Angelus Pacis: A Liturgical Model for the Masculine 'Fæle Fridowebba' in Cynewulf's Elene

By Fitzgerald, Jill M. | Medium Aevum, July 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Angelus Pacis: A Liturgical Model for the Masculine 'Fæle Fridowebba' in Cynewulf's Elene


Fitzgerald, Jill M., Medium Aevum


While critics have considered how Cynewulf amplifies the Acta Cyriaci, his major source for the Old English poem Elene, few have looked at his modifications of the vision of Constantine. The entirety of this episode in th eActa reads as follows:

Ea vero nocte veniens vir splendidissimus suscitavit eum, et dixit: 'Constantine, noli timere, sed respice sursum in caelum, et vide', et intendens in caelum vidit signum Crucis Christi, ex lumine claro constitutum, et desuper litteris scriptum titulum, IN HOC VINCE.

(On the same night a man surrounded by radiance came and woke him, and said: 'Constantine, do not be frightened, but look up to the heavens and see', and looking up into the sky he saw the sign of Christ's cross, fashioned out of pure light, and over it was written in letters the title, IN THIS CONQUER.)1

The event in the Acta is brief and does not explicitly identify the figure who appears to Constantine. The 'vir' ('man'), presumably an angel, is described only as splendidissimus and utters only one line of direct speech. Cynewulf expands this episode to twenty-nine verse lines in Elene (lines 69-98) and re-envisions events from start to finish. This begins, as Antonina Harbus has pointed out, with Constantine experiencing a 'swefnes woma' ('revelation of a dream') on the eve of battle.2 Within this dream, Constantine witnesses the following sight:

buhte him wlitescyne on weres hade

hwit ond hiwbeorht hæleôa nathwylc

geywed ænlicra j^onne he ær oööe siö

gesege under swegle. (lines 7 2-7 5 a)

(It seemed to him a beautiful one in the appearance of a man, some bright and radiant hero, was revealed, one more peerless than he had seen before or since under heaven.)3

Like the Acta, Cynewulf describes the figure as having 'the appearance of a man' ('weres hade'), but he expands the single adjective splendidissimus into four Old English equivalents and also emphasizes the figure's superlativeness from Constantine's point of view (one might compare the Beowulf-poet's emphasis on the superlativeness of Beowulf from the coastguard's point of view, lines 247b-251a). Similar to Bede's account of Cædmon's vision, Constantine awakes to find his dream manifest in reality:

He of slæpe onbrægd,

eofurcumble bej^eaht. Him se ar hraöe,

wütig wuldres boda, wiö jüngode

ond be naman nemde, (nihthelm toglad) (Unes 75b-78)

(He started up from his sleep, covered by his boar-banner. The messenger, beautiful envoy of glory, quickly parleyed with him and named him by name (the cover of night sUpped away).)

Unlike the unadorned episode in the Acta, Cynewulf adds rich details to the setting in Elene. He notes that the emperor is under his 'eofurcumble' ('boarbanner'),4 that the 'boda' ('messenger') calls him 'be naman' ('by name'), and he describes how 'nihthelm toglad' ('the cover of night slipped away').5 Cynewulf also describes the manner of address used by the figure, 'wiö jringode' ('parleyed with') (line 77b), representing the encounter in spiritual and diplomatic terms. The messenger then addresses Constantine with seven lines of direct speech:

'Constantinus, heht j^e cyning engla,

wyrda wealdend, wære beodan,

duguöa dryhten. Ne ondræd idu öe,

öeah j^e el^eodige egesan hwopan,

heardre hilde. fiu to heofenum beseoh

on wuldres weard, f>ær öu wraöe findest,

sigores tacen' (Unes 79-85 a)

('Constantine, the king of angels, the ruler of fates, commands that a pledge be announced to you, lord of hosts. Have no fear, though foreign terrors threaten you with cruel battle. Look to the heavens upon the guardian of glory, where you wiü find help, a token of victory.')

Instead of merely assuring the emperor and pointing him towards the famous message In hoc vince, Cynewulf's messenger explains how a contractual 'wære' ('pledge') has been offered, and he confers the sign of that pledge in the form of the cross described as a 'tacen' ('token'). …

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