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From secular to sacred flyting : the Anglo-Saxon re-analysis of the Christian war of words in Old English religious prose and verse Simpkins, Linda Margaret


The interaction of Germanic and Latin Christian influences on Old English literature has long interested scholars. This study examines one instance of this interaction -- the effect of the Germanic genre of flyting on the depiction of the Christian war of words in Old English religious prose and verse. I argue that Anglo-Saxon authors re-analyzed the adversarial dialogues found in Scripture and in Latin hagiographies as examples of flyting, and that this re-analysis led to the development of a new and sacred subgenre of flyting in the Old English Christian epic. To prove my thesis, I begin in chapter one by reviewing the scholarly definitions of Germanic flyting and discussing exemplary secular flyting texts, emphasizing that in Germanic flyting quarrels, words act as weapons. In chapter two, I examine the Latin Christian literary traditions influencing Old English religious adversarial dialogues (particularly the conceit of spiritual and verbal battle found in Saint Paul's exhortation to the faithful in Eph. 6.11-17) and show that the Christian war of words had some features in common with flyting. I then turn my attention to Old English religious prose. In chapter three I show the persistence of the trope of verbal battle in Old English translations of Scripture, as well as in some scripturally dependent homilies found in the Vercelli and Blickling homiliaries and in vElfric's Catholic Homilies. In chapter four, I compare adversarial dialogues found in a selection of Old English prose saints' lives to their Latin counterparts in order to show that in their own work Anglo-Saxon hagiographers altered the Latin dialogues in order to increase their resemblance to flyting. In the final three chapters, I discuss Old English religious verse. In chapter five, I analyze Exodus and Daniel, and show that the conceit of spiritual struggle as verbal battle persists in these poems. In chapter six, I concentrate on Satan's verbal confrontations with God and mankind in Christ and Satan and Genesis B, and in chapter seven, I analyze the disputes of saint and devil, and saint and pagan found in Juliana, Elene, Andreas and GuPlac A, showing that in these poems the war of words is treated as sacred flyting. I conclude with a brief recapitulation of the characteristics of sacred flyting and note its prominence in the Old English Christian epic.

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