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Publication Year: 2011

One of the great triumphs of nineteenth-century philology was the development of the wide array of comparative data that underpins the grammars of the Old Germanic dialects, such as Old English, Old Icelandic, Old Saxon, and Gothic. These led to the reconstruction of Common Germanic and Proto-Germanic languages. Many individuals have forgotten that scholars of the same period were interested in reconstructing the body of ancient law that was supposedly shared by all speakers of Germanic. Stefan Jurasinski's Ancient Privileges: Beowulf, Law, and the Making of the Germanic Antiquity recounts how the work of nineteenth-century legal historians actually influenced the editing of Old English texts, most notably Beowulf, in ways that are still preserved in our editions. This situation has been a major contributor to the archaizing of Beowulf. In turn, Jurasinski's careful analysis of its assumptions in light of contemporary research offers a model for scholars to apply to a number of other textual artifacts that have been affected by what was known as the historische Rechtsschule. At the very least, it will change the way you think about Beowulf.

Published by: West Virginia University Press



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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Series Information

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-6


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pp. vi-7

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pp. vii-viii

This study considers the influence of nineteenth-century legal historians on the editing and interpretation of Beowulf. It is both a contribution to the study of Anglo-Saxonism and an attempt to historicize the assumptions that Beowulf criticism habitually employs regarding the legal setting of the poem. Since a number of the doctrines explored within this study have undergone no critical analysis for several decades, I have occasionally not been able to avoid offering new arguments regarding the nature of Germanic legal practices that have significant implications for how we read Beowulf. This is especially the case in my...

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Introduction: “The Forests Of Germany”: Legal History and the Inheritance of Philology

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pp. 1-22

The last two decades have seen a proliferation of books and articles concerned with the historical and cultural background of contemporary Old English studies. Indeed, the study of Anglo-Saxonism has reached such a degree of popularity that one could be forgiven for thinking that the desire to historicize the discipline is a new development. Of course it is not: two biographies of John Mitchell Kemble have been available to scholars for several decades, as have Berkhout and Gatch’s classic anthology of essays on the origins of Anglo-Saxon scholarship and Hans Aarsleff’s invaluable history of eighteenth- and...

Jakob Grimm, Legal Formalism and the Editing of Beowulf

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pp. 23-48

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“Public Land,” Germanic Egalitarianism, and Nineteenth-century Philology

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pp. 49-78

In Beowulf we are told that, upon the completion of Heorot, King Hrothgar intended to distribute to young and old all that God had given him with two exceptions: he could not give the “folk-share” (folcscare) and the lives of men (feorum gumena).1 This passage has vexed Beowulf scholarship since the beginning of modern textual editing in the nineteenth century. Beowulf l. 73 seems to have no parallels in Old English prose or verse, and a number of scholars have assumed the line to be defective...

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The Ecstasy of Vengeance: Nineteenth-century Germanism and the Finn Episode

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pp. 79-112

Few portions of Beowulf have elicited a greater quantity of critical comment than the digression known as the “Finn Episode,” a brief narrative of the battle between Hengest and Finn that is recited upon Beowulf’s defeat of Grendel. The episode contains some of the most troublesome cruces of the poem and a number of passages that are hopelessly obscure without recourse to emendation.1 Given its singular difficulties, it is surprising that this digression is routinely used in scholarship as evidence by which to assess attitudes toward the feud in Anglo- Saxon England. Particularly in the last century, considerable...

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Feohleas Gefeoht: Accidental Homicide and the Hrethel Episode

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pp. 113-148

Before embarking on his fight with the dragon, Beowulf pauses to remember in a lengthy speech the many guðræsa[s] (“war-onsets”) he had experienced in his youth.1 The first among them is no fight at all, but an accidental slaying he witnessed while fostered in the household of king Hrethel: the killing of Herebeald by his brother Hæthcyn, most likely in a hunting accident. Though there is no question according to Beowulf that the fatal arrow was shot at Herebeald unintentionally, Beowulf’s statement that Hæthcyn “prepared a murder-bed” (morþorbed strêd) for Herebeald suggests his reluctance to accept...

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Conclusions: Law and the Archaism of Beowulf

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pp. 149-156

I would like to conclude this study with some remarks concerning the “archaism” of Beowulf, an issue that should be distinguished from the problem of the poem’s date. I believe that it is in discussions of the degree to which Beowulf exemplifies “archaic” attitudes characteristic of early Germanic-speaking peoples that we encounter one of the most persistent legacies of nineteenth-century legal-historical scholarship—one whose relevance to the state of present-day scholarship on Old English is considerable...

Works Cited

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pp. 157-180


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pp. 181-183

Back Cover

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pp. 193-193

E-ISBN-13: 9781935978336
E-ISBN-10: 1935978330
Print-ISBN-13: 9780937058985
Print-ISBN-10: 1935978330

Page Count: 183
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1st ed.
Series Editor Byline: John Smith, Will Wordsworth See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 797855521
MUSE Marc Record: Download for ANCIENT PRIVILEGES