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Alfred's Metres of Boethius.

By Bill Griffiths. (Pinner, Middlesex: Anglo-Saxon Books, 1991), 197 pp. ISBN 0-9516209-5-9. 12-95[pounds].

This new edition of the Metres of Boethius makes a welcome contribution to Alfredian scholarship; the standard edition by G. P. Krapp (Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records) is now sixty years old. Griffiths presents the text in a clear and easily readable form; each page includes a portion of text, the corresponding material from the prose version in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 180, and textual notes. A full glossary is provided at the end. A useful and succinctly written introduction discusses a range of issues relating to Alfred's work. Particularly valuable is the survey of the language of London, British Library, MS Cotton Otho, and an account of the debate concerning Alfred's authorship of the Metres. Griffiths cautiously concludes that Alfred probably was the author, but that applying the notion of specific authorship to any ninth- or tenth-century text may be inappropriate. The final section of the introduction, on the poet's verse technique, is rather flimsy; one questions the value of a statement such as |Metres indeed could be the text that justifies the Sievers/Bliss system of line analysis -- if only it were not so awkward, often, to fit into the terms of that system' (p. 48). Griffiths might profitably have drawn on Daniel Donoghue's article in ASE, XV (1986), surprisingly not cited in his bibliography.

Griffiths sees his edition as |an initial step in a larger project' (p. 49). He rightly emphasizes that editing the poetry in isolation from the accompanying prose detracts from our appreciation of Alfred's achievement. In some respects the edition is best seen as useful groundwork towards a full-scale edition. More detailed notes on difficult passages and more contextual commentary would have been helpful, especially if, as the back-jacket claims, the text is offered as |an ideal starting point for all amateurs of the period'. The inclusion of the corresponding prose passages does act as a useful aid to clarification of meaning. It is a pity that Griffiths could not also have found space to include the relevant passages from Boethius' Latin original for the purposes of comparison.

A number of unfortunate errors occur in the edition. Occasionally these are substantial: in a misleading note to 26-73, Griffiths claims that weroeoda apparently refers to |Circe's own followers on the island, not Ulysses' crew' (p. 131), whereas, as the prose version confirms, the noun must refer to the authors who recounted the fabulous tale. More often they are errors of transcription: the confusion of p and o (for example, bip for bio, 14.1), geweged for gewoeged (2.3, but correctly spelt in glossary), grimum for, grimmum (3.1), oe for oy, frumam for fruman (17.14), forlet for forlaet (17.25), betwitige for bewitige (glossary). The glossary shows some curious omissions (for example, wearoo, 1.14). The policy in the glossary of giving as headwords only forms appearing in the text seems to me unhelpful.

Notwithstanding these reservations, this is a most accessible and useful edition of the Metres of Boethius; what is now needed is a new edition of the whole of Alfred's translation of Boethius' De Consolatione Philosophiae.
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Author:Irvine, Susan
Publication:Medium Aevum
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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