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RædUnræd, and Raining Angels: Alterations to a Late Copy of Ælfric’s Homily ‘De Initio Creaturae’

Stephen Pelle

THE extensive manuscript tradition of Ælfric’s Catholic Homilies and Lives of Saints shows that they were among the most popular and influential Old English texts. However, the authorial intent of the circumspect and organized Ælfric, who pleaded with future scribes to be faithful to their exemplars,1 did not manage to preserve the textual integrity of his homilies. Indeed, their very popularity seems to have encouraged revision, recombination, and, in some manuscripts, even juxtaposition with texts whose orthodoxy Ælfric himself would almost certainly have questioned.2Mary Swan summarizes:The temptation when studying an author of Old English with such self-declarative tendencies [as Ælfric] is to imagine a simple equation between textual survival and authorial popularity. Such a model, however, is misleading and inappropriate when applied to textual transmission and re-use in a manuscript culture. It assumes that the scribes and compilers who selected Catholic Homilies material for re-use did so in the knowledge that it was composed by Ælfric, and that the dominant criterion for the choice of a particular source-text for use in, for example, a composite homily was the identity of its author.3Thus, by the twelfth century, Ælfric’s homilies were being reworked and adapted in a variety of ways. For instance, the c.1200 manuscript London, British Library, Cotton Vespasian A. xxii (Rochester)4 contains very late and extensively revised versions of two of Ælfric’s homilies, and has therefore been studied frequently in recent years as a witness to the continuity and change of English homiletic traditions in the years after the Norman Conquest.

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