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Allegorical Imagery in the Ancren Riwle

  • Author / Creator
    Dusel, Sister Juliana
  • The allegorical imagery of medieval literature often poses a problem in comprehension for the modern reader. This study investigates the moral allegory used by the unidentified author of the Ancren Riwle in presenting his anchorite directives. It explores the sources of traditional images, interpreting their significance from original context as well as from derivative meanings. The study takes into account the religious sensitivity of the Middle Ages which led to the propagation of didactic allegory in a literary form of great skill. Chapter One relates the imagery to the Christian homiletic tradition. It reviews the conventions of homiletic instruction, indicating the use of short, individual images rather than comprehensive allegories. The images involve an analogy followed by an explication from which the appropriate moral is drawn. Because of their aptness of analogy, certain figures are used repeatedly in homiletic works and are subsequently illustrated in iconographic representations. Conventionally these traditional images are revised by the homilist to relate to contemporary situations. As a result, implications of moral allegory include the influence of oral, written, artisitic and contemporary sources. The three chapters following deal with specific images in the Ancren Riwle. Chapter Two looks at the imagery used to convey the nature of the anchorite life. Popular homiletic images such as the pelican and the anchor are adapted with appropriate explications by the author for this purpose. Most prominent among these images is the "bride of Christ" figure. Chapter Two examines this figure in its biblical origins and its use by the patristic writers, and discusses its specific application by the authro to the anchorite life. The Third Chapter investigates the allegory describing temptation. Images of warfare and chivalry are prevalent in the authro's method of conveying the "attacks" of the world, the flesh and the devil. Chapter Four shows how the author uses animal imagery to convey the nature of sin by contrasting man's behaviour with that of animals. This chapter emphasizes the attributes of specific animals chosen to symbolize the seven capital sins. Chapter Five argues that moral allegory was effective as a teaching device in the Middle Ages because the religious fervour of the period provided a common cultural background in which the heritage of homiletic imagery was familiar. Besides this, the regular practice of explication immediately following the image as exemplified in the Ancren Riwle, clarified the meaning of the allegory. Whatever this moral allegory may represent to the modern mind, to the medieval mentality it was a serious prose of instruction.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 1975
  • Type of Item
    Thesis
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
    https://doi.org/10.7939/r3-fm36-d195
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.