Anonymous Old English saints’ lives form a major part of the corpus of surviving literature from early England. Compared to poetry or works by named authors like Ælfric, they have been mainly served by editors and translators piecemeal. Johanna Kramer, Hugh Magennis, and Robin Norris offer a welcome addition to the field with a new collection of Anonymous Old English Lives of Saints in fresh editions and translations. As the editors say, “The lives included in this collection are highly diverse in nature” and form a representative group of vernacular saints’ lives in early England.
Given the transmission of Old English saints’ lives across many disparate manuscripts, this collection does not follow a single manuscript witness. This presents various challenges for the editors since several of the saints’ lives included in this volume pose tricky issues for textual criticism. Despite various challenges, the editors present admirable editions of these works. Some of these saints’ lives are newly edited here for the first time since the nineteenth or early twentieth century, and several of the accompanying translations are the first to appear in print. The edited texts are accurate when checked against previous printings and available manuscripts, and the translations are both literal to the Old English and accessible to general readers.
This collection includes most of the anonymous Old English saints’ lives (excluding those in the Vercelli, Blickling, and Nowell codices) in an anthology unlike any previously published. These hagiographies are often overlooked by those who study early medieval England, and this new volume opens the way for further attention in the future. It will surely become the standard edition for anyone studying anonymous Old English saints’ lives.
Brandon W. Hawk