International Medieval Congress

IMC 2021: Climate

28th annual International Medieval Congress

Trauma and transcience in Old English poetry and its influence

7 July 2021 15:30 utc — view in local time


    № 1: The privilege of history and hero-making in Beowulf

    Kortney Stern, Department of English, Indiana University Bloomington

    While Beowulf is certainly a poem about heroic feats and battle victories, it is also a narrative about anxieties surrounding the production of story and heroes. Striving for the unattainable role of hero, Beowulf fails, and in his failure, I argue, he produces a tale of trauma. Beowulf’s glorified account of silencing and exaggerated violence only becomes visible by separating Grendel’s mother from her gender as woman and her role as mother. No longer solely a vehicle for reproduction, we can clearly see that Beowulf draws attention to Grendel’s mother’s maternity in order to veil his own problematic role as producer. Beowulf desires to have sole control of the text, to be the sole creator, so, I claim, he eradicates the only opposition in his path, Grendel’s mother. Upon her death, Beowulf utilizes his power as story teller to create his final heroic’ narrative, a narrative that departs from the narrator’s version of the evenly matched fight between Beowulf and Grendel’s mother. In Beowulf’s account to Hrothgar, he chooses to silence Grendel’s mother by removing her body and her voice from his narration. In his second retelling, Beowulf describes a gruesome beheading to Hygelac, which never took place. While each version of Beowulf’s tale could be remembered as heroic, this paper aims to draw attention to these moments of curated heroism in order to highlight the ways in which Beowulf exposes the dangers and fundamentally fraught nature of storytelling and the heroes storytellers produce.

    № 2: The Wanderer and mental wounds: Post-traumatic stress disorder in early English culture

    Chad White, Department of History, University of Louisville

    In the Old English elegy, The Wanderer, the protagonist roams a storm-battered seashore, alone and bereft of his liege lord, warband, and male companionship. From the descriptions of harsh weather to the conclusion the character explores Anglo-Saxon idealized masculinity, lordship in Early English Society, and experiences survivor’s guilt after a battle. I argue that The Wanderer is an account of the psychological trauma experienced by the subject of the poem akin to what modern soldiers experience today branded as post-traumatic stress disorder. I posit that this poem could have been used as a counseling tool or an allegorical tale to help men in a society at near-constant warfare in the Viking Age.

    № 3: Enta geweorc, the work of the giants: Tolkien, The Ruin, and ruins from early Medieval England

    Gesner Las Casas Brito Filho, LABORA — USP, Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil

    J.R.R. Tolkien is known today as one of the most celebrated author of a genre called medieval fantasy. His books, as The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are influential in all spheres of pop culture. However, in addition, Tolkien had a successful career as an academic, philologist, and Anglo-Saxonist. The aim of this work is to analyse how the ruins (ancient Roman constructions) and ruin (the idea of a civilisation decaying), elements present in the art and literature of Anglo-Saxon England, were interpreted and remodelled by Tolkien in his fantasy writing and in his work as an academic.

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