabeth Mullins and Diarmuid Scully (Cork, 2011), 168–80. My thanks to Máirín MacCarron for drawing my attention to these discussions. Matis, “Early Medieval Exegesis,” 364. On Gregory’s extensive influence on Bede, see Scott DeGregorio, “The Venerable Bede and Gregory the Great: Exegetical Connections, Spiritual Departures,” Early Medieval Europe 18 (2010): 43–60. This is surely a crucial distinction: in contrast, the “milky foods” referred to in Chapter 23 of the Whitby Life of Gregory (as discussed by Butler, “Doctor of Souls”) are in this text the diet of shepherds in the Alps, and thus presumably based on sheep’s milk; Bertram Colgrave, ed. and trans., The Earliest Life of Gregory the Great (Lawrence, 1958; repr. Cambridge, 1985), 116–17. In addition to the passage above, see Bede, In Cantica Canticorum 4.7, lines 185–204 (including lac doctrinae mollioris); 3.4, line 307: “lac doctrinae salutaris”; 3.4, line 529: “lac doctrinae lenioris”; 5.7, lines 465–89.

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literature. But it was also fundamentally based on a particular perception of the quotidian material experience of teaching an infant to eat. 2

Hagiographical References to Weaning

Hagiographical references to weaning in texts of the same period may reflect social practices, but they also allude to biblical models. Although mentions of weaning as a biographical detail are rare and fleeting, such references appear in three missionary saints’ lives from the eighth century: Alcuin of York’s Life of Willibrord (796), Willibald’s Life of Boniface (763×769), and Hygeburg of Heidenheim’s Hodoeporicon of Willibald (760×785). The coincidence is likely to derive, in part, from the connections between these texts as well as the fact that two of them drew on family traditions.30 Such accounts of the births and childhoods of saints cannot be understood as purely biographical, but represent carefully composed and culturally significant images. As Crawford has pointed out, in hagiographical accounts of childhood, “an apparently matterof-fact statement may be a complicated vehicle for allegory. [… T]he audience was alive to layers of meaning, and symbols and secret messages were habitually read into texts.”31 In the first place, references to weaning seemingly allude to the biblical model of Hannah and Samuel, as Mayke de Jong has identified.32 The Old Testament text (1 Sam. 1–2) describes how Hannah, having promised her son to God, keeps him at home with her until he is weaned, and only then dedicates him to serve in the Temple. This reference point is made explicit in Alcuin’s Life of Willibrord, the Northumbrian missionary to the Frisians:

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Ian Wood, The Missionary Life: Saints and the Evangelization of Europe, 400–1050 (New York, 2001), 53 has a diagram showing some of these textual connections. Crawford, Childhood in Anglo-Saxon England, 35–36. Examples of hagiography used in the study of childhood include Joyce Hill, “Childhood in the Lives of Anglo-Saxon Saints,” in Childhood and Adolescence in Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture, ed. Susan Irvine and Winfried Rudolf (Toronto, 2018), 139–61; Shulamith Shahar, “Infants, Infant Care, and Attitudes towards Infancy in the Medieval Lives of Saints,” The Journal of Psychohistory 10 (1983): 281–309; see Shahar, Childhood in the Middle Ages (London, 1990) for a more developed approach. She restricts herself largely to later medieval evidence. Valerie Garver, “Childbearing and Infancy in the Carolingian World,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 21 (2012): 208–44; Bourbou and Garvie-Lok, “Breastfeeding and Weaning Patterns in Byzantine Times,” 70–75, include some examples. Mayke de Jong, In Samuel’s Image: Child Oblation in the Early Medieval West (Leiden, 1996), 162.

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Factum est post circulum dierum, peperit mulier filium [1 Sam. 1.20], sacroque baptismatis fonte regenerato, imposuit ei mater nomen Wilbrord, et statim ablactatum infantulum, tradidit eum pater Hrypensis ecclesiae fratribus relegiosis studiis et sacris litteris erudiendum […] ita ut nostris temporibus novum Samuhel nasci putares, de quo dictum est: Puer autem Samuhel proficiebat atque crescebat et placebat tam Deo quam hominibus [1 Sam. 2.26].33 And it came to pass when the time was come about, the woman bore a son, and when he was reborn in the holy font of baptism his mother gave him the name Willibrord and, as soon as the infant had been weaned, his father handed him over to the church at Ripon to be instructed in religious studies and sacred letters by the brothers … so you would think that in our times had been born a new Samuel, of whom it was said: “But the child Samuel advanced, and grew on, and pleased both the Lord and men.” Not only does Alcuin call Willibrord “a new Samuel,” but he also borrows much of the phrasing directly from the biblical passage. As the title of de Jong’s book – In Samuel’s Image – indicates, in the early medieval West, Hannah’s dedication of Samuel more broadly provided a model and justification for child oblation – the practice of offering children to God and handing them over to be raised in the monastic life. Alcuin’s phrasing thus presented Willibrord’s early life according to both a biblical model and a contemporary pattern. Yet these patterns appear to conflict in their representation of parental responsibility. In the biblical text, it is Hannah who dedicates Samuel to God, and it is her decision to keep him with her until he is weaned; at every stage Hannah, as mother, takes the initiative and makes choices for her child. As we can see, Alcuin departed from this model in having Willibrord’s father, Wilgils, give him to the monastery at Ripon. Manuscripts of the Life (and its verse counterpart, composed by Alcuin as part of the same work) also disagree as 33

Alcuin, Vita Willibrordi archiepiscopi Traiectensis, ed. W. Levison, mgh ss rer. Merov. 7 (Hanover, 1920), 117–18. My translation; a translation of the main text of the prose Life appears in “The Life of St Willibrord by Alcuin,” in The Anglo-Saxon Missionaries in Germany, ed. and trans. C. H. Talbot (New York, 1954), 1–22 (but, here, 4–5, Talbot translates the reference to weaning as “when he had reached the age of reason,” thus assuming a single significance for “ablactatum infantulum” and eliding the further parallel here to Samuel. The mgh text, and Talbot’s translation, also read pater rather than mater in the first sentence here – see discussion below). On this passage, see Darren Barber’s chapter above (95).

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to whether it was Willibrord’s father or mother who named the child. Despite Levison’s edition (and Talbot’s translation) preferring to use pater, David Townsend has argued for the reading mater, on the basis of two manuscripts and the otherwise unnecessary (re-)statement of pater as subject in the subsequent clause.34 Alcuin’s text, therefore, presented a transfer in care, probably at the point of weaning, from Willibrord’s mother to his father, by whom the child was then dedicated to the church. De Jong has shown that the dedication of oblates dedicated by their mothers became a topic of controversy in ninthcentury Francia, when the monk Gottschalk sought to reject his own childhood oblation to Fulda: Alcuin’s pupil Hrabanus Maurus used Hannah as a model to argue for the validity of such oblations.35 But, in the Life of Willibrord, Alcuin emphasizes the paternal role instead – whether to forestall such criticisms, because he wanted to develop Wilgils’s role, or simply in reflection of the paternal offering of oblates as standard practice. A similar transfer from maternal to paternal care appears in Willibald’s Life of Boniface, written some 30 years earlier, between 763 and 769.36 Here, Willibald (apparently a West Saxon priest working in Germany after Boniface’s death) presented this image of the saint’s childhood in Wessex: Cum enim primaevo puerilis aetatis decore multa ut solet maternae sollicitudinis cura ablactatus atque enutritus esset, magna nimirum dilectatione, ceterorum postposita amore filiorum, adfectatus est a patre. Sed quia iam labentia cuncta animo subiecerat et aeterna magis quam praesentia cogitare disposuerat, cum esset annorum circiter quattuor seu quinque, Dei se servitio subiugare studivit multoque mentis conamine de monasteriali iugiter vita insudare et ad eam mentis cottidie nisibus anhelare.37 In his very early childhood, after he had been weaned and reared with a mother’s usual anxious care, his father lavished upon him more affection than upon the rest of his brothers. When he reached the age of about four or five he conceived a desire to enter the service of God and began to 34 35

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David Townsend, “Alcuin’s Willibrord, Wilhelm Levison, and the MGH,” in The Politics of Editing Medieval Texts, ed. Roberta Frank (New York, 1993), 127. De Jong, In Samuel’s Image, 78–85; 158–63. The Life of Leoba, commissioned by Hrabanus Maurus after the Gottschalk controversy, shows an overwhelmingly female role in early childhood: Leoba’s mother and her mother’s own nurse are the central figures, as discussed below. Wood, Missionary Life, 61. Willibald, Vita Bonifatii, ed. Wilhelm Levison, mgh ss rer. Germ. 57 (Hanover, 1905), 4–5.

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think deeply on the advantages of the monastic life. Even at this early age he had subdued the flesh to the spirit and meditated on the things that are eternal rather than those that are temporal.38 Here, there is little indication that Samuel is being used as a direct model (in fact, at this age, Boniface’s father had forbidden him to enter a monastery). We are told that Boniface/Winfrith (his English name) had been “weaned and reared” by his mother, after which his father cared for him. This seems to indicate a transition from maternal responsibility in early childhood, to paternal care at a certain age or developmental moment. The archaeologist Duncan Sayer has used the evidence of child burials in early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries to argue for a “rite of passage into childhood” associated with a similar transition from maternal to paternal care and obligation, although he places it later, at around age 5, whereas in Boniface’s case the transition clearly took place at an unspecified point before “the age of about four or five.” 5 is later than any suggested weaning age for children in early medieval England, but the age of 5 was inbuilt into Sayer’s research design, and not derived from his findings.39 It is possible, therefore, that the phenomenon he has identified related primarily to children of a younger age, and that the presentation of weaning in these hagiographies reflects contemporary custom.40 Alternatively, if we accept Sayer’s interpretation, it may be that Christian writers encouraged a transition to paternal authority for children at an earlier age, in part through the imposition of biblical models and with reference to weaning.41 An analysis of how the word for ‘weaned,’ ablactatum, was used in different texts takes us further from the biblical model. Alcuin seems to convey the 38 39

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“The Life of St Boniface by Willibald,” in Talbot, Anglo-Saxon Missionaries, 27. Duncan Sayer, “‘Sons of athelings given to the earth’: Infant Mortality within Anglo-Saxon Mortuary Geography,” Medieval Archaeology 58 (2014): 78–103, at 98. Sayer structured his research around “cultural” age categories of 0–5 and 6–12 (81), derived from studies of grave goods and legal texts by Sally Crawford, Nick Stoodley, and Heinrich Härke. Yet these same studies have also proposed a change in mortuary ritual at around age 2 or 3, possibly associated with weaning (see Haydock et al., “Weaning at Anglo‐Saxon Raunds,” 604). Perhaps further isotope analysis, in association with this kind of investigation into mortuary ritual, will provide more conclusive answers. Indeed, we might speculate that Alcuin’s Samuel parallel was prompted by a similar phrase in his now-lost source text, an earlier Life of Willibrord composed by “an unlearned Scot,” possibly in the same milieu as our two other examples; Talbot, Anglo-Saxon Missionaries, 2. Sally Crawford, “Childhood and Adolescence: Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Archaeological and Documentary Evidence,” in Irvine and Rudolf, Childhood and Adolescence, 28, links Sayer’s article to an episode in the Life of Wilfrid, in which Wilfrid claims a child from his mother at the age of seven.

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biblical sense: weaning is presented as an event in which Samuel is removed from the breast, gives up drinking milk, and is able to be parted from his mother. In other hagiographical texts in this group, however, the word for ‘weaned’ appears with another: “weaned and reared” (“ablactatus atque enutritus”) in Willibald’s Life of Boniface, or “weaned and cherished” in Hygeburg’s Hodoeporicon of Willibald (“ablactatum atque confotum”).42 In these cases, ‘weaning’ appears not as a moment to be passed, but as a process guided either by the mother or by both parents as part of caring for their child, and an essential prologue to the child’s spiritual education. Hygeburg, who described herself as “an unworthy Saxon,” gave an unusually detailed account of Willibald’s childhood, perhaps drawing on her own knowledge of him as his relative as well as her discussions with the bishop himself.43 Equally, in writing at some point before Willibald’s death in 786, Hygeburg had access to the newly composed Life of Boniface by another Willibald (who should not be confused with her subject, the bishop of Eichstätt), and her account of the saint’s early childhood bears many similarities to that of Boniface. She also, for example, identifies the age of 5 as the moment of spiritual understanding and of his entry into monastic education. However, the dedication of the child to the Church comes earlier, at age 3, immediately after the mention of weaning in the text. At this point, Hygeburg recounted that “a sickness of the body severely overwhelmed the three-year-old,” from which the young Willibald recovered only after his parents had promised him to God as a monastic oblate by placing him at the foot of a standing cross.44 The link to weaning is suggestive, since the withdrawal from the diet of breast-milk and the immune support it offered would have been a precarious moment for the child’s health.45 Weaning appears here as a process of parental care preceding the commencement of monastic education.

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Hygeburg, Vita Willibaldi episcopi Eichstetensis, ed. O. Holder-Egger, mgh ss 15,1 (Hanover, 1887), 88: his mother and father worried for him “quem prius de primordialis infantiae cunabulis ablactatum atque confotum usque ad triennium nutriebant.” [whom they had raised, weaned and cherished, from the very first infancy of the cradle until he was three years old.] My translation. Hygeburg, Vita Willibaldi, 86: “ego indigna Saxonica;” see 86–87 for her mention of their relationship and discussions. Hygeburg, Vita Willibaldi, 88: “illum triennium grave corporis opprimebat egritudo.” Diane Watt, Women, Writing and Religion in England and Beyond, 650–1100 (London, 2020), suggests that the age of 3 is a symbolic allusion to the three days between Christ’s death and resurrection.

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Weaning and Education

The notion of weaning as an educational process reflects classical and late antique ideas about infancy. As Penniman has pointed out, Paul’s words in his first Letter to the Corinthians drew on intertwined ideas of physical nourishment and spiritual formation from Greek and Roman antiquity, as found in medical texts, rhetorical handbooks, and educational treatises.46 In these varied contexts, “whether from the breast of the nursing woman or the mouth of the teacher, romanitas was passed from one generation to the next.” In subsequent centuries, the idea was applied and adapted to the transmission of Christian identity.47 By the early Middle Ages, the parallel between rearing and nourishing on the one hand, and education on the other, was so commonplace that the double meaning of nutrire can no longer be said to have functioned as a metaphor.48 From a more practical perspective, wet-nurses were classed as educators in classical and late antique Rome.49 Their educational role was highlighted most concretely in the fact that, as Quintilian had stressed, nurses taught children to speak – a stage also identified as the end of infancy (quite literally: as Isidore put it, “it is called an infant because it does not yet know how to speak”).50 The Roman association of basic education with weaning, therefore, had developed in a context where both were the responsibility of a hired or enslaved nurse, and the passing from her care signified the completion of these processes. Early medieval Christian texts were clearly building on this tradition, but more often assigned the provision of early care and instruction to the child’s mother as the person responsible for the first steps towards the ultimate formation of a Christian adult. This rhetorical shift towards maternal instruction and feeding may relate to a decline in the use of wet nurses and household slaves, coupled with a new emphasis on exclusively religious

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Penniman, Christian Milk, 5. Penniman, Christian Milk, 51. This makes an interesting contrast with the overlapping meanings of the Old English word afedan, which emphasize particularly the mother’s bodily roles, as discussed by Caroline Batten above (153–54). Christian Laes, “Educators in the Late Ancient City of Rome (300–700 CE),” Revue belge de philologie et d’histoire 94 (2016): 183–207. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria 1.1.4–5, ed. and trans. Donald A. Russell, The Orator’s Education, 5 vols. (Cambridge, MA, 2001), 1:66–67; Isidore, Etymologiae 11.2.9, trans. Stephen A. Barney, W. J. Lewis, J. A. Beach, and Oliver Berghof (Cambridge, 2006), 241: “A human being of the first age is called an infant (infans): it is called an infant, because it does not yet know how to speak (in-, ‘not’; fari, present participle fans, ‘speaking’), that is, it cannot talk.”

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education, which had traditionally been the responsibility of the parents, and especially the mother.51 A later saint’s life from the same milieu, Rudolf of Fulda’s Life of Leoba, written in 836, places great emphasis on maternal roles in education. It narrates the life and miracles of another Anglo-Saxon migrant to the continent, the West Saxon nun Leoba, friend and relative of Boniface and abbess of Tauberbischofsheim. Rudolf, who was ultimately basing his narrative on the recollections of Leoba’s nuns and kinswomen, recounted Leoba’s progression from the care of her biological mother, Æbbe, to that of her spiritual mother, Abbess Tetta (spiritalis mater, venerabilis mater; Leoba is her spiri­ talis filia).52 Rudolf, like Alcuin, compared his holy subject’s childhood enrollment in a monastery to Samuel’s dedication by Hannah. However, Rudolf made no mention of weaning: rather, her mother, Æbbe, is instructed by her own former nurse to teach Leoba scripture from her earliest infancy, before offering her to the monastic life.53 Weaning, which in other texts implied education, is here replaced by the nurse’s explicit instruction to the mother to begin teaching her child in the Christian faith from birth. The prominent role played in this passage by Æbbe’s nurse from her own childhood, apparently an unfree servant or slave, may hint at one reason for this excision of bodily nurture: perhaps a wet-nurse fed Leoba, too. Rudolf does not specify this detail, but records that, at the time of Leoba’s entry to the monastic life under Tetta, Æbbe granted the nurse her freedom.54 While emphasizing the importance of maternal education in a Christian upbringing, this particular saint’s life hints at the more complex social relations surrounding

51 52 53

54

Laes, “Educators,” 198–99; Ville Vuolanto, “Family Relations and the Socialisation of Children in the Autobiographical Narratives of Late Antiquity,” in Approaches to the Byzantine Family, ed. Leslie Brubaker and Shaun Tougher (Farnham, 2012), 53. Rudolf of Fulda, Vita Leobae abbatissae Biscofesheimensis, ed. Georg Waitz, mgh ss 15,1 (Hanover, 1887), 122, 124. Rudolf, Vita Leobae, 124: “Et sicut Anna Samuel omnibus diebus suis in templo Dei serviturum obtulit, ita hanc ab infantia sacris litteris eruditam in sancta virginitate quamdiu vixerit illi servire concedas.” [And as Anna offered Samuel to serve God all the days of his life in the temple so you must offer her, when she has been taught the Scripture from her infancy, to serve Him in holy virginity as long as she shall live.] Trans. “The Life of St. Leoba by Rudolf, Monk of Fulda,” in Talbot, Anglo-Saxon Missionaries, 203–26, at 211. Rhodes, “Abbatial Responsibility as Spiritual Labour,” 65, points out that spiritual motherhood is emphasized above the biological. Rudolf, Vita Leobae, 124: “Adultamque Deo consecravit et supradictae matri Tettae divinis studiis inbuendam tradidit; nutricem vero suam, pro eo quod tanta ibi gaudia futura praedixerat, libertatis praemio remuneravit.” [And when the child had grown up her mother consecrated her and handed her over to Mother Tetta to be taught the sacred sciences. And because the nurse had foretold that she should have such happiness, she gave her her freedom.] Trans. Talbot, Anglo-Saxon Missionaries, 211.

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infant feeding, which might not always mirror expressions of their spiritual significance. These brief references to weaning in individuals’ life histories were not included carelessly, therefore, but evoke Old Testament and Roman notions of early childhood relationships. The extent to which they reflect contemporary practice is less certain. When ecclesiastical writers of the eighth and ninth centuries referred to weaning, they did so by employing a distinctively Christian language.



From Bede’s exegetical and historical writings to hagiographical accounts of saintly childhoods, mentions of weaning accrued layers of meaning in early medieval texts. These writers drew on a long history of creative engagement with the metaphor of infant feeding. However, in the early Middle Ages, the metaphor was adapted to new contexts of mission and Christianization. At the same time as infant baptism became standard practice in Christian communities, missionaries aimed at converting entire peoples to the faith. Infants and converted pagan gentes thus began their Christian journeys together. Moreover, priests in northern Europe grappled with the problems of educating in the Christian faith communities who had no traditions or institutions of education in the Roman sense. This challenge explains these writers’ emphases on early education and the demands of pastoral care. But it also explains another important shift: the texts discussed here were not written for converts, but for those who ministered to them. The metaphor of infant feeding, in turn, shifted away from a focus on the nature of milk and solid food and towards the nurturing role played by those administering this spiritual sustenance. Bede used the metaphor to emphasize the labor required of teachers, first in producing milk, then in coaxing their parvuli gently onto solid food, all the time “acting with full diligence” and providing “careful attention.”55 Priests and monks who wrote and read these texts adapted the image to convey messages about the roles they occupied – those of mothers and nurses. Whether employing exegetical allegory or following biblical models, references to infant feeding in early medieval texts were not empty phrases but living metaphors, which writers played with creatively. Not only did they draw on multiple traditions, from Christian scripture and Roman education, but they also evoked everyday experiences of bodies and babies. These monastic authors, while perhaps not directly involved in infant care, were not isolated 55

Bede, In Cantica Canticorum 5.7, lines 706–46: “crebra agentes industria” (line 734); “ut sicut paruulos sedula intentione lactare solent nutrices” (lines 706–11).

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from their surrounding communities, but were concerned with the pastoral care of the laity.56 Moreover, they would have remembered infant feeding and weaning as a feature of their own childhoods and family lives. We can therefore use these same sources for insight into social practices: as valuable evidence that weaning in eighth-century England was gradual, took place around age three and, although sometimes the work of wet-nurses, fell under the responsibility of the mother as part of a child’s early education. These references could never be simple metaphors, because they partially coincided with actual practices of infant feeding, and much of their symbolic weight derived from the overlap in significance between bodily nourishment and spiritual instruction. Penniman has referred to the impossibility of separating figurative and literal uses of infant feeding images, because being physically fed and cared for was frequently perceived as an intrinsic part of the soul’s formation.57 In these early medieval contexts, the overlap was essential, as the raising of infants now coincided with the beginnings of their Christian formation. Weaning was a necessary first step to formal Christian education: a process in which mothers taught the fundaments of learning, eating, and speaking, before entrusting their children to monastic teachers. At the same time, as a gradual (paulatim) process guided with love, weaning provided a model for that Christian education’s early stages. Alcuin’s own biographer engaged creatively with these ideas in his account of the scholar’s entry to a monastery in childhood. He stated that “when [Alcuin] was weaned from the fleshly breasts of his mother, he was handed over to be initiated by the mystical breasts of the church,” thus uniting the two themes: the transition from maternal care and teaching marked by weaning, and the use of the same image as an allegory of elementary ecclesiastical education.58 The statement is a clear example of the overlap between literal and figurative references to infant feeding, moving from Alcuin’s physical weaning by his mother to a metaphorical breastfeeding which at once succeeded and imitated that maternal care. The resulting image demonstrates the interplay of ideas that circulated around images of infant feeding and weaning: pastoral care, education, and conversion as an ongoing process. 56 57 58

Thomas Pickles, “Church Organization and Pastoral Care,” in A Companion to the Early Middle Ages: Britain and Ireland, c.500 – c.1100, ed. Pauline Stafford (London, 2009), 168–70. Penniman, Christian Milk, 6–9. W. Arndt, ed., Vita Alcuini, mgh ss 15,1 (Hanover, 1887), 185: “qui cum matris ablactaretur carnalibus, ecclesiae traditur misticis imbuendus uberibus.” My translation.

chapter 9

Treasure and the Life Course in Genesis A and Beowulf Amy Faulkner Verumtamen in imagine pertransit homo sed et frustra conturbatur thesaurizat et ignorat cui congregabit ea[.] Nevertheless man passes as an image; and yet he is confounded in vain: he stores up, and does not know for whom he will gather these things.1 Psalm 38.7 expresses a very human anxiety about possessions: what will their fate be when we leave this life? The more value a culture places on material wealth, the more pressing this anxiety becomes. In early medieval England, a period in which the worth of the living was measured in monetary terms and the dead were buried with lavish treasures, this natural concern for the afterlife of one’s goods receives heightened significance, in literature if not in life, mounting at times nearly to panic.2 The poet of The Seafarer, for example, imagines the desperation of a man who must bury his brother, and attempts to make good use of the treasure that the dead man stored up during his life: Þeah þe græf wille golde stregan broþor his geborenum, byrgan be deadum maþmum mislicum þæt hine mid wille, ne mæg þære sawle þe biþ synna ful

1 Ps. 38.7. All translations are original unless otherwise specified. 2 For an explanation of wergild, the concept that a person has a “legal value” set on their life, depending upon their class and status, see Carole Hough, “Wergild,” in The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Michael Lapidge et al., 2nd ed. (Chichester, 2014), 489–90.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2022 | doi:10.1163/9789004501867_011

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gold to geoce for Godes egsan, þonne he hit ær hydeð þenden he her leofað.3 Though a brother might wish to strew the grave of his sibling with gold, to bury with the dead one as various treasures that which he wants to go with him, that which he previously hid when he lived here, gold cannot be a help for the soul that is full of sins, before the terror of God. This passage, then, expresses a similar anxiety to Psalm 38.7 about what will happen to the possessions that we have so carefully gathered in this life. The homiletic tone of The Seafarer, though, is not representative of the treatment of treasure throughout the Old English poetic corpus. Elsewhere, especially in heroic poetry, material wealth seems to be a straightforward index of a person’s or nation’s worth.4 While some poets of this genre complicate the relationship between treasure and worth, Genesis A, a poetic version of Gen. 1–22, exemplifies the attitude that, in general, the more treasure one has, the better a person one is.5 Abraham’s great wealth, for example, can be seen as a material manifestation of divine favor: Him þa Abraham gewat æhte lædan of Egipta eðelmearce, gumcystum god, gold and seolfre swiðfeorm and gesælig6

3 The Seafarer, lines 97–102, ed. George Philip Krapp and Elliott Van Kirk Dobbie, The Exeter Book, aspr 3 (London, 1936), 146. All subsequent quotations from The Seafarer are from this edition, with line numbers following in parentheses. On the translation of this passage, especially lines 98b–99, see John F. Vickrey, “The Seafarer 97–102: Dives and the Burial of Treasure,” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 94 (1995): 19–30, at 25. 4 Ernst Leisi, “Gold und Manneswert im Beowulf, ” Anglia 71 (1952): 259–73; trans. John D. Niles with the assistance of Shannon A. Dubenion-Smith, in John D. Niles, Old English Literature: A Guide to Criticism, with Selected Readings (Chichester, 2016), 173–83, at 175–76. See also Michael D. Cherniss, Ingeld and Christ: Heroic Concepts and Values in Old English Christian Poetry (The Hague, 1972), 100–101. 5 Genesis A is preserved in Oxford, Bodleian Library, ms Junius 11. Its title distinguishes it from Genesis B, also found in Junius 11, an Old English translation of an Old Saxon poem which renders the apocryphal account of the fall of the rebel angels. 6 Genesis A, lines 1767–70a, ed. George Philip Krapp, The Junius Manuscript, aspr 1 (New York, 1931), 54. All subsequent quotations from Genesis A, Exodus and Daniel are from this edition, with line numbers following in parentheses. Cf. Gen. 12.5.

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Abraham then departed, bringing his possessions, gold and silver, near to the border of the Egyptians’ homeland, the man good in virtues, very prosperous and blessed It would be hard to say whether Abraham was gesælig ‘blessed’ because he possessed a good deal of gold and silver, or whether he possessed the gold and silver because he was gesælig: that is to say, blessed by God. Similarly, the poet elsewhere uses the phrase “eadge eorðwelan” [blessed earthly wealth] (Genesis A, line 1878) to refer to Abraham’s possessions. The doe specifies that the compound eorþwela is “often contrasted with the eternal reward of heaven.”7 This is perhaps the sense in which the poet of The Seafarer employs this word: “Ic gelyfe no / þæt him eorðwelan ece stondað” [I do not believe that earthly wealth will stand eternally for him] (lines 66b–67). In a poem such as The Seafarer, wealth cannot be both “earthly” and “blessed”: the two contradict one another. For the poet of Genesis A, on the other hand, there is no such contradiction. In Genesis A, Abraham’s vast wealth serves as another reminder of his excellence. The significant role that treasure plays in Genesis A, especially at critical moments in the life course, is a reminder of the importance of wealth in the heroic depiction of a good life – and death. The Genesis A poet’s direct approach to material wealth, which seems to avoid any major allegorical signification, is in line with the poet’s primarily literal interpretation of the biblical source.8 This literal emphasis can be contrasted with the possible allegorical function of treasure in the Old English Exodus, which shares a manuscript with Genesis A. In Exodus, the loot that the Israelites take from the Egyptians – “ealde madmas” [ancient treasures] (Exodus, line 586b) – could serve a typological function in representing the souls that Christ plunders from the Devil when He harrows Hell and could, moreover, anagogically represent the salvation enjoyed by those who undergo baptism; two references to the “hordwearda hryre” [fall of the hoard-guardians] (Exodus, lines 35a, 512a) at the beginning and end of the poem create an envelope pattern, perhaps signaling the significance of treasure in the poem.9 In 7 doe, s.v. eorþwela. 8 Charles D. Wright, “Genesis A ad litteram,” in Old English Literature and the Old Testament, ed. Michael Fox and Manish Sharma (Toronto, 2012), 121–71; Nina Boyd, “Doctrine and Criticism: A Revaluation of ‘Genesis A’,” Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 83 (1982): 230–38; and Bennett A. Brockman, “‘Heroic’ and ‘Christian’ in Genesis A: The Evidence of the Cain and Abel Episode,” Modern Language Quarterly 35 (1974): 115–28. 9 John F. Vickrey, “Exodus and the Treasure of Pharaoh,” Anglo-Saxon England 1 (1972): 159–65; Vickrey, “Exodus and the Battle in the Sea,” Traditio 28 (1972): 122–23; on the wider allegory of baptism and salvation in the poem, see Daniel Anlezark, Water and Fire: The Myth of the Flood

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comparison, the allusions to treasure in Genesis A seem almost ornamental, or even otiose. Henry Mayr-Harting observes: “Many of the old heroic tales were about the winning of a treasure. Treasure fascinated their hearers for its own sake, as sex fascinates the modern reader.”10 In Genesis A, treasure seems to fulfil the purpose outlined by Mayr-Harting: fascinating, for its own sake, rather than a symbol for anything else. The genealogical sections of Genesis A are no exception. Here the poet embellishes the sparse obits of the biblical source, introducing details about the wealth which the old patriarch bequeaths to his son and how this son, the tribe’s new leader, distributes or guards this wealth.11 This catalogue of inheritance and distribution could almost be an exercise in poetic variation, testing the poet’s ability to relentlessly vary the same concept: the old man died and gave his wealth to his son.12 However, a close reading of the genealogical sections of Genesis A reveals that these accounts of inheritance are far from ornamental. Rather, the repeated allusions to treasure emphasize the central importance of treasure in the early medieval English life course, at least as it is presented in the heroic poetic tradition. The moment of succession, a critical point in the aristocratic life course, is marked by the inheritance of treasure, while death, the final stage of the life course, is shown to require separation from the treasure that one enjoyed in life. The genealogical sections of Genesis A, then, point to the importance of treasure not in the funerary, burial context, but rather to the role that inheritance of treasure plays in aristocratic succession. in Anglo-Saxon England (Manchester, 2006), 198; and James W. Earl, “Christian Tradition in the Old English Exodus,” in The Poems of MS Junius 11: Basic Readings, ed. R. M. Liuzza (New York, 2002), 140–41. Many studies of Exodus acknowledge that, while the poet shows awareness of the exegetical tradition, allegory is not as prominent in the poem as it could be; see, for example, Malcolm Godden, “Biblical Literature: The Old Testament,” in The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature, ed. Malcolm Godden and Michael Lapidge (Cambridge, 1986), 225. For a reassessment of the allegorical significance of the treasure in Exodus, see Amy Faulkner, “Death and Treasure in Exodus and Beowulf, ” English Studies 101 (2020): 785–801. 10 Henry Mayr-Harting, The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England (London, 1972), 227. 11 Daniel Anlezark, ed. and trans., Old Testament Narratives (Cambridge, MA, 2011), xi; Thomas D. Hill, “The ‘Variegated Obit’ as an Historiographic Motif in Old English Poetry and Anglo-Latin Historical Literature,” Traditio 44 (1988): 101–24; Hill, 102, suggests that it is because of their primarily historical interest in Genesis that the Genesis A poet chooses to include the genealogical material at all. 12 Hill, “‘Variegated Obit’,” 107–108, observes a relative lack of variegation in other Old English texts that catalogue a number of deaths, such as the Old English Martyrology and vernacular chronicles; however, he finds a parallel to the variegation in Genesis A in the Anglo-Latin Northumbrian Chronicle, believed to be the work of Byrhtferth of Ramsey.

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Treasure in Heroic Poetry

Blood and gold go hand-in-hand in Old English heroic poetry. Treasure is intimately associated not only with the blood of the battlefield, but also with blood-ties and pseudo-kin bonds.13 As Winfried Rudolf argues: “Gold gifts, looted in battle and handed from a lord to a retainer, be he related to him in blood or not, create […] a ‘blood relation’ of honour through the very blood which stains these gifts.”14 Rudolf supposes an association in the early medieval mind between inanimate treasures, particularly golden ones, and the vital life-force, epitomized by blood.15 Etymological and semantic connections between the vocabulary of treasure and reproduction are, likewise, suggestive of a traditional understanding that treasure is related to fertility, as Paul Beekman Taylor notes, for example, in the cases of Old English frætwe ‘treasure’, Gothic fraiw ‘seed’ and Old Norse fræva ‘fertilize’.16 This association with vitality may contribute to the association between treasure and succession in a number of Old English heroic poems: one such example is Beowulf, a poem which, according to Francis Leneghan, takes a “pronounced interest in the matter of royal succession.”17 For example, Hrothgar gives Beowulf the war-gear which he had previously received from his brother, Heorogar (Beowulf, lines 2155–62). Frederick M. Biggs argues that Heorogar’s gift marks out Hrothgar as his successor, rather than Heorogar’s son, Heoroweard.18 Likewise, Hrothgar’s gift of this treasure to Beowulf could be understood to reflect his desire to name Beowulf as his heir.19 Jos Bazelmans’ anthropological 13 14 15

16 17 18 19

For an anthropological approach to gift exchange in Beowulf, see Jos Bazelmans, By Weapons Made Worthy: Lords, Retainers and their Relationships in Beowulf (Amsterdam, 1999), especially chapters 5–6 (111–88); on the life cycle, see 168–88. Winfried Rudolf, “The Gold in Beowulf and the Currencies of Fame,” in Gold in der europäischen Heldensage, ed. Heike Sahm, Wilhelm Heizmann, and Victor Millet (Berlin, 2019), 115–41, at 124. See Vickrey, “The Seafarer 97–102,” for the possibility that The Seafarer records, and refutes, the pre-Christian belief that one’s possessions are animate. Rudolf, “Gold in Beowulf, ” 122, suggests that certain natural properties of gold may have led to the belief that it manifested a kind of vital energy: for example, it is found in the earth; it is often associated with the sun; it is “pure, non-corrosive, malleable, yet durable,” and thus linked to immortality. Paul Beekman Taylor, “The Traditional Language of Treasure in Beowulf,” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 85 (1986): 191–205, at 195. See also Rudolf, “Gold in Beowulf, ” 118–21. Francis Leneghan, The Dynastic Drama of Beowulf (Cambridge, 2020), 18. See also Stephanie Hollis, “Beowulf and the Succession,” Parergon 1 (1983): 39–54. Frederick M. Biggs, “The Politics of Succession in Beowulf and Anglo-Saxon England,” Speculum 80 (2005): 730–31; see also Leneghan, Dynastic Drama, 48–49. Leneghan, Dynastic Drama, 18–19.

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reading of Beowulf supports the close association between treasure and rites of succession: “The coming together of relevant constituents for the person is not an automatic, biological process, but rather requires the activation of numerous relationships within the socio-cosmic universe in a variety of lifecycle related rituals and is realized by the exchange of gifts.”20 The Beowulf poet is often thought to be only interested in wealth that takes the form of material treasures, those valuables that can be given as tangible gifts.21 However, it should be noted that Hrethel leaves his sons “lond ond leodbyrig” [land and towns] when he departs from this life, while Wealhtheow commands her husband to leave “folc and rice” [people and kingdom] to his kinsmen when he dies.22 These examples show the significance of immaterial as well as material treasures in the context of inheritance and succession. Nonetheless, it is material wealth, especially richly decorated military equipment, which plays the most prominent role in dynastic succession.23 At the moment of his death, Weohstan of the Wægmundings bequeaths the wargear he has won in battle to his son, Wiglaf: He frætwe geheold fela missera, bill ond byrnan, oð ðæt his byre mihte eorlscipe efnan swa his ærfæder; geaf him ða mid Geatum guðgewæda æghwæs unrim þa he of ealdre gewat frod on forðweg.24 Beowulf, lines 2620–25a

20 21 22

23 24

Bazelmans, By Weapons Made Worthy, 149. Peter S. Baker, Honour, Exchange and Violence in Beowulf (Cambridge, 2013), 38. Beowulf, lines 2471a and 1179a, ed. R. D. Fulk, Robert E. Bjork, and John D. Niles, Klaeber’s Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg, 4th ed. (Toronto, 2008), 85 and 41. All subsequent quotations from Beowulf are taken from this edition (henceforth referred to as kiv), with line numbers following in parentheses. Hill, “‘Variegated Obit’,” 120, reads Hrethel’s obit in the light of the Genesis A genealogies, noting that Hrethel enjoys spiritual felicity for leaving “his ancestral property securely in the possession of his heirs.” On swords and armor as objects of exchange in Beowulf, see Bazelmans, By Weapons Made Worthy, 150–54. Weohstan had previously plundered this frætwe from Eanmund, son of Ohthere, and it was granted to him by Onela, Eanmund’s uncle (Beowulf, lines 2611–19). R. T. Farrell, Beowulf, Swedes and Geats (London, 1972), 11–12, addresses whether “ond his magum ætbær” [and carried it away to his kinsmen] (Beowulf, line 2614b) implies that Onela is Weohstan’s kinsman.

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He held the treasure for many seasons, the sword and the mail-coat, until his son was able to carry out noble deeds like his late father; then among the Geats he gave him countless kinds of war-gear, when he departed from life, wise on the way forth. The gift of treasure from father to son results in a commendable departure: Weohstan leaves this life “frod on forðweg” [old/wise on the way forth] (Beowulf, line 2625a). The significance of uniting heir with heirloom is marked by b-alliteration on “bill ond byrnan” [sword and mail-coat] (Beowulf, line 2621a) and “byre” (Beowulf, line 2621b), an exclusively poetic word for ‘child’ which, moreover, bears an aural resemblance to the first syllable of “byrnan.”25 In this clearly very public ceremony, Wiglaf’s succession is made manifest in the form of his father’s sword and mail.26 The byre ‘child,’ a word etymologically related to the verb beran ‘bear, carry,’ thus carries forth the legacy of his father.27 Though Weohstan’s body perishes, his legacy endures through his treasure and his son. The fate of material goods was also a matter of concern in non-aristocratic contexts. For example, Bede records that, as Cuthbert lay on his deathbed, he insisted that a particular monk, Beda, was close beside him, because Beda “knew all about all the gifts he [Cuthbert] had given and the presents he had received”; Beda would therefore be in a position to remind Cuthbert about any outstanding returns to be made on gifts that he had received.28 Cuthbert’s fear, then, was that his possessions would not be appropriately distributed before he died. Similarly, at the time of Bede’s own death it is recorded that he wished to distribute the “few treasures” which he possessed to the priests of the monastery: “some pepper, some napkins and some incense.”29 However, this anxiety about the fate of one’s earthly goods can be distinguished from the more pressing fear found in the world of heroic poetry, where the dying person’s 25 26 27

28 29

Hilding Bäck, The Synonyms for “Child”, “Boy”, “Girl” in Old English: An EtymologicalSemasiological Investigation (Lund, 1934), 65, identifies twelve occurrences in poetry. David C. Van Meter, “The Ritualized Presentation of Weapons and the Ideology of Nobility in Beowulf,” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 95 (1996): 177. According to Vladimir E. Orel, A Handbook of Germanic Etymology (Leiden, 2003), 41, 64, Old English byre and beran are both derived from Proto-Germanic *ƀeranan. Bäck, Synonyms, 64, holds that byre “is derived from the root of PG *ƀer, ‘to bear, give birth to’,” and that “[o]riginally it was probably an abstract word meaning ‘birth’.” Bede, Vita Sancti Cuthberti 37, trans. Bertram Colgrave, Two Lives of Saint Cuthbert: A Life by an Anonymous Monk of Lindisfarne and Bede’s Prose Life (Cambridge, 1940), 276–77. Peter Hunter Blair, The World of Bede (Cambridge, 1990), 308.

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possessions take on a heightened significance as a symbol of their enduring bloodline. In this secular, aristocratic setting, then, the concern is that the dying leader’s possessions should be bequeathed not just appropriately, but to somebody of their own blood. Weohstan’s gift of treasure to Wiglaf represents the successful transfer of treasure from the dying patriarch to his younger blood relative; in Genesis A, on the other hand, Abraham fears that his possessions will not be inherited by a member of his immediate family: Hwæt gifest þu me, gasta waldend, freomanna to frofre, nu ic þus feasceaft eom? Ne þearf ic yrfestol eaforan bytlian ænegum minra, ac me æfter sculon mine woruldmagas welan bryttian. Ne sealdest þu me sunu; forðon mec sorg dreceð on sefan swiðe. Ic sylf ne mæg ræd ahycgan. Gæð gerefa min fægen freobearnum; fæste mynteð ingeþancum þæt me æfter sie eaforan sine yrfeweardas. Geseoð þæt me of bryde bearn ne wocon. Genesis A, lines 2175–86

What do you give me, ruler of spirits, as comfort for noble people, now that I am so destitute? I have no need to build an ‘inheritance seat’ for any of my children; rather, after me my worldly kinsmen will distribute my wealth. You have not given me a son; therefore sorrow afflicts me very much in my mind. I cannot think of any counsel. My steward goes rejoicing in noble children; he intends firmly with inner thoughts that after me his children will be the guardians of the inheritance. They see that no children have woken from my bride for me.30 In an instance of traditional Old English understatement, Abraham laments that he will have no need to build an “yrfestol” (Genesis A, line 2177a), the seat from which inheritance is distributed. This emphasis on inheritance can be seen also towards the end of his speech in the compound “yrfeweardas” [guardians of inheritance] (Genesis A, line 2185b), which like “yrfestol,” alliterates with “eaforan” [children]. These “yrfeweardas,” however, are not Abraham’s own 30

Cf. Gen. 15.2–3.

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children, but those of his steward, his “woruldmagas” (Genesis A, line 2179a). While Bosworth-Toller defines woruldmæg as a “kinsman according to the flesh,” A. N. Doane holds that here it indicates “that the inheritors are related merely by circumstance rather than blood.”31 In the context of this passage, in which Abraham is concerned that somebody unrelated to him will inherit his wealth, Doane’s reading makes most sense of “woruldmagas.” Abraham’s imagined scenario depicts a breakdown of the ideal model of inheritance found in Weohstan’s gift of war-gear to Wiglaf in Beowulf. Moreover, in contrast with Bede’s account of the death of Cuthbert, where Cuthbert’s anxiety is limited to the just distribution of his goods, this example from Genesis A illustrates the particular fear, found in both Old English poetry and Old Testament narrative, that one’s wealth will pass to somebody from outside the kin group.32 There are some possible exceptions to these observations. For example, as suggested above, Hrothgar’s gift of ancestral treasure to Beowulf could reflect the king’s desire to name Beowulf as his heir, despite the fact that he has living sons (Beowulf, lines 946b–49a).33 Wealhtheow’s response to Hrothgar’s gesture reveals that she, at least, cannot condone the king’s intentions: Me man sægde þæt þu ðe for sunu wolde hererinc habban. Heorot is gefælsod, beahsele beorhta; bruc þenden þu mote manigra medo, ond þinum magum læf folc and rice þonne ðu forð scyle, metodsceaft seon. Beowulf, lines 1175–80a

People have told me that you would have this warrior as a son for yourself. Heorot is cleansed, the bright ring-hall; enjoy many rewards while you may, and to your kinsmen leave the people and kingdom when you must go forth, to face the decree of fate. Her meaning is made explicit when she turns towards her own sons, sitting beside Beowulf in the hall (Beowulf, lines 1188–91). The situation outlined by Wealhtheow represents the ideal of succession in the heroic world, at least as it is presented in poetry: the wealth of the old king is passed to his blood 31 32 33

Bosworth-Toller, s.v. weoroldmæg; A. N. Doane, ed., Genesis A: A New Edition, Revised (Tempe, 2013), 372. See also Ps. 48.11. Leneghan, Dynastic Drama, 63–65, 84–85.

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relatives, who will take up his position along with their inheritance. Leneghan points out that “the fact that Hrothgar’s plan to adopt Beowulf is never again mentioned suggests that Wealhtheow’s words and deeds had their desired effect.”34 Wealhtheow’s intervention puts a stop to Hrothgar’s adoption of Beowulf. While Hrothgar’s gift of treasure may have represented the king’s desire to “violate the dynastic principle,” as Leneghan puts it, this symbolic gesture never reaches its fulfilment.35 Secondly, the treasure at Scyld Scefing’s funeral is conspicuously heaped around the dead king rather than, as might be expected, under his son Beow’s protection: according to the conventions of the heroic world, the treasure of the dead king should pass directly to his blood heir. However, Scyld, who arrives fatherless from the sea, should perhaps be regarded as something of a special case. The symbolism of his return to the sea, his funeral barge loaded with no less treasure than the boat in which he arrived as a baby (Beowulf, lines 43–46), takes precedence over any account of the treasures that he might have bequeathed to Beow.36 Moreover, the treasures that the Scyldings bring to the funeral barge are repeatedly called madmas (Beowulf, lines 36b and 41a); while this word can mean ‘treasures’ in a general sense, it very often refers specifically to gifts.37 The word lac ‘offering, gift’ (Beowulf, line 43b) implies, more strongly still, that the funerary treasures have been given to Scyld. As such, it need not be assumed that Beow has been deprived of his inheritance. However, the most famous example of a king who dies and does not give his wealth to his son is, of course, Beowulf himself. He wins the dragon’s hoard, but has no son who can inherit this vast wealth. Leneghan observes: “Contrary to Beowulf’s own wish that the treasures he has gained with his life will benefit his people, the lordless Geats return them to the earth from which they once came.”38 As William Cooke shows, it is in the messenger’s speech that the first suggestion of not using the treasure is raised (Beowulf, lines 2999–3027); the messenger recommends that the whole hoard should be burnt on Beowulf’s funeral pyre, firstly because it would be unfitting for the Geats to enjoy the treasure which their king purchased with his life, and secondly because the coming years will be blighted by inevitable wars which will spring up as a result of

34 35 36 37 38

Leneghan, Dynastic Drama, 75. Leneghan, Dynastic Drama, 74. On the treasures with which Scyld arrives, see Rudolf, “Gold in Beowulf, ” 121. Bosworth-Toller, s.v. maðm; Elizabeth M. Tyler, Old English Poetics: The Aesthetics of the Familiar in Anglo-Saxon England (York, 2006), 27. Leneghan, Dynastic Drama, 138.

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the Geats’ lack of a lord.39 In the end, it seems as though some of the treasure is burnt, and some placed in the tomb with Beowulf.40 Another reason for the Geats’ disinclination to make use of the treasure, as their king wished, could be the curse that is supposed to have been laid on the hoard (Beowulf, lines 3051–57, 3069–73), although these passages are the subject of much debate.41 At the end of the poem, in any case, the treasure lies wasted and useless in the tomb, alongside the king. An analysis of treasure in the genealogies of Genesis A, a heroic poem of roughly the same date of Beowulf, will illuminate the role that treasure plays in Beowulf’s death and the Old English heroic tradition.42 2

Treasure in Genesis A

The poet of Genesis A, as Thomas Hill observes, “goes to considerable length to vary and elaborate the simple statement that a given patriarch died.”43 In many cases this variation takes the form of a regular model which draws together a number of central and connected points: the death of the patriarch; their wealth; the succession of their heir; and what the heir does with the wealth. 39 40

41

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William Cooke, “Who Cursed Whom, and When? The Cursing of the Hoard and Beowulf’s Fate,” Medium Ævum 76 (2007): 207–24, at 208. See also Gale R. Owen-Crocker, The Four Funerals in Beowulf and the Structure of the Poem (Manchester, 2000), 87. Beowulf, lines 3137–42, 3163–68; Cooke, “Who Cursed Whom,” 208. Owen-Crocker, Four Funerals, 91, however, argues that the war-gear hung on Beowulf’s pyre comes from the king’s “own resources,” noting that the mail-coats are described as beorht ‘bright’ (Beowulf, line 3140), while the treasure from the dragon’s hoard is known to be rusty (Beowulf, lines 2763a, 3049a). On the curse, see Owen-Crocker, Four Funerals, 100–101; and Andy Orchard, A Critical Companion to Beowulf (Cambridge, 2003), 153–55. For the argument that the curse is in fact laid on Beowulf’s barrow by the Geats, “to protect it and its contents from impious intruders,” see Cooke, “Who Cursed Whom,” 209–10. R. D. Fulk, A History of Old English Meter (Philadelphia, 1992), 348–49, dates Beowulf, Genesis A, Daniel and Exodus early on metrical grounds, though his dating of Exodus is more tentative; he argues that “if it belongs with this group, [it] is the last of the four.” He makes similar observations in a more recent work: Fulk, “Beowulf and Language History,” in The Dating of Beowulf: A Reassessment, ed. Leonard Neidorf (Cambridge, 2014), 19–36. Here, he finds that on the grounds of both non-parasiting and Kuhn’s Law, for example, Beowulf is the most conservative of any Old English poem (24–25, 27) and that in terms of non-contraction, Genesis A and Daniel are the most conservative (25). Leonard Neidorf, “Lexical Evidence for the Relative Chronology of Old English Poetry,” SELIM: Journal of the Spanish Society for Mediaeval English Language and Literature 20 (2013–14): 36–37, uses lexical evidence to define a group of the earliest Old English poems, including both Beowulf and Genesis A, which he dates to the period c.675–750. Hill, “‘Variegated Obit’,” 102.

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In this model for death and succession, then, wealth plays an integral role, highlighting the powerful connection between treasure and the life course in heroic poetry. As will be seen, this model can also be found in Daniel, suggesting that this association was not simply an idiosyncrasy of the Genesis A poet.44 A clear example of this model for succession can be found in the passages which detail the succession of three descendants of Cain:

Malalehel wæs æfter Iarede yrfes hyrde fæder on laste oð þæt he forð gewat. Siððan Mathusal magum dælde, bearn æfter bearne broðrum sinum, æðelinga gestreon, oð þæt aldorgedal frod fyrndagum fremman sceolde, lif oflætan. Lameh onfeng æfter fæder dæge fletgestealdum, botlgestreonum.45 Genesis A, lines 1066b–75a

Mehujael was the guardian of inheritance after Irad, in his father’s wake, until he died. Afterwards Methushael distributed the treasure of the nobles to his kinsmen, to his brothers, son after son, until he had to experience a separation from life, wise in ancient days, give up life. Lamech received the household goods after his father’s day, the household treasures. In two and a half lines, the Genesis A poet depicts Mehujael’s rise, his period of rule and his demise. Given the length of the genealogies in the biblical source, brevity is a necessity. Two of the five precious half-lines are used to emphasize the fact that Mehujael succeeded his father: “æfter Iarede” and “fæder on laste.” The poet’s allusion to Mehujael’s period of rule, his time as “yrfes hyrde” [the guardian of inheritance], is an indicator not only of his status as leader, but a reminder of the line of ancestors preceding him, who likewise defended 44 45

Although both poems are considered to be early, according to Anlezark, Old Testament Narratives, viii, they “could not have been written by one author.” Hill, “‘Variegated Obit’,” 103, notes that the Bible does not mention the age or death of Cain’s descendants, and posits that the poet may have confused Seth’s and Cain’s descendants, Methuselah and Methushael, providing an obit for Methushael in error. The names of Cain’s descendants are very similar to the names of Seth’s line, which would provide ample opportunity for confusion.

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the family treasure. The pattern continues for his descendants, Methushael and Lamech, though the former’s rule is represented by his distribution of the wealth, and the latter’s simply by the receipt of his inheritance. Throughout the genealogies, the Genesis A poet employs the temporal adverbs æfter and siððan (see above, lines 1067a, 1069a and 1074a), a reminder of the progression of these bloodlines, represented by the continued inheritance, defense and use of the family wealth. In this account of these three successive descendants of Cain, the transmission of wealth features as a corollary of dynastic succession. Given the well-known taint of Cain’s descendants, the presence of treasure in the account of these life courses can hardly be put down to the poet’s admiration for this family line.46 Rather, the passing on of treasure is fundamentally implicated in the cycles of death, reproduction and succession which make up the biblical genealogies. Further analysis of similar passages in the genealogies will reveal, firstly, the consistency with which the Genesis A poet relies on this model and, secondly, the extent to which wealth is implicated in succession in the poem. In the passage concerning Enosh, Seth’s heir, the association between inheritance of wealth and perpetuation of the family line is brought to the fore: Him æfter heold, þa he of worulde gewat, Enos yrfe, siððan eorðe swealh sædberendes Sethes lice. Genesis A, lines 1143–45

After him, when he departed from the world, Enosh held the inheritance, after the earth swallowed the body of seed-bearing Seth. Wealth holds a central position in this account of the two, overlapping life courses of Seth and his son Enosh. The b-lines feature three references to Seth’s death and departure from this life: “þa he of worulde gewat” [when he departed from the world]; “eorðe swealh” [the earth swallowed] and “Sethes lice” [Seth’s body]. These apparent expressions of finality are balanced in the a-lines by expressions of continuation and new life.47 In line 1143a, the verb healdan [hold, defend] affirms that Seth’s position will not lie vacant after his 46 47

For belief in Cain’s cursed progeny in Anglo-Saxon England, see Beowulf, lines 104b–14 and Genesis A, lines 985b–95a. Leneghan, Dynastic Drama, 44, identifies a similar effect in the opening lines of Beowulf, where “oblique references” to Scyld’s death and old age are “carefully balanced by allusions to his vigour when he was still a youth”: the effect is to sustain “the impression of dynastic progression.”

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death. In the next a-line, the poet specifies that Enosh will be the one to take on this position. Most strikingly, in line 1145a, in the midst of describing the committal of Seth’s body to the earth, the poet uses the epithet “sædberendes” [seed-bearing], a term probably inspired by the etymological interpretation of Seth’s name, semen ‘seed,’ which can only make one think of new life and reproduction: Seth is swallowed by the earth, but is succeeded by Enosh, just as the seed swallowed by the earth produces new growth.48 The patterning of these lines is testament to the artistry of the poem, a feature of Genesis A that is seldom celebrated. Wealth lies at the center of these lines on life and death, the half-line “Enos yrfe” (Genesis A, line 1144a) expressing with simplicity that which remains of Seth once his body has been laid in the ground: his son and the inheritance. The verb that describes Enosh’s defense of his inheritance is healdan: likewise, Seth’s descendant Mahalalel “heold land and yrfe” [defended land and inheritance] (Genesis A, line 1167), while Methuselah “heold maga yrfe” [defended the inheritance of kinsmen] (Genesis A, line 1218). Defense of the nation’s treasure is seen as a marker of leadership elsewhere in Old English heroic poetry. As Elizabeth Tyler suggests, in Beowulf and The Battle of Brunanburh “control of the nation’s hoard becomes almost a shorthand for kingship.”49 For example, Heremod is expected to “folc gehealdan / hord and hleoburh” [protect the people, the hoard and the stronghold] (Beowulf, lines 911b–12a), though he disappoints his subjects in this respect.50 In Old English heroic poetry, defending the national hoard is a requirement of leadership. In Genesis A, the repeated collocation of healdan and yrfe reminds us that this 48

49 50

For the etymology of Seth’s name, see A. N. Doane, ed., Genesis A: A New Edition (Madison, 1978), 253–54, who also notes both the story alluded to by the Genesis A poet, in which Seth “plants the seeds of the tree of the Godly city,” and the legend of the Holy Rood, “where Seth bears three seeds from Paradise and plants them in dead Adam’s mouth,” though he suggests that “the onomastic explanation is to be preferred.” See further, Fred C. Robinson, “The Significance of Names in Old English Literature,” Anglia 86 (1968): 29–30; and Samuel Moore, “The Old English Genesis, ll. 1145 and 1446–8,” The Modern Language Review 6 (1911): 200–201. Doane, Genesis A: A New Edition, Revised, 319, notes that while the Cainites are “sweordberende” [sword-bearing] (Genesis A, line 1060a), Seth is sædberende. Tyler, Old English Poetics, 22; see The Battle of Brunanburh, lines 9b–10a (the verb for ‘defend’ here is ealgian, rather than healdan). See also Beowulf, lines 1850–53a, 2369b and 3003b–04; and Cynewulf, Juliana, line 22a, ed. Rosemary Woolf, rev. ed. (Exeter, 1993), where Eleusius, a man of some authority, defends a hoard: “heold hordgestreon” [defended the hoard of treasure]. As Bazelmans, By Weapons Made Worthy, 134, observes, the triad of people, treasure and stronghold occurs on a number of occasions in Beowulf.

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defense of wealth is one of the primary duties of the heir who steps into his father’s position. However, the king or leader’s wealth, while it marks out his position, is not his own possession but that of his people. Peter S. Baker argues that “there is no distinction to be made between the king’s personal wealth and the national treasury.”51 The king does not possess the hoard, but defends it for the sake of his nation. In light of this, the role that wealth plays in the model of succession found in Genesis A becomes clear: it refers not necessarily to the patriarch’s personal wealth, but to that of the community, governed and defended by the patriarch. The vocabulary used to describe the inheritance in the genealogies of Genesis A supports the association with goods of the community. At times the poet uses, perhaps even coins, terms that imply domestic wealth: for example, flettgesteald [household goods] (Genesis A, lines 1074b and 1611a) and botlgestreon [household treasure] (Genesis A, lines 1075a and 1621b), both found only in Genesis A.52 Elsewhere, the reader or listener is reminded that this apparently domestic wealth also has the power to confer the status of leader; for example, the wealth that Methushael distributes to his kinsmen is “æðelinga gestreon” [treasure of nobles] (Genesis A, line 1071a). The same halfline occurs in Beowulf (line 1920a) with reference to the gifts brought back from Heorot, given to Beowulf by King Hrothgar, and then passed on by Beowulf to King Hygelac: this, then, is royal treasure. Anxiety over the fate of one’s wealth is qualified if this wealth is the responsibility of the family, rather than the individual alone. The dying patriarchs in the Genesis A genealogies know that their wealth will pass into the protection of their heirs, who will henceforth defend the wealth, and carry out the duties of leader: seen in this light, Abraham’s anxiety about the fate of his possessions, discussed above, is a pressing one. In the world of Old English heroic poetry, one of the leader’s main duties is the distribution of wealth to their subjects, so much so that the phrase sinces brytta ‘distributor of treasure’ is a well-used epithet for a leader.53 Accordingly, in the genealogies of Genesis A not only the inheritance but also the distribution of the family wealth is a clear

51 52 53

Baker, Honour, Exchange and Violence, 215. Botlgestreon also occurs on one occasion outside of the genealogies (Genesis A, line 1930). See Genesis A, lines 1857b and 2728b; and Beowulf, lines 607b, 1170a, 1922b and 2071a for examples of sinces brytta. This epithet is not confined to heroic poetry; it describes Alfred the Great in the metrical preface to the Old English translation of Gregory the Great’s Dialogi; Hans Hecht, ed., Bischofs Wærferth von Worcester Übersetzung der Dialoge Gregors des Grossen über das Leben und die Wunderthaten italienischer Väter und über die Unsterblichkeit der Seelen (Leipzig, 1900), 2, line 15.

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marker of succession. After Noah dies, for example, the poet records how his sons distributed his wealth: Þa nyttade Noe siððan mid sunum sinum sidan rices ðreohund wintra þisses lifes, freomen æfter flode, and fiftig eac, þa he forð gewat.54 Siððan his eaforan ead bryttedon, bearna stryndon; him wæs beorht wela. Genesis A, lines 1598–1603

Then Noah enjoyed afterwards the broad kingdom with his sons for three-hundred and fifty winters of this life, noblemen after the flood, (up to) when he died.55 Afterwards his heirs distributed wealth, produced children; wealth was bright for them. While Enosh’s succession is complemented by the inheritance of his father’s wealth, here a similar transitional moment in which the father dies and the son or sons succeed him seems to be marked by the distribution of wealth: “ead bryttedon” [they distributed wealth] (Genesis A, line 1602b).56 The sense of ‘distribute’ here should perhaps be understood in light of Bazelmans’ reading of the relationship between king and people in Beowulf; Bazelmans outlines a situation whereby “the king is indispensable because he mediates between the ancestral ‘worth’, accumulated by himself and his predecessors and embodied in the royal treasures,” and the retainer.57 In Genesis A, the heirs who distribute their predecessor’s wealth likewise mediate between ancestral worth and their people. It should be noted that the verb bryttian can also mean ‘enjoy,’ allowing the poet to exploit several layers of meaning.58 Nonetheless, “distribute” should probably be taken as the primary meaning here, based on evidence from other 54 55 56 57 58

On line 1601, see Doane, Genesis A: A New Edition, Revised, 346–47. The parenthetical insertion of “up to” in the translation follows Doane, Genesis A: A New Edition, Revised, 346. Cf. Genesis A, line 1181. See also Genesis A, line 1891b, which is made up of the phrase “ead bryttedon,” and Daniel, line 671, which is nearly identical to Genesis A, line 1602. Bazelmans, By Weapons Made Worthy, 168. doe, s.v. bryttian. A similar semantic overlap can be seen in the Old English verb brucan, which means both “use” and “enjoy” (doe, s.v. brūcan); see further Robin Norris, “The Augustinian Theory of Use and Enjoyment in Guthlac A and B,” Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 104 (2003): 166.

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accounts of distribution in the poem. Elsewhere, for example, distribution is described with the less ambiguous verb dælan ‘distribute’: “Geomor siððan / fæder flettgesteald freondum dælde” [Gomer afterwards distributed his father’s household goods to friends] (Genesis A, line 1611). Moreover, the very common epithet sinces brytta ‘distributor of treasure,’ used for leaders, strongly suggests that ‘distribute’ is the primary sense of bryttian in the passage that describes the inheritance of Noah’s goods.59 Even so, the echoes of ‘enjoy’ add to the sense that, in spite of Noah’s death, the family continues to succeed and prosper: mourning is balanced by celebration, death by life. Fittingly, then, this distribution of material wealth finds a parallel in the increase of the family, as expressed by the following half-line “bearna stryndon” [produced children] (Genesis A, line 1603a), which echoes “ead bryttedon” in form.60 Treasure and offspring are both epitomized by the “beorht wela” [bright wealth, prosperity] (Genesis A, line 1603b) that follows.61 While all three of Noah’s sons distribute his ead and wela, elsewhere in Genesis A the succession model takes on a heightened function in marking the seniority of one son over the other:

þa yldestan Chus and Chanan hatene wæron, ful freolice feorh, frumbearn Chames. Chus wæs æðelum heafodwisa, wilna brytta and worulddugeða broðrum sinum, botlgestreona, fæder on laste, siððan forð gewat Cham of lice, þa him cwealm gesceod. Genesis A, lines 1616b–23

59

60 61

In a very similar context elsewhere in the poem, the verb bryttian takes “gumum” [men] as an indirect object (with “gold” as the direct object), suggesting that in the present case bryttian likewise primarily means ‘distribute’ rather than ‘enjoy’ (Genesis A, line 1181). Anlezark, Old Testament Narratives, 115, reads “shared out the wealth” here. Wordplay on wealth and children can also be found, for example, in Riddle 20, line 27a, ed. Krapp and Dobbie, Exeter Book, 190, in the compound bearngestreona [procreation of children]. See also Beowulf, lines 2794–98, discussed below. A nearly identical half-line occurs in Daniel: “wæs him beorht wela” (Daniel, line 9b). In both cases the wealth seems to represent the good fortunes, or even blessings, of those who possess it. This connotation is consistent with Tyler’s observation that when beorht ‘bright’ collocates with frætwe ‘treasure, adornments,’ it introduces the sense of moral or spiritual brightness; Tyler, Old English Poetics, 92.

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The eldest were called Cush and Canaan, fully noble in life, the firstborn of Ham. Cush was the chief among the princes, distributor of desirable things and worldly benefits to his brothers, household treasures, in the wake of his father, after Ham went forth from his body, when death separated them. The poet exploits the succession model to indicate that while Cush and Canaan are both “frumbearn Chames” [the firstborn of Ham] (Genesis A, line 1618b), it is Cush who will inherit his father’s position. It is Cush, not Canaan, who distributes the family’s wealth, and Cush, therefore who is the “heafodwisa” [chief] (Genesis A, line 1619b). This example demonstrates the strength of the association not only between treasure and procreation but, specifically, between treasure and dynastic succession. 3

The Model of Treasure and Succession in Beowulf

In adapting the rather dry genealogies of Genesis, then, the Genesis A poet makes use of a model which allows them to draw together several interconnected points: the death of the patriarch in question; the succession of their heir; their wealth; and what the heir does with this wealth. While it may seem as though the Genesis A poet could have invented this model of succession as a shortcut for varying and enriching the biblical genealogies, it should be noted that this same template can be found in the Old English Daniel, also preserved in Oxford, Bodleian Library, ms Junius 11. Nebuchadnezzar’s death is described in familiar terms: Siððan þær his aferan ead bryttedon, welan, wunden gold, in þære widan byrig, ealhstede eorla, unwaclice, heah hordmægen, þa hyra hlaford læg. Daniel, lines 671–74

Afterwards his sons distributed wealth generously there, riches, twisted gold, in the spacious stronghold, the city of warriors, the eminent abundance of riches, when their lord lay (dead). The death of the father is reported in the context of his sons’ distribution of wealth. As in many examples from Genesis A, the adverb siððan ‘afterwards’ signals the arrival of the next stage in this dynasty, the time of the “aferan” [sons]

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(Daniel, line 671a). Line 671 is nearly identical to Genesis A, line 1602, which describes how Noah’s children succeed him, and share out his goods. The poet places emphasis on the wealth distributed by Nebuchadnezzar’s heirs, using variation to define this inheritance: while the nouns wela and ead could imply a generic “prosperity,” the phrase “wunden gold” indicates treasure.62 Clearly, then, the model of succession outlined above is not confined to Genesis A. The predictability of the model in Genesis A, and its appearance in Daniel, could suggest that it represents a traditional way of thinking about death and succession, one in which the inheritance of treasure represents the continuity and stability of the community, even as the life cycle of an individual reaches its end. The Genesis A poet presents the death of a patriarch as a departure swiftly remedied by the arrival of their heir, the whole process stabilized by the transmission of the community’s wealth. The opening of Beowulf, as Leneghan has demonstrated, represents a similarly confident portrait of a successful dynasty: “the provision of worthy and legitimate heirs ensures that the royal house itself and its subjects remain relatively untroubled by the death of an individual monarch,” though as the poem goes on royal succession becomes “increasingly uncertain.”63 This uncertainty is reflected in the breakdown of the heroic succession model identified in both Genesis A and Daniel, leaving some doubt as to the role that treasure will play following the death of King Beowulf. At the end of Beowulf, the hero goes to face the dragon without having produced an heir, meaning that when he dies the Geatish throne is left empty. Without a king to protect them, the Geats are open to attack from all sides.64 The hoard that Beowulf has purchased with his life is burnt on the pyre with the dead king, and buried in the ground with him, “gold on greote” [gold in the earth] (Beowulf, line 3167a).65 The messenger that brings the news of Beowulf’s death to the Geats is emphatic about the need to burn all the treasure: “nalles eorl wegan / maððum to gemyndum” [no man to wear a treasure in remembrance] (Beowulf, lines 3015b–16a).66 While the messenger’s speech implies that it is the looming threat of violence from the Swedes which prevents the 62 63 64 65 66

The phrase wunden gold often refers to gifts, or gold offered as a gift: see Genesis A, line 2128b; Daniel, line 672a; and Beowulf, lines 1193b and 1381a (“wundnan” in line 1381a: ms reads “wun / dini or -dmi” [kiv, 48]). Leneghan, Dynastic Drama, 82; see also Michael D. C. Drout, “Blood and Deeds: The Inheritance Systems in Beowulf,” Studies in Philology 104 (2007): 199–200. Beowulf, lines 3003b–4. On the burning and burial of the treasure at the end of Beowulf, see Owen-Crocker, Four Funerals, 87–91, 97–101. See further Beowulf, lines 3010b–21a.

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Geats from making use of the treasure, the close association between treasure, succession and reproduction in Old English heroic poetry, together with Beowulf’s explicit lament that he does not have a son to whom he can grant his war-gear, invites a reading of the wasted hoard in relation to Beowulf’s childlessness.67 At the moment of his death, Beowulf is fixated on the gold that he has won from the dragon: Ic ðara frætwa frean ealles ðanc, wuldorcyninge wordum secge, ecum dryhtne, þe ic her on starie, þæs ðe ic moste minum leodum ær swyltdæge swylc gestrynan. Beowulf, lines 2794–98

For the treasure that I look upon here, I say thanks in words to the Lord of all, the glory-king, the eternal Lord, that I was able to gain such things for my people before my death-day. This passage features two of the elements found in the Genesis A succession model: wealth and death. However, two elements are missing: succession of the heir, and what that heir does with the inherited treasure. Though Beowulf lies dying, there is, in contrast to the Genesis A genealogies, no yrfeweard ‘heir’ to succeed him, in this passage or elsewhere in the poem. As a result, there is no one to inherit, defend or distribute the treasure. The absence of any child is only made more conspicuous by the verb gestrynan, which, though used here in the sense of ‘acquire,’ also means ‘procreate,’ as in Genesis A, line 1171a, “bearna strynan” [beget children].68 It is worth noting that immediately before he dies Beowulf removes a neckring, decorated helmet and mail-coat to give to the young Wiglaf, the only one of his warriors to come to his aid (Beowulf, lines 2809–12). Biggs observes that while this gift could be interpreted as Beowulf’s way of naming Wiglaf as heir, Beowulf tells Wiglaf earlier that if he had a son he would give him his “guðgewædu” [armor] (Beowulf, line 2730), and makes no symbolic gift of

67 68

Beowulf, lines 2729–32a. On the threat of violence preventing the Geats from using the treasure, see Owen-Crocker, Four Funerals, 99–100. For a reading of the wasted hoard in the context of dynastic succession, see Leneghan, Dynastic Drama, 138–39. Beekman Taylor, “Traditional Language of Treasure,” 191, suggests that the “double duty” performed by the verb gestrynan should lead the reader to understand that “Beowulf is consoling himself with the notion that a treasure won is a benefit to a people comparable to, if not equal to, a son.”

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treasure to the younger man at this critical point; moreover, as Biggs goes on to add, nothing in the messenger’s speech indicates that Wiglaf is the new king of the Geats.69 In this final section of the poem, Biggs suggests, “the poet directs us to a surprising possibility: […] only a king’s son can himself become a king.”70 Leneghan observes that the poet’s contrasting of Wiglaf’s youth with Beowulf’s age could, along with the gift of armor, be seen as a signal that the brave young Wiglaf will be named Beowulf’s heir; however, he goes on to conclude that “the possibility that Wiglaf will ever succeed Beowulf as ruler of the Geats is never seriously entertained, presumably on account of his lack of Hrethling blood.”71 As a result of Beowulf’s childlessness, then, the Geats are left without a king. Beowulf’s death scene features death and treasure, but without a son there can be no succession and, following the model found in Genesis A, no further use for the treasure. As such, the Geats place the dragon’s treasure “on beorg” (Beowulf, line 3163a), in Beowulf’s barrow. In Genesis A, it is Seth’s body which is swallowed by the earth, while his treasure is inherited by his son; in Beowulf, the remains of the king and the treasure share the same fate.



The necessary relinquishing of control over one’s earthly possessions is a disturbing prospect for most of us, reminding us as it does of the endpoint in the individual life course. As has been demonstrated above, in Old English heroic poetry certain critical points in the life course are marked by the exchange or transmission of treasure, the movement of the tangible artefact symbolizing the abstract transition. The poets of Genesis A and Daniel avail themselves of a poetic model which draws together the central elements of a smooth succession: the death of the leader, their wealth, their heir, and what the heir does with that wealth. In this model, then, son and treasure both represent the dead person’s legacy, a cognitive overlap paralleled in the wordplay facilitated, for example, by the semantic range of the noun gestreon ‘wealth, product’ and verb gestrynan ‘gain, procreate.’ The transmission of wealth becomes a corollary of succession, with child and treasure both shoring up the dynasty. The failure of the model at the end of Beowulf can be seen to represent the growing 69

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Beowulf, lines 2729–32a. Frederick M. Biggs, “Beowulf and Some Fictions of the Geatish Succession,” Anglo-Saxon England 32 (2003): 55–77, at 71–75; Biggs also observes that, in light of possible Swedish aggression towards the Geats, Wiglaf would not be a good candidate for kingship, as his father, Weohstan, had previously killed the Swedish prince Eanmund. Biggs, “Beowulf and Some Fictions,” 74. Cf. Genesis A, lines 2175–86, where for Abraham it is imperative that he is succeeded by a son. Leneghan, Dynastic Drama, 100–101.

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uncertainty surrounding the possibility of untroubled dynastic succession in the latter part of the poem.72 The Genesis A poet presents their narrative of succession with no such uncertainty. Rather, in the genealogies of Genesis A the death of the individual patriarch is balanced by the sure knowledge of the continuation of the community, represented by the young heir and the enduring glimmer of bright gold. 72

Leneghan, Dynastic Drama, 82.

part 4 Life beyond the Human



chapter 10

The Life Course of Artefacts Gale R. Owen-Crocker Recognition that man-made objects may usefully be described in terms of their life courses developed as an anthropological theory in the 1980s. In his fundamental essay titled “The Cultural Biography of Things” Igor Kopytoff proposed that artefacts, as well as human beings, may be seen as having life stories. This approach stimulates questions about the conception and manufacture of an object; whether its “biography” was typical for such objects, or unusual; phases in its life; and what happened to it when it was no longer fit for its original purpose.1 In doing the biography of a thing, one would ask questions similar to those one asks about people: What, sociologically, are the biographical possibilities inherent in its “status” and in the period and culture, and how are these possibilities realised? Where does the thing come from and who made it? What has been its career so far, and what do people consider to be an ideal career for such things? What are the recognised “ages” or “periods” in the thing’s “life”, and what are the cultural markers for them? How does the thing’s use change with its age, and what happens to it when it reaches the end of its usefulness?2 This theory was subsequently used by archaeologists of prehistory and medieval periods. In fact, individual specialists, including archaeologists, textile historians and paleographers, were already investigating the life course of things before this developed as an anthropological theory, without naming it; but theorizing it is useful, because this invites important questions and enables appreciation of the available evidence. Object biography of this kind sheds light on social and economic history. It focuses on the makers, the merchants, the repairers, those who re-used the thing as well as the original patrons.

1 Igor Kopytoff, “The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process,” in The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, ed. Arjun Appadurai (Cambridge, 1986), 64–91. 2 Kopytoff, “Cultural Biography,” 66–67.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2022 | doi:10.1163/9789004501867_012

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When an object was given as a gift, it might carry with it prestige from a previous owner. As such, it might also remind the recipient of obligations: allegiance and military support in the case of a secular gift; memorialization and prayer in the case of a gift to the Church. Arnoud-Jan Bijsterveld explains how gift-giving permeated medieval society: Gift giving established and sustained socio-political and religious networks: structures of reciprocal obligations between people, whose mutual relations were founded on consanguinity, shared origins, and/or agreements between religious and laity, lords and vassals, and allies and friends, and were enhanced and maintained by gifts and countergifts.3 The Old English heroic poem Beowulf lays down criteria for appropriate giftgiving at the beginning of the narrative: a young prince should bestow treasures in the hope of future loyalty.4 In the course of the poem, it is made clear that a good lord is a generous lord who also gives to reward. Individual objects are seen to carry the prestige of their previous owners: Hrothgar, King of the Danes, gives the successful young Beowulf armor which had belonged to his own brother, King Heorogar (lines 2158–59) as well as his personal battle-saddle (lines 1038–42). It is a reasonable guess that the Christian silverware found in the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial may have been gifts from King Æthelberht of Kent to King Rædwald of the East Angles (the probable recipient of the Ship Burial) on the occasion of Rædwald’s baptism in Kent, an event recorded by Bede.5 When a name appears on an artefact, its provenance and the obligations that its donation brought are more certain. The inscription “aelfred mec heht

3 Arnoud-Jan Bijsterveld, Do ut des: Gift Giving, Memoria, and Conflict Management in the Medieval Low Countries (Hilversum, 2007), 7. 4 “Swa sceal ge(ong) guma gode gewyrcean, / fromum feogiftum on fæder (bea)rme, / þæt hine on ylde eft gewunigen / wilgesiþas, þonne wig cume, / leode gelæsten; lofdædum sceal / in mægþa gehwære man geþeon” [So ought a young man do good in terms of generous gifts while still in (or from) his father’s lap, so that in his maturity, when war comes, willing companions will stand by him, serve the people (or serve the man). By generous acts a man will thrive in every nation]. Beowulf, lines 20–25, ed. R. D. Fulk, Robert E. Bjork and John D. Niles, Klaeber’s Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg (Toronto, 2008). All subsequent citations and quotations from Beowulf are from this edition, with line numbers following in parentheses, the translation is the author’s own. 5 Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People 2.15, ed. and trans. Bertram Colgrave and R. A. B. Mynors (Oxford, 1969), 188. The suggestion of a baptismal gift was made specifically with regard to the silver spoons engraved Saulos and Paulos by Rupert Bruce-Mitford, The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial, 3 vols. (London, 1975–83), 3.1:136–37.

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gevvyrcan” on the Alfred Jewel6 makes it likely that the object is an æstel as mentioned in King Alfred’s preface to his translation of Gregory’s Pastoral Care,7 that the recipient was a bishop or abbot, and that the gift obliged the new owner to carry out the king’s wishes as regards the accompanying manuscript and the duties of educating his flock. The early eleventh-century gift of the Brussels Cross, engraved with the names of the two brothers who donated it and their dead brother whom it memorialized,8 must have obliged the religious establishment that received it to pray assiduously for the souls of all three. The Brussels Cross is a particularly valuable testimony, since although numerous gifts to the Church are documented from early medieval times (in wills, charters, inventories and records of religious houses), the objects donated or bequeathed generally do not survive. It is clear that exotic objects carried extra prestige. The Beowulf-poet mentions, with admiration, treasures from far away9 and this appreciation is manifested materially in, for example, the sixth-century popularity of amber beads, the seventh-century fashion for garnets, the eclectic mix of native, Scandinavian, Frankish, Celtic, Byzantine, and Coptic objects in the Sutton Hoo treasure, the use of lapis lazuli in the Lindisfarne Gospels, as well as aesthetically in the range of imported decorative motifs exhibited in artefacts found in early medieval England. Before launching into some individual case studies, let us consider an analogy: that of attitudes to the life of a butterfly or moth. Mostly, this creature is thought of at the final stage of its life, but its glorious beauty and the freedom of flight exist for only a matter of days in which the creature is occupied mostly with mating and laying eggs in order to perpetuate the species. The rest of the calendar year, the life cycle of the creature takes it through the much less glamourous stages of egg, larva or caterpillar, and chrysalis. However, depending on a person’s special interest, one of those stages might actually be of the greatest importance to that individual. Somebody interested in the history of silk might focus on the cocoon, from which the slender threads are unraveled. If medieval 6 Janet Backhouse, D. H. Turner and Leslie Webster, eds., The Golden Age of Anglo-Saxon Art 966–1066 (London, 1984), no. 13, pp. 33–34 and colour plate i. 7 The Anglo-Saxon Version of Gregory’s Pastoral from the Hatton MS. and the Cotton MSS., ed. Henry Sweet, 2 vols., eets 45, 50 (London, 1871–72), 1:9, line 1 (Hatton). 8 “ÞAS RODE HET ÆÞELMÆR WYRICAN 7 AÐELWOLD HYS BEROÞO[R] CRISTE TO LOFE FOR ÆLFRICES SAVLE HYRE BEROÞOR” [Æþelmær and Aðelwold his brother ordered this cross to be made for the glory of Christ [and] for the soul of Ælfric their brother]. The persons mentioned are otherwise unknown. The Cross also preserves the name of its maker “DRAHMAL”. The Cross is now in the Cathedral of S. Michel, Brussels; Backhouse, Turner, and Webster, Golden Age, no. 75, pp. 90–92 and colour plate xxiii. 9 Beowulf, lines 36–37: “madma fela / of feorwegum” [many treasures from far away].

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manuscripts are someone’s passion it will be the worm that eats books – the larva of the book moth – that is noticed10; as for instance in Timothy Graham’s study of the tunneling of a bookworm through a manuscript, which demonstrated to him that the Anglo-Saxon crucifixion picture now the frontispiece of a Homiliary (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, ms 421) belonged in another manuscript, a Psalter (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, ms 419), having probably been moved by the sixteenth-century scholar Matthew Parker.11 The life course of an artefact can take us through the processes before its glory days and/or its existence in the repair, recycling stages. Some historical items, like the butterfly or like a royal wedding dress in our own day, may only have enjoyed a brief time in the limelight of the occasion for which they were prepared. The long processes of design and manufacture, and what might be called the “afterlife” of display, admiration, discussion, and eventual repair may occupy proportionately a much greater period of time. Many an artefact outlives its original wearer and makers and is sometimes repurposed. Surviving medieval artefacts have of course outlived their original function by centuries, even a millennium. Occasionally they have gone through remarkable processes of remaking, repair and re-use. 1

The Life Courses of Dress Accessories and Textiles: The Orkney Hood and the Bayeux Tapestry

Dress and textile remains sometimes offer considerable evidence of their life courses. Many excavated dress accessories were manifestly old when buried in the graves of their last owners. This can be deduced from both wear and style: sometimes clothing fasteners such as brooches or wrist clasps were broken beyond practical use; some items, being older stylistically than other grave-goods from the same burial, were probably heirlooms. Others, particularly sixth-century bag/amulet collections found with female skeletons in 10

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The wonder “þæt se wyrm forswealg wera gied sumes” [that the worm should eat some man’s song] is celebrated in Exeter Book Riddle 47, which is related to Symphosius’ Riddle 16, Tinea; Riddle 47, line 3, ed. George Philip Krapp and Elliott van Kirk Dobbie, The Exeter Book, aspr 3 (New York, 1936), 205 and note on 347. The observation was first made by N. R. Ker in his Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Anglo-Saxon (Oxford, 1957), 116, but he did not identify the wormhole – one of several on the page. Timothy Graham explains the evidence in detail in “Changing the Context of Medieval Manuscript Art: The Case of Matthew Parker,” in Medieval Art; Recent Perspectives. A Memorial Tribute to C.R. Dodwell, ed. Gale R. Owen-Crocker and Timothy Graham (Manchester, 1998), 183–205, at 194–95 and figure 94. The other wormholes on the page post-date the sixteenth-century change.

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Anglo-Saxon graves, were probably curated, that is collected and retained for some purpose (such as memorialization or healing), by their last medieval owners.12 These bag collections typically include something old, such as a Roman bead, something of animal origin, such as a tooth, and often something shiny, like a piece of glass. The amulet bags themselves are often framed by rings cut from elephant tusks and it is possible that the leather or textile bags themselves, as well as these ivory rings, were imported, and hence were valued as exotic objects.13 Cloth is particularly liable to be repaired and recycled because it was laboriously made by hand and treasured, and could remain useful long after it no longer fulfilled its original purpose.14 It is therefore fruitful to apply Kopytoff’s theory to historic textiles, in terms of revealing social and cultural context. The artefact biography approach can be particularly effective for stray finds, textiles discovered with no archaeological context at all, or with none recorded. In the following case it is possible to reconstruct an outline life story of the textile from evidence presented by the material remains themselves. The oldest and best preserved early medieval garment from the British Isles is a wool hood. It was found in a peat bog in 1867 and has no recorded associations. There were apparently no human remains or any other artefacts to give it context. However, analysis by textile specialists, together with carbon-14 dating, reveal a remarkable biography for this object.15 The garment was a 12 13 14

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Alexandra Knox, “Middle Anglo-Saxon Dress Accessories in Life and Death: Expressions of a Worldview,” in Dress & Society: Contributions from Archaeology, ed. Toby F. Martin and Rosie Weetch (Oxford, 2017), 114–29. Summarized in Gale R. Owen-Crocker, Dress in Anglo-Saxon England: Revised and Enlarged Edition (Woodbridge, 2004), 69–70. For bag collections see also Audrey L. Meaney, AngloSaxon Amulets and Curing Stones (Oxford, 1981), esp. 249–50. Karina Grömer, “Recycling of Textiles in Historic Contexts in Europe. Case Studies from 1500 BC till 1500 AD,” in Recikliraj, ideje iz prošlosti, ed. I. Miloglav, A. Kudelić and J. Balen (Zagreb, 2017), 75–98, identifies categories of recycling of textiles which can be summarized as: garment recycling (re-working of garments, donations to the Church, gravegarments, garments made of rags and other purposes); industrial purposes (production of clay and metal items, sealing, caulking and insulation, improvised binding and fixing of tools); and covering and hygienic use (wrapping grave-goods, dressing wounds, “toilet paper”). Discussed in more detail in Elizabeth Coatsworth and Gale R. Owen-Crocker, Clothing the Past: Surviving Garments from Early Medieval to Early Modern Western Europe (Leiden, 2018), no. 1.1, pp. 33–34, from original sources T. Gabra-Sanders, “The Orkney Hood, Redated and Reconsidered,” in The Roman Textile Industry and Its Influence: A Birthday Tribute to John-Peter Wild, ed. P. Walton Rogers, L. Bender Jørgensen and A. Rast-Eicher (Oxford: Oxbow, 2001), 98–104; Jacqui Wood, “The Orkney Hood: An Ancient Re-cycled Textile,” in Sea Change: Orkney and Northern Europe in the Later Iron Age AD 300–800, ed.

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figure 10.1

Orkney hood © national museums scotland

composite, employing two recycled textiles and a new piece. The main section was a piece of cloth which can be traced back to its origins: it was made from natural-colored, brown, hairy wool of what were probably local island sheep. Unlike most modern sheep, which are the product of selective breeding, these island animals shed their wool in the spring, so they did not have to be sheared, merely plucked. This wool had been spun by four different hands, judging from the varying thickness of the thread. It was woven in a chevron J. Downes and A. Ritchie (Balgavies, 2003), 171–75. Also at http://www.archaeologyonline .org/Documents/TheOrkneyHood.pdf accessed September 26, 2021.

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figure 10.2 Pictish sculpture, St Vigeans 11, Angus, Scotland drawn by and by permission of michael king

twill pattern. The weaver, who would have been working on a simple, upright loom, changed chevron direction with each new spindle, producing irregular changes in the cloth. This piece of textile was old and worn – it had been repaired by darning – when a rectangle was cut out of it, and this, by folding and stitching, was made into a hood. To the bottom edge was attached a narrow tablet-woven band, originally in 3 colors, which was perhaps made for the purpose. Beyond this was added a broader tablet-woven band, with black and brown stripes, fringed at one side. This was far too long for the hood. It had perhaps been recycled from a splendid cloak, and whoever was using it obviously had an eye to further recycling because they did not cut it, but prudently wrapped it twice round the hood instead, leaving a 20 cm gap at the back. The stitching which attached this band had been decorated with embroidery. Eight leather thongs had been attached between the layers of the broader band, their purpose unknown. Originally the garment was assumed to be Viking Age, probably because the Viking period is the best known and most glamorous of the Orkneys’ history, but carbon-14 dating demonstrated that it belongs to the period ad 250–615, which puts it in the more obscure Pictish era, but one from which we there are surviving sculptures, suggesting that a hooded cloak was part of the regular costume. Thus Kopytoff’s question about the ideal career of the object may be answered that the hood can be considered typical in style for its culture and period, though its composite manufacture made it unique. The hood was evidently lost, or discarded, at the height of its career, so the question of what

figure 10.3

Bayeux Tapestry, opening scene, patched and restored, with its sixteenth-century backcloth numbered in an eighteenth- or nineteenth-century hand ELEVENTH-CENTURY. BY SPECIAL AUTHORISATION OF THE CITY OF BAYEUX

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happened to it when it was no longer useful does not arise, though in itself the garment employs recycled cloth and a recycled tablet-woven band that had outlived their original use. The Orkney hood’s biography does not end with its discovery. It now has additional stitching, in cotton, a nineteenth-century repair. It is kept in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, which may refuse access. In making a facsimile for display, Jacqui Wood measured it and concluded it had been made for a child, which was new information. In developing this for a new book, it was decided it was about right for a slender 8-year-old.16 There is tremendous scope for imagination about this object: some mother or grandmother went to enormous trouble to make that hood for the child, using a traditional shape but adding the luxurious fringed braid that had probably come from an adult’s cloak, also making a new braid and adding some embroidery. The child was presumably not popular when he or she returned home having lost it, and the maker could never have imagined that her work would be appreciated well over a thousand years later. The most famous of medieval textiles is The Bayeux Tapestry, an embroidery almost certainly made in southern England, probably designed in Canterbury, in the years immediately following 1066. Most people are familiar with its face, the attractive embroidered front that tells the story and contributes to knowledge of the Norman Conquest. However, when the Tapestry was cleaned and studied in 1982–83 the research program did much more than scrutinize the eleventh-century pictures and text. It examined the linen cloth the embroidery is worked on and the wool fibers it is stitched with. The linen is consistently spun and finely woven – not the very finest surviving but quite close to it, at 22 × 18 threads per centimeter. The lengths of the first two pieces – there are nine sections in all – indicate that it must have been woven on a horizontal loom, an innovation in western Europe of about ad 1000 and a machine operated by men. An unpublished report in the archive at Bayeux analyzes the selvedges which survive on the lower edges of five sections (numbers iii, iv, vi, vii and ix) showing they were of different compositions,17 suggesting different 16 17

Coatsworth and Owen-Crocker, Clothing the Past, no. 1.1, pp. 32–34. Gabriel Vial, “Etudes Techniques de la Broderie de Bayeux” (Lyon: Centre International D’Etude des Textiles Anciens (c.i.e.t.a.), Nov 1982–Jan 1983), Tableau 6. Typescript from Bayeux Archive, by courtesy of Sylvette Lemagnen, formerly Curator of the Bayeux Tapestry, and Alexandra Lester-Makin. Vial’s diagrams of the different selvedges renders invalid at least part of the recent suggestion that pieces i–ii and iv–vii all came from a single bolt of cloth and iii and viii–ix from another, made in Christopher Norton, “Viewing the Bayeux Tapestry, Now and Then,” Journal of the British Archaeological Association 172 (2019): 1–47, at 6–7, 9. Even if the selvedges on the two sides of a bolt of cloth were different, there are three different selvedges from pieces iv, vi and vii, one too many for a single piece of cloth.

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weavers, or at least pieces of cloth woven independently. The nine sections seem to have been embroidered separately then joined with almost invisible seams, after which additional embroidery was carried out to avoid obvious gaps in the design. The team seem to have got better at this concealment as they progressed through the work. The first join is fairly obvious, the last one is not visible on the front at all. The embroidery threads were identified as wool, dyed in ten colors with combinations of three plant dyes – madder, woad and indigotin, the latter sourced from either indigo or pastel plants. The researchers detected differences in shades caused by both different dye lots when the coloring was done, and subsequent damage from light. The stitches had long been known to be predominantly stem stitch and laid-and-couched work, but now it was established that chain stitch and split stitch were also used by the original embroiderers. The 1980s study also took account of the extensive patching and repairs that have taken place at various times, dating major repair work to the nineteenth century by the use of chemically dyed embroidery threads, many of which have now faded. It also looked at the whole “sandwich” which the Tapestry had become over centuries, including the lining and the backing cloth which probably dates to the sixteenth century and on which scene numbers were written, in ink, in the eighteenth or nineteenth century. This backing cloth has blue woven patterns in it, perhaps practice designs. It might have been woven for use as shrouds or for domestic linen. This 1980s research was not published until 2004, when it caused a great stir, though the published version was in fact compacted and incomplete and the research had been limited by restricted time and what the French government would permit.18 The existence of a full set of photographs of the back was not public knowledge until 2008.19 The material has never been carbon-14 tested (which would give some indication of the date) since the procedure is 18

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Isabelle Bédat and Béatrice Girault-Kurtzeman, “The Technical Study of the Bayeux Tapestry,” in The Bayeux Tapestry: Embroidering the Facts of History¸ ed. Pierre Bouet, Brian Levy, and François Neveux (Caen, 2004), 83–109; Gabriel Vial, “The Bayeux Tapestry and Its Backing Strip,” in Bouet, Levy, and Neveux, Bayeux Tapestry, 111–16. Sylvette Lemagnen, “The Hidden Face of the Bayeux Tapestry,” in The Bayeux Tapestry: New Approaches, ed. Michael J. Lewis, Gale R. Owen-Crocker and Dan Terkla (Oxford, 2011), 37–41, at 40; Gale R. Owen-Crocker, “Behind the Bayeux Tapestry,” revised version Chapter 1 in Gale R. Owen-Crocker, The Bayeux Tapestry: Collected Papers (Farnham, 2012) previously published in The Bayeux Tapestry: New Interpretations, ed. Martin Foys, Karen E. Overby, and Dan Terkla (Woodbridge, 2009), 119–29; Alexandra Lester-Makin, “The Front Tells the Story, the Back Tells the History: A Technical Discussion of the Embroidering of the Bayeux Tapestry,” in Making Sense of the Bayeux Tapestry: Readings and Reworkings, ed Anna C. Henderson with Gale R. Owen-Crocker (Manchester, 2016), 23–40. The 1980s photographs of the reverse are now available to the public in Bayeux and are online at https://www.photo.rmn.fr/CS.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&VBID=2CO5PC VP0MUBH&SMLS=1&RW=1280&RH=606#/SearchResult&VBID=2CO5PCVP0MUBH&S MLS=1&RW=1280&RH=606&PN=1, accessed September 26, 2021, though currently the

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destructive of material and the results imprecise. The Bayeux Tapestry is to be the subject of a major and well-funded research and restoration program, begun in 2018, involving British Museum scientists as well as French ones.20 Laboratory analysis of archaeological and other historic artefacts has progressed considerably since the 1980s, though it is still not known whether the French government will permit anything that involves the destruction of samples, however small. Isotope analysis may or may not be useful in locating the source of the wool – the conditions on which sheep grazed in Normandy may be too similar to those in southern England to distinguish if this was English or Norman wool. More details of dyestuffs are likely. Already ultraviolet and raking light photography are showing differences in shades not visible to the naked eye. Modern restorations are showing up as light patches. There are other promising possibilities, among them non-invasive techniques such as multispectral imaging (msi) and fiber optic reflectance spectroscopy (fors) as well as micro-invasive approaches such as high-performance liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (hplc-ms).21 It is hoped that scientific tests will take into account the nine different pieces which make up the Bayeux Tapestry and try to establish if there are any differences in the materials they use. A digitized version with views of the front and reverse and bibliographical references is being prepared at the University of Caen. Meanwhile, the commissioning, manufacture, and original purpose of the Tapestry have received much speculative attention. The general consensus today is that it was designed and probably made in England, most likely in Canterbury, since in general style it resembles Canterbury art of the eleventh century and in many places appears to borrow specifically from images in manuscripts known to have been in the libraries of St Augustine’s Abbey and Christ Church Cathedral in Canterbury,22 though there are contrary voices

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website is not as satisfactory as it originally was, mixing images of the back with images of the front face of the Tapestry and with very little coverage. I am grateful to Dr Caroline Cartwright, and Professors Carl Heron and Michael Lewis for discussing the program with me in the Department of Scientific Research at the British Museum on 14 November 2019. Some of the relevant techniques are described in Diego Tamburini et al., “An Investigation of the Dye Palette in Chinese Silk Embroidery from Dunhuang (Tang Dynasty),” Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 11 (2019): 1221–39, https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-017 -0592-4; and Joanne Dyer et al., “A Multispectral Imaging Approach Integrated into the Study of Late Antique Textiles from Egypt,” PLOS ONE 13 (2018), https://doi.org/10.1371/ journal.pone.0204699. I am grateful to Caroline Cartwright for these reference. The pioneering work in recognising Canterbury influence in the Bayeux Tapestry was that of Francis Wormald, “Style and Design,” in The Bayeux Tapestry: A Comprehensive Survey, ed. Sir Frank Stenton (London, 1957), 25–36, since when there have been several other contributors to the Canterbury thesis. For an up-to-date survey of the publications arguing for Canterbury influence, as well as an innovative suggestion as to how the graphics were drawn, see Maggie Kneen and Gale R. Owen-Crocker, “The Use of Curved Templates

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claiming continental manufacture.23 Its national identity (English, Norman or Anglo-Norman) has been debated: it is possible for an object to be designed and manufactured in one country but to reflect the culture and values of another. Suggestions as to its original intended location include Bayeux Cathedral,24 St Augustine’s Abbey,25 and a prominent secular building, either a traditional rectangular hall26 or a square Norman keep such as Dover Castle.27 Although the embroidery is generally believed to have been completed by 1088, when Odo, the Conqueror’s brother, was banished from England and returned to his bishopric of Bayeux, supposedly taking it with him, its first definite documentation only occurs in an inventory of Bayeux Cathedral dating to 1476. Some think it had remained in Bayeux for centuries before that, though George Beech has argued that our embroidery is identical with Tapestries (tapiz) mentioned in documents and owned by French royalty.28 The rediscovery and subsequent life of the Tapestry have been the subject of much study. From the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries it was kept in a chest and exhibited annually in the nave of Bayeux Cathedral for the Feast of Relics. First emerging in the academic world in the eighteenth century in the form of a partial drawing, the Tapestry’s story continues through the making of facsimiles, the exhibiting of it, its last-minute rescue from use as a wagon cover by the local militia during the Franco-Prussian war in 1792, its fame under Napoleon when it was shown

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in the Drawing of the Bayeux Tapestry,” Medieval Clothing and Textiles 16 (2020): 31–66, esp. 53–54. Wolfgang Grape, The Bayeux Tapestry: Monument to a Norman Triumph, trans. David Britt (Munich, 1994); George Beech, Was the Bayeux Tapestry Made in France? The Case for Saint-Florent of Saumur (New York, 2005). Suggested in Honoré François Delauney, Origine de la Tapisserie de Bayeux prouvée par elle-même (Caen, 1824) and always remaining under consideration, recently advocated in Norton, “Viewing the Bayeux Tapestry.” Elizabeth Carson Pastan and Stephen White, with Kate Gilbert, The Bayeux Tapestry and Its Contexts: A Reassessment (Woodbridge, 2014). Richard Brilliant, “The Bayeux Tapestry: A Stripped Narrative for Their Eyes and Ears,” in The Study of the Bayeux Tapestry, ed. Richard Gameson (Woodbridge, 1997), 111–37, reconstructs the Tapestry as hung in a rectangular hall, while noting that surviving remains of such halls have different dimensions and placing of entrances (113 and note 5). Chris Henige, “Putting the Bayeux Tapestry in Its Place,” in King Harold II and the Bayeux Tapestry, ed. Gale R. Owen-Crocker (Woodbridge, 2005), 125–37, building on my own proposal that the Tapestry was designed as a square, see Gale R. Owen-Crocker, “Brothers, Rivals and the Geometry of the Bayeux Tapestry,” in Owen-Crocker, King Harold II, 107–23. George T. Beech, “Could Philip the Good of Burgundy Have Owned the BT in 1430?,” Revue Belge de Philologie et d’Histoire 83 (April 2005): 355–65; Beech, “An ‘Old’ Conquest of England Tapestry (Possibly the Bayeux), Owned by the Rulers of France, England and Burgundy (1396–1430),” Revue Belge de Philologie et d’Histoire 83/4 (October 2005): 1017– 27; both reprinted in Beech, Solving Some Enigmas of the Middle Ages: The Historian as a Detective (Lewiston, 2011), 255–72 and 273–89, respectively.

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in Paris in 1804, its subsequent damaging display for about 30 years on a winding machine, its evacuation during World War ii and its narrowly prevented loss to the Nazis in 1944, when it was only saved by the Allied occupation of Paris.29 It has been extensively damaged and extensively repaired.30 It has in recent years been displayed protectively in temperature-, humidity-, and dustcontrolled conditions, under special lighting and with precautions against fire. It receives around 500,000 visitors a year in Bayeux31 and will inevitably prove a major attraction if and when it is exhibited in England. In consideration of Kopytoff’s question about the typicality of an artefact, the Bayeux Tapestry is a unique survival. The professional nature of the embroidery, and, by implication, the drawing which originally underlay the needlework, suggests it was one of a kind, the product of experienced workshops; though its enormous length32 suggests it must have been rare in respect of its size, especially if it was intended to be hung in a secular building. Its materials, however, are linen and wool, not the silk and gold which early medieval people particularly treasured and documented, and we cannot state with confidence how typical it was and how much it would have been prized in its day. It is certainly enjoying an extraordinary “afterlife” as an iconic visual artefact, as a generator of income, and as the focus of unique research expenditure and collaboration. 2

The Life Courses of Metalwork: The Sutton Hoo Hanging Bowl and Shield

Metalwork is the commonest category of artefact to survive from early medieval times, whether it be from cemetery sites, occupation sites, hoards or stray finds. It has been extensively catalogued, exhibited, and described in art books, though it has to be said that there is only room for the most aesthetically pleasing or otherwise “interesting” pieces in display cabinets and publications other than excavation reports, and that museum stores contain many more objects which are rarely taken out. 29 30 31 32

Carola Hicks, The Bayeux Tapestry: The Life Story of a Masterpiece (London, 2006). Lemagnen, “The Hidden Face,” 37, enumerates 681 holes and tears in the central embroidered strip, over 4,000 pieces of added strengthening material and a large number of wax and rust marks. This figure from Sylvette Lemagnen, The Bayeux Tapestry (Bayeux, 2019), 3. It is 68.58 metres (225 feet) long in its present incomplete state according to the measurements for the individual sections given by Bédat and Girault-Kurtzeman, “The Technical Study,” 86. As Christopher Norton points out, their total of 68.38 metres is incorrect; Norton, “Viewing the Bayeux Tapestry,” 5. An unknown quantity is missing from the end.

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Archaeometallurgy applied to gold provenance studies now makes it possible to identify the source of gold fairly precisely to where it was found, by determining its elemental composition.33 Generally this has not been attempted for Anglo-Saxon metalwork. Since gold is so rare – it constitutes 0.0000001% of the metals in the earth’s crust34 – it has always been widely recycled, and much Anglo-Saxon goldwork probably comes from melted-down Roman coins of various origins. However study of a recently discovered pendant established that it was made of gold from Sri Lanka.35 This is less astonishing when we remember that the garnets which are so prominent in sixth- and seventhcentury Anglo-Saxon archaeology also came from Sri Lanka and India (they are Almandine garnets, not the Pyrope garnets from the Bohemian area, which became popular as jewelry from the nineteenth century);36 the garnets probably followed the same trade routes as the gold and other prestige goods to the Mediterranean, Frankia and thus to controlled trading centers on the English coast and thence to other places by established trade routes, often by river.37 Objects of non-precious metals have generally been described in terms of their style and thus assigned to a particular region or culture, but sourcing of the metal will no doubt come in the future.

33

34 35 36 37

Relevant techniques and their successful application are discussed in R. John Watling et al., “Gold Fingerprinting by Laser Ablation Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry,” Spectrochimica Acta Part B: Atomic Spectroscopy (February 1994): 205–219; Thomas Stöllner, “Gold in Southern Peru? Perspectives of Research into Mining Archaeology,” New Technologies for Archaeology: Multidisciplinary Investigations in Palpa and Nasca, Peru, Natural Science in Archaeology, ed. Markus Reindel and Günther A. Wagner (Berlin, 2009), 393–407; Sandra Schlosser et al., “Fingerprints in Gold,” in Reindel and Wagner, New Technologies, 409–36; Filomena Guerra and Thomas Calligaro, “Gold Traces to Trace Gold,” Journal of Archaeological Science 31 (2004): 1199–1208. Oppi Untracht, Metal Techniques for Craftsmen: A Basic Manual for Craftsmen on the Methods of Forming and Decorating Metals (London, 1969), xiii. Included in the 2017 report of the Portable Antiquities Scheme. This information from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/12/04/students-treasure-find-rewrites-anglo -saxon-history/, accessed September 26, 2021. Garnet is a family of gemstones, the different branches of which have different chemical content; https://www.gemselect.com/gem-info/garnet/garnet-info.php, accessed September 26, 2021. For trade in and distribution of Anglo-Saxon garnets see Helena Hamerow, “The Circulation of Garnets in the North Sea Zone, ca. 400–700,” in Gemstones in the First Millennium AD: Mines, Trade, Workshops and Symbolism, ed. Alexandra Hilgner, Susanne Greiff, and Dieter Quast (Mainz, 2017), 71–86. At 77, Hamerow mentions that X-ray fluorescence has been used to identify the ratios of elements common in different stones in several AngloSaxon brooches, establishing which derived from the same parent stone and thus were probably crafted in the same workshop.

figure 10.4

The largest hanging bowl from Sutton Hoo. a) outside; b) inside © the british museum

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As a case study, let us consider the largest of the three hanging bowls from the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial,38 deposited in the early seventh century, probably with the remains of an East Anglian King, very likely Rædwald. The bowl itself is a well-known Celtic type: copper alloy, with suspension rings attached to escutcheons which are decorated with enamel in Celtic style. It was probably hung by means of leather thongs.39 It is decorated outside with boars’ heads beneath the round escutcheons. Inside it contains a naturalistic fish, which can be rotated, mounted on an escutcheon in the base of the bowl. Probably, in view of the fish, the bowl contained water, and since the fish is a Christian symbol, it is possible that this was holy water and the bowl intended to hang in a church, perhaps even the notorious temple described by Bede, in which Rædwald kept an altar to the Christian God alongside a pagan one.40 Similar, but simpler, bowls and detached escutcheons from such bowls have been found in a number of Anglo-Saxon graves, testifying to the existence in England of over a hundred such bowls, so the Anglo-Saxons evidently prized them, but this is a sumptuous example of its kind. We do not know if it was made in a Celtic region – Ireland or even Wales – or if it originated in a Celtic monastery in Anglo-Saxon England. In Anglo-Saxon context, these bowls occur in the conversion period and straddle pagan and Christian cultures. This bowl was well past its “butterfly moment” – newly-made perfection – when it was deposited at Sutton Hoo. It was well into its afterlife or series of afterlives. It had been damaged in several places and repaired with silver patches, the largest of which bears a typically Anglo-Saxon design of birds’ heads as found on high status metalwork; therefore, it was repaired in a prestige Anglo-Saxon workshop. In answer, then, to one of Kopytoff’s questions, when the bowl was no longer fit for purpose it was repaired. It was evidently intended to continue as a used and admired object, since the birds’ heads and gilding on two patches were placed on the inside of the bowl, which was evidently the primary focus of attention, adding to the decorative nature of the interior.41 That it did indeed continue in use after repair is established by the wear on two other patches, placed on the outside of the bowl, on the rear of the large patch.42 Another change was perhaps aesthetic and cultural rather than necessary: the eyes of the boars, which were probably originally enamel, have been replaced by garnets, an Anglo-Saxon favorite. Whatever the boars signified to the original Celtic designer, the boar’s importance to the Anglo-Saxons 38 39 40 41 42

Bruce-Mitford, Sutton Hoo Ship Burial, 3.1:206–39. The British Museum has fragmentary leather thonging found on a suspension ring of the bowl, item 1939,1010.112. Bede, Ecclesiastical History 2.15, ed. and trans. Colgrave and Mynors, 190. Bruce-Mitford, Sutton Hoo Ship Burial 3.1:231–32. Bruce-Mitford, Sutton Hoo Ship Burial 3.1:231.

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could probably be traced back to their pagan belief, and it featured as a protector of warriors in battle in Anglo-Saxon poetry and on armor.43 The hanging bowl thus takes its place with a number of other seventh-century elite objects which can be read as inter-religious: the shoulder clasps from

figure 10.5

43

The Sutton Hoo clasps © the british museum

I have previously discussed the boar in early Anglo-Saxon culture in more detail in Gale R. Owen, Rites and Religions of the Anglo-Saxons (Newton Abbot, 1981), 31 and Gale R. Owen-Crocker, “‘Seldom … does the deadly spear rest for long’: Weapons and Armour,” in The Material Culture of Daily Living in the Anglo-Saxon World, ed. Maren Clegg Hyer and Gale R. Owen-Crocker (Exeter, 2011, paperback edition Liverpool, 2013), 201–30, at 222–26. In Norse mythology (admittedly documented later) the boar features especially in association with the important god Freyr, both as a treasure (having been made by dwarves from a pigskin and gold) and a means of transport. The association of the boar figure on the Benty Grange, Derbyshire, helmet, its gilded studs imitative of bristles, with Freyr’s boar Gullinborsti (golden bristled) is made in Rupert Bruce-Mitford, Aspects of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology: Sutton Hoo and Other Discoveries (London, 1974), 238. Freyr’s sister Freyja was associated in Norse mythology with a boar called Hildisvini (battle swine). Boar tusk amulets found with women (as well as being found with men) may have been charms for fertility, since pigs are notoriously productive; however the practice of burying the dead with animals’ teeth apparently lessened in the seventh century; Kristopher Poole, “Engendering Debate: Animals and Identity in Anglo-Saxon England,” Medieval Archaeology 57 (2013) 61–82, at 68–69. From the seventh century images of boars are predominantly in masculine, military context.

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the same Ship Burial,44 which bear garnet boars on the terminals as well as cruciform, stepped cloisons, some of which depict crosses in their millefiori inlays, and, arguably, a Christian motif of a pinecone-shaped fountain from which springs the Fountain of Life and the four rivers of Paradise45; and the Benty Grange helmet from a seventh-century tumulus in what is now Derbyshire, with its boar crest and a silver cross, a Christian emblem, on the nose piece. At some time in its existence the large hanging bowl became associated with two smaller, dissimilar hanging bowls which were also chosen to be deposited

figure 10.6

44 45

The Benty Grange helmet. a) full helmet; b) X-ray of cross on nose-piece © museums sheffield

Bruce-Mitford, Sutton Hoo Ship Burial, 2:523–35. Michael King, “Besette swinlicum: Sources for the Iconography of the Sutton Hoo Shoulder Clasps,” in The Anglo-Saxons: The World through Their Eyes, ed. Gale R. Owen-Crocker and Brian Schneider (Oxford, 2014), 89–102. In this interpretation, the boars are drinking from the Fountain of Life and “in effect bowing down before Christ” (p. 100). Noël Adams, in contrast, sees the ancestry of these boars as “classical hunting imagery” evolved from “ancient steppe conventions” and suggests that the position of the Sutton Hoo boars may imply that they are dead animals; Noël Adams, “Rethinking the Sutton Hoo Shoulder Clasps and Armour,” in “Intelligible Beauty:” Recent Research on Byzantine Jewellery, ed. Chris Entwistle and Noël Adams (London, 2010), 83–112, at 88.

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figure 10.7

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Reconstruction of the Sutton Hoo shield © the british museum

in the Ship Burial of a king, a ceremonial and symbolic circumstance. However, in the context of that deposit it was not packed with the other hanging bowls, but “nested” inside a large bronze Coptic bowl, and itself used as a container for a small, stringed musical instrument in a beaver-skin bag. The metal of the hanging bowl must have been a contributory factor in the survival of the wood of the instrument, which has been identified as a round lyre and is quite a rare artefact, preserving it long beyond what its depositors might have expected, a secondary function for which the bowl was not designed. Another companion of the hanging bowl in the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial with a long pre-history is the shield.46 The lime-wood board no longer survives but the gold, garnet and iron fittings have been preserved. Possibly this shield was never anything but ceremonial – garnet is a brittle stone and not very hardy for the cut and thrust of battle – but might be seen as an example of conspicuous 46

Bruce-Mitford, Sutton Hoo Ship Burial, 2:1–137.

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consumption and high status. It was certainly old when it was buried, because several of the dragon heads round the rim are not the metal originals but gilded plaster replacements. These were fake repairs, a cosmetic job only. Shields are common enough in Anglo-Saxon male graves, but not this type. This shield, with its 91.4 centimeter diameter and heavy, decorated boss, is much larger and more elaborate than typical Anglo-Saxon shields, which generally do not have decorated plaques on their surfaces. This is a Swedish type of shield and in fact bears a closer resemblance to one found in Grave 12 at Vendel than to other shields from Anglo-Saxon England, even using some of the same dies as the shield in that Swedish burial. It was either an heirloom, brought from Scandinavia, or it was made in England in the Scandinavian tradition. The act of choosing it to include in the Ship Burial was probably a deliberate reference to the Wuffing dynasty’s Scandinavian heritage, in what was a symbolic, memorial deposit. 3

The Life Courses of Manuscripts

Original sources for students of early medieval history, language and literature are mostly in the form of manuscripts with leaves of parchment or vellum. Students learning Old English see a clean, edited and printed text, but Anglo-Saxon manuscripts are much more complex than that suggests. Scholars of literature are educated to consider textual transmission, which brought a particular poetic or prose text through various manifestations – sometimes known, sometimes supposed – until it reached the state in which it appears in a particular manuscript and from which editors were able to prepare printed text. If, however, the manuscript or the codex in which the text is contained is conceived as an object, then a different, if interrelated, story may be constructed. Starting from basics, chemistry can now identify the dna (deoxyribonucleic acid) of parchment obtained by non-obtrusive means, namely by rubbing the surface with a plastic eraser, which is, in fact, a routine method of cleaning manuscripts. In a pioneering piece of research, this technique was applied to The York Gospels, a Canterbury manuscript of c. ad 1000, which was probably taken to York by Archbishop Wulfstan c.1020.47 During the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, oaths taken by deans, archdeacons, canons and vicars choral were 47

Matthew D. Teasdale et al., “The York Gospels: A 1000-year Biological Palimpsest,” Royal Society Open Science 4 (2017), https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.170988.

figure 10.8

The York Gospels, c. AD 1000. York, York Minster, MS Add. 1, fol. 60v. Portrait of the Evangelist Mark; fol. 61r. The opening of St Mark’s Gospel © chapter of york; reproduced by kind permission

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added to the manuscript, and the book is still used in ecclesiastical ceremonies. Not only can the research identify the species of animal or animals from which the book was made (in this case, predominantly cattle for the eleventhcentury, sheep skin for the later material), the animals can be compared to modern breeds (Northern European types), and the gender of the animals and their approximate age at death can be established. In the case of The York Gospels the unexpected proportion of female calves was tentatively linked to the documented cattle plague in the British Isles between 986 and 988, when animals which would normally have been kept for breeding died and their skins were turned into vellum, resulting in good supplies of the material for years. The use of the less prestigious sheepskin for the later material was potentially explained by the fact that erasure is less successful on sheepskin than vellum, and it was therefore preferred for legal documents to avoid fraud. Further analysis also gave evidence about the later life of the book, by identifying which pages experienced the most human contact, being kissed and venerated, for example. The composition of scribes’ ink can be determined and individual scribal hands identified. A study of surviving Anglo-Saxon manuscripts from just 960 to 1100 has revealed 1,052 individual hands. 10 scribes actually sign themselves by name, and the identity of about 70 others can be deduced.48 Spelling variation can indicate regional differences in pronunciation and hence where scribes came from, if not where they worked (though the provenance of some manuscripts is known from other evidence). Paleographic study can identify stages and choices in the making of the book: the preparation of the pages, combination of them into quires, stitching together and finally binding, a process which itself might involve recycling old parchments as pastedowns inside the covers. In a remarkable piece of scholarly detective work, Gernot Wieland was able to identify the remains of a late sixth- or seventh-century text, in a manuscript which had been used in this way in the twelfth century and subsequently removed, surviving only as a mirror image in the glue.49 The making of a manuscript might continue for a very long time. The manuscript now known as British Library Harley 60350 is a Canterbury production which was begun in the second decade of the eleventh century as a copy of the 48 49 50

Donald Scragg, A Conspectus of Scribal Hands Writing English 960–1100 (Cambridge, 2012), Index of Names, 89. Research by Gernot R. Wieland, published in Gale R. Owen-Crocker and Maria Cesario, “Handling Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts,” in Working with Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts, ed. Gale R. Owen-Crocker (Exeter, 2009), 7–27, fig. 1.5 and caption, at 17. London, British Library, Harley 603, http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref =Harley_MS_603, accessed September 26, 2021. The manuscript is now incomplete.

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figure 10.9

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The Utrecht Psalter and the Harley Psalter. a) Utrecht, Universiteitsbibliotheek, Hs. 32, fol. 3v. By permission. b) London, British Library, Harley 603, fol. 3v. © the british library board

lay-out and illustrations of the ninth-century Carolingian Utrecht Psalter,51 but using a different text, a more up-to-date script, minuscule rather than rustic capitals, and color for the drawings. It may have been commissioned by Ælfric, archbishop of Canterbury, who died in 1005. It was an ambitious project, illustrating each Psalm literally with, eventually, a total of 112 illustrations, making the surviving manuscript what the Catalogue of the recent British Library Exhibition called “the greatest concentration [of colored line drawings] in 51

Now Utrecht, Universiteitsbibliotheek, Hs. 32, https://psalter.library.uu.nl/, accessed September 26, 2021.

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Anglo-Saxon art.”52 Some of the drawings of the Harley manuscript were first laid out using a stylus or lead point, and subsequently inked over; though Artist A, who executed the illustration shown at Fig. 10.9 (b) (right) apparently did not generally rely on under-drawing.53 The inking of the Canterbury manuscript was more complex than that of the Carolingian one; the Utrecht Psalter is entirely illustrated in light brown with additional touches of darker brown, but the Harley manuscript uses a variety of colors, which must have necessitated a less continuous, more piecemeal, approach to the inking-in process. Different Harley artists made different color choices. Initially the layout of the Utrecht Psalter was followed. Although individual scribes worked their stints sequentially, the book as a whole was not worked that way.54 Sections of the book were originally assigned to three, possibly four, different artists, one of them, Artist A (Fig. 10.9 (b)) beginning work before the scribe. Recognizing that the Caroline minuscule of the new manuscript took up less space than the rustic capitals of the Utrecht Psalter, Artist A ruled himself larger spaces for his illustrations and fewer lines for the scribe who was to copy the text. He appears to have then exploited the potential of the larger areas at his disposal, reorganizing the arrangement of his drawings while using a bold range of color, developing the landscape surrounding his figures, making more natural images (for example drawing specific types, rather than generalized birds), producing lively, inventive work while never losing sight of his Utrecht Psalter model.55 Two subsequent artists seem to have innovated rather than following the copy, but the last artists to work on the manuscript reverted to following the

52 53 54

55

K[athleen] D[oyle], “The Harley Psalter,” in Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War, ed. Claire Breay and Joanna Story (London, 2018), no. 38, p. 345. William Noel, The Harley Psalter, Cambridge Studies in Palaeography and Codicology 4 (Cambridge, 1996), 50. It was largely written by two scribes, one of them working in two phases, one (fols 1–27 and 50–7) illustrated by three/four artists, following the layout of the Utrecht Psalter, and the other (fols 58–73, the last two surviving quires) where the same scribe left a space for the picture (illustrated by later Artist F) before each Psalm without following Utrecht’s layout. A later scribe, now recognized as an elderly Eadui Basan, known from other manuscripts and named in the colophon to the so-called Eadui Gospels, wrote fols 28–49, perhaps replacing a section lost or damaged; Noel, Harley Psalter, 59–75, 212, identifies a third scribe, who wrote folios 50r–53v and part of 54r. This scribe alone followed the Gallican version of the Psalter used in the Utrecht Psalter. This scribe was also an illustrator. See also Francis Wormald, English Drawings of the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries (London, 1952), pp. 30 ff., no. 34, pls 10b–12b, 25b, 35a; Janet Backhouse, “The Making of the Harley Psalter,” British Library Journal 10 (1984): 97–113; J[anet] M. B[ackhouse], “The Harley Psalter,” in Backhouse, Turner, and Webster, Golden Age, no. 59, pp. 74–75. Noel, Harley Psalter, 49–59.

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figure 10.10 The Lindisfarne Gospels. London, British Library, Cotton Nero D. iv, fol. 34r, which includes the opening of The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5.1–10) © the british library board

Utrecht Psalter as to content (albeit in a later style).56 Illustration of this manuscript continued for more than a century after it was begun, thus longer than the life course of the person who initiated it and the scribes and artists who began it. Never intended as a simple facsimile, it evolved under the hands of different scribes and artists. It seems likely that it was used and enjoyed by generations of people, even though it was still in progress. 56

See note 54, above. The later artists are designated G (illustrating fols 28r and v) and H (illustrating fols 29r–35r) the latter probably twelfth-century.

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Some Latin manuscripts were given continuous interlinear glosses in English, in the case of the Lindisfarne Gospels57 (Fig. 10.10) several generations after the production of the manuscript. According to a tenth-century colophon written by Aldred, who had just glossed the Latin text in Old English, the book had been written and illuminated by Eadfrith, a seventh-century Bishop of Lindisfarne. Modern scholars may have ambivalent feelings towards Aldred, who arguably defaced this beautiful book by writing in it 250 years later. On the other hand, he made the text comprehensible to readers with little or no Latin, he left an invaluable record of tenth-century Northumbrian dialect, and preserved the monastic community’s own tradition about the making of the manuscript.

figure 10.11

57

Densely glossed text of Aldhelm. Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique, MS 1650, fol. 47v. by permission

London, British Library, Cotton Nero D.iv.

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Other manuscripts were glossed intermittently in ink or hard point in the margins and between the lines. Manuscripts of Aldhelm’s De Virginitate are a case in point. This typical folio (Fig. 10.11) from the Brussels manuscript of Aldhelm’s prose De Virginitate, which includes part of the story of the martyr St Victoria, was glossed in Latin and English by successive readers over a long period of time, showing how intensively it was used.58 A gloss above the top

figure 10.12 Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 41, p. 272 © the parker library, corpus christi college, cambridge 58

Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique, ms 1650. The glosses to all Aldhelm manuscripts are presented in Scott Gwara, ed., Aldhelmi Malemsbiriensis. Prosa de virginitate cum glosa Latina atqve Anglosaxonica, ccsl 124–124A, 2 vols. (Turnhout, 2001). Four

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line translates Latin calamitosum into Old English “hreowlice.” Another hand, or perhaps the same scribe writing at a different time with a finer pen, adds a crossed letter l, the abbreviation for Latin vel (‘or’), and another, more common Old English word, “earm” (meaning ‘miserable, wretched’).59 A different hand has expanded the Latin c̄sona melodia of lines 16–17 into Consona melodia in the margin, glossing it in Old English “gedremu[m] sange” and adding “gedremere” (‘melodious’, correctly reflecting the feminine gender of melodia, and rendering its ablative case with the Old English dative) as an interlinear gloss. What may be the same hand has glossed melodia in Latin with the abbreviation i. (id est, meaning ‘that is’) cantu; and what may be another hand has written “swinsunge” (‘melody’) slightly above, to the right of it. Several glosses render Latin with Latin such as i. dracones (‘dragon’) explaining the more obscure gyps[a]e on line 5; though earlier in the same line someone felt the need to explain further the lemma and gloss oraculis i. doctrinis by means of the Old English word “spæcu[m]” (‘speech’). Twice glossators note, in Latin, that a word is a proper noun (with abbreviations of proprium nomen): the saint’s name uictori[a]e at line 18 and the place capitolii at line 19, in the latter case squeezed in beneath an earlier gloss no longer legible. While many manuscripts gained glosses and notes pertaining to the main text, others were simply used as a source of precious parchment to write other things. Many of the generous margins left above, alongside, and below the text by the original (two) scribes of an eleventh-century manuscript containing the Old English version of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History were densely re-used without damaging the main text. Entirely different material, including the Old English poem Solomon and Saturn, charms, homilies, part of a martyrology, and rubrics to liturgy were copied into available space by another eleventhcentury hand at different times. The page illustrated in Fig. 10.12 has two additions: the first to be inserted was a charm, written in the left-hand margin. Subsequently a homily was copied into the manuscript. It began, with its own small decorative initial, in the side margin of p. 254 and continued neatly, in the side margins only, until p. 267, when the scribe economized by also writing two lines in the bottom margin. On the following page he began utilising the top margin as well, and was now cramming in three lines below the main textblock. This pattern continued until he reached p. 272, where the charm already

59

hands glossing the Brussels manuscript are identified, with the likelihood that the glossing was done at St Augustine’s, Canterbury, in the second half of the tenth century, at 1:99*–101* and the glosses to this part of the text are listed, with the Latin text en face, at 2:690, line 34 to 695, line 59. I am grateful to Professor Gwara for his advice. Cf. doe, s.vv. earm; hrēowlic. The former has ca. 650 occurrences in the Dictionary of Old English Corpus; the latter only has 19 occurrences.

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figure 10.13 Altar or processional cross from the Staffordshire Hoard. a) folded original; b) recent reconstruction © birmingham museums trust

occupied most of the side margin. The scribe continued the homily beneath it, effectively enclosing the charm within the homily, and proceeded with same dense use of the margins on subsequent pages. The homily was completed near the top of p. 280, with the words Ende Amen and a punctuation mark, and another text begun, economically, on the same line. The manuscript was given to Exeter Cathedral by Bishop Leofric (1050–72), as attested by a donation inscription; at least some of the additions are likely to have been made there.60 4

Conclusions

Of course, this is all about people. It was human beings who desired, owned, damaged, re-used, repaired, conserved and disposed of these artefacts, human expertise which designed, made and transformed them. There is a tendency today to display replicas or reconstructions that catch the artefact in its “butterfly moment:” but how interesting it is to wonder if it was a pagan hand that savagely crushed this cross found among the Staffordshire hoard (Fig. 10.13); or simply a dealer in scrap metal who folded it to pack away for recycling without any emotional involvement in its identity as a Christian object. 60

Donald Scragg, “Manuscript Sources of Old English Prose,” in Owen-Crocker, Working with Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts, 61–87 at 71–75 including the caption to plate 3.6; Scragg, Conspectus of Scribal Hands, 4. Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, ms 41, https://parker .stanford.edu/parker/catalog/qd527zm3425, accessed September 26, 2021.

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figure 10.14 The Ruthwell Cross, base of south face with added crucifixion scene © corpus of anglo-saxon stone sculpture, photographer t. middlemass

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Considering the biography of the object is a constantly reminder that we do not necessarily see artefacts the way the Anglo-Saxons did. We might wonder why, for example, anyone felt the need to add a crucifixion on the bottom of the south side of the eighth-century Ruthwell Cross a generation or two after it was made.61 For us, taught by detailed analysis from knowledgeable scholars, the stone cross itself, the carved vine scroll and the runic version of the

figure 10.15 The Beowulf Manuscript, showing change of scribe at lines 3–4. London, British Library, Cotton Vitellius A. xv, fol. 175v. © the british library board 61

The date of the Ruthwell crucifixion is discussed in Elizabeth Coatsworth, “The Iconography of the Crucifixion in Pre-Conquest Sculpture in England,” 2 vols. (PhD diss., Durham University, 1979), 2:188–96, and will be considered further in Dr Coatsworth’s forthcoming book, provisionally titled The Crucifixion Imagined in Anglo-Saxon England (Leiden).

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poem The Dream of the Rood are sufficient to tell us this object is all about the Crucifixion. Another eye, seeing panels depicting biblical scenes mostly from the life of Christ, must have felt a lack of the climactic moment of that life, and ordered the crucifixion to be carved on an available space at the bottom. The scribe who wrote down the first part of the poem Beowulf abandoned his task in the middle of a sentence, part way through a metrical unit, “þæt hit seadenmæl scyran moste,” which makes no sense if you are looking at a printed text, but is perfectly logical when one looks at the manuscript:62 the writer simply finished his line. He was a scribe, not a poet or a critic. Furthermore, he was copying what we consider the greatest poetic work of early England into this manuscript along with other texts that feature monsters.63 Today the poem is considered much more profound than simply a monster story, but that context made sense to the person or persons responsible for its transmission to us. There is not much evidence the Beowulf manuscript was read in Anglo-Saxon times. It is not much annotated, and no Anglo-Saxon writer known today overtly refers to the story, though the author of the Old English poem Andreas uses formulaic language in a way that modern scholars have considered demonstrates direct and deep knowledge of the Beowulf text.64 The manuscript survived the Dissolution of the monasteries, but was nearly lost in the 1731 fire at Ashburnham House, where the library of Sir Robert Cotton was housed. It was saved by being thrown out of the window into the yard, but was scorched by the fire, and the pages have been crumbling away ever since. Its leaves survive pasted and stitched into modern supports. Arguably, though, despite its deterioration, its “finest hour” came in the mid-twentieth century, when Old English, including Beowulf, was a standard component of University degrees in English in England and some European countries, and was a popular graduate option in America. The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial, discovered in 1939, became a kind of travelling companion to Beowulf, many of its objects effectively illustrating descriptions in the poem, making a very attractive combination for lectures throughout the second half of the twentieth century. Ultraviolet light and digitization tricks began to unlock mysteries in the manuscript – illegible 62 63

64

London, British Library, Cotton Vitellius A.xv, http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay .aspx?ref=cotton_ms_vitellius_a_xv, accessed September 26, 2021. The centrality of the monsters in Beowulf was established in J.R.R. Tolkien, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics,” Proceedings of the British Academy 22 (1936): 245–95. The poem is preceded in the Nowell Codex by three prose texts which include monstrous creatures and followed by Judith in which an Old Testament heroine defeats a human, but arguably monstrous, enemy. The interrelationships are discussed and the texts edited and translated in Andy Orchard, Pride and Prodigies: Studies in the Monsters of the Beowulf-Manuscript (Cambridge, 1995). Richard North and Michael Bintley, ed. and trans., Andreas: An Edition (Liverpool, 2016), 62–81.

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figure 10.16 The Exeter Book, Codex Exoniensis, fol. 8r, with water stain, drinking vessel stain and chopping marks © the dean and chapter of exeter cathedral

words became readable – but the era of computers has effectively rendered it redundant. The manuscript can now be viewed, in color, on screen, but the fragile artefact itself is rarely seen and hardly handled any more, which is sad because physical contact with the codex was a very special experience, not just because of the iconic nature of the poem itself, but also because of all the distinguished people whose hands had touched it before – from Sir Robert Cotton to Tolkien, and many more. The Exeter Book too, perhaps had its “finest hour” in the twentieth century. Probably the most famous non-illustrated Anglo-Saxon manuscript, it contains an eclectic collection of alliterative poetry, all of which has now been edited, translated and critiqued. As one of only four major manuscripts of Old English poetry, it is considered important to students of early medieval literature. Not so, it seems, in the later Middle Ages, when it was used as a drinks mat and a chopping board, accumulating a water stain and a damaging burn caused by placing a firebrand on it, in what Elaine Treharne has called “an act of cultural vandalism illustrative of the easy disdain with which books and their contents were viewed, many others – many thousands of others – being lost and dismembered during centuries of disregard.”65

65

Elaine Treharne, “Manuscript Sources of Old English Poetry,” in Owen-Crocker, Working with Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts, 89–111 at 94, also caption to plate 4.1.

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Given the pressure on human beings to get on with their own lives, it must have been easy to neglect the old book nobody could read anymore, taking up space on a shelf, or the old embroidered hanging folded up in a box against the wall. Given also the poverty of the average workman until very recently, it is remarkable that any precious metalwork survives – certainly a lot of what has been dug up over the centuries must have been melted down, its garnets or pearls sold for a quick profit. A thousand-year-old garment recovered from a peat bog, all wet and brown, must have been a disgusting sight. How fortunate it is that a few selfless and antiquarian-minded people have saved anything at all! We are surrounded by evidence of the ability of things to outlast their owners, yet even with relatively recent antiques, and jewelry handed down through families, the whole story of the objects is not always known. It is remarkable that there is as much information as there is about the biographies of surviving early medieval artefacts. What is more amazing is that science is constantly opening up new opportunities; there is certainly more evidence to come!

chapter 11

From Field to Feast: The Life (and Afterlife) Course of Cereal Crops in Early Medieval England Debby Banham The life course of cereal crops, unlike, for example, the human one, really is a cycle. In their end is their beginning: from the dead or dying plant arises new life, as the seed germinates and a new crop grows and ripens. In societies where cereals are the staple, their death also gives rise to human life, sustained by grain, notably in the form of bread, the “staff of life”. In a Christian culture, where bread, the ultimate product of the cereal life-cycle, stands for the living body of Christ, cereal crops would seem to be an obvious symbol of resurrection. Indeed, in the late nineteenth century, Sir James Frazer presented the death and resurrection of Christ as but one version of a widespread “corn king” mythology expressing the centrality to human life of the cycle of cereal cultivation.1 In early medieval England, however, the clearest example of such a cyclical conception of corn and bread comes from quite an ambiguously Christian context, the Æcerbot charm for unfruitful land.2 After an invocation asking for æcera wexendra and wridendra eacniendra and elniendra sceafta hehra scirra wæstma and þæra bradan berewæstma and þæra hwitan hwætewæstma and ealra eorþan wæstma,3 1 J. G. Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Comparative Religion, 2 vols. (London, 1890). Later editions relegate the treatment of Christianity to an appendix, or omit it altogether. 2 For the place of such apparently unorthodox, or even “pagan”, texts and ideas in the Christian culture of early medieval England, see Karen Louise Jolly, Popular Religion in Late Saxon England: Elf Charms in Context (Chapel Hill, 1996), and, more recently, “On the Margins of Orthodoxy: Devotional Formulas and Protective Prayers in Cambridge, Corpus Christi College ms 41,” in Signs on the Edge: Space, Text and Margin in Medieval Manuscripts, ed. Sarah Larratt Keefer and Rolf H. Bremmer Jr (Paris, 2007), 135–83. On “field remedies” in particular, see her The Community of St Cuthbert in the Late Tenth Century: The Chester-le-Street Additions to Durham Cathedral Library A. IV. 19 (Columbus, 2012). 3 Æcerbot charm, lines 53–58, ed. Elliot van Kirk Dobbie, The Anglo-Saxon Minor Poems, aspr 6 (London, 1942), 117–18. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are by the author. © Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2022 | doi:10.1163/9789004501867_013

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[fields growing and flourishing, increasing and reviving, tall stalks, bright crops, and the broad barley crops, and the white wheat crops, and all the fruits of the earth,] the instructions continue: Nim þonne ælces cynnes melo and abacæ man innewerdre handa bradnæ hlaf and gecned hine mid meolce and mid haligwætere and lecge under þa forman furh, Ful æcre fodres fira cinne beorhtblowende, þu gebletsod weorþ þæs haligan noman þe ðas heofon gesceop and ðas eorþan þe we on lifiaþ; se god, se þas grundas geworhte, geunne us growende gife, þæt us corna gehwylc cume to nytte.4 [Then take every kind of flour, and a loaf is to be baked the width of the inside of a hand and kneaded with milk and with holy water and laid under the first furrow. Then say: Field full of food for the human race, flowering brightly, may you be blessed in that holy name that created heaven and the earth that we live on; may the god who made these lands grant us a growing gift so that every kind of corn may come to our need.] This extended ritual text places the finished product, bread, in the ground before the seed is even sown, encapsulating the entire cycle in its attempt to ensure abundant nourishment for the following year. At least symbolically, the bread itself will be resurrected as a crop, and the inclusion of “every kind of flour” extends its influence beyond the wheat and barley named in 4 Æcerbot charm, lines 72–80, ed. van Kirk Dobbie, 117–18. For commentary on the charm, and references to some of the substantial body of relevant scholarship, see Debby Banham, “The Staff of Life: Cross and Blessings in Anglo-Saxon Cereal Production,” in Cross and Cruciform in the Anglo-Saxon World: Studies to honor the Memory of Timothy Reuter, ed. Sarah Larratt Keefer, Karen Louise Jolly and Catherine E. Karkov (Morgantown, 2010), 279–318.

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the invocation, which are also the most abundant cereals in archaeobotanical deposits from the period.5 It is difficult to know whether the charm is as idiosyncratic as it looks to modern readers, or whether it is the “tip of an iceberg”, representing a set of ideas widespread in early medieval England, if too far removed from Christian orthodoxy to surface elsewhere in the surviving written corpus. We can be sure, however, that in early medieval England, as in any preindustrial society, staple crops played a huge part in people’s lives.6 Until very recently, staples provided the vast majority of everyone’s diet, in terms of bulk, calories and many nutrients, and they still do in many parts of the world. More importantly for present purposes, the cultivation and processing of staples has also accounted for most of people’s time and work, governing the shape of their day and year down to the tiniest detail. The production of cereals dominated people’s lives, because their lives depended on it. Man cannot live by bread alone, but without bread, humans can scarcely live. 1

The Year in Early Medieval England: Learned Tradition and Working Lives

For the whole population of early medieval England, even those who did not work on the land, daily life varied enormously through the year with the lengthening and shortening of the days, and the changing weather. Neither “those who prayed”, nor the lay aristocracy, “those who fought”, were immune to environmental conditions, and, in a society that by modern standards was scarcely urbanized, even in the eleventh century, they must have been much more aware of the agricultural cycle around them than most people need to be today.7 For “those who worked”, the majority of the population, directly involved in producing food, working life changed from month to month, even week to week, in a more or less regular succession, repeated year after year. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, with its record of storms, hard winters and other meteorological phenomena, shows that this regular cycle was interrupted by exceptional weather, 5 See Mark McKerracher, Farming Transformed in Anglo-Saxon England: Agriculture in the Long Eighth Century (Oxford, 2018) and, for a more detailed examination of the archaeobotanical evidence, McKerracher, Anglo-Saxon Crops and Weeds: A Case Study in Quantitative Archaeology (Oxford, 2019). 6 “Staples” in this context includes starchy roots such as potatoes and yams, but in Europe the staples have always been cereals. 7 See Rosamond Faith, The Moral Economy of the Countryside: Anglo-Saxon to Anglo-Norman England (Cambridge, 2020), 102–103.

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probably as often in early medieval England as in its present-day successor. But these records also show that such happenings were unusual enough to warrant mention alongside “national events” like battles and the succession of kings and bishops.8 They were worth documenting because they threatened the production of food, and indeed the survival of the population, which depended on conditions each year being close enough to what was expected to provide a reliable growing season. Seasonal agricultural labor, like the feasts of the Church, offered a more tangible sense of chronological succession than the sequence of one, essentially similar, year after another. Working people, like ecclesiastics following the liturgical calendar, needed to be more aware of where they were in the year than which year they were in. The numbering of years according to the incarnational system may even have been unknown to the agricultural population. Cyclical time was more immediately apparent than linear time, and for most people, it was work in the fields, driven by the life-cycle of cereal crops, that embodied its changes. This repeating cycle was the background, the longue durée, against which the events of early medieval history, the actions of the elite, were played out. By tracing the outline of that cycle, as represented in written and pictorial sources from early medieval England, we can see how people’s working lives were dominated by cereal cultivation and the production of cereal foods, from plowing in January to harvesting and storing the crop, and on to its afterlife in the baking and consumption of bread, and how those long months of labor earned people the pleasure of eating, not to mention the satisfaction of survival, and ultimately the hope of salvation. Despite living in greater proximity to it than we do today, the literate classes of pre-Conquest England did not take much interest in the production of the food they ate: no agronomic treatises survive from England before the thirteenth century.9 Such a literary genre might in any case tell us little about how farming was practiced on the ground. We have to adopt a policy of “source pluralism”, as the Swedish historian Janken Myrdal puts it, gathering scraps of 8 For weather events in the Chronicle, see Marilina Cesario, “Romancing the Wind: The Role of Gales in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle,” Germanic Philology 5 (2014): 1–27. For a brief discussion of weather and climate more generally, especially as it affected farming, see Debby Banham and Rosamond Faith, Anglo-Saxon Farms and Farming (Oxford, 2014), 3–4. There is no evidence that anyone was aware of the long-term climate change that was in progress at the time. 9 For a brief outline of the development of this genre, see Debby Banham, “Agronomy,” in Routledge Medieval Encyclopedia Online, ed. Wim Blockmans and Regine Le Jan (London, forthcoming).

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information from texts whose subject was not agriculture.10 Fortunately, there are texts whose interests were related to farming, in particular the eleventhcentury estate management literature, which comprises the closely linked Rectitudines singularum personarum [The rights of different people] and Be gesceadwisan gerefan [On the prudent reeve],11 normally known as Gerefa for short, plus the ephemeral notes known as the Ely Farming Memoranda.12 Of these, the Ely Memoranda are less useful to us, being concerned mainly with assets and their value. The Gerefa, however, provides a list of seasonal tasks that the reeve must oversee, as well as tools he has to provide for various workers (see the Table for the seasonal tasks). The Rectitudines also includes information about cereal cultivation among the rectitudines [rights] (in most cases mainly obligations) of some of the singularum personarum [different people] it covers, many of whom are agricultural workers of one kind or another. The Gerefa divides the year into four seasons of three months each, in a pattern so familiar today that it scarcely occurs to us to ask where it comes from. It derives from the learned tradition represented by Bede’s De temporum ratione, which may be the Gerefa’s source. Bede tells us that the English “principaliter annum totum in duo tempora, hyemis videlicet et aestatis dispartiebant” [originally divided the whole year into two seasons, that is winter and summer], and that his ancestors allotted “sex illos menses quibus longiores noctibus dies sunt aestate […] sex reliquos hyemi” [to summer those six months in which the days are longer than the nights, the remaining six to winter].13 This must have been the important distinction for the computist, but for the working population, the difference between the growing season and the rest of the year must have been as obvious. “Summer” would begin with the first shoots of spring, and finish when the last crops were gathered in. In the winter there would be less work to do, because the weather was too bad for many tasks, and the long nights meant little could be accomplished each day. This contrast is 10 11

12 13

Janken Myrdal, “Source Pluralism and a Package of Methods: Medieval Tending of Livestock as an Example,” in Methods and the Medievalist: Current Approaches in Medieval Studies, ed. M. Lamberg et al. (Newcastle upon Tyne, 2008), 134–58. On the relationship between these texts, and their possible origins, see P. D. A. Harvey, “Rectitudines singularum personarum and Gerefa,” English Historical Review 426 (1993): 1–22. They are edited by Felix Liebermann, Die Gesetze der Angelsachsen (Halle, 1903–16), 1:444–53 (Rectitudines), 453–55 (Gerefa). Now edited with extensive commentary by Rory Naismith, “The Ely Memoranda and the Economy of the Late Anglo-Saxon Fenland,” Anglo-Saxon England 45 (2016): 333–77. Bede, De temporum ratione 15, ed. C. W. Jones, Opera didascalica, ccsl 123 B (Turnhout, 1977), 330–31. There is linguistic evidence to support Bede’s statement: Earl R. Anderson, “The Seasons of the Year in Old English,” Anglo-Saxon England 26 (1997): 231–63.

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exemplified in the poem Conflictus veris et hiemis [The Contest between Spring and Winter] attributed to Alcuin. Ver: Opto meus veniat cuculus, carissimus ales. omnibus iste solet fieri gratissimus hospes in tectis, modulans rutilo bona carmina rostro. Hiems: Tum glacialis Hiems respondit voce severa: non veniat cuculus, nigris sed dormiat antris. iste famem secum semper portare suescit. Ver: Opto meus veniat cuculus cum germine laeto, frigora depellat, Phoebo comes almus in aevum. Phoebus amat cuculum crescenti luce serena. Hiems: Non veniat cuculus, generat quia forte labores, proelia congeminat, requiem disiungit amatam, omnia disturbat; pelagi terraeque laborant. Ver: Quid tu, tarda Hiems, cuculo convitia cantas? qui torpore gravi tenebrosis tectus in antris post epulas Veneris, post stulti pocula Bacchi.14 [Spring: I wish my cuckoo would come, dearest bird; He’s always a most welcome guest in all The houses, picking out lovely songs with his shining beak. 14

Alcuin, Conflictus veris et hiemis, lines 16–30, ed. Ernst Dümmler, Poetae Latini aevi Carolini, mgh Poetae 1 (Berlin, 1881), 270–72. For the attribution to Alcuin, see John I. McEnerney, “Alcuin, Carmen 58,” Mitellateinisches Jahrbuch 16 (1981): 35–42, and, for an alternative view, Carmen Castillo, “La composición del Conflictus veris et hiemis atribuido a Alcuino,” Cuadernos de Filología Clásica 5 (1973): 53–61. See also Kurt Smolak, “Alkuin von York, Arn von Salzburg und der ‘Kuckuck’,” Wiener humanistische Blätter 56 (2015): 55–82, and for the Virgilian references, Fabian Zogg, “Palaemon and Daphnis in a Medieval Poem: The Vergilian Challenge of the Conflictus veris et hiemis,” Vergilius 63 (2017): 125–40.

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Winter: Then icy Winter answered in a harsh voice: Don’t let the cuckoo come, let him sleep in the black caves; He always brings hunger with him. Spring: I wish my cuckoo would come with the happy seed, Drive away the cold, dear companion to the Sun though the ages. Phoebus loves the cuckoo as the peaceful light grows. Winter: Don’t let the cuckoo come, for he makes work, most like, Doubles troubles, shatters lovely rest; He upsets everything; the oceans and the lands labor. Spring: Why do you chant blame at the cuckoo, sluggish Winter? You, sunk in heavy torpor in shadowy caves, After the feasts of Venus, the draughts of dopy Bacchus.] In the Virgilian tradition inherited by the poet, winter was a time of rest, as well as partying, when food supplies should still be holding up, even though it was dark and cold; spring brought good weather, but for that very reason, hard work, and the hungry gap before the new season’s crops came in. The cuckoo could hardly be blamed for this, but it did announce the change. Although the ideas in the poem belonged to a learned culture unlikely to have reached a wide audience in early medieval England, the contrast between the seasons would have been only too familiar to the agricultural population. Having said that the English originally had only two seasons, Bede goes on to divide the year into four seasons of three months each. Bede derived this schema in the first instance from Isidore of Seville, but ultimately from an Aristotelian cosmology that saw the whole world through a series of fourpart structures: elements, humors, qualities, and so on.15 The months that Bede allots to each season make more sense in the Mediterranean than in the northern regions where Bede spent his life: spring begins in February, when it is still cold and wet in Britain, and little is growing. Summer begins in May, perhaps slightly more realistically for England, but autumn in August, when summer 15

For Bede’s sources, and his changing attitude to Isidore, see Bede, The Reckoning of Time, trans. Faith Wallis (Liverpool, 2004), lxxii–lxxxv.

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weather can at least be hoped for in England, and winter in November (see the Table for details). For computistical purposes, this scheme presented no problems, but when applied to the agricultural cycle, some adjustments were necessary, as we shall see. The agricultural cycle features prominently in two sets of calendar illustrations from pre-Conquest England, the virtually identical “labors of the months” in two eleventh-century manuscripts in the British Library, Cotton Tiberius B.v and Julius A.vi.16 Images of cereal cultivation dominate a series of illustrations attached to a standard liturgical calendar. Each page gives the feasts for the month, computistical information, the sign of the zodiac, and a “labor” (see the Table for these last). No attempt is made to divide these between regular seasons, but some of the agricultural tasks seem out of place, probably due to copying errors by one or both artists. The Tiberius manuscript, the “scientific miscellany” that also contains the famous world map, probably took its calendar pictures from Julius, a computistical compilation, or the two may have shared an exemplar (see further below). Our main sources for the agricultural calendar of early medieval England are thus broadly contemporary, dating from late in our period. In many ways this is unproblematic: most aspects of the eleventh-century environment were established by the fifth; even climate change was slow. Agriculture was not static over six centuries, however; crops, equipment and techniques all developed as the period progressed. Archaeology provides information about some of these changes, and clues to others emerge from written sources as well. These include a quite miscellaneous group of texts, including laws and hagiography, as well as the works of the educators Bede, Ælfric and Byrhtferth. It is hard to say when the working population of early medieval England thought the year began. They might have said it had no beginning or end, but they would have recognized the hiatus of midwinter. This is where the calendars begin, like Bede, starting with January, following both classical and liturgical tradition. The Gerefa takes a different approach, beginning its farming year with the tasks for “summer”, May, June and July. This follows no known model, and seems not to have any practical basis. It seems more convenient, if more conventional, to ignore the Gerefa’s starting point and follow the calendars and Bede. 16

Images of both manuscripts are available on the British Library website. For a thorough discussion of the manuscripts and their relationship, see Patrick McGurk et al., ed., An Eleventh-Century Anglo-Saxon Illustrated Miscellany: British Library Cotton Tiberius B.v Part I, Together with Leaves from British Library Cotton Nero D.ii (Copenhagen, 1983).

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Table 11.1 The farming year in early medieval England. Activities for each month according to calendar illustrations, Old English months according to Bede De temporum ratione (with modern English equivalents in brackets), seasonal information according to Bede, and seasons and seasonal tasks according to Gerefa. References to the life course of cereal crops are in bold type

Month and task Old English name Seasons from in calendars of month from Bede Bede

Seasons and tasks in Gerefa

January plow and sow February prune vines March dig, till and sow April feast

winter tasks continue (see below)

Giuli (Yule) Solmonath (month of cakes) Hrethmonath (harsh month) Eosturmonath (beginning month) Thrimilchi (three milkings) Litha (gentle)

In spring plow and graft, sow beans, set up a vineyard, cut the wild-animal hedge, and quickly after that, if the weather allows, plant madder, sow linseed, and woad seed as well, plant a garden, and many things May tend sheep Summer In summer, in May and June and July, begins, 9 or 24 one[?] can fallow, take out manure, June harvest or Solstice 24 see to the fold hurdles, shear sheep, cut wood make shelters, mend things, fence, July cut wood or Litha build, gather firewood, weed, fold cut hay [livestock, probably sheep], make a fishweir and a mill August cut hay Weodmonath (weed Autumn In autumn harvest, in August and or harvest month) begins, 7 or 23 September and October, cut hay, plant September feed Halegmonath (holy Equinox 24 out woad, gather in many crops, thatch, pigs and hunt month) roof, and improve folds, deal with the October hawk Winterfilleth (winter cattle sheds and sties as well, before full moon) winter arrives too harshly, and also get on with the plowing enthusiastically November warm Blotmonath (month Winter begins, In winter plow, and in hard frosts split self and smith of sacrifice) 7 or 23 timber. Set up an orchard, and carry Giuli Solstice 25 December out many indoor tasks, thresh, split thresh wood, stall cattle, sty pigs. Make a kiln at the threshing floor, an oven and an oast, and many things must be done about the place, and also a hen roost Spring begins, 7 or 22 Equinox 21 or 25

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January

The arable tasks depicted in the calendar illustrations start right at the beginning, with the breaking of the land with the plow, which they place at the beginning of the year, in January (folio 3r in both manuscripts).17 As well as making logical sense, this corresponds with later English custom: the Monday after the Sunday after Twelfth Night was Plough Monday, when the young men took the plow round the village collecting money, before resuming work on the Tuesday.18 Ronald Hutton shows that none of these customs can be traced back beyond the early fifteenth century, but points out that this may be for lack of recording.19 It is unlikely that the return to work went unmarked by some ceremonial in the early Middle Ages, and it is possible that this centred on the vital task of plowing.20 The Gerefa, roughly contemporary with the calendar illustrations, also gives prominence to plowing, placing it first among its winter tasks.21 This is both realistic, in that plowing for spring crops would begin in the new year, and an indication of the importance of this task, which, as we shall see, in fact occupied people’s time in all seasons.22 The Gerefa’s complete list of winter tasks is as follows: “On wintra erian 7 in miclum gefyrstum timber cleofan. Orceard ræran 7 mænige inweorc wyrcean, ðerhsan, wudu cleofan, hryðeran styllan, swyn stygian. On odene cylne macian, ofn 7 aste, 7 fela ðinga sceal to tune, ge eac henna hrost.” [In winter plow, and in hard frosts split timber. Set up an orchard, and carry out many indoor tasks, thresh, split wood, stall cattle, sty pigs. Make a kiln at the threshing floor, an oven and an oast, and many things must be done about the place, and also a 17

18

19 20 21 22

For further discussion of these images as evidence for cereal cultivation, see Banham and Faith, Anglo-Saxon Farms, 41–65. For the development of arable farming in pre-Conquest England, see now McKerracher, Farming Transformed. A discussion of the calendar illustrations from an art-historical point of view is Catherine E. Karkov, “Calendar Illustrations in Anglo-Saxon England: Realities and Fictions of the Anglo-Saxon Landscape,” in The Landscape Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Nicholas J. Higham and Martin J. Ryan (Woodbridge, 2010), 157–67. See Steve Roud, The English Year: A Month-by-Month Guide to the Nation’s Customs and Festivals, from May Day to Mischief Night (London, 2006), 19–24, and for earlier versions of the customs, Ronald Hutton, The Rise and Fall of Merry England: The Ritual Year, 1400–1700 (Oxford, 1994), 16–17 . Hutton, Rise and Fall, 50. For rituals surrounding cereal production in early medieval England, see Banham, “Staff of Life.” Gerefa 5, ed. Liebermann, 1:453. Indeed, plowing was the basic currency in which dependent peasants fulfilled their obligations to their lords: see Rosamond Faith, The English Peasantry and the Growth of Lordship (London, 1997), 77.

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hen roost].23 Apart from plowing, threshing is the main work related to cereal production here, along with the building of structures at the threshing floor. These will be discussed when we reach the end of the year, following the sequence of the calendar illustrations, and indeed the life cycle of the crops. The calendar pictures also show the plow being followed by someone sowing seed. It makes sense to sow into the fresh furrow, but not in January in Britain. Nothing would grow, even in these times of global warming. In the eleventh century, the climate was moving into the “Medieval Warm Period”, but temperatures did not reach current levels, so January would be an even worse time for sowing than it is now.24 The depiction of the sower following the plow is therefore probably more symbolic than strictly realistic. These illustrations may derive from a continental European tradition, where sowing might follow directly upon plowing in the autumn, rather than January. They bear a strong resemblance to an illustration to Psalm 106 in the ninth-century Stuttgart Psalter from St. Germain-des-Prés (Stuttgart, Württembergische Landesbibliothek, Cod. bibl. fol. 23, folio 124v).25 This has the same horizontal format as the calendar pictures, with the oxen, plow and plowman following each other across the page. Where the calendar illustrations have a figure sowing, the Psalter has a large basket, with what is probably seed visible inside. The image illustrates the lines “Et collocavit illic esurientes, et constituerunt civitatem habitationis: et seminaverunt agros et plantaverunt vineas, et fecerunt fructum nativitatis” [And there he maketh the hungry to dwell, that they may prepare a city for habitation; and sow the fields, and plant vineyards, which may yield fruits of increase], so sowing is clearly the point of the picture, even though most of it is occupied by plowing. If our calendar images derived from the tradition represented by the Stuttgart illustration, that would explain the presence of an out-of-season sower. By showing the sower following the plow, the calendar pictures also telescope the preparation of the land. Almost certainly, some further cultivations would take place, to produce a tilth favorable to the germination and growth of the cereals. There is no illustration of harrowing, and in fact, there are practically no references at all to harrowing from pre-Conquest England.26 It is not among the Gerefa’s seasonal tasks, and there is no harrower to follow 23 24 25 26

Gerefa 5–5.3, ed. Liebermann, 1:453. Translations are the author’s own. See M. K. Hughes and H. F. Diaz, “Was There a ‘Medieval Warm Period’, and if so, Where and When?” Climatic Change 26 (1994): 109–42. A digital image of this folio can be seen on the Landesbibliothek website at http:// digital.wlb-stuttgart.de/sammlungen/sammlungsliste/werksansicht/?no_cache=1&tx _dlf%5Bid%5D=1343&tx_dlf%5Bpage%5D=256. For what little evidence there is, see Banham and Faith, Anglo-Saxon Farms, 58–59.

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the ploughman who “nos omnes pascit” [feeds us all] in Ælfric’s Colloquy.27 In some ways this is not surprising: harrowing was much less labor-intensive than ploughing, required less skill and care, and might be done at almost any time of year. It can also be done without special equipment, using for example a bundle of brushwood. Its omission nevertheless gives the impression that our sources, for all they recognize the importance of cereal production, are not especially concerned with its practical details. 3

February

In February, we are in spring, as far as the Gerefa is concerned: the text lists summer tasks to be done “maio 7 iun. 7 iulio” [in May and June and July],28 and autumn ones “agusto . 7 septembri.7 octobri” [in August and September and October],29 leaving November to January for winter and February to April for spring. As we have seen, the Gerefa probably got this division of the year from Bede, who in turn got it from Isidore and the Mediterranean tradition. It seems counter-intuitive in northern climes: nobody would expect spring weather in February in Britain, but if winter ends with January, February must be spring (see Table). That was not Bede’s problem: he was not concerned with agriculture, but with orthodoxy and authority. The problem arises in the Gerefa, where the compiler tries to fit the realities of farming in England into the classical scheme of four three-month seasons. Gerefa’s tasks for spring are as follows: “On længene eregian 7 impian, beana sawan, wingeard settan, dician, deorhege heawan, 7 raðe æfter ðam, gif hit mot gewiderian, mederan settan, linsed sawan, wadsæd eac swa, wyrtun plantian, 7 fela ðinga” [In spring plow and graft, sow beans, set up a vineyard, cut the wild-animal hedge, and quickly after that, if the weather allows, plant madder, sow linseed, and woad seed as well, plant a garden, and many things].30 The compiler’s comment, “gif hit mot gewiderian,” suggests some reservations about this scheme. Was it really going to be possible to plant madder, or sow linseed? The calendar pictures show people working with vines for February, and it may be that the tasks listed before the remark about the weather are considered realistic for February, while those following would have to wait for spring proper. Plowing can be done at any time of year. 27 28 29 30

Ælfric, Colloquy, ed. G. N. Garmonsway (Exeter, 1991), 39. Gerefa 3, ed. Liebermann, 1:453. Gerefa 4, ed. Liebermann, 1:453. Gerefa 6, ed. Liebermann, 1:454.

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February might still be the winter in terms of weather, but overwintered crops would be beginning to grow, and it was probably spring in the sense that now the hard work really got going. From Candlemas, the 2nd, the Rectitudines tell us that the gebur (a low-ranking peasant) had to work three days a week for the lord, instead of two.31 The daylight hours also begin to lengthen noticeably in February, so each of those days would be longer, with time for more work. February is the only month whose Old English name, in Bede’s list, links it to cereal production. He says it was called Solmonath, which he interprets as “mensis placentarum” [month of cakes], because, according to him, the pre-Christian English sacrificed cakes to their deities in February. Some caution should probably be exercised about this definition, since an oe word sol, “cake”, does not seem to exist outside this context. It is possible, of course, that Bede made a mistake, although it is hard to explain where he would have got the idea that sol meant placenta, if not from the same native tradition as the rest of his information about the Old English months. It may be that these names, which Bede regards as archaic, arose among people for whom cereals were not yet a staple crop, and for whom cakes or other foodstuffs made from them might therefore be quite special, suitable for offerings to the divine, but not for everyday human consumption.32 It might be tempting to link such ceremonial with the later Candlemas, but there is no evidence for such a connection, beyond the general need for cheer in such a bleak month. 4

March

The calendar pictures for March show men digging, while others rake and sow. At the present day, there is a clear distinction between agricultural fields, tilled with the plow, and gardens, dug with a spade. In the Middle Ages, this distinction probably applied to large-scale agricultural operations run on behalf of landlords, but it seems less likely that it held good for peasants cultivating their own land. Indeed, it seems likely that owning a plow, or even part-ownership, was beyond the reach of most of the population. In the early British and Irish Church, there was controversy over whether those who had taken a vow of poverty ought to own a plow and plow team, rather than working the land 31 32

Rectitudines 4, ed. Liebermann, 1:446. For a comparable stage of agricultural and cultural development in Scandinavia, see Torun Zachrisson, “Rotary Querns and Bread: A Social History of Iron Age Sweden,” AmS-Skrifter 24 (2014): 181–91, and for later manifestations of such “specialness” in England, Martha Bayless, “The Long Life of Tiny Bread,” Folklore 130.4 (2019): 352–72.

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physically themselves. In Ireland, St Mo Chuta allowed no domestic animals on his monastery’s lands, and his monks had to till the soil with spades, but St Finán considered that this brought shame upon them.33 In Britain, St David was also of the do-it-yourself school of thought, requiring his monks to work the land without the help of plow beasts.34 Gildas, however, wrote that livestock and equipment “minus laedent habentes, si cum humilitate et patientia, quam aratra trahentes et suffossoria figentes terrae cum praesumptione et superbia” [harm their owners less, if [possessed] with humility and patience, than [their attitude does] those who pull plows and push spades into the ground in presumption and pride].35 He evidently felt it necessary to argue against a prevalent view that associated ownership of traction animals, at least, with affluence. Recent work by Alexandra Sapoznik and Janken Myrdal has shown that many peasants in later medieval England had no plow of their own, or even a share in one, and must therefore have dug their own land with spades, even though they plowed for their lords.36 For early medieval England, we have neither the records that Myrdal and Sapoznik used, nor stories of ecclesiastics taking as extreme a position as David or Mo Chuta. Nevertheless, this comparative evidence suggests that the men shown digging in the calendar illustrations for March could very well be preparing the ground for cereals, like those with plows in January. The landscape in which they work looks very similar in both illustrations, and the seed being scattered is indistinguishable. There is no reason to suppose that this represents a garden and only the other an arable field. March can still be a winter month in Britain, but the combination of sowing with digging at this point in the year is certainly more realistic than with plowing in January, and March is now the traditional month for sowing spring corn. This tradition probably originated before the Norman Conquest, but this is impossible to establish from written sources. The sowing of cereals is a task strikingly missing from the Gerefa’s otherwise comprehensive lists of seasonal work. Clearly this is a major omission: seed-time is a nodal point in the year, 33 34 35 36

Fergus Kelly, Early Irish Farming: A Study Based Mainly on the Law-Texts of the 7th and 8th Centuries AD (Dublin, 1997), 454. This information is preserved in the ninth-century Life by Rhigyfarch, but is likely to derive from an earlier source: David N. Dumville, St David of Wales (Cambridge, 2001), 12–14. Gildas, Letters, fragment 4, ed. Michael Winterbottom, Gildas. The Ruin of Britain and Other Documents (Chichester, 1978), 144, translation adapted from Winterbottom’s (81). See Janken Myrdal and Alexandra Sapoznik, “Spade Cultivation and Intensification of Land Use, 1000–1300: Written Sources, Archaeology and Images,” in Agrarian Technology in the Medieval Landscape, ed. Jan Klápště (Turnhout, 2016), 203–23.

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whose variations affect the timing of every other task in the calendar: cereals sown in autumn are ready for harvest before spring-sown crops, but require plowing to be done as soon as the previous year’s harvest is over, whereas plowing for spring corn can be spread throughout the winter.37 All cereal crops were originally sown in the autumn in their south-west Asian homelands, where the summers are too hot for them, but spring sowing may be the innovation that allowed cereal cultivation to move into northern Europe, where the cold winter was the limiting factor.38 Recent archaeobotanical work suggests that in England they were all being sown in the spring as late as the ninth century.39 There is no sign of autumn sowing in Bede’s well-known story of St Cuthbert, where the saint receives divine assistance in growing cereals on Farne Island. He had originally sown wheat in the spring, but no crop had appeared by midsummer. He then sowed barley, and “Allatumque ordeum dum ultra omne tempus serendi, ultra omnem spem fructificandi terrae commendaret, mox abundanter exortum fecit fructum copiosum” [and while he entrusted the barley that was brought to the soil past all time for sowing, past all hope of fruitfulness, soon, springing up abundantly, it produced a plentiful crop].40 Even without help from above, barley is a tougher, quicker growing crop than wheat, making it more suitable for the windswept conditions on Farne, and for late sowing. Changes in sowing times may already have been in progress during Cuthbert’s lifetime, but they had probably not progressed very far. In particular, they undoubtedly began in the south, where winters were not so harsh, and winter cereals would grow more easily. Northumbrians may still have been sowing all their cereals in the spring long after Cuthbert’s time. If spring sowing first made cereal cultivation possible in Britain, autumn sowing would have to wait for the development of hardy varieties that could survive the cold and wet, but by the thirteenth century, at least, cereal crops were regularly divided into spring corn, oats and barley, and winter corn, 37 38 39

40

For the extremely limited time available for autumn plowing on some soils, see Tom Williamson, Shaping Medieval Landscapes: Settlement, Society, Environment (Macclesfield, 2003), 145–47. See Angela Kreuz, “Archaeobotanical Perspectives on the Beginning of Agriculture North of the Alps,” in The Origins and Spread of Domestic Plants in Southwest Asia and Europe, ed. Sue Colledge and James Conolly (London, 2007), 259–94, esp. 269–74. Mark McKerracher, paper delivered at the McDonald Institute, University of Cambridge, 8 November 2019, reporting the work of the “Feeding the Anglo-Saxons” (FeedSax) project led by Professor Helena Hamerow at Oxford. See now New Perspectives on the Medieval “Agricultural Revolution”: Crop, Stock and Furrow, ed. Mark McKerracher and Helena Hamerow (Liverpool, forthcoming). Bede, Life of St Cuthbert, ed. and trans. Bertram Colgrave, Two Lives of St Cuthbert: A Life by an Anonymous Monk of Lindisfarne and Bede’s Prose Life (Cambridge, 1940), 220.

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sown in the autumn, comprising wheat and rye.41 The latter, with their longer growing season, are more productive, and staggering the times of sowing and harvesting would also allow more crops to be grown by the same labor force, if there was plenty of land to grow them on. Introducing winter crops would therefore expand cereal production overall and allow the human population to increase. The population of England was probably growing in the tenth and eleventh centuries, as towns and trade expanded, and the climate was also improving, making winter crops a realistic proposition in more areas of the country.42 By the time the calendar illustrations and the Gerefa were produced in the eleventh century, the division into spring and winter corn may have been an established feature of the agricultural cycle, but their silence on this crucial issue may indicate that this was not yet true across the whole of England. As the Rectitudines reminds us, “Landlaga syn mistlice” [Local customs are various].43 5

April

In April, spring sowing would continue, but the calendars show feasting, food being consumed, rather than produced. Feasting, we might think, should belong to winter, when Bacchus and Venus reign, rather than hardworking spring. Indeed, Winter complains that the cuckoo brings hunger, as well as work. Later “labors of the months” cycles do show feasting in the winter, so it may be that this “labor” is out of order in these early versions. Alternatively, the Easter feast may be intended, and the conventional order may be a later development. Even “those who work” might expect a respite from their labors at Easter time, as King Alfred allowed a whole week before and after the feast as rest days in his law code.44 We may hope they had some celebratory food during that fortnight, even if cereals were already in short supply. 41 42

43 44

See for example D. J. Stone, “The Consumption of Field Crops in Later Medieval England,” in Food in Medieval England: Diet and Nutrition, ed. C. M. Woolgar, D. Serjeantson and T. Waldron (Oxford, 2006), 11–26, table 2.1. For earlier thinking on the relationships between these processes, see Debby Banham, “‘In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread’: Cereals and Cereal Production in the Anglo-Saxon Landscape,” in Higham and Ryan, Landscape Archaeology, 175–92. On the growth of the English economy as a whole before the Norman Conquest, see Peter Sawyer, The Wealth of Anglo-Saxon England, based on the Ford Lectures delivered in the University of Oxford in Hilary Term 1993 (Oxford, 2013). Rectitudines 21, ed. Liebermann, 1:453. Alfred 43, ed. Liebermann, Gesetze, i:48.

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May

According to the Gerefa, May is the beginning of summer: “Me mæig in maio 7 iun. 7 iulio on sumera fealgian, myxendincgan ut dragan, lochyrdla tilian, sceap scyran, bytlian, boteatan, tynan, tymbrian, wudian, weodian, faldian, fiscwer 7 mylne macian.” [In summer, in May and June and July, one[?] can fallow, take out manure, see to the fold hurdles, shear sheep, make shelters, mend things, fence, build, gather firewood, weed, fold [livestock, probably sheep], make a fishweir and a mill].45 Of these tasks, several, in addition to building a mill, are related to cereal production, although the connection may not be immediately apparent: fallowing, taking out manure, weeding, and folding sheep. To take these operations in order: to fallow is essentially to do nothing; not to plant a crop in a field, but let it rest. But the verb here probably means to plow the fallows. All fields not currently fallow would have crops growing in them by now, so the plow(s) would be available for this purpose: this is the only season in which plowing, in preparation for planting, is not enjoined by the Gerefa. Weeds would be growing apace, so ploughing at this point would cut them down in their prime. Weeding is also prescribed for the summer, not surprisingly. The calendar illustrations are rather sketchy on the agricultural operations that followed sowing, and show no weeding. In a good year, this may be realistic: cereals grow very thickly and can crowd out the weeds. Medieval cereals were taller than modern ones, too, and overshadowed the weeds more effectively.46 But in a bad year, or even a moderate one, weeding would have been necessary. Birds would always have to be kept off the ripening corn, too, but neither the Gerefa nor the calendar illustrations deal with this issue, either. That this was a familiar problem is clear from the various miracles where saints persuade birds to leave crops alone, such as the episodes concerning the depredations of wild geese in the eleventh-century vitae of Saints Mildburh and Wærburh.47 The only pre-Conquest illustration of bird-scaring comes from the Old English Hexateuch, where the young Abraham uses his sling to keep birds off the carcasses of sacrificed animals.48 A similar figure in the lower border of the Bayeux Tapestry accompanies scenes of plowing, sowing and harrowing, and must therefore be protecting the arable crops. It may be that equivalent 45 46 47 48

Gerefa 3, ed. Liebermann, 1:453. For some experimental work on this, see Banham and Faith, Anglo-Saxon Farms, 59–60. The Life of Wærburh is edited by Rosalind C. Love in Goscelin of St Bertin, the Hagiography of the Female Saints of Ely (Oxford, 2004). I should like to thank Professor Love for discussing these miracles with me. London, British Library, Cotton Claudius B.iv, fol. 26v; Banham and Faith, Anglo-Saxon Farms, fig. 3.8.

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pre-Conquest images did once exist, but bird-scaring seems not to have been a popular subject for illustration. The absence of both weeding and bird-scaring from the calendars may be due to the fact that they show exclusively adult male workers, whereas these tasks have traditionally been done by women and children.49 The Rectitudines, too, deals mainly with the rights and responsibilities of men, while the Gerefa is silent on the gender or age of its workers. Alternatively, it may simply be that tasks that continued throughout year did not fit easily into a calendrical structure. Manuring is a task that probably went along with plowing, or on some soils preceded it. It is not shown in the calendar illustrations (at least as far as one can tell), but the Gerefa refers to taking out manure as a summer task. This would have two purposes: to clean the animal housing, probably vacated by livestock now grazing in the open, and to fertilize the fields. In the summer these would be the fallow ones, where the manure could be plowed in with the weeds. But the manure could also be stacked for future use, and plowed in during the rest of the year, as the land was prepared for sowing. Either way, the dung would need to rot down before the seed was sown, as fresh manure would “scorch” the emerging shoots. Another operation that would fertilize the soil was folding. To “fold” animals, usually sheep, is to keep them in temporary structures that can be moved around the fields, so that they can eat up the weeds and their manure is distributed across the land.50 The calendar pictures show shepherds with sheep for May, although there is no sign of any folds. According to the Rectitudines, one of the obligations of the gebur, a fairly low-status peasant, with quite heavy obligations, is to sleep at the lord’s fold, in rotation with other geburs, from Martinmas (11 November) until Easter,51 so it looks as if some sheep, at least, might be kept in folds all year round. The shepherd was entitled to his flock’s dung during the twelve nights of the midwinter holiday, presumably by folding them on his own land over Christmas, rather than his lord’s.52 Like taking out the manure, folding is a task that, while it immediately concerns livestock, is in 49

50 51 52

For the latter end of this tradition, see for example Arthur Randell, Fenland Memories, ed. Enid Porter (London, 1969), 29–30, or Ronald Blythe, Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village (London, 1969), 39, and for earlier stages, Thomas Tusser, Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry (1557), May and September, ed. Geoffrey Grigson (Oxford, 1984), 34 and 105, and illustrations in the Luttrell Psalter, London, British Library, Additional ms 42130, ?East of England, s. xiv 1, fols 171v and 172r (images on the British Library website). Apologies to readers who do not need this explanation, but I have mystified many students by referring to farmers folding their animals. Rectitudines 4.1a, ed. Liebermann, 1:447. Rectitudines 14, ed. Liebermann, 1:451.

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fact part of crop production, showing how all aspects of farming are integrated, and support each other, in traditional regimes. 7

June

In England, June is the traditional time for haymaking, the most important event in the agricultural year apart from the cereal harvest. This is another of those tasks that is more closely linked to cereal cultivation than it appears, since the development of hay meadows was almost certainly driven by the needs of plow oxen as cereal production expanded.53 However, neither of the calendars shows haymaking for June. Tiberius shows harvesting, while Julius shows felling trees. Something is clearly amiss with the manuscripts here: not only do the two differ, but June is too early to harvest cereals in England, even at the present day, when plant breeders have spent hundreds of years making crops ripen earlier. Neither manuscript seems to have the major summer tasks in a “correct” order for England. The Gerefa is no help to us here, either, assigning haymaking to “autumn” (see below). 8

July

Again, the calendar illustrations seem out of order for July. Julius has haymaking, while Tiberius has wood-cutting. July might be correct for haymaking in northern England, or even in the south in a late season, but the presence of wood-cutting seems anomalous. It would certainly be easier in warm dry weather, but could at a pinch be done at any time. It seems likely that one artist, or possibly both, turned over two pages in their exemplar, and then turned back without noticing before completing the cycle.54 Of the two, the order in Julius seems more plausible, but the discrepancy has to make us cautious about using either series as evidence for the sequence of work as in fact undertaken.

53

54

See Helena Hamerow, Rural Settlements and Society in Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford, 2012), 148–9. The locus classicus for early hay-meadow development is Yarnton, Oxfordshire: Gill Hey et al., Yarnton: Saxon and Medieval Settlement and Landscape. Results of Excavations 1990–96 (Oxford, 2004), 49 et passim. For a detailed discussion of the disarrangement of the illustrations, see Patrick McGurk’s introduction to McGurk et al., Eleventh-Century Anglo-Saxon Illustrated Miscellany.

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August

Most of our sources agree in placing the cereal harvest in August (see below and table). Of the calendar illustrations, Julius conforms with this pattern, while Tiberius has haymaking. The calendar cycles and the Gerefa’s lists of seasonal tasks seem to be independent of each other, and this is particularly clear here, where both harvest and haymaking are held back, as it were, for the Gerefa’s autumn list: “On hærfeste ripan in agusto 7 septembri 7 octobri, mawan, wad spittan, fela tilða ham gæderian, ðacian, ðecgan, 7 fald weoxian, scipena behweorfan 7 hlosan eac swa, ær to tune to stið winter cume, 7 eac yrðe georne forðian” [In autumn harvest, in August and September and October, cut hay, plant out woad, gather in many crops, thatch, roof, and improve folds, deal with the cattle sheds and sties as well, before winter arrives too harshly, and also get on with the plowing enthusiastically].55 The Gerefa’s problem with fitting northern European agriculture into the Mediterranean four-season schema is compounded here by vernacular vocabulary: “autumn” in Old English is hærfest, also meaning “harvest”, so the harvest has to take place in the Gerefa’s “autumn”. In that sense, it is “correct” for this season to start so early for England, since August was in fact when the main cereal harvest began. The first of August was Lammas, hlafmæsse in the Old English Orosius, the blessing of the bread, or first fruits, and Quadripartitus, the Latin version of the Old English legal texts, translates hærfest as Agusto throughout.56 Bede’s Old English name for August is Weodmonath, “weed month”, as he says, because they grow abundantly then, as indeed they do, but it seems odd, in an agricultural society, to privilege them over the harvest. The likely explanation is that the Old English month names go back well before Bede’s own day: he was unsure whether they reflected conditions before or after the English arrived in Britain.57 They could have originated at a time when “cerealization” had not progressed very far in northern Europe, and the role of cereal crops in people’s diet and working lives was much less important than it became by the time of most of our written sources.58 55 56 57 58

Gerefa 4, ed. Liebermann, 1:453. Lammas: for the date, Old English Orosius 5.13.2, ed. Janet Bately, eets s.s. 6 (London, 1980), 130; for the rituals, Banham, “Staff of Life,” 299–300; Agusto: e.g., Rectitudines 4, ed. Liebermann, 1:446. Bede, De temporum ratione 15, ed. Jones, 329. See Banham and Faith, Anglo-Saxon Farms, 39, for cerealization in England. For regional variation, see Stephen Rippon, Adam Wainwright and Chris Smart, “Farming Regions in Medieval England: The Archaeobotanical and Zooarchaeological Evidence,” Medieval Archaeology 58 (2014): 195–255.

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Why the Gerefa should place haymaking in autumn is a more difficult question. Even August seems very late in any part of England,59 and farmers would want to get it out of the way before the even more labor-intensive cereal harvest began. Tiberius too shows haymaking for August, and the harvest in June, but this sequence is almost certainly out of order: haymaking after harvest is pretty well unheard-of in England. In a bad year, it might be an emergency measure, but a much more likely scenario for a really bad season would be that all people’s energy would go into the cereal harvest, which would keep them alive, and the hay would be abandoned if necessary. If livestock could not be fed over winter, they could still be eaten (see November, below). It seems likely that the Gerefa has simply misplaced hay-making in its list, perhaps regarding it as a form of harvest, and therefore belonging to the season of hærfest by definition, if not in practice. Here one is forced to side with those who maintain that the compiler of the text was more concerned with producing a satisfying pattern than with accurately representing what farmers really did.60 10

September

The Gerefa’s other autumn tasks include “fela tilða ham gæderian … ær to tune to stið winter cume” [gather home many crops … before winter arrives too harshly].61 This sounds convincingly like an English autumn. The harvest no doubt extended into September in most years, as it does even now, with earlier-ripening crops and mechanized harvesting. And, as ever, the workers need to “yrðe georne forðian” [get on enthusiastically with the plowing], as soon as all the crops are in, or even before in some cases. The Rectitudines says that the geburs must plow an acre a week from the beginning of plowing (which must have depended on the harvest and the weather) until Martinmas, 11 November. Once the crops were gathered in they would need to be stored. The Rectitudines says that workers should get a “hreaccopp” [rick cup] at the time of corn-carrying, or a “hreacmete” [rick meal], presumably when the rick or stack is finished.62 Whether stacks were built outside or under cover, and 59 60 61 62

In 2015, James Rebanks, following a very traditional regime in the Lake District, began his haymaking on July 12, after gathering his flocks from the common hill pasture, but he was growing no cereals; herdyshepherd1, tweet dated July 12, 2015. For example Harvey, “Rectitudines singularum personarum,” and John Hines, “Gerefa §§15 and 17: A Grammatical Analysis of the Lists of Nouns,” Medieval Archaeology 50 (2006): 268–70. Gerefa 4, ed. Liebermann, 1:453. Rectitudines 21.2, ed. Liebermann, 1:452.

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whether other means of storage were in use, our texts do not tell us. Barns and granaries are virtually unknown in the archaeology of this period, possibly because no typical plan has been identified, but also very likely because many people stored their precious cereal crops in their houses.63 Whenever the harvest finished, there would be celebration. The Rectitudines states that “eallum æhtemannum gebyreð hærfesthandsul [read -ful]” [all unfree people are owed a harvest handful] (in reality rather more than that, it is to be hoped).64 In some places, people (presumably the free) are entitled to a “bendform for ripe” [binding feast for reaping], and, as we have already seen, a rick meal or a rick cup, or possibly both.65 It seems likely that all these festivities took place in September or October, since the harvest had to be gathered in before people could relax and celebrate it. An early date for the harvest is suggested by the September calendar pictures, showing pigs at mast in the woods, that is, feeding on the fallen fruits of beech and oak trees. This has no obvious connection with cereal production, but, according to the Rectudines, the swineherd had to be provided with bread when he took his animals out: “ælc gebur sylle .vi. hlafas ðam inswa[ne] ðonne he his heorde to mæstene drife” [each gebur should give six loaves to the swineherd when he drives his herd to mast].66 Unless the peasants were lucky enough to have corn left over from the previous year, this would have to wait for the cereal harvest to be at least under way. The abundance and timing of mast varies from year to year, so it may be hoped that, if the harvest was slow due to poor weather, the mast season might begin later too.67 11

October

The calendars show hawking for October, perhaps indicating that agricultural labor was beginning to ease off. But hunting of all kinds was probably a pursuit mainly for the rich.68 For most people, the harvest might still going on in 63 64 65 66 67 68

Mark Gardiner, “Stacks, Barns and Granaries in Early and High Medieval England: Crop Storage and Its Implications,” in Horrea, Silos and Barns, ed. J. A. Quirós Castillo (VitoriaGasteiz, 2012), 23–38. Rectitudines 9, ed. Liebermann, 1:450. Rectitudines 9, 21.3, ed. Liebermann, 1:450, 452. Rectitudines 4.1, ed. Liebermann, 1:446. According to Richard Mabey, Food for Free (London, 1972), 32–33, the main season is September to October, and good mast crops occur every three or four years. On hunting, see Tim Flight, “Aristocratic Deer Hunting in Late Anglo-Saxon England: A Reconsideration, Based upon the Vita S. Dunstani,” Anglo-Saxon England 45 (2017): 311–31, and scholarship cited there.

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October. Other autumnal tasks would also continue, but once again the Gerefa makes no mention of sowing cereals. In the later Middle Ages, both wheat and rye were winter corn, sown in the autumn, usually October. We have seen that there was a shift during the Middle Ages from spring sowing to sowing in both spring and autumn, which would make a considerable difference to the amount of work to be done in each season. One would need to get on with the plowing very enthusiastically indeed, to pack it all in between harvest and seed-time, if those were both in the late summer and early autumn. However, plowing for spring crops could be carried out over several months in the winter, and the final preparations and sowing could be shared between spring and autumn if both winter and spring crops were being grown. The labor of harvesting would also be spread out to some extent: winter crops, although slower to mature than spring-sown ones, nevertheless ripen earlier in the season.69 12

November

The sowing of winter crops was the last major task of the autumn, and brings us back to winter again. For November, the calendars show people round a fire, showing a slackening of work on the land, as well as a deterioration in the weather. By Martinmas, 11 November, the harvest could be expected to be safely gathered in, even in a bad year. In the eleventh century, all free people paid their church-scot at this feast, as Cnut’s Letter to the English of 1027 puts it: “in festiuitate sancti Martini primitie seminum ad ecclesiam sub cuius parrochia quisque deget, que Anglice ciricsceatt nominantur” [at Martinmas [they should pay] the first fruits of grain to the church in whose parish each of them lives, which are called in English church-scot].70 Other sources specify church-scot as three mittan of wheat, two modii of clean corn, or the produce of two acres of arable.71 Although the last of these seems the least precise, 69 70

71

See for example the comparative dates given for spring and winter wheat and barley by Sally A. Francis, British Field Crops: A Pocket Guide to the Identification, History and Uses of Arable Crops in Great Britain, 2nd ed. (Bury St Edmunds, 2009), 6, 10. The Chronicle of John of Worcester, vol. 2, The Annals from 450 to 1066, ed. R. R. Darlington and Patrick McGurk (Oxford, 1995), 518. The laws of Ine (early 8th century) are the first source to mention church-scot, and give either Martinmas or midwinter (Christmas) as the due date: Ine 4 and 61, ed. Liebermann, Gesetze, 1:90 and 116, respectively. All Worcester documents of the ninth and tenth centuries: Sawyer nos 1283, 1301 and 1303, printed in Agnes Jane Robertson, ed., Anglo-Saxon Charters (Cambridge, 1939), 28–31 (no. 16), Walter de Gray Birch, Cartularium Saxonicum (London, 1887), 3:317–18 (1087), and Robertson, Anglo-Saxon Charters, 64–67 (no. 35), respectively. I should like to thank Professor Francesca Tinti for drawing these church-scot references to my attention.

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we in fact have a better idea of what it might amount to than the apparently more specific modii and mittan. A late Old English document from Lambourn, Berkshire, equates the produce of an acre with a hundred sheaves, still fairly approximate, depending on the size of the sheaves, and possibly quite specific to time and place.72 A modius, on the other hand, was equated in the later Middle Ages with the bushel (about 35 liters), but sometimes with a peck, a quarter bushel. Even if the later medieval meaning were clearer, we could not be sure it already applied in the early middle ages. The mitta is sometimes equated with the modius, and sometimes seems to be two ambers, an amber being probably a bucketful.73 As well as their church-scot, the Rectitudines’ geburs paid a substantial proportion of their rent at Martinmas: “on martinus mæssedæg .xxiii. systra beres .7 ii. henfugelas” [23 sesters of barley and two hens].74 Old English sester derives from the Latin sextarius, a measure of about half a liter, but as a medieval grain measure seems to have denoted a much larger amount.75 Even if we cannot tell with any precision how much these peasants had to render, cereal crops were clearly available in bulk by this stage in the year. Although cereals can be grown with hand-tools alone, as we have seen, large-scale arable production depends on plowing, and plowing in the Middle Ages depended on cattle. The Venerable Bede says that his ancestors called November Blotmonath, that is, “month of sacrifices”, because they used to dedicate to their heathen deities the cattle that they slaughtered at that time.76 This has been taken to indicate a major cull of livestock at the onset of winter, but Bede says nothing about the numbers of animals killed.77 It may simply be that any beasts that happened to be slaughtered were offered to the gods, 72 73 74 75 76 77

Robertson, Anglo-Saxon Charters, 240. See Bosworth-Toller, s.v. mitta, and the various Latin dictionaries on the Logeion website for the modius. I am grateful to Dr Tom Lambert for discussing these and related medieval measurements with me. Rectitudines 4.1, ed. Liebermann, 1:446. See Bosworth-Toller and Latin dictionaries on Logeion. Bede, De temporum ratione 15, ed. Jones, 330–31. For example R. H. Hodgkin, A History of the Anglo-Saxons, 3rd ed. (Oxford, 1952, 1st ed. 1935), 241–42, or Dorothy Whitelock, The Beginnings of English Society, 2nd ed. (Harmondsworth, 1954, 1st ed. 1952), 24–5. See also Audrey L. Meaney, “Bede and Anglo-Saxon Paganism,” Parergon n.s. 3 (1985): 1–29, at 7. If Bede did believe that there was a large-scale cull, he may have derived that view from the letter of Gregory the Great to Mellitus, which he quotes in Historia ecclesiastica 1.30: “boues solent in sacrificio daemonum multos occidere” [they are in the habit of slaughtering many cattle as a sacrifice to devils], ed. and trans. Bertram Colgrave and R. A. B. Mynors (Oxford, 1969), 106–109. Where Gregory got his information from is another matter.

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in the hope of securing divine help in surviving the winter. Bede also says, at the beginning of his Historia ecclesiastica, that the Irish in his time did not make hay for the winter, nor keep their livestock under cover, clearly finding this remarkable.78 The implication is that in eighth-century Northumbria, feed was by contrast stored, and animals housed in winter, rather than herds and flocks being reduced to a minimum. Even a large-scale cull ought to spare the plow-oxen, the most valued animals, along with the breeding stock. But we have seen that Bede’s Blotmonath, like his other oe names for the months, may belong to a pre-cerealization era, when plow-oxen were not as important as they became as cereal production expanded. 13

December

We have already seen the Gerefa’s winter tasks. Many of them are only indirectly related to cereal production, but one is absolutely vital to survival through the winter, and that is threshing. Although the harvest is the hardest part of cereal production, it is by no means the end: before the grain can be eaten, or even ground or cooked to make it edible, it needs to be freed from the straw and chaff. This is what we see in the calendar pictures for December, presumably because it was the one task, apart from the care of animals, which went on all through the winter. Threshing is placed in December by the calendars, but it does not need to be done all at once, and is traditionally an indoor job done whenever the weather is too bad to work outside. It is listed as an inweorc among the Gerefa’s winter tasks. The December calendar pictures also show winnowing, the threshed corn being thrown up in the air, so that the chaff and other light debris can blow away, and the grain fall back into the basket. This is why indoor threshing floors traditionally have opposing doors, allowing a through draft. The Anglo-Saxon threshing floor has proved pretty elusive, despite being mentioned in the Gerefa, which tells its readers to “On odene cylne macian, ofn 7 aste” [make a kiln, an oven and an oast at the threshing floor].79 This sounds like a substantial grain processing complex, where corn could be dried after threshing and winnowing. The terminology is not easy to disentangle, and it may be that kiln, oven and oast were synonymous; indeed, it has been proposed that the whole text is a vocabulary exercise.80 Even if that is true, at least one of the structures 78 79 80

Bede, Historia ecclesiastica 1.1, ed. and trans. Colgrave and Mynors, 14–21. Gerefa 5.2–3, ed. Liebermann, 1:454. See for example Hines, “Gerefa §§15 and 17.”

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listed could have been used for drying corn. Experimental work has shown that drying corn in small batches makes it easier to grind, which could have been an important consideration when grinding was done by hand.81 By December, we are back in the depths of winter, when little other than indoor grain processing could be accomplished. Nothing for it but to rest, as in the poem Conflictus veris et hiemis cited above, and feast, as long as the previous season had been successful, before the whole cycle of production began again. This was presumably why King Alfred gave everybody (except slaves) the whole twelve days off at Christmas.82 14

Afterlife

Threshing, and even harvesting, can only be done after the cereal plants have died, of course. The agricultural cycle embodies not only the life but the death of the crops, and, as we have seen, their resurrection can begin, with sowing, before that cycle is over. Their afterlife truly begins, however, when cereals leave the agricultural domain and enter the domestic sphere. Once the grinding of corn was mechanized, the trip to the mill with the threshed grain, and the return journey with flour, separated the agricultural from the domestic phase with a commercial interlude, even if the flour returned to the same household whence it came as corn. Originally, however, grinding was done by hand within the household, and the agricultural to domestic transition was less clear. Cereals might be threshed, winnowed, and possibly dried, in small batches, and passed on for grinding as they were ready. If bread was baked regularly, there would be no need for large-scale storage of clean grain or flour. Grinding by hand was women’s work, associated with female slaves in the laws of Æthelberht of Kent, and in many other pre-industrial societies, but no doubt carried out by free women of the peasant class in their own homes.83 The ubiquity of quern stones on settlement sites shows that this was a widespread domestic activity.84 There is no mystery about this being a low-status task: it is 81 82 83 84

For the experiments, see Lisa Moffett, “Charred Cereals from some Ovens/Kilns in Late Saxon Stafford and the Botanical Evidence for the Pre-burh Economy,” in Environment and Economy in Anglo-Saxon England, ed. James Rackham (York, 1994), 55–64. Alfred 43, ed. Liebermann, 1:78. Æthelberht 11, ed. Liebermann, Gesetze, 1:3; for further discussion of women’s work in cereal processing, see Debby Banham, “Did the Lady of the Mercians Make Her Own Bread?” forthcoming. See Helena Hamerow, “Agrarian Production and the emporia of Mid-Saxon England, c. AD 650–850,” in Post-Roman Towns, Trade and Settlement in Europe and Byzantium,

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very hard work, as the present author can testify.85 For anything but the most basic whole-grain bread, grinding has to be followed by sieving and, for finer grades of flour, bolting through cloth. These are both very time-consuming tasks, if not such hard physical labor as grinding, and were probably confined to high-status households. All these tasks could carry on throughout the year; only when milling was mechanized would threshed corn be stored until there was enough to be worth taking to the mill. Mechanization probably began in the sixth century, and continued through the Middle Ages; in Domesday Book there are some six thousand water mills, but a lot of corn must still have been ground by women.86 Corn reaches its apotheosis as bread in the eucharist, where it stands for the living body of the resurrected Christ. Although communion bread has been a special unleavened product in the Latin tradition for a very long time, it may still have been ordinary household bread for much of the pre-Conquest period in England.87 Certainly, what seems to have struck the English most about the eucharistic bread at this time is its color, rather than whether it was raised or not. In the case of the two seventh-century kings of Essex, who famously demanded from Bishop Mellitus “panem nitidum quem et patri nostro Saba […] dabas” [the white bread which you used to give to our father Saba], this may have been due to the “barbara […] stultitia” [barbarian stupidity] to which Bede attributes their behavior.88 But when Byrhtferth of Ramsey translated azima [unleavened bread] correctly as þeorf hlaf, he went on to explain this as “hwit hlaf þære sifernysse 7 þære soðfæstnysse” [the white bread of sobriety and truth], surely referring to the eucharist.89 Even around the millennium, whiteness was still the most remarkable feature of the communion bread in England.90

85 86 87 88 89 90

vol. 1, The Heirs of the Roman West, ed. Joachim Henning (Berlin, 2007), 219–32. A substantial amount of information about querns in early medieval England is assembled in Allen J. Frantzen, Food, Eating and Identity in Early Medieval England (Woodbridge, 2014), chapter 4. For some data concerning more skilled workers, see H. E. M. Cool, Eating and Drinking in Roman Britain (Cambridge, 2006), 73. H. C. Darby, Domesday England (Cambridge, 1977), 270–75. See Bayless, “Long Life,” 354–56. Bede, Historia ecclesiastica 2.5, ed. and trans. Colgrave and Mynors, 152. Byrhtferth, Enchiridion 3.1, ed. Peter S. Baker and Michael Lapidge, eets s.s. 15 (Oxford, 1995), 126. The influential Theodulf of Orleans also decreed in the eighth century that communion bread should be white, but made no mention of whether it should be raised; see Bayless, “Tiny Bread,” 356.

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A little is known about the character of ordinary household bread in preConquest England, and how it was made. The technique of raising bread was clearly familiar, witness the well-known Old English riddle. Ic on wincle gefrægn weaxan nathwæt, þindan ond þunian, þecene hebban. On þæt banlease bryd grapode, hygewlonc hondum. Hrægle þeahte þrindende þing þeodnes dohtor. [I heard that something grew in a nook, expanded and rose, lifting its cover; a bride grasped the boneless thing with her proud hands, a lord’s daughter clothed the swelling object with a covering.]91 The riddle unfortunately gives no clues as to the method of raising. Possibly it made no difference for the riddler’s purposes. There were two possible raising agents at this time, either sourdough, saved from the last batch of baking, or fresh yeast skimmed off the brewing vat. Either would have been widely available, since brewing was also done within the household in medieval England.92 Once the bread had risen, the next stage was baking. The evidence for ovens in early medieval England, both archaeological and written, is pretty thin. There are only three references in written sources, two of them concerning the same monastery. The anonymous Life of Ceolfrith tells us that Ceolfrith was a baker at Ripon before coming to Wearmouth, and lit the oven, then cleared out the remains of the fire, before baking bread in it, while the Lindisfarne Life of Cuthbert describes an episode in which the future saint had no bread for a visitor, because it was still cooking in the oven.93 This also took place at Ripon, but it is unlikely that ovens existed at this monastery, and nowhere else 91 92

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Riddle 45, ed. George Philip Krapp and Elliot van Kirk Dobbie, The Exeter Book, aspr 3 (London, 1936), 205. For domestic brewing, as well as commercial beer-production by women, in later medieval England, see Judith M. Bennett, Ale, Beer and Brewsters in England: Women’s Work in a Changing World, 1300–1600 (Oxford, 1996), especially chapter 2. Unfortunately, the records she was able to draw upon do not exist for our period. Vita Ceolfridi, ed. and trans. Chrisopher Grocock and I. N. Wood, Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow: Bede’s Homily i. 13 on Benedict Biscop, Bede’s History of the Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow, the Anonymous Life of Ceolfrith, Bede’s Letter to Ecgbert, Bishop of York; anonymous Vita Cuthberti, ed. and trans. Colgrave, Two Lives, 78.

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in England, in the seventh century. Rather, such utilitarian installations, and low-status work, were of little interest to the literate at the time; the information about Ceolfrith is introduced to demonstrate his humility. But it is entirely probable that ovens belonged to high-status households, whether ecclesiastical or secular; the third reference is from the Gerefa, where, as we have seen, the reeve is enjoined to “On odene cylne macian, ofn 7 aste” [make a kiln at the threshing floor, an oven and an oast]. One or other of these was very likely used for baking bread. If ovens were the preserve of large, wealthy establishments, the working population probably baked their bread in the embers of the fire. This bread would most likely be unleavened, since no bread rises very much if it is not covered. As part of the Early English Bread project, experiments have been conducted in baking flat bread in the embers of a wood fire, and the results were unexpectedly successful. The bread did not burn, the ashes could easily be brushed off, and the taste was very acceptable.94 So we come full circle, back to the loaves that were buried in the Æcerbot charm. By the time the crops in that field were harvested, processed, and baked into bread, the loaves originally buried there would have decayed completely, existing only symbolically as the following year’s food.95 Burnt loaves, paradoxically, survive much better: a small number were found in the remains of a house in the Buttermarket, Ipswich, destroyed by fire in the mid-eleventh century.96 These constitute the only bread surviving from early medieval England. They are about four inches across, roughly the same width as indicated in the Æcerbot, and they are round, as indicated by the monastic sign for bread, “fac unum circulum cum utroque pollice et his duobus digitis qui secuntur” [make a circle with each thumb and the two fingers that come next].97 They are also evidence that two of the cereals grown in early medieval England, wheat and rye, were actually made into bread. They may also have been grown and ground together, since they are the two classic winter crops, grown together as maslin in later medieval England.98 94

95 96 97

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The Early English Bread project, led by Professor Martha Bayless of the University of Oregon, was funded by a collaborative grant from American Council of Learned Societies for the academic year 2016–17. For some preliminary reports on the project’s activities, see its blog at https://earlybread.wordpress.com. Limited experiments on a Cambridge allotment suggested that little would be left of buried bread by the following growing season. Debby Banham, Food and Drink in Anglo-Saxon England (Stroud, 2004), 22 and plate 5. This is the Latin of the foundational Cluny sign list, Signa loquendi, ed. Walter Jarecki, Saecula spiritalia 4 (Baden-Baden, 1981), 121. The Old English text is less clear, but describes the same sign: Monasteriales indicia: The Old English Monastic Sign Language, ed. and trans. Debby Banham (Pinner, 1991), 32. Stone, “Field Crops,” 12–13.

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The whole point of making bread is to eat it, of course. The entire life-cycle of cereal crops, followed by the processing that turns them into food, culminates in the experience of consumption. This is not just about the nourishment that prevents people from starving, but also the sensory pleasure of tasting, chewing and swallowing. To us, bread seems the most basic of food, unworthy of connoisseurship, but in early medieval England, it was not to be looked down upon, even by kings.99 As we have seen, two early East Saxon kings had firm views on the matter. Bread was prestigious food because of all the work that went into it, and was definitely needed for a feast, as in this list of renders from the Laws of Ine of Wessex. Æt x hidum to fostre x fata hunies, ccc hlafas, xii ambras Wilisc ealað xxx hluttres, tu eald hriðeru oððe x weðeras, x gees, xx henna, x cesas, amber fulne buteran, v leaxas, xx pundwegas fodres 7 hundteontig æla [From ten households as entertainment: 10 vats of honey, 300 loaves, 12 ‘ambers’ of Welsh beer, 30 of clear, two mature cattle or ten wethers, ten geese, 20 hens, ten cheeses, an “amber” full of butter, five salmon, 20 pounds’ weight of fodder, 100 eels]100 Clearly a feast needed other food as well, and of course drink, but each person probably had a little round loaf as the basis of their meal. If each loaf represents a portion, it would be accompanied by an average of a hundred-andfiftieth of a cattle carcass, or a thirtieth of a sheep, along with a thirtieth of a goose, a fifteenth of a chicken, some cheese and butter and a sixtieth of a salmon. Bread did not make up the bulk of the meal, by any means, but this was a feast commanded by a king, the best that money, or power, could buy. Lower down the social scale, meals probably did consist largely of bread, with only a small amount of food to go with it. The term for this “accompaniment” to bread was sufl in Old English, companagium or pulmentum in Latin. Even at Ine’s feasts it is unlikely that everyone ate the same amount and type of food; the more humble participants may have eaten little more than bread and sufl. Later lists, mostly from ecclesiastical landlords, often specify white bread, or wheat bread, which would be whiter than other kinds. For example, at Christ Church, Canterbury, white bread was required from Mongeham, near 99

For foods that were considered worthy of such attention, at least in the latter part of our period, see Alban Gautier, “Cooking and Cuisine in Late Anglo-Saxon England,” AngloSaxon England 41 (2012): 373–406, at 385–97. 100 Ine 70, ed. Liebermann, Gesetze, 1:118–20.

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Deal, and Challock, and wheat bread from Stanstead, all in the ninth century, and all in Kent.101 This was the most desirable kind of bread, eaten by the landlords themselves, possibly only on special occasions. Byrhtferth’s audience of monastic pupils and local clergy probably ate less refined kinds of bread, in contrast to the whiteness of the communion bread. Feasts also play a large part in Old English literature, particularly Beowulf, but literary texts shed no light on the bread that was eaten. As the work of Hugh Magennis has demonstrated, Old English writers associated feasting with drinking rather than eating, and this is reflected in the feasting scene for April in the calendars, where the revelers sit on a bench with cups in their hands.102 No food is visible, nor anywhere to put it down. Other eleventh-century illustrations of feasts, however, do show both tables and food, although the latter is sometimes hard to identify. Among the more recognizable items are fish, sometimes in dishes, and there are usually small round objects on the table, surely representing loaves, fitting as they do the size and shape indicated by the sign lists, the Æcerbot charm and the remains from Ipswich. Such objects are seen when Lot entertains the angel in the Old English Hexateuch, for example, and in the scene at the top of the lunar table in the Tiberius Psalter.103 In the famous feasting scene at the beginning of the Bayeux “Tapestry”, Harold Godwinson and his companions look much more interested in the drink than the food, but they sit at table, and food is shown: bread is in pride of place, in the center of the table. The other feast in the “Tapestry”, where the Normans, presided over by Bishop Odo, celebrate their successful Channel crossing, exhibits more obvious eucharistic symbolism, being modeled on the last supper in St Augustine’s Gospels, with Odo reproducing Christ’s gesture exactly.104 But the placing of the bread in Harold’s very secular feast may also reflect the communion table.105 Any representation of a meal in early medieval English art 101 Sawyer nos. 1197, 1482 and 1188, respectively, ed. N. P. Brooks and S. E. Kelly, Charters of Christ Church Canterbury, Anglo-Saxon Charters 17–18 (Oxford, 2013), 743–47, 663–70 and 499–506. 102 Hugh Magennis, Images of Community in Old English Poetry (Cambridge, 1996); Magennis, Anglo-Saxon Appetites: Food and Drink and their Consumption in Old English and Related Literature (Dublin, 1999). 103 Cotton Claudius B.iv, Canterbury, s. xi ¼, fol. 31v, and London, British Library, Cotton Tiberius C.vi, ?Old Minster Winchester, s. xi ¾, fol. 5v. Both manuscripts are digitised on the British Library website. 104 N. P. Brooks with H. E. Walker, “The Authority and Interpretation of the Bayeux Tapestry,” in Nicholas Brooks, Communities and Warfare 700–1400 (London and Rio Grande, 2000), 175–218, at 190–94. 105 Among Gale Owen-Crocker’s extensive body of work on the “Tapestry”, see in particular her “Hunger for England: Ambition and Appetite in the Bayeux Tapestry,” in Holy

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probably reminded contemporary viewers of the eucharist, so central was it to their thinking.



There was no getting away from the importance of bread in the Christian religion or in medieval life. Ælfric has his baker say “Potestis quidem per aliquod spatium sine arte mea uitam ducere, sed non diu nec adeo bene; nam sine arte mea omnis mensa uacua uidetur esse, et sine pane omnis cibus in nausiam conuertitur” [You can live your life for some time without my craft, it’s true, but not for long, and not so well; for without my craft every table seems to be empty, and without bread all food turns to loathing].106 This was not left unchallenged by other characters in the Colloquy, notably the cook and the ploughman, and also fails to account for people at the bottom of the social scale, who might not always have time to turn their corn into bread, but it does highlight the central place of bread in the diet at more prosperous levels of the population.107 Even those who did not always eat bread certainly depended on cereals for most of their calories and nutrients. Not only did the life cycle of cereal crops structure most people’s working lives throughout the year in early medieval England, but, in their afterlife, as bread, beer or other foods, cereals kept people alive on this earth, and ultimately, as communion bread, provided the human population with the means to reach their own afterlife, too. and Unholy Appetites in Anglo-Saxon England: A Collection of Studies in Honour of Hugh Magennis, ed. Marilina Cesario and Kathrin Prietzel = English Studies 93/5 (2012), 540–49. 106 Ælfric, Colloquy, ed. Garmonsway, 36. 107 For other foods that might replace bread in the diet of the less well-off, see Banham, Food and Drink, 24–25.

afterword

History, Archaeology, and Osteology in Conversation Jo Appleby As Porck and Soper note in the introduction to this volume “conceptual tools and critical terminology that emerge in one area of enquiry are often full of potential in their applicability elsewhere.”1 This afterword takes the discussion of aging and the life course from this volume and considers their applications and implications for archaeological and especially osteoarchaeological interpretation. Throughout this volume, the complexity of ageing and the life course appear over and over again in discussions of everything from biblical exegesis to medical texts. This complexity is something that is familiar to osteoarchaeologists, although the way that osteoarchaeologists have approached it has of course been driven by their own concerns, rooted in the development and degeneration of the skeleton. On the surface, age can seem straightforward – everyone these days can tell you their age – but start to interrogate what that number means in practice and things become complicated very quickly. Age has social, physical and chronological components and the ways in which they interact are far from straightforward.2 In osteoarchaeologial practice, it can sometimes feel as though age is divorced from its social context and physical outcomes. Many archaeological studies that focus on age as a cultural category still approach chronological age as a black box. Evidence from texts or grave goods are used to establish age categories with defined start and end points. In turn, these categories are then used to examine how the association between individuals and objects changes between these categories. Age is thus a relatively untheorized number in the analysis of burial practices. The papers presented here demonstrate the fallacy of such an approach, emphasising the “sheer diversity of ideas attached to human aging in this period” and their contextual 1 See above, 12. 2 Sara Arber and Jay Ginn, “Connecting Gender and Ageing. A New Beginning?” in Connecting Gender and Ageing: A Sociological Approach, ed. Sara Arber and Jay Ginn (Buckingham, 1995), 173–78.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2022 | doi:10.1163/9789004501867_014

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nature.3 These papers give the osteoarchaeologist much food for thought, both indicating cautionary tales and suggesting the potential for innovative ways of approaching the life course in archaeology. Perhaps the most important cautionary tale for the osteoarchaeologist in this volume is that chronological age is a false hope. For many years, the ultimate aim of osteoarchaeologists interested in age has been to improve their knowledge of the links between characteristics of bone on the one hand and the chronological age of the individual on the other. But osteoarchaeologists do not observe chronological age. They observe the development and then the physical wear and tear of the skeleton. The skeleton thus gives osteoarchaeologists a sense of childhood growth and the biological aging process, but it does not allow them to fit a precise chronological age to an individual, a fact which is well understood and frequently bemoaned.4 In childhood, the imprecision in skeletal age estimation is small. Childhood developmental processes are closely controlled by natural selection and, therefore, regular. Deviation from the expected developmental process can have a serious effect on your reproductive fitness and natural selection acts to curb it. Infant skeletons can be aged to within weeks or months of the true calendrical age; child skeletons can be aged to within a year or two. In adulthood, natural selection becomes less and less powerful with increasing age, meaning that variation in the aging process becomes greater as individuals get older. In addition, the effects of behaviour on aging increase throughout the life course. Research shows that environmental and behavioural factors explain more of the variation in the skeletal features that are used to age adults than does age itself.5 The end result is that adult skeletons can be aged only imprecisely, and this imprecision increases with increasing age. This has caused much anguish in osteoarchaeologists over the years, and quests for more accurate aging techniques continue.6 In the last couple of decades, osteoarchaeologists have begun to question whether chronological age is the right goal, or whether they should think 3 See above, 12. 4 Jo Appleby, “Ageing and the Body in Archaeology,” Cambridge Archaeological Journal 28 (2018): 145–63; Jo Buckberry, “The (Mis)Use of Adult Age Estimates in Osteology,” Annals of Human Biology 42 (2015): 323–31. 5 Simon Mays, “The Effect of Factors Other than Age upon Skeletal Age Indicators in the Adult,” Annals of Human Biology 42 (2015): 332–41. 6 The quest to improve skeletal techniques involves both the development of techniques using new anatomical sites and the development of new statistical approaches to estimating age (for example, see papers in Bridget Algee-Hewitt and Jieun Kim, eds., Remodelling Forensic Skeletal Age: Modern Applications and New Research Directions (London, 2021).

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about other approaches.7 This book is an excellent illustration of why they are right to do so. Many interconnecting flows of the life course in early medieval society are mapped here, clearly showing that even if obtaining a precise chronological age from skeletons was possible, it would not give osteoarchaeologists or archaeologists the answers they are looking for. The early medieval life course can be divided into a series of stages and Porck shows that the conceptualization of the life course is logical and internally consistent, but it is not invariable. Porck, Izdebska and Barber all investigate the ways that schematization, terminology, associations and connotations of age stages in early medieval England are adapted to different purposes and contexts. This begs the question of which conceptualizations of the life course are relevant to burial treatment in archaeological contexts and how this varies between individuals and over time. For many years, osteoarchaeologists have placed skeletons into age categories. Although current recommendations in the UK advise against this and suggest including point estimates, standard deviations and maximal ranges for specific aging techniques and both minimal and maximal age ranges for individuals,8 many osteoarchaeologists continue to assign skeletons to age groups, especially when it comes to publication. Existing published datasets overwhelmingly use such categories.9 Perhaps the most commonly used system for categorizing skeletal age is that of Buikstra and Ubelaker, which divides the life course into infant (0–3), child (3–12), adolescent (12–20), young adult (20–35), middle adult (35–50) and old adult (50+).10 Buikstra and Ubelaker’s categories may make sense in terms of skeletal development and aging, but they do not map on to any of the categorizations of the life course that are presented here. Those who want to understand the expression of age in burial 7

8 9 10

For example, Jo Appleby, “Ageing and the Body,” 145–63; Mirjana Roksandic and Stephanie D. Armstrong, “Using the Life History Model to Set the Stage(s) of Growth and Senescence in Bioarchaeology and Paleodemography,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 145 (2011): 337–47; Jo R. Sofaer, “Towards a Social Bioarchaeology of Age,” in Social Bioarchaeology, ed. Sabrina. C. Agarwal and Bonnie A. Glencross (New Jersey, 2011), 285–311. Linda O’Connell, “Guidance on Recording Age at Death in Adult Human Skeletal Remains,” in Updated Guidelines to the Standards for Recording Human Remains, ed. Piers D. Mitchell and Megan Brickley (Reading, 2017), 35–38. C. G. Falys and M. E. Lewis, “Proposing a Way Forward: A Review of Standardisation in the Use of Age Categories and Ageing Techniques in Osteological Analysis (2004–2009),” International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 21 (2011): 704–16. Jane E. Buikstra and Douglas H. Ubelaker, Standards for Data Collection from Human Skeletal Remains (Fayetteville, 1994).

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contexts but who are not themselves osteoarchaeologists, are forced to work with the data in the form it is published, which can have the function of creating artificial distinctions between age groups or merging age categories which existed in reality. In addition, it creates the false idea that there is a single structure to the life course which was followed by all individuals. The implications of using a single set of age categories, whether defined by osteoarchaeologists, archaeologists or historians are demonstrated very clearly in Cross’s study of early medieval weaning practices. Cross explores how Duncan Sayer’s use of a particular set of age categories has obscured the possible existence of a change in burial practice associated with children who died and were buried before, during and after weaning.11 Sayer’s age categories were derived from previous studies of grave goods and legal texts by Crawford, Stoodley and Härke and as such were explicitly based in understandings of the Anglo-Saxon life course, but his choice to group all individuals who died between the ages of 0 and 5 means that his study cannot be used by historians to consider the effects of weaning, which was completed well before 5. Of course, Sayers’ study was not about weaning and it was never his intention that it should be used as such, but it does highlight the implications of using other people’s studies to ask new questions: different contexts are associated with different categorisations related to age, and the categories used have an impact on the questions that can be asked. In addition to the problems of osteologically, archaeologically and historically derived age categories, the question might be asked whether it is possible to map any of the conceptualizations of the early medieval life course represented in this volume onto skeletons. Izdebska notes the ways in which vocabulary around life stages can be related to ideas of growth decline and physical function, whilst Chetwood identifies how age-related appearance can be incorporated into bynames such as Burewoldus Horloc [grey locks] and Adam Witegos [white goose]. Processes of growth and decline can also be observed on skeletons: for example through the epiphyseal fusion of skeletal elements during growth, through the appearance of the degenerative changes of osteoarthritis or through the wear and loss of teeth. However, the types of vocabulary relating to growth and age-related decline in texts, and the developmental and degenerative processes that are visible on skeletons, are not the same (although perhaps tooth loss might be an exception). Thus growth and age-related degenerative change are relevant to understanding the early medieval life course, and both written sources and osteoarchaeological analysis can 11

See above, 223. Duncan Sayer, “Sons of athelings given to the earth”: Infant Mortality within Anglo-Saxon Mortuary Geography,” Medieval Archaeology 58 (2014): 78–103, at 98.

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help us to understand them, but there is no immediately obvious way to link one with another. This is perhaps an area where future interdisciplinary dialogue will prove helpful. What all this should tell us is not that it is impossible to interrogate age in the early medieval period using archaeological evidence; it is telling us that we need to be more sophisticated about how we go about it. Coming up with an age category that seems to make sense according to a specific early medieval schema is not going to be enough, irrespective of whether that schema is based in laws, grave goods or ecclesiastical musings on the life course. We need to think about which (if any) schema is relevant, about when a different schema might be foregrounded and about potentially different overlapping elements of age identity. In order for this to succeed, it is hard to see a better approach than interdisciplinary working, so that we are not left with a history informed by archaeology and osteology, or an osteology and archaeology informed by history, but a genuine intertwining of all three disciplines that feeds into the whole of a piece of research. One example from this volume that suggests how such an approach might work in practice is Fay’s discussion of the capacities and capabilities of the body in relation to age and medical practice. It is increasingly recognized that the body is not a strictly bounded, individualized entity, but as an entity that is created in a series of continually changing inter-relationships with its genetics, culture, society and environment.12 These interrelationships occur in time as well as space: for example the behaviours and experiences of a mother can impact the bodies not only of her children, but also of her grandchildren.13 Social surroundings, and even ongoing strategies and politics, can all have profound physical effects on the body.14 In her discussion of early medieval medicine, Fay describes why it does not make sense to approach the early medieval life course as emerging from “an encounter between physical aging and social interpretation;” instead she calls for an approach “open to the entanglements of the human and the non-human.”15 Fay explores this idea particularly through the related concepts of the gecynd (or type) of the body and the mægen (or strength) of the body. Mægen is partly a bodily quality, but is 12 13 14 15

Margaret Lock, Encounters with Aging: Mythologies of Menopause in Japan and North America (Berkeley, 1993), 146. Rebecca L. Gowland, “Entangled Lives: Implications of the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease Hypothesis for Bioarchaeology and the Life Course,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 158 (2015): 530–40. Jo Appleby, “Osteobiographies: Local Biologies, Embedded Bodies, and Relational Persons,” Bioarchaeology International 3 (2019): 32–43. See above, 120.

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possessed by non-human objects and plants as well, and can be both acquired and lost. These concepts seem to offer an insight into early medieval bodily ontologies that could be productively explored by osteoarchaeologists and would enable new approaches to research: how do the relationships between gecynd and mægen play out in excavated bodies? How can they be used to explain early medieval life and death? Can these concepts be used to explore osteobiographical case studies of early medieval individuals? Do they inform burial treatment and if so how and why?



This discussion is clearly not an exhaustive account of the potentials of this volume to contribute to archaeological discourse on either the early medieval period or on understandings of age more generally; rather, it sets out to indicate some of the ways in which the narratives included here could be taken up by osteoarchaeologists and archaeologists to reflect on their own practice. Whilst these reflections are clearly important for the early medieval period, they are also critical for those working in prehistoric periods where archaeological evidence and texts cannot be interrogated in relation to one another. The tendency to look for ‘rules’ about mortuary practice in relation to chronological age is still pronounced, not least because it has often been effective in bringing out patterns in cemetery data; however, the variation in schematization, terminology, associations and connotations of the life course that have been discussed in this volume overwhelmingly demonstrate that this approach will lead to over-simplifications and misunderstandings. This is not a negative finding, invalidating the results of decades of work; rather, it offers osteoarchaeologists and archaeologists an opportunity to engage with the complexity of aging; to investigate the different streams and flows of the life course in past societies and the intertwining of age not just with other ‘categories’ such as gender or status, but with every aspect of past lives.

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Index Ælberht of York 97–99 Ælfric of Eynsham 74, 85, 126, 165 n.21, 165 n.23 Colloquy 65, 297–98, 318 Grammar and Glossary 76, 168 homilies 51, 56 ÆCHom I, hom. 25 71 ÆCHom I, hom. 32  23 ÆCHom II, hom. 3  73 ÆCHom II, hom. 5  23, 26 Assmann, hom. 4  23, 25–26 Pope, hom. 11  23 Pope, hom. 24 61  Lives of Saints 51, 144 n.14, 171–73, 177 Ælfflæd of Bamburgh 193 Æthelberht of Kent 254 law code 310 Æthelburh of Kent 199 Æthelred II, king 183, 191 Æthelstan, king 160 n.4, 185 Æthelwold of Winchester OE Translation of the Rule of Saint Benedict 175 adoption 237–38 adolescence (see also adolescentia; ages of man) 26, 47, 58–61, 67, 73–74, 75, 92 n.9, 161–78 terminology for 47, 58, 60, 64, 67, 72 n.94, 73–74, 75, 93 n.9 adolescentia 6, 18 n.3, 22, 28 n.33, 25 n.23, 27, 29, 31, 33, 35, 37, 38, 43, 44, 64, 74, 75, 81–82, 84, 85, 88, 91–94, 99–106, 108 n.70, 109, 112, 114, 124–26, 137, 166–67 adulthood (see also ages of man; iuuentus) 8, 9, 10, 93–94, 125–29, 148, 151, 158, 159–78 passim, 197­­–98, 210, 225, 260, 304, 320 terminology for  47, 58–77 passim, 82, 83, 86–87, 88, 125 adults and medicine 128–29, 135, 137, 138, 140–42 adult-children communication 200–201 names during adulthood 202–207, 209 age limits 21–22, 24, 28–29, 35, 38, 43–44, 91–92, 124–25, 165–66, 198, 200–201, 321–22

age terminology 33, 17–46, 47–89, 90–114, 131–35, 138, 145–46, 322–23 Germanic cognates for OE terms 53–54, 60, 70, 71, 72, 74, 75, 85 Middle English 52, 55, 57–58, 66, 71, 72 n.94 age of understanding 174–77 ages of man 2, 4–5, 13, 17–46, 90–91, 92, 99, 110–11, 126–27, 131, 165–66, 167 ages of woman 18–20, 39–40 ages of the world 110–11, 26–27 agriculture 12, 287–318 cereals 287–318 passim digging 299–300 fallowing 303 harvest 301, 305, 306–308, 309 vs horticulture 299–300 milling 312–13 plowing 296–301, 303–304, 307, 309 sowing 297, 299–301, 309 threshing 297, 311 Agobard of Lyon 104 n.52 Aidan of Lindisfarne 217–19 Alcuin of York 74, 90–114  Ad pueros sancti Martini  103–105 Commentaria in s. Joannis evangelium  21 n.15, 22, 26, 92 Conflictus veris et hiemis 292–93, 302, 312 childhood and early life at York 94–95, 228 Commentaria super Ecclesiasten 109, 109 n.71 Compendium in Canticum Canticorum 211 De fide sanctae trinitatis et de incarnatione Christi 112 n.82 De rerum humanarum vicissitudine et clade Lindisfarnensis monasterii  6–7 Disputatio de rhetorica et de virtutibus 108 n.70 Disputatio de vera philosophia 99, 112 n.82 Epistolae 94–95, 100–14 Grammatica  99–100 Versus de patribus regibus 97–99 Vita s. Willibrordi  95–97, 211, 220–22, 223–24, 226 Vita s. Martini Turonensis 97 n.32

Index Aldhelm 165 n.23, 167, n.29 Prosa de virginitate 172, 278–80 Aldred, glossator of Lindisfarne Gospels 278 Alfred, king 165 n.23 Alfred Jewel 255 law code 183, 185, 191, 302, 312 preface to the Pastoral Care 255 allegory (see under literary devices) Andreas (OE poem) 13, 284–85 Anglo-Saxon Chronicle 289–90 Apponius In Canticum Canticorum exposito 215–16 archaeology (see also burial; Sutton Hoo Ship Burial) 2, 3, 7, 12, 13, 118, 141, 146–48, 154 n.44, 158, 195, 211–12, 217, 253–54, 256–57, 268–72, 288–89, 302 n.42, 304 n.58 and age categories 85, 163, 223, 320–22 archaeobotany 288–89, 301, 302 n.42, 366 n.58 osteoarchaeology 13, 211, 319–24 Arno of Salzburg 110–11 Ashburnham House, fire at 284 Augustine of Canterbury 170 Augustine of Hippo 26–27, 92, 214 Confessiones 198, 201 n.85 De civitate Dei 165 De diversis quaestionibus octoginta tribus 111 n.79 babies (see fetus; infancy; neonates; procreation) Bald’s Leechbook (see under medical texts) Bamburgh, comital family of 192–93 baptism 17, 51, 55, 156, 181, 194, 202, 209, 221, 227, 231 Bayeux Tapestry 261–65, 303, 317 beards 18, 61, 82, 85, 109, 161–62, 166, 168–70 Be gesceadwisan gerefan 291, 294–98, 300, 303–307, 309, 311, 315 Bede 45–46, 112, 126, 165 n.23, 294 De natura rerum 32 De temporibus 21 n.15, 22, 27, 30–31, 111 De temporum ratione 21 n.15, 22, 27–28, 32–34, 111, 131–32, 291, 293, 295, 298–99, 306, 310 death of  235

363 Explanatio Apocalypsis 165 n.21 Historia ecclesiastica 143, 165 n.21, 170, 183, 199, 211, 217–19, 254, 268, 310 n.77, 311, 313 In Cantica Canticorum 210–11, 214–17, 219, 227 In Genesis 165 n.21 In Lucae evangelium expositio 22, 24–25 Letter to Egbert of York 67 n.76 OE Bede 75, 170, 280–81 Vita s. Cuthberti (prose) 235, 237, 301 Benedict of Nursia Regula s. Benedicti 60, 64, 71 n.88, 174–75 Beonna of East Anglia, King 202 Beowulf  7 n.17, 10, 233–35, 237–39, 242, 243, 244, 247–50, 254–55, 283–85, 317 biblical figures Abraham 303 Cain descendants of 240–41 Christ 41–42, 150, 152–53, 155, 231, 270 n.45, 282 age of  97 as bridegroom 177, 214 resurrection 93 n.19, 224 n.45, 287, 312, 317, 288 Elizabeth 150 Hannah 220–22, 226 John the Baptist 22, 63 n.63, 71, 73, 150 Lazarus 150–51 Mary 41–42, 150 Noah heirs of 244–45 Samuel 220–24, 226 Seth descendants of 241–42 Three Magi 18–19, 24 Three patriarchs 18, 24 biblical passages  1 Cor. 3.1–2 213, 218–19 1 Cor. 6.18 165 1 Pet. 2.2–3 213 1 Sam. 1–2 220–21 1 Thess. 4.3–5 165 Gen. 1–22 230 Deut. 6.6–9 165 Eccles. 11.9 25 Eph. 4.13 93 Eph. 6.4 165 Heb. 5.12–14 213 Lev. 26.3–5 71 n.86

364 biblical passages (cont.) Luke 1.80 71 Luke 12.36–38 (Parable of the Three Vigils) 24–26, 126 Luke 18.15–17 56 Mark 13.28 65 Matt. 19.13–15 56 Matt. 20.1–16 (Parable of the Vineyard) 26, 109–10 Prov. 22.6 165 Ps. 8.3 52 Ps. 34.14 105 Ps. 38.7 229–30 Ps. 48. 11 237 n.32 Ps. 89.10 29 n.37, 35 Ps. 106 297 bilingualism 80 birds 57, 268, 292–93, 303–304 birth (see under procreation) Blotmonath 310–11 the body 6–9, 72, 117–40 passim, 140–158 passim, 159–78 passim, 215–16, 242, 287, 313, 319–24 passim Boniface 22, 183, 211, 222–24, 226 bread 12, 215, 287–89, 290, 306, 308, 312–16, 317–18 baking 12, 314–15 breastfeeding (see nursing)  Brussels Cross 255 burial (see also funeral; Sutton Hoo Ship Burial) 125, 195, 212, 223, 229–30, 232, 238–39, 241–42, 254, 256–57, 272, 319–24 passim maternal burials 147–48 Byrhtferth of Ramsey 19–21, 31–38, 42–43, 45–46, 294 Computus 31, 33 n.51, 35 De concordia mensium atque elementorum (diagram) 33, 35–37 Enchiridion 31–35, 37, 74, 132, 313, 317 Glossae Bridferti in Bedam 32 n.47 Northumbrian Chronicle 232 n.12 Vita s. Ecgwini 32–33, 37–38 calendar illustrations 294–99, 302, 305–306, 308, 311, 317 Candidus (pupil of Alcuin) 107–108 Canterbury 261, 263, 272, 274–76 Christ Church Cathedral 263 St Augustine’s Abbey 263, 264, 280 n.58

Index celibacy (see virginity) Ceolfrith, Abbot 314, 315 Charlemagne 108 n.7, 113–14 Admonitio generalis 101 charms (see under medical texts) charters 64, 199 child-directed speech 199–201 childhood (see also ages of man; infancy; pueritia) 9, 90–115 passim, 159–78 passim, 228, 320 childhood of saints 220–24, 226–27 children and medicine 135–39 children’s names 184–88, 196–202, 209 punishment of children 64, 174–75 terminology for 47, 48, 50–58, 59 n.2, 60, 65–66, 69, 71, 72 n.3, 72 n.5, 75, 79–81, 86, 88, 124–25, 132 chronological age (see also age limits) 59, 109, 319–22 Cicero De Oratore 215, 216 Cnut, King 160 n.4 Letter to the English (1027) 309 completeness 71, 74, 88 Christianity 159–78 passim, 189–90, 194–95 conversion to 10, 25–26, 97 n.32, 190–91, 210–228 passim, 287–89 Colchester 190, 203, 205, 207 community 2, 10, 13, 100, 102–103, 155, 157, 161, 168, 184, 187, 193–96, 204–209, 243, 247, 250 Cotton, Sir Robert 284–85 Cuthbert death of 235 (ge)cynd 133, 135, 323  Daniel (OE poem) 240, 246–47, 249 David, saint 300 day length 291, 299 death 8, 13, 23 n.c, 126, 141, 142, 146, 147–48, 150–51, 154–57, 183, 189–96, 229–50 passim infant mortality 141, 156, 158, 322 maternal mortality 146–47 decrepitas, aetas decrepita 22, 27–29, 39, 43–44, 83–85, 88, 109 descendant (see offspring) dissolution of monasteries 284 Domesday Book 311, 203, 205, 207 Dream of the Rood (OE poem) 180

Index drinking (see also feasting) 317 Durham Liber Vitae 187, 190, 199–200, 202 Eadui Basan, scribe 276 n.54 Ealdred of Bamburgh, Earl 192 Eanbald II of York 101–103 Early Modern English 52 Easter 302, 304 Ecgwine, saint 37–38 education 6, 10, 47, 55, 90–114, 210–28 Egbert of York 67 n.76 Ely Farming Memoranda 291 encyclopedic notes 22, 28–29 Essex, kings of 311 Exodus (OE poem) 231–32, 239 n.42 family 10, 57, 156 n.56, 181–84, 187–97, 201–202, 204, 206–209, 229–50 passim fathers and fatherhood (see under parents) feasting (see also drinking) 302, 308, 312, 316–17 Felix Vita Sancti Guthlaci 74, 185, 201 fertility  147, 148, 155, 156, 158, 210, 233, 269 n.43 fetus 7, 52, 54, 56, 81, 84, 88, 141–42, 147, 149, 151, 154 Finàn, saint 300 ‘Formation of the Fetus’ 7 Fortunes of Men (OE poem) 9 funeral (see also burial) 195 Scyld Scefing’s 238 Galen 136 gardens 299 gender 5, 8–9, 50, 55, 58, 59, 60, 61–64, 65–67, 67–68, 76, 79, 85, 86, 119–20, 122, 125, 135, 136, 138, 140–58 passim, 161, 213 binaries 141 children and 55, 57 hierarchical ideas of 140–41, 142–43 medical bias relating to 122, 144–46 Genesis (see biblical passages) Genesis A (OE poem) 10, 140, 143 n.11, 165 n.21, 230–32, 236–37, 239–50 geoguþ 52, 60, 68, 72–73, 80, 81, 82, 84, 87, 88

365 Gerefa (see Be gesceadwisan gerefan) gift-giving 233–34, 237–38, 247 n.62, 248–49, 254–55 Gildas letters 300 glosses 32, 33, 34, 37–38, 51, 52, 54, 55–56, 64, 66, 74, 80, 85, 167–69, 177, 278–80 Goscelin of Saint-Bertin Hagiography of the Female Saints of Ely 177 grave magic 154 Gregory the Great 24–26, 72, 94 n.19, 126, 170, 218–19, 310 n.77 Dialogi 57, 172, 243 n.53 Homiliae in evangelia 25, 109–110 Regula pastoralis 219 n.26, 255 Guthlac of Crowland, saint 74, 185, 201 hagiography (see also under Ælfric; Bede; Byrhtferth; Felix; Goscelin; Hygeburg; Willibald)  10, 95–97, 118, 125, 171–73, 177, 210, 220–24, 294, 303 Vita Alcuini, anonymous 106 n.63, 228 Vita Ceolfridi, anonymous 314 Vita s. Cuthberti, anonymous 314 Whitby Life of Gregory the Great  219 n.28 hagosteald 60, 62, 68, 76 hair (see also beards) 18, 39, 69, 78, 88, 136, 205–206 pubic hair 166–69 Harold Godwinson 317 Haymo of Auxerre 26 Haymo of Halberstadt In epistolam ad Ephesios 93–94 n.19 Heahstan, bishop of London 185 heir (see inheritance; succession) Hildemar 92 homilies (see also under Ælfric; under Wulfstan) 23, 51, 143 Assmann Homily XI 144 n.14 Blickling Homily XIV 22, 75, 126 Hraban Maur Commentariorum in Ecclesiasticum libri decem 94 n.19 humors (see also under medical texts) 29– 31, 33–34, 37, 39, 42–45, 46, 117, 127, 130–32, 135 Hygeburg of Heidenheim Hodoeporicon of Willibald 220, 224

366 identity 10, 13, 161 n.7, 182–84, 188, 193, 195–96, 203–9, 323 ides 62, 83, 89 illness (see also infirmity) 8, 117–39 passim, 142 Ine of Wessex law code 316 infancy (see also ages of man; childhood; infantia; weaning) 10, 94, 107, 158, 165, 184, 211–12, 225 names used during 196–202, 209 terminology for 48, 50–52, 55, 57, 58, 70, 81, 84–86, 88 infant mortality (see under death) infantia 22, 26–29, 33, 35, 37–38, 43–44, 52, 81, 84, 88, 90–91, 93–94, 107 n.66, 124, 197–98, 215 n.16, 224 n.42, 226 n.53 infirmity (see also illness) 205 inheritance 10, 12, 181, 187, 232, 234–43, 247, 256, 272 Isidore of Seville 35, 293, 298 Differentiae 28–29, 91 Etymologiæ 28–29, 91, 99, 124–25, 165–67, 197–98, 200–201, 225 isotope analysis 211–12, 223 n.39, 263 iuuentus 25 n.23, 60, 75, 82, 84, 85, 88, 93, 99, 103–14 Jerome  Commentariorum in Matheum libri IV 109 Commentarius in Ecclesiasten 109 S. Eusebii Hieronymi epistulae 114 Johannitius (Ḥunayn Ibn Isḥāq) 43 Kent, royal family of 188–89 kinship (see family) labor (see work) labors of the months (see calendar illustrations) Lacnunga (see under medical texts)  Lammas 306 law codes (see also under Æthelberht of Kent; Alfred; Ine of Wessex) 66 n.73, 125, 159 n.2, 160 n.4, 178 Leechbook III (see under medical texts) Leofric, bishop of Exeter 281 loan translation 63, 85 n.123, 87 liberal arts 99, 106–107

Index literary devices allegory 38, 214, 220, 227, 228, 231–32 n.9 metaphor 56, 57, 60, 64, 65, 68, 70, 72, 87, 210–28 passim metonymy 56, 67, 87 manuscripts 272–81, 283–85 Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique, ms 1650 278–80 Cambridge, CCC, ms 41 143, 279–81   Cambridge, CCC, ms 144 167–68 Cambridge, CCC, ms 201 176 n.61 Cambridge, CCC, ms 223 169 Cambridge, CCC, ms 286 (St Augustine’s Gospels) 317  Cambridge, CCC, ms 419 256 Cambridge, CCC, ms 421 256 Cambridge, Gonville and Caius College, ms 428/428 5, 18–20, 39–42 Cambridge, Trinity College, ms R.17.1 (Eadwine Psalter) 18 Cambridge, UL, ms L1.1.10 (Book of Cerne) 17–18, 22 Exeter, Exeter Cathedral Library, M ms 3501 (Exeter Book) 285 London, BL, Add ms 42130 304 n.49 London, BL, Cotton Claudius B.iv (see OE Hexateuch) London, BL, Cotton Cleopatra A.iii 168 London, BL, Cotton Julius A.vi 294, 305–306 London, BL, Cotton Nero D.iv (Lindisfarne Gospels) 62 n.57, 255, 277–78 London, BL, Cotton Tiberius A.iii 142 London, BL, Cotton Tiberius B.v 294, 305–307 London, BL, Cotton Tiberius C.i 17 London, BL, Cotton Tiberius C.vi 317 London, BL, Cotton Vespasian D.xx 17 n.1 London, BL, Cotton Vitellius A.xv 283–85 London, BL, Cotton Vitellius C.iii (see OE Herbarium) London, BL, Harley 585 (see Lacnunga) London, BL, Harley 603 (Harley Psalter) 18–19, 274–77 London, BL, Harley 3667 35 London, BL, Royal ms 2 B.v 11 London, BL, Royal ms 12 D.xvii (see Bald’s Leechbook; Leechbook III)

367

Index Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 6404 99 n.38 Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 6407 108 Oxford, Bodleian Library, ms Hatton 115 144 n.14 Oxford, Bodleian Library, ms Junius 11  144 n.14, 156 n.56, 230 n.5, 246 Oxford, Bodleian Library, ms Junius 85 150–51 Oxford, Bodleian Library, ms. Rawl. C. 697 185–86 Oxford, St. John’s College, ms 17 35–36 Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, ms lat. 7559 99 n.38 St Gall, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 268 99 n.38 Stuttgart, Württembergische Landesbibliothek, Cod. bibl. fol.23 297 Trier, Stadtbibliothek/Stadtarchiv, Hs. 1104/1321 99 n.38 Utrecht, Universiteitsbibliotheek, Hs. 32 18, 275–77 York, York Minster, ms Add. 1 (York Gospels) 272–74 marriage 62, 66, 67–68, 73, 76, 80, 86, 87, 88, 142, 163–64, 172, 173, 183, 207–208 Martin of Tours 97 n.32 Martinmas 304, 307, 309, 310 maturity (see adulthood)  measurements, medieval 310 medical texts (see also physicians) 2, 7, 8, 117–39 passim, 140–58 passim Bald’s Leechbook 120–22, 127–30, 132–33, 136, 138, 144–45 n.17, 146 blood-letting 123, 130, 134 charms 8, 150–51 Æcerbot 156 n.56, 287–89, 315, 317 Metrical Charm 6 54 n.28, 146 n.24, 147, 151–57 and children 122, 128–29, 135, 137–38, 140–58 passim conditions included 123–24, 127–28, 144–45 and the four humors 130 and gender 12, 119, 122, 133–35, 140–58 passim Lacnunga 120, 122, 149–51

Leechbook III 120, 122, 136, 137 n.59, 144 n.16, 145–46 n.17, 148–49 Leiden Leechbook 137 n.59 Medicina de quadrupedibus 121–22, 128 n.32, 129, 145 n.17, 146 n.23 OE Herbarium 65, 120–22, 134, 137, 138 n.62, 145 n.17, 146 n.24, 148–49 and plants 134–35, 138–39 references to age 122–24, 132, 138, 323 relation to sources 118, 121 remedies using urine 136–37 sympathetic medicine 137 Medieval Warm Period 297 Mellitus, bishop 310 n.77, 313 men (see gender) menarche 161–64, 170–71 menstruation 161–64, 166–67, 170–71 metaphor (see under literary devices) mid-life and middle age (see also adulthood; ages of man; maturity; iuventus; perfecta aetas) 75–76, 93–94, 132 the mind 64, 162–63, 173–74 miracles 13 n.28, 150–51, 171–73, 303 miscarriage (see under procreation)  months 7, 35, 142, 287–318 passim mothers and motherhood (see under parents) names 10, 42, 181–209 passim, 240 n.45, 255 bynames 203–208, 322 Germanic practice 184, 189–90, 199 hypocorisms 198–202 insults 203–205 lall names 198–202, 209 nicknames 204–206 neonates (see also infancy) 50–52, 54­–55, 141, 147, 154 Nathaniel, pupil of Alcuin 107–108 Northumbria 187–88, 192–93, 199, 301, 311 nursing (see also weaning) 50, 51–52, 153, 157, 210–28 passim oblation 221–2, 224, 228 Odo, bishop of Bayeux 264, 317 OE Boethius 165 n.21 OE Canons of Theodore 169–70 OE Herbarium (see under medical texts) OE Hexateuch 217, 303, 317 OE Martyrology 51, 165 n.21 OE Orosius 165 n.21, 306 OE Soliloquies 165 n.21

368 Offa of Mercia, King 202 old age (see also ages of man; decrepitas; senectus; senium) 24, 67, 71, 72, 75, 87, 94, 103–104, 205–208 contrasted to youth (see also puersenex) 6, 60, 111–14 ‘green’ old age and ‘grey’ old age 21, 24, 28 in poetry 6–7 physical characteristics 6, 30, 127, 205–206 teaching in 111–14 terminology for 77–79, 83–85, 88–89 Oman (see medical texts; medical texts: and the four humors) Orderic Vitalis 183, 196 Orkney Hood 257–59, 261 parasites 123, 128–9 parents fathers and fatherhood 154 n.44, 163–4, 181, 206, 222–23, 229–50 passim mothers and motherhood 10, 50, 140–58 passim, 207, 213, 214–15, 221–3, 225–6, 228, 323 Parker, Matthew 256 Paterius 94 n.19 Paul the Apostle 165 penitentials 143 n.14, 155, 163–64, 169–70, 175–76 OE Penitential 176 Paenitentiale Theodori  164 Scriftboc 164 perfecta aetas (see also vir perfectus) 74, 93–95, 99, 101, 111–12, 112 n.82 perfection (see completeness; see also perfecta aetas; vir perfectus) physicians 143–44, 149, 154 planets 43–44 plants 39, 59, 65, 69–70, 71, 71 n.89, 75, 87, 120, 128, 129, 134–35, 137, 138–39, 242 n.48, 262, 287–318 passim, 324 Pliny Historia naturalis 136 population growth 302 prayers 17–18, 22–23, 72, 187, 195, 254 pregnancy (see under procreation) Priscian Institutiones Grammaticae 169 procreation (see also fetus, nursing, weaning) 143, 153–54, 245, 248, 249

Index birth and labor 53–58, 65, 81, 84, 86, 88, 143, 144, 146–47, 149–51, 153–54 miscarriage 154 pregnancy 8, 53, 54, 58, 67, 86, 88, 141–58 stillbirth 154–56 Prudentius Psychomachia 169 the Psalms (see biblical passages) Pseudo-Alcuin Disputatio puerorum 28 n.34 De divinis officiis 104 Pseudo-Bede Collectanea 22, 28 n.34 Pseudo-Ingulf Historia Croylandensis 1–2 pubertas 64, 82, 84, 85, 88, 109, 167 puberty (see also menarche; menstruation; pubertas) 8, 45, 58, 59 n.47, 64, 67 n.2, 75, 81, 82, 84, 159–78 passim puer-senex  95–96 pueritia 20–29, 31–39, 43–45, 63, 74–75, 80–81, 84–85, 88, 90–91, 93, 95–96, 102–103, 108 n.70, 109, 111–12, 124, 126, 137, 166, 198 pubes 82, 85, 166–68 Pythagoras 29 Quadripartitus 306 Quintilian Institutio Oratoria 226 Rædwald, King of the East Angles 254, 268 Rectitudines singularum personarum 291, 299, 302, 304, 307, 308, 310 recycling 256–59, 261, 266, 274, 280–81 Remigius gloss to Boethius’s De consolatione philosophiae 34 repair 256, 257, 259, 265, 268, 272 retainers (see warriors) riddles Exeter Book Riddle 20 60, 245 n.60 Exeter Book Riddle 45 314 Exeter Book Riddle 47 256 n.10 Symphosius Riddle 16 256 n.10  ‘The Riddle of the Sphinx’ 4 Rudolf of Fulda Life of Leoba 226–27 Ruthwell Cross 282–84

Index sacraments 170–71 sacrifice 295, 299, 303, 310 saint’s lives (see hagiography) Seafarer (OE poem) 11 n.23, 229–31, 233 n.15 seasons 29, 30, 31 34–35, 37–38, 40, 41, 131–32, 289–95, 306 spring 258, 291–93, 295, 298–302, 309 summer 291, 293–95, 298, 301, 303–305, 309 autumn  (see also agriculture: harvest) 70, 293–95, 298, 300–302, 306–309 winter 291–98, 301–302, 304, 306–307, 309–12 Sebba of Essex, King 202 senectus 5–6, 18, 20–25, 27–29, 31–35, 37–39, 43–45, 82 n.a, 83–84, 88, 93–95, 103–104, 111–14, 124, 126, 206 senium 22, 28–29, 43–45, 83–85, 109, 124 servitude and service 1, 57, 62, 65–67, 81, 84, 86, 88 settlement patterns 189, 193–94 sexuality 50, 60, 63, 67–68, 79, 86, 141, 142, 151, 158, 166 sexual desire 8, 137, 165, 170–74, 177–78 sexual intercourse 140, 146, 155, 156 n.56, 169–70 sexual temptation 143, 160, 171–73 sign language, monastic 315 sin 8, 38, 143, 151, 165, 166, 169–70, 171–74 source pluralism 290–91 St Martin (monastery) 113 Staffordshire hoard 281 stages of life (see ages of man) stillbirth (see under procreation) strength 17, 64–65, 66 n.72, 68, 72–75, 86, 88, 105, 109, 120, 132–35, 138–39, 186, 205 n.106, 219, 323–24 mægen 66 n.72, 132–35, 137–39, 321–22 succession (see also inheritance) 232, 234–35, 237–50 Sutton Hoo Ship Burial 254–55, 284 hanging bowl 267–71 shield 271–72 shoulder clasps 269–70 textiles 253, 256–65 time, cyclical and linear 3–4, 12, 131, 290 Tractatus de quaternario 5, 19, 40–46 transgressores 22, 25 n.23, 30, 31, 34

369 vir perfectus (see also perfecta aetas; perfection) 74, 93, 96–97 virginity 149, 157, 164, 172–73 OE terminology for 61–64, 66–68, 79, 86, 88 Wærburh, saint 303 Wærferth, bishop of Worcester OE Translation of the Dialogues 57, 172, 243 n.53 Walahfrid Strabo Epistola ad Ephesios 93 n.19 warriors 60, 62–63, 65–66, 67 n.76, 68, 72–73, 85, 86, 248–49, 269 comitatus 73 duguþ 60, 68–69, 72–73, 87–88 weaning 10, 157–58, 210–228 Wearmouth and Jarrow (monasteries) 111–12 weather 289–90, 298, 311 Wessex, royal family of 190–91, 193 wet-nurses 213, 214–15, 225, 226, 228 widowhood 207–208 Willibald 165 n.23, 222, 224 Vita Bonifatii 22, 220, 222, 224 Willibrord 95–97, 220–22 Winton Domesday 187, 190, 203, 205, 207 work 12, 64, 65, 68, 86, 110–11, 135, 287–313 passim womb (see fetus, procreation) women (see gender) Wulfad of Berry 104 n.52 Wulfstan, archbishop of York 173 n.52, 185, 188 n.28, 272 ‘De temporibus Antichristi’ 23 homilies 51, 126 Sermo Lupi ad Anglos 185 Wulfstan Cantor 165 n.23 Wulfstan’s Canon Law Collection 173–75 year, beginning of 294, 296 youth (see also ages of man; childhood; infancy; iuuentus; puberty) 138, 159–78 contrasted to old age (see also puersenex) 6, 60, 111–14, 205 names denoting youth 202–203, 205 terminology for 48, 52, 53, 54, 56, 58–68, 69, 72–75, 79–84, 86–88