Death in Anglo-Saxon hagiography : approaches, attitudes, aesthetics
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This thesis examines attitudes and approaches towards death, as well as aesthetic representations of death, in Anglo-Saxon hagiography. The thesis contributes to the discussion of the historical and intellectual contexts of hagiography and considers how saintly death-scenes are represented to form commentaries on exemplary behaviour. A comprehensive survey of death-scenes in Anglo-Saxon hagiography has been undertaken, charting typical and atypical motifs used in literary manifestations of both martyrdom and non-violent death. The clusters of literary motifs found in these texts and what their use suggests about attitudes to exemplary death is analysed in an exploration of whether Anglo-Saxon hagiography presents a consistent aesthetic of death. The thesis also considers how modern scholarly fields such as thanatology can provide fresh discourses on the attitudes to and depictions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ deaths. Moreover, the thesis addresses the intersection of the hagiographic inheritance with discernibly Anglo-Saxon attitudes towards death and dying, and investigates whether or not the deaths of native Anglo-Saxon saints are presented differently compared with the deaths of universal saints. The thesis explores continuities and discontinuities in the presentations of physical and spiritual death, and assesses whether or not differences exist in the depiction of death-scenes based on an author’s personal agenda, choice of terminology, approaches towards the body–soul dichotomy, or the gender of his or her subject, for example. Furthermore, the thesis investigates how hagiographic representations of death compare with portrayals in other literature of the Anglo-Saxon period, and whether any non-hagiographic paradigms provide alternative exemplars of the ‘good death’. The thesis also assesses gendered portrayals of death, the portrayal of last words in saints’ lives, and the various motifs relating to the soul at the moment of death. The thesis contains a Motif Index of saintly death-scenes as Appendix I.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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