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  • Along the Oral-Written Continuum: Types of Texts, Relations and their Implications ed. by Slavica Rankovic, Leidulf Melve, and Else Mundal
  • Diana Jefferies
Rankovic, Slavica, Leidulf Melve, and Else Mundal, eds, Along the Oral-Written Continuum: Types of Texts, Relations and their Implications (Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy, 20), Turnhout, Brepols, 2010; hardback; pp. vi, 484; 34 b/w illustrations, 17 b/w tables, 3 b/w line art; R.R.P. €105.00; ISBN 9782503534077.

The objective of this volume of essays, edited by Slavica Rankovic, Leidulf Melve, and Else Mundal, is to explore how texts from the medieval era are spread across an oral-to-written continuum. The volume argues that it is impossible to classify texts as being from either the oral or the written tradition but that various aspects of texts fall somewhere on a continuum between these two axes. To make this point, the essays are divided into three sections, each making a significant contribution to an understanding of this concept.

The first part attempts to conceptualize the continuum and contains three essays. The first essay by John Miles Foley explores the features of three different types of texts, oral, written, and electronic. This inquiry finds that the oral and electronic texts have more in common with each other and [End Page 300] the written text stands alone. Rankovic's contribution identifies how oral texts, and literary texts derived from the oral tradition, have many similar features when they are plotted on the continuum as a model for viewing the relationship between the oral and the written mediums. Finally Leidulf Melve's essay examines the 'textualisation' of society and its impact upon the reporting of events from the Investiture Contest in the eleventh century, through the Becket controversy, to the English Baronial Rebellion in the thirteenth century.

Having developed an understanding of what the oral-written continuum means in the medieval text and how it can be measured or analysed, the next part of the volume, Oral Texts and Textual Performance: Verbal Art along the Continuum, explores features of orality found in texts. Each essay presents a case study of a particular text or writers, generally from Scandinavia. The first three essays examine how events or persons are memorialized through various genres, such as skaldic poetry (Judith Jesch), memorial discourse (Joseph Harris), and Rune stones (Kristel Zilmer), emphasizing how all three genres have made use of features from both traditions. Next Else Mundal looks at the influence of oral performance on written texts and Judy Quinn takes the motif of 'drinking in' fluid as a metaphor for the transfer of knowledge in the poetic Edda. Another discussion of the Edda by Vésteinn Ólasan concludes that it is impossible to say that these poems were composed exclusively in the oral context but were a result of a long-lasting interplay between the two traditions. Other genres examined to identify how the oral tradition remains visible in the written text in the second part of the volume include the poetic curse in an essay by Bernt Øyvind Thorvaldsen, the Legend of St Hallvard by Aslaug Ommundsen, fragments found in the Cena Cypriani and Summarium Bible by Lucie Doležalova, and prologues found in Old Icelandic prose literature by Jürg Glauser.

The final part of the volume moves away from Scandinavian literature to consider the oral-written continuum in administrative writing. Anna Adamska looks at how chronicles about the Bohemian King Venceslas and the Polish duke, Przemysl in the thirteenth century approached documents. An examination of these sources discusses the difference between a duke who was literate and who would get up during the night to read and a king who was illiterate and had documents read to him. The next essay by Theodore M. Anderson looks at how Charlemagne instituted a programme to ensure that language was written correctly. The last five essays examine the development of literacy in administrative writing in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Frisia in order to uncover how literacy grew throughout all sections of society. [End Page 301]

This volume presents a comprehensive survey of how the oral and written traditions are presented in medieval texts. Although most essays...


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