Daughter of God, Sister of Angels: the Soul-Body Relationship in Anglo-Saxon Literature

June 22, 2011 at 5:17 am (Uncategorized)

Abstract for my SEMA 2011 talk:

Before the Church formed decisive teaching about the soul-body relationship, vernacular works like the Exeter Book Soul and Body helped Anglo Saxons conceive of the interrelationship of the various components of the self.  Recent criticism has framed studies of the soul-body relationship in terms of the mind-body relationship (Antonina Harbus), and has focused largely on Latin analogues and translations (Malcolm Godden, Ann Ross).  Building on this work, my paper will examine the treatments and metaphors that appear in poetry, leechbooks, and penitentials, and emphasize that soul is not a synonym for mind but a critical third term.  Life, soul, and mind are not always commensurate in medical and confessional manuals, and poetry often dramatically questions the location of the will or volitional faculty.  By reading Soul and Body in light of non-patristic concepts of the self, my paper will explore how lic or flæsce is often animate apart from sawl or gæst, and how the soul often has qualities of materiality or even corporeality.  This will help us see how and why their characterization as sibbe or kinsmen stresses not natural hierarchy but interdependence, and understand the import of a poet’s choice elsewhere to portray them as spouses (Guthlac B) or as a house and its tenant (Exodus).  Ultimately, I will argue that soul and body are not natural pairs that divide neatly along the spirit/matter line; Anglo-Saxons did not subsume all substance under body and all immaterial components of being under either soul or mind.

[Abstract word counts and limitations being what they are, I am compressing a great deal here, and also not adequately conveying my debts to other scholarship, but as this draft takes shape I hope to make up for that  a bit and at least update this post with a few footnotes, if nothing else.]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: