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  • The Old English Homily: Precedent, Practice and Appropriation
  • Pamela O'Neill
Kleist, Aaron J., ed., The Old English Homily: Precedent, Practice and Appropriation (Studies in the Early Middle Ages, 17), Turnhout, Brepols, 2007; hardback; pp. xiii, 532; R.R.P. €90.00; ISBN 9782503517926.

This collection of essays styles itself as an update to Szarmach and Huppé's 1978 The Old English Homily and its Backgrounds. The new generation of scholars represented here certainly provide a wealth of information, ideas and analysis. The scope of this volume is broader than the 1978 collection, collocating discussions ranging from the Latin precedents for Old English homilies to Tudor and Stuart antiquarianism. The papers are arranged in three sections.

In 'Precedent', Charles D. Wright gives a lengthy and very detailed discussion of approaches to Latin sources for Old English homilies, discussing the issues surrounding the range of uses of these sources from direct translation to borrowing and blending of themes. Most of this section consists of close analysis of various homiletic collections. Nancy M. Thompson suggests that the Blickling Book, which incorporates homilies and other material, draws its inspiration from the Carolingian De Festivitatibus. Ælfric's Old Testament materials are the focus of Rachel Anderson's paper, which examines an approach adopted by Ælfric in which translation is liberally blended with interpretation. Ælfric is a recurring theme, with Stephen J. Harris assessing the rogationtide liturgical context for Ælfric's homilies. Joyce Hill draws some very interesting conclusions about the possible versions of Paul the Deacon that would have been available to Ælfric.

In 'Practice', the Blickling homilies are discussed by M. J. Toswell. His examination of the codicology of the manuscript leads him to the important [End Page 227] conclusion that consideration of this collection as a unified whole is inappropriate, since it was almost certainly not created or used in that way. Samantha Zacher looks at the homilies of the Vercelli Book, suggesting that, far from being poor cousins to the poetic texts in that manuscript, the homilies are highly accomplished texts with clear purpose and function. Thomas N. Hall, surveying manuscripts contemporaneous with Ælfric, concludes that Ælfric followed the mainstream European practice of preparing homilies on saints for reading during the monastic night office. The homily on Cecilia is used by Robert K. Upchurch to demonstrate Ælfric's blurring of the distinction between lay and priestly audiences in their quest for spiritual purity. Loredana Teresi poses the question 'Ælfric's or not?' of temporale collections, but in fact makes a very broad and informative survey of Proper homilies and their arrangement in collections. Andy Orchard leavens this Ælfric-heavy section with a refreshing review of Wulfstan-related homiletic materials in their context. His alliterative claim that Wulfstan's 'literary legacy has languished' (p. 341) is rather borne out by the under-representation of Wulfstan in this volume.

In 'Appropriation', the subsequent uses of Anglo-Saxon homilies from the eleventh to the seventeenth centuries are discussed. Mary P. Richards analyses the reuse of homiletic and other material in the poem Seasons for Fasting to conclude that the poem is almost wholly derivative, with old materials applied to new purposes. Aidan Conti reviews a newly discovered connection between the Latin homilies in MS Bodley 343 and the Homiliary of Angers, and argues that the extensive reuse of Anglo-Saxon texts during the twelfth century, when few new texts in English were being produced, had less to do with antiquarian motivations than with a strong interest in preaching in English. This theme is also taken up by Mary Swan, whose investigation of MSS Lambeth Palace 487 and Cotton Vespasian A.XXII ranges widely across such questions as column rulings in quires (a welcome development from work in this area which tends to overly privilege text) to conclude that a single interpretation of the materials as intended for oral delivery, monastic use or private reading is not productive. Christopher Abram moves beyond Anglo-Saxon shores to investigate the seriously under-studied field of Old Norse-Icelandic homilies and conclude significant Anglo-Saxon influence there. The book's editor, Aaron J. Kleist, completes the collection with a survey of Tudor and Stuart antiquarian interest...


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