Happy Monday, everyone! Old English Ecotheology: the Exeter Book will be released one week from today! I’m so excited to share a discount code (valid through 10/16/21) courtesy of my publishers at Amsterdam University Press. Use code Pub_OEE to save 20% when you order through AUP.
After a much-needed break last weekend, I’m back on the blogging train. Today through Thursday, I’ll share sneak peaks of each of the primary chapters of my book; on Friday, I’ll be lifting up some of the scholarship that inspired me while writing this book.
As I mentioned on Friday, the first chapter of my book argues for the existence of a distinctly Old English ecotheology, exemplified by the work of Ælfric and Wulfstan. The subsequent four chapters of my book explore the influence of that ecotheology on the poetry of the Exeter Book. I’ve chosen to organize these four chapters according to genre, and the first chapter centers on two of the manuscript’s wisdom poems: Maxims I and The Order of the World.
My initial fascination with these two poems was partially a response to all of the scholarship dismissing them as incomprehensible, insignificant, or otherwise bad. To me, they represent the best of Old English poetry: they are deceptively simple, yet disarmingly foreign. Like the Exeter riddle collection (about which more tomorrow!) these wisdom poems offer a compelling glimpse into “what is known” in early medieval England. For my purposes, they suggest an understanding of the interconnectedness of life on Earth.
Active engagement with the mysteries of creation was an important goal of Old English wisdom poetry; these poems require audience understanding of the interconnectedness of the Earth community. Exploring kinship connections between human and other-than-human beings, they anticipate modern ideas about the importance of exchange within ecosystems. The Order of the World encourages active engagement with the other-than-human as a means of praising the Creator. Maxims I, in turn, serves as an example of one such poetic attempt, imagining a world in which non-human forces act in familiar, rather than entirely threatening, ways. The Order of the World and Maxims I suggests that early medieval English thinkers understood and affirmed the interconnectedness of the Earth community.