Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The 'Cursor Mundi': Poem, Texts and Contexts

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The 'Cursor Mundi': Poem, Texts and Contexts

Article excerpt

John J. Thompson, The 'Cursor mandi. Poem, Texts and Contexts, Medium YEvurn Monographs, NS XIX (Oxford: Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature, 1998). xii + 193 pp. ISBN 0-905570-12-7. l 11.00.

Cursor mandi is mainly known these days as a text useful for showing philology students the effects of Middle English dialect differences (the text has been transmitted both in the original pure northern and in various southerly forms). The more adventurous might know it as an excerpted set text (see J. A. W. Bennett and G. V. Smithers, Early Middle English Verse and Prose, pp. 184-95). But, of course, there is quite a lot more to the poem than this - in fact, 30,000 lines of versified history, from Creation to Doom. In this engaging study, John Thompson bids to return the poem to scholarly ken.

Fundamentally, Thompson addresses Cursor as a more than modest intellectual achievement. Given its sheer size and sprawl, most scholars who have treated the work have simply dipped in to acquire information relevant to one or another topic; the assumption behind such activity is that Cursor lacks any overall coherence (or general literary interest). Thompson carefully redresses such excerptual procedures.

He insists upon taking the author's prologue, particularly its formulation of an instructional programme (interestingly, just that portion not reproduced by Bennett and Smithers), with total seriousness. And he shows, in great detail, how the poem fulfils its promised survey of topics. Along the way, he gives a valuable demonstration of the author's scholarly seriousness, his monumental effort at compilation, at joining together the fruits of exhaustive research in biblical narratives both Latin and vernacular. …

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