Identifying the Narrator of Wulf and Eadwacer? Signy, the Heroides and the Adaptation of Classical Models in Old English Literature

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Abstract

Wulf and Eadwacer is famously difficult to interpret. The assessment of Benjamin Thorpe, “[o]f this I can make no sense” (Thorpe in Codex exoniensis: a collection of Anglo-Saxon poetry, from a manuscript in the library of the dean and chapter of Exeter. W. Pickering, London, 1842, p. 527), has largely stood. However, since the poem is complete, legible, and the manuscript is undamaged, it must have been equally perplexing to a medieval audience—unless it was contextualised. This has led some scholars to conclude that the story of Wulf and Eadwacer must have been known and that poem’s narrator must be a mythic figure. The most common assumption is that she is to be identified with Signy whose story is strikingly similar. Even still it seems strange since none of the other elegies appear to have mythic narrators. However, I suggest that Wulf and Eadwacer, like many Old English texts including the riddles, Wonders of the East, or Daniel, adapts a Latin genre to a vernacular sensibility and that if an early English poet were to adapt the Heroides, Signy would be the obvious heroine to choose. Moreover, the differences in style between the Heroides and Wulf and Eadwacer are typical of the adaptations of classical models to old English literature.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
JournalNeophilologus
Early online date11 Aug 2020
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Aug 2020

Keywords

  • Exeter Book
  • Heroidies
  • Medieval women
  • Old English poetry
  • Ovid
  • Sagas
  • Signy
  • Wulf and Eadwacer

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