Daughter of Sion, Daughter of Babylon: Images of Woman in the Old English Psalms

Daughter of Sion, Daughter of Babylon: Images of Woman in the Old English Psalms

Hollahan, Patricia

Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 2 (1985)


The Anglo-Saxons knew and valued the psalms in liturgy, in education, and in literature. They memorized the psalms and studied them, as they did other books of the Bible, in the light of the vast commentary tradition that came to them with Christianity. They knew Augustine’s Enarrationes in Psalmos and Cassiodorus’s Expositio Psalmorum, as well as the commentaries of Jerome, the Breviarium in Psalmos of Pseudo-Jerome, and the compilation (sometimes attributed to Bede) of Theodore of Mopsuestia and Cassiodorus known as In Psalmorum Librum Exegesis. In addition to studying the psalms in Latin, the Anglo-Saxons created versions in Old English. Most of those which survive are interlinear glosses, but one the Paris Psalter is a complete translation, which seems to have been done for a wealthy patron rather than a monastic establishment. There is some speculation, notably by Wildhagen and later by Francis Wormaid, that the Paris Psalter was done for a woman, based on the feminine forms appearing in the Latin prayers. George Krapp, in his introduction to the metrical psalms, disagrees, and it is unlikely that we will ever know just for whom the psalter was put together. In any case, what we have in the Paris Psalter is a translation the first fifty psalms in prose, with explanatory passages included and the remaining one hundred psalms in poetry which is often remarked upon for being more workmanlike than inspired.

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