Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 8556
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Klinck , Anne L.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: Freyja or Aphrodite? The Wife's Lament North and South
  • Source: Old English Newsletter 34, 3 (Spring 2001): Appendix A: Abstracts of Papers in Anglo-Saxon Studies. Conference Paper presented at the Tenth Biennial Meeting of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists, University of Helsinki, August 6-11, 2001, "Anglo-Saxons and the North
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Literature- Verse Mythology- Scandinavian Pagan Influences Wife's Lament, Old English Elegy
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 10
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  • Abstract: Since Grein on, many scholars have postulated a link between The Wife's Lament and the practice of magic or cult. The cave under the oak-tree (lines 28 and 36), the "bitre burgtunas brerum beweaxne" (line 31 ), the possible occurrence of the word he(a)rglh (line 15) all suggest a site inhabited by supernatural powers, perhaps some kind of sacred grove. Reading the poem as the product of Christian culture tended to militate against this approach - although A. N. Doane man-aged to reconcile the two. But in recent years there has been a revival of interest in the connection between Old English poetry and the religion of the North - a connection now seen in the poems' historical back-ground rather than in their comparatively late (tenth-century'?) contemporary public. Richard North has investigated traces of the worship of Woden and Ingui; Elizabeth Jackson has argued for a reminiscence of Woden/O6inn worship in the figure of the kyle. In The Wife's Lament, specifically, Robert Luyster finds a representation of Freyla's lamentation and journeying in search of her husband Odr, a solar figure: she awaits the return of the sun god and his reunion with her on the dawn of Midsummer Day. I would like to take up this renewed interest in a connection between Old English poetry and pagan religious practices. However, I would extend the con-nection beyond the religion of the North, and suggest that poems like The Wife's Lament were very likely a widespread phenomenon, rooted in cult to be sure, but also functioning as the expression of personal feeling. This combination is quite well documented in ancient Greece from the Homeric through the classical period, as reflections of funeral laments in Homer and Sappho show, along with descriptions of women's cults. A poem like The Wife's Lament, then, could have origi-nated in cult song appropriated by its performers to evoke personal emotion - real, fictitious, or both. It is a union of the public and the private foreign to modern western experience, but found in traditional societies, and it may help to explain the former social function of poems which claim to wrecan a gied of personal experience, but within which the outlines of ritual practices may be dimly traced. [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 New Brunswick
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 2001.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 00301973
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