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We had an excellent discussion on Monday, and while I don’t want to supersede the presenter (Amanda Cherian) and post the content here, I thought I would share one item in response: I livetweeted the presentation, and having done so compiled the tweets and responses into a Storify image. I welcome responses here to this experiment in medievalism and social media.

[View the story “Woode Walkers Session on William Morris and Medievalism” on Storify]

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The Annolied is a hagiography of Saint Anno, a theocrat who lived from 1010 to 1074, who was immensely popular with his parishioners but not terribly popular with rival bishops or other political rivals. The text sets up his history with two backgrounds, first sacred and then secular history, which are integrated in the person of Saint Anno. After discussing his ascent to sainthood, the text portrays a blasphemer Volprecht being punished by having his eyes destroyed for denying Anno’s saintliness, and then restored after giving confession. The text ends with a sentence on remembering the signs God has given us.

My reading of this poem’s aesthetic of “two worlds which combine to make a third,” that is, human beings, is symbolized by the combination of the sense of sight and of sound in the written world, which itself combines with the twofold (secular and sacred) history of the human race, which explains the aesthetic purpose of Volprecht’s mode of punishment. For the meeting I brought in a paper I am revising for publication, which essentially presents this thesis statement. Thomas Rowland helpfully pointed out some imprecisions in my language, initially objecting to the notion that the Annolied, in any simplistic sense, privileges one part of the sensorium over the other. He’s quite right – both the aural and visual knowledge play key roles in this text, although the roles do, I think, play out a bit differently with different emphasis. Thomas also pointed out the deeply political nature of this text, something covered in scholarship such as Benjamin Arnold’s essay in the bibliography, but Thomas drew out some very useful passages where the poem seems to be valorizing some sense of Germanic pride, or at least pride of Cologne. Thomas also brought up the notion of “spots,” whether present or absent, being a sign of holiness – such as the Pearl maiden being without spot, and some points of comparison between the Annolied and the 7 fold history of the world found in Bede.

Beth asked why the secular details were so expanded, which may have many reasons, but I think at least two are appropriate: first, the poem seems, as Thomas pointed out, to be very politically motivated, and secondly that the disparity of sacred versus secular is something combined by the guiding aesthetic of the poem – secular history is not simplistically separate from sacred history. Beth also pointed out an apt parallel between Volprecht’s punishment and Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus.

Amanda Barton brought up Mircea Eliade (sp?), a theologian I confess no conversance with, but who apparently has worked with the notion of believing without seeing. She also mentioned the oral nature of confession in Catholicism, which seems connected to the sensibilities of the poem in interesting ways.

Below is the handout I gave for the poem. Comments and questions are welcome.

Annolied (ca. 1077-81): “Song of Anno”, a.k.a, Eyeball Explosions

Early Middle High German Hagiography of “Saint Anno” (ca. 1010-1074):

  1. Sacred History: Creation, Fall of Lucifer and Adam, Christ’s Victory, Disciples Evangelize, Cologne Christianized, Anno among the saintly bishops. (st. 1-7)
  1. Secular History: Origin of Cities, Ninus founds Nineveh, Four Beasts of Daniel Prophesies Translation of Empire: Babylon, Chaldea, Greece (Alexander), Rome. Caeser – Backtrack to Troy – Caesar, Augustus, birth of Christ, Rome Christianized by Peter, Cologne Christianized by Romans, Anno is 33rd bishop to preside in Cologne since then. (st. 8-33)
  2. History of Anno: Anno welcomed to Cologne, Ecclesiastical Rockstar, Wholly Holy, makes 5 monasteries, including Siegburg (where he is now buried), Persecution by secular lords and compared to David, Holds a Grudge, Gets Sick, starts going to heaven but he has a stain on his heart, so he forgives Cologne and is admitted into heaven. Performs many miracles. Volprecht, servant of a nobleman named Arnold, goes in league with the Devil and starts to blaspheme against God and all of the saints, including Anno. When he begins to insult Saint Anno one of his eyes melts. He persists in defaming Anno until he has a stroke, falls to the ground, and his other eye goes shooting out. He is persuaded to confess, and then his eyes grow back and he is reconciled to Arnold and to God. Final comparison between Anno and Moses, then closes with comments about the goodness of God. (st. 34-49)

Guiding Aesthetics:

  1. 3 Worlds, the material and the spiritual which make up the third, the human
  2. Concern to show Anno as a positive figure (hagiography)
  3. Concern to have ecclesiastical literature stand up to heroic literature (chronicle)

Important Background:

  1. Patristics – i.e., Augustine
  2. Numerology
  3. Orality and Literacy

My Take:

I think the best way to read this poem is as establishing a sacred aesthetic of the sensorium, to use Ong’s terminology. Hearing and seeing are the two stressed senses, and while seeing is important, it is hearing which rules the day – hearing which represents best the spiritual world. With the deep code of numerical structure, it is the ear, not the eye, which for most in the audience will matter, and the punishment of the servant suggests that visual knowledge must be subordinated to auditory knowledge to attain spirituality for the lay person. But this is reversed for the ecclesiaste: Anno is not admitted into heaven until the visual stain on him is removed. And yet the stain is something only heard about through the song, thus reasserting the primacy in right-hearing over right-seeing in the pursuit to live the good life.

Relevant Primary Sources:

Augustine’s City of God (Latin)

Vita Annonis (Latin)

Kaiserchronik (Middle High German)

Book of Daniel (Probably Latin rather than Hebrew-Aramaic?)

Relevant Secondary Sources:

Arnold, Benjamin. “From Warfare on Earth to Eternal Paradise: Archbishop Anno II of Cologne, The History of the Western Empire in the Annolied, and the Salvation of Mankind.” Viator 23 (1992): 95-113.

Batts, Michael S. “Numerical Structure in Medieval Literature (with a Bibliography).” Ed. Stanley N Werbow.  Formal Aspects of Medieval German Poetry. University of Texas Press, 1969. 93-122.

—. “On the Form of the Annolied.” Monatshefte 52.4 (1960): 179-182.

Dunphy, R. Graeme. “Historical Writing in and after the Old High German Period.” Ed. Brian Murdoch. German Literature of the Early Middle Ages. Camden House, 2004. 201-226.

—. Dunphy, R. Graeme. Opitz’s Anno: The Middle High Gerrman Annolied in the 1639 edition of Martin Opitz. Glasgow, 2003.

Green, D.H. Medieval Listening and Reading: The primary reception of German literature 800-1300. Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Schultz, James A. Sovereignty and Salvation in the Vernacular, 1050-1150. Western Michigan University, 2000.

Thurlow, P. “Augustine’s City of God, Pagan History and the Unity of the Annolied.” Reading medieval studies: annual proceedings of the Graduate Centre for Medieval Studies in the University of Reading 6 (1980): 44-67.

Walshe, M. O’C. “Early Middle High German Literature.” Medieval German Literature. Harvard UP, 1962. 34-70.

Whitesell, Frederick R. “Martin Opitz’ Edition of the ‘Annolied’.” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 43.1 (1994): 16-22.

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Disarmingly delightful, Smith of Wootton Major by J.R.R. Tolkien packs about as much literary punch as his more widely known Hobbit-based works. Smith is as dense with symbolism and interwoven with Tolkien’s deep seated convictions about faerie, craft, the metaphysical, as it is with his uneasiness about where one fits into a world limited by belief and, uncomfortably, luck. Perhaps fate fits better than luck though, and one wonders how much applicability can be found in such a personal (even, in some ways, exclusivistic) work.

I personally find Smith beautiful for a number of reasons, some of which we brought up in our discussion of the work this week:

1. The family dynamic resonates most powerfully with me. How is the reader to understand the relationship Smith has with his family? When Smith returns from his final wanderings in the land of Faerie, he expresses regret, explicitly and implicitly, at being absent from his wife and children for so long. It is striking to observe that his son, a young man at this point (old enough to oversee the work of his father’s smithy), holds no animosity at his father; indeed the family appears charitably to understand Smith’s long absences. What are we to make of this?

2. Tolkien’s short story, “Leaf by Niggle,” employs the figure of the artist to explore the tension between creative genius and intersocial responsibility (as I read it)–a fitting choice. Smith, on the other hand, elevates the profession of cooking to a priviledged position: It is through the cook’s baking that the gift of creativity is passed to Smith (and others). Certainly, in light of Tolkien’s devout Catholicism, there are eucharistic undertones in this, but how many facets of it does the narrative display?

3. (And I wasn’t aware of this until we compared editions of Smith with each other during the discussion) There may some interpretive difficulties which invite codicological (?) scrutiny: Does Smith encounter “eleven” (Del Rey edition) or “elven” (from Tales from Perilous Realms) mariners, before whom he collapses and who pass over his fallen body?

In the Fall of 2010 I taught Smith in my Introduction to Short Fiction course, and my students had very strong reactions (positively and negatively) to the story; so I include here the discussion points I used for the three days we spent studying and discussing it (page numbers are from the Del Rey edition, which includes Farmer Giles of Ham).

  • How do you think we’re to relate to the town of Wootton Major (cf. 9)?
  • Why kitchen?
  • What about mention of invitation mistakes (10)?
  • What of the change of the Master Cook after his holiday, or his up and leaving in general (11-12)?
  • What about Nokes’ lack of knowledge concerning children’s tastes (14)?
  • What is the significance of memory (15, 26)?
  • How should we understand Nokes’ interactions with Alf Prentice?
  • How do you read the star coming to the boy, Smithson, and its ultimate unveiling and coming to rest on his forehead (21-22)?
  • What about the extra quality of beauty added to the usefulness of Smith’s creations, or hi desire to create simply for delight (23)?
  • Why is Faery called a “perilous country” (24)?
  • How does the tone change, and what of the different episodes in Faery (26-33)?
  • Does the narrative seem deeply personal?
  • What of the proper names in the story?
  • Why a queen without throne or crown (36)?
  • Why is Smith ashamed at the memory of Nokes’ fairy figure on the cake (37-8)?
  • What of the emphasis on sorrow (cf. 38)?
  • Why do you think there is only one star (cf. 41)?
  • What of the idea that Rider had arranged for Alf to give Smith the star, but that Nokes thwarted their carrying it out (44)?
  • What do you think of the theme of not-knowing (44-45)?
  • Edith Tolkien is the dancing woman!
  • What about the oldness of the “new” or the newness of old tradition (45)?
  • What do you make of Smith’s inability to see and Alf’s willingness to help (46)?
  • How are family ties viewed (46)?
  • How about Alf’s willingness to relent (47)?
  • Interesting at how freely precious things are held (cf. 49).
  • Why is the shadow the truth (50)?
  • How should one understand Nokes’ memory (50-53)?
  • With respect to Nokes, Tolkien doesn’t seem to be saying people like that are obstinate, but that those who are obstinate become as Nokes was.
  • What about the disposition of Alf to Nokes and Nokes to Alf (54-57)?
  • Why do you think Tolkien gives Nokes the last word (58-59)?
  • Concerning the matter of “determinism” it is interesting that Tolkien doesn’t present it in a deterministic way; in fact he shows how free will acts of its own accord, and that what is determined isn’t affected by it (cf. Then Ilúvatar spoke, and he said: ‘Mighty are the Ainur, and mightiest among them is Melkor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Ilúvatar, those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done. And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.’ [5]).
  • What about the similarity between the endings of this and LotR? Tolkien doesn’t think that the most wonderful things happen in this world, but he thinks that comfort and consolation are very important.

Please feel at liberty to offer possible answers to these points, or to pose points of your own.

ME

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