critic’s) by selecting certain material and ignoring other texts. Although wewill never know for certain what Anglo-Saxons really thought, we shouldattempt to allow their texts to speak for themselves, which – especiallywhen discussing sexuality – involves shedding our own twenty-first-century preconceptions. In order to contribute to this enormous projectthis essay will analyze three Old English literary texts, which are found intwo separate manuscripts, one dating from the tenth, the other from thefirst half of the twelfth century, and whose original compositions can beroughly dated to the eighth to eleventh century.
As the discussion below will show, these texts present us with a pictureof Anglo-Saxon attitudes towards women’s sexuality and the female bodythat is neither sexual liberalism nor Christian doctrine demonizing womenas carnal. Furthermore, degrees of explicitness about sexual matters andthe corporal in writing and the ideas on sexuality and the body presentedin it will be seen as not necessarily correlative to each other. To begin with, readings of the “Exeter Book Riddle 10/12” will provideus with a discussion of the place of sexuality in the Anglo-Saxon mindcentring upon how to respond to the riddle’s speaking subject’s injunctionto “saga hwæt ic hatte” (l.13; “say what I am called”), that is, to fix thebodily identity of the speaker.
Next, the discussion of the
will focus on Lyric 9, which is a celebration of and an appeal to Mary as“Mediatrix” and contains the image of the closed gate that, according toBurlin, is “accorded the most lavish visual treatment of any image in thepoem.”
The relationship between the references to Mary’s maternal bodyand the Christian message will be closely investigated here. Last but notleast, the
CCCC Life of St Margaret
will be analyzed for its representation
The Exeter Book is generally dated ca. 1000AD and the earliest date of composition proposed for at least someof the riddles, 10/12 among them, is the eighth century, see Rulon-Miller, Nina. “Sexual Humor and FetteredDesire in Exeter Book Riddle 12.” Humour in Anglo-Saxon Literature. Ed. Jonathan Wilcox. (Cambridge: D.S.Brewer, 2000), pp.100f.; the
, which are the first text in the Exeter Book, “may also date from theeighth or ninth century”, see Clayton, Mary. The Cult of the Virgin Mary in Anglo-Saxon England. (Cambridge:Cambridge UP, 1990), p.269; Clayton and Magennis date the manuscript designated as “Cambridge, CorpusChristi College 303” to the “first half of the twelfth century” and propose that the
Life of St. Margaret
found in it“was composed not very long before the date of the manuscript”, see Clayton, Mary and Hugh Magennis, eds.The Old English lives of St. Margaret. (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994), p.92 and 106
Quotations from the OE text of the riddle are from The Old English Riddles of the
. Ed. CraigWilliamson. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), p.74; translations are my own and aredesigned to reflect the Old English as close as possible rather than to be poetic.
Burlin, Robert B. The Old English Advent: A Typological Commentary. (New Haven and London: Yale UP,1968), p.147