SEMA (and Kalamazoo abstract)

October 5, 2008 at 4:06 am (Anglo-Saxon) (, , , )

I’m too tired to talk much about SEMA just yet; I put my own coursework on hold for a few days and now I’m paying the price.  But damn, was it ever a great conference.  Like, with capital letters Great Conference (everybody send “get good rest” vibes to Eileen Joy, who managed to fold space and time in order to get everything that had to be done, done, and even manage to get some things that maybe didn’t have to be done but nevertheless should have been done, done).  I’m still kind of in awe.  I saw at least four new ways into this Crashaw/masochism paper I’ve been struggling with since March or so, so in addition to sparking new ideas and creating new contacts for the longer term, this weekend has also helped me imagine new ways of approaching my own stumbling blocks with shorter-term projects. I have about six handwritten pages of notes for future blog entries, many of them aimed at specific people I heard speak and/or spoke with, but I have no realistic time table for getting that stuff posted.

Plus, just the basic fangirl squee factor; can’t ignore that. And I met a kindred spirit in Marcus Hensel, who presented on how clothes and armor make the man — or monster — in Beowulf.  As I wasted 130 pages worth of trees exploring accoutrements of “civilization” in my MA thesis, you can imagine that Marcus and I had a great deal to talk about.  It was, in fact, a veritable Beowulf geek-out there for a while.  That makes me happy — ’cause there’s really only so much of this you can inflict on your undergraduates before they run away. I think that’s why God made the world wide web. And conferences.

Anyway, looks like I’m taking Solomon and Saturn to the ‘Zoo, as well, per Asa’s email (thanks for the vote of confidence, MEARCSTAPA decision makers!), so I’m grateful for the  philological feedback Britt Mize gave me Thursday on my untydras exploration, as it will doubtless shape my insceafte exploration.  So here’s the abstract for that.  In all frankness, I have no idea what I’m going to end up with (though I have a better idea now than I did a week ago), but this is the plan as it now stands:

Unnatural Births: Satan’s insceafte in “Solomon and Saturn II”

The importance of apocryphal influences on the Anglo Saxon literary tradition has long been noted by scholars, from Oliver Emerson’s 1906 treatment of legends of Cain through Kathryn Powell and D.G. Scragg’s 2003 Apocryphal Texts and Traditions in Anglo-Saxon England. While, as Peter Dendle demonstrates in Satan Unbound, the devil serves various and sometimes contradictory roles in the Anglo Saxon corpus, in at least one case he is said to plan a curious sort of unnatural propagation. In “Solomon and Saturn II,” Satan says “ðæt he mid his gesiðum wolde / hiðan eall heofona rice and him ðonne on healfum sittan, / tydran him mid ðy teoðan dæle, oððæt he his tornes ne cuðe / ende ðurh insceafte” [that with his companions he wished to completely ravage the kingdom of the heavens and to occupy half himself, and procreate himself with the tenth part, until through this internal propagation he could give his anger an end] (444-447). Robert Menner has suggested that the hapax legomenon insceafte be glossed as an “internal generation,” i.e., from within the ranks of the fallen angels. However, I will argue that insceafte, a specific means of generation related to the verb form tydrian in line 446, should be examined in light of the latter’s various associations in the Anglo Saxon corpus.

These associations deal with literal, corporeal progeny and breeding, but also moral weakness, barrenness, and destruction; they hint at monstrous becomings and questions of the role of angels and their giant and monstrous offspring in the origins of humanity after Satan’s fall. Taking these connotations as a starting point, I hope to reexamine the “Solomon and Saturn” poet’s use of the word insceafte in order to trace a genealogy of association and evolution which results in this most striking and mysterious of descriptions of unnatural propagation. A philological and comparative examination of this hapax legomenon may lead us to a clearer understanding of how the spiritual and corporeal nature of some of the demons and monsters we encounter elsewhere in the poetic corpus was understood. As Oliver Emerson’s contribution to the discussion on the apocryphal tradition elucidates, there existed medieval connections between not only Cain and the devil, but Cain and the giants who were the offspring of the ‘sons of God’ in Genesis 6.1-4. The mingling of fallen angel, human, and monster in humanity’s dim past loomed large in the Anglo Saxon imagination. Just as, in Beowulf, the gigantas kin of Cain stand as shadowy figures at the beginnings of human life in the world, so too do fallen angels, who are associated with ancient giants in the apocryphal tradition where the human, the demonic, and the monstrous were not always so clearly delineated.



  1. Mary Kate said,

    So glad to finally meet you Karma! Looking forward to much monstrous collaboration in the future! see you at Kzoo!

  2. Eileen Joy said,

    Karma: thanks for the good words! Now here is a question: why have you not joined BABEL? Did you not know that membership in the BWG carries with it no fees, no obligations, and no hassles, and accrues to its members all the symbolic capital they need for whatever meanings they require? Now that you have a Tiny Shriner button, you are not only automatically a member of the Tiny Shriner Adoration Society, but also of BABEL, and yet . . . . Marcus H. has joined. Need I say more?

  3. Jeffrey Cohen said,

    It was great to meet you in Saint Louis! And please don’t blog about any embarrassing asides I may have made as we walked to whatever place it was we were walking to together.

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