Other Peoples’ Thinking:
Language and Mentality in England before the Conquest
A Burdick-Vary Symposium
University of Wisconsin - Madison
April 17-18, 2009
Sponsored by the Institute for Research in the Humanities with support from the Department of English, the Program in Medieval Studies, the Center for European Studies (a U.S. Department of Education Title VI program National Resource Center), and the Anonymous Fund
The effort to understand the inherited ideas that are operative in a society other than one’s own can require a historian’s patience, a linguist’s precision, a philosopher’s finesse, and an anthropologist’s tact. How did the people of the earliest period of English history and culture (the Anglo-Saxon period, ca. 500-1100 ad) conceive of their place in the world that they inhabited? To what extent do the textual records from that era reflect underlying assumptions that may have no exact equivalents today, and that require explication if those records, and hence this historical era in general, are not to be misunderstood? And what evidence from non-textual sources, or from other times and places, can help to promote this inquiry?
This two-day conference will provide an opportunity for specialists to share insights into these questions. Papers will focus on a variety of topics relating to the conference’s main theme (e.g. early medieval concepts of space, or time, or ethnicity, or literacy and oral tradition, or health and healing practices, or law and peace-settlement, or emotions). Speakers will be asked to explore the extent to which the lexicon that pertained to any one of these areas of experience provides access to the mentality (or, perhaps better, the mentalities) of the people living in England before the Conquest — an event that precipitated distinct changes in language and thought.
There will be eight main speakers: Robert E. Bjork (Arizona StateUniversity), Kathleen Davis (Rhode Island University), Nicole Discenza(University of South Forida), Roberta Frank (Yale University), Joseph C. Harris (Harvard University), Antonette diPaolo Healey (University of Toronto), Karl Reichl (University of Bonn), and Elaine Treharne (Florida State University). Cross-disciplinary and theoretical perspectives will be encouraged through the participation of additional panelists whose research, whether or not they are medievalists, is engaged with differences of mentality; these speakers include Andrew Rabin (University of Kentucky: Anglo-Saxon law) and, from the UW-Madison faculty, Thomas Dale (Art History), Thomas DuBois (Scadinavian Studies and Folklore), Harold Scheub (African Languages and Literature), Walton O. Schalick (History of Medicine and Bioethics), Frank Salomon, and Karl Shoemaker (History and Legal Studies).
For additional information:
Professor John D. Niles
Department of English
University of Wisconsin - Madison
600 N. Park St.
Madison WI 53706
All lectures and panels will take place at:
The Pyle Center
702 Langdon Street
University of Wisconsin - Madison
Friday, April 17
9 am: Welcome and introductory remarks.
9:10 - 10:10 am: Antonette di Paolo Healey, University of Toronto. "Probing the Anglo-Saxon Mind: The Tools of the Dictionary of Old English as Exploratory Instruments."
10:10 - 11:10 am: Roberta Frank, Yale University. "A Poetics of Euphemism: Dangerous Propinquity in Beowulf."
11:30 - 12:30 pm: Joseph C. Harris, Harvard University. "Mentalities and Monstrosities."
LUNCH (no-host), free time.
2:45 - 3:45 pm: Karl Reichl, University of Bonn. "Words, Voice, and Memory in Anglo-Saxon England."
4 - 5:30 pm: "The Role of Fieldwork in Understanding Mentality." A panel featuring Professors Tom Dubois (Scandinavian Studies, Folklore), Harold Scheub (African Languages and Literature), and Frank Salomon(Anthropology). Respondant: Karl Reichl.
5:30: RECEPTION (at the Pyle Center).
Saturday, April 18
9 - 10 am: Elaine Treharne, Florida State University. "On the Same Page: Anglo-Saxon Responses to the Book."
10 - 11 am: Kathleen Davis, University of Rhode Island. "Modes of Temporality in Old English Poetry."
11:20 - 12:20 pm: Nicole Discenza, University of South Florida. "Places and Spaces."
2 - 3 pm: "Approaches to Early English Mentality via the History of Law." Andrew Rabin (University of Louisville); Karl Shoemaker (History and Legal Studies, UW - Madison).
3 - 4 pm: "Approaches to Early English Mentality via Art History and the History of Medicine." Thomas Dale (Art History); Walton O. Schalick (Medical History and Bioethics).
4:30 - 5:30 pm: Robert E. Bjork, Arizona State University. "Representations of Anglo-Saxon Mentality in Nineteenth-Century Scandinavia."
5:30 - 6 pm: Concluding discussion.
6:30 - 8:30 pm: DINNER (at the Pyle Center).
ALL LECTURES AND PANELS ARE FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.
Robert E. Bjork, Arizona State University. "Representations of Anglo-Saxon Mentality in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Scandinavia."
For human beings, language is the medium of conscious life, and translation, therefore, is one prime means of replicating in one culture the mentality of another. Little has been done on the 60 or so translations in the Scandinavian languages of Old English literature, and the three articles that touch on it at all deal with translations of Beowulf alone. This paper will first survey the Scandinavian (including Finnish) translations of Old English literature that have been produced between 1733 and 2009; second, will begin exploring what cultural work Scandinavian translations of Old English both a little before and much after Grundtvig do in terms of reflecting Anglo-Saxon mentality; and third, will indicate the nature of these translations by looking at a few examples ranging from the early 19th to the late 20th centuries.
Antonette diPaolo Healey, University of Toronto. "Probing the Anglo-Saxon Mind: DOE Tools as Exploratory Instruments"
This paper will demonstrate how the electronic tools of the Dictionary of Old English can be used as productive instruments in the study of language and mentality in Anglo-Saxon England. Drawing upon Eric Stanley's recent work on the vain search for the notion of "family" in his exploration of the <hiw> word-group (Anglia 126 (2008), 37-64), I will suggest alternative ways of interrogating this concept, using DOE resources.
Kathleen Davis, University of Rhode Island. "Modes of Temporality in Old English Poetry."
Many Old English poems are about time: whether didactic or elegiac, poems such as Christ III, The Wanderer, The Seafarer, Soul and Body (I and II), The Ruin, Deor, and Durham take the nature and passage of time as a principal topic. The first part of this paper studies the lexicon of temporality in such poems, and considers the methods by which they identify, describe, and differentiate categories of time as well as ways of existing in time. The second part of the paper considers these findings with respect to the handling of time in predominantly narrative poems such as Guthlac A and Guthlac B, Andreas, Judith, and Beowulf, paying particular attention to markers of temporal movement and duration, as well as techniques for calibrating the temporality of history. This section also focuses upon shifts within these poems from third-person narrative to first-person lyric, which almost always mark a turn to the topic of time and are thus important indicators of the poems’ work on the relationship of their narratives to temporality more broadly construed. Ultimately, I hope this paper will provide a suggestive outline of the modes of temporality in Old English poetry.
Nicole Discenza, University of South Florida. "Places and Spaces."
This paper will focus on how Anglo-Saxons conceived and described places and spaces. The early English did not always think of place or space as modern people do. For example, where our maps tend to show bodies of water as open, empty spaces, Anglo-Saxons describe them as inhabited places, sometimes to be traversed with difficulty: the Mediterranean as a fifelwæg (El 237), the ocean as a wæteregesa (And 375). So too the space beyond our Earth was not seen as a dark void but a realm of light (Bede, De natura rerum 11 and De temporum ratione 7). At the same time, distant places, especially in the East, often share terminology used for more familiar locations. It is people more than places who are described as outlandish—and when authors do tell of wondrous distant places, they draw upon vocabulary used for spaces much closer to home. The Scandinavian setting of Beowulf lies much closer to Anglo-Saxons’ homes than the world of The Letter of Alexander to Aristotle, but both lands reveal deadly wyrmas. The familiar Northern European landscape of wuda bearwe becomes strange and alienating in The Wife's Lament (27); though in England, Guthlac’s retreat remains a dygle stowe (158) where the saint and demons do battle. The poet of Andreas strikes a balance, describing a city beyond Anglo-Saxon experience in terms drawn largely from other Old English poems (as Lori Ann Garner has shown), but in new combinations that create a fantastic setting. In my talk, I will examine a range of texts to illuminate how Anglo-Saxons think and talk about spaces and places both near and far, especially where their conceptions diverge from modern ones.
Roberta Frank, Yale University. "A Poetics of Euphemism: Dangerous Propinquity in Beowulf."
The Old English Genesis poet steps with extreme delicacy when narrating the story of Lot and his daughters; he does not stare directly upon the face of incest, as the Vulgate does, but gestures towards it, a discreet sideways look. The horror is kept under wraps, half-hidden in the bulrushes, "like something almost being said." The Völsung and Scylding legends written down in prose in the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries attribute incestuous births to two characters named in Beowulf: young Fitela, Sigemund’s son by his twin sister Signÿ, and Hrothulf, Halga’s son by his daughter Yrsa. But the Beowulf poet, if he knew these back-stories, clothes them in polite vagueness. The obscure Thryth, Modthryth, or (now) Fremu digression in Beowulf introduces another potentially incestuous pair: an arrogant, homicidal young queen and her sinfrea ‘great lord’ (= husband, father, or both). Not that the Beowulf poet accuses this pair of sinful mæghæmed or sibgeleger any louder than he did the progenitors of Fitela and Hrothulf. But he does gives clues - litotes, naughty double entendres, and unusual kinship epithets - when he is responding to a story outside his text, when he wants us to know that he means more than he says.
Joseph C. Harris, Harvard University. "Mentalities and Monstrosities."
The Anglo-Saxons inherited a rich lexicon for harmful supernatural creatures. Are conclusions about aspects of Old English worldview(s) on this basis justified? If so, how can mental traits so derived be characterized, and where do they fit within a hypothetical Anglo-Saxon mental world as a whole? Are age and cultural depth of concepts of the monstrous of any significance for "mentality"? The discussion will treat two old words in etymological detail.
Karl Reichl, University of Bonn. "Words, Voice and Memory in Anglo-Saxon England."
The point of departure for my paper is the assumption that orality played an important role in Anglo-Saxon England. As Jack Goody and others have argued, the transmission of culture in a predominantly oral society differs from that in a literate society and leads to different ways of conceptualization in language. By the same token, orality concerns not only the transmission of knowledge but also the medium of communication. The voice of the speaker is both physically present in the communicative situation and encoded in the meaning of words. Finally, orally transmitted cultural heritage is remembered rather than documented. The ‘man of words’ as the one who remembers and the one who speaks guarantees the continuity of culture. I will be discussing some aspects of orality in Anglo-Saxon England by looking at selected Old English words (related to speech) and at parallels in contemporary oral traditions.
Elaine Treharne, Florida State University. "On the Same Page: Anglo-Saxon Responses to the Book."
Using 'mentality' to mean both 'characteristic attitude of mind' and 'intellectuality' (OED), this paper aims to explore the ways in which Anglo-Saxon scribes, commentators and readers regarded the books in which they intervened. There are well-known examples of readers responding to Old English and Latin texts and remarking on their content (Coleman of Worcester, for example, or William of Malmesbury); there are equally well-known examples of glossators and re-workers of texts (The Tremulous Hand, or Wace, the Anglo-Norman poet). Here, though, I intend to focus on the many other users of manuscripts; that is, those who left traces of their moment with the book, which intimate the ways in which the material artefact was viewed by them. This analysis will thus range from the apparently careless (or carefree?) doodles and pen trials, some of which were brought to light by Phillip Pulsiano and other scholars, to the very significant additions to earlier manuscripts, particularly gospel-books. This study may have implications for our understanding of the Anglo-Saxon literate elite's sense of ownership of text and architextual space, as well as helping us to understand the significance of codices and all they represented to the social groups that could access them.