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Literacy and Power in Anglo-Saxon Literature.

The focus of this book is the political context of literacy in Anglo-Saxon England. Writing was used by the Anglo-Saxons as a means of expressing the commands of kings: Lerer, accordingly, examines the nature of the authority of the written word. He begins by considering both the |mythology of writing', as a hermetic, potentially magical skill associable with pre-Christian, runic script, and the Christian idea of textual authority which derives from the unique authority of the Bible.

Subsequent chapters are devoted to the concept of the power of the written word as it is developed in Asser's Life of Alfred, Alfred's translations and the development of the |King's writ' as a form of royal government; Anglo-Saxon riddles and their textual context in the Exeter Book; the Old English Daniel's treatment of the mysterious writing at Belshazzar's feast; and the sword-hilt which Hrothgar reads in Beowulf. What all these episodes have in common is that they deal with the apprehension of writing as a mysterious, hermetic craft.

It is a worthy., but not particularly stimulating, contribution to an increasingly populous area of study. Lerer's sense of the historical context of his chosen text seems at times rather narrow, and his conclusions back up, and to a modest degree extend, work already done in this field.
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Author:Stevenson, Jane
Publication:Medium Aevum
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1992
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