Published online by Cambridge University Press: 26 September 2008
In his study of Migration and Mythmaking in Anglo-Saxon England, Nicholas Howe has argued that the Anglo-Saxons regarded the ancestral migration from the Continent as ‘the founding and defining event of their culture’. He suggests that the adventus Saxonum gave the Germanic tribes in England a shared identity, and proved central to their historical, cultural and even theological self-definition. Howe investigates what he calls the Anglo-Saxon ‘migration myth’, which links the Germanic tribal migration to England with the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, both being transmarine journeys from a land of spiritual bondage to one of spiritual salvation. Migration and Mythmaking in Anglo-Saxon England traces the development of this concept from Bede's Historia ecclesiastica to Wulfstan's Sermo Lupi, and discusses its function in the writings of Alcuin and Boniface, as well as in Old English poetry. Howe's elegant analysis succeeds in demonstrating the pervasiveness of migration as a cultural myth, that is, a story that endures in a people's memory because it speaks powerfully to their collective imagination.
3 Gatch, M. McC., Traditions and Loyalties: Man and His World in Old English Literature (New York, 1971)Google Scholar, states that ‘although the Anglo-Saxons were a settled people by the time of their conversion in the seventh century, they never forgot that their fathers had come across the water and they were almost compulsive in their attempts to keep alive some memory of their heritage’ (p. 36).
4 Migration and Mythmaking, p. 4.
6 To paraphrase, the poet states that there has been no greater slaughter in England since the Angles and Saxons came to Britain, pæs pe us secgað bec (‘as books tell us’, 68b). Unless otherwise noted, all references to or quotations of Old English poetry are from the ASPR, by line numbers, and the translations are mine.
7 Migration and Mythmaking, pp. 2–3.
9 Lines 1649–67, 1697–1699a; 1730–1738a; 1746–1752a; 1767–1790a; 1816b–1819,1844–1847a; 1873–9; 1890–1931a; and 2621–2623a.
10 Gen. XI.2–8; XI.31; XII.1; XII.4–5; XII.10; XIII.1–2; XIII.5–12; and XX.1. Citations of the Vulgate are from Biblia sacra iuxta vulgatam versionem, ed. Weber, R., 3rd ed. (Stuttgart, 1983), with punctuation added.Google Scholar
11 As A. N. Doane cogently summarizes this relationship: ‘A careful comparison of the text of Genesis A with that of the Vulgate… reveals that the poet has systematically, virtually phrase by phrase, reproduced in traditional poetry the essential meaning of the Latin Genesis which he had before him as he worked’ (Genesis A: a New Edition (Madison, WI, 1978), p. 61).Google Scholar Compare Ebert, A., ‘Zur angelsüchsischen Genesis’, Anglia 5 (1882), 124–33Google Scholar; Hönncher, E., ‘Über die Quellen der angelsächsischen Genesis’, Anglia 8 (1885), 41–84Google Scholar; and Heinae, A., Zur altenglischen Genesis (Berlin, 1889).Google Scholar Like Doane, F. Holthausen in his earlier edition, Die ältere Genesis (Heidelberg, 1914)Google Scholar, prints the corresponding verses from Genesis for comparison. Genesis A follows the biblical narrative so closely that critics have been able to detect the presence of Old Latin readings in its source; see Doane, , Genesis A, pp. 59–60Google Scholar; Remley, P. G., ‘The Latin Textual Basis of Genesis A’, ASE 17 (1988), 163–89Google Scholar; also Remley, , Old English Biblical Verse: Studies in Genesis, Exodus, and Daniel, CSASE 16 (Cambridge, 1996), 94–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
12 Old English Biblical Verse, pp. 113–14.
13 Needless to say, the presence of a traditional theme should not be taken as evidence for oral composition, since indisputably literate authors such as Cynewulf make use of them. For this reason, it would be misleading to designate such themes ‘oral’ or ‘oral-formulaic’. The question of oral composition per se has no bearing on the present study.
14 Many critics have found the genealogies in Genesis A downright tedious. H. Jovy expresses the sentiment of many when wondering how any poet could have been ‘so geschmacklos … uns in mehr als 200 versen die geschlechtertafeln vorzuführen’ (‘Untersuchungen zur altenglischen Genesisdichtung’, Bonner Beiträge Zur Anglistik 5 (1900), 1–32, at 5).Google Scholar Still, the poet has clearly taken pains to make them as interesting as possible. A. Ebert was the first to call attention to the skill with which this is accomplished (‘Zur angelsächsischen Genesis’, p. 130), and other critics too have viewed these efforts sympathetically; see Butcher, J. W., ‘Formulaic Invention in the Genealogies of the Old English Genesis A’, Comparative Research on Oral Traditions: a Memorial for Milman Parry, ed. Foley, J. M. (Columbus, OH, 1987), pp. 73–92Google Scholar, and Hill, T. D., ‘The “Variegated Obit” as an Historiographic Motif in Old English Poetry and Anglo-Latin Historical Literature’, Traditio 44 (1988), 101–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
15 ‘And when they removed from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and dwelt in it.’ Unless otherwise noted, translations of the Vulgate are from the Douay—Rheims version, revised by Bishop Richard Challoner.
16 ‘Then they departed from the east, leading their possessions, their cattle and their goods. It was a resolute nation; the renowned warriors, a travelling tribe, sought a more spacious land, until they arrived in great multitudes at the place where they established themselves resolutely, the sons of nobles. The leaders of the people settled in Shinar, far and wide; in those days, the green plains — a beautiful land – unceasingly provided them with everything that the dear men might desire in their day’. Doane rightly comments that ‘some ambiguity about several constructions does not really blur the meaning of these sentences’ (Genesis A, p. 283, note to 1655–60).
19 It is true that Augustine, in De ciuitate Dei XVI.3, considers the descendants of Noah enumerated in Gen. X to have been representative of gentes … non homines (ed. B. Dombart and A. Kalb, CCSL 48 (Turnhout, 1955), 503). However, the Babel narrative in Genesis A shows no sign of indebtedness to Augustine; on the contrary, the two interpretations are diametrically opposed. It is difficult to say whether Augustine's ideas about the Noachian gentes were influential in Anglo-Saxon England (most authors do not broach the issue), but Ælfric, for one, shows no awareness of them. In his Letter to Sigeweard, he states explicitly that ‘Noes … suna gestrindon twa 7 hundseofontig suna … 7 hie ð a toferdon to fyrlenum lande on swa manegum gereordum, swa pæra manna wæ;ts’ (The Old English Version of the Heptateuch, ed. Crawford, S. J., EETS 160 (London, 1922), lines 212–27; MS LGoogle Scholar), and similarly in Catholic Homily I.1 Ælfric's Catholic Homilies. The First Series. Text, ed. Clemoes, P., EETS ss17 (Oxford, 1997), 186–7Google Scholar and De sex etatibus huius seculi (Sex aetates mundi: die Weltzeitalter bei den Angelsachsen und bei den Iren, ed. Tristram, H. L. C., Anglistische Forschungen 165 (Heidelberg, 1985), lines 40–50).Google Scholar
20 Most often, they are associated with terms of deprivation and negativity, expressed chiefly by the morphemes un- and -leas: unrad 30a, 982b, 1682b and 1937a (‘foolishness’); unfreme 893a (‘harmful’); unliðe 937a (‘harsh’); unleof 1268b and 2454b (‘hateful’); unfæger 1273b (‘terrible’); unriht 1292a (‘evil’); unscomlice 2461a (‘shameless’); ungifre 2472a (‘harmful’); dreama leas 40a (‘without joy’); rædleas 44b (‘cursed’); hygeleas 51b (‘foolish’); wærleas 67a (‘treacherous’, ‘oathbreaking’); wynleas 928a (‘joyless’); arleas 1019a, 1385b, 1934a, 2259a (arna leas), 2477a and 2549a (‘dishonourable’, ‘shameless’). Characterization through such use of thematic verbal repetition in Genesis A has been discussed by Lucas, P. J., ‘Loyalty and Obedience in the Old English Genesis and the Interpolation of Genesis B into Genesis A’, Neophilologus 76 (1992), 121–35, at 123–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Hieatt, C., ‘Divisions: Theme and Structure of Genesis A,’ NM 80 (1981), 243–51Google Scholar; and Gardner, J., The Construction of Christian Poetry in Old English (Carbondale, IL, 1975), pp. 18–32.Google Scholar
21 Doctrine and Poetry: Augustine's Influence on Old English Poetry (NewYork, 1959), p. 184.Google Scholar
22 Should we translate Rune Poem 4 Ur byp anmod as ‘the ox is evil’, simply because oxen are not Christian? According to Bosworth—Toller, anmod denotes fierceness or resoluteness, and our line (folc was anmod, rofe rincas) can be glossed as ‘the folk were steadfast, renowned men’ (s.v. anmod).
23 Genesis A, p. 282 (note to 1649–1701).
24 Both Huppé (Doctrine and Poetry, pp. 181–3) and Doane, (Genesis A, pp. 280–1Google Scholar, note to 1628b–1636) also argue that the poet strongly condemns Nimrod and associates him with the construction of Babel. Yet Genesis A draws on none of the usual exegetical commonplaces here. Not only does it establish no connection between Nimrod and Babel, but it never condemns Nimrod, implicitly or explicitly. Although the Septuagint makes Nimrod a giant, and subsequent exegetes often link him to the giants drowned in the flood, there is no sign of this in Genesis A. In rendering the crucial verse, Gen. X.8 Ipse coepit esse patens in terra (‘He began to be mighty on the earth’), the poet draws more on the heroic tradition than on biblical commentary: [Nimrod] moncynnes mæste hæfde / on pam mældagum mægen and strengo (1631–2). Nimrod is in good company here, for Beowulf too wets [manna] mægene strengest / on pæm dæge pysses lifes (Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburh, ed. Klaeber, F., 3rd ed. (Boston, 1950), lines 789–90Google Scholar). One other point of caution concerning the poet's reliance on exegetical material in this passage: Genesis A never names the edifice constructed by Noah's offspring. While the poem does mention Babylon as kingdom of Nimrod and birthplace of Abraham, it draws no connection between Babel and Babylon. Like other aetiological comments that do not transfer into Old English, the reference to ‘Babel’ (Gen. XI.9) simply drops out of the narrative.
25 The longest section added by the poet, lines 1687–1696, elaborates upon this theme: ‘þa hie gemitton mihtum spedge, / teoche æt torre, getalum myclum, / weorces wisan, ne þær wermægða /ænig wiste hwæt oðer cwæð. / Ne meahte hie gewurðan weall stænenne / up forð timbran, ac hie earmlice / heapum tohlodon, hleoðrum gedælde; / wæs oðerre æghwilc worden / mægburh fremde, siððan metod tobræd / þurh his mihta sped monna spræce’ (‘When they met in a great crowd at the tower, abundant in strength, they could no longer master their speech. Neither those who directed the work, nor any man there, could understand what anyone else was saying. They could not build the stone walls any higher, but, in great crowds, they unbuilt it, alienated in language. Every family became estranged from the other after the Lord sundered the speech of men through his power’). On 1693a tohlodon (Krapp tohlocon), see most recently Stanley, E. G., ‘Notes on the Text of the Old English Genesis, Modes of Interpretation in Old English Literature: Essays in Honor of Stanley B. Greenfield, ed. Brown, P. R., Crampton, G. R. and Robinson, F. C. (Toronto, 1986), pp. 189–96, at 194.Google Scholar
26 Doane retains the MS reading geond foldan bearn (‘among the sons of the earth’), arguing that ‘foldan bearn makes perfect sense in context, linking the tower builders with the “men of earth” who inhabited the city of Enos’ (Genesis A, p. 283, note to 1664a). Krapp, however, emends to geond foldan bearm, a more convincing reading. The phrase foldan bearm is attested in Beowulf (1137a) and Riddle 66 (4b), while foldan bearn does not occur. Moreover, the source repeatedly refers to the dispersion ‘among all corners of the earth’ (in universal terras, XI.4 and XI.8, super faciem cunctarum regionum, XI.9), which corresponds more closely to foldan bearm. Finally, foldan bearn runs counter to the sense of the episode, which explains how humankind was initially dispersed among the ends of the earth (which therefore cannot already have been inhabited by the ‘sons of the earth’).
27 ‘Then many a man urged his kinsman and friend, one resolute noble encouraging the other, that, for their glory, they should construct a stronghold and (as a sign) a tower, and raise it up to the stars of heaven — before this host, the people of the tribe, would thereafter scatter in different directions, throughout the plains of the earth, in search of land.’
28 ‘Dixitque alter ad proximum suum, “Venite, faciamus lateres, et coquamus eos igni.” Habueruntque lateres pro saxis et bitumen pro cemento. Et dixerunt, “Venite, faciamus nobis civitatem et turrem, cuius culmen pertingat ad caelum, et celebremus nomen nostrum antequam dividamur in universas terras”’ (‘And each one said to his neighbour: “Come, let us make brick, and bake them with fire.” And they had brick instead of stone, and slime instead of mortar. And they said: “Come, let us make a city and a tower, the top whereof may reach to heaven: and let us make our name famous before we be scattered abroad into all lands”’).
29 ‘Every family became estranged from the other after the Lord sundered the speech of men through his power. Then the sons of princes, alienated from their tribes, scattered in four directions in search of land.’
30 ‘And so the Lord scattered them from that place into all lands, and they ceased to build the city. And therefore the name thereof was Babel, because there the language of the whole earth was confounded: and from thence the Lord scattered them abroad upon the face of all countries.’
31 ‘Abraham and Lot lived in that place and had an abundance of all desirable things. They shared their possessions until they could no longer both enjoy prosperity together in that land, with both of their goods.‘But, because of this, the loyal warriors had to seek out a more spacious homeland elsewhere.’
32 ‘But, because of this, the loyal warriors had to seek out a more spacious homeland elsewhere.’
33 Emended from teoniwit, which Doane retains (translating ‘therefore we must remove contention from this place’; see commentary to 1911 b–1913a).
34 ‘Remember now, Lot, that our borders are surrounded by proud and powerful tribes, their warriors and retainers. These renowned warriors, Canaanites and Pherezites, will not allow us to encroach on their territory. Therefore we must depart from this place and move off to find more spacious lands for ourselves.’
35 On the ‘cluster’ as an element of Anglo-Saxon poetic style, see Foley, J. M., Traditional Oral Epic: The Odyssey, Beowulf, and the Serbo-Croatian Return Song (Berkeley, CA, 1990), pp. 211–12Google Scholar; Ritzke-Rutherford, J., ‘Formulaic Microstructure: the Cluster’, The Alliterative Morte Arthure: a Reassessment of the Poem, ed. Göller, K. H., Arthurian Stud. 2 (Cambridge, 1981), 70–82Google Scholar; and Kintgen, E. R., ‘Lif, Lof, Leof, Lufu, and Geleafa in Old English Poetry’, NM 78 (1977), 309–16.Google Scholar
36 Krapp, Doane, and all other editors supply lædde, which is not in the manuscript; a verb is required syntactically (and metrically), and since the combination æht + lædan occurs frequently in Genesis A, lædde is the obvious choice.
38 In The Singer of Tales, Lord stated that ‘the theme, even though it be verbal, is not any fixed set of words, but a grouping of ideas’ (p. 69). In later studies, however, Lord insisted on the importance of recurrent wording, partly in order to distinguish orally composed themes from analogous passages in written works: ‘Although the related passages will not be word-for-word alike, there will be at least a sufficient degree of similarity of wording to show that the singer is using a unit of story that he holds already more or less formed in his mind’ (‘Oral Composition and “Oral Residue” in the Middle Ages’, Oral Tradition in the Middle Ages, ed. Nicolaisen, W. F. H., MRTS 112 (Binghamton, NY, 1995), 7–29, at 10).Google Scholar
40 Traditional Oral Epic, p. 340.
41 ‘And the Lord said to Abraham: Go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and out of thy father's house, into the land which I shall shew thee’ (translation altered slightly to better reflect the Latin text cited).
42 ‘Then the holy One, the Guardian of heaven and the eternal Lord, said to Abraham: “Depart now, leading your movable goods and cattle away from your kindred. Leave Haran, and the home of your father. Travel as I command you, dearest of men – obey well my teachings – and seek out the verdant land which I will reveal to you, the spacious plains.”’
43 Ed. G. Waitz, MGH SS rer. Langobordicarum et Italicarum (Hanover, 1878), pp. 48–9: ‘Since, therefore, the peoples established within the island had grown to so great a multitude that they could not now dwell together, they divided their whole troop into three parts, as is said, and determined by lot which part of them had to forsake their country and seek new abodes. Therefore that section to which fate had assigned the abandonment of their native soil and the search for foreign fields … said farewell to their own people, as well as their country, and set out upon their way to seek for lands where they might dwell and establish their abodes’ (History of the Lombards, trans. Foulke, W. D. (Philadelphia, 1974; originally published 1907), I.2–3).Google Scholar
44 Moisl, H., ‘Anglo-Saxon Royal Genealogies and Germanic Oral Tradition’, JMH 1 (1981), 215–48, at 229.Google Scholar
45 ‘The Traveler Recognizes His Goal: a Theme in Anglo-Saxon Poetiy’ JEGP 64 (1965), 645–59, at 648.Google Scholar
46 Genesis A, pp. 81–2.
47 Two apparent exceptions actually do conform to the rule. The word cnosl (‘family’, ‘kindred’) occurs in the third scene (Genesis A 1747), but God here orders Abraham to lead his possessions away from his family (de cognatione tua). In the eighth scene, Genesis mentions the ‘household’ one verse later, Gen. XX.2; the parallel phrasing — Gen. XX.2 uxor, Genesis A 2621 bryde — shows the influence of the source upon Genesis A here.
48 This distribution can be readily explained by keeping in mind that the Genesis A passages constitute a composite of traditional motifs and elements taken from the source. The poet does not ignore the details of the source, but rather attempts to work them into the thematic framework. In other words, the theme serves as an underlying narrative matrix – shaping the sequence of events, the choice of diction and the selection of details – into which the poet incorporates material from the source. If ‘possessions’ were part of the traditional theme, but the ‘accompanying household’ not, then we would expect just the distribution of elements that can be observed here.
49 On this subject, see the magisterial study by Borst, A., Der Turmbau von Babel: Geschichte der Meinungen über Ursprung und Vielfalt der Sprachen und Völker, 4 vols. (Stuttgart, 1957–1963).Google Scholar
50 According to Borst, Turmbau (II.i, pp. 434–5), this connection first appears in the Joca monachorum. Concerning the insulae gentium, see Wright, C. D., ‘“Insulae gentium”: Biblical Influence on Old English Poetic Vocabulary’, Magister Regis: Studies in Honor of Robert Earl Kaske, ed. Groos, A. (New York, 1986), pp. 9–22.Google Scholar
51 Chronica minora saec. IV, V, VI, VII, ed. Mommsen, T., MGH auct. antiq. 11 (Berlin, 1894)Google Scholar, De origine Gothorum (p. 268) and Dedicatio historiarum ad Sisenandum (p. 304).
53 Bede, , In Genesim, ed. Jones, C. W., CCSL 118A (Turnhout, 1967), II.5 (line 929), and III.10 (lines 8–14)Google Scholar; Alcuin, , Interrogationes Sigeuulfi in Genesim, questions 141–2 (PL 100, col. 532 C-D)Google Scholar; Ælfric, , Interrogationes Sigeuulfi in Genesin, ed. MacLean, G. E., Anglia 7 (1884), 1–59 (lines 367–75)Google Scholar, and Letter to Sigeweard, ed. Crawford, S. J., The Old English Version of the Heptateuch, EETS os 160 (London, 1922), lines 239–83.Google Scholar
54 Borst, contrasting the Historia with Bede's earlier treatment of this subject, notes that ‘Am Anfang [of the Historia] steht eine geographische Einleitung, die mehr an Plinius als an Orosius angelehnt ist und keinen biblischen Namen braucht, als wäre die Bibel nicht das allumfassende geographische Handbuch’ (Turmbau, II.i, p. 481).
55 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: a Collaborative Edition (Cambridge); MSA (vol. 3), ed. Bately, J., 1986Google Scholar; MSB (vol. 4), ed. Taylor, S., 1983Google Scholar; MSD (vol. 6), ed. Cubbin, G. P., 1996.Google Scholar For C, see Rositzke, H. A., The C-Text of the Old English Chronicles, Beiträge zur englischen Philologie 34 (Bochum, 1940).Google Scholar
56 Cited from B, with additions in brackets from A and D (Frithuwald and Frithuwulf, missing in BC, must have been in the Chronicle archetype, since they appear not only in A and D, but also in other sources dependent on the Chronicle). A omits the sequence Haðra Hwalaing to Bedwig Sceafing.
57 Sisam, K., ‘Anglo-Saxon Royal Genealogies’, PBA 39 (1953), 287–348, at 316.Google Scholar Sisam notes that ‘the identification [Seth saxonice Sceaf] was made by Florence of Worcester († 1118) or an early reader of his chronicle’ (p. 316, n. 3). He also speculates that the error may have been caused by a confusion of the last four letters of the name ‘Jafeth’ (p. 316). T. D. Hill, on the other hand, believes that ‘Seth’ could be conflated from ‘Scef’ and ‘Sem’ (‘The Myth of the Ark-Born Son of Noe and the West-Saxon Royal Genealogical Tables’, Harvard Theol. Rev. 80 (1987), 379–83, at 380, n. 8).Google Scholar Interestingly, a genealogy in the Textus Roffensis has the sequence Noah — Sem — Scef: Đa wæs Noe. ða wæs Sem. Đa wæs Scyf. se wæs in tham arken geboran (ed. Sawyer, P. H., Textus Roffensis: Rochester Cathedral Library Manuscript A. 3. 5, part I, EEMF 7 (Copenhagen, 1957), 101rGoogle Scholar). This genealogy agrees closely with the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, but follows a descending order (beginning with Adam) using the pa wæs pattern, continues the list to Edward the Confessor, and omits the reference to Christ. A second genealogy, on 103v–104r, follows the traditional Chronicle pattern; it contains several mistakes not shared by the previous genealogy, and therefore cannot have served as its model.
58 Cf. Dumville, D. N., ‘Kingship, Genealogies, and Regnal Lists’, Early Medieval Kingship, ed. Sawyer, P. H. and Wood, I. N. (Leeds, 1977), pp. 72–104. at 95.Google Scholar
59 Chronicon, ed. and trans. Campbell, A. (London, 1962), p. 33Google Scholar (‘And this Sceaf arrived with one light ship in the island of the ocean which is called Skaney, with arms all round him’, trans. Campbell).
61 For a convenient discussion of the issues, see Chambers, R. W., Beowulf, an Introduction, 3rd ed. rev. C. L. Wrenn (Cambridge, 1963), pp. 68–86.Google Scholar See also Hill, T. D., ‘Scyld Scefing and the “Stirps Regia”: Pagan Myth and Christian Kingship in “Beowulf”’, Magister Regis, ed. Groos, , pp. 37–47Google Scholar; Newton, S., The Origin of Beowulf and the Pre- Viking Kingdom of East Anglia (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 54–76Google Scholar; Davis, C., ‘Cultural Assimilation in the Anglo-Saxon Royal Genealogies’, ASE 21 (1992), 243–58Google Scholar; Meaney, A. L., ‘Scyld Scefing and the Dating of Beowulf— Again’, Bull. of the John Rylands Univ. Lib. of Manchester 71.1 (1989), 7–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Lapidge, M., ‘Beowulf, Aldhelm, the Liber monstrorum, and Wessex’, SM 3rd ser. 23 (1989), 151–92, at 184–8Google Scholar; and Magoun, F. P., ‘King Aethelwulf's Biblical Ancestors’, MLR 46 (1951), 249–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
63 However, T. D. Hill (‘The Myth of the Ark-Born Son of Noe’) has pointed out that the concept of a fourth son of Noah may well have been inspired by Jewish and Christian apocryphal literature. Borst (Turmbau, II.i, p. 468) mentions ‘Ibath’, a son of Javan (or sometimes Magog) invented by the Irish.
65 ‘The Blood of Abel and the Branches of Sin’, pp. 9–10.