Reading the Anglo-Saxon Self Through the Vercelli Book

by Amity Reading (Author)
©2018 Monographs XVI, 152 Pages
Series: Medieval Interventions, Volume 7


Reading the Anglo-Saxon Self Through the Vercelli Book explores conceptions of subjectivity in Anglo-Saxon England by analyzing the contents and sources of the Vercelli Book, a tenth-century compilation of Old English religious poetry and prose. The Vercelli Book’s selection and arrangement of texts has long perplexed scholars, but this book argues that its organizational logic lies in the relationship of its texts to the performance of selfhood. Many of the poems and homilies represent subjectivity through "soul-and-body," a popular medieval literary motif that describes the soul’s physical departure from the body at death and its subsequent addresses to the body. Vercelli’s soul-and-body texts, together with its exemplary narratives of apostles and saints, construct a model of selfhood that is embodied and performative, predicated upon an interdependent relationship between the soul and the body in which the body has the potential for salvific action. The book thus theorizes an Anglo-Saxon conception of the self that challenges modern assumptions of a rigid soul/body dualism in medieval religious and literary tradition. Its arguments will therefore be of interest to students and scholars of literature, history, philosophy, and religious studies and would be appropriate for upper-level courses on Old English literature, Anglo-Saxon history, sermons and preaching in medieval England, and medieval religious practice.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Tables
  • Acknowledgments
  • Abbreviations
  • Introduction: Bodies, Souls, and Selves in Anglo-Saxon England
  • Souls, Bodies, and Selves in Vercelli
  • The Body and Subjectivity
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 1: Souls With Bodies: Parsing the Self in Vercelli Homilies IV, XXII, and Soul and Body I
  • Homily IV
  • Soul and Body I
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 2: Baptism, Conversion, and Selfhood in Andreas
  • Baptism, Conversion, and Typology
  • Eschatology and Baptism in Andreas
  • Doubt, Conversion, and Sainthood
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 3: The Self and the Community: Rogationtide and the Ascension in The Dream of the Rood and Vercelli Homilies X, XI, and XXI
  • Introduction
  • Baptism and the Doctrine of Ascension
  • The Ascension in Christ II and The Dream of the Rood
  • Identity and Community
  • Rogationtide
  • The Ascension in Vercelli Homilies X, XI, and XXI
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 4: Hagiography and the End(s) of the Vercelli Book: Models of Ideal Selfhood in Homilies XVII, XVIII, and XXIII
  • Vercelli’s Eremitic Saints: Martin and Guthlac
  • Vercelli XVII, The Purification of the Virgin
  • Notes
  • References
  • Index
  • Series index

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Table 1.1 A comparison of Vercelli IV and the “Three Utterances” texts.

Table 1.2 A comparison of lines 42–48 of Vercelli’s Soul and Body I and Exeter’s Soul and Body II, with notes where the ASPR editions differ from their respective manuscripts.

Table 2.1 A comparison of Andreas lines 782–96a and 1623–29, demonstrating verbal echo.

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I owe many debts of gratitude. I received a development grant from Albion College in 2012, and I received both a grant and the time to use it from DePauw University in 2016, without which I could not have finished this book. My initial research was completed with the support of the graduate program in English at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, under the excellent tutelage of Charles D. Wright, whom I cannot thank enough. He is an inspiring scholar and a gifted mentor, and I would have been lost without his insights and his proof-reading skills. I would also like to thank my other graduate advisors, Renée R. Trilling, Martin Camargo, Thomas N. Hall, and Robert W. Barrett for their many helpful suggestions, and my undergraduate mentor, William Veeder, who first showed me close reading.

I would like to thank Stephanie Clark and Shannon N. Godlove, with whom I spent many hours discovering the joys of Old English, and Kyle J. Williams for his conversations and his last-minute fact-checking. I owe a special thanks to Anthony J. Pollock, whose patience, guidance, and support over the years has been essential.

I also owe a debt to the organizers and attendees of the International Medieval Congress (Leeds), and the International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo), for the many opportunities to present and discuss the ← xi | xii → texts and ideas that eventually became this book. There is material in all five chapters that was formally presented at these conferences, or came up in questions, or was discovered in wine hours.

My thanks, as well, to the editors of Peter Lang, who have been most helpful during the publishing process and went out of their way to help me achieve the best book possible, and the editors of Studies in Philology, who granted permission to reprint Chapter 2. I am also grateful to the many libraries and librarians the world over who supplied the access and materials I needed to perform this research. I am especially indebted to the Capitulary Library in Vercelli, Italy, for their generous permission and assistance.

Above all, I would like to thank my parents, Margaret and Timothy Reading, who have worked tirelessly to give me everything I needed to succeed.

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ÆCHom I Ælfric’s Catholic Homilies: The First Series (Text), ed. Peter Clemoes, EETS s.s. 17 (Oxford and New York: Oxford UP, 1997).

ÆCHom II Ælfric’s Catholic Homilies: The Second Series (Text), ed. Malcolm Godden, EETS s.s. 5 (Oxford and New York: Oxford UP, 1979).

AN&Q American Notes and Queries

AS Anglo-Saxon

ASE Anglo-Saxon England

ASPR Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records, eds. George Philip and Elliott Van Kirk Dobbie, 6 vols. (New York: Columbia UP, 1931–42).

Bosworth-Toller Joseph Bosworth, T. Northcote Toller, and Alistair Campbell, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, 3 vols, with supplement by T. N. Toller and enlarged addenda and corrigenda by A. Campbell (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1882–98, 1908–21, 1972).

CCCC Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

CCSA Corpus Christianorum, Series Apocryphorum (Turnhout: Brepols, 1983–). ← xiii | xiv →

CCSL Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina (Turnhout: Brepols, 1953–).

ChauR Chaucer Review

Clark Hall J. R. Clark Hall, A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, 4th edition, with a supplement by Herbert D. Meritt (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1960).

CMRS Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies

CSASE Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England

CSEL Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum (Vienna: Gerold etc., 1866–).

DRA Alcuin, De ratione animae

EEMF Early English Manuscripts in Facsimile

EETS Early English Text Society

o.s. Original Series, 319 vols. to date (London: EETS, 1864–).

s.s. Supplementary Series, 19 vols. to date (London: EETS, 1970–).

EMS Essays in Medieval Studies

ES English Studies

Gneuss Helmut Gneuss, Handlist of Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts: A List of Manuscripts and Manuscript Fragments Written or Owned in England up to 1100, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 241 (Tempe: CMRS, 2001).

JEGP Journal of English and Germanic Philology

JMEMS Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies

JTS Journal of Theological Studies

Ker Neil R. Ker, Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Anglo-Saxon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992).

Medium Ævum

MGH Monumenta Germaniae historica inde ab anno Christi quingentesimo usque ad annum millesimum et quingentesimum, edited by Societas aperiendis fontibus rerum germanicarum medii aevi (Berlin: Weidmann; Hannover: Hahn, 1826–).

MLN Modern Language Notes

MnE Modern English

MP Modern Philology

MS Mediaeval Studies

Neophil Neophilologus

N&Q Notes and Queries ← xiv | xv →

NM Neuphilologische Mitteilungen

n.s. New Series

OE Old English

OEN Old English Newsletter

PG Patrologia Graeca, edited by J.-P. Migne, 161 vols. (Paris: n.p. 1857–1903).

PL Patrologia Latina, edited by J.-P. Migne, 221 vols., with 5 supplements edited by A. Hamann (Paris: n.p. 1844–1974).

PMLA Publications of the Modern Language Association

PQ Philological Quarterly

RSB Regula Sancti Benedicti, edited by R. Hanslik (Vienna: Tempsky, 1977), cited by chapter and verse.

SASLC Sources of Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture, edited by Frederick M. Biggs, Thomas D. Hill and Paul E. Szarmach (in progress).

SN Studia Neophilologica

SP Studies in Philology

ZfdA Zeitschrift für deutsches Altertum

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Bodies, Souls, and Selves in Anglo-Saxon England


XVI, 152
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (January)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XVI, 152 pp., 3 tables

Biographical notes

Amity Reading (Author)

Amity Reading received her BA from the University of Chicago and her MA and her PhD from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. She is currently Assistant Professor of English at DePauw University and has previously published on Anglo-Saxon and later medieval religious poetry.


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170 pages