Philological Quarterly

Abstracts: Volume 92, Number 3

Abstracts 92.3

Ciaran Arthur, “Giving the Head’s Up in Ælfric’s Passio Sancti Edmundi: Postural Representations of the Old English Saint”

The theme of posture is an important feature of Anglo-Saxon hagiography that frames decapitation scenes. Ælfric’s account of the martyrdom of Edmund, king of East Anglia, uses many postural descriptions to depict the king’s saintly qualities. From Christian defiance to self-sacrifice, Edmund is portrayed as a Christian king who heroically defies his heathen enemies. After his death, Edmund assumes great control over his enemies and administers divine justice. These key stages of Edmund’s death and burial focus heavily on his posture and that of his adversaries. This saint’s life provides another example of how the Anglo-Saxons used postural gesture, upright positioning, and elevation and descent to describe the virtues of saints and the vices of enemies.

Peter Ramey, “Writing Speaks: Oral Poetics and Writing Technology in the Exeter Book Riddles”

Throughout the Exeter Book Riddles the topic of writing appears repeatedly in the form of books, pens, ink, and various inscribed objects. In these poems writing is imagined as a kind of material speech, one that confers upon inanimate objects voice and power and outfits these items with an enhanced agency for (or heightened effect upon) their human users. A similar arrangement of writing and speech is evident in the Anglo-Saxon epigraphic practice of “speaking objects,” which likewise imaginatively extend speech to inanimate things. I use these inscriptions to inquire into an Anglo-Saxon notion of writing as prosopopoeiac “inscribed speech,” and then examine the way this idea informs the construction of the enigmatic voice found in the Old English riddles. While the earlier Latin riddles also employ personification as a rhetorical device, there is little sense in these Latin texts that the object is itself the actual speaker of the poem.

Pamela L. Longo, “Gower’s Public Outcry”

Critical interest in John Gower’s Vox Clamantis has focused on the beast allegory of the 1381 Rising, contained in the first book of the poem, and on the use of Latin to accommodate Gower’s reactionary perspective to contemporary events. Interest in the allegory of the Rising has supported interpretations of the poem that sharply distinguish the first book from the other six books, Vox 2-7, which Gower wrote as a social and moral critique before 1381. This essay reads the poem as a public outcry before the English Rising and as a response to it thereafter. It studies the terms through which Gower establishes his authority to critique contemporary society. I argue that the deployment of the people’s voice, the plebis vox or vox populi, serves in conjunction with other authorial poses to create an explicit sense of instability through which the pre-1381 critique demonstrates the need for reform. I also propose that the allegory of the Rising enhances the effort to call readers to account by modeling the process of self-examination.

Patrick J. Murphy and Fred Porcheddu, “Amateur Error, Templar Terror, and M.R. James’s Haunted Whistle

This essay explores the theme of scholarly errancy and amateurism in the ghost stories of M.R. James (1862-1936), a renowned scholar whose career spanned a formative era in the professional development of medieval studies. In particular, his most famous story "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You My Lad" (1904) is analyzed in light of the authors' discovery that the enigmatic inscription on the tale's central artifact, a whistle discovered in a Templar preceptory, has
been significantly altered in all editions subsequent to its original publication. The finding allows not only for a reevaluation of an important literary riddle, but a broader reconsideration of the tale's anxious interest in the many terrors of academic error.

Ashley Marshall, Review Essay: “The Private and Public Lives of Jonathan Swift”