A Companion to Old and Middle English Literature

By Laura Cooner Lambdin; Robert Thomas Lambdin | Go to book overview

14

Hagiographic, Homiletic, and Didactic Literature

John H. Brinegar


DEFINITIONS AND BACKGROUND

Upon first consideration, the phrase “hagiographic and didactic literature” may seem somewhat vague; what kinds of writing does it properly include? The word “hagiographic” suggests that saints– lives and legends must form a large part of this category, but it also has a wider significance. Strictly defined, hagiography is the study of saints and their worship, and so the numerous saints– lives in Old and Middle English are the basic matter of this genre. There are a number of works, however, that are not strictly saints– lives but that have much in common with their subject matter and literary characteristics. For example, section V of John Edwin Wells–s A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 1050–1500 (1916), “Saints– Legends,” also includes legends of Adam and Eve, of the cross, of Jesus and Mary, and of the afterlife. In order to include these other categories, we will define hagiography as instructive literature about saints and other exemplary religious figures.

The meaning of “hagiographic” is now clear, but we still need to define “didactic” literature. Some scholars, such as D. W. Robertson, would argue that all medieval literature is essentially didactic, but this position is unhelpful when one is trying to separate works into categories. A more useful description of didactic literature might be that it is literature that explicitly aims to instruct the reader. Such a definition excludes most allegorical works, which may be instructive but are not explicitly so. Didactic literature can then be further divided into religious and secular categories, based on the matter of instruction. Religious didactic literature comprises a variety of texts, including but not limited to homilies and sermons, biblical translations and commentaries, and works of general religious instruction such as penitentials and treatises on vices and virtues. Sec-

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A Companion to Old and Middle English Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction ix
  • 1 - Old English and Anglo-Norman Literature 1
  • Selected Bibliography 23
  • 2 - Religious and Allegorical Verse 26
  • 3 - Alliterative Poetry in Old and Middle English 37
  • Selected Bibliography 48
  • 4 - Balladry 50
  • Selected Bibliography 66
  • 5 - The Beast Fable 69
  • Selected Bibliography 84
  • 6 - Breton Lay 86
  • 7 - Chronicle 98
  • 8 - Debate Poetry 118
  • Selected Bibliography 152
  • 9 - Medieval English Drama 154
  • 10 - Dream Vision 178
  • Selected Bibliography 196
  • 11 - Epic and Heroic Poetry 210
  • 12 - The Epic Genre and Medieval Epics 230
  • Selected Bibliography 253
  • 13 - The Fabliau 255
  • 14 - Hagiographic, Homiletic, and Didactic Literature 277
  • Selected Bibliography 294
  • 15 - Lyric Poetry 299
  • 16 - The Middle English Parody/ Burlesque 315
  • Selected Bibliography 333
  • 17 - Riddles 336
  • 18 - Romance 352
  • Selected Bibliography 373
  • 19 - Visions of the Afterlife 376
  • Selected Bibliography 394
  • Selected Bibliography 399
  • Index 425
  • About the Editors and Contributors 431
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