Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Treasure and Spiritual Exile in Old English Juliana: Heroic Diction and Allegory of Reading in Cynewulf's Art of Adaptation

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Treasure and Spiritual Exile in Old English Juliana: Heroic Diction and Allegory of Reading in Cynewulf's Art of Adaptation

Article excerpt


The present article studies Cynewulfs creative manipulation of heroic style in his hagiographic poem Juliana written around the 9th century A.D. The four poems now attributed to Cynewulf, on the strength of his runic autographs appended to each, Christ II, Elene, The Fates of the Apostles, and Juliana are written in the Anglo-Saxon tradition of heroic alliterative verse that Anglo-Saxons had inherited from their continental Germanic ancestors. In Juliana, the theme of treasure and exile reinforces the allegorical structure of Cynewulfs poetic creation. In such poems like Beowulf and Seafarer treasure signifies the stability of bonds between people and tribes. The exchange of treasure and ritualistic treasure-giving confirms bonds between kings and their subjects. In Juliana, however, treasure is identified with heathen culture and idolatry. The traditional imagery of treasure, so central to Old English poetic lore, is inverted in the poem, as wealth and gold embody vice and corruption. The rejection of treasure and renunciation of kinship bonds indicate piety and chastity. Also, while in other Old English secular poems exile is cast in terms of deprivation of human company and material values, in Juliana the possession of and preoccupation with treasure indicates spiritual exile and damnation. This article argues that the inverted representations of treasure and exile in the poem lend additional strength to its allegorical elements and sharpen the contrast between secular world and Juliana, who is an allegorical representation of the Church.

Keywords: Cynewulf, Juliana, St. Juliana of Nicomedia, Old English poetry, Middle Ages


Cynewulfs Juliana, written around the 9th century A.D., preserved in the Codex Exoniensis, or the so-called Exeter Book, compiled in the 11th century, has often been depreciated by Anglo-Saxonists as a story of gratuitous violence and sensational plot, "an uncomfortable mixture of the didactic and the spectacular" (Woolf 1966: 45). Whilst being considered distasteful as a story, the poem has been to a large extent reclaimed by figural criticism as an allegory. Thus, what at a first glance appears to be flat characterization and violent content came to be recognized by Daniel Calder (1973), Joseph Wittig (1974), Donald G. Bzdyl (1985) and John P. Hermann (1989) as sustaining a more or less consistent allegorical structure. (1) None of these published attempts, however, are directed at explaining and defending the poem's heroic style. The heroic style and theme of the poem are thus either judged as idiosyncratic or, at best, serving to convey a non-literal, figurative and moral sense of the story. In both instances they seem to be of no significance in themselves and far from being central to the poem's themes apart from psychological warfare. Woolf ([1955] 1993: 17) depreciates its style close to prose and claims that the heroic details added to the story are "incongruous" ([1955] 1993: 19). Greenfield and Calder (1986: 167) in their New History of Old English Literature state that "as poetry, Juliana is the least impressive of the Cynewulf group, its diction being rather prosaic and repetitive, its syntax rather loose".

While this article cannot challenge this general critical opinion on the poem, it is written as an attempt to show the significance of Cynewulfs manipulation of the heroic diction in Juliana. The article will explore the heroic language of Juliana in terms of more than allegory. The first aim of this article is to investigate Cynewulfs idea of community in the poem. Cynewulf self-consciously uses the style of Germanic heroic diction as well as formulaic themes of Anglo-Saxon secular poetic lore. While he draws upon Latin learning, he also turns to two important Old English poetic traditions to render the story relevant to his audience's cultural milieu. The two intertwined themes of treasure and exile form a meaningful cluster of ideas that reinforce the tropological, or moral, theme of his hagiographical poem. …

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