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The Seafarer, Grammatica, and the making of Anglo-Saxon textual culture

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 July 2017


Despite the popularity of The Seafarer within Old English scholarship, the poem's governing logic remains unclear, in large part because of the enduring mystery surrounding the poem's use of the compound expression forþon. This study will argue that the repeated use of forþon in The Seafarer reflects the anaphoric repetition of causatives in the Psalter. Moreover, through its repetition of forþon clauses, the poem invites the reader to approach the text using interpretive strategies commonly associated with the Psalms. Especially in the commentaries of Augustine, Cassiodorus and Origen, allegorical interpretation of the Psalms is linked to theories of subjectivity: different levels of the Psalms’ meaning often reflect different interpretations of the Psalms’ first- person speaker. Drawing on this link between biblical allegory and patristic theories of the self, The Seafarer uses the Old English Psalms as a backdrop against which to develop a specifically Anglo-Saxon model of Christian subjectivity and asceticism. In the layered complexity of its imagery, the poem offers more than vernacular glossing of originally Latin allegory: it creates allegorical figures within the medium of Old English. Implicitly, the poem makes claims for the medium of the vernacular, as well as for the model of subjectivity belonging to it, as a vehicle for reflection and contemplation.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2017 

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