- Verbal Encounters: Anglo-Saxon and Norse Studies for Roberta Frank
Professor Roberta Frank taught for many years at the University of Toronto, where she also served as director of the Medieval Studies program. She is currently teaching at Yale University where she is the Douglas Tracy Smith Professor of English. After her illustrious career working on Old English and Old Norse-Icelandic, friends and students have chosen to honour her with the present volume. At the risk of being overly enumerative I will list the papers in order: Christopher A. Jones, 'Early Medieval Chaos'; Don Chapman, 'Composing and Joining: How the Anglo-Saxons Talked about Compounding'; Pauline Head, 'Cennan: "To cause to be born" / "To cause to know": Incarnation as Revelation in Old English Poetry'; Soon-Ao Loo, 'Pride, Courage, and Anger: The Polysemousness of Old English Mod'; Carin Ruff, 'Desipere in loco: Style, Memory and the Teachable Moment'; Dorothy Haines 'Courtroom Drama and the Homiletic Monologues of The Vercelli Book'; Karin Olsen, "'Him Þaes grim lean becom": The Theme of Infertility in Genesis A'; Robert DiNapoli, 'Odd Characters: Runes in Old English Poetry'; Haruko Momma, 'The Education of Beowulf and the Affair of the Leisure Class'; Antonia Harbus, 'Articulate Contact in Juliana'; Martin Chase, 'The Refracted Beam: Einarr Skúlason's Liturgical Theology'; Oren Falk, 'Beardless Wonders: "Gaman vas Soxu" (The Sex Was Great)'; Bernadine McCreesh, 'Prophetic Dreams and Visions in the Sagas of the Early Icelandic Saints'; and Russell Poole, 'Claiming Kin Skaldic Style.' [End Page 220]
One immediate point to make about this volume is that it is a genuine Festschrift in that all of the contributors worked with Professor Frank during their careers at the University of Toronto; the papers are not by miscellaneous eminent scholars who rummaged around in the back of their file cabinets for an old paper in order to acknowledge an academic acquaintance. It is harder to make even a talented graduate student a productive scholar than it is to make the acquaintance of senior scholars at conferences, and Professor Frank can take particular satisfaction in the work of her students and friends in this volume.
The constraints of space do not allow me to discuss each paper in detail, but the first paper by Christopher Jones on the word and the concept chaos in Old English and early Germanic languages is a particularly suggestive paper with important ramifications. Professor Jones suggests that the Greek word chaos was etymologically associated with the concept of yawning or gaping – a suggestion that has immediate resonances for the student of Old Norse-Icelandic mythography in that it recalls the 'ginnunga gap,' the gaping void between the primal worlds of fire and ice in Old Norse-Icelandic cosmography. It is in the gaping void between the worlds of fire and ice that our world comes into being, according to the poets and cosmographers of pre-Christian Iceland.
Even more interesting from a theological point of view is that the classical view of chaos – according to such authorities as Ovid – is not really compatible with Christian cosmology. Ovidian chaos comprises matter and energy – to use modern terms – which are still formless, thus the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae's definition of chaos as the 'confusio rerum atque elementorum, quae erat ante mundum conditum' – 'the confused mixture of things and elemental particles which existed before the foundation of the world.' The work of creation is to impose form upon formlessness. Whatever the philosophical or theological merits of such a view of creation, it conflicts sharply with the Judeo-Christian idea of creation ex nihilo. It is all the more surprising, then, that the term chaos occurs in the Vulgate translation of Luke 16:26 as a translation of the Greek khasma in the parable of Dives and Lazarus as a term defining the gulf between the sinners and the blessed in the afterworld. Chaos is strictly speaking an unchristian concept, and some at least of the passages that Professor Jones cites suggest a certain uneasiness about the idea among the...