Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 9856
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Brown , Marjorie.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: Elene: Power and the Christian Hierarchy
  • Source: Old English Newsletter 29, 3 (Spring 1996):
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Cynewulf, Poet- Elene Helena, Saint Literature- Verse Power in Literature Women in Literature Women in Religion
  • Award Note:
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 9-10
  • Primary Evidence:
  • Illustrations:
  • Table:
  • Abstract: In "Elene," his longest and most complex poem, the poet Cynewulf uses the "family oriented" themes of fathers and sons, birth, and new life within the Christian "ordo." A comparison of "Elene" to the "Acta Quiriaci" shows how Cynewulf shapes the legend of the finding of the True Cross into a narrative of military, political, and divine Christian power administered through proper channels to ensure that Constantine rules on eanh, with Christ as his immediate supervisor and God above all in heaven. Though the question of improperly applied power has led many scholars to dislike Elene as a character, she acts rightly, as Constantine's assistant in this hierarchy. Against the Christian powers, Cynewulf sets not the Jews but the devil and the sins that he fosters in the human race to keep them from achieving eternal life. These sins are bound up in the sinful birth of humanity but can be redeemed by the one who was born from a pure woman, Mary, who becomes the paradigm of the "new mother." In "Elene" the sons, both earthly and divine, take precedence in the hierarchy over their mothers. Once the sonce are "born" to take their places in the Christian order, their mothers move into the background of the poem, from which the prelude to his great rebirth, and Elene's part in the rediscovery of his cross is the prelude to the rebirth of a Christian world. Like Mary, she must step aside for this "birth," having completed her share of the labors. For all her power and authority, Elene is subsumed in Cynewulf's grand vision of heaven, earth, and the rewards granted by the True Cross, which like a green tree in May spreads the fertility of Christianity to the world [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: Utica College
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 1996.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 00301973