Divine and supernatural power in Old English and Old Saxon literature.
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Harrison, Perry Neil, 1986-
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This project addresses the differences in the way Old English and Old Saxon poets represent the power of Jesus, the Saints, and Satan in their poetic adaptations of biblical and apocryphal materials. I build upon prior work by scholars such as Robert Boenig and G. Ronald Murphy, who respectively place the Old English and Old Saxon poems into conversation with their sources and textual analogues. I also prominently expand upon Peter Dendle’s scholarship on the representation of Satan in Old English literature and Catherine A.M. Clarke’s writings on power dynamics in Old English religious poetry. While these works are an important foundation for understanding these cultures’ perception of divine and diabolical might, each study is limited to only one Germanic literary tradition, and no scholarship explores why these linguistically and socially similar cultures diverged when writing about these figures. My project examines both Old English and Old Saxon writings side by side in order to better understand not only how these cultures understood otherworldly power, but also how their understandings differed. Using these individual views, I posit that, due to their conversion through military conquest, the Continental Saxons were more likely than the Anglo-Saxons to downplay Satan’s power in favor of representing Jesus’ might in opposition to familiar Germanic natural and supernatural forces. In contrast, Old English writings, composed against the backdrop of a missionary conversion, allowed power to shift between the divine and the nefarious in order to illustrate theological ideas. By considering the ways these poems deviate from their source materials, this project brings the core values of the Anglo-Saxons and Continental Saxons into sharper focus. Moreover, examining the Heliand through the lens of the conquest that brought about its composition helps scholars to better understand how the trauma of conquest and forced cultural transformation can affect cultural identity.