Further reading

Crowther, J. D. W. "The Middle English Lyric: 'Joly Jankyn.'"

Annuale Mediaevale 12 (1971): 123-125. Deyermond, Alan. "Sexual Initiation in the Woman's Voice Court Lyric." In Courtly Literature: Culture and Context: Selected Papers from the 5th Triennial Congress of the inter national Courtly Literature Society, edited by Keith Busby and Erik Kooper, 125-58. Utrecht Publications in General and Comparative Literature 25. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1990. Reichl, Karl. "The Middle English Carol." In A Companion to the Middle English Lyric, edited by Thomas G. Duncan, 150-70. Woodbridge, Suffolk: D. S. Brewer, 2005.

Gregory M. Sadlek

JUDITH Anonymous (before 1072) The Old

English Judith is a verse interpretation of an episode from the biblical Book of Judith from what is now called the Apocrypha, but was then a canonical book of the Bible. The one surviving copy of the poem, found in MS Cotton Vitellius A.xv, is incomplete, beginning in mid-sentence. Modern scholars generally believe, however, that no more than 100 lines of introductory material are missing.

The events depicted in the 349-line poem are taken largely from chapters 12 through 16 of its biblical source. The Jewish city of Bethulia is besieged by the Assyrian army under the fierce general Holofernes, so the beautiful widow Judith resolves to save her city and sets out for the Assyrian camp, accompanied only by a handmaid. Captivated by her beauty, Holofernes invites Judith to a banquet, at which he and his men become insensibly drunk. Judith is then led to the general's bed, where he presumably intends to defile her. Finding him incapacitated with drink, Judith beheads him with his own sword and slips out of the camp. When she returns to Bethulia and displays the severed head, the Jewish army rejoices and easily routes the stunned and leaderless Assyrians.

In adapting the biblical material, the Judith poet condensed the plot and omitted secondary characters, such as Holofernes' officer Achior, who converts to Judaism in the original story. The poet instead focuses primarily on the two main characters, who are in even more extreme opposition than in the source. Judith, described in terms usually reserved for virgin saints (eadigan mig5,s blessed maid, l. 35; scyppendes migd, the Creator's maid, l. 78), lacks the sexual manipulativeness of the biblical heroine. Here, her innocence and total reliance on God are contrasted with Holofernes' utter debasement and hostility toward God. Describing him in terms such as heathen warrior (l. 179) and hateful to the Savior (l. 45) and removing all examples of his direct speech, the poet makes Holofernes an almost inhuman enemy.

The violent clash between a holy woman and a demonic opponent would have been a familiar motif to an Anglo-Saxon audience through popular hagiogra-PHY, such as those of the virgin martyrs Juliana and Margaret. Although Judith is not a martyr, her story has a number of hagiographical elements, including her prayer for strength just before slaying Holofernes. (In the poem, she prays to the Trinity; in the Bible, to God.) Yet Judith also resonates with the conventions of AngloSaxon heroic poetry. The sections of the poem that deal with the Hebrew army's preparation for battle and the conflict itself (ll. 199-241) have little correspondence with the biblical source but are typical of Old English battle narratives. The poem also highlights the supremacy of heroic values: Judith's courage and faith enable her victory, while Holofernes is doomed by his antihe-roic debauchery and failure to lead his warriors well. The reversal of usual gender roles is necessitated by the source, but again it finds parallels in the lives of numerous female saints. Judith's status as one of the few active women protagonists in Old English poetry (along with Elene and Juliana) has attracted a great deal of interest from feminist scholars.

Judith has also been studied in relation to its manuscript companion, Beowulf. Though the poems differ in many respects, there are significant parallels between Beowulf's confrontation with Grendel and Judith's slaying of Holofernes. These similarities—both victors face their adversaries alone following a feast, and both display a severed body part as evidence of victory— have even lent support to a Christian interpretation of the ostensibly pre-Christian Beowulf. See also Anglo-Saxon poetry.

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