Aelfric Grammaticus

views updated


Benedictine abbot of Eynsham, greatest Anglo-Saxon author of the 10th and 11th centuries; b. c. 950 to 955; d. Eynsham, c. 1020. He was trained in the ideals of the 10th-century English Benedictine revival by ethelwold at winchester and as a monk and priest was sent (c. 987) by alphege of canterbury, Ethelwold's successor, to Cerne (Dorset), founded by ealdorman Aethelmaer. There Aelfric conducted the monastic school. In 1005 he became first abbot of Eynsham, another foundation of Aethelmaer. His Anglo-Saxon writings, composed in lucid, precise, often alliterative style, included, among other works, the Catholic Homilies (991992), two series of 40 sermons each, dedicated to Abp. Sigeric of Canterbury, derived mainly from Church Fathers and intended for use throughout the liturgical year; Lives of the Saints (before 998), a third homiletic collection, concerning saints "whom monks honor"; paraphrases of parts of the Heptateuch; and a treatise on the Old and New Testaments. His Latin Grammar, the source of his appellation "the Grammarian," was the first in a medieval vernacular. This work, his Latin Glossary and the famous Colloquy, with its informative and amusing conversations, were all educational works for monastic schools. Aelfric also condensed the Regularis concordia for Eynsham; he authored a vita of Ethelwold and pastoral letters for Bp. Wulfsige of Sherborne and Abp. Wulfstan of York. Sixteenth-century English reformers believed his Easter homily on the Real Presence supported their views against transubstantiation; but his position, influenced by ratramnus of corbie and affirming the "spiritual" (gastlice ) presence in the Eucharist, antedated the precise distinctions of medieval scholasticism.

Bibliography: w. hunt, The Dictionary of National Biography from the Earliest Times to 1900 1:164166. c. l. white, A.: A New Study of His Life and Writings (Boston 1898). s. h. gem, An Anglo-Saxon Abbot: A. of Eynsham (Edinburgh 1912). m. m. dubois, A.: Sermonnaire, docteur et grammairien (Paris 1943). p. clemoes, "The Chronology of A.'s Works," The Anglo-Saxons, ed. p. clemoes (London 1959) 212247.

[w. a. chaney]