The Old English Physiologus and the Homiletic Tradition

The Old English Physiologus and the Homiletic Tradition

Letson, D. R.

Florilegium, vol. 1 (1979)


In a recent article I outlined in some detail the intimate relationship between the poet and the homilist in late Anglo-Saxon England. In that article I suggested that the Anglo-Saxon Christian poet and homilist shared common attitudes towards form and image, an imaginative convergence which is entirely natural since the Anglo-Saxon homilist was well aware of the instructive potential of poetry and since many well-known homilists in Anglo-Saxon England also composed poetry. Moreover, the clerical and popular audiences of the Anglo-Saxon homily were also inspired by vernacular Christian poetry. In common with the Anglo-Saxon homilists and their exemplars, the poet who shaped the old English Physiologus makes formal use of the pericope format, homiletic exegesis, and a host of moral images which would ave been as meaningful to the preacher’ congregations as to the poet’s audience. As a result, a didactic poem like the Old English Physiologus can be more meaningful to the modern reader when viewed in conjunction with the homiletic tradition. ¬†

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