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Litanic Verse II

Britannia, Germania et Scandinavia


Witold Sadowski, Magdalena Kowalska and Magdalena Maria Kubas

The book contains comparative analyses of the development of litanic verse in European poetry, from medieval to modern times. Litanic verse is based on different syntactic devices, such as enumeration, parallelism, anaphora and epiphora. However, it is not to be seen merely as a convention of versification as the popularity of different variants of the verse in Europe reflects the religious, intellectual, social and political history of various European regions. The essays in the second volume focus on litanic verse in the Germanic languages. They discuss predominantly the literatures of Protestant countries (Great Britain, Denmark, Germany, Norway), but also Austrian poetry.

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“That order of apostles is widely honoured by the nations”: Pre-Chaucerian English Poetry


The Tradition of Litany in England1

In Priestly Women, Virginal Men: Litanies and Their Discontents Felice Lifschitz emphasizes the idea that “liturgists define ‘litanies’ rather broadly, both as repetitive supplications for divine aid and as the processions in which those supplications may be enacted.”2 In this paper the first part of the definition will be adopted, as it is particularly relevant in the context of Old English literature, in which litanic verse is more clearly observed than litany per se. Indeed, Old English literature includes various examples of litanic verse, which have in all probability been influenced by two traditions: the ancient Assyrian tradition of lists of monarchs, which was litanic, and the tradition of Christian litanies, first in Greek and then in Latin. Furthermore, it appears that the shape of Old English litanic verse was reinforced by the textual tradition of Old Icelandic thula, a mnemonic list, by the oral-formulaic diction that influenced the shape of Old English poetry even though it was not necessarily its only formative element, and, last but not least, by litanies themselves, which are called “Anglo-Saxon” rather than “Old English” by Michael Lapidge since they were circulated in Latin not Old English, as the extant manuscripts prove.3 In fact, Old English litanic verse is viewed as being more interesting than litanies themselves, which are according to Joseph P. McGowan “fairly simple texts […] interesting for the saints mentioned and their possible insular origins for the Western church.”4 Indeed, Old...

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