CAEDMON

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Northumbrian poet. Bede attests his poetic activity Hist. eccles. IV, 24, telling how Caedmon, an illiterate cowherd at abbess Hilda’s d. 680 monastery of Streanaeshalch Whitby, began to write verse after receiving a vision from God. Made a monk, he put into verse parts of the OT, including Genesis and Exodus, and the life of Christ. His one certainly authentic composition is a poem in praise of God the creator, written in Northumbrian dialect but surviving in a Latin translation by Bede, whose erudition affected it both in form and content. Other poems, all preserved in the codex Junius XI at Oxford’s Bodleian library also known as “Caedmon MS.”, are now ascribed to different authors. Closest to Caedmon’s hymn, esp. in the antiquity of its language, is Genesis A; at v. 234, 617 verses of another poem Genesis B, a translation of a 9th-c. Saxon poem, have been interpolated. Caedmon has a heroic vision of Christianity, dwelling on violent episodes such as the descent into hell and Christ’s temptations; we see little of the gospel message of charity and love. The first to publish all the poems was Franciscus Junius Amsterdam 1655, who in all probability made them known to John Milton, who was undeniably influenced by them in Paradise Lost. Venerated as a saint, Caedmon’s feast is 11 February.


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