being –closer to God and his angels in the heavenly
hierarchy and capable of interceding between the divine kingdom
and the fallen world of mankind –they were certainly not abstract
otherworldly spirits. Saints were embodied beings, both in life and
after death, when they remained physically present and accessible
through their relics, whether a bone, a lock of hair, a fingernail,
textiles, a preaching cross, a comb, a shoe. As such, their miraculous healing powers could be received by ordinary men, women
and children by sight, sound, touch, even smell or taste
youthful images that evoke the shadowy hero-deity, Sceaf;
the biblical figures of Moses in his reed basket,
the ark-born son of Noah,
and Seth, Adam's son;
and a range of characters from world folklore,
all of whom belong to literature rather than life.
Does it matter that Beowulf and its
the life of the mind, can leave you feeling ill at ease in both social groups, an impostor caught between two worlds, a class traitor, a kind of border-walker or mearcstapa .
The language of academia, its many unwritten rules and mysterious rituals, can seem impenetrable to someone who is late to the party. You are perpetually playing catch up with those who have benefited from expensive educations or who have accumulated years of cultural capital. Equally, I do not possess the technical skills that many members
Troubling race, ethnicity, and masculinity in Beowulf
moments. Indeed, whether or not we fix a date, I argue that we need to account for the emotional life of the poem as it circulated before, within, and beyond its early eleventh-century manuscript. Who would have read Beowulf at different points in time and space? How would they have related and reacted to it? What made successive textual and emotional communities come back to the same text again and again?
If reader-response theory has taught us anything, it is that different audiences do not read the same text.
thing-power comes from the very stoniness of the monument: although stone may seem still, silent and solid to human
observers, this material actually has a vibrancy of its own, a life
story that has shaped and will shape our experience of that which
we call the Ruthwell monument. As the stone moves and changes
across the ages, will it one day cease to function as a monument,
let alone a cross, altogether? And will it not break further and further away from the manuscript poem until no one can remember
why these two things were put together in the first place?
reveals the darker side of Beowulf : the blindness of heroes, the tenuous distinctions between monsters and men, and the deathly potential of history and its artefacts. Modern scholars have recognized these too, but Andreas , Beowulf 's most loving reader, saw them first.
What might a Late Antique apostolic adventure story find to like in a tale of disastrous Scandinavian politics and bothersome monsters? Cannibals, ancient architectural features, and a fallible hero are the beginning of an answer. While
concerns: courage in the face of violent attack; the creation of community through the sharing of food and drink; the role of women in public life; the mediation of past, present, and future amid upheaval. All this is to say nothing of similarities between the Beowulf of poetic tradition and the ugly plaster bulldog bearing his name in Bryher's novel, nor of some explicit discussion of the poem within the novel. This speaks to a certain scholarly hubris about the kinds of interpretations that the poem affords and our ability to parse works that adapt without being
Introduction: On Anglo-Saxon things
How many things,
Files, doorsills, atlases, wine glasses, nails,
Serve us like slaves who never say a word,
Blind and so mysteriously reserved.
(Jorge Luis Borges, ‘Things’)1
Næfre hio heofonum hran, ne to helle mot,
ac hio sceal wideferh wuldorcyninges
larum lifgan. Long is to secganne
hu hyre ealdorgesceaft æfter gongeð,
woh wyrda gesceapu; þæt is wrætlic þing
[It never reaches heaven, nor to hell, but it must always live within the
king of glory’s laws. Long it is to say how its life-shape spins on
By inviting, then, an array of critical responses to and contestations of the politics, histories, affects, and sometimes even impossibilities of intimacy in and with Beowulf , we contend that the most basic practices and philosophical assumptions of our discipline must attend to how and why certain modes of scholarship are thought to be more or less suited to courting an Old English poem. Undeniably, even the old ways of dating Beowulf – for instance, philologically, metrically, historically – were, whether overtly or silently, invested in articulating the
The creative power of words thus moves from the naming of the hall (‘scop him Heort naman’) (78b) to the scop's narrative of creation (‘swutol sang scopes’) (90a) to God's creation of life itself (‘life ac gesceop’) (97b). All three points of narrative intimation reinforce communal intimacy.
This celebratory scene of poetic recitation concludes with the reiterated joy experienced by the community within the hall, which is quickly interrupted by Grendel's re-emergence in the poem: ‘Swa ða drihtguman dreamum lifdon