Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 8514
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Lensing , Irmgard.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: Virgin Martyrs and Vladimir Propp
  • 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, Tenth Symposium on the Sources of Anglo-Saxon Culture, Session 83: "Sources
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Ælfric, Abbot of Eynsham- Lives of the Saints Hagiography Literature- Prose Martyrs Propp, Vladimir, Formalist (1895-1970) Virginity
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 10
  • Related Resources:
  • Primary Evidence:
  • Illustrations:
  • Table:
  • Abstract: Medieval literature tends to objectify the world beyond the senses into action. Ælfric's virgin martyrs' lives are a fine example of this. Writing in a plain and simple style, Ælfric draws additional attention to the action. The plots of the various lives are remarkably homogeneous. Corresponding segments of action are easily identified and vary only little from one life to the other. The structuring method which Vladimir Propp has developed in analyzing Russian fairy-tales seems adequate for an analysis of the virgin martyrs' lives because it assumes the primacy of the predicate. The basis of Propp's theory is the conception of language as a system. Accordingly, individual acts of the characters in the tale are defined from the point of view of their significance for the cause of the action and are called "functions." In their adoption of Propp's theory French and American structuralists have generally accepted the suggestion by Alan Dundes to replace Propp's term "function" by the term "motifeme" for the operational unit. Propp gives a double definition of the fairy-tale: From a syntagmatic approach he establishes a structural formula for the succession of motifemes as they appear in diachronic reading of the texts. In addition to this, he combines logically related motifemes in "spheres of action." Participants are defined as congruent to them. Propp postulates a static group of exactly seven spheres of action for the tale. In constituting the spheres of the virgin martyr's life, however, it seems useful to proceed gradually, each step meaning a further simplification of the participant's scheme: In a first step the indispensable motifeme (challenge of the virgin's chastity) can be regarded as forming a separate sphere. On the textual level the corresponding participant is often represented by the dramatis Dersona of the bridegroom. In a second step the same motifeme (challenge of chastity) can be included in a sphere consisting of all those motifemes which mean a challenge of the faithful virgin in general. The dramatis personae of the bridegroom and the judge are then regarded as representatives of one participant only. Some of the lives actually lack the bridegroom, in which case the judge himself challenges the virgin's chastity. The final step of the analysis reduces the constellation of participants to the simple opposition of the sphere of the judge and the sphere of the saint. These two spheres are contradictory terms. Each motifeme from the sphere of the judge meets an exact semantic counterpart within the sphere of the martyr. For instance, proposal is opposed by refusal, torture by invulnerability. In the life, motifemes from the two spheres alternate correspondingly. Thus the acts of the virgin martyr form a complementary cord to those of the judge. The alternation of the motifemes in the syntagma of the text mirror the dynamism of the struggle between the two forces. According to Levi-Strauss, myth tries to bring the inconsistencies of the world into accord. Legend rather projects these inconsistencies into the Opposition of Christianity and paganism, and it pleads for Christianity. In Ælfric's England the fight of Christianity against paganism is a highly topical problem in real life. The "Lives of Saints" belong to a work which makes Ælfric one of the chief literary advocates of the Benedictine Revival in England. [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 Münster
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 1992.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 00301973
  • Material/Technique :
  • Rights: