Here's a curiosity for you rock-fans: The dissertation abstract of Sterling Morrison, the founding Velvet Underground guitarist who died eleven years ago last month. He earned a doctorate in medieval English literature from the University of Texas-Austin in 1986. The dissertation is called Historiographical Perspectives in the Signed Poems of Cynewulf. Did you know he was also a tugboat captain? Not Cynewulf, Sterling Morrison.
Hagiography: It's my life, and it's my wife.
The modern appreciation of Cynewulf's four signed hagiographical poems--Fates of the Apostles, Juliana, Elene, and Christ II--benefits considerably from an awareness of medieval historiographical ideas (classical and Christian) in addition to a familiarity with the unique characteristics of hagiography. Unlike the modern view that hagiography is to be rigorously differentiated from historiography, the medieval conception of both treats hagiography as a species of historiography. The historiographical ideas expressed in the signed poems derive from the classical tradition which begins with Herodotus and ends with Tacitus, and which provides literary forms, emphasizes style and moral purpose in historiography, and supplants entirely the undeveloped Anglo-Saxon conception of history (as exemplified in Beowulf). The Christian tradition then subsumes these classical concepts, and the apparent incongruity of historical 'fact' on the one hand and hagiographical marvel on the other is eliminated in the four levels of medieval exegesis. In most respects, Cynewulf's signed poems are clearly the work of a traditional Anglo-Saxon poet. Cynewulf departs significantly from tradition, however, when he manipulates the hagiographical forms within which he is writing in accordance with Christian historiographical theories. Consequently, one finds that the Fates is so intensely anagogical in its orientation that it steps beyond the temporal confines of the historical Martyrology: this preoccupation with the Hereafter thus explains Cynewulf's supposed 'double ending' to the poem. In Juliana an Augustinian view of history prevails, and the schematized events depicted illustrate the conflict between the City of God and the City of Man. Elene, on the other hand, exhibits the Eusebian/Orosian view that God's governance of history is manifest in the rise of Rome and in the conversion of Constantine: the poem illustrates God's direct intrusions into history--in this case, through human agents (Constantine, Helena, and Judas Cyriacus) in search of the True Cross. And finally, Christ II reveals the tight knitting of the Christian historiographical scheme whose principal events are the Creation, the Incarnation, and the Day of Judgment: in describing the Ascension Cynewulf is thus led to consider the other parts of the structure as well (which results in a non-linear presentation of events in the poem).