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The Mermedonian computus.

IN THE OPENING of the Old English Andreas, the practices of the cannibalistic Mermedonians are described in detail: they capture strangers (elpeodas), put out their eyes, force them to drink a magic potion that robs them of their wits, and then, after a calculated delay, slaughter and consume them. (1) On these details, the poem largely agrees with the Greek and Latin texts which also inform the tradition on which Andreas draws. (2) The Old English, however, takes a slightly different approach in its description of the method by which the Mermedonians decide which prisoners will be eaten at which time:
   Haefdon hie on rune ond on rimcraefte
   awriten, waelgraedige, wera endestaef,
   hwaenne hie to mose metepearfendum
   on paere werpeode  weordan sceoldon.

[They had written in their secret writing and in their calculation the day of men's death, when they had to become food for the hungry among the people.]

In the Greek Praxeis and Latin Casanatensis, the Mermedonians give each prisoner a tablet (tablan, 36.15; tabula, 37.10) which indicates the day of their arrest and a corresponding date thirty days later. Each day, the Mermedonians inspect the tablets to see who has completed the allotted thirty days and who, as it were, still has time to kill. (3) Andreas ignores the tablets--there is mention of writing (on rune; there may also possibly be a pun on the -staef element of endestaef, which can be a written letter or a stick on which runes are written), but not of its being given to the prisoners. The Old English poem refers to their elaborate process using the term rimcraeft, "calculation or the computus" a word that has important scientific and theological resonances. (4)

In his edition of the poem, Kenneth Brooks glosses rimcraeft first as "computation" but also more generally as "written figures" (5) However, elsewhere in Old English, rimcrceft does not seem to be used to indicate written communication in general, but arithmetic and the process of date-reckoning specifically. It glosses arithmetica, one of the seven liberal arts, in the Old English glossed version of Aldhelm's De u irginitate prosa. (6) More specifically, it frequently refers to the calculations related to the reckoning of time, and to the computus itself, the manual which both sets out these calculations and their products, that is, the tables for calculating the moveable feasts--and, above all, for calculating Easter. This definition of computus had been established since 562, with the production of the so-called Computus paschalis by the circle of monks gathered with Cassiodorus at Vivarium, the first time the word had been applied specifically and exclusively to the calculation of Easter Day: When Byrhtferth of Ramsey writes in the opening to his Enchiridion, "Her ongind gerimcraeft aefter Ledenwarum and aefter Grecum and Iudeiscum and Egiptiscum and Engliscum peodum and ma odra" (1.1.10) [Here begins the computus according to the Roman, Greek, Hebrew, Egyptian, and English people, and of many others], he is placing his work within a history both of astronomical observation and theological tradition. (8) His frequent return to the importance of correctly calculating Easter underscores the role the computus played in orthodox liturgical practice. Because the computus was crucial in determining the date on which the most important day in the Christian calendar was observed, and because its observations were so complex and problematic, it was constantly subject to examination and debate (such as the Easter Controversy, putatively resolved at the Synod of Whitby in 664, and throughout the Benedictine Reform), and to recalculation and reorganization.

While Andreas does not overtly participate in these debates--although at the likely time of its composition there were still issues surrounding the adoption of the Roman terms for Easter calculation--the use of rimcraeft to indicate the Mermedonians' practice of food-oriented time-reckoning, paired with repeated references to their collective famine and starvation, suggests that the poem may be read as an Easter poem, or, more precisely, a poem dramatizing the relationship between the Easter sacraments, conversion, and the necessity for orthodox liturgical practice. Moreover, the baptism and conversion of the Mermedonians, and the replacement of their cannibalistic parties with the Christian liturgy, may also point to the ongoing efforts of Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastics to standardize liturgical observance. These efforts included reevaluations of the methods used for dating Easter, which meant a reassessment of the tradition of the computus as a process of calculation. Further, because of the necessity of the computus for the fixing of the year's Easter date, it is also important to the poem's more immediate concern with the Eucharist and baptism, the two sacraments most directly connected with the celebration of Easter. The poem is replete with images of the Eucharist and baptism; the poet's use of rimcraeft to ascribe a method to the Mermedonians' practice suggests, I think, something beyond what "mere" writing does (as Brooks' "written figures" would indicate), and refocuses attention from the tablets of the Praxeis and Casanatensis to the method by which death is reckoned and assigned. The Mermedonians possess a method of calculation, and this method is associated with a cannibalistic travesty of the sacrament of communion as administered on Easter; the cannibals' misdirected appetites are corrected in the conversion-by-flood scene that occupies the last portion of the poem.

The flood that puts an end to the cannibalistic practices of the Mermedonians has been the focus of some discussion in modern criticism of the poem. Thomas D. Hill discusses the typological significance of the flood scene in the poem, from the association of Andrew with Moses in the calling-forth of water from the rock and the parting of waters, to the convention of linking the crossing of the Red Sea, and the drowning of Pharaoh, with baptism?) Much of Hill's effort is directed toward how the poet is chiefly concerned with figuration, that is, "the poet is less concerned with the literal history of this conversion than with the spiritual realities which in his view underlie this history." (10) In the same vein, James Earl argues for the poem being understood as a two-part typological narrative, the Harrowing of Hell (figured by Andrew's release of the prisoners) and the conversion of the Jews (figured by the conversion of the Mermedonians). (11) Related to the typological studies of the poem, M. Bradford Bedingfield places the flood scene within both the figural traditions surrounding the crossing of the Red Sea and the drama or ritual of mass baptism and conversion as the standard denouement for conversion narratives. (12) Baptism also appears as the sacrament that redirects the Mermedonians onto "life's way," the path followed by Andreas, and the "living water" that resuscitates the Mermedonians from physical and spiritual death. (13) However, these studies do not advance the possibility of the poem being an Easter narrative, not directly as a figure for Christ's passion or resurrection, but for the liturgical observance of Easter as practiced by the taking of the Eucharist and the receiving of baptism. I argue that Andreas can be understood as an Easter poem, with the bookending motifs of the Eucharist and baptism; the specification of rimcraeft as one of the skills of the Mermedonians incorporates the poem into a history of debate over the ways of computing liturgical time. Consequently, the Mermedonians' rimcraeft can stand for a variety of contested or heretical computistical methods, including those of the Hebrews, the Irish, and even the computus of the Benedictine Reform, which was undergoing--and would continue to undergo--significant changes. To unite these two lines of argument, I will first look at the vexed methodology and history surrounding the computus, then at the significance of Easter for the administration of the Eucharist and baptism, and, lastly, at how the Mermedonians and their computus fit into a typological understanding of orthodox Paschal celebration.

The difficulty of calculating the date of Easter lay in the fact that the calculations required the computist to bring into accord the solar and lunar annual cycles, as well as the weekly or common calendar. (14) The solar calendar, inherited from the Romans, provided the basis for the dating of historical events and the observances of saints' feasts in the sanctorale; on the other hand, the lunar calendar was a holdover from Judaic custom, preserved in Christian chronography because of the relationship between Easter and Passover, which the Hebrew lunar calendar determined. (15) Moreover, calculations depended on the accuracy of observational evidence and the accuracy of the transmission of that evidence. Neither of these, scholars eventually realized, could be relied upon fully. (16) This history has in part been complicated by a corresponding history of debate and change, and the role of the computus in the spread of orthodoxy. For the Andreas poet, two historical moments may have conditioned his understanding of the Mermedonians' rimcraeft: the seventh-century Easter debate recorded by Bede in the Ecclesiastical History and the reworking of the computus during the Benedictine Reform of the tenth century. (17)

The contention between the British and Roman churches over the calculation of Easter was perhaps most famously addressed at the Synod of Whitby in 664, but the issue obsesses Bede in events both before and after Wilfrid and Cohnan's debate. (18) He records Augustine of Canterbury resorting to the authority of miracle to persuade the recalcitrant British bishops and scholars to adhere to Rome's method of dating; the bishops tentatively agree but later go back on their word and are punished accordingly when Aethelfrith and the English army obliterate them (EH, 134-37). The Council of Hertford, called by Theodore of Tarsus in 673 to confirm the English canons, set out the correct observance of Easter as dominica post quartam-decimam lunam mensis, the Sunday after the fourteenth day of the moon of the first month, 14 Nisan in the Hebrew calendar; primi (EH, 350-51). Later, Bede quotes at length Ceolfrith's ca. 710 letter to Nechtan of the Picts, which explains at great length the reasons for and importance of observing Easter at the proper time, a precis of computistical theory and philosophy, part exegesis and part introduction to the history and techniques of orthodox computistics. Ceolfrith reiterates the nineteen-year cycle insisted on by Wilfrid, and traces it from Eusebius through Theophilus of Alexandria, Cyril, and Dionysius Exiguus, who provided the Roman church with its first official computus. He concludes with the reassurance that there are plenty of Insular mathematicians who are capable of continuing the Easter tables, which were set to expire in a few years. Nechtan, after having the letter translated and explicated, was thrilled to have received such clarification and decided that the Roman dating of Easter would be adhered to by himself and his subjects forever (EH, 534-47).

Despite the assurance with which Nechtan apparently accepts Ceolfrith's recommendations, Insular churches did not immediately leap on the bandwagon; Wesley Stevens has shown that the Irish use was slow to die out, still hanging on at the old Irish strongholds of Iona and Lindisfarne in the eighth century, and still extant in Wales into the ninth. (19) Perhaps because of this, and the slow pace of change, the computus itself--its methods and process--was still the subject of scrutiny and, increasingly, arguments over its accuracy well into the years in which Andreas was likely composed. As Stevens has argued, Insular scholars did not have a merely passing interest in arithmetic and astronomy, but rather the interest was enduring and significant, in light of the numerous computistical and astronomical works that survive in manuscript. (20) The diversity of computus methods available (four different systems by Wilfrid's time) attest to the breadth of learning and the diversity of sources possessed by the Anglo-Saxons; the computus in Anglo-Saxon England was influenced not only by imported continental sources but by the astronomical observations of Aldhehn in Cyclus Aldhelmi de cursu lunae and by Bede, who incorporated observational research into the De temporum ratione, composed around 721 and influential throughout the Anglo-Saxon period. (21) Interest in the computus, the implications different methods and observations had for revising it, and the implications, in turn, those revisions had for the proper observance of Easter, would thus have been familiar to the Andreas poet not as a matter of passing or temporary concern, but of sustained intellectual attention.

As such, the use of rimcraeft, in conjunction with the baptismal and Eucharistic imagery of Andreas, may also have intrigued the compiler of the Vercelli Book, who would have been influenced by the doctrinal and ecclesiological developments of the mid-tenth century. The general atmosphere conditioned by the Benedictine Reform was one of standardization and improvement in Latin scholarship, including that surrounding the computus. Peter Baker and Michael Lapidge trace the development of four tenth-century computistical texts that were all, to some extent, influenced by the Reform and its goals: the Leoffic-Tiberius computus, which was the standard computus promulgated by the Reform, in place by 970; the Winchester computus (978), based on Leofric-Tiberius but much compressed and suitable for use by a nonspecialist; the Abbonian computus, developed by Abbo of Fleury; and Byrhtferth's computus, which was based on Abbo's. (22) The activity surrounding the computus at this time does not seem to indicate a passive acceptance of authoritative tradition (as Abbo's work will demonstrate), but rather an active engagement with the workings of liturgical time, as well as efforts to understand it. The writers who either lived during or followed in the wake of the tenth-century reforms all insisted on the importance of the computus; for Wulfstan and Aelfric, rimcraeft was a nonnegotiable necessity for a well-rounded priest, and in his Enchiridion, Byrhtferth waxes poetic about the profundity and glory of the computistical art. (23)

The computus of Abbo of Fleury (978), whose career was partly contemporaneous with the compilation of the Vercelli Book (although the pinnacle of his computistical work postdates it), further suggests that the Reforms emphasis on Latin scholarship, and the efforts of Continental scholars such as Abbo to improve English Latinity, brought with it a renewed scrutiny of sources. Abbo's Praefatio (post-988) on the paschal cycles argues explicitly against the calculations of Dionysius Exiguus, whose work had been accepted as authoritative from the first attempts to codify Christian calendrical practices. (24) Abbo's arguments were based in part on the increasing discrepancies between contemporary observational evidence (for example, by the time of Bede, the date of the full moon associated with the spring equinox had changed significantly), as well as recognition of errors in calculation and transmission on the part of computists and scribes.> On the Continent, the slow trickle of Arabic scholarship through Spain, the introduction of the astrolabe, and the work of Continental computists would, eventually lead to the reassessment of both sacred and historical time. As it was, in Abbo's lifetime treatises on the astrolabe and the instrument's use were already circulating in northern Spain, and observational astronomy was beginning to make further inroads into methods of liturgical time-reckoning. (26)

These debates were not purely intellectual or hypothetical; when, in the tenth century, Abbo of Fleury criticized Dionysius Exiguus for not observing the fides catholica in his computation, he really meant it: failure to observe Easter on the proper day constitutes (as is made explicit in Wilfrid's arguments against Colman) a failure of proper faith. (27) At the risk of being excessively repetitive--though, perhaps this is an issue that bears emphasis--the computus was the only instrument by which priests could calculate the date of the single most important holiday in the Christian calendar, the day on which most in the community would receive the Eucharist, and, for the catechumen, the day on which baptism was administered and of formal initiation into the church. Moreover, the sacraments as administered on Easter placed the contemporary Christian community within a liturgical time that tied them to the faithful of the past, and the association of these sacraments with Easter emphasized their redemptive quality by equating them typologically with the death of Christ. These typological connections will be explored in my discussion of the cannibalism and purifying flood of Andreas, but for now, I would like to turn to the Mermedonians and their infernal computus.

The Mermedonian computus appears as part of a much larger, and apparently a very sophisticated, civilization; the terms used to describe its trappings are those typically reserved for Anglo-Saxon respect for antiquity and orderly conduct. Their city is magnificent (referred to as the "ancient work of giants" at 1235, 1495), featuring a brass pillar against which Andrew rests (1062), and paved or decorated streets (stanfah, 1236; the same word is used to describe the streets around Heorot, Beowulf 320). The Mermedonians, like the Danes in Beowulf, hold meetings and councils to determine a common course of action, and also possess something like a system of belief, as suggested by rimcraeft (and its connections with formal feasts) and the mention of larsmidas, who are presumably responsible for fashioning or explicating the Mermedonians' bloody doctrine (1220; the word is also used of the evangelists in Elene, 203). (28) Geographically speaking, the Mermedonians live in the East, and are thus tacitly associated with the eastern peoples whose astronomical observations and calendars provided the foundations for Greco-Roman and, later, medieval chronographies. (29)

The Mermedonian computus is not discussed at length in the poem, but it occupies a central place in the cannibalistic rituals associated with it. Andreas preserves the stipulation found in the Praxeis and Casanatensis that each prisoner is given thirty days to live (pritig nihtgerimes, 157b-58a); (30) it refers to this period first as a fyrstmearc and then as a pinggemearc, an allotted or designated time that must elapse before a prisoner is slaughtered (133, 148). The requirement that thirty days pass before consumption has so far, to my knowledge, been unexplained; it may be that the thirty days, which constitutes a lunar month, reflects the Mermedonians' adherence to an ancient lunar calendar that would have, in post-Roman (and Christian) societies, been outdated. That said, the specific nature of the Mermedonians' time-reckoning is of secondary interest to the poet; for that matter, it is possible that the very term rimcraeft would be sufficiently explicit, and have enough important connotations (as the word referring to the computus) that it would be clear to an Anglo-Saxon audience that what is at play here is, in part, the institution of sacred time in the place of the diabolically inverted "liturgical" time of pagans, heretics, or the Jews.

The liturgical force of rimcraeft does, however, emerge in other places throughout the poem, in the way in which the poet discusses the eating habits of the Mermedonians. For the Mermedonians, the calculation of the date on which they consume certain people has the sense of mathematical or ritual obligation; they must wait for the proper day to come so they can devour Matthew, although "waes him neod micel / paet hie tobrugdon blodigum ceaflum / fira flaeschoman" (158-60a) [there was great need for them to tear the bodies of men with their bloody jaws]. Immediately before the mention of rimcraeft, the crowd of Mermedonians goes to the prison to see if there are any alive in there, "hwylcne hie to aete aerest mihton / aefter fyrstmearce feores beraedan' (131-32) [whom they could, at the first opportunity, turn into food after a designated time]. The insistence on waiting until a specific time has passed runs counter to the expectation set up by the poet's statement earlier that the land of the Mermedonians is bereft of bread and water, the basic necessities of life:
   noes paer blares wist
   werum on pam wonge, ne waeteres drync
   to bruconne, ah hie blod ond tel,
   fira flaeschoman, feorrancumenra,
   degon geond pa peode.

[There was no feast of bread for the men of that land, nor a drink of water to enjoy, but throughout that nation they consumed the blood and skin of foreign travelers, the flesh of men.]

As Robert Boenig, Alexandra Bolintineanu, and Heather Blurton have all noted, the Old English drastically straitens the Mermedonians' circumstances. (31) In the Praxeis and Casanatensis, humans seem to be a choice dish, preferred to the bread and wine that may have been available in addition to the flesh of other people. In contrast, Andreas takes bread and water off the table altogether; the conjunction ah emphasizes the extent to which the Mermedonians depend on a regular supply of unwitting visitors for subsistence.

The constraint placed upon the Mermedonians, that they have to wait to feast regardless of how hungry they are, suggests that the feast is not so much a completely alien custom as it is an inversion of a liturgical feast, particularly Communion. The Easter Communion might be a specific example of this, as Easter's date was determined by the use of the computus (requiring rimcraeft) and Easter Communion was especially significant. In Andreas, apparently the entire community of the Mermedonians is expected to feast on one man, while in Casanatensis human flesh seems to be reserved as dishes quite literally fit for a king (ad conmendum principibus nostris). (32) The language used in the description of the transformation of the Mermedonians' victims into food, "ond ponne todaelan dugude on geogude, / werum to wiste ond to willpege, / faeges flaeschoman" (152-54a) [and as food and feast for men distribute the body of the doomed man to old and young] echoes the language used in AElfric's homily on the Last Supper, in which Christ breaks (todaeled) the bread which becomes his body and is distributed as the great feast for all Christians. (33) Further, the way the poet describes the Mermedonians suggests that they are not monsters deprived of reason, but the worst kind of pagans, who follow a demonic inversion of a sacred rite; they believe (geliefad) in the devil, and "hira rood onwod / under dimscuan deofles larum" (140a-41) [their minds traveled into dark shadows by the devil's teachings]. Perhaps the paradigmatic example of this moral failure is the Mermedonian chieftain who offers his own son in order to save his life after the prisoners have escaped (1108-34), a perverse echo of the freely given sacrifice of Christ for the redemption of humanity. (34) What corrects this inversion of the Eucharist and turns it to its proper object (the consumption of Christ's body) is the baptism by flood, which constitutes the second portion of the poem and the conversion of the Mermedonians.

Baptism and the Eucharist were closely linked, both directly and through the mediation of Easter as the holiday on which both were traditionally administered. The first hymn in the Durham Ritual for the Resurrection, sung at Eastertide vespers, presents, like Andreas, a striking and emphatic combination of Red Sea/Baptism and Eucharistic (and distinctly cannibalistic) imagery:
   STOHS ALBIS candidi

   post transitum Maris Rubri
   Christo canamus principi,

   II. cuius sacrum corpusculum
   in ara crucis torridum
   crurore eius roseo
   gustando vivimus deo.


[In expectation of the supper of the prophetic lamb, shining in our white robes after crossing the Red Sea, let us sing to Christ the ruler, whose holy body was roasted on the altar of the cross. Consuming it together with his rose-red blood we live before God.] (35)

The subsequent two verses reiterate and reinforce the connection between Communion and baptism: the consumption of Christ's body preserves the faithful from the destroying angel and Pharaoh alike ("a devestante angelo / erepti de durissimo / pharaonis impero," 10-12). In Andreas, the baptism-by-flood prepares the surviving Mermedonians to convert, be baptized, and establish the church--and, by extension, to receive the Eucharist properly, that is, to consume the body and blood of Christ at the time appointed by the Church.

The end of Andreas appears to turn away from the Eucharist and towards baptism. When Christ promises Andrew that his blood will flow waettre gelicost (most like water, 954b), the pairing of blood and water invokes Christ's promise of the Eucharist, with its connotations of nourishment and satisfaction in the face of the Mermedonians' perpetual famine and drought, for the Mermedonians have neither "hlafes wist ... ne waetres drync / to bruconne" (21b-23a) [neither bread ... nor water to enjoy]. However, it also invokes the baptismal flood of Christ's blood at the crucifixion, and the typology of the Flood as a prefiguring of that baptism. (36) The flood Andrew unleashes on the Mermedonians only abates when the Mermedonians swear to convert; they are baptized immediately afterward (1630-46), and baptism (fulwiht) is referred to four times in that same passage (1630, 1635, 1640, 1643). Of course, this has everything to do with the institution of the faith and the induction of the Mermedonians into the church. However, the importance of rimcraeft to Easter/Lent is related to not only the sacrament of the Eucharist, but to baptism as well.

Lent, as the season of purification, represented the possibility of conversion to the Christian faith and purification from a prior life of sin or paganism, and several Old English translations of Latin texts suggest that the Anglo-Saxons were aware of this doctrinal detail. In Anglo-Saxon England, baptism was almost exclusively associated with Easter Day, with the catechumenate traditionally completed during Lent and baptism administered on Easter, Pentecost, or Epiphany. (37) Theodulf of Orleans's Capitula connects the penitential fast of Lent with baptism; just as penance cleanses the soul of earlier misdeeds (thus rendering the individual fit to receive the Eucharist at Easter), baptism washes the soul--even the cannibal soul--free of the sins committed in the individual's prior life. (38) Carolingian ecclesiastics, who were influenced by Roman rites, grew to associate baptism with Easter and Pentecost (rather than Epiphany, which was the preferred season in the older Gallican and Celtic uses), as, in the words of Peter Cramer, "baptism drew to itself the collective experience of the pascha, or of crossing-over" (39) Changes associated with the Carolingian reform placed limits on "open-season" baptisms, by requiring presbyters and bishops to administer baptisms only during the Paschal and Pentecostal vigils; the Dionysio-Hadriana collection of decretals and canons (sixth century), given to Charlemagne by Hadrian I, restricted initiation to the traditional Roman seasons, and the Frankish Church accepted these restrictions at the Council of Aixla-Chapelle in 802. (40) Liturgical texts adopted by the Carolingian church, such as the Ordo Romanum XI and the Bobbio ordo, associated baptism with Easter and Pentecost. (41) While exceptions were made in the cases of newly converted regions without an adequately developed church system and individual instances in which the person (usually a very young infant or child) was in danger of dying unbaptized, for the most part conducting initiation during Holy Week or Pentecost became standard practice on the Continent until the twelfth century. In early England, the canonical seasons were not observed, but by the Council of Chelsea (787), presbyters were ordered to keep baptismal schedules in line with the traditional seasons, and, in 1074, the Synod of Winchester ordered that initiates were to be baptized only at Easter and Pentecost unless they were gravely ill. (42)

Moreover, hagiographies and conversion narratives employ Easter baptisms as markers of spiritual (or, in some cases, historical) importance. Saint Hermes, converted to Christianity through the intervention of Pope Alexander, was baptized along with 1,250 of his people on Easter Day, and in Gregory's Dialogues, Maximian of Syracuse baptizes a girl on Holy Saturday. (43) In his narrative of the life of Felix, Gregory describes Mellitus, a young monk who is dying. His bishop comes to him to counsel and assure him, but Mellitus tells him he has been shown a book, marvelously written in gold letters ("awritene mid gyldenum stafum"), which contains the names of all those whom Saint Felix had baptized on Easter ("pa pe waeron gefulwode in lea tide paere easterlican symbelnesse"; possibly a reference to Holy Week). Mellitus's name is among them, which he says allows him to be all the more confident of the joys of eternal life; apparently everyone else on the list is confident too, because they all die within days of each other. (44) Further, major conversion narratives typically have the baptism take place on Easter or Christmas. When St. Germanus of Auxerre and Lupus of Troyes find themselves among the Britons during the Scottish/Pictish siege, they manage through their teaching to convert and baptize the Britons on Easter Day; after the Easter solemnities are completed, Germanus single-handedly defeats the invading army. (45) The baptism of Edwin of Northumbria is recorded by Bede as having happened on "py halgestan Eastordaege" in 627. (46)

If Andreas can be read as an Easter poem--that is, as I have said above, a poem that makes arguments for the proper observation of Easter as necessary to reenact and reaffirm the salvific effects of Christ's death--then it must include elements of the holiday that point to a close association with it. The poem opens with a society whose devouring of human flesh is a result of spiritual misguidance (by the devil, who appears to harass Andrew at 1168-83, and incites the Mermedonians to frenzy), and closes with one placed under Plato, a properly ordained bishop (1651). (47) The Mermedonians who opened the poem as a howling throng (138) conclude it as a congregation singing and speaking (1716) reminiscent of the doxology. While Earl wants to divide the poem into two interdependent parts based on the Harrowing and the conversion of the Jews, I suggest that the poem can also be read as a commentary on liturgical practice, and on the methods by which orthodoxy is promulgated. Robert Boenig's argument on the nature and distribution of the Eucharist in Andreas examines the controversy between Ratramnus of Corbie and Paschasius Ratbertus by focusing on the cannibalistic elements of the poem--but that is only part of the problem. There is still the baptism to deal with, and what that could mean when taken in conjunction with the Mermedonians' eating habits. (48) With baptism as the means by which sin is washed away, and with most baptism (particularly in conversion narratives) associated with Easter, the Mermedonians' cannibalism can be viewed as a misdirected, perverted sort of Eucharist that is corrected, via the purification of baptism, so that the newly converted Mermedonians can participate in their first true Communion. (49) In this context, the rimcraeft of the Mermedonians is replaced with that of Christianity, geared toward the celebration of Easter rather than the devouring of strangers. While the Merraedonians may not stand for any one particular group (whether the Jews, the Irish, Welsh, or those involved in Benedictine Reform-era debates on the computus), the Andreas poet's description of their calendrical methodology as rimcraeft suggests his interest in how orthodox Christianity is spread, and how sacred Christian time co-opts older methods, and older traditions, of time reckoning. Further, the inclusion of the poem in the Vercelli Book, with its locus on penitence and presence in the codex of multiple homilies related to the Easter season, may reflect the compiler's interest not only in hagiographic texts, but in how those texts complement and augment orthodox teaching and praxis. (50)

University of Notre Dame


(1) Kenneth R. Brooks, ed., Andreas and the Fates of the Apostles (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961), 19-39. All citations from the Old English Andreas are taken from this edition. Unless otherwise noted, all translations from Old English and Latin are my own.

(2) The legend of St. Andrew was extremely popular and widespread during the Middle Ages. In addition to those in Greek, Latin, and Old English, recensions exist in Old French, Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic, and Arabic. It is likely that Andreas is based on a Latin descendant from the Praxeis, rather than the Casanatensis. For a brief discussion of other vernacular traditions and the probable relationship between Andreas and the Praxeis, see Robert Boenig, trans., The Acts of Andrew in the Country of the Cannibals: Translations from the Greek, Latin, and Old English (New York: Garland, 1991). Translations of the Greek and Latin (referred to in the text as Praxeis and Casanatensis, respectively) are taken from Boenig.

(3) References to the Praxeis and Casanatensis in the original will be to Franz Blatt, ed., Die lateinischen Bearbeitungen der Acta Andreae et Mattiae apud Anthropophagos (Giessen: A. Topelmann, 1930). Citations are to page and line number.

(4) Joseph Bosworth, ed., An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, rev. T. Northcote Toller (Oxford U. Press, 1921), s.v. rimcraeft.

(5) Brooks, Andreas, 160 (s.v. rimcraeft). In his edition of the poem, George Krapp also gives rimcraeft as the reading; in his commentary, he offers no alternatives. See George Krapp, ed., The Vercelli Book (Columbia U. Press, 1932), Andreas, line 134b.

(6) Scott Gwara, ed., Prosa de virginitate: cure glosa latina atque anglosaxonica, Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 124-124A (Turnhout: Brepols, 2002). Aldhelm refers to arethemetica as one of the seven liberal arts studied at Alexandria along with the gospels and Stoic and Aristotelian philosophy (35), and again to arethimetica as one of the philosophorum disciplinae. Rimcraeft glosses arithmetica in several manuscripts.

(7) Arno Borst, The Ordering of Time: From the Ancient Computus to the Modern Computer, trans. Andrew Winnard (U. of Chicago Press, 1993), 29.

(8) Peter M. Baker and Michael Lapidge, eds., Byrhtferth's Enchiridion (Oxford: EETS, 1995). Following the citation practices of the Old English Dictionary, references to the Enchiridion are by part, section, and line number.

(9) Thomas D. Hill, "Figural Narrative in Andreas: The Conversion of the Mermedonians," Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 70 (1969): 267.

(10) Hill, "Figural Narrative in Andreas," 264.

(11) James Earl, "The Typological Structure of Andreas," Old English Literature in Context, ed. John D. Niles (Cambridge: Brewer, 1980), 72.

(12) M. Bradford Bedingfield, The Dramatic Liturgy of Anglo-Saxon England (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2002), 186-87.

(13) Lisa J. Kiser, "Andreas and the lifes weg," Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 85 (1984): 65-75; Marie Michelle Walsh, "The Baptismal Flood in the Old English Andreas: Liturgical and Typological Depths," Traditio 33 (1977): 137-58.

(14) Baker and Lapidge, Byrhtferth's Enchiridion, xxxix.

(15) Joyce Hill, "Coping with Conflict: Lunar and Solar Cycles in the Liturgical Calendars," Time and Eternity: The Medieval Discourse, ed. Gerhard Jaritz and Gerson Morena-Riano (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2003), 99.

(16) Kenneth Harrison, "Easter Cycles and the Equinox in the British Isles," Anglo-Saxon England 7 (1978): 1-8. For a discussion of the development of time-reckoning and computus in the late antique/early medieval period, see Borst, Ordering of Time, 1-64.

(17) Despite the resounding victory Bede assigns to Wilfrid as the champion of orthodox computistics, not all churches immediately abandoned Irish usage; the Irish abbey at Iona did not convert until 716, and the Britons until 768; see Harrison, "Easter Cycles and the Equinox in the British Isles," I. C. W. Jones, "The Victorian and Dionysiac Paschal Tables in the West," Speculum 9 (1934): 408-21, gives the background for the various methods of Easter reckoning in England and Ireland, and their contributions both to the Easter Controversy and Bede's own computistical work. For closer discussions of the technicalities of the Whitby Synod, see Peter Hunter Blair, "Whitby as a Centre of English Learning in the Seventh Century," Learning and Literature in Anglo Saxon England: Studies Presented to Peter Clemoes, ed. Michael Lapidge and Helmut Gneuss (Cambridge U. Press, 1985), 17-22. Joyce Hill, "Lunar and Solar Cycles in the Liturgical Calendars," 101-8, discusses the development of time-reckoning in the Benedictine Reform and afterward; Cyril Hart, "The Ramsey Computus," English Historical Review 85 (1970): 29-44, explores the relationship between Abbo of Fleury and the continental Benedictine Reform and the scientific work at the abbey of Ramsey in the late tenth through twelfth centuries.

(18) Bertram Colgrave and R. A. B. Mynors, eds., Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), 300-9; hereafter cited parenthetically as EH.

(19) For Ceolfrith's letter to Nechtan, see EH 534-47. Bede's own computistical works, particularly the De temporibus, became the standard chronographic texts until the tenth century, when Reform-era scholars and their heirs began a process of revision that would only accelerate in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. For a survey of the history of the ecclesiastical calendar before Bede, as well as Bede's enduring contributions to ecclesiastical time reckoning, see C. W. Jones, ed., Bedae opera de temporibus (Cambridge, MA: Medieval Academy of America, 1943), 3 122. With reference to the dating of Andreas, I accept R. D. Fulk's range, from 750-850, in A History of Old English Meter (U. of Pennsylvania Press, 1992), esp. 390-92, and a tenth-century dating offered by Donald Scragg for the compilation of the Vercelli Book; see Scragg, ed., The Vercelli Book (Oxford: EETS, 1992), lxxiv.

(20) Wesley Stevens, "Sidereal Time in Anglo-Saxon England," Voyage to the Other World: The Legacy of Sutton Hoo, ed. Calvin B. Kendall and P. S. Wells (U. of Minnesota Press, 1992), 125. Helmut Gneuss's Handlist of Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts (Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2001), unavailable at the time Stevens wrote, lists forty-five manuscripts containing computistical and time-reckoning materials, mostly dating from the eleventh century but reaching back to the ninth (160).

(21) Stevens, "Sidereal Time," 130-32.

(22) Baker and Lapidge, Byrhtferth's Enchiridion, xlii-lx.

(23) In the Institutes of Polity, Wulfstan asserts that a priest will be "hades pe bet wyrde" (more worthy of the vocation) if he can compute accurately; see Karl lost, ed., The Institutes of Polity, Civil and Ecclesiastical (Bern: Francke, 1959), sec. 3. Byrhtferth writes fondly of the lilian blostman and rosena swaec of the computus, as well as his computistical work at Ramsey, where he was one of Abbo's followers (Enchiridion, 150-51).

(24) Peter Verbist, "Abbo of Fleury and Computational Accuracy," in Jaritz and Morena-Riano, Time and Eternity, 67-68.

(25) Borst, Ordering of Time, 52-54.

(26) Borst, Ordering of Time, 54-64. Observational astronomy was not new to tenth- and eleventh-century computistics; Bede had already made observation part of his argument against the Britons, as well as his own computus; Harrison, "Easter Cycles and the Equinox in the British Isles," 1-8, points to the fact that Bede made his own observations on the tides and lunar influence in De temporum ratione (8), and argues that one of the issues Bede had with British computistics lay in their failure to observe discrepancies between the observable spring equinox in the beginning of the eighth century and the calculated dates for the equinox and the corresponding lunar phases in the Alexandrian tables used by the British church (2-3).

(27) Verbist, "Abbo of Fleury and Computational Accuracy," 74-75.

(28) R.D. Fulk, Robert E. Bjork, and John D. Niles, eds., Klaeber's "Beowulf," 4th ed. (U. of Toronto Press, 2008); Pamela Gradon, ed., Cynewulf's "Elene" (U. of Exeter Press, 1977).

(29) Byrhtferth refers to the Egyptian people as possessing a computus; in AElfric's discussion of the computation of the vernal equinox and its ramifications for Easter, he refers to the eastern and Egyptian peoples as those "pe selost cunnon on gerimcraeft" (6, line 1) [who were most expert in the computistical art]. See Heinrich Henel, ed., De temporibus anni (Oxford: EETS, 1970). In Andreas, the Mermedonians occupy a nebulous area of the East, a far distant mearclond characterized by uncultivated savagery. Their city and oddly well-developed bureaucratic society, however, speak to the sophisticated societies that appear occasionally in catalogues such as the Wonders of the East. Alexandra Bolintineanu suggests that the lack of geographic specificity allows it to stand as a microcosm of the human world and human salvation; see "Mermedonia in the Old English Andreas," Neophilologus 93 (2009): 149-64.

(30) Cf. triakonta hemeron (Praxeis 34.19); triginta diebus (Casanatensis 37.15).

(31) Robert Boenig, Saint and Hero: "Andreas" and Medieval Doctrine (Lewisburg: Bucknell U. Press, 1991), 71-72; Bolintineanu, "Mermedonia in the Old English Andreas," 151-52; Heather Blurton, "Self-Eaters: The Cannibal Narrative of Andreas," Cannibalism in High Medieval English Literature (New York: Palgrave, 2007), 15-33.

(32) Casanatensis, 37, line 26. In the Praxeis and Casanatensis, the focus lies on the contention between Matthew, Andrew, and the Mermedonian seniores; the conversion, however, is a conversion of the people (populus).

(33) Malcolm Godden, ed., Aelfric's Catholic Homilies: The Second Series (Oxford: EETS, 1979), 14, line 47.

(34) In the Praxeis and Casanatensis, the city elder m question offers first his son and then his daughter (Boenig, Acts of Andrew, 15-16); Casanatensis adds that the daughter was added to make up the difference in weight between the son and tile father, the condition being that the heavier of the two would be eaten (46-47).

(35) Inge B. Millful, ed., The Hymns of the Anglo-Saxon Church (Cambridge U. Press, 1996), 284-86.

(36) Daniel Anlezark, Water and Fire: The Myth of the Flood in Anglo-Saxon England (Manchester U. Press, 2006), 221-23.

(37) Bedingfield, Dramatic Liturgy of Anglo-Saxon England, 181.

(38) Hans Sauer, ed., Theodulfi "Capitula" in England (Munich: W. Fink, 1978), 337: "ponne swa geclaensodum modum inggangen on pa tid pees halgan faestenes & purh daedbote hig sylfe claensien wicd para halgena Eastrena forpon seo daedbote is aeflerum fulwihte gelice & on paem fulwihte beod pa aergefremedan synna forgyfene" (lines 7-10) [And thus with purified mind they enter upon the time of the holy fast and through penitence cleanse themselves in preparation for holy Easter, because penance is like baptism and in baptism all previous sins are forgiven].

(39) Peter Cramer, Baptism and Change in the Early Middle Ages, c. 200-c. 1150 (Cambridge U. Press, 1993), 137. Susan A. Keefe, Water and the Word: Baptism and the Education of the Clergy in the Carolingian Empire, 2 vols. (U. of Notre Dame Press, 2002), 1:3, points to Carolingian writers' association of baptism with changes in allegiance and political, not only spiritual, fidelity.

(40) J.D.C. Fisher, Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West: A Study in the Disintegration of [the Primitive Rite of Initiation (London: SPCK, 1965), 57-58. Fisher notes that requirements for observing baptism at the traditional seasons strained ecclesiastical resources. Even as baptism was restricted to Easter and Pentecost, the shortage of bishops to perform the rites of confirmation meant that, gradually, confirmation became distanced from initiatory baptism, which (along with first communion) was administered by priests (71-75). Related to this new insistence on administering baptism during canonically approved seasons may be the Carolingian reformists' production of new computus texts and updating of Easter tables; see Borst, Ordering of Time, 44.

(41) Keefe, Water and the Word, 1.42-50. Keefe cites two ordo texts, the Ordo Romanum XI and the Bobbio ordo, both of which place baptism during the Easter vigils.

(42) Fisher, Christian Initiation, 82.

(43) Gunter Kotzor, ed., Des altenglische Martyrologium (Munich: Bayerische Akademei der Wissenschaften, 1980), for August 28; Hans Hecht, ed., Bischofs Waerferths yon Worcester Ubersetzung der Dialoge Gregors des Grossen (Leipzig 1900; Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1965), 308.

(44) Hecht, Dialogues, 298-99.

(45) "Aderant etiam quadragesimae uenerabiles dies, quos religiosiores reddebat praesentia sacerdotum, in tantum ut cotidianis praedicationibus instituti certatim populi ad gratiam baptismatis conuolarent. Nam maxima exercitus multitudo undam lauacri salutaris expetit, et ecclesia ad diem resurrectionis dominicae frondibus contexta conponitur, atque in expeditione campestri instar ciuitatis aptatur. Madidus baptismate procedit exercitus, fides feruet in populo, et conterrito armorum praesidio diuinitatis expectatur auxilium" (EH, 62) [Now the holy season of Lent had come round and was made more sacred by the presence of the bishops, so much so that the people, instructed by their daily teaching, flocked eagerly to receive the grace of baptism. Vast numbers of the army were baptized. A church of wattle was built in preparation f-or Easter Day and set up for the army in the field as though it were a city. So, still soaked in the waters of baptism, the army set out. The people's faith was fervent and putting no trust in their arms they expectantly awaited the help of God].

(46) Thomas Miller, ed., The Old English Version of Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People, 4 vols. (London: EETS, 1890-98), 138.

(47) The presence of a bishop was, in the early Church, necessary in order for neophytes to receive baptism, first communion, and confirmation in the faith. See Fisher, Christian Initiation, 52.

(48) Robert Boenig, "Andreas, the Eucharist, and Vercelli," JEGP 72 (1982): 313-31.

(49) Bedingfield, Dramatic Liturgy of Anglo-Saxon England, 181.

(50) R.D. Fulk and Christopher Cain, A History of Old English Literature (Malden: Blackwell, 2003), 76, notice the running preoccupation of the Vercelli Book with penitential themes, and Boenig, Saint and Hero, 30-54, discusses the sacrament of penance with specific reference to Andreas and Andrew. Eight of the compilation's twenty-three homilies are focused specifically on penitence and Easter: Homily 1 (for Easter), Homily 3 (for Lent), and two groups of three homilies for Rogation days (Homilies 11-13 and 19 21; Homily 14 is rubricated for Rogation days, but its material does not seem to pertain to them; see Scragg, Vercelli Book, 237). Of the remaining homilies, five are concerned with penance in relation to avoiding damnation (2, 4, 8, 9, 15). Homily 16, for Epiphany, is concerned with the necessity of baptism; the homilist adds that baptism "rot gehalgodes preostes handa odde aet bisceopes sylfes" (45-46) [from the hands of a priest or a bishop's himself] is necessary to be reborn to eternal life, a possible reference to English practices allowing priests to administer baptism in the stead of a bishop.
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Author:Fox, Hilary E.
Publication:Philological Quarterly
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 22, 2010
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