Peer-Reviewed Journal Details
Mandatory Fields
Birkett, Tom
Review Of English Studies
Runes and Revelatio: Cynewulf’s Signatures Reconsidered
Optional Fields
Cynewulf; runes; runic signature; Elene; Juliana; Christ II; The Fates of the Apostles; Old English poetry
The question of Cynewulf’s authorship of the four signed poems Christ II, Juliana, Elene and Fates of the Apostles has been a perennial concern of Old English scholarship, yet despite frequent reference to analogous runic strategies in the riddles, the signatures are rarely considered in the context of the wider runic tradition. This article re-examines the four signature passages in light of a developed association of the runic script with riddle solutions and the dual movement of concealing and revealing information – a dialectic encapsulated in the Latin term for the manifestation of divine truth, revelatio. In a departure from previous criticism, I argue that the contemplative space of the colophon is set up to move the reader beyond the surface display of the runes, encouraging a rejection of earthly name and fame in line with the statement in Fates of the Apostles that ‘the borrowed ornaments of the body will diminish just as inexorably as water glides away’ (l. 104). The runic signature is a mechanism designed to unravel in the very act of unlocking the true message of the colophon, modelling the kind of earthly dislocation needed to prepare for the Day of Judgement. Through close attention to the placement of the runic conceit and the language of the colophons, the apparent proprietorial motivations for the signature are thus redefined in the context of religious instruction.
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