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Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts (BA)
Department of English
Dabney A. Bankert
Medieval wisdom literature is a genre that is difficult to define and it has not been extensively studied. Scholarship is typically concerned with translation and manuscript emendation concerns and with identification of sources in addition to an analysis of religious influences. There has not yet been any scholarship concerned with the ways in which religious themes and concerns about life after death are meant to influence the behaviors and attitudes of the living reader. The present study seeks to analyze the ways in which the Old English poems “Maxims I,” “The Gifts of Men,” and “The Fortunes of Men,” as well as the Old Norse/Icelandic poem Hávamál, address questions of how individuals should live in preparation for death. Each of these poems use mortality to encourage the reader to make use of God-given gifts or acquired skills in ways that are beneficial both for individuals and for society at large. A good afterlife in each case is dependent upon the individual’s role in helping society to function smoothly and efficiently. The differences in the ways that each poem addresses the creation and maintenance of a functioning society by way of the gifts and skills of the individual—their use and misuse—and the role that the divine plays in these processes reveal notable cultural distinctions in the idea of the ideal citizen in Old English and Old Norse/Icelandic cultures.
Frazier, Rhys, "How to Live: Lessons from Old English and Old Norse/Icelandic wisdom literature" (2019). Senior Honors Projects, 2010-current. 672.