The Old English Phoenix

Brian Shaw

in Jeanette Beer, ed., Medieval Translators and Their Craft, Kalamazoo: Western Michigan University, 1989, 155-183

"The Phoenix falls into two basic portions: first, a description of the bird, its habitat, and its actions; second, an application of this information to various aspects of the Christian's life. There is no discernable change in diction or syntax between the two; these two halves deal simply with the phoenix as a bird and the with the phoenix as symbol. The second half of the poem functions as sort of exegesis or explanation of the first half of the work. For the first part of the poem, there is a source, the 'Carmen de ave phoenice' of Lactantius. ... The Old English poets's 'translation' of Lactantius is obviously close enough that there can be no doubt he used it as the source, but the Old English version tends to elaborate and repeat ideas so that the 170 lines of Latin become the first 380 lines of the 677-line Old English poem. ... The second half (lines 383-677) of The Phoenix is an interpretation of the material translated from Lactantius. For this portion of the poem, the question of a source becomes more vexed." - Shaw

Language: English


Last update December 6, 2021