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Authority and intertextuality in the works of Aelfric

Sir Israel Gollancz Memorial Lecture, delivered by Joyce Hill, on 9 September 2004.

The tenth century Anglo-Saxon homilist Ælfric, writing in the vernacular, nevertheless saw his work as standing in an essentially Latinate tradition of exegesis, in which the authoritative sources, guaranteeing orthodoxy, were the writings of the Church Fathers. While he cites them freely by name in his Catholic Homilies, modern scholarship has increasingly demonstrated that he had access to much of his material through Carolingian intermediaries, which were thus his immediate sources. Yet, despite this recognition, modern scholars have nevertheless tended to give priority to the patristic authority in source-analyses. The lecture argues that a focus on ultimate authorities prevents us identifying the true nature of the medieval author’s textual dialogue and his mode of composition, and limits our appreciation of his mindset, particularly in relation to the important question of textual authority, which is shown to be governed by a conceptual framework radically different from our own. In pursuing these issues, attention will be paid to the form in which source-material was available to Ælfric in manuscripts, and how he worked with these intermediaries in creating his own textual compilations within the recognised ‘chain of authority’. The compelling need to distinguish between immediate and ultimate sources will be demonstrated, and examples will be given of how such distinctions might systematically be established by modern scholars, who must necessarily engage with a multi-dimensional and richly intertextual body of source-materials.

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