By tracing the complex textual tradition of a Latin work that survives only in a sixteenth-century printed book back to a local legend from the Anglo-Saxon period, my week as a Text Technologies Fellow at Stanford allowed me to solve a medieval mystery surrounding the most elusive piece of literature in the Old English corpus. The infamously enigmatic Old English poem Wulf and Eadwacer has long been known as a text which is “based on a tale familiar to the poet’s audience but unknown to us.” No external clues to the poem’s narrative survive from the Anglo-Saxon, nor indeed the medieval, periods. My week as a Text Technologies Fellow allowed me to write an article outlining my discovery of an analogue to the narrative of this hauntingly beautiful poem in the sole extant text of a Latin work printed during the early modern period.
No medieval manuscript of this text survives, but by untangling the textual transmission of this complex work (with the help of early printed books containing the notes of antiquarians who recorded their observations of manuscripts later destroyed during the Reformation), I was able to both trace this late Latin text back to a point of origin in the twelfth century and also uncover an even earlier iconographic representation of its narrative that survives from the Anglo-Saxon period. Read together for the first time, these two texts shed important light on one another and provide key evidence that the narrative underlying Wulf and Eadwacer was indeed a familiar one in Anglo-Saxon England. I am grateful to Stanford Text Technologies for the rare opportunity to trace a pattern of textual transmission back hundreds of years and discover a local Anglo-Saxon legend preserved in the one surviving copy of a sixteenth-century Latin printed work.
While in Stanford as a Text Technologies Fellow, I also taught a three-hour seminar on ‘An Introduction to Medieval Celtic Studies: Sources and Resources’ to graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and members of the library’s Special Collections. This seminar offered an introduction to medieval Celtic studies as a field, including comprehensive introductory bibliographies on medieval Welsh and Irish literature, alongside close reading and study of selected primary texts. The seminar served to introduce the understudied yet vast field of Celtic studies from a medievalist perspective to a new audience of interested graduate students, faculty and staff on Stanford’s campus.