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Hands and eyes, sight and touch: appraising the senses in Anglo-Saxon England

  • Katherine O'Brien O'Keeffe


The archives of knowledge through which Anglo-Saxons understood the senses ranged from vernacular to patristic. Quotidian understanding of the senses treated them as functions of their corresponding bodily organs, as the injury tariffs of Æthelberht and Alfred illustrate. Old English learned prose catalogues the senses from sight to touch with an order that bespeaks a set of understandings about bodies, materiality, souls and salvation. There the differing appraisals of sight and its lesser sibling, touch, track their perceived mediations between the world and the soul. The Old English Boethius, Wærferth's Dialogues and a range of Ælfric's writings illustrate understandings of these senses’ mediation between the material and the immaterial, the corporeal and the incorporeal. The meaning of Wulfstan's legislation on friðlice steora must thus be sought in a crossing of archives of appraisals – the legal valuation of body parts and the patristic understanding of senses as channels between the flesh and the spirit.


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Anglo-Saxon England
  • ISSN: 0263-6751
  • EISSN: 1474-0532
  • URL: /core/journals/anglo-saxon-england
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