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The Word Made Flesh: Christianity and Oral Culture in Anglo-Saxon Verse

Andy Orchard

Oral Tradition, Volume 24, Number 2

This paper considers the interface between the native, inherited, secular, vernacular, and oral legacy in Anglo-Saxon poetry and that of the foreign, imported, Christian, Latin, and written tradition that subsumed and largely supplanted it, at least in the extant record. A variety of Anglo-Saxon poets and poems are considered, including Aldhelm, Bede, Alcuin, and Boniface in Latin, and Cædmon and Cynewulf in Old English, as well as a range of anonymous poems including BeowulfAndreasGuthlac BThe Seafarer, and The Paris Psalter. The shared roles of memory, imitation, and self-conscious coinage in both Latin and Old English are considered, and it is suggested that traces of a once-thriving oral tradition that was partly shared by literate and illiterate poets alike can still be detected in the surviving written record.

Click here to read this article from Oral Tradition (plus MP3 readings of Old English poems excerpts)