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Sea and wilderness: Old English readings of the Hebrew bible

5:30pm-6:00pm on Saturday 23 March

Times shown are in GMT (UTC +0) up to the 26th March. For events on or after 27th March times are in BST (UTC +1).

Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, Room GR 06/07 9 West Road, CB3 9DP

A seafarer keeps anxious watch in a storm, care-worn and shivering in the ice-cold waves; a lone wanderer travels the ocean in exile, weary under heart-sorrow and grief; in Beowulf, a hart trapped between huntsmen and the sea-edge must choose his place of death.

Maritime imagery is woven throughout Old English poetry. In his book The Sea and Medieval English Literature, Sebastian Sobecki declares that “[t]here is hardly a narrative or lexical space that the sea cannot reach”; while Tolkien, in his edition of the Old English Exodus, calls Old English itself an “old sea language”. Scholars working on medieval literature have been especially fascinated by the recurring connection of the sea with grief, anxiety, depression, suffering and exile. The ocean is also portrayed as a place of spirituality: in all three of the Wanderer, the Seafarer and Beowulf, the poets move from depictions of sea and exile to dwell on the might and glory of God.

The theological implications of all these poems have been heavily debated. Many scholars argue that both elegy and praise are crucial to their meaning, and that they were written to teach Christian self-discipline as a solution for distress; others that the dramatic shift in focus is the result of later Christian interpolation on a secular text. Still others argue that the texts are metaphorical, or a lyric articulation of the poet’s own feelings. In all views, however, the importance of the ocean is sidelined; it is reduced to a place of pathetic fallacy, of metaphor and projection.

This talk will focus on what happens when we consider Old English poetry in conversation with traditions of wilderness and exile found in the Hebrew bible. Probing some of the more famous instances of Old English sea imagery, the talk aims to demonstrate how the ocean is more than mere dramatic background but is indispensable, orienting a text’s theological inquiries.

Booking/Registration is: UNAVAILABLE

Additional Information

Age: Young Adults 12 – 18, Adults
Format: Talk
Timing: In person
Cost: Free
Event Capacity: 80
Theme: Discovery, Environment
Accessibility: Step-free access, Accessible toilet

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