MA Texts and Contexts Week 15

The suppression of monasteries and the wars of the 15th and 16th centuries have meant that what survives of Anglo-Saxon literature is scant. What survive are about 400 manuscripts containing various texts in the form of chronicles, hagiographies, laws, charters, poetry, scientific treatises, gospel translations, and sermons. The largely pietistic theme of the texts seems to reflect the ideology of the society that produced them. Most of these manuscripts were written by monks and holy men, who either copied the texts from existing manuscripts or recorded examples from oral culture. It is interesting to note that all surviving Old English poetry is preserved in four manuscripts – The Junius Manuscript, The Exeter Book, The Nowell Codex and The Vercilli Book. The Junius Manuscript contains biblical poetry such as Genesis and Christ and Satan. The Vercilli Book is largely religious in nature, containing both poetry and homilies. The Nowell Codex contains poems such as the epic Beowulf, and prose works such as Solomon and Saturn.The Exeter Book is a unique manuscript in that it holds a large collection of poems interspersed with over ninety riddles. While the theme of the Exeter Book’s poetry is largely religious, the riddles explore various subjects ranging from religious allegory to mundane household objects. Their subject matter, form and genre are unique among the corpus of Old English extant texts, and for this reason I have chosen the Exeter Book riddles as the subject for my final essay and thesis.

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One response to “MA Texts and Contexts Week 15

  • Melinda R. Norris

    You are probably aware of William Empson’s “Seven Types of Ambiguity.” If you take into consideration the statement of Heraclitus, that, “The only thing in the Universe that is constant, is Change.”, then you are looking at, and thinking about, Ideas. The Exeter Book and the Anglo Saxon Riddles, are written to foster the process of Creative thinking. The ancient Celts loved Ambiguity, and you are able to perceive that through the incredible mathematical precision, but also the very ambiguous quality, of their Art.
    The English language probably reached it’s highest point of Ambiguous, and Humorous, expression during the Shakespearean period. If you listen to the quality of non-development of students “language” today, you hear that Mankind has sunk into a dangerous mire of quicksand.
    Despite the barbaric conditions of life for the old Anglo-Saxons, the bard who came to the mead halls, who played the best music, told the best stories, and asked the toughest riddles, was more highly prized than gold. What a paradox to our modern times!

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