Hiroshi Ogawa, Language and Style in Old English Composite Homilies

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Hiroshi Ogawa, Language and Style in Old English Composite Homilies, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 361 (Tempe, Ariz.: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2010). ix + 207 pp. ISBN 978-0-86698-409-6. 37.00 [pounds sterling]

Old English composite homilies were produced within a literary culture which did not fetishize the relationship between authors and the integrity of their works. Despite the plea of AElfric of Eynsham that copyists respect the unity of his texts, select passages were quickly recombined with other favourites by authors of composite homilies. Hiroshi Ogawa's meticulous study of the language and rhetoric of a range of these anonymous late Old English composite homilies draws attention to a group of texts that today normally interest only specialists, but which in their own time constituted a popular genre. At the heart of Ogawa's study lies the question whether such texts should be regarded as crude pastiches, or rather texts to which authors impart a distinctive style and integrity. The answer varies.

The study begins with an introductory chapter on the state of the question on composite homilies, with qualifications of problematic terminology. Two of the most difficult terms are 'author' and 'source'. When treating texts whose authorship is unknown, and whose categorization depends on layers of derivation, the final written products can be the work of many hands. The same problems relate to the question of 'sources'; texts are chosen here which have been created from (mostly) known Old English sources, but many of these are themselves patchwork translations from Latin works, some of which will have been known directly by composite homilists. This is where the painstaking methodology of Ogawa becomes a great strength. The devil is very much in a detailed approach which studies word order, lexical preference, the choice of conjunctions, and so on, to establish the kinds of linguistic patterning that provide evidence of individual authors reworking texts into new contexts. …