Harris, Shelley-Anne (2011)
M.Phil. thesis, University of Birmingham.
The Phoenix is a ninth-century poem in Old English depicting the life, death and resurrection of the mythical phoenix bird, complete with a religious commentary at the end. The authorship of the poem has been the subject of many critical works, with the poem being ascribed to Cynewulf by some critics based on the lexis. Many have objected to this theory, therefore this thesis will view the poem as a work by an unknown author; however, The Phoenix is still the work of a writer who had comparable skills and rhetorical abilities to those of the famous author of Elene. The poem is based on the Latin De Ave Phoenice by Lactantius (1965), and shows familiarity with Ambrose’s Hexameron (1961). The symbolism openly conveys the resurrection of Christ leading to the salvation of mankind, depicting their entrance into Heaven. However, the poem also contains multiple layers of tropological, typological, anagogical and allegorical imagery and symbolism. St Augustine of Hippo suggested that ‘the sheer difficulty of a work of literature made it more valuable’ (Brown, 1967, p. 260) and that it was through ‘allegorical interpretation by which he [a religious individual] extracted such profound meanings’ (Brown, 1967, p. 260). This complexity appealed to Anglo-Saxon writers and readers and this poem can be understood on many separate levels of interpretation, not only as a depiction of man’s salvation, but also as a didactic text informing the reader of how to gain entrance into Heaven.
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