John the Baptist's Prayer or The Descent into Hell from the Exeter Book

June 2014
18 black and white illustrations
262 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
Anglo-Saxon Studies
ISBN: 9781843843665
Format: Hardback
Library eBook

John the Baptist's Prayer or The Descent into Hell from the Exeter Book

Text, Translation and Critical Study

M.R. Rambaran-Olm

Edition, translation and full critical study of a hitherto marginalised text, bringing it to full attention for the first time.
The Old English poem known popularly as the Descent into Hell, found on folios 119v to 121v of the Exeter Book, has to date received little critical attention, perhaps owing to various contextual problems and lacunae on the leaves that contain it.
This first full-length study offers a full account of the poem, together with an edition of the text and facing translation. It aims to resolve some of the poem's vexing issues and provides a variety of possible interpretations of the poem. The in-depth literary analysis seeks to enrich modern scholarly perceptions of the poem, suggest a more appropriate title, and contribute to continued scholarly discussion and analysis of the Exeter Book and its compilation. It provides a guide towards understanding the poem's main theme, presents the text in light of its position in ecclesiastical history, and sheds fresh light into its place and significance within the corpus of Old English poetry.

M.R. Rambaran-Olm received her PhD from the University of Glasgow.

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Table of Contents

Paleography, Codicology and Language
The descensus motif
Literary Analysis
Selected Comparative Studies and Analogous Literature
Apparatus: Text and Translation
Appendix 1: The Doctrine of the descensus according to Post-Apostolic and Medieval Commentators from the First Century to the end of the Eleventh Century AD
Appendix 2: Scriptural References
Appendix 3: Other Sources and Analogues
Appendix 4: Transcription and Images of folio 120r


To be praised for shedding new light on a needlessly maligned minor poem. ENGLISH STUDIES

M. R. Rambaran-Olm provides a stimulating study of a single, shorter Old English poem (totaling 137 lines) from the Exeter Book that has been variously known as the Harrowing of Hell, Descent into Hell, and now John the Baptist's Prayer. . . . This translation captures the tour de force of the dramatic Old English, pulling key elements from the past of the poem forward into a modern rendering that rings with the author's imagery. CHRISTIANITY & LITERATURE

This is an intelligent and interesting discussion and presentation of this poem. . . . [T]he appearance of a very useful edition of an interesting Old English poem should be celebrated. CATHOLIC HISTORICAL REVIEW

John the Baptist's Prayer . . . gives insight into the workings of time in the poem, interpretation of individual passages, and the connections to the Easter Vigil. The book, and particularly the edition, should be consulted by anyone working on the poem. THE MEDIEVAL REVIEW

Author Bio

University of Glasgow, Assisting with the 'Cullen Project' in the School of Critical Studies.

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