Exeter Book, The


Exeter Book, The
(ca. 970–990)
   The Exeter Book is the common name given to the Exeter Cathedral Chapter Library, MS. 3501. The manuscript is the largest of the four collections of OLD ENGLISH poetry still in existence. It was written by a single hand, almost certainly that of a monastic scribe, during the last part of the 10th century—roughly between 970 and 990. The manuscript consists of 130 folios. Its front cover bears the marks of having been used as a cutting board as well as a beer coaster. Its back cover and the final 14 pages of the manuscript have been damaged by fire.
   The manuscript has been in the possession of Exeter Cathedral since roughly the year 1070. It is listed as one of the donations made to the cathedral by Leofric, bishop of Cornwall and Devon, who died in 1072. Scholars believe that the manuscript was copied in the West Country, perhaps near Devon. The catalogue describes it as i mycel Englisc bok be gehwilcum thingum on leothwisan geworht (that is, “one great English book about every kind of thing, composed in the verse”). Whether the scribe put the collection together from poems that came to him individually, or whether (as some scholars believe) he was making a copy of a poetic anthology put together at the time of Alfred the Great or his immediate successors, is a matter of some debate but probably unsolvable. About half the poems in the Exeter Book are on Christian themes, while the other half are concerned with secular matters. The latter include most of the best-known examples of Old English ELEGAIC POETRY. Some of the important poems included in the Exeter Book are The WANDERER, The SEAFARER, WIDSITH, DEOR, WULF AND EADWACER, The WIFE’S LAMENT, The HUSBAND’S MESSAGE, The RUIN, and 95 Anglo-Saxon RIDDLES—though these are all modern names for the poems, which are untitled in the manuscript.
   Bibliography
   ■ Jebson, Tony, ed. “The Exeter Book.” Available online. URL: http://www.georgetown.edu/labyrinth/library/oe/exeter.html. Accessed on January 30, 2005.
   ■ Krapp, George Philip, and Elliott van Kirk Dobbie, eds. The Exeter Book. Vol. 3, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records. New York: Columbia University Press, 1936.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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