Medieval Book Club: Judith, Dream of the Rood, & Juliana

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Welcome to my sixth Medieval Book Club entry. For this month we read through some Anglo-Saxon poetry (in translation, of course), found free online here and here and here. If you haven’t had a chance to read them yet, follow those links and give them a read. Let me tell you, I really enjoyed reading through those poems this month, which seems to be a repeating trend with Anglo-Saxon poetry. After May’s disappointment, it was nice to retreat to what is becoming my safe space for Anglo-Saxon literature.

For July we will be reading Viking Age Iceland by Jesse L. Byock. The preview post for this one can be found here, and I am looking forward to reading that book. If you are at all interested, I would love to have you read along and come back to discuss that book on July 20th!

My Thoughts on Judith:

This poem was an interesting one. I enjoyed it, and how Judith beheaded Holofernes in the beginning and it turned out to be a fairly significant event by the end of the poem. I can’t be the only one, though, who found it fairly humorous that the warriors were standing around, afraid to interrupt their lord because they imagined he was still laying with Judith:

So the retainers in the morning-time chased down the strangers,
for the whole time until the lead-warriors of that militant people,
who were hostile, perceived that the Hebrew men had shown
a severe sword-swinging to them. Wordfully they went
to reveal that fact to the most senior of the lordly-warriors,
awakening the pennanted soldiers, and fearfully announcing
the frightful news—the morning-raid, the terrible play of blades—
to the mead-wearied. Then I heard at once
that the warriors doomed to die shook off their slumber
and the fallen-spirited went thronging in a crowd
to the sheltering tent of the baleful one, Holofernes.
They intended at once to announce the battle to their lord
before the terrible power of the Hebrews.
They all thought that the lord of warriors
and the bright maiden lay together inside that lovely tent,
the noble Judith and the lecherous one, terrifying and fierce.

There was not one of the nobles though who dared
to wake up that warfaring man or to discover how
the warrior had done with that holy woman,
the maiden of the Measurer. The armed might of the Hebrew people
drew nearer, fighting fiercely with hardened battle-weapons,
requiting with blades their ancient quarrel,
with splattered swords, their elder grudges.
Assyrian glory was diminished by that day-work,
their pride humbled. The warriors stood around
the tent of their lord, quite troubled, with downcast spirits.
Then they all together began to cough, making loud noises
and gnashing their teeth, deprived of the good, enduring grief.
Then was the end of their glory, of their blessings,
and their brave deeds. Then the earls considered how to awaken
their friendly lord—it prospered them not a jot.

That is probably the best scene there, with them coughing and gnashing their teeth outside the tent. Trying to subtly get his attention without raising his ire. And then the dramatic reveal: he is dead, and so they are all now doomed to lose to the Hebrews descending upon them.

All in all, this was a fun little poem, and it might be my favorite of the three this month. Dream of the Rood is close enough in standing that it might be a tossup between those two. But I really did enjoy this one, especially because of the humor woven in these scenes.

 

My Thoughts on Dream of the Rood:

This is a poem I have read several times now, and I always find myself enjoying this one. I actually was able to engage in a good discussion with some close friends about this poem, and it was fun to break it down a little and to consider how this poem almost appears to elevate the Cross to a saintly, idolic status to rival Mary.

On me, the Child of God
suffered awhile. Therefore I, triumphant
now tower under the heavens, able to heal
any one of them, those who stand in terror of me.
Long ago I was made into the hardest of torments,
most hateful to men, until I made roomy
the righteous way of life for them,
for those bearing speech. Listen—
the Lord of Glory honored me then
over all forested trees, the Warden of Heaven’s Realm!
Likewise Almighty God exalted his own mother,
Mary herself, before all humanity,
over all the kindred of women.

Sometimes it is hard to read poetry from a time when the Christian thought was predominantly Catholic in slant, as is the case with most Anglo-Saxon literature, because there will be things that stand out as being theologically inaccurate. And that is something I could talk about with all three of these poems, but I won’t go into those details here.

In spite of the attempts to make the Cross (known in the poem as the Rood) a significant symbol (which you could argue it has become that in our modern society), the approach on this poem is so unique that I always enjoy reading it. The dream of this man, retold in poetry, gives life and personality to the cross:

The young warrior stripped himself then—that was God Almighty—
strong and resolute—he climbed up onto the high gallows,
mindful in the sight of many, when he wished to redeem mankind.
I quaked when the warrior embraced me—
yet I dared not bow down to the ground, fall down to earthly regions,
but I must stand there firm. The rood was reared. I heaved the mighty king,
the Lord of Heaven—I did not dare to lean.

This is a poem I will return to time and again, and hope to someday soon revisit it in the Anglo-Saxon language. It is short, yet expressive and imaginative. Which is something I really enjoy in poetry.

My Thoughts on Juliana:

For those who thought the Medieval Literature would be silent about women, this month should have proven that thought wrong. Of the three poems read, this is the second one starring a woman. And wow, Juliana had quite the story about her life in here. You might dislike the emphasis on Juliana’s value being placed on her virginity, saving herself for Christ, it would have been a common perspective in this period. Without doing any research at all, I do know that a fair number of female saints had virginity as a trait among them. Likely because Christ was born of a virgin mother, so that would be viewed as the highest state in which a woman can achieve – equaling Mary’s accomplishment (although I’m not convinced she remained as such after the birth of Christ, so that really brings about a flaw in virginity equaling holiness for women. But that would be another discussion for another day…)

The scene where Juliana is talking to the demon (disguised as an angel) was an interesting one. Instead of taking the angel at his word, she prays to God for guidance and is instructed to grab hold of the angel. After that, she is able to get a very full confession out of the demon, and I feel like we’re missing something critical in that whole process because of the missing part of the manuscript. The deeds that the demon confesses to are curious to read, and I almost am left wondering if this could have partially been an inspiration to C.S. Lewis for his creation of The Screwtape Letters. It is likely not, but I did get a feeling that this could have inspired it and Lewis almost certainly would have read this poem in his time as a Medievalist.

And, of course, we have another piece missing after this discussion and then we jump straight into Juliana being tortured. Or, at least, they are attempting to torture and kill her but God protects her from all sorts of cruel and hideous methods. This echoes what is seen in many of the saintly stories – supernatural protection for them in body for a length of time but eventually they will suffer a death. Yet through it all, the saint is praising God and His glory. And, as is also common, the death appears to lead some to conversion.

Overall the poem spends a ton of time with Juliana interrogating the chained demon. We’re missing much of what Juliana suffered through prior to her death, which some might prefer to have it absent. While I enjoyed the poem and plan to read it again in the future, it didn’t stand out to me as much as the other two poems. This one was longer than the other two combined, yet I preferred them more.

Which of the three poems did you enjoy reading the most? What about that poem made it stand out from the others?

 

Medieval Book Club Preview: Viking Age Iceland by Jesse L. Byock

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The popular image of the Viking Age is of warlords and marauding bands pillaging their way along the shores of Northern Europe. In this fascinating history, Jesse Byock shows that Norse society in Iceland was actually an independent one-almost a republican Free State, without warlords or kings. Combining history with anthropology and archaeology, this remarkable study serves as a valuable companion to the Icelandic sagas, exploring all aspects of Viking Age life: feasting, farming, the power of chieftains and the church, marriage, and the role of women. With masterful interpretations of the blood feuds and the sagas, Byock reveals how the law courts favored compromise over violence, and how the society grappled with proto-democratic tendencies. A work with broad social and historical implications for our modern institutions, Byock’s history will alter long-held perceptions of the Viking Age.

This is the seventh entry into the monthly Medieval Book Club, and we are shifting gears for two months and looking at Medieval Iceland. This month we’re immersing ourselves into Viking Age Iceland itself, learning a bit more about it historically. In August we’ll be reading on of the Icelandic Sagas, which should be a great deal of fun. I’ve held a pretty strong interest in this period for a few years now, and I have actually written a few stories that took place in the Viking era. So these two months should be a huge treat for me, at least, and I hope you enjoy joining along with them as well.

Here is the breakdown of chapters:

  • Introduction
  • An Immigrant Society
    • Language and the Term “Viking”
    • Leadership
    • Mord the Fiddle: A Leader and the Law
    • The Sagas: An Ethnography of Medieval Iceland
  • Resources and Subsistence: Life on a Northern Island
    • Turf Housing
  • Curdled Milk and Calamities: An Inward-Looking Farming Society
    • Provisions, Subsistence Strategies, and Population
    • Bad Year Economics: Difficulties of Life in the North Atlantic
  • A Devolving and Evolving Social Order
    • Ranking, Hierarchy and Wealth
    • Complex Culture and Simple Economy
    • Privatization of Power in the Tenth Century
    • A Proto-democratic Community?
    • Icelandic Feud: Conflict Management
  • The Founding of a New Society and the Historical Sources
    • The Effect of Emigrating from Europe
    • Land-taking and Establishing Order
    • Dating the Settlement: Volcanic Ash Layers
    • Closing the Frontier and Establishing Governing Principles
    • Written Sources: The Book of Settlements and The Book of the Icelanders
  • Limitations on a Chieftain’s Ambitions, and Strategies of Feud and Law: Eyrbyggja Saga
    • Arnkel’s Quest for Wealth and Power
    • Ulfar’s Land Shifts to Arnkel
    • Thorolf’s Land Shifts to Snorri Gothi
    • Ulfar Claims Orlyg’s Land
    • Ulfar’s Demise
    • The End of Arnkel’s Ambitions
  • Chieftain-Thingmen Relationships and Advocacy
    • The Nature of the Gothorth
    • Advocacy
    • Arbitration and Legalistic Feuding
    • The Flexibility of the Gothi-Thingman Relationship
    • The Social Effects of Concubinage
    • Distinctions of Rank
    • Hreppar: Communal Units
    • The Orkneys: A Comparison
    • Freedmen
  • The Family and Sturlunga Sagas: Medieval Narratives and Modern Nationalism
    • The Family Sagas
    • The Sturlunga Compilation
    • The Sagas as Sources
    • Modern Nationalism and the Medieval Sagas
    • Conclusions
    • The Locations of the Family Sagas
  • The Legislative and Judicial System
    • Thing: Assemblies
    • Options
  • Systems of Power: Advocates, Friendship, and Family Networks
    • Advocacy
    • The Role of Kinship
    • A Balancing Act
    • Friendship (Vinfengi and Vinatta)
    • Women and Choices of Violence and Compromise
      • Vengeance and Feud: Goading in Laxdaela Saga
      • A Goading Woman from Sturlunga saga
      • Retraint Within a Major Chieftain’s Household in the Sturlung Age
  • Aspects of Blood Feud
    • Territory
    • Marriage and Confused Loyalties
    • Some Conclusions
  • Feud and Vendetta in a ‘Great Village’ Community
    • The Language of Feud
    • Norms of Restraint
    • Bluffing and Violence
    • Outlawry
  • Friendship, Blood Feud, and Power: The Saga of the People of Weapon’s Fjord
    • Inheriting a Foreigner’s Goods
    • Brodd-Helgi’s Revenge against Thorleif
    • Struggle to Claim a Dowry
    • Skirmishes over a Woodland
    • Seeking a Thingman’s Allegiance
    • Brodd-Helgi Breaks Vinfengi
    • Geitir Establishes Vinfengi
  • The Obvious Sources of Wealth
    • Sources of Income Available Only to Chieftains
      • Early Taxes
      • Price-Setting
      • Additional Privileged Sources of Wealth
      • The Sheep Tax
    • Sources of Income Available to All Freemen
      • Trade
      • Slavery and the Rental of Land and Livestock
  • Lucrative Sources of Wealth for Chieftains
    • The Acquisition of Property in the Family Sagas
      • Disputed Property in the East Fjords: The Saga of the People of Weapon’s Fjord
      • Disputed Property in the Salmon River Valley: Laxdaela Saga
    • Inheritance Claims in the Sturlunga Sagas
      • The Struggle to Inherit Helgastathir: The Saga of Gudmund the Worthy
      • Inheritance Rights to Heinaberg: The Saga of Hvamm-Sturla
      • Resurgence of the Dispute over Heinaberg: The Saga of the Icelanders
  • A Peaceful Conversion: The Viking Age Church
    • Pagan Observance
    • A Viking Age Conversion
    • Geography and the Church
    • Early Bishops, Priests and Nuns
    • The Beginnings of a Formal Church Structure
  • Gragas: The ‘Grey Goose’ Law
    • Manuscripts and Legal Origins
    • Women and the Law
    • Marriage and the Church
  • Bishops and Secular Authority: The Later Church
    • Bishops
    • The Tithe and Church Farmsteads
    • Bishops and Priests in the Later Free State
    • The Church’s Struggle for Power in the Later Free State
    • Priests
    • Monasteries
  • Big Chieftains, Big Farmers and their Sagas at the End of the Free State
    • Big Farmers and the Family Sagas
    • Advantages Enjoyed by the Storbaendr
    • The Saga of the Icelanders in the Sturlunga Compilation
    • The Storgothar, Not Quite Rulers
    • Iceland’s Jarl
    • 1262-4: The Covenant with Norway’s King and the End of the Free State
  • Appendix I: The Law-speakers
  • Appendix 2: Bishops During the Free State
  • Appendix 3: Turf Construction
  • Appendix 4: A Woman Who Travelled from Vinland to Rome

Will you join me in reading this book? You can pick up a copy on Amazon at this link. The post for this book’s reading will be on July 20th, which is the third Thursday of that month.

Which of the chapters and/or subsections interest you the most? There is a lot of ground covered in 373 pages of book here, and I expect I’ll find most of it to be quite fascinating!

Check out the full list of books we’re reading this year for the Medieval Book Club.

Book Review: A Patch on the Peak of Ararat by Gary Bower

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Title: A Patch on the Peak of Ararat

Series: A Faith that God Built book

Author: Gary Bower

Illustrated by: Barbara Chotiner

Published by: Tyndale Kids (February 2, 2017)

Pages: 32 (Hardcover)

Blurb: The Faith that God Built series by Gary Bower uses the same whimsical style of storytelling as The House that Jack Built, using rhyme to introduce preschoolers through second graders to favorite Bible stories. Gary has a well-developed talent for creating engaging narratives that also teach biblical truth through rhyme.

In Patch on the Peak of Ararat, Noah follows God’s plan, resulting in his rescue from destruction.

My Take: This book promises whimsical storytelling, and in that I suppose it delivers. Many of the pages are packed full of words, with each new element in the story being added in to the repetitive cycle of the story. This is definitely a pattern that children in the targeted age range, preschool through second grade, might enjoy. It also helps to prompt memorization after enough reads, because the pattern of adding to that repeating chorus of phrases.

The illustrations are pleasant to see, displaying Noah and his sons and the ark and pairs of animals. There is some good color, and so it will hold some visual appeal to children. One thing that confused me, though, was the choice of animal inclusions. For instance, page 19 mentions hamster and hippo, hyena and hare. The images on the two shown pages have hippos and hares, but also peacocks and bears (instead of hamsters and hyenas). I would have expected the images to match the words, especially in the instances where those animals are mentioned so you, or your child, can point to each of them as they are mentioned.

I like how the final page not only has a nice, colorful image, but it also has a memory verse and directs the reader on where to find the full story in the Bible (Genesis 6-9, in case you are curious). This is a nice inclusion, and could be a great lead-in as the children get older. Overall this is a nice children’s book for any collection. Kids will enjoy the repetitive style of storytelling, and it succeeds at helping to learn the story of Noah and the flood.

Book Review: Blood and Bile by J.C. Boyd & Joshua Robertson

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Title: Blood and Bile

Series: Book #1 in the Legacy Series

Authors: J.C. Boyd and Joshua Robertson

Published on: June 7, 2017 (Crimson Edge Press)

Pages: 310 Pages (eBook)

Blurb: “Before the world came to be, there was nary beginning nor end, nary sky-shield nor night-wheel, nary war-garb nor shield-foe, nary fate-heeder nor fate-weaver, nor any thing living or dying or dead.”Ranvir ripped meat from bone, the dew of deep wounds dribbling between his fingers. He packed the flesh into his teeth-house, chewing happily.

His wife gaped at him, word-land soundless, forehead-stones devoured long ago, and wound-necklace torn from ear to ear.

She had never looked more beautiful.

His hands probed into her blood’s-seat for another bite, nails scraping against cartilage, fingers squeezing organ and fat, seeking a tasty morsel.

Ranvir heard the rasping of his tent flap open, but did not turn from his meal. Snaer’s brisk breath briefly touched his back. and then he felt it no more. He swallowed another mouthful and pulled at his wife’s skin to gaze at the glossy remains.

A voice, light and feminine, spoke.

“Ranvir?”

My Thoughts: I have read a few books, short and long, by the tandem of Boyd and Robertson. There is no hesitation when I declare this is, without question, the best of their books that I have read so far. It exceeded every expectation I had going into the book, and was such a joy to read. However, this book will not be for every fantasy reader.

To understand why this was a hit for me, you must understand my ancillary interests reside in Medieval Literature and culture. I read Viking Sagas and am working to learn Old English on my own. I am immersed in that time period in a scholarly manner, even if self-directed in nature. Because of this interest, there are many things within this story that hit the right spots for me. From the smattering of kennings woven throughout, to the throw-back to archaic language, to the culture and dark setting itself; all of these things are almost as if they were planted into the story just for me.

That isn’t to say that an interest in those things are essential to enjoying the story – they merely enhanced the work that was already there and Boyd did a fantastic job with weaving them all into the story. The story itself is masterful in its own unique way and it holds Robertson’s markings all over it. The characters are interesting, the problems that arise are interesting and keep you wanting to turn page after page. The story is very unconventional in its own way – readers of modern fantasy may find themselves wishing the story was a bit faster in pace and that more things would simply happen. That, too, is a harkening to the older age of literature.

I applaud Boyd and Robertson for taking steps back toward the roots of literature in this Dark Fantasy series. It won’t be for every reader, but it dares to be bold and hearken to the days when stories needed less action and was able to be more about development and setting and evoking the time period. This book sets the stage for a promising series, one that I plan to purchase every installment of as they are released.

If you want a traditional fantasy, dark or otherwise, this might not be the book for you. But if you are willing to take a chance on a book that blends modern and ancient, that pulses with the lifeblood of the old world, and a book that makes kennings a pure delight to read once again, then this is a book you should not miss.

A Merchant in Oria by David Wiley

A nice, thoughtful review for A Merchant in Oria!

This Is Not Hitchhikers Guide

Being a columnist at Our Write Side, I got my hands on a copy of A Merchant in Oria by David Wiley as an advanced reader copy. Other stuff happened that led to me not getting this review done until now. So—Dave, I am sorry this took way longer than expected—without further delay, here is my review of A Merchant in Oria.

A Merchant in Oria is a fantasy novella by David Wiley. Firion is a young merchant who thinks he is a savvier trader than he really is. It is his dream to trade with the dwarves from Oria. Little does he know the adventure in store for him when he attempts to make that dream come true.51+17JTU5YL._AC_US218_

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First off, one of my favorite things about the book is how Wiley creates a lovable but inept character in Firion. The believability of Firion’s naïve ineffectiveness is spot on. He is very much…

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Book Review: The Senator’s Youngest Daughter by Kelley Rose Waller

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Title: The Senator’s Youngest Daughter

Author: Kelley Rose Waller

Published by: Versive Press (October 1, 2016)

Page Count: 312 (eBook)

Blurb: Senator A.C. McFerren has been missing for more than six months. The obvious prime suspect in his disappearance is the homegrown terrorist group known as the Army of Social Justice.

Searching for her kidnapped father leads Brenna McFerren Jefferson to the terrorists’ elusive “Death of Government” headquarters, known as The Doghouse. But nosing around where the federal government won’t investigate puts a target on her family and sets in motion a rebellion she isn’t prepared to lead.

Dreams of liberty cause the Senator’s daughter to disguise herself for undercover recon, recruit a high-ranking defector, and partner with a subversive news agency that combats government propaganda. As Brenna’s strength and family ties are tested, she unites a political party that commands the power to transform the United States.

My Thoughts: I chose to review this book on a whim. It falls outside of my usual scope of books that I read, so my expectations going into the book were undecided. It sounded interesting from the blurb, and the author pitched it well. She categorized it as Women’s Fiction, but it certainly doesn’t hold appeal only toward women. In fact, I’d argue that categorizing it as such might cost readers who would thoroughly enjoy reading this book just like I did.

This is a book that starts off with a heavy dose of intrigue, and that is a thread that is woven strongly through the pages of the entire book. There are schemes within schemes, hidden traitors on both sides of the conflict, and an overall sense of political madness. This book takes a great concept and executes it well. What would our nation look like if our political system was essentially displaced by one person who claimed that power for himself? What repercussions would ripple throughout the nation, and what would the inevitable uprising against that look like? These things were a delight to witness in Waller’s writing, and it presented a picture realistic enough to make me sit up and take notice.

And that, really, is what makes this book shine. The characters are great and you’ll have strong feelings about what happens with many of them. There are some outstanding ideologies given a voice throughout the book, almost to the point of preachiness at times but never to where it bogs the book down. But it is the reality that strikes home – this sort of scenario could very easily happen at some point in our country’s future – that really sets this book apart.

I really, really enjoyed this book. Far more than I ever expected to. I’m not sure why I decided to take a chance and read this book, but I am very glad I did. It might not lead me to read more books in the same genre, but I will definitely be watching for the sequel to this one. It is a book I’d very much recommend to a YA or higher audience.

What Reviewers are Saying About A Merchant in Oria

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My first fantasy novella, A Merchant in Oria, has been out for just over three weeks now, and the reviews are beginning to trickle in. I could tell you all about why you should read this novella, but it sounds like even more fun to let these first reviews deliver some reasons to pick up your copy today:

“From the opening line straight to the end, there is enough adventure and fast paced action to keep the reader enthralled. There is no chance for your mind to escape this story. You’ll find yourself deep in the clutches of Firion, Melody, and the rest of the cast.”

“Wiley runs at a fast pace from good sell to kingdom won, at the perfect speed for an easy read on the beach, during a plane ride, or just a lazy afternoon spent in another world. This is one story I’ll read over and over again.”

“The plot was engaging, following the lines one expects of classic fantasy. If you are looking for fantasy that is light (as opposed to dark) and at times humorous in tone (along the lines of, say, Jeffrey M. Poole’s Lost City), then you’ll probably enjoy this story. The nod to bearded dwarf women made me smile!”

“Initially I felt rather annoyed with the main character (whose naiveté seemed to border on willful self-delusion) only to realize later that his attitude is probably also the primary reason he turns out to be the ideal hero for Oria. “

“Like most of us readers, lowly Firion doubts he has it in him to overcome his fear and be strong enough to save Melody and perhaps the rest of Oria. Is that what a hero does? “No, a true hero steps up and does the right thing because he sees a problem needing to be solved,” his mentor Tyron tells him. We can guess that Firion plays the part of hero, but how he goes about it is worth the read. David Wiley believes in his characters and makes fantastical figures come to life.”

“A Merchant in Oria is a novella set in a fantasy world populated by humans, dwarves, and lizard-men. It has the feel of a familiar, traditional fantasy setting, as found in Tolkien’s work. However, this story is more humorous and light-hearted. “

“I enjoyed reading this book. It is a short read; I read it over lunch. I’d recommend it to anyone who loves fantasy stories looking for a quick read. “

“This was a cute little novella. In such a short amount of time, the author manages to convey enough information that the world doesn’t feel flat. To be perfectly honest, the way it was set up made it read like a side quest in Skyrim. That helped with envisioning the setting. There was some interesting character development to be had. Some of it ended up entangled in the romantic subplot, but that honestly made it better.”

“A quick and easy fantasy read. It was cute, funny, and tied things up at the end. Characters and story were both engaging. It was a well-written, fairly original storyline.”

So don’t forget to add it to your Goodreads Bookshelf!

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Medieval Book Club: Revelations of Divine Love

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Welcome to the fifth Medieval Book Club post on this blog. Here I will share some of my thoughts on the book, some observations on the material itself, and open a few questions toward you, the reader.

In case you missed it, for June we’re going to be reading three Anglo-Saxon Poems: Judith, the Dream of the Rood, and Juliana. Those poems are ones you can read free online, just follow the link to my preview post and you will find the link there to the poems. I hope you can join me for next month’s discussion as well, and I’ll be keeping this going all year long with posts on every third Thursday of each month in 2017.

My Thoughts: Let’s start off by being honest…this book left me disappointed. Last year I read a very brief biography of Julian of Norwich and that had me excited to dive into this book. And maybe that was the problem: I was expecting great things. And this book, while worthwhile to read and perhaps study, simply didn’t blow me away. I’m starting to think it is a “its not you, its me” thing, because I felt the same way about Augustine’s Confessions when I finally read that one. Which is a shortcoming on my side of things, because I know these are both worthwhile reads that holds merit in spite of the age of the writing. And I certainly found great things to mine from both of those texts. Revelations of Divine Love is full of thoughts and ideas that were, at the time, quite revolutionary in their scope and understanding. But it ends up being a book that I will probably never feel the urge to revisit again.

In spite of all of this, it certainly is a quotable book. So rather than focus on my own inability to enjoy a Medieval Christian text, I’ll focus more on sharing a few of the quotes that stood out to me. I did find that the reading of both the Short Text and the Long Text were a bit redundant. Perhaps it would be better if they weren’t read back-to-back. But overall there wasn’t too much in the Long Text, in terms of new thoughts, so it felt very repetitive when I was going through it. This is certainly a book where, if I revisited it again, I would probably choose one or the other to read through rather than both.

“… so our customary practice of prayer was brought to mind: how through our ignorance and inexperience in the ways of love we spend so much time on petition. I saw that it is indeed more worthy of God and more truly pleasing to him that through his goodness we should pray with full confidence, and by his grace cling to him with real understanding and unshakeable love, than that we should go on making as many petitions as our souls are capable of.”

“…we need to fall, and we need to be aware of it; for if we did not fall, we should not know how weak and wretched we are of ourselves, nor should we know our Maker’s marvellous love so fully…”

“…deeds are done which appear so evil to us and people suffer such terrible evils that it does not seem as though any good will ever come of them; and we consider this, sorrowing and grieving over it so that we cannot find peace in the blessed contemplation of God as we should do; and this is why: our reasoning powers are so blind now, so humble and so simple, that we cannot know the high, marvelous wisdom, the might and the goodness of the Holy Trinity. And this is what he means where he says, ‘You shall see for yourself that all manner of things shall be well’, as if he said, ‘Pay attention to this now, faithfully and confidently, and at the end of time you will truly see it in the fullness of joy.”

“And I saw that truly nothing happens by accident or luck, but everything by God’s wise providence. If it seems to be accident or luck from our point of view, our blindness and lack of foreknowledge is the cause; for matters that have been in God’s foreseeing wisdom since before time began befall us suddenly, all unawares; and so in our blindness and ignorance we say that this is accident or luck, but to our Lord God it is not so.”

“Grace transforms our failings full of dread into abundant, endless comfort … our failings full of shame into a noble, glorious rising … our dying full of sorrow into holy, blissful life. …. Just as our contrariness here on earth brings us pain, shame and sorrow, so grace brings us surpassing comfort, glory, and bliss in heaven … And that shall be a property of blessed love, that we shall know in God, which we might never have known without first experiencing woe.”

So my overall impression was that I wanted to like the book, and there is so much good, quotable material, but I found it to be a chore to read by the time I was immersed into the Long Text. It was certainly a worthwhile read, but not one I will be revisiting anytime soon. And if I do revisit it, I will probably not read both versions but instead choose one or the other.

What quotes stood out to you? Were there any thoughts and ideas that surprised you, based on the time period in which this was written?

Medieval Book Club Preview: Judith, Dream of the Rood, & Juliana

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Welcome to the sixth preview for the 2017 Medieval Book Club. For June we’re going to read a trio of Medieval poems, but these ones do not stem from the Bible. Of course, like many Medieval works, there may be Biblical allusions. The Dream of the Rood, in particular, is an overly Christian poem. This will be our last poetry month until the fall, so I hope you’ll join me in June with reading these poems! Read on for a short preview of each poem:

Title: Judith

Author: Unknown, although many attribute the authorship to Cynewulf or Cademon

Date of Composition: Unknown

Link to read for FREE: (https://anglosaxonpoetry.camden.rutgers.edu/judith/

Length: 348 Lines

Summary: Judith conveys a moral tale of heroic triumph over monstrous beings. Both moral and political, the poem tells of a brave woman’s efforts to save and protect her people. Judith is depicted as an exemplar woman, grounded by ideal morale, probity, courage, and religious conviction. Judith’s character is rendered blameless and virtuous, and her beauty is praised persistently throughout the poem.

Title: Dream of the Rood

Author: Unknown, but speculation includes Cynewulf and Caedmon

Date of Composition: Around the 8th century, based on the dating of the Ruthwell Cross where the poem is found in rune form.

Links to read for FREE: https://anglosaxonpoetry.camden.rutgers.edu/dream-of-the-rood/

Length: 156 Lines

Summary: The poem is set up with the narrator having a dream. In this dream or vision he is speaking to the Cross on which Jesus was crucified. The poem itself is divided up into three separate sections. In section one, the narrator has a vision of the Cross. Initially when the dreamer sees the Cross, he notes how it is covered with gems. He is aware of how wretched he is compared to how glorious the tree is. However, he comes to see that amidst the beautiful stones it is stained with blood. In section two, the Cross shares its account of Jesus’ death. The Crucifixion story is told from the perspective of the Cross. It begins with the enemy coming to cut the tree down and carrying it away. The tree learns that it is not to be the bearer of a criminal, but instead Christ crucified. The Lord and the Cross become one, and they stand together as victors, refusing to fall, taking on insurmountable pain for the sake of mankind. It is not just Christ, but the Cross as well that is pierced with nails. The Rood and Christ are one in the portrayal of the Passion—they are both pierced with nails, mocked and tortured. Then, just as with Christ, the Cross is resurrected, and adorned with gold and silver. It is honoured above all trees just as Jesus is honoured above all men. The Cross then charges the visionary to share all that he has seen with others. In section three, the author gives his reflections about this vision. The vision ends, and the man is left with his thoughts. He gives praise to God for what he has seen and is filled with hope for eternal life and his desire to once again be near the glorious Cross.

Title: Juliana

Author: Cynewulf, and the text is ascribed with his signature

Date of Composition: Likely sometime in the 9th century, although Cynewulf could have been around in the late 8th or early 10th century.

Links to read for FREE: https://anglosaxonpoetry.camden.rutgers.edu/juliana/)

Length: 731 Lines

Summary: The story begins by illustrating the harsh life for Christians under the rule of Galerius Maximian, describing various acts of violence visited upon Christians. Juliana is introduced as the daughter of Africanus of Nicomedia, who has promised Juliana’s hand in marriage to Eleusias, a wealthy senator and friend of Maximian. Although Juliana was born a pagan, she has converted to Christianity, and so she vehemently resists being married to the pagan Eleusias, not wanting to violate the relationship she shares with God.

When she publicly voices her dissatisfaction, Eleusias becomes outraged and insists that he has been publicly insulted. Africanus, upon hearing of this, becomes similarly outraged, believing his daughter has embarrassed him by refusing the hand of a man of much higher status. As a result, Africanus declares that Eleusias is free to punish Juliana in whatever way he wishes.

Eleusias proceeds to have Juliana stripped naked, hung from a tree by her hair, whipped, and beaten with rods for over two hours. Then she is thrown into prison.

While in prison, Juliana is visited by a demon pretending to be an angel of God, who tries to trick her into blasphemy. Juliana, being the epitome of unwavering Christian faith, doesn’t fall for the charade and prays to God for guidance. A voice tells her to reach out and grab the demon, and Juliana obeys.

This point forward contains the bulk of the story, in which Juliana and the demon have a lengthy war of words, with Juliana clearly dominating. She holds the demon and forces it to confess all of its wicked deeds several times over, ostensibly humiliating him forever in the kingdom of Hell.

After her victory over the visiting demon, Eleusias comes back for Juliana and seems to offer her a chance to change her mind. Not surprisingly, Juliana refuses him once again, and just as scathingly as before.

Eleusias then attempts to have Juliana burned alive in hot lead. Yet, even though he has Juliana placed in the fire, not a spot on her body or clothes is touched by the flames. Angrier than ever, Eleusias finally resolves to have Juliana beheaded, for which she becomes a Christian martyr.

 

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So there you have it. I’m excited to dive into some more Anglo-Saxon poetry. Come back on the 18th of this month for our discussion of Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich, and then on June 16th for our discussion of these poems!

Book Review: Urban Mythology by Eric Keizer

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Title: Urban Mythology

Author: Eric Keizer

Published by: OWS Ink, LLC (April 7, 2017)

Page Count: 72 Pages (Paperback)

Blurb: Eric Keizer, in his first poetry chapbook, documents the places in, and the people of, Chicago who have made lasting impressions in his life. He celebrates the commonalities all Chicagoans share, while typing the Classics to modern life in the urban landscape, as viewed through his unique perspective.

My Take: I have never been to Chicago, although it is a city within reasonable proximity from where I live. I am certain that those who have been to Chicago will gain deeper appreciation for the nuances of Keizer’s poetry, and moreso those who live there. Yet even if you have never been to Chicago, you can get a real sense of the urban life there by reading this collection of poetry.

I have never been a big reader of modern poetry. I prefer to dive into Medieval and Renaissance poetry. Keizer’s poetry is both modern and classical, a perfect pairing of today’s world with elements of myth and legend that the older poets built their foundation upon. Keizer is the most pre-modern modern poet I have ever read, and that makes me excited to dive into more of his poetry. It is the sort of poetry that most readers can enjoy, with allusions to today’s world and elements woven in with subtle hints of myths. Thus why the name, Urban Mythology, is perfectly appropriate for such a collection.

There is little risk to be run in reading this collection. The chapbook of poems is the perfect length to whet your appetite and familiarize you with Keizer’s poetic style. I look forward to the next chapbook that Keizer releases, and would invite you to give this one a try. You may find, like me, that Keizer is a modern poet worth keeping an eye on.