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The Calendar and the Scop: Beowulf as an Example of Anglo-Saxon Discourses on Time
In this thesis, I analyse Beowulf as a self-reflexive poem on time based on representations of time in the Anglo-Saxon period. The question of time transcends the long-standing issue of the dialectic relationship between history, as representation of things past, and the logocentrism of poetry in Beowulf. Representations of time in the poem such as liturgical hours, genealogies, the teleological time of Christian history, subjective time and the limits of human memory are consistent with the Anglo-Saxon philosophy of time. Recent work on the science of the calendar, or computus, has explored the plethora of systems of time-reckoning available in Anglo-Saxon England and addresses the status of science and the philosophy of time in the Anglo-Saxon period. Bede?s status as a scientist has been reasserted, as early medieval perceptions of the quadrivium do not discard theology in their perception of the world. I especially found interesting for Beowulf the complementarity between the Christian teleology of time as the true reading of history, the divisions of the day as liturgical, the fragmented political time based on memory, the empirical time based on subjective perceptions of its passing, etc. Beowulf is self-reflexive on these representations of time, as the narrator represents the fragmented perception of time as relative, indefinite and subjective as being that of the pagan characters and the totalising vision of time as that of God. However, the ?pagan? perception of time is based on Anglo-Saxon secular representations of time and of their Migration Age roots. Beowulf undermines the binary reading of time as ?pagan? vs ?Christian? because the high proportion of character speeches provides conflicting points of access to the past. Time is also a dimension of the mind in the poem, as characters? recollections of the past and expectations of the future fluctuate slightly when it comes to human relationships, which are the core of the ?historical? content of Beowulf. This shows that the assessment of the ancestors is based on an irretrievable past based on human subjectivity. I will therefore refer to recent studies on the mind, memory, emotions and subjectivity in Old English verse to highlight this phenomenon in Beowulf. I scrutinise time in the poem from a narratological standpoint, as Beowulf is presented by the narrator as a performance by a scop versed both in alliterative poetry and the Christian universal history. Ren?e Trilling?s work on Old English historical verse, including Beowulf, brought to the fore the concept of nostalgia as applied to Old English verse. Like her, I will show that the Migration Age past is represented in contemporary Anglo-Saxon terms, though the body of Old English verse is often presented as traditional. However, I will point out that Beowulf is nostalgic because the narrator brings together instances of non-chronological time which are consistent with alternative modes of history in the Anglo-Saxon period, such as the genealogies and historical verse, though it creates an era floating in time in the not-so-distant past.
Keyword(s): Beowulf; time; computus; Old English poetry; Anglo-Saxon England
Publication Date:
Type: Doctoral thesis
Peer-Reviewed: Yes
Institution: Trinity College Dublin
Citation(s): BLANQUER, JOANA MARIE, The Calendar and the Scop: Beowulf as an Example of Anglo-Saxon Discourses on Time, Trinity College Dublin.School of English, 2020
Publisher(s): Trinity College Dublin. School of English. Discipline of English
Supervisor(s): Jorgensen, Alice
First Indexed: 2020-01-26 06:10:51 Last Updated: 2020-01-26 06:10:51