Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The 'Partridge' is a Phoenix

Finally, my article, The Partridge is a Phoenix: Revising the Exeter Book Physiologus [link fixed now] has appeared in Neophilologus (my apologies if the above link only takes you to the abstract; if you have an institutional subscription, you get the whole paper; if you want to read the paper, click on the "text" link over in the right margin).

It's sad to think how long ago I first formulated the argument that went into this paper: at least as early as February or March 1993. So fourteen years from idea to publication. Don't let anyone ever say again that I work too fast. The paper actually grew out of research for my M.A. thesis from the University of Missouri-Columbia, directed by John Miles Foley with Martin Camargo on the committee (see, I had great teachers even at the M.A. level). Then it sat fallow for almost a decade, coming up a few times in ANSAX discussions and occasionally being talked about with my students. In the summer of 2004, when my son was very, very little and being very difficult, I would sit up nights in the living room while my wife fed him. I had the laptop, and I started working on the paper.

I'm particularly fond of this little beast because there's something classically Anglo-Saxonist about it: it's an argument about a poem that doesn't exist except for a couple fragmentary lines and some additional bits that may or may not be related. Even if we could identify the bird of the poem, we have no poem to discuss. So of course nearly all the of the published discussion (and there's not much) is on this issue. I love Anglo-Saxonists!

A summary of the paper is in the abstract, but in case you don't want to click:

There's a break in the text between folios 97v and 98r in the Exeter Book, and at least one leaf is missing. On 97v we have the first line and a half of a poem about a bird. This immediately follows the Panther and the Whale and is assumed to be an additional part of the Physiologus. The text on 98r could be the end of the bird poem, or it could be an unrelated moralizing passage.

Pat Conner divides the Exeter book into Booklets II and Booklet III exactly between 97v and 98r, so if he's right (I think he probably is), the fragment on 98r is unlikely to be part of the bird poem begun on 97v. So we would really have 1.5 lines of bird poem and then an unrelated fragment (which does, unlike any other piece in the Exeter Book, end with a large "Finit").

Others suggest that the passage on 98r is consistent with a poem about a partridge and could in fact serve as the summation of a 3-animal Physiologus.

I show that there really is no case for the bird being the partridge, and it is far, far more likely to have been the phoenix. This is the case whether or not the fragment on 98r is part of the bird poem, though if it is, then the charadrius is at least a more reasonable possibility than the partridge.

It turns out that most of the argument for the bird being the partridge rests on a series of dubious assumptions made in the 19th century. But you'll have the read the paper to find out the whole story.

1 comment:

John Cowan said...

When I click on the link, I get "DOI handle can't be found", not even an abstract.