Cædmon's Hymn is the name given to a poem recorded in Old English in some
manuscripts of Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica, an ecclesiastical history of the English people
written in the early eighth century at Wearmouth-Jarrow in Northumbria. It has long received the attention of
Anglo-Saxonists for many reasons, but particularly because it is (perhaps) the oldest surviving record of poetry in Old
English, it is one of the very few poetic texts from Anglo-Saxon England which survives in multiple copies, and its
transmission is unusually complex even for an early medieval text. Despite this interest, however, O'Donnell's is the
most comprehensive study to date.
§ 2 As O'Donnell's title suggests, his work incorporates a
critical edition, scholarly study, and textual
archive of the
Hymn, and all three components are presented in both print and digital
formats; even the full text of the book is included in the accompanying CD-ROM. The work therefore crosses several
scholarly boundaries and is relevant to those interested in Anglo-Saxon language and literature, textual transmission,
manuscripts, and principles of editing but also digital humanities, hybrid publication, and digital editions.
§ 3 The book opens with two important sections before the study proper: the Preface and
Conventions, Symbols and Encoding, where the aims and principles are outlined in some detail. Following
these are three chapters of
Literary and Historical Introduction. The first considers the
Hymn and its relationship to Bede's historical text. The second presents a very full review
of all the suggested sources or analogues to Cædmon's poetic inspiration; this is to be read with
E, a list with sources and summary of some forty-six analogues to the
which can be found in the scholarship. The third
introduction contains a detailed analysis of the
Hymn in the context of early Germanic poetry and an assessment of its aesthetic and formal
§ 4 Part B, the
Textual and Linguistic Introduction, begins with very useful short
descriptions of the twenty-one manuscripts containing the
Hymn. In Chapter Five, O'Donnell
discusses the filiation and transmission of the
Hymn itself and argues for an entirely new
recensional development in which the so-called
West Saxon eorðan version is most
authoritative. The next chapter contains a detailed discussion of the dialectal and orthographic variation in the
surviving witnesses. In Chapter Seven, the last of the
Introductions, O'Donnell presents a detailed
rationale for each of his eight critical editions of the
§ 5 Following the seven chapters of
introduction are five
each of which addresses a particular scholarly debate about the
Hymn. Eight editions of the
Hymn then follow: the critical edition of the
Hymn itself, proposed archetypes of the different
recensions, and three critical editions of scribal performances. These are supported by diplomatic editions of all
twenty-one witnesses in the
Witness Archive. Back matter includes a glossary of all Old English
words in the
Hymn, a full bibliography, general and manuscript indices, and system requirements
and installation instructions for the CD-ROM.
§ 6 The
introductions comprise nearly 170 pages in print and form an important study of
Cædmon's Hymn. The discussions are very wide-ranging and generally seem well informed,
balanced and well argued, with a lot of detail provided and careful and informed use of statistics. The
Notes are again useful reviews of key debates, and the careful treatment of numerical and geometric
patterns is especially welcome. The discussions are therefore a valuable mine of information even for those who do not
accept the conclusions they contain. They also consider the text from many different directions — historical, cultural,
manuscript, linguistic and poetic — in a way that most medievalists advocate but few achieve. Inevitably some arguments
are more convincing than others, and this reviewer sometimes felt that the conclusion was probably correct but that the
arguments were not (and probably could not be) conclusive, but in general the key points, such as the
Hymn not being a back-translation from Bede's Latin, seem secure.
§ 7 This reviewer noticed few typographical and formatting errors, and spot-checks of the transcripts show
them to be accurate. Although editorial principles are discussed in detail, the diplomatic transcripts could have
benefited from more discussion since these also involve making judgements such as the representation of spacing,
word-division and allographs. Similarly the sections of manuscript P which are marked as
physically damaged in some way are still very
easily legible and show only the slightest damage in contrast with, for example, H or M which are not so marked. The
transcripts also contain a few bold readings contrary to previous editors, such as scwlun for Wuest's
scuilun and Dobbie's sciulun in the first line of manuscript Di. These are very minor quibbles, though, and there will inevitably be disputable details and small inconsistencies
when transcribing so many different manuscripts. Much more important is the inclusion of full diplomatic transcripts,
facsimiles, and detailed notes for the transcripts, and for each critical edition an extensive and detailed apparatus
with each variant classified as significant, substantive, and orthographic, along with the discussion of editorial
principles. This openness and quantity of information allows the reader in principle to evaluate every step of the
editorial process and to engage with the result in a way which is very unusual when editing from such a relatively large
number of witnesses.
§ 8 The work is a model of hybrid print-digital publication, with the same SGML files used to produce both the
digital output and the camera-ready copy supplied to the publisher (O'Donnell 2005,
copyright page and §S.2). The core content is provided as HTML for display (XHTML 1.0 Transitional); this includes the entire text of the
book augmented at a minimum by use of colour and by extensive hyperlinks, and the editions and transcriptions are
developed more fully. Each of the editions can be visualised with different types of critical apparatus depending on the
type of information required, where the precise options depend on the editorial principles used in each case. Similarly
the transcripts can be viewed as diplomatic, semi-diplomatic, diplomatic alongside an image of the manuscript, or a
facsimile of the entire page containing the
Hymn. Furthermore, the editions and transcriptions
also include a useful list of links to
related information. Separate stylesheets are provided for screen and
minimal and <noscript> alternatives are provided, and the CSS stylesheets largely pass W3C validation.
Special characters are represented as entities with Unicode code-points, and the Junicode font is provided on the CD-ROM
to ensure that all necessary characters are implemented.
§ 9 As well as the HTML, an
indexed display text is provided which again shows the HTML display but
allows full-text searching using the Greenstone Digital Library program; unfortunately this is only available for
§ 10 The full content is also provided in SGML along with stylesheets for the (proprietary) Multidoc/Panorama SGML browsers. The SGML is conformant to TEI P4 with some minor extensions which are fully documented (O'Donnell 2005, §ii.9–11), Unfortunately the markup uses features of SGML such as unclosed tags and case-insensitivity which would make conversion to XML very time-consuming if the encoded text was to be reused for further study and analysis. Furthermore, the markup is very dense and relies on a relatively large text database of entities meaning that it cannot easily be read without processing. The marked-up text is therefore less useful than it could have been but is still valuable for preservation and its inclusion is very much welcomed.
§ 11 The digital images of the manuscripts are in PNG format and each comes in low and high resolutions (96 and
150 dpi). The quality of the images vary significantly (as explained by O'Donnell
2005, §7.11) but they are still invaluable for considering the
Hymn in its manuscript
context, and the inclusion of full pages as well as details is to be commended.
§ 12 O'Donnell is undoubtedly helped by the brevity of his text, as the eight lines of verse in the
Hymn allows much closer analysis than is possible in a longer work. Nevertheless, if even some of
the principles employed here were used in other editions, particularly the wide interdisciplinary approach on the one
hand and the intelligent combination of print and digital output on the other, then we would have a much more secure
basis on which to work. In his preface, O'Donnell expresses the hope that his work
will prove a useful addition to
Anglo-Saxon studies and
harness the particular strengths of the two media [print and electronic] to produce a
work that is more useful than either of its parts (§1.6). It is the opinion of the present reviewer that he has
succeeded admirably in both goals.
. Other important studies include O'Keefe 1990, Schwab 1972, and Dobbie 1937, but for a full bibliography see O'Donnell 2005 itself.
. Spacing is always difficult at best since the range of medieval spaces cannot be reproduced adequately in either
print or digital format (Saenger 1997). Dotted and undotted i are distinguished in the transcripts presumably to indicate ambiguous minims but this is not
explained and no other allograph (
a licensed and recognized variation in the representation, Davis 2007, 254–5) is so distinguished.
. This is despite O'Donnell transcribing almost exactly the same sequence of strokes as two letters without comment (e.g. dumgeard and firum, both in line 6), and the form of his proposed w in scwlun would be very unusual in a manuscript of this date. Another example of debatable minim-resolution is in line 4 of SanM, wnndra for wundra.
. This section draws loosely on the principles of evaluating digital work proposed by Rockwell 2005 and Bodard and Garcés 2009. For further references see Muri 2009.
. Junicode is a Unicode font developed for medievalists by Peter Baker and is available at <http://junicode.sourceforge.net/>.
. The Greenstone software is open-source and covered by the GPL (Greenstone Digital Library Software <http://www.greenstone.org/>). The Greenstone website also
lists versions for Linux and MacOS 10.5 but they were not provided as pre-packaged collections on the Cædmon's Hymn CD-ROM and there was no obvious way of running the standalone
versions with data from the
. The @teiform attribute has sometimes been used to provide the case-sensitive form of the element but this is done inconsistently.
Bodard, Gabriel, and Juan Garcés. 2009. Open source critical editions: a rationale. Text editing, print and the digital world. M. Deegan and K. Sunderland. 83-98. Aldershot: Ashgate.
Davis, Tom 2007. The practice of handwriting identification The Library (7th series) 8: 251-76
Dobbie, E. V. K. 1937. The manuscripts of Cædmon's Hymn and Bede's Death Song with a critical text of the Epistola Cuthberti de obitu Bedæ. Columbia Studies in English and Comparative Literature, 128. New York: Columbia University Press
Muri, Allison. 2009. Disciplinary standards in digital humanities. Humanist 22.575 (2). <http://lists.digitalhumanities.org/pipermail/humanist/2009-February/000274.html>
O'Donnell, Daniel Paul. 2005. Cædmon's Hymn: a multimedia study, edition and archive. Woodbridge: D.S. Brewer.
O'Keeffe, Katherine O'Brien. 1990. Visible song: transitional literacy in Old English verse. Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England, 4. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Rockwell, Geoffrey. 2008. Short guide to evaluation of digital work. <http://www.philosophi.ca/pmwiki.php/Main/ShortGuideToEvaluationOfDigitalWork>
Saenger, Paul Henry. 1997. Space between words: the origin of silent reading. Figurae: Reading Medieval Culture. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press
Schwab, U. 1972. Cædmon. Testi e Studi: Pubblicazioni dell'Istituto di Lingue e Letterature Germanische. Messina: Peloritana Editrice