Legendary metal smiths and early English literature
'Legendary Metal Smiths and Early English Literature' is a study of Christian religious influence on the portrayal of a powerful technology, metallurgy, in Old English verse. Starting from the controversy over the supernatural role of metal smiths in a metrical Anglo-Saxon charm, it proceeds to explore the impact of Christian thought on attitudes to the metal-worker in late antiquity and early medieval Europe. Significant and contentious characterizations of the smith in the Cain legend, the lives of the saints, and legends of Christ are discussed in turn. A chapter on heroic verse and another on wonder-working discuss, among other topics, the theory that Anglo-Saxon metal smiths were regarded with fear and superstition. The thesis put forth by the author in the course of this survey is that the critical approach which explains the concern of Anglo-Saxon literature with smithcraft as little more than an irrational primitivism finds little support in the religious writing of the period. What requires explanation is not the view that metallurgy was a matter of Christian concern, but the assumption that it was not. While this study is primarily concerned with mapping literary themes, it is not confined to the world of the imagination. Holding that themes, in order to be appreciated, must be perceived, where possible, in the light of the historical conditions in which they flourished, it devotes part of its space to a consideration of the latter. It examines the role of the monastic movement in disseminating an idealistic view of industry; describes the achievements of Anglo-Saxon metal-working; and attempts to appreciate some of the real hardships faced by workers in the Anglo-Saxon forge. The insights gained from this approach lead ultimately to a new reading of the metrical Anglo-Saxon charm with which the study began, a reading which, rather than peering backwards into the pagan past, looks forward to subsequent and more familiar examples of the forge in literature.