Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 4563
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  • Title: Aelfric's Sources and His Gendered Audiences
  • Source: Old English Newsletter 29, 3 (Spring 1996):
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Ælfric, Abbot of Eynsham- Homily on Judith Ælfric, Abbot of Eynsham- Homily on the Assumption of the Virgin Mary Literature- Prose Readers Sources Women in Literature Women in Religion
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 10-11
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  • Abstract: This paper examines Œlfric's complex views on sources and, more specifically, his concerns about using ancient stories of holy women to promote behaviors as diverse as chaste living, devotion to learning, and bravery in battle. Female saints' lives were frequently used in Anglo-Saxon England as exemplars for both laymen and laywomen, yet we have few contemporary commentaries on how such texts were used to mold behavior. Examining the way Œ1fric manipulates his Latin sources to create vernacular literature which would appeal to a mixed- gender audience offers one way of better understand- ing the role religious writings played in the cultural construction of late Anglo-Saxon roles. The paper opens with Œlfric's homily on the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, and explores the difficulties Œlfric confronts in attempting to transform a text originally intended for a group of learned religious women into a homily suitable for "ungelœrede" (unlearned) married folk. I then turn to his homily on Judith and the even more complex task of making a beautiful warrior-queen serve as both an exemplar of chastity for 'wayward nuns" and a call to arms for Anglo-Saxon warriors. The paper concludes with Œlfric's remarks on the probability of his own texts being turned into sources for heretical texts. I argue that If:lfric's anxiety about the destiny of his writings grows out of his own use of sources, his willingness to manipulate or even abandon them for the sake of producing desirable exemplars. Critical accounts of Œlfric and his sources have focused mainly on his access to early homiliaries and manyrologies, his knowledge of Sede, and his peculiar use of alliterative verse. I use Œlfric's views on the transformation of ancient texts as a means of examining how Anglo-Saxons created contemporary cultural fictions about gender [Reproduced by permission of Robert Schicler, the “Abstracts of Papers in Anglo-Saxon Studies” editor, and the editors of the “Old English Newsletter.”].
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  • Year of Publication: 1996.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 00301973
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