This paper juxtaposes the Father’s Lament in Beowulf with the Preface to Gregory the Great’s Moralia in Job to suggest that Anglo-Saxons viewed narrative empathy as an important skill for correct interpretation. Gregory argues that Job’s intense words can only be interpreted by readers who have the skill to empathize with his suffering. The Father’s Lament illustrates Gregory’s argument by using a hypothetical narrative to encourage fellow-feeling; empathy with the father’s sorrow becomes the key to interpreting the sorrow of Hrethel and other characters in the poem, teaching the audience how to understand and relate to their pagan past.
The Old English medical text known as the Lacnunga has often been treated by scholars as outside the ‘mainstream’ of Anglo-Saxon medicine. This can be seen, for instance, in one critic’s distinction that ‘the Leechbook may be characterized as the handbook of the Anglo-Saxon medical man, the Lacnunga may be characterised as the handbook of the Anglo-Saxon medicine man’ (Storms, Anglo-Saxon Magic, 24). This characterisation is largely derived from the relatively higher percentage of charms, prayers, and liturgical material found in the Lacnunga, as compared to the other medical collections in Old English. However, in this paper I will suggest that the tendency to link the Lacnunga with popular, ill-literate ‘magical’ practice is largely mistaken, and that the distinctive features of the collection instead reflect an interest in the power of letters, words, and language best understood in the context of early Insular conceptions of grammatica.
This paper will begin with a re-interpretation of the motifs of labour and work in the Exeter Book Riddles (particularly the ‘ox’ riddles 72 and 38 [K-D]), newly approaching these motifs as primarily associated with the life course. The Riddles can be found to repeatedly stage a movement away from socially-detached nurture and growth in infancy and toward socially-placed role and function in later life. Keeping an eye on Christian traditions of the postlapsarian tie between agricultural work, punishment, and pain, alongside other traditions, this paper will then branch out to address links between mid-life and various kinds of work in other texts of Anglo-Saxon England, including parts of Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica, Ælfric’s Colloquy, and The Gifts of Mortals together with other Old English poems often categorised as ‘wisdom literature’. Exploring this thematic connection may help shine light upon the otherwise shady realms of Anglo-Saxon understandings of adulthood.