Direct references to scriptural or exegetical books, described as ‘halgan bec’ or ‘godcunde bec’, are common in late Anglo-Saxon vernacular writing. On occasion, however, as in the 10th century, Solomon and Saturn poems and Ælfric’s ‘Life of Chrysanthus and Daria’, such allusions are adapted to non-Christian contexts, in which ‘foreign’ or ‘false’ learning is invoked. Exploring these textual portrayals as important counterpoints to mainstream Christian contexts, this paper will suggest how contemporary writers used references to false or suspicious books as mechanisms for safely invoking culturally alternative or even dangerous sources of knowledge, information which could then be carefully assimilated within more traditional conceptual frameworks.
The Old English Life of St Chad is a unique homily adapted and translated from the Old English and Latin versions of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, the source of all information about the 7th-century Mercian bishop’s life. The saint’s Life also draws on Sulpicius Severus’ Life of St Martin to frame Chad’s story and present it to readers in the genre of the ‘life of a confessor’. The Life of St Chad is extant in a single manuscript dated to the 12th century (Bodleian Library Hatton 116), though the text’s most recent editor (Vleeskruyer 1953) argues it was written much earlier, and the exact composition date is debated. The anonymous author of the Life of St Chad makes many changes to the lexicon and syntax of the Old English Bede, often but not always informed by reversion to the ultimate Latin source. I argue that these stylistic adaptations reflect the anonymous author’s own personal style. Like most saints’ lives and some homilies, the Chad homily is written as a narrative, which the author often orders through the use of hypotaxis. Other stylistic features such as parallelism are also evident, for example in ‘in þere he forðferde. and bebyriged wes’. In addition to pointing out the author’s distinctive contribution, this paper will also compare the style of Chad with that of Ælfric’s homilies, which surround the Life in Hatton 116. Ælfric’s prose and distinct personal style employing a range of formal stylistic devices was widely influential on vernacular homilists, and serves as a useful point of comparison for the style of Chad. This comparison of style will offer some further evidence towards the problem of dating the Life of St Chad, and the place of the anonymous author in the history of Old English homiletic style.
Lexicographers always reconsider their first principles and practices, wanting to be sure that the way they are currently tackling the tricky business of producing a dictionary remains consonant with the way people are thinking and talking. This is tricky for the lexicography of a living language, but it remains a live issue for thinking about one that is extinct, or at least no longer has living speakers. For Old English, genre offers an intriguing case for thinking about those first principles and how they work. The Dictionary entries offer a very clear set of genre markers, differentiating prose from gloss usages, and sometimes making separate entries for poetic usages only. I would like to think about how dictionaries and lexicographers engage with issues of genre. For example, the absence of clear directions from Anglo-Saxon manuscripts concerning issues of genre means that we to some extent impose modern theories of genre on the Old English corpus. Recent scholarship has also questioned the borderline between poetry and prose in Old English texts, and to some extent the borderline between glosses and prose. In this paper I would like to ponder the current usage in the Dictionary, and consider whether change might be useful, confusing, or usefully confusing.