exegesis, written in early Middle English verse by a monk named Orm (or Ormin). Because of the unique phonetic orthography adopted by the author, the work preserves many details of English pronunciation at a time when the language was in flux after the Norman Conquest; consequently, despite its lack of literary merit, it is invaluable to philologists in tracing the development of English. Orm was concerned that priests were unable to speak the vernacular properly, and so he developed an idiosyncratic spelling system to tell his readers how to pronounce every vowel, and he composed his work using a strict poetic meter that ensured that readers would know which syllables were stressed. Modern scholars can use these two features to reconstruct Middle English just as Orm spoke it.
OriginsUnusually for a work of this period, the Ormulum is neither anonymous nor untitled. The author names himself at the end of the dedication:
At the start of the preface, the author identifies himself again, using a different spelling, and gives the work a title:
Icc was şær şær i crisstnedd wass
Orrmin bi name nemmnedd
''Where I was christened, I was
named Ormin by name
The name "Orm" is derived from Old Norse, meaning worm, dragon. With the suffix of "myn" for "man" (hence "Ormin"), it was a common name throughout the Danelaw area of England. The choice between the two forms of the name was probably dictated by the meter. The title of the poem itself, "Ormulum", is modeled on the Latin speculum ("mirror"); it can be interpreted as either the boastful "Reflection of Orm" or the modest "Researches of Orm."
Şiss boc iss nemmnedd Orrmulum
forrşi şatt Orrm itt wrohhte
This book is named Ormulum
because Orm wrote it
The Danish name is not unexpected; the language of the Ormulum, an East Midlands dialect, is stringently Danelaw. It includes numerous Old Norse phrases (particularly doublets, where an English and Old Norse term are cojoined), but there are very few Old French influences on Orm's language (Bennett 33). Orm therefore shows both the sluggishness of the Norman influence in the formerly Danish areas of England (compare the Peterborough Chronicle, also from the East Midlands, which shows a great deal of French influence even though it was likely written before Ormulum) and the assimilation of Old Norse features into early Middle English.
canon of an Augustinian order. With this information, and the evidence of the dialect of the text, it is possible to propose a place of origin with reasonable certainty. While some scholars have held that the likely origin is Elsham Priory in north Lincolnshire, recently it has been widely accepted that Orm wrote in the Arrouaisian Bourne Abbey (in Bourne, Lincolnshire). Two additional pieces of evidence support this conjecture: firstly, the abbey was established by Arrouaisian canons in 1138, and secondly, the work includes dedicatory prayers to Peter and Paul, who are the patrons of Bourne Abbey (Parkes). The Arrouaisian rule was largely that of Augustine so that its houses are often loosely referred to as Augustinian. The monastic abbey was dissolved in 1536 but its parish church function continues.
The date of composition is impossible to pinpoint. Orm wrote his book over a period of decades, and the manuscript shows signs of multiple corrections through time. Since it is apparently an autograph, with two of the three hands in the text generally believed to be Orm's own, the date of the manuscript and the date of composition will be the same. On the evidence of the third hand, a collaborator who entered the pericopes at the head of each homily, it is thought that the manuscript was finished circa 1180, but Orm himself may have begun the work as early as 1150 (Parkes). The text has few topical references to specific events that could be used to identify the period of composition more precisely; Orm may have been an eyewitness to the Anarchy of the reigns of Stephen and Matilda, since some have seen references to this in some of his admonitions to readers, but, if so, he is quite elliptical, as the sermons almost never stray from their source material.
ManuscriptOnly one copy of the Ormulum exists, as Bodleian Library MS Junius 1. In its current state, the manuscript is incomplete: the book's table of contents claims that there were 242 homilies, but there are only 32 remaining. It seems likely that the work was never finished on the scale planned when the table of contents was written, but much of the discrepancy will have been caused by the loss of gatherings from the manuscript; there is no doubt that such losses have occurred even in modern times, as shown by the fact that the Dutch antiquarian Jan van Vliet, one of its 17th-century owners, copied out passages that are not in the present text. The amount of redaction in the text, plus the loss of possible gatherings, led J. A. W. Bennett to comment that "only about one fifth survives, and that in the ugliest of manuscripts" (Bennett, 30).
The parchment used in the manuscript is of the lowest quality, and the text itself is written untidily, with an eye to economical use of space; it is laid out in continuous lines like prose, with words and lines close together, and with various additions and corrections, new exegesis and allegorical readings, crammed into the corners of the margins (as can be seen in the reproduction above). Robert W. Burchfield argues that these indications "suggest that it was a 'workshop' draft which the author intended to have recopied by a professional scribe" (Burchfield, 280).
It seems curious that a text so obviously written with the expectation that it would be widely copied should exist in only one manuscript, and that apparently a draft. Some (e.g. Treharne, 274) have taken this as suggesting that it is not only modern readers who have found the work tedious. Orm himself, however, says in the Preface that he wishes Walter to remove any wording that he finds clumsy or incorrect; this implies that a revision or approval process was anticipated, and it is possible that the Ormulum remained in draft form simply because it never left Walter's possession.
The provenance of the manuscript before the 17th century is unclear. From a signature on the flyleaf we know that it was in van Vliet's collection in 1659; it was auctioned in 1666, after his death, and was probably purchased by Franciscus Junius, from whose library it came to the Bodleian as part of the Junius donation (Holt, liv-lvi).
Contents and styleThe Ormulum consists of 20,000 lines of metrical verse, explicating Christian teaching on each of the texts used in the mass throughout the church calendar. As such, it is the first new homily cycle in English since the works of Ælfric of Eynsham (c. 990). The motivation was to provide an accessible English text for the benefit of the less educated Englishmen, from clergy who could not navigate the Latin of the Vulgate to the parishioners who would not understand spoken Latin.
Each homily begins with a paraphrase of a Gospel reading (important when the laity did not understand Latin), followed by exegesis. The theological content is derivative; Orm closely follows Bede's exegesis of Luke, the Enarrationes in Matthoei, and the Glossa ordinaria of the Bible. Thus he reads each verse primarily allegorically rather than literally. Rather than identify individual sources, Orm refers frequently to "ğe boc" and to the "holy book", and Bennett has speculated that the Acts of the Apostles, Glossa Ordinaria, and Bede were bound together in a large Vulgate Bible in the abbey and that Orm was truly getting all of his material from a source that was, to him, a single book (Bennett 31).
Although "the sermons are of little literary or theological value" (Burchfield) and Orm possesses "only one rhetorical device", that of repetition (Bennett), the Ormulum was never intended as a book in the modern sense, but rather as a companion to the liturgy. Priests would read, and congregations hear, only a day's entry at a time. The tedium that many experience when attempting to read the Ormulum today would not exist for persons hearing only a single homily at a time. Further, although Orm's poetry is, at best, subliterary, the homilies were meant for easy recitation or chanting, not for aesthetic appreciation; everything from the overly strict meter to the orthography might function only to aid oratory.
Though earlier metrical homilies, such as those of Ælfric and Wulfstan, were based on the rules of Old English poetry, they took sufficient liberties with meter to be readable as prose. Orm does not follow their example: rather he adopts a "jog-trot fifteener" for his rhythm (Bennett 31), based on the Latin iambic septenarius, and writes continuously, neither dividing his work into stanzas nor rhyming his lines, again following Latin poetry. The work is unusual in that no critic has ever stepped forward to defend it on literary grounds. Indeed, Orm himself was aware of its flaws: he admits in the preface that he has frequently padded the lines to fill out the meter, "to help those who read it", and urges his brother Walter to edit the poetry to make it more meet.
A brief sample may help to illustrate the style of the work. This passage explains the background to the Nativity:
Forrşrihht anan se time comm
şatt ure Drihhtin wollde
ben borenn i şiss middellærd
forr all mannkinne nede
he chæs himm sone kinnessmenn
all swillke summ he wollde
& whær he wollde borenn ben
he chæs all att hiss wille.
As soon as the time came
that our Lord wanted
to be born in this middle-earth
for the sake of all mankind,
at once he chose kinsmen for himself,
all just as he wanted,
and he decided that he would be born
exactly where he wished.
OrthographyRather than any literary merit, therefore, the chief value of the Ormulum for scholars derives from Orm's idiosyncratic orthographical system. He states that since he dislikes the way that people are mispronouncing English, he will spell words exactly as they are pronounced, and describes a system whereby vowel length and value are indicated unambiguously.
Orm's chief innovation was to employ doubled consonants to show that the preceding vowel is short and single consonants when the vowel is long. For syllables that ended in vowels, he used accent marks to indicate length. In addition to this, he used two distinct letter forms for <g>, using the old yogh for [ʤ] and [j], and the new <g> for [g]. His devotion to precise spelling was meticulous; for example, having originally used <eo> and <e> inconsistently for words such as "beon" and "kneow" that had been spelled with <eo> in Old English, at line 13,000 he changed his mind and went back to change all "eo" spellings and replace them solely with "e" alone ("ben" and "knew"), to reflect the pronunciation.
The combination of this system with the rigid meter, and the stress patterns this implies, provides enough information to reconstruct his pronunciation with some precision; making the reasonable assumption that Orm's pronunciation was in no way unusual, this permits scholars to develop an exceptionally precise snapshot of exactly how Middle English was pronounced in the Midlands in the second half of the 12th century.
SignificanceOrm's book has a number of innovations that make it valuable. As Bennett points out, Orm's adaptation of a Classical meter with fixed stress patterns anticipates future English poets, who would do much the same when encountering foreign language prosodies. The Ormulum is also the only specimen of the homiletic tradition in England between Ælfric and the 14th century, as well as the last example of the Old English verse homily. It also demonstrates what would become Received Standard English two centuries before Chaucer (Burchfield). Further, Orm himself was concerned with the laity. He sought to make the Gospel comprehensible to the congregation, and he did this perhaps 40 years before the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 "spurred the clergy as a whole into action" (Bennett, 33).
At the same time, Orm's idiosyncrasies and attempted orthographic reform make his work vital for understanding Middle English. The Ormulum is, with the Ancrene Wisse and the Ayenbite of Inwyt, one of the three crucial texts that have allowed philologists to document the transformation of Old English into Middle English.
ReferencesQuotations are from Holt (1878). The dedication and preface are both numbered separately from the main body of the poem.
- Bennett, J.A.W. Middle English Literature. Douglas Gray, ed. Oxford: OUP, 1986.
- Bennett, J.A.W. and G. V. Smithers, ed. Early Middle English Verse and Prose. Oxford: OUP, 1989.
- Burchfield, Robert W. "Ormulum" in Joseph R. Strayer, ed. Dictionary of the Middle Ages. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1987. p. 280.
- Holt, Robert, ed. The Ormulum: with the notes and glossary of Dr R. M. White. Two vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1878.
- Matthew, H.C.G. and Brian Harrison, eds. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. vol. 41, 936. Oxford: OUP, 2004.
- Parkes, M. B. 'On the Presumed Date and Possible Origin of the Manuscript of the Orrmulum', in Five Hundred Years of Words and Sounds: A Festschrift for Eric Dobson. E. G. Stanley and Douglas Gray, eds. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1983. 15–27.
- Treharne, Elaine, ed. Old and Middle English: An Anthology. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000.
See alsoExegesis (from the Greek ἐξηγεῖσθαι 'to lead out') involves an extensive and critical interpretation of an authoritative text, especially of a holy scripture, such as of the Old and New
..... Click the link for more information.Middle English}}}
ISO 639-1: none
ISO 639-2: enm
ISO 639-3: enm
Middle English is the name given by historical linguistics to the diverse forms of the English language spoken between the Norman invasion of 1066
..... Click the link for more information.Phonetics (from the Greek word φωνή, phone meaning 'sound, voice') is the study of the sounds of human speech. It is concerned with the actual properties of speech sounds (phones), and their production, audition and perception, while phonology, which
..... Click the link for more information.The orthography of a language specifies the correct way of using a specific writing system to write the language. (Where more than one writing system is used for a language, for example for Kurdish, there can be more than one orthography.
..... Click the link for more information.Norman conquest of England began in 1066 with the invasion of the Kingdom of England by William the Conqueror (Duke of Normandy), and his success at the Battle of Hastings resulted in Norman control of England.
..... Click the link for more information.Philology, etymologically, is the "love of words". It is most accurately defined as "an affinity toward the learning of the backgrounds as well as the current usages of spoken or written methods of human communication".
..... Click the link for more information.Vernacular refers to the native language of a country or locality. In general linguistics, it is used to describe local languages as opposed to linguae francae, official standards or global languages. It is sometimes applied to nonstandard dialects of a global language.
..... Click the link for more information.Old Norse}}}
Writing system: Runic, later Latin alphabet.
ISO 639-1: none
ISO 639-2: non
ISO 639-3: non
..... Click the link for more information.The Danelaw, in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles also known as the Danelagh, (Old English: Dena lagu; Danish: Danelagen), is a name given to a part of the British Isles, now northern and eastern England, in which the laws of the Danes held predominance over
..... Click the link for more information.Latin}}}
Official language of: Vatican City
Used for official purposes, but not spoken in everyday speech
Regulated by: Opus Fundatum Latinitas
Roman Catholic Church
ISO 639-1: la
ISO 639-2: lat
..... Click the link for more information.Old Norse}}}
Writing system: Runic, later Latin alphabet.
ISO 639-1: none
ISO 639-2: non
ISO 639-3: non
..... Click the link for more information.Old French was the Romance dialect continuum spoken in territories corresponding roughly to the northern half of modern France and parts of modern Belgium and Switzerland from around 1000 to 1300.
..... Click the link for more information.The Peterborough Chronicle (also called the Laud Manuscript), one of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, contains unique information about the history of England after the Norman Conquest. According to philologist J.A.W.
..... Click the link for more information.canon (from the Latin canonicus, itself derived from the Greek κανωνικος 'relating to a rule') is a priest who is a member of certain bodies of the Christian clergy subject to an ecclesiastical rule (canon).
..... Click the link for more information.Augustinians, named after Saint Augustine of Hippo (died AD 430), are several Roman Catholic monastic orders and congregations of both men and women living according to a guide to religious life known as the Rule of Saint Augustine.
..... Click the link for more information.The Abbey of Arrouaise was the centre of a form of the Augustinian monastic rule, the Arrouaisian Order, which was popular among the founders of abbeys during the decade of the 1130s.
..... Click the link for more information.Bourne Abbey is the name of the parish church in Bourne, Lincolnshire, England. The building remains in parochial use, despite the sixteenth century dissolution, as the nave was used by the parish, probably from the time of the foundation of the Abbey in 1138.
..... Click the link for more information.BourneBourne, Lincolnshire ()
..... Click the link for more information.Peter, also known as Saint Peter, Shimon "Keipha" Ben-Yonah/Bar-Yonah, Simon Peter, Cephas and Keipha—original name Shimon or Simeon (Acts
..... Click the link for more information.St. Paul the Apostle (Hebrew: שאול התרסי Šaʾul HaTarsi, meaning "Saul of Tarsus"), the "Apostle to the Gentiles"
..... Click the link for more information.A parish church in the Church of England is the place of Christian worship which acts as the religious centre for the people of the smallest and most basic Church of England administrative unit, known as a parish.
..... Click the link for more information.A pericope (pur-IC-op-ee) (Greek περικοπη, "a cutting-out") in rhetoric is a set of verses which form one coherent unit or thought, thus forming a short passage suitable for public reading from a text, now usually of sacred scripture.
..... Click the link for more information.The Anarchy or The Nineteen Year Winter refers to a period of English history during the reign (1135–1154) of the Norman King, Stephen of England, which was characterized by civil war and unsettled government
..... Click the link for more information.Stephen
King of the English, Duke of the Normans
Reign 22 December 1135 – 25 October 1154
Coronation 26 December 1135
..... Click the link for more information.Matilda
By the Grace of God Lady of the English, Countess of Anjou.
Reign April- November 1141
Titles Holy Roman Empress
Lady of the English
Countess of Anjou
Born February, 1102
Died September 10, 1167
..... Click the link for more information.Bodleian Library, the main research library of the University of Oxford, is one of the oldest libraries in Europe, and in England is second in size only to the British Library.
..... Click the link for more information.manuscript is any document that is written by hand, as opposed to being printed or reproduced in some other way. The term may also be used for information that is hand-recorded in other ways than writing, for example inscriptions that are chiselled upon a hard material or scratched
..... Click the link for more information.25 million - 28 million (with Flemings: - 34 million) (14,000,000 - 15,000,000 with full Dutch ancestry) (Red → Dutch-born) (Green → Reported ancestry)
..... Click the link for more information.Jan van Vliet (April 11, 1622 – March 18, 1666), also known as Janus Ulitius, was one of the 17th century pioneers of Germanic philology.
Van Vliet was probably born in Middelburg, but grew up in The Hague.
..... Click the link for more information.Jack Arthur Walter Bennett (1911–1981) was a New Zealand-born literary scholar. He is best known as a scholar of Middle English literature. He was editor of the journal Medium Aevum from 1956 to 1980, having earlier assisted his predecessor, C. T.
..... Click the link for more information.
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