Unnatural Births: Satan’s insceafte in “Solomon and Saturn II”
Karma de Gruy
The importance of apocryphal influences on the Anglo Saxon literary tradition has long been noted by scholars, from Oliver Emerson’s 1906 treatment of legends of Cain through Kathryn Powell and D.G. Scragg’s 2003 Apocryphal Texts and Traditions in Anglo-Saxon England. While, as Peter Dendle demonstrates in Satan Unbound, the devil serves various and sometimes contradictory roles in the Anglo Saxon corpus, in at least one case he is said to plan a curious sort of unnatural propagation. In “Solomon and Saturn II,” Satan says “ðæt he mid his gesiðum wolde / hiðan eall heofona rice and him ðonne on healfum sittan, / tydran him mid ðy teoðan dæle, oððæt he his tornes ne cuðe / ende ðurh insceafte” [that with his companions he wished to completely ravage the kingdom of the heavens and to occupy half himself, and procreate himself with the tenth part, until through this internal propagation he could give his anger an end] (444-447). Robert Menner has suggested that the hapax legomenon insceafte be glossed as an “internal generation,” i.e., from within the ranks of the fallen angels. However, I will argue that insceafte, a specific means of generation related to the verb form tydrian in line 446, should be examined in light of the latter’s various associations in the Anglo Saxon corpus.
These associations deal with literal, corporeal progeny and breeding, but also moral weakness, barrenness, and destruction; they hint at monstrous becomings and questions of the role of angels and their giant and monstrous offspring in the origins of humanity after Satan’s fall. Taking these connotations as a starting point, I hope to reexamine the “Solomon and Saturn” poet’s use of the word insceafte in order to trace a genealogy of association and evolution which results in this most striking and mysterious of descriptions of unnatural propagation. A philological and comparative examination of this hapax legomenon may lead us to a clearer understanding of how the spiritual and corporeal nature of some of the demons and monsters we encounter elsewhere in the poetic corpus was understood. As Oliver Emerson’s contribution to the discussion on the apocryphal tradition elucidates, there existed medieval connections between not only Cain and the devil, but Cain and the giants who were the offspring of the ‘sons of God’ in Genesis 6.1-4. The mingling of fallen angel, human, and monster in humanity’s dim past loomed large in the Anglo Saxon imagination. Just as, in Beowulf, the gigantas kin of Cain stand as shadowy figures at the beginnings of human life in the world, so too do fallen angels, who are associated with ancient giants in the apocryphal tradition where the human, the demonic, and the monstrous were not always so clearly delineated.
Nat he þara goda: Weapons and the Grendelkin’s Status as Monsters
(ABSTRACT) One of the problems with the debate over the nature of the Grendelkin is that we have been trying to apply an ontological definition to them when a functional definition would be more instructive. If we want to learn about and from the poem, we should be less concerned with whether the Grendelkin are trolls, zombies, or exiles and more concerned with what they can tell us about the cultural moment in which they were created.
To extend this line of thinking, this paper, which is part of a larger research project, examines how the poet(s) exaggerated the difference of the Grendelkin from humans by casting them as monsters via the manipulation of cultural markers. One of the most important processes for monsterizing the Grendelkin was to show their (mis)use of material goods, which helped delineate and reinforce the differences between the categories of “human” and “monster” for the poet(s) and the audience. By this criterion, the Grendelkin make the perfect antithesis to human cultural practices. In a world where weapons have lineages arguably as important as those of the warriors who wield them, both are inimical to human weapons and neither makes use of the enta geweorc in their own hall.
Their stance is no accident: it helps create one part of a pastiche representing what the Anglo-Saxon poet thought a monster would be. Through the exaggeration of cultural markers like weapons, we can see the Beowulf-poet(s) mining important cultural values for concepts with which to create the Grendelkin. Not only the end result of the monsters in the poem, but also the process of their creation can tell us much more about the fear, mores, and tensions of the cultural moment that spawned Beowulf than can the argument as to what they “really” were.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Dept. of Comparative Literature, Medieval Studies
Kissed by a monster: Blonde Esmerée and Lady Synadowne as grotesque women of power
In Renaut’s de Bâgé 12th-century Old French romance Li Biaus Descouneüs, the character Blonde Esmerée appears as a hybrid woman who changes into a serpent-like body after having been cursed by a suitor whom she refused to marry. Also quite similarly misshapen, Lady Synadowne, the enchanted queen Thomas Chestre’s shape-shifts, and appears as a monstrous vuivre in the Middle English version Lybeaus Desconus of the Old French tale.
Although their serpentine shape can be traced back to a Celtic water fairy, the contradiction between courtly lady and serpent is a strong statement that can be interpreted beyond the description of otherworldliness or the world of enchantment. Finding a true other in bodies that are neither human nor beast, Blonde Esmerée and her later counterpart demonstrate vivid textual interaction and bear an ugliness that does not need to be remedied by a knight’s voluntary commitment to an ugly woman, as has been seen in the loathly lady motif.
In my dissertation, which is a comparative study across roughly two hundred years and four texts (besides the two mentioned earlier I include also the Old French Melusine and its German cognate), I am investigating female grotesque forms within the framework of the courtly romance genre and its continuations. I have developed my own definition of the grotesque as a critical framework that combines modern theory with medieval ideas and culture. In modern scholarship, the grotesque is understood as an artistic space in which human society is turned on its head by the depiction of an outlandish creature or event with clearly discernable aspects relating to daily life, which are, however, portrayed in some excessive form. For a medieval text, the rules are different insofar as that the literature of this time period is riddled with extraordinary creatures, places, and events, and one has to distinguish between a literary commonplace and an uncommon grotesque occurrence. In all four texts examined in my dissertation, the grotesque woman is a noblewoman whose character traits, behavior, and status conform to courtly culture, but who appears in an ugly and monstrous body that features at least one audaciously feminine feature desired by medieval knights. In each case of the grotesque woman, the woman’s role is pivotal for the knight’s development, but at the same time the man is overwhelmed and mocked; this double effect questions cultural norms on various levels, and exposes one aspect of gender relations in medieval culture: namely, the correlation between appearance and power. When the woman loses her human form, she gains power.
For your 2009-Kalamazoo session on “Monstrous Production and Reproduction,” I would like to suggest a comparative study of the two noblewomen, Blonde Esmerée and Lady Synadowne. I will discuss the consequences of female monsters in late medieval narrative with respect to cultural reproduction and genre development from classical Arthurian romance from the early 13th century to English popular romance in the later 14th century.