Monday 29 July 2013

Anglo-Saxons Documentary Series on BBC4

The ASNC Department has seen some preview clips of this forthcoming series by Michael Wood and we highly recommend it!

Tuesday 16 July 2013

St Samson Colloquy Report

Dr Caroline Brett writes:

At the University of Sydney’s Eighth Australian Conference of Celtic Studies on 11-14 June 2013, Dr Lynette Olson organised a special colloquy on the First Life of St Samson of Dol.  The aim was to assess what progress has been made in recent years in understanding this key text for early medieval British and Breton ecclesiastical history, and whether it can be taken any further.  The answer to the second was a resounding yes, although not all the delegates agreed on the detail!

The First Life of St Samson of Dol is potentially a key source for early medieval British (and Irish) Christianity and the politics of early Brittany.  Ostensibly the biography of a monastic founder and bishop from south-east Wales who ended his life at Dol in Brittany some time in the second half of the sixth century, it has aroused controversy among scholars for more than a hundred years.  The problems turn on the date of the text’s composition, on the reality or otherwise of an earlier biography which the author of the existing text claims to have used, and on the relationship between this existing biography and its putative model.  Various dates between the early seventh century and ca.850 have been proposed for the existing text, and the model or Vita primigenia has been characterised as everything from an eye-witness account by a relative of the saint, to a literary figment of a ninth-century propagandist’s imagination.  The arguments seemed to have reached an impasse by the time the full range of them was presented in Joseph-Claude Poulin’s encyclopaedic Hagiographie bretonne in 2009.  However, the debate has been potentially re-animated by Richard Sowerby in an article in Francia, 2011, in which he suggested new grounds for distinguishing between the successive authors’ contributions, and put in a powerful argument for a date around 700.

Dr Lynette Olson saw this as an opportunity for a renewed attempt to make some solid progress on the understanding of Vita Prima Samsonis, and invited a group of Samson scholars, or ‘Samsonites’, to the University of Sydney to offer their responses to Sowerby’s article and their thoughts on various aspects of the text.  The original line-up of Samsonites included, in alphabetical order, Caroline Brett, Karen Jankulak, Constant Mews, Lynette Olson, Joseph-Claude Poulin, Richard Sowerby, Ian Wood and Jonathan Wooding.  Unfortunately Ian Wood and Richard Sowerby were eventually unable to attend, but it is hoped that their contributions will be included in the published conference proceedings.  Karen Jankulak too was unable to attend, but her paper was brought and read by Jonathan Wooding.

For the five remaining contributors the upshot was a highly stimulating two days in which we went ‘head to head’ with St Samson and discovered ... if not a final solution to our problems, nevertheless a feeling that, as Wooding memorably put it, ‘our history is moving in the direction of our text’ and that the potential exists to put Vita Prima Samsonis at the centre of early Insular Christianity.