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Solomon and Saturn I, 89 a, “prologa prim”: An Exercise in Monastic Reading Practice

Rachel A. Burns EMAIL logo
From the journal Anglia

Abstract

This article reassesses the grammatically problematic half-line prologa prima (l. 89a) in the Old English wisdom poem Solomon and Saturn I, and suggests that it ought to be emended to the grammatically viable reading of “prologa prim”. Line 89 a introduces a passage in which the words of the Pater Noster become anthropomorphised as warriors and attack the devil. I will argue that “prologa prim” is an exegetical exercise, informed by grammatical theory and liturgical practice, designed for an audience of monastic readers. This multivalent half-line offers different levels of meaning when read according to different permutations of language and metaphor, in a process analogous to the interpretation of scripture according to the influential model of fourfold exegesis. When read literally, as ‘the first of the initial letters’, “prologa prim” indicates the unfolding and time-bound process of reading. Previous scholars (Anlezark 2009; Anderson 1998) have noted the allusive references in line 89 a to Greek logos (‘word’) and Old English prim (‘first hour’, ‘Prime office’), but not their full significance. Through these allusions, the reader shifts from a literal reading to a spiritual and metaphorical reading of the half-line, achieving a diachronic perspective of the Pater Noster’s recitation across time, and finally an atemporal perspective, reading in line 89 a a paraphrase of John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word”. In conjunction with the subsequent episode of the battle, line 89 a forms an exemplum of the monastic practice of lectio divina. This example of ‘monastic poetics’ (O’Camb 2014; Niles 2019) moves from grammatical analysis to a vision of the Word.

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Figure 1 Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, 41, p. 198 © Reproduced by permission of The Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
Figure 1

Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, 41, p. 198 © Reproduced by permission of The Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

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