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Eald æfensceop: Poetic Composition and the Authority of the Aged in Old English Verse

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Soper, HC 


The ability to compose and perform poetry or song is repeatedly linked with a state of old age in the Old English poetic corpus. This paper will highlight in turn the presentation of elderly, lyrically gifted individuals in Beowulf, Cynewulf’s epilogue to Elene and Riddle 8 of the Exeter Book. All assert a relationship between ideas of advanced age and poetic compositional ability, one which relies upon complex ideas of wisdom and sagacity, accumulation of knowledge and access to memory of various past experiences. This aspect of the poet’s identity in Old English literature has not yet been fully investigated by scholars. Equally, studies of ideas of old age in the poetry have not focused on poetic aptitude. The implications of such a connection nonetheless resonate widely across the body of vernacular verse surviving from Anglo-Saxon England.



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Quaestio Insularis

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Cambridge Colloquium in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic

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I am grateful to the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Isaac Newton Trust for the doctoral studentship (2014–17) that has allowed me to conduct the research necessary for this article.