Mittman (2008 Congress)

Asa Simon Mittman
(Arizona State University, Tempe)
“A Response:  Answering the Call of the Severed Head”

Abstract of Response Presented at the 43rd International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo, 2008)
Session on “Heads Will Roll:  Decapitation Motifs in Medieval Romance”
Sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence
Organized by Jeff Massey and Larissa Tracy

2008 Congress

[Published on our first website on 16 April 2012]

Ælfric of Eynsham translated into Anglo-Saxon an account of the martyrdom of Saint Edmund, King of East Anglia in the ninth century.  Known for his holiness, Edmund was the unfortunate victim of a series of attacks by the Danes in 870.  After having been captured and riddled with arrows that failed to kill him, Edmund was decapitated.  His head was left in the woods by the Danes.  His followers sought him, and they, as Ælfric tells us, “frequently called out, just as is the custom of those who often go into the woods:  ’Where are you now, companion?’  And that head answered them, saying ‘here, here, here’ as often as any of them called, until they all came, on account of its calling to them.”  I use the framework of the Life of Edmund to pull the three papers together and then, following the actions of the martyr-king’s followers, I call out to each of these “severed head” speakers, asking them to answer a few pointed questions (based on careful reading of their papers ahead of time), in order to spark a lively discussion among the participants and audience.