Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 8785
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Mullally , Erin.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: Repossessing Power: Gender in Old English Hagiography
  • Source: Old English Newsletter 33, 3 (Spring 2000): Paper presented at the Thirty-Fifth International Congress on Medieval Studies, The Medieval Institute, Western Michigan University, May 4-7, 2000, Session 537: "Old English Poetry III."
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Cynewulf, Poet- Elene Gender in Literature Hagiography Heroes in Literature Judith, Old English Poem Literature- Verse Women in Literature
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 9-10
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  • Abstract: This paper explores the intersections between gender, genre, and didacticism in the Old English “Elene” and “Judith,” two poetic female saints' lives. “Judith” relates the Old Testament tale of Judith's beheading of her people's enemy, Holofernes, while “Elene” tells of the discovery of the true cross by Elene, Emperor Constantine's mother. I consider how these texts relate to other representations of exemplary women, such as Wealhtheow in “Beowulf,” Æthelthryith in both “Bede” and Ælfric's “Lives of Saints,” and the virgin Victoria in Aldhelm's “De Virginitate.” In Old English "secular" literature, men are often represented as warriors and sometimes heroes - Germanic heroism emphasizes aggression, action, and physical prowess. In Christian literature, male figures, since they extol Christian heroism, are either soldiers of Christ (miles Christi) or they value the monastic virtues of contemplation, mediation, physical passivity and peace. Women in Old English "secular" literature are presented as essentially passive mediators, or peace-weavers, extolling contemplation and peace. In “Elene” and “Judith,” by contrast, we see characterizations of the Germanic warrior figure, the “miles Christi,” and the ideal of feminine behavior. Both “Elene” and “Judith” are anomalies among other Christian female saints' lives in that they embody both Christian and Germanic notions of heroism. My paper examines how these female heroes complicate both Christian and Germanic notions of heroism and the didactic significance of such exemplary figures. [Reproduced by permission of the editor Robert L. Schichler and the editors of the Old English Newsletter.]
  • Author's Affiliation: University of Oregon
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 2000.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 00301973
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