Walking in the Forest of Knowledge:
King Alfred�s Soliloquies and the ninth-century West Saxon Literary Revival
Remember what punishments befell us in this world when we ourselves did not cherish learning nor transmit it to other men. We were Christians in name alone, and very few of us possessed Christian virtues. When I reflected on all this, I recollected how � before everything was ransacked and burned � the churches throughout England stood filled with treasures and books. Similarly, there was a great multitude of those serving God. And they derived very little benefit from those books, because they could understand none of them, since they were not written in their own language�therefore it seems better to me � if it seems so to you � that we too should turn into the language that we can all understand certain books which are the most necessary for all men to know
This passage from King Alfred the Great�s preface to his Old English translation of Gregory the Great�s Pastoral Care is perhaps the most frequently cited piece of prose of Alfred�s reign offering the rationale for the king�s project of translation and book production in the late ninth century. The passage addresses some of the more important and difficult questions of Alfred�s literary project: what are the philosophical origins of Alfred�s emphasis on Christian learning, why does he seek to recollect about the past, and why does he decide to select, edit, and translate the texts that he does? Through an examination of Alfred�s own philosophical writings, particularly his translation of Augustine�s Soliloquies, it becomes clear that these questions are inherently tied to his ideas of the past, the soul, and the fundamental question of how one comes to know God.
Questions –Dennis KING LEAR STUDY QUESTIONS 1.1 What does Cordelia’s reference to "nothing" suggest about the use of this motif in the rest of the play? Cordelia answer was honest in which she stated she loved her father just like how a daughter should love her father she answers this way because of the fact she knew her sister’s answers were just flattery and they did not love their father they ...
King Alfred�s epithet is well deserved; he is both the savior of Anglo-Saxon culture and the first �English� king. His reign as king of Wessex from 871 to 899 was characterized by a series of destructive Viking invasions, an administrative and military reorganization, an expansion of the power of Wessex, the emergence of an �English� national identity, and an intellectual and literary revival, of which the translation to the Pastoral Care formed a part. By the last decade of his reign Alfred had managed to launch several successful offensives against the Vikings, and because his reforms ensured a strong defense the king was able to devote resources and his own time to the revival of learning and book production. This literary project has formed his most lasting legacy, and its effects were so wide ranging that Alfred�s works have been called the �beginning of English prose literature� and his project the creation of a �new English, national grammatical culture.�
The books Alfred selected for translation, those that he considered the �most necessary for all men to know� and included in the �Alfredian� canon are Boethius� Consolation of Philosophy, Augustine�s Soliloquies, Gregory the Great�s Pastoral Care and Dialogues, Paulus Orosius� History Against the Pagans, Bede�s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, and the first fifty psalms of the Paris Psalter. Other Old English works associated with Alfred�s reign include a Martyrology, a new law code compiled by Alfred, Bald�s Leechbook, a handbook of cures and remedies, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, an annual account of events. The other critical piece of prose from Alfred�s reign is the Latin biography of him, the Life of King Alfred, written by the Welsh cleric Asser, abbot of St David�s, who was an important member of Alfred�s court and later appointed bishop of Sherbourne by the king.
Two critical and related issues must be dealt with before we proceed any further: the authorship of these works and Alfred�s originality. Alfred did not write all the translations, and while he was probably involved to some degree in all of them, Alfred himself only translated and edited the Pastoral Care, the Consolation of Philosophy, the Soliloquies, and the first fifty psalms. Due to a lack of Latin scholars in Wessex (alluded to in the preface to the Pastoral Care) Alfred sought out foreign scholars to aid him, and these scholars were critical to his project, bringing their knowledge, expertise in Latin, and many books and commentaries Alfred used. He not only recruited from Wales, but also from Mercia and the continent. Two Mercians later were appointed bishops, and one, Werferth, is known to have translated Gregory the Great�s Dialogues for Alfred. Across the channel in Gaul Alfred also found recruits, namely Grimbald from the monastery of St. Bertin�s, and John, a monk of �Old Saxon� origin. Although these scholars aided Alfred to varying degrees in his translations and editing, most modern scholars accept that while the king had a great deal of help, the ideas expressed in the additions to the Consolations and the Soliloquies are Alfred�s own.
King Lear Characters and Study Guide http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/kinglear/kinglearresources.html Descriptions in the Times New Roman Type-face: http://absoluteshakespeare.com/guides/king_lear/characters/characters.htm Descriptions in this Abadi Type-face: Mabillard, Amanda. King Lear Character Introduction. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. < ...
Traditionally Alfred was thought to have relied upon commentaries for his additions, but recent studies have suggested otherwise and concluded Alfred was far more original than previously thought. For example, Joseph Wittig has done a case study of Alfred�s rendering of Boethius� story of Orpheus and Eurydice and the dozens of commentaries possibly available to Alfred. He concluded that Alfred�s version �cannot be shown to derive from a particular commentary or even the commentaries considered en masse.� Wittig suggests instead that Alfred was familiar with Vergil, Servius, Isidore, and Ovid and suspects �a common body of lore, a common trove of sources� between Alfred and some of the commentaries. Paul Szarmach, in his case study of Alfred�s addition of a mention of four cardinal virtues to Boethius, also comes to the conclusion that Alfred did not derive the passage from commentaries and notes that, �Ironically, the more information scholarship has brought to bear on the Alfredian Boethius, the more it seems to stress Alfredian independence and elusiveness.�
Scholars approaching Alfred�s translations have framed their discussion in terms of Alfred�s prose preface to the Pastoral Care and the widely accepted view is that it was designed as a remedy for the decline in learning and in the church. Like many Christian writers before him, such as Gregory the Great, Bede, and Orosius (with whom Alfred would have been familiar), Alfred saw invasion as a form of divine punishment for the sins of the nation. As Alfred implies in the preface, the failure of the Anglo-Saxons to �cherish learning or transmit it to other men� resulted in certain punishments: decades of increasingly destructive and successful Viking invasions of Britain.
Psyche’ or the soul, is a intricate part of our being which many great thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle and Augustine aim to define and unravel. One should remain attentive to the fact that these great minds come to similar yet altered conclusions of the soul; for it is an intrinsic part of our being, aiding in our discovery and understanding of the world. Plato addresses in his novel, The ...
Complimentary theories of Alfred�s rationale for his selective editing and translation have also been proposed, involving more practical or political reasons. Frequently the argument is made that Alfred sought to reinforce royal authority and Christian administration in the face of pagan Viking invasions. Richard Abels has preferred a �Solomonic� interpretation, arguing that Alfred saw wisdom as the surest path to power. J.M. Wallace-Hadrill and Janet Nelson have pointed to the influence of Carolingian political theory on Alfred�s court and his emulation of some of these theories regarding royal power and its expression. R.H.C. Davis has even gone so far as to call the works a kind of royal �propaganda.� Related to these ideas, other scholars, such as Sarah Foot and Stephen Harris, have seen Alfred�s literary project as promoting an �English� national identity at this time, both in response to the invasions and intended to generate support for his reign and justify his control over Kent and parts of Mercia. Along these lines it has been suggested that Alfred sought to reconnect with a glorious and romanticized past; the translation of Bede�s Ecclesiastical History in particular may be reflective of a �nationalistic traditionalism.� Some have even argued that this national identity was based in Anglo-Saxon and world history, the Anglo-Saxons being the heirs of their mythic Germanic ancestors, the Goths. Finally, nearly all scholars also make reference to Alfred�s love of learning, his intellectual curiosity, and his personal interest in philosophy, but they have not explored the origins of this royal love of learning.
These theories are certainly not mutually exclusive, and are useful when thinking about the translations individually or in groups. However, most of these theories do not serve to explain the entire program, nor the underlying rationale Alfred had for them. Taken together, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and the translations to Orosius and Bede form a coherent historical project, with common themes of divine providence, Christian royal power, and models of Christian rulership, and have elements of a Christian national identity running throughout them, and the primary evidence for theories about the Anglo-Saxon idea of a Gothic ancestry comes, for example, from the translations of Orosius and Bede. The translations of Gregory the Great�s Dialogues and the Pastoral Care likewise form a coherent pair, concerned with the practice of Christian leadership, and essential reading for a bishop or any Christian ruler. In contrast to these more practical projects, Alfred�s translations of the Consolation of Philosophy and the Soliloquies are far more philosophical and do not contain themes of English national identity or royal power.
How can we use electronic systems to assist in the sharing of information organisation-wide, the use of this to build expertise and develop and maintain corporate memory TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION GROUPWARE Challenges related to GroupWare introduction KNOWLEDGE BUILDING AND GROUPWARE SYSTEMS Computer Supported Cooperative Works: 1 st definition of CSCW 2 nd definition of CSCW Issues covered by ...
Furthermore, these theories fail to explain the origins of Alfred�s desire for knowledge and the reasoning behind his selective editing in these philosophical works. What is behind Alfred�s insatiable �greed� for knowledge that Asser praises? To better understand Alfred�s project and his reasons for both translating and editing a selection of historical, philosophical and patristic works we should turn to Alfred�s own writings for guidance. In doing so we may better understand the man and his actions, even if �the arrows of insight have to be winged by the feathers of speculation.�
Alfred�s translation of Augustine�s Soliloquies offers explanations to these questions and we should frame a discussion of Alfred�s literary program with the Soliloquies in mind instead of the preface to the Pastoral Care. In the Soliloquies, Alfred discusses the origins of the desire for knowledge, particularly knowledge about the past, offering an explanation for his interest in histories. He discusses how one comes to knowledge of the past, the problems of memory, and the authority of eyewitnesses, clearly expressing his sense of the past, its uses, and its importance. He articulates in a complex forest metaphor the method used in his literary project. This approach can be seen in use in Alfred�s other translations and in his other writing, such as his will and his law code.
Augustine wrote the two books of the Soliloquies at the time of his conversion to Christianity around 387 and they take the form of a dialogue between Augustine and Reason on knowing God and the soul. Augustine�s approach is through discussions of the senses, the nature of truth, the origin of knowledge, and the eternity of the soul, concluding that the soul is dependent upon God for knowledge, but one can come to know God through the soul. In his translation Alfred maintained the dialogue format and was fairly faithful to the first book. In the second he departs from Augustine�s neo-platonic logic in favor of an argument based on authority, possibly because his ninth century Anglo-Saxon audience might be more familiar with arguments from authority than from logic, accustomed to a language �more explicitly historical, this worldly, and moral.� The metaphors are also expanded and modified to be concrete, �weighted towards a more sensory and emotive emphasis than in the more intellectually-oriented Latin.� Alfred added a third book, derived largely from Augustine�s De Videndo Deo and Gregory the Great�s sermon on Dives and Lazarus, both of which deal with questions of the afterlife and how one knows God. Alfred probably chose the Soliloquies as the best way to express his ideas on the eternity of the soul and how one comes to know God.
If the book of Psalms be, as some have styled it, a mirror or looking-glass of pious and devout affections, this psalm in particular deserves, as much as any one psalm, to be so entitled, and is as proper as any to kindle and excite such in us: gracious desires are here strong and fervent; gracious hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, are here struggling, but the pleasing passion comes off a ...
Alfred�s desire for knowledge, including historical knowledge, is directly tied to his idea of the eternity of the soul. Knowledge of the soul�s immortality is partly due to one�s desire for knowledge of the past. However, this desire for the knowledge of the past is in turn explained by a desire to know one�s own soul, and through one�s eternal soul, have knowledge of eternal God. As Reason explains to mind:
Ask your own mind why it is so willing and eager to know what formerly existed, before you were born or indeed before your grandfather was born�it will answer you, if it is rational, and will reply that it wishes to know what was before us because it has always existed since the time that God created the first man; and thus it strives after what it formerly was, and strives to know what it formerly knew, even though it is now so weighed down with the burden of this body that it cannot know all it formerly knew.
The eternal soul, prior to being in its worldly body (Reason calls the present life a �prison�) had knowledge of God, and a search for knowledge of the past can be understood as a worldly reaction to the soul�s quest for God, being unable to realize its full knowledge when in the body. It is similar to the fall, and with some part of the mind realizing its soul has lost its complete connection with God, its full knowledge of God, and this drives the desire for past knowledge. It is the impetus driving the desire for all knowledge as well. The ultimate goal being the reunion of the soul with God, and God being truth and having all knowledge, any search for God by Alfred begins with a search for knowledge, a search for truth.
Journey's come in many different forms, some being lengthy in duration while others may be just hours long. On occasion, one's path to self-knowledge may be found in doing the same things as one used to do in a whole new environment and finding that the ways of the past are inadequate for the ways of the present. This concept is shown in the untitled narrative by Sara Chase, where the discovery is ...
The soul of a man may be eternal, but Alfred sees two different forms of eternity: one that has a beginning and no end, the eternity of souls of angels and men, and the one which has neither a beginning nor an end, the eternity of God. In the concluding passages of the Consolations Alfred makes the distinction. Alfred says there is a great difference between them, �but if we are to note every point thereof we shall come very late to the end of this book, or never at all.� Alfred�s brief explanation is revealing: Mind asks why God is the �highest eternity� and Reason answers, �we know very little of what was before us save by memory and asking, and still less of what shall be after us, that is only with certainty present to us which exists at the time. But to God all is present�� Though a man�s soul is eternal, it is a lower form of eternity, he does not possess the certainty of the present, and so the past, and the soul�s past knowledge of God, is uncertain.
Though certainty in the past may not be assured, Alfred is still eager to find it � his soul seeks it. Where does one then find the past? Where does one learn about it? The answer is found in the Soliloquies. Alfred struggles with the difficulties of the past, chief among them being the very nature of the past not being present for consideration, that is, there is rarely direct knowledge of the past. What direct knowledge there is, memory, is problematic. This is seen in a modified passage between Mind and Reason in the opening to book one of the Soliloquies:
M: To what shall I entrust whatever I acquire, if not to my memory?
R: Is your memory so powerful that it can contain everything that you reflect on and that you command it to retain?
M: No, not at all; neither my nor any man�s memory is powerful enough to retain everything entrusted to it.
R: Then commit it to letters and write it down. But it seems to me, nevertheless, that you are not well enough to write it all down; and even if you were well enough, you would need to have a private place free from all other distractions, and a few learned men with you who would not disturb you in any way, but would assist you in your work.
Those that lived in the past suffered from the same difficulties in terms of memory, and thus wrote such things down. Just as Augustine saw it necessary to first compose the Soliloquies to record his thoughts on knowing the soul and God, so too must Alfred so that he does not forget any crucial knowledge, such as that pertaining to the soul and God, and also that his thoughts and actions are not forgotten in the future.
From this passage it seems as if Alfred is very conscious of the problematic nature of memory, but it is questionable whether Alfred considered the problematic relationship between the past and the present, the difficulty of discerning the troubling difference between past events and the memory of those past events. Alfred may not be aware of the problems of reconstructing the past from memory. As Paul Cohen explains a �dynamic interaction is set up between present and past, in which the past is continually being reshaped, either consciously or unconsciously, in accordance with the diverse and shifting preoccupations of people in the present.� For example, Alfred�s visit with Pope Leo in a trip to Rome in his youth is recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and copied into Asser�s Life decades after the event as a kind of royal anointing:
In the year of the Lord�s Incarnation 853�King Aethelwulf sent his son Alfred to Rome in state, accompanied by a great number of both nobles and commoners. At this time the lord Pope Leo was ruling the apostolic see; he anointed the child Alfred as king, ordained him properly, received him as an adoptive son and confirmed him.
However, based on papal records of the event, Alfred was not being crowned, but the ceremony was for his investiture as a Roman consul. This is sometimes taken to be royal propaganda, but a more plausible explanation is that Alfred misinterpreted and misremembered the ceremony, which must have seemed very elaborate to a boy of four or five. The nobles accompanying him may have also misinterpreted or misremembered the event. This is the �imperfect awareness� between the past and the present that Hunter finds is characteristic of the general Anglo-Saxon sense of the past. What Alfred seems to be unaware of is the relationship between a past event and the memories constructed around it.
The distant past, however, cannot be known through recollection of self-experience, through memory, and thus Alfred turns to his other method, asking. Alfred, conscious of this problem, realizes that any knowledge of the past prior to one�s own memory comes from the reports of witnesses:
But I myself have seen or heard things reported by men far less reliable than were those holy fathers who said the things we are discussing. Am I not bound in such cases to do one of two things: either to trust some men, or trust none? I suppose I know who built Rome, and also many other things which took place before our days, so many I cannot enumerate them all. Yet I do not know who built Rome because I saw it myself, nor indeed do I know of what kin I am, nor who was my father and my mother, except by hearsay. I know my father begot me and that my mother bore me: but I do not know it because I saw it for myself, but because it was reported to me. Nevertheless the men who told me were not such reliable men as were those holy fathers who related the things which we were investigating for so long: and yet I believe it.
Therefore a man strikes me as very foolish and very ill-advised who does not seek to increase his understanding while he is in this world, and at the same time does not wish and desire that he may come to eternal life where nothing shall be concealed from us.
This is the conclusion to the third and final book of the Soliloquies, and functions as both a definitive conclusion to the problem of the past, as well as an exhortation to learn about it. Witnesses, particularly eyewitnesses, are essential for knowledge of the past. As Alfred writes in book two of the Soliloquies, �I have many companions whom I would believe if they told me something they had themselves seen or heard, just as if I had seen or heard it myself.�
These witnesses are not all the same, however. Much as there is a celestial hierarchy and a social hierarchy in Alfred�s world, there is a hierarchy of witnesses, and this hierarchy is determined by the topic in question. For example, the geographical interpolations in the Old English Orosius and the voyages of Ohthere to the White Sea and Wulfstan to Estonia are prefaced with the phrase, �Ohthere told his lord, King Alfred�� Presumably, Ohthere and Wulfstan told the king of their travels at his court and he believed them, and Alfred had a scribe record their accounts and include them in Orosius� geographical introduction to his history. Ohthere and Wulfstan, having sailed to these far away places, are the most authoritative witnesses to the geography of northern and eastern Europe.
Other witnesses are more authoritative on other matters; when it comes to politics it is the powerful men of Wessex, the bishops, abbots, ealdormen, and thegns who are the authorities, as seen in Alfred�s will. The will is an important text for its list of royal lands and inheritors, and scholars have frequently used it to understand the situation Alfred�s son and heir, King Edward �the Elder� found himself in. In the will we also catch a glimpse of Alfred�s sense of the role of witnesses and how one knows the past. Alfred begins by describing his father�s wish that �whichever of [his sons] should live longest was to succeed everything.� Alfred then outlines an agreement made with his brother, Aethelred, king at the time, before engaging the Vikings in battle. They agree, in front of witnesses, that �whichever of us lived longer should succeed both to the lands and to the treasures and to all the other�s possessions except the part which each of us had bequeathed to his children.� What is striking about the short narrative is its emphasis on witnesses, particularly reliable ones. Several times these agreements are mentioned to be made �with the witness of all the councilors of the West Saxons,� and �in the presence of all our councilors.� These councilors are the ealdormen, bishops, and thegns of Wessex, men of significant power and influence by themselves, and by invoking their eyewitness in the text, Alfred is relying on their authority as eyewitnesses as well as his own as king to make this document authoritative and reliable. The will is then read �before all the councilors of the West Saxons� and Alfred makes his declaration with, �I, Alfred, king of the West Saxons, by the grace of God and with this witness, declare�� The text itself becomes a witness of the past.
When it comes to religious matters and writing about God it is the holy fathers, the apostles, patriarchs, and prophets, who are the reliable and authoritative eyewitnesses. Due to their special relation with God they act as eyewitnesses to the divine, and are thus considered to be more reliable than others. Alfred says of these holy fathers, �I don�t trust ourselves anywhere near as well as I trust them.� Later, in the third book, Mind comments, �You also showed me such honest witnesses [the holy fathers] that I can do nothing else but believe them, for if I do not believe weaker testimony, then I know very little or nothing at all.� Alfred realizes that he is dependent on witnesses for knowledge of whatever kind, but makes distinctions between witnesses based on the relationship between the witnesses and the subject in question. If these witnesses are no longer around to inform him personally, their texts can fulfill the same function.
Alfred�s description of the holy fathers as reliable witnesses for their wisdom and knowledge of the divine is complicated by some of the changes he makes to their texts. If Augustine is so reliable and wise on matters of the soul, why does Alfred find it necessary to modify his metaphors and replace his neo-platonic logical argument? In the opening of the Soliloquies, Alfred adds a long metaphor which functions as a preface. This metaphor serves to explain his rationale for how he went about selecting, translating and editing the texts. In this metaphor, the holy fathers, the past, and knowledge are a forest:
I then gathered for myself staves and props and tie-shafts, and handles for each of the tools that I knew how to work with, and cross-bars and beams, and, for each of the structures which I knew how to build, the finest timber I could carry. I never came away with a single load without wishing to bring home the whole of the forest, if I could have carried it all � in every tree I saw something for which I had need at home. Accordingly, I would advise everyone who is strong and has many wagons to direct his steps to that same forest where I cut these props, and to fetch more for himself and to load his wagons with well-cut staves, so that he may weave many elegant walls and put up many splendid houses and so build a fine homestead, and there may live pleasantly and in tranquility both in winter and summer � as I have not yet done! But He who instructed me, to whom the forest was pleasing, may bring it about that I may abide more comfortably both in this temporary dwelling by this road as long as I am in this life, and also in the eternal home that He has promised us through the writings of St Augustine and St Gregory and St Jerome, and through many other holy fathers: as I believed He will, through the merits of all these saints, both make this present road easier than it was before, and in particular will illuminate the eyes of my mind so that I can discover the most direct way to the eternal home and to the eternal glory and to the eternal rest which is promised to us through these holy fathers. So may it be!
To understand this long and complicated metaphor we must first understand what a forest would have meant to the Anglo-Saxons. Based on place-names and charter evidence, it seems that parts of southern England, particularly Sussex, Kent, and Berkshire where Alfred had residences, were densely wooded. It was valuable for its timber and game, but it was also dark, wild, and dangerous. It was a place where robbers might hide and where outlaws might flee. Yet Alfred�s forest is pleasing, for him it may be a place of solitude for contemplation, or a place of refuge from the Vikings, as it was in 878 when Alfred waged a guerilla campaign against an occupying Viking army from the �woody and marshy places of Somerset.� Furthermore, it is in the forest where Alfred rallied his army and from which he began his counteroffensive. The forest is a place of power for Alfred in his memory, which is perhaps why he uses it as a metaphor for the works of the holy fathers, for books containing insight into the nature of God. They are St Augustine, St Gregory and St Jerome, and we might also add Boethius, Bede, and Orosius, as reliable witnesses, those whose testimony should be valued above contemporaries; they shared some special connection with God, particularly the three saints Alfred mentions, and their books and ideas are the trees.
To Alfred�s audience, the forest was the source for valuable timber. In the ninth-century very few buildings would have been stone, and those that were would have been probably exclusively cathedral churches or large monasteries. Even Alfred�s halls at his various estates would have been made of wood. As such, the metaphor would make a great deal of sense to an Anglo-Saxon, but the implications deserve special attention.
Just as an Anglo-Saxon would go into the woods to find timber to build himself a house, so Alfred says he should also go into the library of books of the holy fathers and through them construct a house to live in for this life; the temporary house a means for finding the easiest path to heaven, the eternal house. But in this forest of wisdom of the past, the books of those reliable witnesses who shared some special connection with God, Alfred�s message seems to be to his audience that they themselves must build the house. That is, they select the trees to be felled, cut them down, carry them out of the forest, further trim the sections to create the timber to build one�s house. The house must be framed, and so one must make a cross-bar and beam, one must cut a prop or support beam, and one must shape a stave. To turn a tree into a useful piece of lumber one must process it and create something new out of it; to take a book or a piece of wisdom from a holy father one must interpret it, create something new, just as one builds a house from timber cut from the forest, so one writes a new book from parts of an old one. God, of course, is ever present and aids those in their good works with their tools, and so Alfred quotes St Paul in an addition to the Soliloquies, �with each well-working person God is a co-worker.�
If one wishes to ask the question why Alfred chooses only to translate and interpret and not write new prose himself, I believe this extended metaphor holds the answer. It is notable that Alfred writes that he carries timber �for each of the structures which I knew how to build� implying one should stick with what they know; Alfred is not so ambitious, or feels it inappropriate, to compose freely himself.
What does Alfred mean when he says he gathered �handles for each of the tools that I knew how to work with?� This refers to his sources, his reason, and his helpers. Alfred, at least for some things, made use of commentaries and glossed Latin manuscripts. The wagons refer to translation � the movement of texts between languages, or perhaps the means where this is done, in a scriptorium, where the books can be collected, copied, edited and translated. Some of these sources in Alfred�s libraries were probably brought from the continent by John of Old Saxony and Grimbald of St Bertin�s, or Alfred�s Mercian clergy, or Asser. These learned clerics would also have aided Alfred in the interpretation of difficult passages, coached him in the finer points of Latin, and brought their extensive learning to any problems of interpretation that would arise. Yet Alfred�s own role as translator and interpreter should not be underestimated, for one of the tools he made great use of was his own reason. The evidence for this is one of the most basic changes: the discussion in the Consolations between Boethius and Lady Philosophy recast as between Mind and Wisdom. When Alfred speaks of handles, he needs to get a hold on the material; he must use his own reason. It may be a stretch, but it could mean a balance between the tools, the texts, the learned men, his reason, and knowledge of how to properly make good use of them.
This metaphor reemerges at various places in the Soliloquies, frequently accompanied by the idea that there are multiple paths to God, some of them far easier. That is the point of Alfred�s elaborate metaphor: you must select those works of the holy fathers most relevant to you and follow their wisdom in your life, and through them find the road to God and the eternal hall. In another metaphor in the Soliloquies Reason says that man, when they come to see the king, �arrive by very many routes,� some long, some short, some difficult, some easy; and so it is with wisdom, �everyone who desires it and is eager for it may come to it and dwell in its household and live in its company; nevertheless, some are close to it, some farther away. It is likewise with the estates of every king�� Wisdom is knowing God, and so the whole point of going into the forest for timber to build a house of wisdom is to find God, to find truth. That is the fundamental reason why Alfred is interested in the past. Recall the idea that the soul seeks to reconnect with God, to find knowledge of God that is lost to the soul in a worldly body. The books of holy fathers contain wisdom, and can illuminate the easiest paths to God, but these paths must still be discovered by the forest explorer.
These themes are explored in the extension of the metaphor in the passage immediately following. Alfred transitions to a more general discussion of life:
Nor is it any wonder that a man should work with such materials, both in transporting them and in building with them; but every man, when he has built a hamlet on land leased to him by his lord and with his lord�s help, likes to stay there some time, and go hunting, fowling and fishing; and to employ himself in every way on that leased land, both on sea and land, until the time when he shall deserve bookland and a perpetual inheritance through his lord�s kindness. May the bounteous benefactor, who rules both these temporary habitations as well as those eternal abodes, so grant! May He who creates both and rules over both grant that I be fit for both: both to be useful here and likewise to arrive there.
One�s lord is clearly God, and the hamlet, built of materials discussed above, is for the temporary life in this world, before one�s soul rejoins God. The hamlet also refers more generally to the past as it is constructed from the materials of the past, the books of reliable witnesses. It is this life�s temporary existence that is determined by the materials at hand, that is the condition one finds oneself in, and how they choose to make use of their time, such as in productive means or good works, hunting, fowling, and fishing. The other part of this metaphor describes the reward of heaven, but in material terms that an Anglo-Saxon could understand: bookland. Bookland was land held according to privileges written down (in a book or charter) such as immunities from the customary burdens (such as payment of food rent to the king).
A written charter also allowed the king to specify who could inherit the land, which was frequently the landholder�s heir. In contrast, folkland would not have had written documentation and would have been subject to all the customary burdens. To have bookland would have meant far greater wealth and status for an Anglo-Saxon landholder, as well as an assured inheritance for their descendents, in theory forever. The very possession of a written document may also have had some spiritual value, for Old English itself was the creation of Christian scribes and had ever since its introduction sometime in the seventh-century been a symbol of God�s power.
This is the method Alfred used in this project. He went into the forest, the books of the holy fathers, selected what was most important to him, took those works and transported them into his own language. Some things which he found irrelevant, or did not like, he cut or replaced, creating the timber to build a house for this temporary life. The house he is building takes a clearer shape when viewed with a religious frame rather than a political one. The Soliloquies is the platform for Alfred to explore ideas about knowing God. Similarly, the histories of Bede and Orosius are very much about God�s direct action in the world. The Consolation of Philosophy explores ideas about where true happiness is found (with God) and attempts to reconcile ideas of free will and divine foreknowledge.
Alfred may have personally identified with Boethius, a Roman patrician, consul, scholar, and official serving under the Ostrogothic king Theoderic. Boethius translated from Greek into Latin many of Aristotle�s treatises on logic, wrote commentaries on them, and produced several original works himself. His story turns tragic as he was caught up in disputes between Theoderic and the Byzantine Emperor Justin; accused of conspiracy, Boethius was arrested and imprisoned for a few years before being executed in 524 or 525. During this imprisonment he wrote the Consolation of Philosophy, a dialogue between himself and Lady Philosophy, who comes to console him and to reaffirm his faith in a just God. Alfred could have identified with the earthly tribulations and seeming fickleness of fate and fortune in his struggles against the Vikings.
Alfred�s approach to Boethius� text was similar to that of the Soliloquies. He maintained much of Boethius� opening discussions on fortune, happiness, and justice, but increasingly departed from the original text as he went on; the final book is almost completely rewritten, Boethius� logical neo-platonic argument reconciling free will with divine foreknowledge replaced with one that makes an appeal to authority instead. Boethius made use of classical mythology in metaphors and as examples and Alfred explains in detail many of Boethius� allusions and brief references for his Anglo-Saxon audience unfamiliar with Homeric myths. For example, Boethius mentions Cicero in passing, but Alfred finds it prudent to describe him as �a Roman chieftain and a sage.�
However, Alfred does far more than merely provide background for an Anglo-Saxon audience unfamiliar with classical persons and Homeric myths; he also significantly alters the meaning of many of them. Just as the woodsman must cut the tree and shape it into useable timber for his own house, so Alfred must edit these elements to speak to him and his time.
Susan Irvine has convincingly argued with a case study of Alfred�s rendering of the story of Ulysses and Circe that the king was prepared to rework �quite drastically� the classical myths towards his own ends. Alfred justified the inclusion of classical stories through their use as parables, they �can fulfill the same function as biblical scripture,� they can convey morals, and in this sense Alfred is working in the tradition of Aldhelm and Alcuin. Irvine uses a case study of the story of Ulysses and Circe as it appears in Alfred�s version radically altered in both content and meaning. In Boethius� version, the emphasis is placed on Mercury saving Ulysses. In Alfred�s version, Mercury does not even make an appearance, and the emphasis shifts to the love affair between Ulysses and Circe. Alfred�s portrayal of Ulysses is also strikingly negative, perhaps due to his immoderate passion for Circe, and his neglect of his responsibility to his men.
In altering the content and meaning of these myths, Alfred rejects the pagan elements, but accepts that they are still examples of morals and virtues he wishes to convey. As Alfred himself explains just before he recasts the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, �We use not these instances and these parables from a love of fables, but because we desire therewith to show forth the truth, and would like it to be of profit to our hearers.� In this sense, Alfred may be enlarging his forest, wishing to draw on more traditions and stories to build his house, or he may feel that some of the trees he has cut require more extensive trimming of their limbs. In choosing to retain the classical elements in Boethius Alfred is also planting seeds for future generations, even if later Anglo-Saxon authors were openly hostile to classical mythology. Alfred does go out of his way to demythologize these elements. For example, he provides a genealogy for Circe, and introduces Zeus, unmentioned by Boethius: �Jove was their king, and feigned that he was the highest god, and the silly folk believed him, for he was of the kingly clan, and in those days they knew no other god, but worshipped their kings for gods.�
Irvine has continued her analysis of Alfred�s interpretation of classical myths in another essay focusing on Hercules. She concludes that although Alfred was generally wary of classical pagan mythology, he was more positive towards Hercules, envisioning him as �the prototype for the ideal Christian Roman ruler such as existed in the Carolingian Empire from the time of Charlemagne.�
Alfred did more than just explain the classical material to get his point across to his Anglo-Saxon reader. In the king�s rendering of Boethius� book II meter 7 about the inevitability of death for all men and the implication that one should live for a higher ideal than mere glory or reputation Alfred adds in the Germanic mythic hero Weland the Smith. Weland would have been known by the Anglo-Saxons, whereas Fabricius would not have been. Boethius� original meter reads: �Where rest the bones now of Fabricius, tried and true? What is Brutus or stern Cato now? Thin reputation leaves its mark, an empty name, In spare inscriptions lingers on.� Alfred replaces the name of Fabricius with Weland the Smith, though the meaning of the passage is not significantly altered: �Where are now Weland�s bones, or who knoweth now where they are? Where is now the famous and the bold Roman chief [consul] that was called Brutus, and by his other name Cassius, or the wise and steadfast Cato, that was also a Roman leader and well known as a sage?� Boethius mentions Brutus and Cato in passing while Alfred provides a short explanatory note for each, while he need only to mention Weland in passing. Alfred does not seem to differentiate between Boethius� classical past and Weland�s �legendary barbaric� past.
In including these classical and Germanic myths, yet altering them to suit his own needs, Alfred is in a sense enlarging the forest from which he can draw material, and reshaping that material. This approach is seen not only in these more philosophical works, but also in Alfred�s more practical writings. We have already seen this in the will, and it is also seen in Alfred�s law code.
Alfred�s law code was the first issued by an English king in a hundred years and is the synthesis of Anglo-Saxon, Mosaic, and church law. Several reasons have been suggested for this endeavor, the simplest being a basic need for a new one, perhaps the old copies had been ransacked and burned. It has been suggested that Alfred intended this as a kind of national code, combining the legal traditions of Wessex, Mercia, and Kent, and Alfred thus felt some responsibility to the Mercians and Kentishmen under his rule. In the law code we see Alfred�s selective approach; he seeks out the best trees from which to cut his timber, only this time he is searching through a forest of legal texts and traditions.
The first part of the code consists of a selection of quotations from Genesis outlining the law given to Moses. Alfred then describes the �modification� of this law code for Christians, citing the letters to Gentile nations in Acts. This has usually been interpreted as a reinforcement of Alfred�s ideas of kingship by tracing his authority as a king and law-giver to Moses, and ultimately, God. However, it is more than a reinforcement of political ideas, it stems from Alfred�s theology. It may be best to approach the code as an �index of governing mentalities.� There is a general statement on the Golden Rule, and then Alfred turns to what has been called a �history of law giving.� Christianity spreads, and �many synods of holy and also of other distinguished councilors were assembled.� Compensations for crimes (for that is largely what Anglo-Saxon laws were) were written down in various books. What follows is this revealing passage:
Then I, King Alfred, gathered them together and ordered to be written many of the ones that our forefathers observed � those that pleased me; and many of the ones that did not please me I rejected with the advice of my councilors, and commanded them to be observed in a different way. For I dared not presume to set down in writing at all many of my own, since it was unknown to me what would please those who should come after us. But those which I found either in the days of Ine, my kinsman, or of Offa, king of the Mercians, or of Æthelberht (who first among the English people received baptism), and which seemed to me the most just, I collected herein, and omitted the others.
Then I, Alfred, king of the West Saxons, showed these to all my councilors, and they said that it pleased them all to observe them.
Although the use of the first person is a strong statement about Alfred�s role, the repeated mention of councilors as witnesses suggests their authority, as both powerful figures and as reliable witnesses in legal matters, is also needed. This law code survives in many manuscripts, suggesting a wide dissemination. It is not difficult to imagine Alfred walking through the legal forest, selecting the laws that made the most sense to him, cutting them and with his councilors shaping them to fit his new code. Alfred as king thus becomes the arbiter of tradition. This work is more than just a list of laws; it is a statement about the king�s responsibility for the moral and spiritual as well as the material and physical well being of his people. It is a much more personal, but also much more universal, reason for these endeavors, and the king�s great piety and intellectual curiosity combined to make these efforts a central part of his reign, and its legacy.
There need be no contradiction between a practical king, a king concerned with the defense of his realm and desiring the extension of his authority over as many Anglo-Saxon subjects as possible, and the scholarly Alfred, one whose spiritual concerns drove his desire for learning and whose philosophy of the past brought him to selectively edit the texts of the past so that they might lead him more easily to salvation. As Janet Nelson has convincingly argued, Alfred saw no contradiction in pursuing both wealth and wisdom. As Simon Keynes has written, we must see the king as not Alfred the warrior, Alfred the scholar, or Alfred the reformer, but rather as an �integrated Alfred, for whom all these things were inseparable aspects of his determination to discharge the responsibilities of his high office for the good of his subjects and in the service of God.� Alfred had a profoundly spiritual as well as pragmatic motivation for his project, and one he articulated in the Soliloquies. His literary project, involving book production, teaching his nobles how to read, translation, extensive editing and his extensive personal involvement in it may be best explained and framed not through the preface to the Pastoral Care, but by the Soliloquies. In doing so we should hope to achieve some contact with his mind in order to better understand his mentality. Perhaps we can also learn something about the concerns and questions that a ninth century king might have, and address any lingering questions about Asser�s biography of the king. With Alfred�s own writings we can let him speak for himself.
If there is an inherent danger to Alfred�s ideas on the holy fathers and the use of their writings; it is that there can be the perception that there is not so much a received understanding of them as there is one�s own journey through the forest, the selection of what is most needed, and the construction of a house. This is a serious threat to any dogmatic religion, and it is not surprising in this light that Alfred became a favorite of some Protestant Reformers. Alfred went into the books, the traditions of the church, much as he did the Anglo-Saxon legal tradition, selected what he saw fit and relevant to his time and people, and adopted it, however drastically, to meet his needs. He was consistent in his principles however, following the reliable testimony of witnesses as much as he could, and consulting his wise men when in doubt. He deferred to their authority, but was not afraid to create his own.
King Alfred�s Old English Version of St Augustine�s Soliloquies, turned into modern English. trans. Henry Lee Hargrove. New York: Henry Holt, 1904.
King Alfred�s version of the Consolations of Boethius. Done into Modern English. Trans. Walter John Sedgefield. Oxford: Clarendon, 1900.
King Alfred�s Old English Version of Boethius De Consolatione Philosophiae. Ed. Walter John Sedgefield. Oxford: Clarendon, 1899.
King Alfred�s version of Augustine�s Soliloquies. Ed. Thomas Carnicelli. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968.
Asser. Life of King Alfred. trans. Keynes & Lapidge. Alfred the Great: Asser�s Life of King Alfred and Other Contemporary Sources. London: Penguin Classics, 2004.
The Old English Orosius, ed. Janet Bately (London: OUP, 1980)
Boethius. Consolation of Philosophy. Trans. by Joel C. Relihan. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2001.
Augustine. Soliloquies. Trans. Thomas F. Gilligan. Writings of Saint Augustine. New York: Cima Publishing, 1948.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, ed. David Dumville & Simon Keynes (Cambridge, 1983)
English Historical Documents vol.1, ed. Dorothy Whitelock. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1955.
Abels, Richard. Alfred the Great: War, Kingship and Culture in Anglo-Saxon England. New York: Longman, 1998.
Bately, Janet M. �Boethius and King Alfred.� Platonism and the English Imagination. Ed. Anna Baldwin & Sarah Hutton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
________. �Old English Prose Before and During the Reign of Alfred.� Anglo-Saxon England 17 (1988): 93-138.
________. �Lexical Evidence for the Authorship of the Prose Psalms in the Paris Psalter.� Anglo-Saxon England 10 (1982): 62-95.
________. �The Compilation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle 60 BC to AD 890: Vocabulary as Evidence.� Proceedings of the British Academy 64 (1978): 93-129.
Bolton, Whitney French. �How Boethian is Alfred’s Boethius?� Alfred the Great. ed. Timothy Reuter. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003.
Booth, Paul Anthony. �King Alfred versus Beowulf: the re-education of the Anglo-Saxon Aristocracy.� Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester. 79:3 (1997), 41-66.
Campbell, James. �Placing King Alfred.� Alfred the Great. Ed. Timothy Reuter.
Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003.
Carr, Edward Hallet. �The Historian and his Facts.� What is History? New York: Vintage, 1961.
Cohen, Paul A. History in Three Keys. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.
David, R.H.C. �Alfred the Great: Propaganda and Truth.� History 56 (1971): 169-182.
Donaghey, Brian. �The Sources of King Alfred�s Translation of Boethius�s De Consolation Philosophiae.� Anglia 82 (1964): 23-57.
Dumville, David. �King Alfred and the tenth-century Reform of the English Church,� Wessex and England from Alfred to Edgar. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1992.
Two Voyages at the Court of King Alfred. trans. Christine E. Fell. York: William Sessions, 1984.
Foot, Sarah. �The making of Angelcynn: English identity before the Norman Conquest.� Transactions of the Royal Historical Society: ser.6,6, (1996), 25-49.
Frantzen, Allen J. King Alfred. Boston: Twayne, 1986.
Gatch, Milton McC. �King Alfred�s Version of Augustine�s Soliloquia: Some Suggestions on its Rationale and Unity.� Alfred the Great. Ed. Timothy Reuter. Aldershot: Ashdown, 2003.
Boethius, his life, thought, and influence. Ed. Margaret Gibson. Oxford: Blackwell, 1981.
Godden, Malcolm R. �Alfred, Asser, and Boethius.� Latin Learning and English Lore, I: Studies in Anglo-Saxon Literature for Michael Lapidge. Ed. Katherine O�Keefe & Andy Orchard. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005.
_______. �The player king: identification and self-representation in King Alfred�s writings.� Alfred the Great. Ed. Timothy Reuter. Aldershot: Ashdown, 2003.
_______. �The Anglo-Saxons and the Goths, rewriting the sack of Rome.� Anglo-Saxon England 31 (2002): 47-68.
Gransden, Antonia. �Traditionalism and Continuity during the Last Century of Anglo-Saxon Monasticism.� Journal of Ecclesiastical History 40 (1989): 159-207.
Harris, Stephen J. �The Alfredian World History and Anglo-Saxon Identity.� Journal of English and Germanic Philology 100:4 (2001): 482-510.
Howe, Nicholas. Migration and Mythmaking in Anglo-Saxon England. New Haven: Yale, 1989.
Hunter, Michael. �Germanic and Roman antiquity and the sense of the past in Anglo-Saxon England.� Anglo-Saxon England 3 (1974): 29-50.
Irvine, Martin. The Making of Textual Culture: �Grammatica� and Literary Theory, 350-1100. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Irvine, Susan. �Wrestling with Hercules: King Alfred and the classical past.� Court Culture in the Early Middle Ages: The Proceedings of the First Alcuin Conference. ed. Catherine Cubitt. Turnhout: Brepols, 2003.
Irvine, Susan. �Religious context: pre-Benedictine Reform period.� A Companion to Anglo-Saxon Literature. Ed. Phillip Pulisano & Elaine Treharne. Oxford: Blackwell, 2001.
Irvine, Susan. �Ulysses and Circe in King Alfred’s Boethius. A classical myth transformed.� Studies in English Language and Literature: “Doubt wisely”. Papers in honour of E.G. Stanley. Ed. MJ Toswell & EM Tyler. London: Routledge, 1996.
Keynes, Simon. �The power of the written word: Alfredian England 871-899.� Alfred the Great: Papers from the Eleventh-Centenary Conferences. ed. Timothy Reuter. Aldershot, Ashgate, 2003.
Lerer, Seth. Literacy and Power in Anglo-Saxon Literature. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991.
Lopez, David A. �Translation and tradition: reading the Consolation of Philosophy through King Alfred’s Boethius.� The Politics of Translation in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Ed. Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2001
Marenbon, John. Boethius. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
The Medieval Boethius. Ed. A.J. Minnis. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1987.
Nelson, Janet L. �Wealth and Wisdom: The Politics of Alfred the Great.� Kings and Kingship. Ed. J. Rosenthal. Binghampton: SUNY Press, 1987.
_______. �The Problem of King Alfred�s Royal Anointing.� Journal of Ecclesiastical History 18 (1967): 145-163.
Payne, F. Anne. King Alfred and Boethius. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1968.
Alfred the Great: papers from the eleventh-centenary conferences. Ed. Timothy Reuter. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003.
Reynolds, Andrew. Later Anglo-Saxon Life & Landscape. Gloustershire: Tempus, 2002.
Scharer, Anton. �The writing of history at King Alfred’s court.� Early Medieval Europe: 5:2, (1996), 177-206.
Shepard, Jonathan. �The ruler as instructor, pastor and wise: Leo VI of Byzantium and Symeon of Bulgaria.� Alfred the Great. Ed. Timothy Reuter. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003.
Smyth, Alfred P. King Alfred the Great. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Stenton, Frank. Anglo-Saxon England. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Szarmach, Paul E. �Alfred’s Boethius and the Four Cardinal Virtues.� Alfred the Wise: Studies in Honour of Janet Bately on the Occasion of her Sixty-Fifth Birthday. Ed. Jane Roberts, Janet Nelson, and Malcolm Godden. Cambridge: DS Brewer, 1997.
Waite, Greg. Old English Prose Translations of King Alfred�s Reign. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2000.
Wallace-Hadrill, J.M. �Charles the Bald and Alfred.� Early Germanic Kingship in England and on the Continent. Oxford: Clarendon, 1971.
Waterhouse, Ruth. �Tone in Alfred�s Version of Augustine�s Soliloquies.� Alfred the Great. Ed. Timothy Reuter. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003.
Whitelock, Dorothy. From Bede to Alfred. Studies in Early Anglo-Saxon Literature and History. London: Variorum Reprints, 1980.
________. �The Prose of Alfred�s Reign.� Continuations and Beginnings: Studies in Old English Literature. ed. E.G. Stanley. London: Nelson, 1966. 67-103.
Wittig, Joseph S. �King Alfred’s Boethius and its Latin sources: a reconsideration.� Anglo-Saxon England 11, (1983), 157-198
Wormald, Patrick. �Bede and Benedict Biscop,� The Times of Bede: Studies in Early English Christian Society and its Historian. ed. Stephen Baxter. Oxford: Blackwell, 2006.
_______. The Making of English Law: King Alfred to the Twelfth Century: Legislation and its Limits. Vol. 1. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999.
Yorke, Barbara. �Alfredism: the use and abuse of King Alfred�s reputation in later centuries.� Alfred the Great. Ed. Timothy Reuter. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003.