Date of Award

1991

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Ward Parks

Abstract

The focus of this study is the illumination of the most unchanging and consistent aspect of Anglo-Saxon poetry: the poetic representation of the ethos of the warrior band. The ideals of the comitatus offer a contributing, if not controlling, structure to nearly the entire corpus of Anglo-Saxon poetry. That warband could attain no finer poetic representation than Beowulf and "The Battle of Maldon," which, in presenting not only positive but negative models of behavior, best exemplify the ideals of the comitatus as embodied in Anglo-Saxon verse. Chapter 1 examines the institutions and practices of that masculine circle as illustrated in these poems. The second chapter is as a vital companion to the first. Though the comitatus is exclusively male, it is a mistaken presumption that women had no influence with regard to that group. Contrary to common perceptions, women had a critical position within the male organization of the warband. Chapter 2 examines that role. This, however, is not the entire scope of the dissertation. Of course, it is virtually impossible for a dissertation to detail every reference within Anglo-Saxon verse where the ideals of the comitatus are pertinent; thus, chapters 3 and 4 focus on the manifestations of the comitatus in the poetic situations where we would least expect it. One would hardly anticipate discovering the ethos of the comitatus permeating Eden or Calvary. Yet undeniably it does. Chapter 3 discusses the Anglo-Saxon "reinterpretations" of the fall of man and his redemption (seen in "Genesis B" and "The Dream of the Rood"). The speakers of the elegies are all deprived of a comitatus. Chapter 4 focuses on these poems, where ironically, we can ascertain the vitality and importance of the warband through an analysis of the consequences of its lack, and even its apparent repudiation. By examining cases in which the ideals of the comitatus seem irrelevant to the poetic situation, those ideals are in truth revealed to be the dominant paradigm. Thus, the controlling structure of the comitatus is explicated in various genres extant in the corpus of Anglo-Saxon poetry.

Pages

249

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