Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 7088
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Justice , Steven.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: Þeah seo bryd duge!: The Freoðuwebbe in Anglo-Saxon Literature and Society
  • Source: Old English Newsletter 25, 3 (Spring 1992): Appendix A: Abstracts of Papers in Anglo-Saxon Studies. Conference paper presented at the Twenty-Seventh Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University, May 7-10, 1992, Session 16: "Old English Literature I
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Beowulf, Old English Epic Diplomacy Gender in Literature Literature- Verse Peace Weavers Women in Literature
  • Award Note:
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 8-9
  • Primary Evidence:
  • Illustrations:
  • Table:
  • Abstract: Although the Old English compound word freoöuwebbe, "peace-weaver," is neither a common word nor particularly difficult to understand lexically, it has been the object of some scholarly discussion. Most of this discussion, however, has failed to delineate the specific functions of the peace-weaver in Anglo-Saxon literature and society. In this paper, I argue that the role of the freoöuwebbe is best understood in the light of the Germanic tribal kinship practices of the Anglo-Saxons. After clearly defining how women functioned as both inter- and intra-tribal peace-weavers in Anglo-Saxon society, I examine the ways in which their role was made difficult (or even impossible) by those same kinship practices that generated a need for a freoöuwebbe. From this anthropological and historical discussion, I turn to the examination of a literary source, the poem Beowulf, which adds further resonance to the problems of the peace-weaver. By describing the different ways in which five women--Hildeburh, Wealhpeow, Modpryöo, Freawaru and Hygd--do not succeed in their attempts to weave peace both within and between tribes, the poem clearly demonstrates the almost inevitable failure of the peace-weaver. I conclude the paper by observing that if freoöuwebbe is defined functionally, therefore transcending gender, then Beowulf himself (who is, significantly, a semi-mythical being) can be seen as the only effective peace-weaver in the poem.Thus, given the reality of the difficulties of this role in light of Anglo-Saxon kinship practices, it is not surprising that most peace-weavers fail; indeed, the Beowulf poet seems to agree with this assessment in that the only freoöuwebbe he allows to succeed is a mythic hero. [Reproduced by permission of Robert Schicler, the “Abstracts of Papers in Anglo-Saxon Studies” editor, and the editors of the “Old English Newsletter.”].
  • Author's Affiliation: University of California, Berkeley
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 1992.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 00301973