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Job, Ecclesiastes, and the mechanics of wisdom in Old English poetry Persson, Karl Arthur Erik


This dissertation raises and answers, as far as possible within its scope, the following question: “What does Old English wisdom literature have to do with Biblical wisdom literature?” Critics have analyzed Old English wisdom with regard to a variety of analogous wisdom cultures; Carolyne Larrington (A Store of Common Sense) studies Old Norse analogues, Susan Deskis (Beowulf and the Medieval Proverb Tradition) situates Beowulf’s wisdom in relation to broader medieval proverb culture, and Charles Dunn and Morton Bloomfield (The Role of the Poet in Early Societies) situate Old English wisdom amidst a variety of international wisdom writings. But though Biblical wisdom was demonstrably available to Anglo-Saxon readers, and though critics generally assume certain parallels between Old English and Biblical wisdom, none has undertaken a detailed study of these parallels or their role as a precondition for the development of the Old English wisdom tradition. Limiting itself to the discussion of two Biblical wisdom texts, Job and Ecclesiastes, this dissertation undertakes the beginnings of such a study, orienting interpretation of these books via contemporaneous reception by figures such as Gregory the Great (Moralia in Job, Werferth’s Old English translation of the Dialogues), Jerome (Commentarius in Ecclesiasten), Ælfric (“Dominica I in Mense Septembri Quando Legitur Job”), and Alcuin (Commentarius Super Ecclesiasten). It then traces parallels between the Jobean and Ecclesiastean traditions and various instances of Old English wisdom. These instances include wisdom in heroic, hagiographic, and riddling poetry, including Beowulf, The Battle of Maldon, Guthlac A & B, the Exeter riddles, and Solomon and Saturn I; they also include typical exemplars of the Old English wisdom canon, including Solomon and Saturn II, Maxims I & II, The Fortunes of Men, Precepts, Vainglory, The Wanderer, and The Seafarer.

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