Emotions of Amazement in Old English Hagiography

Ælfric’s approach to Wonder, Awe and the Sublime

by Francisco Javier Minaya Gómez (Author)
©2022 Monographs 240 Pages


This monograph examines three aesthetic emotions in Ælfric’s Lives of Saints. Drawing on recent research on emotional communities, this research combines methods from Cognitive Sciences and other studies on early Medieval English language and literature in order to explore Ælfric’s usage of the terms in the lexical domain of amazement. The main aim of this study is to identify preferred modes of expression that would reveal a series of emotional rules in the context of Ælfric’s emotional community. Looking into Ælfric’s usage of this lexical domain and how he depicts emotion dynamics in these texts, this monograph shows how the emotion family of amazement is central to the hagiographical genre, and it highlights important emotion-regulation scripts that operate in these texts.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • 1. Emotions of amazement: What are they? How can they be studied in literary texts?
  • 1.1. Some notes on the study of emotion
  • 1.2. Categorising emotions: Where did the study of aesthetic emotions begin?
  • 1.3. Aesthetic emotions today: Current research and contemporary theories
  • 1.4. Emotions of amazement
  • 2. The study of emotion in literature: Looking into amazement in hagiography
  • 2.1. Cultural and literary models for wonder
  • 2.2. Theoretical and methodological notes on the study of emotion in literature and hagiography in the Middle Ages
  • 2.3. Medieval hagiography in context
  • 3. Old English Hagiography and the lexical field of amazement: Sources and resources
  • 3.1. Description of the corpus
  • 3.2. Description of the lexical field of amazement in Old English
  • 3.3. Corpus lookups and data treatment
  • 4. Aesthetic pleasure and the sublime: Ælfric’s approach to pleasant personal experience, the beautiful and the sublime
  • 4.1. Ælfric’s treatment of sensory data in aesthetic experience
  • 4.2. Usage of the lexical domain of the sublime
  • 4.3. Experiencing the sublime
  • 5. Wonderful and miraculous experiences and the lexical domain of wonder in Ælfric’s Lives of Saints
  • 5.1. Earthly, human, and secular experiences of wonder
  • 5.2. Divine and spiritual wonder
  • 5.3. Ælfric’s approach to the miraculous
  • 6. The lexical domain of awe and fear: Aesthetic fear in Ælfric’s Lives of Saints
  • 6.1. Utilitarian fear and awe as real-life emotional responses
  • 6.2. Awe and the God-fearing Christian
  • 6.3. fear and awe as pagan responses to the miraculous
  • Concluding Remarks
  • Bibliography
  • Index of Names
  • Series Index

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This monograph offers the results of my recent incursion into the hagiographical genre. I would like to thank several people whose advice, feedback and suggestions have been extremely helpful in completing this manuscript and in my current studies on Old English hagiography. To begin with, I would like to thank my former PhD supervisor, Professor Javier Díaz-Vera, for his constant encouragement, bibliography suggestions and overall support. Many thanks to Professor Christine Rauer, for helping me with my research on the Old English Martyrology, which certainly paved the way for the completion of this monograph. I would like to thank my former Medieval English Literature Student as well, Daniel Prado, for helping me out cleaning up and categorising the corpus data for this study. Needless to say, any mistakes or omissions remain my own responsibility.

This research was carried out in the framework of the research group EMOTCL: Emotions across times, cultures and languages, and this research and the publication of this monograph was funded by the Junta de Comunidades de Castilla-La Mancha (JCCM) in the research project ‘La expression y la conceptualización de las emociones estéticas: Variación cultural y lingüística’ (reference SBPLY/17/180501/000267).

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Amazement is part and parcel of human experience. On a daily basis, we are surprised, fascinated and mesmerised by different objects, people, circumstances, and events. A new song may enthral us, entertain us, or move us to tears. The contemplation of a sharp mountain landscape might dazzle and terrify us in equal parts. A person’s intelligence or wit can easily leave us open-mouthed. Furthermore, wonder and curiosity lie at the heart of important human processes of learning and knowledge acquisition. Wondering about how something works and operates at its very core is behind some of the most remarkable scientific discoveries in the history of humankind.

Nowadays, amazement is a fundamentally secular response. We associate it with the arts, the contemplation of natural landscape and phenomena, and with scientific progress. Nevertheless, historically speaking, amazement has a long history, and an important spiritual dimension. For centuries, emotions of amazement have been placed at the very core of religious experience, and they have played an important role in the emotion-regulation scripts that are at work in Christian literature. More specifically, in the context of one of the most common literary genres in the Middle Ages, hagiography, emotions of amazement are central to the narrative and become important conversion tools inside and outside these stories.

During my doctoral research, partially published in a monography by this publisher, titled The lexical domain of beauty and its metaphors in the Anglo-Saxon formulaic style (Minaya, 2021), I looked into the role of beauty in the existing poetic production in Old English. During this research project, I also engaged with the study of wonder in these Old English sources. Several texts from the poetic corpus, particularly the verse Lives of Saints, gave me an insight as to how important these emotions were in the hagiographical genre. It was not until I became familiar with the Emotional Communities Theory (Rosenwein, 2007) that I realised the potential that could arise from I bring together the more recent studies in the field of emotion research and some of the most innovative aesthetic emotion theories with research on the role of emotion in monastic or religious contexts. Following this idea, I decided to combine some of the theories and methodologies that I had employed in my doctoral research in the study of a narrower textual corpus.

This monograph presents the result of this research project. Its six chapters offer an analysis and an examination of the lexical domain of amazement in the ←9 | 10→hagiographical writings of an early Medieval English author, Ælfric of Eynsham. The purposes of this study are more specifically detailed in the first, second and third chapters of this monograph, but, in brief, they include carrying out an examination of the role of the emotions of wonder, awe and the sublime in this author’s Lives of Saints. In other words, combining the most recent research in the fields of Cognitive Science and Literary Studies, this study aims at looking into how this particular author employs emotions of amazement to achieve the goals of his emotional community.

Chapter one contains an overview of the most recent studies on the field of emotion research, highlighting, when possible, how these can be applied to the present study, and it details the specific characteristics and properties of the emotion family that is the focus of this study. Chapter two focuses on the more literary and cultural dimension of these emotions, developing and commenting on some the existing cultural and literary models for these emotions. This chapter also delves into some theoretical and methodological considerations in the study of emotion in literary texts, and it offers an examination of the development of the literary genre under analysis in the Middle Ages. Chapter three is more methodologically oriented, and it contains a description of the corpus, of the lexical items that will be analysed in context in this study, and of the methodology that is employed in doing so. Chapters four, five and six explore the aesthetic responses of aesthetic pleasure, the sublime, wonder and awe. In these three chapters, these emotions and the terminology through which they are described are examined, attending to the different contexts in which they occur, with the aims of trying to establish literary and doctrinal strategies behind their usage or emotion-regulation scripts on the part of the emotional community where these texts were composed. Finally, the final section offers some concluding remarks that summarise, encapsulate, and formulate the main findings from this study. General speaking, this study emphasises the benefits of combining Cognitive Science and Literary Studies, and it also offers an insight into how religious and monastic elites have historically employed emotions of amazement in bringing a human and embodied dimension to the lives and passions of the saints and some of the more abstract and unapproachable ideas of early Medieval Christianity.

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1. Emotions of amazement: What are they? How can they be studied in literary texts?

In certain occasions, affective phenomena lie at the core of experiences that are transformative in the life of the individual. Emotions are an important part of our social and individual lives. Experiences like fear, sadness, joy, and happiness give meaning to our lives and condition the ways in which we act and react. Furthermore, specific emotions like fear, wonder, awe and pleasure have always played a fundamental role in the spiritual dimension of the subject. Religious experience is intertwined with the experience of many of these emotions that condition and give shape to how people have interacted with the texts and contexts in which the religious figures that prove to be meaningful in the subject’s relation with the divine.

Before delving deeper into the literary and spiritual dimension of hagiographical texts, the purpose of this chapter is to offer an overview of the ongoing and most relevant research in the field of emotion research. The first section of this chapter will offer some preliminary notes on the study of emotion and will define the key concepts that will be employed through this study. The next two sections will examine some of the different ways in which emotions can be divided and categorised, paying special attention to emotions of an aesthetic nature. Finally, the last section will examine the emotion family that is the focus of this study, emotions of amazement. Broadly speaking, the main aim of this chapter is to provide a solid theoretical framework with recent studies from the discipline of Cognitive Science for the study of this emotion family in Ælfric’s hagiography.

1.1. Some notes on the study of emotion

In recent years, the study of emotions, particularly in linguistic and literary contexts, has bloomed. The research carried out on the part of scientist, doctors, and psychologists in the field of Cognitive Science and Affective Research (Cupchik, 2016; Damásio, 1999; Roseman and Smith, 2001; or Scherer, 2005, to name a few) has provided with solid models and theoretical frameworks upon which research on emotions, their expression and conceptualisation in other areas can be carried out. These range from in-depth examinations of emotional responses to recent events in collective contexts (for example, Goldenberg et al., 2020, who analyse the role of emotion in the development of the Black Lives Matter movement) to how metonymy and metaphor influence the etymological development ←11 | 12→of emotion vocabulary (for example, Díaz-Vera, 2015, who analyses the role of somatic profiles in the Old English expressions of awe, or Díaz-Vera, 2011, which details an analysis of the lexical domain of fear). This being so, the purpose of this section is to define and develop several key concepts of the emotion theories that are relevant to the present study of emotions of amazement in the Old English hagiographical text under analysis.

Many of the studies that have been thus far published focus on trying to establish and determine the mechanisms through which an emotion is triggered, and these are central, on the one hand, to understand the underlying dynamics of the emotion episode, and, on the other hand, to arrive at a working definition for the term ‘emotion.’ Consequently, one of the most challenging tasks in the research thus far published on the study of emotion and emotion terminology has been defining what exactly an emotion is. Over the last four decades, emotion scholars have extensively debated what qualifies as an emotion and how to define them. As Juslin (2013: 236) explains, the field of emotion research is riddled with conceptual confusion. This study takes as a starting point Damásio’s (1999: 36) basic distinction between feelings, which are “inwardly directed and private,” and emotions, which are “outwardly directed and public.” As such, emotions have to be understood first as phenomena that are, somehow, made apparent. Cupchik (2016) develops on the distinction between emotion and feeling through the introduction of the concept of threshold of awareness: “When bodily changes are above threshold and therefore salient, we deductively search … for situational causes” (Cupchik, 2016: 12). Certainly, understanding and identifying the cause of certain bodily changes triggers an emotion.

Damásio (1999) also coined one of the most influential definitions in the field; according to him, emotions can be defined as

the representation of the transient change in organism state in terms of neural patterns and ensuing images. When those images are accompanied, one instant later, by a sense of self in the act of knowing, and when they are enhanced, they become conscious (Damásio, 1999: 282).

This definition emphasises the fact that, during the emotion episode, the subject realises a private and inward feeling and, in doing so, it becomes an emotion. Other definitions of the term ‘emotion’ include those proposed by Munteanu (2009: 117), for whom an emotion is “a transaction between the person and the environment,” or by Scherer (2005: 697–698), who considers an emotion to be “an episode of interrelated, synchronised changes in the states of all or most of the fiver organismic subsystems in response to the evaluation of an external stimulus event as relevant to major concerns of the organism.” Similarly, Juslin ←12 | 13→(2013: 236) uses the term emotion to “refer to a quite brief but intense affective reaction that usually involves a number of subcomponents … that are more or less ‘synchronized.’” Going over all of the definitions for the term ‘emotion’ is certainly useless and far beyond the scope of this study, above all considering that Kleinginna and Kleinginna (1981) already reviewed more than a hundred definitions in the 1980s. However, these definitions have in common two main factors: one, that emotion is understood as an interaction between the subject and their surrounding reality; two, that emotions are integrated by different interrelated components.

In emotion research, this idea is developed under the title of Componential Theory of Emotion (see, for instance, Green, 1992; or Izard 1977). In order to explore further the constituents of the emotion process, this study will adopt Juslin’s (2013: 236) definitions for the different terminology that describes the affective phenomena involved in emotional experience. After his definition of the term ‘emotion,’ Juslin (2013: 236) continues defining the following terms as follows:

· ‘affect’ as “an umbrella term that covers all evaluative … states,” acting as a hypernym for ‘emotion,’ ‘mood,’ ‘preference’ or ‘feeling,’

Biographical notes

Francisco Javier Minaya Gómez (Author)

Dr. Francisco Javier Minaya Gómez is a Lecturer at the Faculty of Letters (Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha), and a teacher of early Medieval English literature. His research focuses on the conceptualization and expression of emotions in Old and Middle English language and literature.


Title: Emotions of Amazement in Old English Hagiography