Open main menu

KYNEWULF, CYNEWULF, or CYNWULF (fl. 750), Anglo-Saxon poet, flourished in the eighth century. All the poems, with certainty and uncertainty, ascribed to him are contained in two manuscripts: the ‘Exeter Codex,’ a volume of Anglo-Saxon poetry given by Leofric, bishop of Exeter, in 1046, to his cathedral library, where it still remains; and the ‘Vercelli Codex,’ a book of Anglo-Saxon poetry preserved in the cathedral library at Vercelli, where it was found and made known by Dr. Friedrich Blume in 1832 and 1834. Both these manuscripts are written in West-Saxon (the literary dialect) by hands of the tenth century. In 1840 J. M. Kemble in England (Archæologia, xxviii. 360–2) and Jacob Grimm in Germany (Andreas und Elene, ed. Grimm, Cassel) independently found that the runic letters interwoven with the text of ‘Crist’ and ‘Juliana,’ two of the Exeter pieces, and ‘Elene,’ one of the Vercelli, formed in each case the name of the author ‘Cynewulf.’ Professor A. Napier recently found ‘Cynwulf’ in ‘Fata Apostolorum,’ another Vercelli poem. With these four poems Cynewulf is now credited with certainty.

The ‘Crist,’ which fills sixteen leaves of the Exeter book, was first printed by Thorpe as fifteen separate poems. But Dietrich recognised that the pieces form a cycle on the threefold coming of Christ; they are now accordingly treated as one poem. The runes occur near the end of the first half. The ‘Passion of St. Juliana’ appears in the middle of the Exeter book. In the Vercelli book the poem of ‘Elene,’ the subject of which is the old legend of Constantine's banner and the invention or finding of the cross by his mother, Helena, is preceded (though not immediately) by a shorter poem of much beauty, describing the poet's vision, or ‘Dream of the Cross.’ From comparison of passages in the two, and other internal evidence, ten Brink and Sweet conclude (as it seems justly, although Wülker disagrees with them) that Cynewulf was the author of both. The ‘Dream’ is, in fact, an introduction to ‘Elene.’ These poems, —all religious narratives, —combine with their devout Christian fervour much patriotic feeling. Their poetic value varies, but the ‘Dream’ displays very realistic imagination.

Many more poems in the two manuscript books have been attributed to Cynewulf on more or less substantial grounds. If we admit his responsibility for all the lyrics and descriptive pieces that have been placed to his credit, he would be the most versatile and prolific, as well as one of the loftiest, of Old-English poets. Dr. Sweet (A.-S. Reader, 4th ed. 1884, p. 169) ascribes to him the majority of the poems preserved in the Exeter book, including a collection of poetical ‘Riddles,’ ninety-three in number according to Thorpe, eighty-nine according to Grein, but written in the manuscript in three groups. Leo believed that the first of the ‘Riddles’ in the Exeter book was a charade (not a riddle in the ordinary sense as many of them have proved to be), which in his hands yielded the three-syllable name Cyn-e-wulf, Cen-e-wulf, or Cœn-e-wulf. Rieger agreed with him; but Leo's solution of this riddle has been keenly contested by Trautmann and H. Bradley on the ground that Cynewulf and Cœnewulf are etymologically and phonetically distinct, and Mr. Henry Morley disputes Leo's interpretation by arguments other than etymological. Ten Brink, following Dietrich, Leo, and Rieger, is equally comprehensive; besides the ‘Riddles’ his list embraces the ‘Dream,’ ‘Christ,’ ‘Descent into Hell,’ ‘Phœnix’ (Exeter MS.), ‘Life of St. Guthlac’ (Exeter MS.), ‘Juliana,’ ‘Andreas’ (Vercelli MS.), and ‘Elene;’ but he rejects the ‘Wanderer,’ ‘Sea-farer,’ ‘Rhyming Poem,’ and several short poems. Grein credits Cynewulf with even more.

Of the new inquirers led by Wülker, Ramhorst contends that Cynewulf wrote ‘Andreas,’ while Gäbler supports Dietrich's ascription of the ‘Phœnix’ to him. Charitius and Lefèvre discuss ‘Guthlac,’ a portion of which, at least, they allow to Cynewulf. Wülker in 1877 (Anglia, i. 483) came to the conclusion that all previous theories required more investigation; but he admitted Cynewulf's responsibility for the ‘Riddles,’ which Trautmann only in part accepted.

It seems that Cynewulf was a professional minstrel, a Northumbrian, and that he probably wrote in that dialect. Towards the close of ‘Elene’ he tells us that in his joyful youth hunting, the bow, and the horse were his pleasures; that he was known in festive halls, and rewarded for his song with golden gifts; and that as he became an old man he studied many books, and the mystery of the cross, over which he had often pondered, became clear to him. Kemble and Thorpe thought the poet might be identical with Kenulphus, made abbot of Peterborough in 992 and bishop of Winchester in 1006; Dietrich tried to identify him with Cynwulf (so spelt in the ‘Saxon Chronicle’ and in Cotton MS. Vesp. b. vi.), who was bishop of Lindisfarne A.D. 737–780; while Grimm supposed him to be a scholar or a contemporary of Aldhelm.

H. Leo, in 1857, first tried to prove, from the runic letters forming the poet's name (in the three first poems above named), that Cynewulf was a Northumbrian. He contended that the form should be Cynevôlf, although Dietrich pointed out that wulf, not wolf, is the Northumbrian form. On the assumption that Cynewulf is the author of the ‘Riddles,’ his northern origin is corroborated by the existence in a manuscript at Leyden of a riddle in Northumbrian dialect which is evidently one of the Exeter riddles (both in Sweet, Oldest English Texts, Early English Text Soc., 1885, p. 150). At Ruthwell, Dumfries, moreover, stands a large cross of the eighth century covered with runes; Kemble and others succeeded in deciphering these, which are found to correspond to a fragment of the ‘Dream’ in Northumbrian dialect. Dr. Sweet declares that ‘this inscription cannot well be later than the middle of the eighth century,’ and ‘holds fast to the opinion’ that it is a part of the ‘Dream,’ the work of Cynewulf; and ‘that the complete original text of the [Ruthwell] cross poem is that from which the Vercelli recension was copied’ (ib. p. 125).

The Exeter and Vercelli MSS. must, according to these conclusions, be renderings of the poet's eighth-century Northumbrian work into West-Saxon of the tenth century. This theory is further borne out by the occasional presence of traces of the northern dialect, such as a copyist or translator imperfectly understanding his text would leave, as is found in the somewhat analogous case of Cædmon. The positive assertion of ten Brink, Sweet, and Grein that ‘Cynewulf was a Northumbrian’ is denied by Wülker and Morley, but it has the greatest concurrence of probability on its behalf.

The text of Cynewulf's poems may be found in print in ‘Codex Exoniensis,’ with translation by B. Thorpe, London, 1842, of which a new edition, with a translation by Mr. I. Gollancz, is shortly to appear (Early English Text Soc.); in ‘The Poetry of the Codex Vercellensis,’ with translation by J. M. Kemble, Ælfric Society, 1844 and 1856; in Grein's ‘Bibl. der A.-S. Poesie,’ 1857, i. 149-232, 238–48, 362–5, ii. 7–146, 369–407; and in Wülker's edition of Grein, Kassel, Bd. i. 1883, Bd. ii. 1888 (not yet completed). The ‘Elene’ has been edited by J. Zupitza, 3rd ed. Berlin, 1888; and by Charles W. Kent, Boston, U.S.A., 1889.

Translations of Cynewulf into German appear in ‘Dichtungen der A.-S. stabreimend übersetzt, von C. W. M. Grein,’ Göttingen, 2nd ed. 1859. The following English translations have been issued: ‘Elene,’ by R. F. Weymouth, 1888, and by J. M. Garnett, Boston, U.S.A., 1889; ‘Dream’ and ‘Seafarer,’ by H. Sweet in Warton's ‘History of English Poetry,’ ed. Hazlitt, 1871, ii. 17–19; ‘Dream of the Cross,’ in H. Morley's ‘English Writers,’ 1888, ii. 237; ‘Wanderer,’ by Miss Hickey, in ‘Academy,’ 14 May 1881.

[The difficult questions involved in Cynewulf's works and life are generally discussed by ten Brink in History of English Literature, vol. i., Kennedy's translation, revised by author, 1883, pp. 386–9, and in Zeitschrift (Anzeiger) für deutsches Alterthum, xxiii. 60; by Fra. Dietrich in Ueber Crist, in the same Zeitschrift, 1853, ix. 193–214, and in his Disputatio de Cruce Ruthwellensi, Marburg, 1865; by Rieger in Ueber Cynewulf, in Zacher's Zeitschrift für deutsche Philologie, i. 215, 313; by Dr. Sweet in Sketch of Hist. of A.-S. Poetry in Warton's Hist. English Poetry, ed. Hazlitt, 1871, 16–19; by R. P. Wülker in Anglia, i. 483–507, and ib. v. 451 (account of Vercelli MS.); by Henry Morley in English Writers, 1888, ii. 192–248. The Riddles are considered by H. Leo in Quæ de se ipso Cynewulfus … tradiderit, Halle, 1857; by Dietrich in Ebert's Jahrbuch, i. 241, in Zeitschrift für deutsches Alterthum, xi. 448, xii. 232, and in Commentatio de Kynewulfi poetæ ætate, Marburg, 1860; by Trautmann in Anglia, 1883, vi. 158 of Anzeiger; by A. Prehn, in Komposition und Quellen der Rätsel des Exeterbuches, Paderborn, 1883; and by H. Bradley in Academy, xxxiii. 198. Guthlac is treated by Charitius, Anglia, ii. 265; and by Lefèvre, ib. vi. 181. The Phœnix by Gäbler, ib. iii. 488. Andreas by Fritzsche, ib. ii. 441 (F. Ramhorst opposes this in Der heiligen Andreas und der Dichter Cynewulf Leipzig, 1886). Quellen der Elene, by O. Glöde Anglia, ix. 271, and Juliana, ib. xi. 146; Holtbuer, ib. viii. 1, and Rössger, viii. 338, treat of the use of the genitive in certain of the poems. E. Sievers, ib. xiii. 1, 1890, discusses the name and runes announced by Napier in Ztsft. für deu. Alterthum, xxxiii. 70. For fuller bibliography see R. P. Wülker's ‘Cynewulf und sein Kreis’ (an important article in Grundriss zur Geschichte der A.-S. Litteratur, pp. 147–217, Leipzig, 1885), and Wülker's edition of Grein's Bibliothek der Angel-sächsischen Poesie, Bd. ii. Hälfte i. 210, as well as Zupitza's and Kent's editions of Elene.]

L. T. S.