OF THE AUSTRALIAN EARLY MEDIEVAL ASSOCIATION
VOLUME 4 - ABSTRACTS
1 Abstracts | Volume 2 Abstracts | Volume 3 Abstracts | Volume 5 Abstracts | Volume 6 Abstracts | Volume 7 Abstracts
Penelope's Odyssey to ninth-century Ireland
R Natasha Amendola
Penelope was the wife of Odysseus, or Ulysses as he is now more familiarly known. While he fought at Troy and struggled to find his way home, an absence of 20 years, Penelope stayed at home, raising their son, weaving a shroud for her father-in-law and maintaining her chastity in the most trying of circumstances. If she ever did leave her home at Ithaca, it was to return to her father's household in the Peleponnese. She was a thoroughly Hellenic woman. However, her name and reputation were maintained in Latin texts and her fame spread beyond the continent. In the ninth century, about two millennia after she is supposed to have lived, her name appears in two Irish manuscripts: the Lorsch Commentary and Sedulius Scottus's Ars Maior. Both of these are commentaries on a work of Donatus, also called Ars Maior, but this work does not include any mention of Penelope. This paper will trace how Penelope's fame travelled from classical Latin texts into the changed environment of early medieval Europe, where she appears as a grammatical exemplum.
'No use crying over spilt milk': the challenge of preaching God's justice in fifth- and sixth-century Gaul
It was not enough to convert the peoples of Gaul to Christianity. The church needed also to effect a cultural transformation: to penetrate their ways of thinking about and understanding the world. Part of this involved altering expectations of divine justice: when it would come and what form it would take. This proved a challenge for the Christian clergy. In the Eusebius Gallicanus sermon collection it is possible to trace some of the efforts at explanation which pastors made in the fifth and sixth centuries. Against a background of high-level theological debate over issues of grace and free will, they attempted ground-level explanations of how God could be just despite allowing sinners to flourish, allowing the virtuous to suffer and condemning some to damnation. Preachers sought to make complex arguments accessible and understandable to the urban laity, but also, at the same time, to control and guide interpretation along 'suitable' paths. To do so they employed established rhetorical and argumentative techniques, but adapted these to the specific local challenges they faced. The result was a subtle but coercive assertion of power over the ways Gallic Christians understood their world and their place within it.
Fate, virtue and the metaphysical winter in the poetry of Wessex
West-Saxon poetry occasionally describes a world of beauty and delight - the blossoming woods and verdant fields of The Seafarer, the comforting love of the Frisian wife in the Exeter Gnomics, the treasure allegory of The Nature Song - but these images are rare. More commonly the poet's praise is reserved for the constancy and companionship of the ring-sworn brethren, and the images favoured are of the hardships within which these brethren operate: the deep, dead waves; the storm-swept cliffs; the fierce snows of the long northern winter. These winters, however, are more than just a season to the West Saxons. In the poetry of these people, winter becomes a complex metaphor for the ephemeracy of joy and light and life itself. The warmth of summer will come to unlock the promise of life gripped tight by frost, but, all too quickly, the brief joys of the abundant field will pass back under the winter snows. These cycles of nature also inspired the West Saxons to count their years by the passage of seasons, a common enough phenomenon, but where other early peoples lived in anticipation of the summer or of spring, the West Saxons measured their lives by the number of winters endured. There is a significant covert dialogue in operation here as West-Saxon poetry indicates that this choice of seasons was not just a matter of expediency. The vernacular poetry of Wessex evinces an intense engagement with the concept of wyrd [Fate], and it was this powerful belief in fatalism that coloured West-Saxon expressions of the bleakness of nature and found a voice in the dialogue of Insular visual art - and it did so not just because of its intersection with West-Saxons' beliefs about living and dying, but because of its inextricable links to their very language, the process by which they spoke themselves into being. This paper explores this reality of the West-Saxon psyche that shaped so much of their ontology and subsequent poetic discourse, and it will look at the complex relationship of fatalism and Christianity and the ways in which this relationship found expression. Moreover, this paper will propose that the West-Saxon mind perceived the machinations of wyrd as neither benevolent nor ambivalent, but as an arbitrary and inhuman force that pulled all things inexorably towards destruction. More than just fatalism, the poetry of Wessex embraced a vision of predestination that was all-pervading, inescapable and entropic.
Imagery as exegesis in the Book of Kells
Denise Doyle RSM
The luxuriously decorated gospel manuscript known as the Book of Kells is enriched by an unusually large number of full-page images. The inclusion in this manuscript of four full-page illustrations of the evangelist symbols and the ambiguity of the author portrait of Matthew are unique among early medieval manuscripts. It can be expected that, consistent with the scholarship of the time, the Kells scribe-artists created this iconography as a tool for exegesis. In De doctrina Christiana, Augustine of Hippo indicated two essential elements in the treatment of all scriptures: the seeking to understand and the communicating of what has been understood. He suggested that the greatest problem would be to cut off the potential of further meaning by the refusal to attempt to pierce the opacity of a sign. This paper seeks further understanding of the vibrant full-page images of the evangelist symbols in the Book of Kells.
Innocent I and the Illyrian churches on the question of heretical ordination
Geoffrey D Dunn
The Illyrian bishop Bonosus not only created theological problems for the church with his denial of Mary's perpetual virginity, but created administrative problems through the schism he created in the late fourth century. The difficulty concerned differing opinions and practices with regard to those who were clerics in Bonosus's schismatic community and who wanted to rejoin the church: should they be taken back as clerics or as lay people or reordained as clerics? The procedure employed by some Illyrian bishops in the early fifth century was at variance with that endorsed by the church of Rome. This paper examines Epistula 17 of Innocent I, bishop of Rome from 402 to 417, in which he considered one part of the problem: those who had been ordained by Bonosus after his condemnation (Epistula 16 had considered the question of what to do with those ordained by Bonosus before his condemnation and who had joined him in schism). Innocent set out to transform the Illyrian practice and this paper considers the method by which he attempted to achieve that. It will be argued that Innocent sought to use the influence and prestige of the Roman church together with rational argument to persuade the Illyrians to adopt Roman practice rather than any directive that imposed the papal will or expressed jurisdictional superiority over the Illyrians. This evidence is relevant to questions of the development of papal primacy in the early medieval period.
'Beowulf and Sutton Hoo syndrome': integrating text and material culture in the study of the past
It has been traditional to regard the archaeological evidence from periods for which there is also written documentation as providing the 'illustration' to the documentary 'explanation'. Such use of material culture is not particularly illuminating for our understanding of the past; it tends to gloss over and downplay difference in favour of similarity. Both texts and material objects are the product of human cultural activity and consequently the written evidence should not be privileged over the material. Artefacts are just as capable of being interpreted in multiple ways as texts are, particularly when gender is taken as a category of analysis: it will be shown that stereotypical assumptions have tended to colour the classification of objects as 'male' or 'female'. This paper will explore some of the ways in which the archaeological and textual sources have been used in the history of the Anglo-Saxon period of 600-800 CE, and also raise new questions about the way that gender is used as a means for interpreting the archaeological evidence from this period.
Columban Christian influence in Northumbria, before and after Whitby
Full text available online
The Synod of Whitby of 664 has traditionally been regarded as the great 'set-piece' debate between the so-called 'Celtic' and Roman churches in Britain, and as the turning-point for Irish - and more specifically Columban - ecclesiastical domination in Northumbria. In his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, the principle source for the Synod, Bede declared that after Whitby, 'all present ... gave up their imperfect rules'. But to what extent could Columban influence be completely eradicated in seventh-century Northumbria? This paper examines the role that Columban clergy from Iona played during the formative period of the Christian church in Northumbria, and then considers the Synod of Whitby. It is shown that Northumbria and the Irish Christian world, including Columban Iona, were not cut off from one another after 664. Irish and Columban influences continued to reach Northumbria in the late seventh and eighth centuries, if less directly, and Northumbrian literate culture was still characterised by its substantial Columban/Irish flavour developed prior to the events at Whitby.
Narrative sociotemporality and complementary gender roles in Anglo-Saxon society: the relevance of wifmann and wæpnedmann to a plot summary of the Old English poem Beowulf
A traditional short plot summary of the Old English poem known as Beowulf might read:
The hero Beowulf, from a people called the Geats, when a young man visits the Danish court of King Hrothgar and kills in turn two monsters who have savaged the Danish people: first a monster called Grendel, then Grendel's mother. Fifty years later, as an old man and now king of the Geats, Beowulf kills a dragon which is threatening his own people, but in the process is himself killed.
That chronological summary of the plot gives little indication of the complexity of the narrative. In particular, it makes scant reference (the words 'hero', 'king') to the central importance of social roles. Beowulf is a story of social roles as much as (even more than?) a story of physical actions. In this paper I first describe the Old English lexical sets signifying 'male' and 'female', and, with some archaeological support, the gendered domains of social action with their complementary roles for maintaining the social group. The paper then discusses the interpretative relevance of these domains to male and female characters in Beowulf, both as their actions display the socially internal or external perspectives of each gendered domain, successfully or unsuccessfully, and as their actions are attributed positive or negative value within the appropriate domain.
Fate and malediction in early Celtic tradition
One of the most notable features of early medieval Celtic hagiography is the ready and widespread use of curses by insular saints. The cursing practices of ancient times are also represented in many linguistically Celtic texts from Britain and Gaul, not that these have always been contextualised properly by Celticists in the past. Considered in light of such epigraphic evidence for a pre-Christian Celtic cursing tradition, the development of a new form of imprecation can be discerned amongst the insular Celts. A close textual and linguistic study of medieval insular sources reveals little reflection of ancient Celtic cursing in the new tradition of saintly imprecation. This Christian insular tradition seems largely to have remained separate from inherited notions of fateful stipulation, of geases and 'swearing' destinies, but its development helps explain some of the otherwise rather perplexing features of Celtic supernatural injunction nonetheless.
St Vigeans no 1 and no 1a: a reconsideration
Full text available online
The monument known as St Vigeans No 1, or the Drosten Stone, is located in St Vigeans Museum, near Arbroath in Angus, Scotland. It is a Pictish cross-slab of approximately 9th-century date and bears both Pictish symbols and a cross. It stands 1740 mm tall, is about 550 mm wide, and roughly 180 mm thick. In its present form, it consists of two pieces of sandstone, St Vigeans No 1 and St Vigeans No 1a (as catalogued in The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland), together with various modern substances employed in the joining and presentation of the monument. This paper contends that St Vigeans No 1 and St Vigeans No 1a are not parts of a single early medieval monument, as is generally accepted, but rather originated as parts of two separate monuments, although the two original monuments may have been products of the same school, possibly the same sculptor, and of similar date. This contention arises from the author's observations of the monument during a visit to St Vigeans in July 1999.
It's all Alamannic to me! Ethnicity as an interpretative tool for cultural transformation
Cultural transformation in late antique and early medieval Europe has been explored through the concept of ethnicity. Ethnicity is a distinctly modern term that first emerged in the 1960s and can be defined as a self-identification process whereby individuals perceive themselves in relation to others. The extent to which it is legitimate to argue that this term can be used as an analytical tool for cultural transformation is at the crux of this paper. Commencing with an exploration of the term ethnicity, this paper will show that due to its modern and contested nature, ethnicity is a problematic framework for discussion about cultural transformation in late antique and early medieval Europe. This paper will also suggest a possible solution to this problem in the form of Bourdieu's notion of habitus. Applied to the concept of ethnicity in 1987, habitus sits unaffected by fault lines inherent in the more conventional theoretical perspectives. If cultural transformation as it appears in late antique and early medieval Europe is to be interpreted along ethnic lines, then it might be through such an environmental framework that a reconciliation between cultural transformation and ethnicity in late antique and early medieval Europe can be found. Ammianus's account of Constantius's peace with the Alamanni is used extensively in this article as an example.
Cultural incorporation: religious conversion in the Old French chanson de geste
The stories used as a basis for this article are taken from several chansons de geste from the Cycle of Charlemagne, a group of epic poems which contains many stories of conflict between Christian and non-Christian peoples, and which consequently abounds in stories of conversion and baptism of conquered people. As the singers of the chansons were dependent on their audiences for their livelihood, it was advantageous to them not to alienate their audiences. Therefore the attitudes they expressed towards conversion of non-Christians could be assumed to be common to both poets and audiences of the era. In these poems, the bulk of baptisms are forced on massed populations or individuals, and these and more detailed descriptions of change of religion highlight the social and cultural nature of the event. The French identify their society with the religion it espouses, so that people are influenced to change their religion by the qualities they perceive in that society, and they succumb to offers of riches, land, powerful alliances, and belonging to what is portrayed as a more powerful and materially and morally superior society. This paper will examine these aspects of change of religion.
Óláfr's raven coin: Old Norse myth in circulation?
This paper will discuss the career of Óláfr Gothfrithsson, king of Dublin (934-941 CE) and additionally king of York for two years (939-941), his raven coin and its possible associations with the legendary raven banner of Icelandic saga literature. The early medieval coinage of York, England, under the rulership of the Scandinavians presents a variety of symbols of their presence, which may have some associations with Old Norse myth. A striking example is from the mint of Óláfr Gothfrithsson. His pennies from York bore a vivid figure of a raven. This 'bird of battle' is an aggressive symbol of Óláfr's reign and has resonance with the ideas of an Old Norse 'raven banner'. When used on coinage it also symbolised the independence of the Scandinavians in England from the nearby Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.