The Early Middle Ages 1438438427, 9781438438429

The articles included in the present collection were originally read at the Conference on the Early Middle Ages held on

905 139 11MB

English Pages vi+152 [164] Year 1982

Report DMCA / Copyright


Polecaj historie

The Early Middle Ages
 1438438427, 9781438438429

Table of contents :
Introduction iii
I. Old Norse Memorial Eulogies and the Ending of 'Beowulf' / Roberta Frank, University of Toronto 1
II. A Lost Life of Hilda of Whitby: The Evidence of the 'Old English Martyrology' / J. E. Cross, University of Liverpool 21
III. Cassiodorus and the Utrecht Psalter Illustrations / Grace L. Houghton, SUNY Binghamton 45
IV. The Art of Bede II: The Reliable Narrator as Persona / Donald K. Fry, SUNY Stonybrook 63
V. Some New English Drawings of the Tenth Century / K. D. Hartzell, SUNY Albany 83
VI. The Swinging Pendulum and the Turning Wheel: The Anglo-Saxon state before Alfred / Joel T. Rosenthal, SUNY Stonybrook 95
VII. Sacred Drama and Comic Realism in the Plays of Hrotswitha of Gandersheim / Sandro Sticca, SUNY Binghamton 117

Citation preview




The Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies State University o f New York at Binghamton






University o f T oron to








SU N Y-Stonybrook






SU N Y-Stonybrook






University o f Liverpool





INTRODUCTION The articles included in the present collection were originally read at the Conference on the Early Middle Ages held on April 20 and 21 in 1979 on the campus o f the State University o f New York at Binghamton. The call for papers for this conference asked only for reports on work in progress rather than work on a particular theme. The response brought a number o f interesting and valuable studies on an equally great variety o f topics. Because o f previously set limita­ tions on the length o f this volume, only a few o f the papers could be included here and by way o f making a virtue o f this restriction I have chosen to emphasize the variety o f research problems and methods and the breadth o f topics as a principle for organizing this collection o f papers. Advances in scholarship usually expand our understanding o f some area o f knowledge, filling in gaps much as adding a piece to a jigsaw puzzle completes a picture. Occasionally, however, some new insight alters radically our picture and, unlike the addition o f a piece to a puzzle, obliges us to reconsider our entire perception o f the sub­ ject. Larry Benson’s re-examination o f the criteria on which the dating o f B eo w u lf is based has led to the conclusion that the text as we know it is o f far more recent origin than had previously been thought. The consequences o f this fact have necessarily been taken into consideration in Roberta Frank’ s critical examination o f the Viking influences in this work. It has long been an accepted fact that there are in Viking literature many parallels to passages in B eow ulf, but the absence o f an adequate critical comparison o f the tw o liter­ ary traditions and the presumed early origin o f B eo w u lf have aided little in understanding the similarities. Drawing on her sound grasp o f Old Norse philology and a broad knowledge o f the Viking literature, Frank has given us the first thorough and reliable comparison with B eow u lf and added significantly to the understanding o f the origins o f this work. in

A very different type o f research is presented in James E. Cross’ s “ A Lost Life o f Hilda o f W hitby: the Evidence o f the Old English M artyrology,” where the process o f reconstructing the histor­ ical tradition o f the biography o f the saint involves a careful sifting and comparison o f many different sources in order to isolate and identify the many strands o f this larger fabric. The validity o f the re­ search derives from numerous sources examined and, even m ore importantly, from the meticulous comparison which makes possible the identification o f elements o f this life o f Hilda and their origins. The result is a reliable reconstruction o f the essential elements o f a lost text and a m odel o f scholarly research. In her paper o f “ Cassiodorus and the Utrecht Psalter Illustra­ tions,” Grace Houghton com bines the m ethodology o f the literary historian with that o f the art critic and provides thus the necessary connection between the literary sources and the illustrations. In this study the detailed and systematic examination o f the work o f Cassio­ dorus forms the basis for the comparison with a similarly thorough analysis o f the illustrations. The comparison o f such disparate genres o f human expression as art and literature is always difficult since there seems to be no middle ground where both might be logically equated. The com m on meeting point is provided here in the rigorous analysis o f the comparable themes o f both genres, which alone p ro­ vides a read path between the two. In establishing the English origin o f an illustration found in a collection o f French manuscripts o f the mid-ninth century, Drew Hartzell approaches art with the same systematic and meticulous at­ tention to detail which James Cross displays in his examination o f a literary tradition. It is the careful description o f the particular work and the accurate characterization o f the comparable tradition which allows Hartzell to identify its place and time o f origin. The Middle Ages saw in the past presages o f the com ing o f Christ or the historic struggle between good and evil. One could find in the Cantica Canticorum deep Christian symbolism, in the medieval German Kaiserchroniken and Weltchroniken events o f the past show the omnipresence o f good in the affairs o f man, and in the increasing temporal authority o f the papacy one saw the emergence o f the forces o f good on earth. This view o f history as the blind struggle toward some distant goal, hampered by error and the influence o f IV

evil persists still today, despite L eopold von Ranke’s search for a scientific study o f history and the nineteenth and twentieth century trappings o f objective inquiry. Joel Rosenthal contrasts the tradition­ al picture o f England before Alfred as a series o f misadventures lead­ ing inevitably to the reign o f Alfred with one o f constant dynamic change and development seen in terms o f those elements which bring about change. The difference in perspective is dramatic, the argu­ ment cogent and convincing. It is not the actual manuscripts or fragments o f evidence which Donald Fry examines in his study o f Bede, the reliable narrator, but rather the author o f the sources or, perhaps more accurately, the author o f the author. Bede has always appeared to us as the objective reporter, the careful historian whose authority can be trusted, but Fry, in a thoroughly intriguing critical analysis o f Bede’s literary art, points out that this authority is m ost certainly the product o f the mind o f this creative genius, leaving us to ponder the ultimate relia­ bility o f this persona. It is a literary study that is at once m eth odo­ logically sound and intellectually provocative. It is against a carefully sketched historical background that Sandro Sticca presents, the humor o f Hrothswitha o f Gandersheim, that gentle and pious sister who turned her creative talents to the writing o f the first works o f drama in Germany. Hrothswitha co m ­ bined her two great loves, i.e., the church and the beauty o f the language o f the great works o f Latin literature, and created works that w ould recall the courageous deeds o f the Christian martyrs and, at the same time, present to her colleagues Latin texts which could vie with the language o f Terence and Plautus, whose writing ability she admired, but whose morals she abhorred. Sticca succeeds in bringing into focus her genuine humor in a study which shows both insight and sensitivity to Hrothswitha’s peculiar genius. I need to express here m y indebtedness to those many helpers whose assistance has been essential to the com pletion o f this volume. In particular I would like to m ention Virginia Oggins whose help in editing some o f these papers has been invaluable and D orothy Huber and her staff whose efforts in organizing the conference and in put­ ting together this volum e has been vital. We also wish to acknowledge our indebtedness to the SUNY Research Foundation and to Assistant Vice Chancellor Herbert McArthur whose support and cooperation V

have made the conference and this volume possible. Finally, I wish to acknowledge m y own personal debt to Paul Szarmach w ho has helped greatly in the course o f the production o f this volum e; I sin­ cerely trust that the com pleted work will in some degree reward his com m itm ent and effort. William H. Snyder SUN Y -Binghamton


OLD NORSE M EMORIAL EULOGIES AN D THE ENDING OF BEOWULF Roberta Frank My paper has to do with the interaction between Old Norse and Old English poetry during the period when the two vernaculars coexisted in England. I will begin by exploring the relationship between the last fitt o f B eow u lf and a handful o f datable Old Norse poem s — usually by known authors and sometimes with strong English connections. I will end by suggesting that a poet composing in either language knew enough about the other’s conventions to exploit them for his ow n artistic purposes. This paper is by necessity speculative: I will be asking you to keep an open mind about the date o f B eow ulf, or at least for a temporary suspension o f disbelief. There is a com m on assumption that the bulk o f Old English poetry was com posed between 700-825, before the massive Danish influxes o f the mid-ninth century. Norman F. Blake has recently reviewed the major reasons for this dating and found them wanting: “ the philological arguments . . . are insecurely based. . . . The historical arguments have been more emotional than cogent.” 1 Even more recently, Nicolas Jacobs has looked at Anglo-Danish relations with an eye to the age o f B eo w u lf and concluded that “ from 927 onward the Danes constituted a widely accepted element in English society, and an English poem complim entary to them is conceivable at least down to the resumption o f raids in 9 8 0 .” 2 My own work in Old Norse poetry makes me more and more convinced that the B eow u lf p o e t’s interest in and knowledge o f things Scandinavian was a result o f the Danish settlements in England, and not part o f a distant folk m em ory im ported by the Anglo-Saxons from their continental homeland. Everyone admires the ending o f Beowulf, perhaps because we

The Early Middle Ages, Acta, V o l. V I, 1979

take a particular delight in conclusions that — unlike those we fear are in store for us — are consciously designed. The final forty-six lines o f the poem have, as a recent com m entator observed, “ the rhythmic m otion o f a chant.” 3 We witness the building and kindling o f a great funeral pyre, hear its roaring flames and — at the same time — a Geatish w om an’s song o f lament as she predicts hard times ahead; “ she sang,” the poet says, “ in m em ory o f B eow ulf a m ournful chant, said over and over that she greatly dreaded evil days, many slaughters, the terror o f troops, shame and captivity.” Then we watch the construction in ten days o f a barrow on the headland, and the deposition within o f B eow ulf’s ashes and his hard-won gold. Twelve horsemen ride round and round the barrow, intoning a eulogy to their dead leader, enumerating his deeds and moral qualities: “ they wanted,” the poet says, “ to mourn their loss and lament the king, recite a eulogy and speak about the man; they honored his nobility and extolled his deeds o f valor, great strengths.” Each o f the tw o physical rites — cremation on the pyre and deposition in the m ound — is thus accompanied by a libretto, a chant that the poet twice describes as a g y d ; he gives the woman a giom orgyd (3 150 ), the men a wordgyd (3 172 ), in agreement with Tacitus’ observation in the Germania: “ It is considered appropriate for w om en to mourn, and for men to remember” (Ch. 27). The mourners’ voices m odulate from grief and self-pity to m em ory o f past deeds, rising in the last three lines to triumphant praise, sharply focussed on the man himself: “ They said that he was o f earthly kings mildest to his men and the m ost gentle, kindest to his people and most eager for fam e.” The material rites portrayed are those Snorri Sturluson in the thirteenth century associated with the Swedish cult o f O&inn: “ OSinn decreed by law that all dead men should be burnt, and their goods laid beside them on the pyre, and the ashes thrown in the sea or buried in the ground. He declared that in this way every man w ould com e to Valhöll with as much wealth as he had with him on the pyre; he w ould also enjoy whatever he himself had buried in the earth. Men o f high rank w ould have a m ound raised to their m em ory. . . .” 4 The B eow u lf poet preserves the form o f these rites, invokes the dramatic pow er o f the m yth, but denies any happy issue:


he never mentions Ó&nn, omits all references to Valhöll, and makes sure that his audience remembers that gold, buried with the dead man, will do him no good in the afterlife; “ it remains in the earth,” he insists, “ as useless to men as it previously was.” How did the B eow u lf poet learn about the ceremonies he described on that Swedish headland? Scholars have searched the English past without success for possible hints on which the poet might have drawn for his accounts o f pagan funerals; Larry D. Benson has asked us to look instead to the eighth-century continental Saxons, Frisians, and Danes whose continuing heathenism sorrowed a number o f worthy English missionaries.3 *5 But if B eow u lf were com posed in the late ninth or tenth century, the poet had native informants much closer to hand: the Danes who migrated to England in the ninth century seem to have associated themselves with a dynasty o f sea-kings based on the Swedish and Danish coasts o f the Kattegat, the same area — Zealand, Gautland, and Vendill — featured in B eo w u lf;6 and in Sweden, at least, cremation was the rule through the tenth century.7 The traditions and verse o f the Danelaw could have furnished the poet with all the pagan knowledge he needed. Indeed, the sequence o f laments that concludes B eow u lf may have been put together with a Norse poetic genre in mind, the erfidrápa or memorial eulogy. Tw o pagan erfidrápur, the Eiríksmál and the Hákonarmál, have com e down to us from the tenth century.8 Both have the same theme — the reception o f a prince in Valhöll after his death in battle. Eiriksmál, com posed by an unknown poet shortly after 954, comm emorates Eirikr Bloodaxe, the last king o f Northumbria. Eirikr had undergone baptism when acknowledging the overlordship o f the English king; but hé must have hedged his bets, for his memorial eulogy whisks him o ff not to heaven but to Valhöll. The chief speaker in Eiríksmál is Óðinn himself; he has dreamt o f the arrival in his hall o f a noble prince, and now hears a great din. Bragi, god o f poetry, thinks that this must be Baldr, the slain god whose return all longed for, com ing hom e: (3)

Braka £ll bekkþili sem muni Baldr kom a eptir í Ó&ins sali.

All bench-boards are breaking as if Baldr were coming again to ÓÖinn’s hall.


But ó&inn sees that it is Eirikr who is approaching, and bids the heroes Sigmundr and Sinfj^tli (Sigemund and Fitela in B eow ulf) go forth to w elcom e him. Sigmundr, w ho plays the straight man to perfection, asks: “ Why Eirikr rather than other kings? ” 0 8 in n answers, “ Because he has reddened his sword in many a land.” “ Why, then,” continues Sigmundr, “ did you rob him o f victory if he’s so valiant? ” “ Because,” says ó ð in n , with divine indirectness, “ no one can know for sure when the grey w o lf will attack the seats o f the gods.” Óðinn will need mighty champions like Eirikr at that final conflict called Ragnarök, when the gods must defeat the monsters o f destruction and chaos, before dying themselves. The anonym ous poet o f Eirxksmál must have lived in the Danelaw or in another m ixed culture area for quite some time for his verse to show the marked Old English influence in syntax and vocabulary that it does.9 Occasionally, though, it is difficult to determine just which poetry is the borrower and which the lender. The noun bekkþili ‘bench-planks’ in the passage I just read to you — with þili meaning ‘planks’ (pi.) and not ‘partition,’ its normal Old Norse meaning — does not occur anywhere else in Old Norse; the com pound may be m odelled on Old English bencþelu ‘bench-planks,’ which occurs twice in B eow ulf. Y et bencþelu occurs nowhere else in Old English poetry, while the w ord ‘ben ch’ is far more frequent in Old Norse poetry than in Old English, and is restricted in Old English to poem s that, in m y opinion, reflect Norse influence either in vocabulary or theme or b o th .10 Eiríksmál served as the m odel for Hákonarmál, a memorial eulogy com posed around 960 for King Hákon the G ood o f Norway by his poet, Eyvindr Skáldaspillir. Hákon, a half-brother o f Eirikr, was brought up in England at King Æ ðelstan’ s court; he died o f wounds suffered in the victorious battle described in Eyvindr’s first nine stanzas. H ákon’s retainers gave their Christian king a pagan burial; his saga reports: “ They spoke over his grave, as was the custom o f heathen men, and directed him to V alhöll.” 1 1 The poem then follows. Eyvindr seems concerned to show how well Hákon was received in Ô âinn’s hall: he portrays the gods summoning the king hom e; Valkyries on horseback chime in, happy over the increase in Ó ðinn’ s warrior-reserves. O&inn sends Bragi and Hermó&r (Heremod


in B eow ulf) to greet the new arrival who is somewhat apprehensive about his reception, as any sensitive Christian might be. Bragi tries to com fort the king by telling him that eight brothers o f his, slain in earlier battles, are already within Valhöll. (Beow ulf hits upon the same consolation; his last words before he dies recall his fallen kinsmen: “ I must follow them ” [ 2 8 1 6 ].)12 Hákonarmál concludes on an elegiac note, the three final stanzas mixing sorrow and praise: (19) G óSo dœgri

verðr sá gramr um borinn er sér getr slíkan sefa, hans aldar mun æ vera at góSo getit.

On a good day is that prince b o m who gets for himself such a mind; his age shall ever be held up as good.

(20) Mun óbundinn á ýta sÍ£t Fenrisúlfr fara, á5r iafngóðr á auða trç3 konungmaSr komi.

Shall unbound to the seats o f men the Fenris w o lf rush, before an equally good prince comes to (fill) the empty place.

(21) Deyr fé, deyia frændr, eySisk land ok lað, síz Hákon fór m eó heiSin goð m^rg er þió3 um þiáð.

Cattle die, kinsmen die, land and realm jure emptied. Since Hákon fared to the heathen gods, many a people is enslaved.

This com bination o f personal lament — a statement that dissolution, enslavement, and devastation are at hand — with formal praise o f a king’s goodness — is somewhat reminiscent o f the ending o f B eow u lf, as is the narrative context: a victorious last stand follow ed by death. Eyvindr moves the “ w o lf o f Ragnarök” m otif to his penultimate stanza (20): the m ythological final battle now serves not only as an explanation for a brave king’s death (O^inn’s need for


valiant men) but also as a measure o f the nation’s loss: the w orld will end before a king as good as Hákon is seen again. Eyvindr’s last stanza begins with a famous quotation from the eddic poem Hávamál — “ Cattle die, kinsmen die” — a proverb whose ending (here unexpressed) w ould have been present in every hearer’s mind, an insistent counterpoint to the p o e t’s own dark vision:13 (77) ek veit einn at aldri deyr: dómr um dau