Literature Review: The Early Stages of my Research.

"Thoughtful Reader" by Franz Dvorak (1862-1927)

“Thoughtful Reader” by Franz Dvorak (1862-1927)

I will be pursuing a thesis focused on Grendel’s mother from the Old English poem Beowulf, Guinevere’s mother from the Arthurian romance The Awntyrs off Arthur and the Pearl maiden from the allegorical Middle English poem Pearl. I will be consulting the following editions of the primary texts: The Beowulf Manuscript translated and edited by R.D. Fulk (Harvard 2010), The Awntyrs off Arthur edited by Thomas Hahn and available online thanks to Robbins Library Digital Projects and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Cleanness, Patience edited by J. J. Anderson (J. M. Dent 1996).

Turne Wathelan: The site where this episode is to have occurred.

Turne Wathelan: The site where “The Awntyrs off Arthur” is to have occurred.

I will be exploring three potential connections between these texts: the depiction of landscape, how knowledge is gained through a strange encounter, and the representation of these women as figures of authority. It was the similarity in the descriptions of landscape in The Awntyrs off Arthur and Beowulf that inspired this topic. I hope that Catherine Clark’s Literary Landscapes and the Idea of England 700-1400 will support and inform this aspect of my research topic (D.S. Brewer, 2006).

I am interested in the significance of water in the lanscape and how it is associated with these female characters.

I am interested in the significance of water in the landscape and how it is associated with these female characters.

I would particularly like to pursue the presence of water in the texts and their association with these female characters. The article “Living on the Ecg: The Mutable Boundaries of Land and Water in Anglo-Saxon Contexts” in A Place To Believe In: Locating Medieval Landscapes edited by Clare A. Lees and Gillian R. Overing will be most helpful in discussing this topic (Pennsylvania 2006).

An Illustration from the "Pearl" Manuscript.

An Illustration depicting the landscape of Paradise from the “Pearl” Manuscript.

In relation to the landscape of Pearl I have found The Pearl: An Interpretation by P. M. Kean most helpful as it provides a detailed discussion of the various landscapes within the poem (Routledge 1967). I will be focusing specifically on the following chapters: “The Garden of Loss”, “The Earthly Paradise” and “The Heavenly City”. Within this text Kean provides a chapter entitled “Encounter” which leads me to the next aspect of this research project, knowledge gained through strange encounters.

I will exploring how Grendel's mother, Guinevere's mother and the Pearl maiden impart knowledge to the protagonists.

I will exploring how Grendel’s mother, Guinevere’s mother and the Pearl maiden impart knowledge to the protagonists of their respective texts.

Image by Nele Vermeylen.

In Pearl and The Awntyrs off Arthur the Pearl maiden and the ghost of Guinevere’s mother communicate significant otherworldly insights to the protagonists of the texts. As well as Kean’s work I will also be consulting Pearl in its Setting by Ian Bishop in this regard (Blackwell 1968). Bishop provides a comprehensive interpretation of the allegory and symbolism within Pearl; I hope that the chapter discussing “The Conduct of the Debate” will offer an interesting perspective on the eschatological discussion that takes place between the dreamer and the Pearl maiden. Bishop’s work will equally benefit my research by refining my understanding of the Pearl maiden; there are several chapters dedicated to analysing the rationale for the depiction of the Maiden: “The Figure of the Child”, “The Function and Meaning of the Image of the Pearl”, “The Description of the Maiden” and “The Significance of the Maiden’s Livery”.

Mememto Mori

The deceased coming to warn the living about the afterlife.

Drawing by Jason McKittrick.

The strange encounter in the romance The Awntyrs of Arthur directed me to the macabre in literature and I will be consulting Philippa Tristram’s Figures of Life and Death in Medieval English Literature to increase my awareness of this tradition (Elek 1976). I have also found Stephen H. A. Shepherd’s “The Awntyrs off Arthure at the Terne Wathelyne” in Middle English Romances most helpful in this regard because the glossed and annotated text is accompanied by a concise criticism that highlights possible sources (Norton 1995). Shepherd also includes The Trental of St. Gregory which is alluded to in The Awntyrs off Arthur and two exempla about similar domestic macabre encounters from the Gesta Romanorum. Other works that I will rely upon for a comprehensive understanding of the text include: “The Awntyrs off Arthure” in A. C. Spearing’s Medieval to Renaissance in English Poetry (Cambridge 1985) and “The Awntyrs off Arthure: Structure and Meaning A Reassessment” by Helen Phillips in Arthurian Literature volume twelve edited by James P. Carley and Felicity Riddy (D.S. Brewer 1993).

Grendel's mother is not vocal, therefore, I will be focusing on  Beowulf's descent through the mere into her lair and the way she is depicted in different translations.

Grendel’s mother is not vocal therefore, I will be focusing on Beowulf’s descent through the mere into her lair and the way she is depicted in different translations.

In relation to Beowulf I will be suggesting that Beowulf’s decision to descend to Grendel’s mother’s lair is symbolic of seeking this otherworldly knowledge and I will be supporting this notion by relating it a similar scene in Grettir’s Saga translated by Jesse Byock (Oxford 2009). Unlike the Pearl maiden and the ghost of Guinevere’s mother, Grendel’s mother is not vocal. In this instance I would like to suggest it is the conscious inversion of the language before and during her fight scene with Beowulf and Hrothgar’s apprehension regarding the sword Beowulf finds in her lair that conveys a similar sense of foreshadowing and a supernatural knowledge of future events. This will require a thorough reading of different translations.

"Translating Beowulf" by Hugh Magennis

“Translating Beowulf” by Hugh Magennis

I will be using Fulk’s translation as my principal text because his edition places the Anglo Saxon poem within its manuscript context. Hugh Magennis’ analysis of the various translations of Beowulf in his work: Translating Beowulf: Modern Versions In English Verse will do much to inform this aspect of the project (Boydell and Brewer 2011). I hope to learn more about the translation process by consulting the essay “The Philologer Poet: Seamus Heaney and the Translation of Beowulf” by Daniel Donoghue in his Norton Critical Edition: Beowulf: A Verse Translation: Authoritative Text, Contexts, Criticism (2002). An examination into the depiction of Grendel’s mother would be incomplete without addressing the representation of women in Old English literature; New readings on women in Old English literature edited by Helen Damico and Alexandra Hennessey Olsen will be crucial to strengthening my argument (Indiana 1990). Other texts that will prove useful in this regard include: Language, Sign, and Gender in Beowulf by Gillian R. Overing (Illinois 1990), Writing Gender and Genre in Medieval Literature: Approaches to Old and Middle English Texts edited by Elaine Treharne for the English Association (D.S. Brewer 2002) and Poetry, Place, and Gender: Studies in Medieval Culture in Honour of Helen Damico edited by Catherine E. Karkov (Michigan 2009).

"The Second Sex"

Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex” translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier.

The depiction of Grendel’s mother, Guinevere’s mother and the Pearl maiden is an important aspect of the research project because these female figures are simultaneously portrayed as figures of authority and othered within their respective texts. I will be re-reading the “Introduction” and “Myths: Dreams, Fears, Idols” from Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier’s translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, as she provides an in-depth documented history on the depiction of women as Other (Jonathan Cape 2009).

Literature Review

This is a cursory review of the relevant works that I have consulted and hope to read in preparation for this thesis. I hope to diversify my research by seeking out similarly related books, journals and articles.

Image by Joel Robinson.

Images Cited

Dvorak, Franz. Thoughtful Reader. 2012. Bokläsning I Konsten: 1 December.  Bokmania. Painting. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

Grendel’s Mother. N. d., Beowulf Photo Gallery. Comic Books. Photograph. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

Krapp, Alexander P. Wadling. 2006. “The Awntyrs off Arthure”. Wikimedia Commons. Photograph. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.

Leslie, Rob. Fire Water. 2013. Rob Leslie Photography. Leslie Media. Photograph. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.

McKittrick, Jason. Memento Mori. 2008. Memento Mori. Deviant Art. Drawing. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

Pearl Poet. N. d.Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikipedia. JPG. Web. 17 Apr. 2014.

Robinson, Joel. A Stack of Books Meant to be Read Aloud. 2012. March 2012 Archives. Book Patrol: A Haven for Book Culture. Photograph. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

“The Second Sex.” N. d. Barnes & Noble. Image. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

“Translating Beowulf: Modern Versions in English Verse (Hugh Magennis) 9781843842613.” N. d. Boydell & Brewer. Image. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

Vermeylen, Nele. Supernatural Knowledge. 2008. Deviant Art. Photoshop CS3. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

Reconciling the Old English “Apollonius of Tyre” with its Manuscript Context: The Miscellany CCCC201.



The prosaic Old English Apollonius of Tyre occurs in the manuscript Cambridge Corpus Christi College 201(CCCC201). This single manuscript is predominantly comprised of religious, secular, poetic material, and the inclusion of Apollonius in this context has occasioned a considerable degree of confusion in relation to its genre classification, and the rationale behind the compiler’s decision to include Apollonius within this manuscript.


This ambiguity becomes clear when you look at CCCC 201 in its entirety; where it becomes quickly apparent that CCCC 201 is principally known for its considerable connection to Archbishop Wulfstan with the majority of its material being associated with him. The Wulfstanian material comprises of a number of Wulfstan’s homilies as well as anonymous homilies that have been ascribed to him because of their stylistic similarity; pastoral letters; sections from his Institutes of Polity; his Canons of Edgar and the Northumbrian Priests’ Law (which is another example of a text of uncertain authorship that is affiliated with Wulfstan). Two particular law codes, those belonging to Æthelræd and Cnut, also adhere to this manuscript’s prevalent Wulfstanian style and are interspersed with the remaining law codes belonging to Eadgar, Eadmund and Æthelstan that are characteristically non- Wulfstanian in manner.

Apart from the material attributed to Wulfstan, CCCC 201 contains rare religious material, in the form of the penitential and confessional literature it preserves in the vernacular, the most noteworthy of which is the “Late Old English Handbook for the Use of a Confessor”, which is the longest example of penitential literature to date. Within this religious milieu CCCC 201 also features two Old English texts dealing with English saints and their burial places and a vernacular version of a biblical account of The Story of Joseph.  

To complete the diverse ensemble that is CCCC 201 there are also five Old English poems: Judgement Day II; Exhortation to Christian Living; Summons to Prayers; Lord’s Prayer II and Gloria I. The manuscript concludes with Latin forms that deal with absolution and confession (Heyworth 2).

How Does Apollonius Fit?

A cursory glance at the overall compilation of CCCC 201 throws Apollonius in stark relief against what has been classified by Patrick Wormald as a “Wulstanian primer of Christian standards” (Wormald 208–209). In light of Apollonius being defined by Clare Lees’ as “the first heterosexual love narrative in English” and considered the earliest extant example of romantic literature in the vernacular; this ambiguity has inspired a desire to justify the presence of Apollonius within such a framework by endeavouring to reconcile it with its contiguous material (Lees 18).

Within the manuscript Apollonius is preceded by the “Handbook for the Use of a Confessor”, a number of law codes specifically I Cnut, II Cnut, VI Æthelræd, and Wulfstan’s Institutes of Polity and it is followed by the hagiographical vernacular accounts of English saints and their resting places (Heyworth 3; Salvador-Bello 750).


Traditionally Apollonius’s presence within CCCC 201 has been explicated by its affinity to hagiography. Placing Apollonius in this genre succinctly provides a connection between the ambiguous Apollonius, The Story of Joseph and the pursuing vernacular “English Saints” and their “Burial Places” that illustrate a strong hagiographic influence (Salvador-Bello 752). Associating Apollonius with this genre encourages the text to be read as a “moral exemplum for a clerical audience” (Salvador-Bello 750).


Reading Apollonius as an exemplum for an ecclesiastical audience is supported by the translator’s deliberate manipulation of its Latin source Historia Apollonii Regis Tyri in order to emphasis Apollonius’ exemplary generosity and humility: “Indeed then Apollonius cast off his noble status and took there the name of a merchant rather than a benefactor, and that price which he took for the wheat he immediately gave back again to benefit the city” (Salvador-Bello 756; Treharne 283). While the translator asserts Apollonius’ ideal moral qualities, Melanie Heyworth argues it is the text’s examination on the subject of marital morality which reconciles Corpus 201’s seemingly incongruent compilation (Heyworth 6).


The vernacular version of Apollonius manipulates the translation of the Historia from the very beginning by expanding upon the title to make explicit reference to “þam ungesæligan cingce” “the wicked king” (Treharne 276–277). The fact that the incipit has been deliberately manipulated and highlighted in rubric indicates the significant feature incest plays in the text and simultaneously serves to condemn Antiochus as evil and wicked for being the instigator: “he fell in love with her [his daughter] in his own mind with illegal desire, in such as way that he forgot the duty proper to a father and desired his own daughter as a wife” (Treharne 277). The significance of the opening incest episode takes precedence over Apollonius’s moral character when it’s placed within its manuscript context.

“Rightful” or Lawful Marriage

When read within its larger MS context can Apollonius be read as a text that’s part of a collective authority speaking out against inappropriate marital relations? Looking at the law codes first in the I Cnut chapter seven, it makes reference to the prohibition against close marriages: “and we teach and we command and in the name of God enjoin that no Christian man ever take a wife from his own kindred within six degrees of relationship, nor the widow of his kinsman, who was closely related to him” (qtd. in Heyworth 10)*.

The Northumbrian Priests’ Law supports this proscription by highlighting the illegality of certain marriage practices “that any man should marry a nearly related person, (any nearer) than outside the fourth degree. And no man is to marry anyone spiritually related to him. And if he does so, may he not have God’s mercy, unless he desists and atones as the bishop directs” (qtd. in Heyworth 10)*.


The ambiguous nature of Apollonius of Tyre and its ability to shift in and out of genres: traditionally belonging to hagiography – but the presence of incest problematises this reading; recognised as the genesis of English romance literature – yet its hagiographical affinities serve to designate Apollonius as a hybrid literary genre such as hagiographical romance or proto romance. This crisis of genre classification is reflective of our modern compulsion to unify and compartmentalise texts. When considering a manuscript as diverse as Cambridge Corpus Christi College 201, it’s important to note that Anglo Saxon compilers may not have shared our present preoccupation and perhaps possessed a different rationale. A rationale that remains elusive “if a text is detached from its codicological environment…[because]…we risk losing that part of its meaning” (Heyworth 5).


*The translation of King Cnut’s law code that I quoted is from Heyworth’s article but is originally from A.G. Kennedy’s edition “Cnut’s Law Code of 1018”, Anglo-Saxon England 11 (1983): 57-83. Print.
*The translation of the law code referenced from the Northumbrian Priests’ Law was sourced by Heyworth from English Historical Documents: I, c. 500-1042, trans. Dorothy Whitelock, Second Edition. (London: Methuen, 1979), 471-72. (Whitelock 471–72.

Works Cited 

Heyworth, Maria. “Apollonius of Tyre in Its Manuscript Context: An Issue of Marriage.” Philological Quarterly 86.1 (1997): 1–26. Print.

Lees, Clare A. “Engendering Religious Desire: Sex, Knowledge, and Christian Identity in Anglo-Saxon England.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 1.27 (1997): 17–46. Print.

Salvador-Bello, Mercedes. “The Old English ‘Apollonius of Tyre’ in the Light of Early Romance Tradition: An Assessment of Its Plot and Charaterisation in Relation to Marie de France’s ‘Eliduc.’” English Studies 7.93 (2012): 749–774. Print.

Treharne, Elaine, ed. Old and Middle English c.890 – c.1400: An Anthology. Second Edition. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004. Print.

Wormald, Patrick. The Making of English Law: King Alfred to the Twelfth Century, Vol. 1: Legislation and Its Limits. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999. Print.

Caedmon’s Hymn


The beginning of this MA coincided with exploring the importance of Caedmon’s Hymn in relation to the miraculous origin of Old English literature. According to Bede, Caedmon was an illiterate cowherd who had a divine vision one night and awoke the next day with the ability to compose Christian verses adhering to the metrical form of vernacular oral poetry (Shepherd 120).

Why Latin?

Bede recorded this miraculous event in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People with a detailed account of what occurred prior, during and after Caedmon’s heavenly encounter; but instead of recording Caedmon’s eponymous Hymn in the English language, Bede chose to represent the Hymn by paraphrasing it in Latin (Kiernan 158). Bede’s decision to paraphrase the Hymn in Latin offers invaluable insight into the cultural context of his Ecclesiastical History and the English language during this period. In compiling his Ecclesiastical History Bede’s intention was to portray a unified Christian community or nation; including Caedmon’s Hymn as a Latin paraphrase was the best way to achieve this propaganda as all texts of importance at this time, had been written in Latin. The significance of this decision in light of the English language, is that it highlights that Old English was considered as belonging to the oral and pre-Christian world. Furthermore, as a language Old English consisted of different dialects for example, West Saxon and Northumbrian, a factor that would undoubtedly have complicated his portrayal of the English as a collective identity.

Towards the Vernacular

The earliest evidence of vernacular recordings of Caedmon’s Hymn appear in the eighth century in the form of marginal glosses, which were written in a smaller grade of the insular minuscule that was used for the recording the main text (Kiernan 163). The different grades in the scripts help to distinguish the vernacular translation from the central text, Bede’s Latin paraphrase; which was written in the larger grade, serves as a clear indication of its prominence. It isn’t until the tenth century, as a result of King Alfred’s educational reforms, that a vernacular version of Caedmon’s Hymn appears as the central text within a manuscript. Indeed, it is thanks to the efforts of a creative scholar, who composed the Hymn following Bede’s paraphrase and traditional Old English poetic formula, that we have the canonical vernacular version studied today (Magoun, Jr. 57).

Manuscript Witnesses.

Fortunately, I had the opportunity to track the history of Caedmon’s Hymn by examining facsimiles of its different manuscript witnesses. I have included below a brief summary detailing my first encounter with facsimiles.

  1. “The Leningrad Bede” St. Petersburg, Russian National Library Lat. Q.v.I.18 [Gneuss 846]
  2. “The Moore Bede” Cambridge, University Library Kk.5.16 [Gneuss 25]
  3. “The Tanner Bede” Oxford Bodleian Library Tanner 10(9830) [Gneuss 668]

“The Leningrad Bede”

Looking first at the eighth century “Leningrad” witness, the Hymn appears as a marginal gloss on the bottom of the manuscript. On examining this manuscript I could clearly distinguish between the smaller grade insular used for the vernacular version of Caedmon’s Hymn and the larger grade insular minusculereserved for the central text.

Another important factor distinguishing the Latin and Vernacular versions is the layout. In the picture of the facsimile provided below one can clearly see that the vernacular translation runs in a continuous line across the bottom of the manuscript, while the central text above is laid out in separate columns.

Caedmon's Hymn as a miniscule gloss along the bottom of the page

Image Source: Special Collections, Boole Library, University College Cork.

“The Moore Bede”

The second eighth century witness, “The Moore Bede”, shows the Hymn as marginal gloss on the top of the manuscript. I found it more difficult to distinguish between the vernacular version and the central text in this particular manuscript as it was in closer proximity to the central text.

From the picture below it’s clear that in this manuscript witness the layout of both the Latin and the vernacular incorporated the continuous line structure. In this instance distinguishing between the Latin and vernacular text would rely on my novice ability to either spot the different grades of insular minuscule, or to decipher the words before me until I found a familiar Old English word.

Caedmon's Hymn appears as a miniscule gloss along the top of the manuscript

Image Source: Special Collections, Boole Library, University College Cork.

“The Tanner Bede”

The third manuscript witness dated from the early eleventh century and shows the vernacular version of Caedmon’s Hymn occupying its place of prominence as the central text of the manuscript. Now that Caedmon’s Hymn occupied the centre of the manuscript I found it more difficult to distinguish it apart from the surrounding text. In this particular manuscript witness there was no difference in terms of layout or grade of script to indicate the beginning of the Hymn; this time I had to read through the manuscript until I met the Hymn‘s famous opening word “Nu” before I could find it.


Studying the history of Caedmon’s Hymn through its manuscript witnesses offers a fascinating insight into the development of the English language. While examining these manuscripts I could clearly see how the vernacular language transitioned from the oral to the literary world, replacing the once canonical Latin paraphrase as the centre and designating the holy and powerful language of Latin to the margins English glosses once occupied.

Works Cited

Kiernan, Kevin S. “Reading Caedmon’s ‘Hymn’ with Someone Else’s Glosses.” Representations 32.3 (1990): 157–174. Print.

Magoun, Jr., Francis P. “Bede’s Story of Caedmon: The Case History of an Anglo-Saxon Oral Singer.” Speculum 30.1 (1955): 49–63. Print.

Shepherd, G. “The Propethic Caedmon.” The Review of English Studies 5.18 (1954): 113–122. Print. New Series.

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