Worming your way out of Anglo-Saxon literature

July 7, 2000

"A moth ate words: to me that seemed a marvellous deed when I heard of that wonder, that a worm, the thief in the darkness, devoured a man's words, his glory-fast sayings and their strong foundations. The thieving guest was no bit the wiser for the words he'd consumed."

It is an undeniably elegant riddle, yet the Englishman who wrote it died more than a millennium ago. The bookworm verse, from the Anglo-Saxon Exeter Book, reveals the fragility of the written word at the heart of the Anglo-Saxon Christian society.

Robert DiNapoli, a scholar at the University of Birmingham, says: "Anglo- Saxon poets seem instinctively aware that the verse forms and poetic vocabulary they use emerged from an older, oral milieu, where the poet's voice commanded authority in its own right.

"Such awareness would register at some level as competing with the church's claims to absolute authority, which were predicated on the authority of written texts such as the Bible."

DiNapoli's research suggests that the transition from pagan to Christian culture was not as smooth as some have suggested and that memories of the native culture, with its heroic literary conventions, held their ground against the new creed in unexpected ways.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

James Fryer illustration (27 July 2017)

It is not Luddism to be cautious about destroying an academic publishing industry that has served us well, says Marilyn Deegan

Jeffrey Beall, associate professor and librarian at the University of Colorado Denver

Creator of controversial predatory journals blacklist says some peers are failing to warn of dangers of disreputable publishers

Hand squeezing stress ball
Working 55 hours per week, the loss of research periods, slashed pensions, increased bureaucracy, tiny budgets and declining standards have finally forced Michael Edwards out
Kayaker and jet skiiers

Nazima Kadir’s social circle reveals a range of alternative careers for would-be scholars, and often with better rewards than academia

hole in ground

‘Drastic action’ required to fix multibillion-pound shortfall in Universities Superannuation Scheme, expert warns