The passionate language of the Psalms has traversed time and polyphonies of translation. From their Hebrew source to Greek then to Latin and thenceforth into a great variety of vernacular European languages, the Psalms have held a central position for Christians as a locus of dialogue between the faithful and their God. In the words attributed to King David, the Psalms express lamentation, confession, praise and exultation which, according to Francis Leneghan, position them as the ‘foundation of medieval Christian thought and practice’ (p. 1). This important volume examines the pervasive influence of the Psalms on Medieval English literature. The book is organized thematically as opposed to chronologically into three sections: ‘Translation’, ‘Adaptation’ and ‘Voice’. Leneghan’s introductory essay, ‘A Case Study of Psalm 50.1-3 in Old and Middle English’ usefully examines the interpretive history of this Psalm from c. 700 to 1500. The intimate knowledge of the Psalms in both the Anglo-Saxon period, and post-conquest England, is the constant impetus for the interpretive and performative functions of the works discussed. Jane Roberts’s chapter on ‘Some Anglo-Saxon Psalters and their Glosses’ reveals evidence for this engagement through translation into Old English dialects of Mercian and West Saxon. Many, perhaps 50, Psalters survive from the Anglo-Saxon period, but Roberts’s examination of the 15 surviving Anglo-Saxon Psalters with vernacular glosses reveals different levels of engagement from ‘opportunistic’ glossing to planned campaigns. Mark Faulkner’s analysis of the Eadwine Psalter places this extremely elaborate production, which includes the Hebraicum, Romanum and Gallicanum versions of the Psalms, into the context of twelfth-century literary culture via the English translation which accompanies the Romanum. Through orthographic and lexical evidence, Faulkner argues that the source for the English gloss, known as *Ead, was produced before c. 900, and that this exemplar would have presented the mid-twelfth-century scribes who produced the Eadwine Psalter with great difficulties with regard to its interpretation. Faulkner makes the important point that art historians have been more open to the ‘aesthetic possibilities of archaism’ (p. 101) than textual scholars, and Faulkner sees the Eadwine as a case in point. The lack of surviving copies of the Psalms in English from the thirteenth century brings the volume swiftly to the fourteenth century and Annie Sutherland’s article on the ‘Fourteenth-century English Prose Psalter and the Art of Psalm Translation’. Although lesser known than Richard Rolle’s mid-century English Psalter, with only 4 surviving manuscripts in contrast to 19 of Rolle’s work, Sutherland argues, following Ralph Hanna, that the English Prose Psalter had a significant place in literary London circles of the fourteenth century. Sutherland’s examination of the preference of the translators of the Psalter to disengage with metaphor in favour of moral and spiritual directives lends further weight to the identification of the devout laity as the most probable audience for this work. Elizabeth Solopova’s chapter on the Wycliffite Psalms also addresses questions of audience. She argues that the combination of the Wycliffite Psalms with other practical liturgical material suggests that the patrons of these books were clerical, as opposed to the traditional identification of these patrons as devout and eager laity. Evidence of the translators’ interest in accuracy and ‘sophistication in the translation of biblical vocabulary’ (p. 147) further supports this view. Katherine Zieman’s contribution on Rolle’s English Psalter concludes the section devoted to translation with an analysis of early revisions of Rolle’s text. Zieman perceives these efforts as part of a concerted programme of textual scholarship, replete with the double-column template reserved for academic work, as opposed to the traditional perception of these texts as primarily Wycliffite revisions. Francis Leneghan’s outstanding essay ignites the following ‘Adaptation’ section of the book. Leneghan repositions the oft neglected Old English Metrical Psalms as a composition deliberately constructed to achieve memorability for its users. Leneghan argues that the poet of the Metrical Psalms used ornamental alliteration to enhance the song-like quality of the Psalms lost in Jerome’s prose translation. By enhancing the aural patterning of the translation, a more readily memorable version of the Psalms would serve as an aid to meditation and prayer. Daniel Anlezark’s chapter on the Psalms in the Old English Office of Prime examines the place of this work in the history of private devotion. Anlezark positions this incomplete work created in the mid-eleventh century as a template for daily use by those who could not practice the complete monastic cycle. Jane Toswell locates the syntactic and rhetorical structure of the Psalms in the earliest Anglo-Saxon poetry. Toswell demonstrates the deep connection between the Psalms and Old English poetry in all its varying genres, as a basso continuo for ‘chronicles, laments, songs of praise …, riddles, mnemonics, complaints of the loss of a lover or a place and songs of thanksgiving’ (p. 232). In ‘Articulating the Psalms in Middle English Alliterative Poetry: Some Passages of Piers Plowman, St Erkenwald and Pearl’, Mike Rodman Jones identifies the disputational qualities of specific Psalms used to reflect uncertainty and contradiction in the discourse of selected alliterative poems. The dialogic structure of the poetry enables intellectual and spiritual interrogation of the Psalms. The ‘Voice’ section opens with Lynn Staley’s ‘Maidstone’s Psalms and the King’s Speech’. Staley positions Maidstone’s translation of the Penitential Psalms, as well as his Concordia, in the taut political atmosphere of Richard II and his quarrel with the City of London. Vincent Gillespie begins his article, ‘The Songs of the Threshold: Enargeia and the Psalter’, with John Skelton’s 1527 defence of his art and his faith in Replication against Certain Young Scholars late Abjured. Skelton invokes David as the Christian Orpheus, composing the Psalms by virtue of enargeia: the intellectual, spiritual and sensual gift of poetic power. Gillespie defines the ‘muscular performativity of the Psalter’ (p. 289) as critical to medieval understanding of its potency. He explicates modulating perceptions of enargeia through classical and medieval sources as Bede, Aquinas, Rolle, Bartholomaeus Anglicus, Gilbert of Poitiers, Geoffrey de Vinsauf and Alanus de Insulis among others contemplate the power of the Psalms, their immediacy and their universal purpose. David Lawton’s article, ‘Psalms as Public Interiorities: Eleanor Hull’s Voices’ examines Hull’s commentary on the Penitential Psalms from an unidentified French or Anglo-Norman source with clear reference to Augustine and Peter Lombard. Lawton observes a multiplicity of voices in Hull’s commentary, some following closely from her sources, and others perhaps closer to her own, as well as immediacies of identification: with David, with Christ, as a penitent and as a sinner. Michael P. Kuczynski’s article closes the volume and draws its many threads together in an examination of the place of the Psalms within medieval English ecclesiology via the agency of translations of or commentaries on the Psalms. In reversing the chronology of the first section of this volume on ‘Translation’, Kuczynski works backwards from Wycliffite texts, to Rolle and thenceforth to King Alfred’s Old English translation of the first 50 Psalms, before returning again to two Wycliffite texts; the Rosarium and The Lanterne of Liȝt. In describing both the voices of the Psalms and the Church, Kuczynski recalls Coleridge’s phrase ‘unity in multeity’ from his 1818 lecture ‘On Poesy or Art’ (p. 325). This phrase serves to encapsulate the aims and the success of this book, which deserves a place on the shelf of every academic library devoted to the study of the Middle Ages. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press 2018; all rights reserved This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
The Review of English Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 23, 2018
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