Reading the Genesis B Text Through The Illustrations
There are three illustrations in the Genesis B portion of the Junius Manuscript that focus on the temptation of Adam and Eve and the results of the Fall. The first shows the temptation of Eve (24), the second the temptation of Adam and Eve (28) and the third the consequences of the Fall (31). Only the third illustration is not accompanied by any text. The Junius Manuscript features no illustrations after page 96, despite the fact that there are blank spaces, as though illustrations were meant to be added later (Krapp xii). In Genesis B, which runs from lines 235-851, and is inserted in between sections of Genesis A (lines 1-234 and 852 to the end), Krapp quotes Sievers, stating that Genesis B is “not the original work of an Anglo-Saxon poet, but a translation into Anglo-Saxon from an Old Saxon poem, no longer extant” (xxv). Not only is the text itself is different from Genesis A, but the text is different in the placement and use of the illustrations.
With rare exceptions, scholarship on Genesis B is spotty, generally dates to the 1940s, or is largely focused on translation. While there are some exceptions, in the past twenty years, the Genesis B manuscript has not received much attention. In “After the Apple: Repentance in Genesis B and its Continental Context”, Sager assumes that Genesis B is based on an older (mid 9th century) Old Saxon poem, and bases his argument of repentance and lay penance on this notion (293). Pavlinich’s recent work examines Satan’s individuality in the poem while Grimes’ work examines the seeming contradictions of there being more than one Tree of Knowledge. Except for Karkov’s Text and picture in Anglo-Saxon England : narrative strategies in the Junius 11 manuscript and Broderick’s “Metatextuality, sexuality and intervisuality in MS Junius II” the illustrations of the manuscript have not been examined, particularly in light of the text they are paired with on the folio pages.
There are only two main texts that address reading the Genesis B text in relation to its illustrations. The first, Fair and Varied Forms: Visual Textuality in Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts by Mary C. Olson examines what she calls the “graphic significance” of how to read the images and the texts together. She also describes how the text and images would have been valued within Anglo-Saxon culture, examining both patterns, and relationships as well the role of scribes, illustrators and writers. Olson’s work is valuable because it breaks down how the narratives of the images can be “read” and how these narratives complement or counter the narratives of the text.
Catherine E. Karkov in “The Anglo-Saxon genesis; Text, Illustration, and Audience” argues that the text and the illustrate two different levels of narratives, and the combination of reading the two actually represents a third narrative of which she states “it is on this third level that the differences between the manuscripts and their possible audiences are most apparent” (208). She examines who the audience was for these manuscripts, and what the specific functions were of the illustrations (207). Karkov argues that the text instructs the reader, which the illustrations serve as “a more complex gloss of the text” (208). Karkov does not focus on the representation of the devil in the Junius 11 however, instead focusing on the genealogies provided in Genesis and how they were representative of Anglo-Saxon values. Her work is valuable in the same way Olson’s work is because it provides a way to read the images and texts.
In “The probably derivation of most of the illustrations in Junius 11 from an illustrated Old Saxon Genesis” Barbara Raw argues that the illustrations in Junius 11 fall into three groups (136); pictures of creation, images that show “the history of Adam’s descendants”, and drawings of the “creation and fall of the angels, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and Noah and Abraham” (137). Raw argues that this third group shows a Carolingian influence and that they are based on the Cotton cycle (6th century fragments of the Cotton Genesis) (139). She states that there are visible parallels between the Carolingian images and the Genesis B ones (140). Specifically referencing the scene where Eve is tempted, Raw states that the upper drawing is similar to one found in 10th century Physiologus manuscript from Liege. However, while Raw gives a detailed, convincing argument about the Genesis B images and their possible sources, like Olson and Krokov, she looks at the images as a whole and does not discuss the figure of the devil in particular.
It is worth examining these specific illustrations of the devil in light of the text for several reasons. The first is that the characterization of Satan in both the text and the illustrations is unique both for the time, and for the characterizations that came afterwards. Another is that Genesis B is unique in its explanation of Satan’s origins, which later get forwarded through literature. How the Anglo-Saxons viewed, and interpreted Satan can reveal a lot about what their beliefs were, as well as how their own cultural beliefs were integrated into their Biblical interpretations. It is of interest that none of the translations that have dealt with Genesis B have integrated the illustrations into the translations, thus disregarding any message that the illustrations might have, or how the text and image might work in conjunction.
The first illustration I will examine is on page 24 and the layout has wide top, left, and bottom margins with the text taking up the beginning half of the page, with the illustration framed in a box at the bottom. The text is a single piece, not laid out in separate columns. The scene is an angel with dark hair/head covering and a red crown pointing, perhaps instructing Eve. Eve holds a piece of fruit in her hand. The scene is set on Earth, as can be seen by the trees that frame the far left and right side of the illustration box as well as the ground Eve and the angel are standing on. There is a darkly shaded plant that separates Eve and the angel. Informing our reading of the illustration with the text, we are seeing Eve being tempted by Satan, but the Tree of Death, after Satan has failed to tempt Adam.
The text on page 24 is:
on þone hean heofon, þonne he heonon wende.
þonne wæs se oðer eallenga sweart,
dim and þystre; þæt wæs deaðes beam,
se bær bitres fela. Sceolde bu witan
ylda æghwilc yfles and godes
gewand on þisse worulde. Sceolde on wite a
mid swate and mid sorgum siððan libban,
swa hwa swa gebyrgde þæs on þam beame geweox.
Sceolde hine yldo beniman ellendæda,
dreamas and drihtscipes, and him beon deað scyred.
Lytle hwile sceolde he his lifes niotan,
secan þonne landa sweartost on fyre.
Sceolde feondum þeowian, þær is ealra frecna mæste
leodum to langre hwile. þæt wiste se laða georne,
dyrne deofles boda þe wið drihten wann.
in that high heaven, when he went from here.
Then was the other entirely dark,
dim and smoky. That was the tree of death.
It bears many bitter things. One should recognize them both,
each person, of evil and good
woven together in this world. He will in his heart ever
with sweat and with sorrow afterwards live
who tasted the fruit of that tree.
Age would bereave him of strength and valiant deeds,
of joys and of lordship, and Death is allotted him.
For a short while only he enjoys his life,
then seeks that land darkest in fire,
to serve the fiends there where there is the greatest vileness
for people for much longer time. All that he knew, the hated one,
dark messenger of the devil who strove against the Lord.
Despite the fact that the illustration focuses on the temptation of Eve by Satan, the text focuses on the imagery of death, the consequences of the Fall, and Satan himself. The tree here is called “the tree of death” (line 478) not the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The emphasis is also that man will now age, and that this aging will deprive him “strength and valiant deeds,/of joys and of lordship” (lines 484-485). The ephemeral nature of man’s life as a result of eating from this tree is the focus.
There is also a blurring in the text between Satan and Adam. When the text says “For a short while only he enjoys his life,/ then seeks that land darkest in fire,/to serve the fiends there where there is the greatest vileness/for people for much longer time” (lines 486-489) because of the Anglo-Saxon pronoun use, it’s unclear to the reader whether or not the text refers to Adam or Satan. This also serves to reinforce the consequences of the Fall- that man can now experience Hell. Because of man’s transgression, there will not just be changes to his mortal life, but also to his immortal one.
Satan, as in the illustration, is also a focus of this text. In the illustration he is emphasized by the size in the manuscript illustration, as well as the dark cap/crown he is shown wearing. In the text, his darkness is also emphasized, he is described as “dark messenger of the devil” (line 490) and where he dwells is described as the “darkest in fire” (line 487). There is also a stress on Satan’s darkness with “sweart” for dark, “dim and þystre” for dim and smoky as well as “deaðes beam” for the tree of death. I believe that this translation contains an error: “dreamas and drihtscipes, and him beon deað scyred./Lytle hwile sceolde he his lifes niotan,”(lines 485-487) as it makes more sense to translate it as “of joy and lordship, and he bears death ordained./A little while should he enjoy his life” instead of “of joys and of lordship,/and Death is allotted him./For a short while only he enjoys his life”, as this not only stresses the fact that his death is “ordained” by God, but also stresses what Adam “should” do in enjoying his life. Despite the fact that the illustration focuses on Eve, the text still focuses on what Adam and Eve should and should not have done.
Reading the manuscript text in light of the illustrations reveals some interesting details- that the writer was more concerned with the consequences of the Fall, but that the artist was more concerned with who was to blame for the Fall. Likewise, despite the emphasis on darkness in the text, there is little dark used in the illustration. In fact, few of the illustrations in the Junius Manuscript use dark colors, or colors at all (the exceptions the illustrations on page 11 which appears to feature God/an angel, the illustration on page 36 which has a dark, filled in circle, and the faintly colored illustrations on pages 74. 76. 78. 81. 82, 84, 87, 88). This perhaps is a statement on the use of the manuscript itself that it was for Church use/reference and was not an illustrated manuscript that was meant for a wealthy patron.
The illustration on page 28 mirrors the one on page 24 where the top of the page is taken up with text, and an illustration occupying the bottom of the page. There are no glosses or translations on the page, although p28 has three lightning/”S” marks about halfway down on the text. There are wide margins on the top, left side, and bottom of the page. The illustration is framed in a box and shows an angel offering fruit to both Adam and Eve. Eve is already eating the fruit, but Adam appears to be hesitating. Adam and Eve are shown naked, so pre-lapsarian, although this illustration would seem to illustrate the moment of the Fall. The angel is shown with wings, but a dark head covering. This appears to mark him as different, although it is not as dark as it was illustrate on page 24. This illustration appears to build on the one on page 24, and therefore we can assume the angel is Satan. A reading based only on the illustration marks this as the moment after Eve has eaten the fruit, but before Adam has. It is of note that here, it is Satan and not Eve offering the fruit to Adam.
The text on page 28 reads:
þæt ic geornlice gode þegnode
þurh holdne hyge, herran minum,
drihtne selfum; ne eom ic deofle gelic."
Lædde hie swa mid ligenum and mid listum speon
idese on þæt unriht, oðþæt hire on innan ongan
weallan wyrmes geþeaht, (hæfde hire wacran hige
metod gemearcod), þæt heo hire mod ongan
lætan æfter þam larum; forþon heo æt þam laðan onfeng
ofer drihtnes word deaðes beames
weorcsumne wæstm. Ne wearð wyrse dæd
monnum gemearcod! þæt is micel wundor
þæt hit ece god æfre wolde
þeoden þolian, þæt wurde þegn swa monig
forlædd be þam lygenum þe for þam larum com.
that I eagerly served God
through loyal spirit, my Superior,
the Lord Himself; nor am I like a devil."
So he led her with lying and enticed with deceit
the women into that un-right, until within her began
to well up the worm's thought, (God had to her the weaker spirit
the Creator, allotted), so that she began in her belief
to follow after that teaching; therefore she from that hated one took
against the word of the Lord, the death tree's
pain-working fruit. Never was a worse deed
laid out by humans! It is a great wonder
that the everlasting God ever would
suffer, the Lord, that a thane
should be misled by so much lying that came in the shape of teaching.
The text on page 28 would seem to belong more to the illustration on page 24 as it focuses on Eve’s temptation by Satan, and how he succeeded in tempting her, with “lying” and “deceit” (line 588) and why Eve was the first target, rather than Adam; “God had to her the weaker spirit/the Creator, allotted”( lines 590-1). Here, Satan is referred to as a “worm” (line 590) rather than a serpent, despite the fact that he is illustrated as an angel. Satan is also described as being “unright” (line 589). Satan’s temptation is also described as “teaching” (lines 592 and 598) which seems to gesture back to the tree as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, despite the fact that the text on both page 24 and 28 describes it as the “death tree” (line 593).
Despite the fact that the text focuses on Eve’s temptation by Satan, the illustration shows Satan offering fruit to Eve, who is already consuming the fruit, while Adam has not yet partaken of the fruit. Similarly to the illustration on page 24, the artist’s focus is on who is to cause the Fall- Satan, working through Eve. Both the illustrations on page 24 and 28 also emphasize Satan as having angelic characteristics, which is in keeping with the focus on Satan, and his origins in this section of the manuscript. His portrayal as angelic is also of note, as soon after this manuscript, Satan is portrayed with animalistic traits, a mutation due to his evil nature rather than his angelic nature emphasized.
These two illustrations, when read alongside the text tell a very different story than either the text of illustrations alone. The holistic reading reveals something of the Anglo-Saxon nature. They viewed Satan as a fallen angel, who was known for his lying and deceit, as well as his shape shifting. The fact that Satan is described as worm in the text, but illustrated as a fallen angel calls into question whether or not Adam and Eve knew who they were dealing with. It seems to imply that Adam and Eve are to blame for their actions, as he is clearly identifiable in the illustrations. The text supports this, with its accentuation on Eve as weak and the source of the Fall. Despite the fact that the text refers to it as the Tree of Death, only the illustrations on page 24 show any darkening of the vegetation, the single dark plant separating Satan and Eve, with no darkening or stress on the trees on page 24 or 28. The fact that the illustrations do not mark the tree in any way as different can be read as the potential for mistakes by Adam and Eve- if the tree appears no different from any other tree, is it possible they could have mistaken the fruit Satan offers them? The fact that the illustration on page 28 takes Adam and Eve out of the garden setting foreshadows the fact that the consequences for their transgressions has already begun. When you read the word “larum” (teaching) in the text in light of Satan’s posture towards Adam and Eve in the two illustrations, it is easy to see that he is not just offering the fruit, but particularly with Eve on page 24, can be read as instructing her as well. The phrase teaching is an odd choice as well, as it implies that Satan does more than just offer the fruit, but instructs, or informs Eve of things she is not meant to know above and beyond the knowledge gathered from eating the fruit. Teaching also implies a longer interaction than just the few words exchanged in the text.
Reading the text and illustrations together also brings up questions about how the scribes and artists of these manuscripts interacted. Did the artist have access (as in read) the text to inform their illustrations or were the illustrations dictated to them? From what sources or other illustrations did the artists pull from? In the case of the portrayal of Satan, was the image of him as a fallen angel based on earlier specific sources, if so, can we trace the evolution of the illustrations? There is a lot of research that is still to be done on this, including interdisciplinary work that integrates manuscript archives, art history, and textual analysis as well as the potential to reexamine how manuscripts can be translated including the illustrations.
Broderick III, Herbert R. “Metatextuality, sexuality and intervisuality in MS Junius II.” Word & Image 25.4 (Oct-Dec 2009): 384-401. Print.
Burchmore, Susan. “Genesis B: Introduction”. nd. np. http://homepages.bw.edu/~uncover/oldrievegenesisb.htm. Web. 20 March 2014.
“Genesis A, B”. nd. n.p. http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/ascp/a01_01.htm. Web. 20 March 2014.
Genesis B. MS Junius 11. Bodleian Library. Early Manuscripts at Oxford University. nd. Web. 20 March 2014.
Grimes, Jodi. “Tree(s) of Knowledge in the Junius Manuscript.”. JEGP Journal of English and Germanic Philology 112.3 (July 2013): 311-339. Print.
Karkov, Catherine E. “The Anglo-Saxon Genesis: Text, Illustration, and Audience.” The Old English Hexateuch (2000): 201-237. Print.
Krapp, George Philip. The Junius Manuscript. New York: Columbia UP, 1931. Print.
Olson, Mary C. Fair and Varied Forms: Visual Textuality in Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts. New York: Routledge, 2003. Print.
Pavlinich, Elan Justice. “Satan Surfacing: (Predetermined) Individuality in the Old English Genesis B”. Interdisciplinary Humanities 30.1 (Spring 2013):88-100. Print.
Raffel, Burton trans. and Alexandra H. Olsen ed.. Poems and Prose from the Old English. New Haven: Yale UP, 1998. Print.
Raw, Barbara. “The probably derivation of most of the illustrations in Junius 11 from an illustration of Old Saxon Genesis.” Anglo-Saxon England 5 (1976): 133-148. Print.
Sager, Alexander J. “After the Apple: Repentance in Genesis B and its Continental Context”. JEGP Journal of English and Germanic Philology 112.3 (July 2013): 292-310. Print.