God, Gender, and wyrd in the Anglo-Saxon Judith

In the Anglo-Saxon corpus, Judith appears as a fragmented afterthought behind her longer brother Beowulf. The partial poem is a translation, both literally and culturally, from the book of the Vulgate bible by the same name. Because of the structural and rhetorical changes from the Vulgate to the Anglo-Saxon, as well as Judith’s status as a female hero, the poem is source of voluminous and varied criticism. In my analysis and translation of Judith, I will steer away from the modern feminist readings of the poems that designate Judith’s gender as the be-all end-all for transformation in the poem, and try to bring out the elements of Anglo-Saxon practicality, wyrd, heroism, and Anglo-Saxon Christianity that can help explain why the Judith-poet made eliminations and changes from his source material.

Many critics have discussed Judith’s gender as a barrier, keeping her from attaining true Anglo-Saxon heroic status. Christopher Fee points out that in the Vulgate Bible, the character Judith is “central to victory of the Jews, not only in a symbolic sense, but also in a practical one” (401). She is a military strategist in the Vulgate, a “practical” character, whereas in the Anglo-Saxon poem Judith is transformed into “a chaste virgin saint meant to inspire with much-needed courage otherwise competent warriors” (402). She is not needed in an active way to ensure victory, but only as an inspiration, which Fee sees as inactive.  According to Fee, Judith follows the heroic formula for women, who could not hold active roles without becoming monstrous or unnatural in Anglo-Saxon culture. (405).

Arguments like Christopher Fee’s are predicated upon the idea that Anglo-Saxon women couldn’t hold the same type of power as Anglo-Saxon men. However, this is not necessarily true.  There is indeed a perceptible change in the role Judith plays in the Judith story from the Vulgate to the Anglo-Saxon poem. However, her gender is not the answer to the question of why changes were made.

Let’s look at a historical example of female power. The queen Æthelflæd, affectionately known as the Lady of the Mercians, ruled Mercia for a period of about seven years. As F.T. Wainwright points out, her rule was “pointedly ignored in the West Saxon version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle” (Wainwright 44). This may seem, at first, to echo the idea that Christopher Fee puts forth, that women cannot hold military power. However, the omission of Æthelflæd from the Anglo-Saxon chronicle was not necessarily committed due to any social squeamishness regarding a woman in power, but because, as Wainwright describes, “the policy of integration [of the Mericans and West Saxons], to which she had contributed so much…[demanded] her own virtual elimination from the national record” (Wainwright 54).

Essentially, the monks creating the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle most likely excluded Æthelflæd because she ruled over Mercia as a completely separate kingdom during a time when her brother Edward the Elder was attempting to unite Mercians with the West Saxons. Her omission from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle may have been an attempt to make it appear as though Edward had more expansive power than he actually did at the time. Because we can find a reasonable political explanation for the diminishment of Æthelflæd’s accomplishments that has nothing to do with her gender, there is quite possibly a similar explanation for why there was a change in the Judith character’s role from the Vulgate to the Anglo-Saxon poem.

For example, Alexandra Olsen argues that Judith’s gender and role in the poem is important because the character would have been relatable to Anglo-Saxon women at the time. She describes Judith as a woman “realistically worried about what might happen to her” when Holofernes awakens (Olsen 290), and points out the particular poignancy of the threat of rape in the poem considering the reality that many English women would have faced (Olsen 291). Perhaps it was more important for the poet to portray a common Anglo-Saxon woman concerned for her physical well-being against a heathen threat rather than a queen concerned with military tactics.

Misty Urban puts forth just such an idea, and suggests that “in transforming the typical…representations of Judith as evidenced elsewhere in the tradition, [the poet] offers a means of transforming the repetitive, reductive discourse of medieval misogyny into a viable mode for the Anglo-Saxon women of his audience to live and operate in the present world” (Urban 97). The poet could be, according to Urban, suggesting “a new model of Christian Anglo-Saxon womanhood” (Urban 102). Urban believes that despite what critics may rightly observe about the limiting factor of Judith’s gender, the poem is “as much a meditation on heroism as Beowulf” (Urban 99).

Additionally, the rhetoric surrounding Judith’s heroism doesn’t need to be transformed because of her gender. As Alexandra Olsen points out, Judith’s triumphant return to Bethulia is reminiscent of the classic Hero on the Beach scene used in poems such as Beowulf, with a male protagonist (Olsen 290). There is nothing rhetorically to suggest that Judith’s gender makes any difference in how she is perceived as a hero within the Anglo-Saxon poem.

Even with the possibility that Judith isn’t coded as different because of her gender rhetorically or structurally, the question of God’s role in the poem persists. Jennifer Brookbanks observes that Judith “attain[s] heroic status only after divine inspiration” (Brookbanks 27). She suggests that Judith’s position as a warrior “is subverted as God is presented as ultimately responsible for her behavior” (Brookbanks 31). Judith’s actions are not a show of agency, but the carrying out of a predetermined destiny.

Another critic, Elizabeth Shaughnessy, goes so far as to argue that the violent action of beheading Holofernes contrasts so harshly with Judith’s femininity that she effectively becomes androgynous (1). Shaughnessy explains that Judith’s Christianity is the only thing that allows her to transcend “the violence considered outlandish to her womanhood” (2). Her faith, which allows her to behead Holofernes in the first place, is also what keeps her from becoming a monster instead of simply unusual.   

While feminist-leaning readings like Jennifer Brookbanks’ are not wrong or invalid, it is important to analyze Judith keeping in mind that Anglo-Saxon ideas of male and female heroism were not all that different. Examinations of the role of God and wyrd in Beowulf, for example, led Susanne Weil to conclude that the Anglo-Saxons thought “they bore responsibility for their own actions, whether foreknown by God or forecast by fate” (Weil 103). Perhaps, then Judith’s blessed, predetermined actions do not stem from her gender, but instead serve as the poet’s way of relating a Christian heroine to a newly-evangelized, recently pagan Anglo-Saxon culture. God appears as a predetermining force in the poem because the Christian God’s role in life was understood as a similar one to what wyrd played in earlier pagan traditions.

            For example, Sarah Eakin considers the poem a bridge between the old paganism and the new God in three persons. She argues that the poet’s diction paints Judith as “a being who brings together the secular and religious aspects of the story, and…gives the impression that Judith has command over both the pagan and Christian traditions” (Eakin 45). Judith’s physical appearance, for example, is distinctly Anglo-Saxon. She has fair cheeks and braided hair (Eakin 49), which is a far cry from how her Jewish counterpart would have appeared, and Judith’s prayer codes her as a follower of Christ (Eakin 55). This idea of the poem as a bridge offers further explanation of not only the Christian God’s presence in the poem, but His wyrd-like influence that could appear at first read as though he is controlling Judith’s actions.

Howell Chickering argues that dramatic irony that allows the reader to understand Holofernes’ damned actions “in the light of God’s eternal truth even as it takes place in narrative time” (Chickering 128). God is wyrd, He is fate, because He sees Judith’s actions as already having happened. He also points out that “[almost] everything [the Assyrians] do can be seen as a parody of heroic action” (Chickering 127), as a foil to Judith and the Hebrews with God as Lord. This is another example of how the Anglo-Saxon poet changed his source material in order to make a new religion and a new story relatable to his audience.

In the same way that Judith is transformed into an Anglo-Saxon woman, Haruko Momma presents the argument that the structure of the Assyrian and Israeli societies presented are reminiscent of English tribes.  “The world of Judith depicted by the Anglo-Saxon poet,” she says, “…seems…like a warrior society—not dissimilar to the one imagined by the Beowulf poet for his pagan forefathers” (Momma 60). The difference between the two groups, she says, “derives ultimately from the nature of their lords, Holofernes and God” (66), in such a way that puts emphasis on the importance of Christianity to a successful Anglo-Saxon clan. This would be another way beyond the wyrd quality of divine rule that the Anglo-Saxon poet could have made a Christian story meaningful to his traditionally pagan audience.

It may be reasonable to assume, then, that the structural changes the Judith-poet made to the original story were not unintentional or unacceptable, but were simply the poet’s attempt to recreate the Judith biblical story in such a way that would have spoken to his audience culturally, literarily, and politically. The poem is, after all, a translation of a biblical story, so changes are not only expected but, in a way, necessary. For instance, Lori Ann Garner reminds us “the ideal poetic translation in this construct…is not a literal retelling, but a text that would resonate for a Germanic audience” (Garner 171). Garner describes the Judith-poet as “a bridge between oral and literature traditions, Germanic and Christian” (Garner 181), as though he made conscious changes to the Vulgate narrative in order to mold the story to fit his own cultural standards.

            With such a carefully crafted, intricate, and controversial poem, the challenge for translators becomes deciding what to bring out from the original Old English. Just as Judith was a translation, both linguistically and culturally, so a translation from Old to Modern English must operate on several levels. My idea of a successful translation and what I aspire to achieve in my own work is a poem that shows the relatability and poignancy of Anglo-Saxon literature to the modern reader, both as an art form and as a cultural artifact that allows the reader to learn about the origins of English and American culture and so reflect on their own. I want to capture the imagination and attention of the modern undergraduate student. The themes I want to translate are the practicality, wyrd, heroism, and Anglo-Saxon Christianity in Judith. I think a translation that captured those aspects of Judith would highlight much of what is important and in the poem, as well as speak to the themes often discussed by critics in the poem.

            In addition to the difficulty of choosing what to emphasize in a translation, I and other translators also have to consider what techniques to try and replicate in our work. In Judith, the poet employs certain techniques in order to communicate and emphasize specific ideas. For instance, Margaret Hartman says that hypermetric lines, unusually long lines that fall outside of the usual rhythmic and metric patterns of a poem, are used in Judith “to emphasize the major themes” (Hartman 423). For me, meter is part of the sound of the poem, which is what I hope to bring out in my translation. I also want to focus on kennings, apo koinu, alliteration, puns, and meter. I want to capture the imagery, sound and feel of Judith to bring out the culture and beauty in the original Anglo-Saxon poem. Marie Nelson discusses the importance of “the sounds of the words [the Judith-poet] found in his source” (Nelson 33), and I hope to focus on the sounds of mine.

However, it is important for me that a translation is readable in a way that resonates with modern readers, and I will sacrifice syntax for pleasing-sounding poem, as long I keep in mind what each technique is doing in the original Anglo-Saxon. Far from creating too much of a departure from the original text, I found in my translating that manipulating syntax made it easier to replicate meter, because Anglo-Saxon metrical patterns are formed by alliteration. I could rearrange lines so that not only do certain phrases appear in formations more grammatically-friendly to the modern reader, but I can create a sense of rhythm based on alliteration that echoes the technique as it was created and used in the Anglo-Saxon text.

Essentially, translating the Judith is difficult, but not impossible. For instance, because the opening lines are incomplete, this means that translators are left with—pun intended—an open-ended opening. I will use the opening one or two lines of the poem as an example of the styles of three translators, because it is a place in the translation that forces creativity and stylistic choices upon the translator. The original Anglo-Saxon beings “…tweode gifena in ðys ginnan grunde” (Judith 1), literally translated “…doubted of gifts in this wide ground.” However, such a translation would be neither easily readable nor pleasing to the modern reader, so translators often reconstruct the lines. For example, James M. Garnett’s opening lines in his 1911 translation of the poem read, “[The glorious Creator's] gifts doubted she [not]/Upón this wide earth” (Garnett 1-2). There is not necessarily any evidence to suggest that this reconstruction is unreasonable, as ne, ‘not’, could have preceded tweode, especially as the heroine of this poem is a God-fearing woman.

Others have certainly taken this route. Marie Nelson’s opening reads “Judith prayed to God, Giver of all goodness,/and did not doubt the ruler of creation” (Nelson 1-2).  This is a much loser translation of the opening to this poem. In the original, Judith does not pray to God. Instead, the writer assures us that God will protect Judith:  “. . .She would certainly find/Protection in the brilliant Prince. . ./He, the Lord of all Beginnings, would protect her against that highest terror” (ll.2-6). Nelson also removes gifena from the second line, a word that could mean ‘gifts’ or ‘grace.’ She also reconstructs the damaged beginning of the poem in a way that is as non-literal as one could get. Nelson’s translation of these lines therefore doesn’t fit my criteria as well as Garnett’s translation, which was far more literal. He keeps all the original elements of the Anglo-Saxon, though his syntax is archaic with phrases like “doubted she [not]” (Garnett 1). Marie Nelson offers a more readable translation, with more modern and understandable syntax. 

Both of the aforementioned translators reconstruct the missing parts of the opening lines in the ways they see fit. Each of them choose to add ‘ne’ to the verb ‘tweode’, turning ‘doubted’ into ‘not doubted.’ As I have stated, there is no evidence to suggest this is incorrect given the context of the poem. However, there is no suggestion that a negative was present in the original version, either.  Reconstruction is an admirable effort, but it does not actually fit my criteria as it is completely at the liberty of the individual translator. S.A.J. Bradley, my third translator, takes a different, more literal approach to the opening lines. He translates the first line as “…she was suspicious of gifts in this wide world” (Bradley 496). Bradley doesn’t rely on reconstruction, and chooses instead to translate tweode not as ‘doubted’ but as ‘was suspicious.’ Bradley echoes the alliteration of ginnan grunde, which both Nelson and Garnett both ignored. With this alliteration, he captures the sound of the original Anglo-Saxon in a way that the other translators did not. He also uses readable, modern syntax with SVO construction (Bradley 496). As such, Bradley’s opening lines actually fit my criteria better than those of Nelson or Garnett.

Judith’s return to Bethulia is another passage for comparison because it is important for the Anglo-Saxon poetic formula. It recounts the hero returning triumphantly to their people, shining. The original lines are:

Eodon ða gegnum þanonne 
            þa idesa ba      ellenþriste, 
            oðþæt hie becomon,      collenferhðe, 
135      eadhreðige mægð,      ut of ðam herige, 
            þæt hie sweotollice      geseon mihten 
            þære wlitegan byrig      weallas blican, 


Literally translated, this reads:


            Went away from that place

the women then,      courageous and bold,

until they came,         proud of mind,

rich-triumphant women,      out of the grove/place of the wicked

that they clearly           to see might

of the  radiant city         walls to shine,

of Bethulia.


James M. Garnett, as is his preferred style, translates quite literally, using archaic syntax. The first line of this section in his work reads “Went they forth thence,/the women both in courage bold” (Garnett 132-133). His syntax is again, as with the opening lines, not as accessible to the modern reader as syntactical structure like that which Marie Nelson uses. She translates that same couple lines as “The two triumphant women turned homeward then” (Nelson 135). Hers is no doubt the more readable translation. However, she translates ellenðriste as triumphant, which although not necessarily inaccurate, isn’t literal to the kenning, which is a combination of ellen and ðriste, which are ‘courage’ and ‘bold’ respectively. Garnett captures the kenning well, here, and is closer to my criteria in his literalness. S.A.J. Bradley translates these lines as “From there the two women then proceeded onwards, emboldened by courage” (Bradley 499). While this also captures ellenðriste in an interesting and literal way, he misses out on the practicality of the language, translating eodon as “proceeded onward” instead of simply, “went” or something similar. Bradley’s translation is impractical and not as readable as one like Nelson’s, and therefore doesn’t fit my criteria well.

             In my translation, I take some inspiration from Marie Nelson in the way she freely rearranges syntax, but I’m more literal in my preservation of the actual language and images present in the poem. For example, my opening line is literal, simply “…she doubted of gifts in this wide world.” I want to leave the opening ambiguous because it is an ambiguous opening, and as much as I like S.A.J. Bradley’s “was suspicious,” I don’t like the transformation of the verb tweode from “doubted” to the more passive complementary construction, “was suspicious.” Also, I preserved the alliteration of ginnan grunde in “wide world.”

The other thing I attempted to do was preserve the puns and kennings in the poem, as with the words ellenðriste and herige. Ellenðriste is literally a combination of the words ellen, meaning ‘courage’ or ‘strength’, and ðriste, meaning ‘bold.’ My solution is to simply say, “courageous and bold,” because ‘courage-bold’ doesn’t exactly sit well in the Modern ear. Herige is a word that means ‘wicked place’ or ‘wood/grove’, so where other translators ignored the pun I chose to translate it as ‘grove of the wicked,’ to try and capture the pun of the women coming back from both the heathen army and a physical place.

            When we translate the Anglo-Saxon Judith it is important to remember the element of translation inherent in the original text itself. We are performing, in effect, a translation of a translation. The Old English poet was somehow introduced to the Vulgate text, and transformed the Judith story and the character to fit his own culture. The structural changes in the two societies as they appear in the Vulgate, as well as Judith’s role from a Jewish military strategist to an Anglo-Saxon woman were made because the poet knew that changing parts of the biblical story would make it more relevant and understandable to his audience. As a translator, I strive to capture the cultural elements that the Anglo-Saxon poet worked hard to integrate into a non-English story, and through the manipulation of syntactical structures, make my poem relevant and understandable to people in my own culture. 


Judith in Medieval and Renaissance Art

The Judith-story has been influential not only in literary works such as the Old English poem, but in other traditions as well. The themes of Christianity, heroism, and gender take on a different role when we consider Judith as she is represented in other artistic mediums. For example, Judith’s ornate dress as described in the Biblia Vulgata becomes understandably intensified in a visual platform such as Renaissance art. Judith’s dress was often a subject of controversy, because, as Misty Urban explains, in early church ideology “women dressed up and adorned with jewelry could inflame desire in men and thereby sway their reason” and as such, excessive adornment was discouraged (Urban 69). Fred C. Robinson notes that in the Old English Judith, the poet even makes it so Holofernes is the one who asks Judith be brought to him bejeweled, instead of having seduction be part of her plan as it is in the Vulgate (Robinson 48).

            In Italian Renaissance art, Judith’s dress is a point of both focus and tension for artists and critics alike. Diane Apostolos points out that in Donatello’s sculpture of her, Judith is in a pose of active violence, gripping Holofernes’s head with one hand as she lifts her sword with the other. Her dress is ornate, with her gilded necklace and vanguard. Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes is a true innovation in the way Judith was portrayed in art. However the work was not universally welcome, even being replaced by Michelangelo’s David in the courtyard of the Palazzo Vecchio and moved to the Hall of Lilies because of criticism over the unnatural element of a woman killing a man (Apostolos). Mary Burzlaff comments on this phenomenon as well, pointing out the dichotomy between “Judith’s morally positive role as a vanquisher of lust” and her “morally questionable role as a man-killer” (Burzlaff 9).

The controversy over Judith’s ornamentation unsurprisingly does not exist only within the visual arts. Heide Estes, in her essay Feasting with Holofernes, points out that figures like Aldhelm of the early church were able to excuse Judith’s dress only because “she did not believe [Holofernes] could be killed otherwise” (Estes 328). Judith’s dress is excused, then, by her service to God. She killed an unholy man by means of seducing him into a stupor, so her dress was therefore acceptable under that set of circumstances. However, Aldelm does tell us that the Judith story is further proof that “by the statement of Scripture the adornment of women is the depredation of men” (Estes 328).

Any artist willing to tackle Judith as a subject would therefore have been faced with this paradox of scriptural teachings. Giorgione’s Judith displays troubling sense of violence with Judith’s foot placed firmly of the head of Holofernes juxtaposed with the serene background of mountains and a vast open sky (Burzlaff 14). Judith also has a heavy jewel hanging from her neck and a sword at her side, both of which are elements that heighten the contrast between her figure and the background. One of the only images of Judith absent true violence or sexuality was painted by Botticelli, who Burzlaff claims painted Judith in an inactive role to promote her as a vision of justice and peace rather than an aggressor (Burzlaff 22).

            In analyzing the Greek and Roman imagery she sees as so prominent in many Judith paintings Apostolos points out that in Donatello’s controversial sculpture, Judith is wearing not only a vanbrace on her exposed wrist, but a neckpiece not unlike that which Athena wears as Partheos (Apostolos 1). According to Apostolos, even Michelangelo adorns his Judith as a warrior, her golden girdle studded with cameos and her exposed shoulders muscular, almost masculine (Apostolos 1). Along the same lines, Apostolos argues that the male figure in the cameo in Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith with Her Maidservant, no doubt one of Judith’s “classic forefathers,” lets Judith draw “association and strength from [the figure] as they both stand in readiness” (Apostolos 1).

            Associating Judith with classical imagery was no doubt a way for artists during the Renaissance to try and portray the heroine in such a way as would have been digestible and understandable in their time. There is even evidence to suggest that Donatello’s sculpture contained political imagery relevant to current events of his day. Apostolos describes the armor in the sculpture as “recognizable as being both classical in nature and following the traditional patterns of the armor worn by members and soldiers of the Medici family” (Apostolos). Just as the Anglo-Saxon poet transformed his source material to fit his time in place, possibly in a political way, artists in the renaissance reclaimed Judith as a figure through which they could express ideas and images relevant to their culture.



Annotated Bibliography


Apostolos-Cappadona, Diane. “18. Costuming Judith in Italian Art of the Sixteenth Century.”

Brine, Kevin R, et al.. The Sword of Judith : Judith Studies Across the Disciplines. Cambridge : Open Book Publishers, 2010. (pp. 325-343) Web. <http://books.openedition.org/obp/1017>.


Judith’s garments throughout art. Transformation from virginal. Early Church was uncomfortable with Judith’s seduction. With Donatello’s sculpture, Judith is wearing a vanbrace and her neckpiece echoes Athena Parthenos (Apostolos). Michaelangelo adorns Judith as a warrior. Ornate pale high-waisted skirt with cameos on the golden, studded girdle, connection with Athena and Artemis. Exposed shoulders indicate freedom of movement and muscularity. Male figure in Judith with Her Maidservent, Gentileschi. “The figure of Judith and her costuming undergo significant symbolic and cultural metamorphoses in her journey through Christian art.”


Bradley, S.A.J. “Judith.” Anglo-Saxon Poetry. Ed. S.A.J. Bradley. London: Orion

Publishing Group. 495-504. Print.


Translation from Bradley book. Some of the language is antiquated, syntax not reader-friendly. It’s not my favorite translation by any means, but he does something interesting with the opening lines that I like.


Brookbanks, Jennifer. “The Participation of Woman in the Anglo-Saxon World: Judith

and The Wife’s Lament.Innervate. 2008-2009, Vol 1, p 25-32. Print.


Author shows that even though Judith is acting, she does not display true agency. Her actions are only done by the grace of God, and the poet displays foreknowledge of events that suggests what goes on is predetermined. Judith is “filter through the masculine voice of the poet” (Brookbanks 25). Author compares this to The Wife Laments, and the way the speaker (the wife) has total control over her own narrative. Judith is presented as a traditional Anglo-Saxon woman in the face of crisis. “The poet’s inconsistent description of Judith in heroic turns, allowing her to overthrow the advisory female role allocated to Anglo-Saxon women and attain heroic status only after divine inspiration, suggests that Judith is unable to participate in the warrior culture without justification, as an instrument of God” (Brookbanks 27).  Position of God as a male leader further suggests that Judith “would be unable to participate in heroic society and achieve warrior status without the guidance of a skilful and powerful male leader” (Brookbanks 27). Holofernes downfall is his own doing, this downplays Judith’s actions. Judith’s warrior position “is subverted as God is presented as ultimately responsible for her behavior and as Holofernes’ self-destructive conduct allows Judith to kill him less than heroically” (Brookbanks 31).


Burzlaff, Mary Caroline. Chaste Sexual Warrior, Civic Heroine, And Femme Fatale: Three

Views Of Judith In Italian Renaissance And Baroque Art. University of Cincinnati / OhioLINK, 2006. OhioLINK ETD Center. Web. 21 Aug. 20


Different views of Judith in art throughout time, starting with the Renaissance. “Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes is an excellent illustration of the tension inherent in Judith’s role as a chaste sexual warrior triumphing over the lust of man” (Burzlaff 8). “Thus, while there is a clear emphasis on Judith’s morally positive role as vanquisher of lust, there is also an emphasis on her morally questionable role as man-killer” (Burzlaff 9). Using Holofernes’ dress as code, like the medallion (Burzlaff 10). Position and pose of Della Robbia’s Judith echoes Temperance (Burzlaff 12). Violence is troubling in images of Judith, as in Giorgione’s work (Burzlaff 14). Judith as humility, Holofernes as pride, Judith as home, Holofernes as foreign enemies (Burzlaff 18). Botticelli shows Judith as a vision of justice and peace, removing her from the role of active aggressor, perhaps to alleviate controversy (Burzlaff 22)?



Chickering, Howell. “Poetic Exuberance in the Old English Judith.Studies in Philology.

Spring 2009, Vol. 106, No. 2, p. 119-136. Print.


Analyzes Judith as its own poetic work, vs. analyzing it against the Vulgate source material or Aelfric’s homily. Chickering emphasizes the importance of dramatic irony and wordplay in the poem and concludes that both work toward highlighting the relationship between God and man (Judith’s predetermined victory). Also, wordplay pits the Assyrians against the Hebrews poetically by portraying them as completely opposite. “Almost everything they do can be seen as a parody of heroic action” (127).



Eakin, Sarah E. “The Synthesis of Anglo-Saxon and Christian Traditions in the Old English Judith.”


“[Judith] is a being who brings together the secular and religious aspects of the story, and using a word [ellenrof] encompassing both genres gives the impression that Judith has command over both the pagan and Christian traditions” (Eakin 45). For example, physical descriptions of Judith are done in Anglo-Saxon terms, such as with her fair cheeks and her braided hair (Eakin 49). Judith is ultimately Christian through her prayer, specifically in the way that she prays to all three manifestations of the Christian God (55).


Estes, Heide. “Feasting with Holofernes: Digesting Judith in Anglo-Saxon England. 

Exemplaria. Fall 2003, Vol. 15, No. 4, p. 325-350. Print.


Begins by analyzing the ambiguity of the Vulgate Judith character by going through various differing opinions of her. Chastity vs. her ornate dress, the adornment of women. Also, the author discusses the duality of the Hebrew people, their apparent avarice, connection of treasure to paganism (so maybe Judith belongs to a pagan world?). Judith, however, is not truly portrayed as a Jew in the poem, rather a proto-Christian (prayers, epitaphs). Judith is not a “fully acceptable Anglo-Saxon Christian hero” (Estes 350) because she is not fully transformed from a pagan.



Fee, Christopher. “Judith and the Rhetoric of Heroism in Anglo-Saxon England.” English

Studies. 1997, Vol 78, Issue 4, p 401-406. Print.


Diminishment of Judith’s role from active hero to inspirational figurehead from Vulgate to Anglo-Saxon poetic form. For instance, Judith’s words in the vulgate are clever and tell of a plan for the men to follow; in the O.E. poem, her speech is “that of a chaste virgin saint meant to inspire with much-needed courage otherwise competent warriors” (Fee 402). Judith follows heroic formula for women, who could not hold active roles without symbolizing something unnatural within Anglo-Saxon culture (Fee 405). Done because Judith was supposed to represent an ideal, the ideal woman figure head, a spiritual leader who had to rely on masculine agency for action (Fee 406).



Garner, Lori Ann. “The Art of Translation in the Old English Judith.Studia

Neophilologica. 2001, Issue 73, p 171-183. Print.


Author cautions against analysis of the Old English Judith as a straight translation of the story found in the Biblia Vulgata because “the ideal poetic translation in this construct…is not a literal retelling, but a text that would resonate for a Germanic audience” (Garner 171). Readers can use changes in the translation as a way to better understand Anglo-Saxon poetic rhetoric. Judith has a hero(ine) on the beach moment during the battle scene with the Assyrians (Garner 172). The dawn is particularly important because it was a detail evident in the Vulgate, and may have inspired the Hero on the Beach theme employed by the O.E. poet. The poet becomes a “a bridge between oral and literature traditions, Germanic and Christian, through a subtle understanding of his art as a performer, scribe, and poet” (Garner 181).


Garnett, James M. Elene, Judith, Athelstan or the Figtht at Brunaburh, Bryhtnoth or the Fight at Maldon, and Dream of the Rood: Anglo-Saxon Poems. Boston: Ginn & Company Publishers, The Athenæum Press, 1911. Print.



Hartman, Margaret E. “A Drawn-Out Beheading: Style, Theme, and Hypermetricity in the

Old English Judith.Journal of English and German Philology. October 2011, Vol.

110, No. 4, p. 421-440. Print.


Hartman discusses the use of hypermetricity and style in Judith, why it is especially suited to the themes the poet was attempting to convey, like the contrast between Judith and Holofernes. Did not use straight hypermeticity, but manipulated the style to conform to his needs.



Magoun, Francis P. “Oral-Formulaic Character of Anglo-Saxon Narrative Poetry.”

Speculum. July 1953, Vol. 28, No. 3, p. 446-467. Print.


Introduces first that all oral poetry has certain formulaic characteristics that mark it as an oral work. Oral works have “no fixed text” and singers learn formulas and pieces of work; they do not memorize other singers’ performances. Anglo-Saxon poetry did not incorporate a lot of Christian word play because it could not be altered properly to fit oral formulas, and so even in Christian songs “expressions of general conceptions of theology, dogma, and Christian doctrine is notably rare” (457).


Major, Tidmarsh C. “A Christian Wyrd: Sycretism in Beowulf.” English Language Notes. March

1995, Vol. 32 No. 3, p 1-10. Print.


Major discusses the meshing of paganism and Christianity in Anglo-Saxon culture via Beowulf. He talks about how wyrd is not incompatible with Christian views, and the mixing of pagan and Christian worship and iconography in the early Anglo-Saxon church.


Momma, Haruko. “Epanalepsis: A Retelling of the Judith Story in the Anglo-Saxon Poetic

Language.” Studies in the Literary Imagination. Spring 2003, Vol. 36, No. 1, p 59-74.



Author discusses the differences in narrative structure between the Judith that exists in the Vulgate and its Old English counterpart. For example: “the extant poem only contains two named characters, Judith and Holofernes; internal evidence seems to suggest that the poet has eliminated most or perhaps even all the other characters in the Latin” (Momma 59). Poet also seems to eliminate concrete evidence of Judaism, not mentioning dietary restrictions or other traditions found in the Old Testament (Momma 60). “The world of Judith depicted by the Anglo-Saxon poet bears little resemblance to the Near East…[and] instead, seems more like a warrior society—not dissimilar to the one imagined by the Beowulf poet for his pagan forefathers” (Momma 60). Epitaphs given to Holofernes contrast directly with his behavior, which can be seen as a parody of Anglo-Saxon values (Momma 61). The Hebrews have God put in place of an earthly lord; Judith does not fill this role and is in fact “less like a lord than a loyal follower who keeps fighting even when no one else does” (Momma 69). The Enapalepsis the poet employs (repetition not only of words and phrases but of concepts and themes) and simplifications from the Latin to the Anglo-Saxon rendition of the Judith story highlight the morals of salvation vs damnation. Contrast the two peoples, reminiscent of Beowulf. Assyrians are shown as the perversion of good Anglo-Saxon morals, especially in Holofernes. The Assyrian leader is thrown down into hell, while Bethulia is elevated to a holy city (Momma 71).


Nelson, Marie. Judith, Juliana, And Elene [Electronic Resource] : Three

            Fighting Saints / Marie Nelson. n.p.: New York : Peter Lang, c1991., 1991. Print.


Judith takes on a male role in the way that her actions are spiritually commendable—enough to raise her to sainthood—in a culture (Judaism) where this was only achievable by men. Extensive analysis of the sound of the Biblia Vulgata, which the author sees important because it is extremely likely that the O.E. poet either had it read to him or read it aloud to himself. Variation as a means of establishing relationships (39). Feast of Holofernes as an example of excess and avarice. Basically, the poet constructed his poem in such a way that it could have been manipulated by any singer to suit his audience. Discusses different listeners: those in monastic halls would have heard poem as a call to virtue, as a political poem Anglo-Saxon listeners would have been “called to action” against their Viking foes. “It has now become almost a scholarly truism that female heroes of Old English poems achieve their objectives by speech rather than by physical actions. Judith, of course, uses both methods” (Nelson 50). Heavy discussion in Nelson about the act of translation, how the Judith-poet may not have attempted a phonemic translation necessarily, but “his own responses as a reader to the sounds used in his Latin source could have heightened his awareness of the threat to life that Judith faced” (Nelson 34).



Olsen, Alexandra Hennessey. “Inversion and Political Purpose in the Old English Judith.

English Studies. 1982, Vol 63, Issue 4, p 289-293. Print.


Judith is made from a passive figure in the Liber Judith into an Anglo-Saxon hero in the O.E. poem (Olsen 289). Judith is also a woman “realistically worried about what might happen to her” (Olsen 290) when Holofernes awakens. The description of Judith beheading Holofernes is an inversion of male-on-female rape, and was particularly poignant considering the threat of rape that many English women faced at the hands of the Vikings at the time (Olsen 291). Purposefully shows an Englishwoman triumphing over a Dane as a way to grant power to women and shame the men into action (Olsen 293).



Pringle, Ian. “Judith: The Homily and the Poem.” Traditio. 1975, Vol 31, p 83-97. Print.


Paper discussing the holy virtues that Judith exhibits and how they lead not only to a victory for her, but for her people as well. She exemplifies “chastity, hope, and faith.” The two distinct halves of the poem, the first half with Judith’s personal victory over the wicked Holofernes, and the second the Hebrew victory over the Assyrians, are linked by the language the poet uses. “The first half of the poem is thus a treatment which draws on the traditional use of Judith as an example of the triumph of chastity, and leads into the second and more original part, in which what is ultimately the same action is played out on a national scale, and physically rather than spiritually” (16). Ian Pringle discusses the structure of the Judith poem at large, arguing that the poem is in two distinct halves, the first detailing Judith’s personal victory, and the second portraying the Hebrew victory over the Assyrians (Pringle 93). Pringle states that “[the] first half of the poem is thus a treatment which draws on the traditional use of Judith as an example of the triumph of chastity, and leads into the second…in which what is ultimately the same action is played out on a national scale, and physically rather than spiritually” (Pringle 97).




Robinson, Fred C. "Five Textual Notes On The Old English Judith." Academic Search

Complete. Spring 2002, Vol. 15, No 2, p. 47-51. Print.


First note discusses the deliberate omission of Judith’s ornate dress; it’s Holofernes who wants her all dolled up, not Judith who dresses with seduction on her mind. Perhaps done to alleviate any conflict surrounding the Judith from the Vulgate (48)? Second note is about the folds of the gold curtain about Holofernes’ bed. Third note is on hate and torne, being not adjectives but meant as adverbs. Fourth note: not “emboldened” but “vexed” in lines 267-269; gebylde as the past participle of bylgan (anger, offend, provoke) not byldan (embolden). Fifth note: cohhetan in lines 269b-270 is actually “cough” and meant as a humorous moment; as in the men are trying to get Holofernes’ attention by discreetly coughing to gain his attention while they think he is with Judith.



Shaughnessy, Elizabeth. “Judith’s Necessary Androgyny: Representations of Gender in the

Old English Judith.Emergence: A Journal of Undergraduate Literary Criticism and Creative Research. 2012, Vol. 3. Web. Aug 2 2014.


The audience is constantly reminded of Judith’s femininity, but her violent beheading of Holofernes contrasts with what we’ve been shown of her feminine side, and turns her into an androgynous figure. Epitaphs are used to construct Judith’s femininity and virginity, putting her not only in a physical but sexually vulnerable position when faced with Holofernes. Seduction is a primarily female role, reminds audience of her status as a woman, and also serves as Judith’s primary means to usurp power. Until she takes action by seizing the sword, Judith is a physically passive figure. Judith’s Christianity is what allows her to survive “the violence considered outlandish with her womanhood” (Shaughnessy 2). Her faith keeps her from becoming some otherworldly creature; a woman could not have performed such a feat without the grace of God and still be considered a true woman in Anglo-Saxon society. Author also sees spiritual leadership as Judith taking on a masculine role.



Urban, Misty. "The Figure of Judith In Anglo-Saxon England." Electronic Theses,

Treatises and Dissertations. Fall 2003. Paper 1454. Web. 4 Aug 2014.


Analysis of not only the poem but the “Judith tradition,” and discusses the poem’s importance in not only that tradition but in Anglo-Saxon (literary) culture in general. “[In] transforming the typical, repetitive, and reductive representations of Judith as evidenced elsewhere in the tradition, he [the poet] offers a means of transforming the repetitive, reductive discourse of medieval misogyny into a viable mode for the Anglo-Saxon women of his audience to live and operate in the present world” (Urban 97). Perhaps, even Aethelfaed as a possible model for the Judith character of the poem (Urban 97)? The poem may not have been just a call to arms, or a celebration of feminine virtues (as they would have been named in Christian tradition) of chastity and unwavering faith (Urban 101). The poem also “suggests a new model of Christian Anglo-Saxon womanhood and hints that such a model is different from what has been popularly perceived” (Urban 102). “Judith is as much a meditation on heroism as Beowulf” (Urban 99).



Wainwright, F.T. “Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians.” New Readings on Women in Old English

Literature. Ed. Helen Damico and Alexandra Hennessey Olsen. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1990. 44-55. Print.


Æthelflæd’s rule wasn’t written about in the Anglo-Saxon chronicle, but we know she held it because of things written about in her people’s chronicles and non-English sources. She ruled and was helpful to Edward’s military campaigns. 


Weil, Susanne. “Grace Under Pressure: “Hand-Words,” “Wyrd” and Free Will in Beowulf.

Pacific Coast Philology. Nov 1989, Vol. 24, No. ½, p 94-104. Print.


God and wyrd are two forces reconciled in Beowulf. Not incompatible, meshing of two world views. However, Anglo-Saxons still felt a responsibility for their actions despite the forces they perceived as controlling the words.