- Text, Image, Interpretation: Studies in Anglo-Saxon Literature and its Insular Context in Honour of Éamonn Ó Carragáin
Éamonn Ó Carragáin is a giant in early medieval scholarship and a kind and generous scholar, particularly noted for his insightful work on the Ruthwell Cross. This volume shows clearly the esteem in which he is held by colleagues and students alike, with papers referring respectfully, playfully or gratefully to his scholarship, leadership and friendship. The book begins with a foreword by Mary Clayton, who sums up Ó Carragáin perfectly when she recalls him singing Beowulf to the Irish tune Sliabh na mBan to the class of which she was part. It ends with a bibliography of Ó Carragáin's works compiled by his [End Page 233] archaeologist son and University College Cork colleague, Tomás Ó Carragáin, showing that Éamonn Ó Carragáin's contributions to medieval studies take many forms. The book contains 26 outstanding contributions from well-known medieval scholars in fields as diverse as art history, archaeology, Old English and Old Norse. One can imagine Ó Carragáin's delight at Andy Orchard's delicious title 'Intoxication, Fornication, and Multiplication: The Burgeoning Text of Genesis A', and Michael Ryan's dedication 'To Éamonn in memory of many al fresco celebrations in Rome and Venice'. However, these are just finishing touches to the mass of thorough and insightful scholarship presented in the book, which must surely delight Ó Carragáin even more.
There is far too much in this book for a review like this to do it justice, so a few comments on the highlights for this reviewer will have to suffice. The first section, 'Looking Outwards', contains papers dealing with comparisons and relationships in literature, church dedications and material culture. Alan Thacker's article on martyr cults and their physical manifestations within and outside the walls of Rome traces the changing attitudes which made it possible for relics of martyrs, originally confined to extramural sites in accordance with pagan tradition, to move within the city walls. It shows an impressive familiarity with textual and archaeological evidence and a willingness to challenge paradigms. Michelle P. Brown reviews the Barberini Gospels with characteristic competence, concluding that a blend of local and international tastes contributed to their decoration. Interestingly, she argues for an 'ultimately Northumbrian background' for the work of one scribe, but evinces parallels in Southumbrian work such as the Gandersheim Casket, Ormside Bowl and sculpture from central Mercia. Anna Maria Luiselli Fadda examines Anglo-Saxon and Irish depictions of the moment of resurrection, giving a fascinating account of the use of bird figures as visual representations of the soul, revealing some refreshingly close examination of sculpture and drawing in comparisons from as far afield as Egypt. The Alfred Jewel and the Fuller Brooch are examined by Charles D. Wright, who finds that the personification of sight is represented holding flowers. He draws on the evidence of a botanical expert to establish that the flowers are very accurately depicted. Elizabeth Coatsworth contributes a survey of embroidered inscriptions, bringing a neglected topic to the fore. She notes the apparently small milieu in which these items were manufactured, and that they were predominantly associated with female commissioners.
The second section, 'Reading Texts', unsurprisingly contains several [End Page 234] articles concerning The Dream of the Rood and the Vercelli Book in which it is located. It also contains an impressive reading by Hugh Magennis of The Seafarer, in which he points out the unusually individualistic focus of the poem, arguing a Christian purpose for this feature. Jane Roberts discusses Beowulf with particular reference to the representation of the humiliation of Hrothgar, in an argument hinging on the interpretation of a pronoun – a not uncommon problem in early medieval studies. A study of Húsdrápa by Richard North gives an interesting account of the fragments of a poem describing the carvings in a house, extrapolating...