By Donald D. Davidson
MA Thesis, University of Ottawa, 1966
Abstract: Our thesis set out to translate, with relevant commentary, the three prose passages found in the MS. Cotton Vitellius A. xv. The contribution we are convinced this translation makes to Old English studies, along with the importance attached to the manuscript containing Beowulf, is the justification for our thesis.
After commenting on the contents of the manuscript in general, our study turns to the matter of the three prose passages. Here we discover remarkable correspondence in material and in the approach of the Anglo-Saxon redactor to that material. Monster and marvel are combined in the texts in such a way as to provide us with the conclusion that the passages were gathered under one cover to preserve a literary motif.
Beginning with the Life of St. Christopher, the texts are introduced individually. We infer an Eastern origin for the Life of St. Christopher, but is immediate predecessor was Latin. Similar treatment of the Wonders of the East and the Letter of Alexander the Great to Aristotle indicate a tradition in the pattern of their transmission. Each reveals an Eastern origin, a preoccupation with the monstrous and the marvellous, and an immediate Latin predecessor.
A brief review of the problems connected with working with a manuscript of irregular punctuation (and no physical structure) introduces the three prose passages in translation. We have endeavoured to produce a text that is both readable and as close as possible to the original in structure. The translations are annotated throughout to provide the reader with both a knowledge of textual problems and an awareness of similarities of content among the three passages and Beowulf.
While we worked with published editions of these works in Anglo-Saxon, we very carefully checked these against the recently published facsimile of the manuscript; in some instances, this double-checking enabled us to discover meanings that did not seem clear in the printed editions.