Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Satan Unbound: The Devil in Old English Narrative Literature

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Satan Unbound: The Devil in Old English Narrative Literature

Article excerpt

Peter Dendle, Satan Unbound: The Devil in Old English Narrative Literature (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001). xiv + 196 pp.; 8 pp. of plates. ISBN 0-8020-4839-0, L30.00/150.00 (hard covers); 0-8020-8369-2, L12.00/$22.95 (p/b).

Peter Dendle's book contains useful overviews of the complex and often difficult variety of roles taken by the devil in Old English literature (from the homilies to the charms); sensibly, however, he is not distracted by any compulsion to harmonize the different representations of the demonic with one another, or with that in the particular area of his interest, hagiographic narrative. Narrative approaches to Satan in Old English are seen to be divorced, to a large extent, from his treatment in homilies (and elsewhere): rather than in the presentation of a psychological rationale of the devil's place in the sins (or resistance thereto) of the individual, Dendle argues that the Old Enemy's main roles in narrative texts are of an ontological, cosmographic type, concerned with the delineation of the place of the devil and devils in the universe, and demonstrative of the desire to contain and delimit them. Through analysis of several Old English texts (e.g. the prose Lives of Sts Nicholas, Margaret, Benedict, and Martin, and the poems Elene, Juliana, Andreas, and Guthlac A), Dendle concludes that an awareness of the confusions and doctrinal inconsistencies that attended Satan's role permeates the literature: there are long-ingrained uncertainties about the devil's location and situation (he ought to be chained in hell, but seems to be roaming the earth), and about the demarcation between him and his subordinates. …

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