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362 Study Questions: "Judith" (Longman Anthology, translation by S. A. J. Bradley)


Vocabulary: anachronism, apocryphal, beasts of battle, canon, hagiography, litotes, meiosis, vita

Character Identifications: Judith, Holofernes

Abbreviations: MS (Manuscript)

Introduction Questions: What is the ethnicity of Holofernes and Judith? What affinities does this poem have with other Old English works? What are other Old English poems that contain strong female characters according to our introduction? What source did the poet use for his poem and why does it not appear in Protestant versions of that text? What explanation does the editor provide concerning why the poet focuses so much on the Assyrians being drunk?

Reading Questions:
Why does Holofernes want Judith brought to him? What purpose does he have with her?
Explain the symbolism of the "elegant, all-golden fly-net" above Holofernes' bed.
Why is Judith able to overpower Holofernes so easily? What renders him helpless?
How does Judith obtain proof that she has killed Holofernes--i.e., what does she bring to show the Israelites that the enemy is dead?
What character speaks to the Israelites and then leads them into battle against the enemy?
Provide one example of understatement--either litotes or meiosis--from the work we have read.
Provide one example of an anachronism from the work we have read.

Lecture Questions:

Why is Judith careful to pray to god as "Majesty of the Trinity" on page 103? What historical context makes this necessary?
Explain potential origins of snake imagery on page 103 where the text describes the hellish torments of Holofernes in the afterlife.
Explain the significance of the wolf, the vulture, and the raven in the middle of page 104.
Explain the biblical significance of how the Assyrians "chew the grist with their teeth" on page 105.

Passage Identifications:

A: . . . The stern-minded man bellowed and yellwed, insolent and flown with mead, and frequently exhorted the guests ont he benches to enjoy themselves well. So the whole day long the villain, the stern-minded dispenser of treasure, plied his retainers with wine until they lay unconscious, the whole of his retinue drunk as though they had been struck dead, drained of every faculty.

B: There was an elegant all-golden fly-net there, hung about the commandant's bed so that the debauched hero of his soldiers could spy through on every one of the sons of men who came in there, but no one of humankind on him. . . .

C: The glorious handmaid of the Savior was sorely preoccupied as to how she might most easily deprive the monster of his life before the sordid fellow, full of corruption, awoke. Then the ringletted girl, the Maker's maiden, grasped a sharp sword, hardy in the storms of battle, and drew it forth from its sheath with her right hand.

D: He was not then yet dead, not quite lifeless. In earnest then the courageous woman struck the heathen dog a second time so that his head flew off on to the floor. His foul carcass lay behind dead; his spirit departed elsewhere beneath the deep ground and was there prostrated and chained in torment ever after, coiled about by snakes, trussed up in tortures and cruelly prisoned in hellfire after his going hence.

E. Then the citizens were merry when they heard how the saintly woman spoke across the high rampart. The army was in ecstasies and the people rushed towards the fortress gate, men and women together, in flocks in droves; in throngs and troops they surged forward and ran towards the the handmaid of the Lord.


Food for thought:

In contrast with the religious genre of the Saints' Lives, in which women are often the primary characters, why do female characters in secular (?) poetry like Beowulf get so little air-time today? Only a few women appear in Beowulf--Weoltheow, Hygd, Modthryth, and an unnamed woman who sings a dirge at Beowulf's funeral for example. What about Saints' Lives makes them particularly amenable to having female protagonists?

 

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