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HUMANITIES 103 from English and American presses, finally giving an account of problems involved in editing (the traditional meaning) and printing books at her own press. The volume outlines a broad range of current scholarly and practical problems in editing illustrated books; it also extends the meaning of editingbeyond other volumes in the series. Itis a pity that no record of the discussion which the papers doubtless engendered could be included. And what did John Leyerle say 'on the workings of the bicameral mind in medieval illuminated pages' to which the volume's editor makes only that reference? (WILLIAM WHITLA) Martin Puhvel. Beowulf and Celtic Tradition Wilfrid Laurier University Press '979. x, '42. $8.00 The theory that the Beowulf poet may have been influenced by Celtic culture and tradition has been with us now for close to a century, and yet for most of this time, rather than being tossed about vigorously as a critical football should be, it has mostly lain on the ground with only the occasional scholar venturing to pickit up. Early proponents of the theory, such as Deutschbein, von Sydow, and Dehmer, often overstated their cases and mixed thoroughly reasonable hypotheses with flights of fancy so unlikely that their entire work fell into disrepute. Such an attitude must also explain the relatively little attention which has been paid to James Carney's essay 'The Irish Affinities of Beowulf.' Carney, like many of his predecessors, linked a central thesis which was so weak as to be basically untenable (that the Irish tale rain B6 Fraich provides 'a small-scale model for Beowulf: p 121) with other arguments of lesser import but far greater probability. Chief among these was the suggestion that the list of the progeny of Cain (or Ham, since the manuscript is confused on the point) which forms Grendel's genealogy derives from Irish ecclesiastical lore more specifically, from Isidore of Seville's Etymologiae, filtered through an Irish source, the Sex aetates mundi. Whenever precisely we may date the poem, the chance of its author's coming into contact with Irish clerics, whether in Mercia, Anglia, or Northumbria, is high. Martin Puhvel has now taken up the subject and has examined nine elements of the poem in the light of possible Celtic (usually Irish) influence. He has selected these examples with the intention of 'referring to what appear to me the truly significant and cogent ones' (p '3, n 43). Among his useful chapters is the discussion of the light which illuminates Grendel's cave as Beowulf decapitates the monster's corpse. Puhvel associates this light, whose source is left very unclear in the Old English poem, with various light-emitting swords of Celtic tradition. Though much of the chapter (which previously appeared in Folklore, 83) is 104 LEITERS IN CANADA 1980 convincing, Puhvel is misleading when he claims that in the Welsh tale Culwch and Olwen the giant Wrnach is decapitated 'with a lightning stroke' (p 32). The Welsh text simply states that the giant's head is struck off 'y ergyt' 'at a blow.' Puhvel's best argument deals with the origin of Grendel's cave. The so-called 'waterfall theory' has been popular now for over half a century, butitfails to explain why the cave appears more like an inhabited hall than a natural cave, nor does it explain why Beowulf swims down to it. Carney suggested that the cave and its approach resemble more closely the common Irish tales ofvisits to the otherworld beneath a body ofwater, the Tir f6 Thuinn. Puhvel adds little to Carney's argument, but it has not been widely accepted and is well worth repeating. Many of Puhvel's arguments remain unconvincing. His chapter on Beowulf's prowess as a swimmer dismissees too casually both the extensive Icelandic parallels, whose relevance to the Breca episode is that they are often competitions, and the arguments of Karl Wentersdorf and F.C. Robinson that Beowulf, in his escape from Frisia, may not be swimming at all. It is simply not true that 'palpable parallels to the swimming feats of Beowulf are lacking in Scandinavian tradition' (pp 59-60). Similarly, while the description of Beowulf's state of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 103-104
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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