, Volume 92, Issue 1, pp 141-153
Date: 09 Jun 2007

Ælfric’s zoology

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Abstract

The Old English writings of the homilist Ælfric, abbot of Eynsham, demonstrate that he had an active interest in animals, particularly those foreign to Anglo-Saxon England. Having culled his material from a variety of sources, he sometimes used it to provide allegorical or symbolic exempla in a traditional way. But Ælfric also drew upon his studies of animals to understand why saints—and not ordinary people—had power over the natural world, and also to help his audience separate the miraculous from the merely exotic when trying to understand Biblical narratives or saints’ lives.