Translating the Fate of the Soul in Late Anglo-Saxon England
Ælfric of Eynsham and Two Post-Mortem Visions
This essay discusses what is possibly the earliest translation from the Vitas Patrum corpus into a Western European vernacular, i.e. the Old English version of two visions of departing souls from the Verba Seniorum by Ælfric of Eynsham. Contrary to received notions, Ælfric favoured the narratives of the Desert Fathers as sources for paradigms of clerical celibacy and continence, two of the values that he was most anxious to teach and on which he took a strongly reformist stance. The two case studies presented aim to shed new light on the diffusion and appreciation of the Desert Fathers tales in Benedictine Reform England, in that they will show that, not unlike many anonymous homilists, Ælfric too drew on them as eschatological sources to conjure up two dramatic post-mortem scenes.
Keywords: Verba seniorum • Soul-and-body literature • Ælfric of Eynsham • Old English • Anglo-Saxon England