Sunday, December 30, 2007

An introduction to Andreas

Andreas is the first poetic text in the Vercelli Book, a late tenth-century compendium, consisting of mostly prose homilies with six poems mixed in throughout: Andreas, "The Fate of the Apostles," Elene (both believed to be written by Cynewulf), "The Dream of the Rood," "Soul and Body I" and one other poetic fragment. The volume is located in Vercelli, Italy, and it is a matter of speculation about how or why this volume arrived at that place.

Andreas is the story of the mission of St. Andrew to save St. Matthew from being eaten by the cannibalistic Mermedonians, who dwell on an island far away from Achaia (Greece). The Mermedonians elaborately prepare their victims for consumption, blinding them, forcing them to drink a potion that deprives their victims of reason, and locking them in a prison for thirty days. St. Matthew is captured as soon as he arrives in Mermedonia, but is delivered from blindness and insanity through divine intervention. God promises Matthew will be delivered from his bonds and Andrew is sent from Greece.

Poetically, Andreas is a remarkable text, notable both for what seem to be a widespread practice of quotation from earlier poems, as well as (and perhaps paradoxically) a powerfully unique poetic vocabulary and frequently hair-raising moments of descriptive and narrative power.

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