The Displacement of the Body in Ælfric's Virgin Martyr Lives  book cover
1st Edition

The Displacement of the Body in Ælfric's Virgin Martyr Lives

ISBN 9781409442141
Published January 28, 2014 by Routledge
160 Pages

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Book Description

The Displacement of the Body in Ælfric's Virgin Martyr Lives addresses 10th-century Old English hagiographical translations, from Latin source material, by the abbot and grammarian Ælfric. The vitae of Agnes, Agatha, Lucy, and Eugenia, and the married saints Daria, Basilissa, and Cecilia, included in Ælfric's s Old English Lives of Saints, recount the lives, persecution, and martyrdom of young women who renounce sex and, in the first four stories, marriage, to devote their lives to Christian service. They purport to be about the primacy of virginity and the role of the body in attaining sanctity. However, a comparison of the Latin sources with Ælfric's versions suggests that his translation style, characterized by simplifying the most important meanings of the text, omits certain words or entire episodes that foreground suppressed female sexuality as key to sainthood. The Old English Lives de-emphasize the physical nature of faith and highlight the importance of spiritual purity. In this volume, Alison Gulley explores how the context of the Benedictine Reform in late Anglo-Saxon England and Ælfric's commitment to writing for a lay audience resulted in a set of stories depicting a spirituality distinct from physical intactness.

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction: the function of Ælfric's hagiography; The ideal of castitas and the environment of Ælfric’s virgin martyr legends; Marital imagery, Marian allusion, and circumscribed virginity in Ælfric’s Life of Agnes; Private lives and public contexts in Ælfric’s Lives of Agatha and Lucy; Cross-dressing, sex-change, and womanhood in Ælfric’s Life of Eugenia; ’Let us hold firmly to the beautiful treasure’: teaching, learning and salvation in the Passio of Chysanthus and Daria; Conversion and marital vocation in the Passiones of Julian and Basilissa and Cecilia and Valerian; Conclusion; Bibliography; Index.

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Alison Gulley is Associate Professor of English at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, USA.


'[The book] is both accessible to undergraduates approaching the theological debates of the tenth century and a study that contributes to an under-studied area of Anglo-Saxon sanctity. For this reason Gulley's book will certainly be of interest to scholars of hagiography.' Notes and Queries