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Durham University

Department of English Studies

Event Archive

This is an archive of past events within the Department of English Studies. Please see our current events for forthcoming activities.

Some of our public events are recorded and are available as podcasts via our Research English At Durham blog.

Old English Riddles and The Dream of the Rood

16th September 2015, 17:30 to 19:00, Alington House, Michael Baker

The fifth Late Summer Lecture examines the intriguing Old English poem, 'The Dream of the Rood', which combines a representation of the biblical Christ with the ethos of the Anglo-Saxon warrior.

One of the most intriguing intersections of literary cultures is signalled by the meeting of Anglo-Saxon ludic discourse, in the form of riddling, with classical homiletic discourse. Found in various Old English texts from 700 to 1000 AD, this fusion of genres derives from the interaction, on a more basic level, of the concepts structuring Anglo-Saxon culture with those organising patristic Christian thought.

Although monastic chroniclers of the era portrayed ‘heathen’ culture as being swept away by a tide of Christian conversion, what occurred was in fact a complex cultural hybridisation. Recent research in the relationship between cognition and narrative structure may help us to reconstitute some of the dissonance and ambivalence that texts contained—particularly in recognising Anglo-Saxon and Christian mental spaces (interpretative conceptual assemblies) that texts triggered in order to create a new, blended space.

This paper explores one of these blended mental spaces in a poem regarded as one of the most striking and successful in the Old English corpus, the Vercelli Book’s ‘The Dream of the Rood’—in which the biblical Christ and Anglo-Saxon warrior ethos merge, along with the Cross and Anglo-Saxon social structure. Riddling interacts with the poem’s more frequently discussed homiletic discourse as part of a discovery process, activating links between these potent but disparate cultural concepts.

The poem’s narrative structure is evidence, I argue, of a pragmatic modus vivendi with non-Christian aspects of Anglo-Saxon culture, one that sought to enlist entrenched mental spaces (or frames) in the communicative tasks of conversion and religious instruction.

About Late Summer Lectures

Now in its sixth year, the Late Summer Lecture Series enables doctoral and postdoctoral student from the Department of English in Durham, Newcastle, and York to broadcast their ground-breaking research to a wider audience. The full programme for the latest instalment is now available for viewing on the Late Summer Lecture Series website, and reflects the diverse and exploratory nature of research currently undertaken by scholars in the North East.

Podcasts from previous lecture series can be downloaded via Research English At Durham.

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