Born - Wessex, The United Kingdom
Died - May 21, 0709
Genre - Religion
Aldhelm, born c.640 in Wessex, and becoming abbot of Malmesbury and later bishop of Sherborne, was the first English man of letters; up to 1100, his prose writings were the most widely read of any Latin literature produced in Anglo-Saxon England.
Aldhelm (Old English: Ealdhelm, Latin: Aldhelmus Malmesberiensis) (c. 639 25 May 709), Abbot of Malmesbury Abbey, Bishop of Sherborne, and a writer and scholar of Latin poetry, was born before the middle of the 7th century. He is said to have been the son of Kenten, who was of the royal house of Wessex. He was certainly not, as his early biographer Faritius asserts, the brother of King Ine. After his death he was venerated as a saint, his feast day being the day of his death, 25 May.
De Laude Virginitatis (the prose De Virginitate), a Latin treatise on virginity addressed to the nuns of the double monastery at Barking, is Aldhelm's best-known work. After a long preface extolling the merits of virginity, he commemorates a great number of male and female saints. Aldhelm later wrote a shorter, poetic version (see below).
Epistola ad Acircium (sive Liber de septenario, et de metris, aenigmatibus ac pedum regulis), dedicated to one Acircius, understood to be King Aldfrith of Northumbria (r. 685-704/5). The chief source of his Epistola ad Acircium (ed. A. Mai, Class. Auct. vol. V) is Priscian. The acrostic introduction gives the sentence, 'Aldhelmus cecinit millenis versibus odas,' whether read from the initial or final letters of the lines. After an address to King Aldfrith, the letter consists of three treatises:
De septenario, treatise on the number seven in arithmology
De metris, treatise on metre, including the Enigmata (see below).
De pedum regulis, didactive treatise on metrical feet, such as iambs and spondees.
Other Letters. Correspondents include Bishop Leuthere, Hadrian, King Geraint of Dumnonia, Eahfrid, Cellanus, Sergius and Aldhelm's pupils Wihtfrith and thelwald who was responsible for part of the Carmen rhythmicum.
The letter to King Geraint of Dumnonia was supposed to have been destroyed by the Britons (William of Malmesbury, Gesta pontificum Anglorum p. 361), but was discovered with others of Aldhelm's in the correspondence of St Boniface, archbishop of Mainz.
A long letter to Eahfrid, a scholar just returned from Ireland (first printed in Usher, Veterum Epistt. Hiber. Sylloge, 1632), is of interest as casting light on the relations between English and Irish scholars.
Carmen de virginitate (the poetic De Virginitate). Aldhelm wrote a shorter, poetic version of De Laude Virginitatis, which closes with a battle of the virtues against the vices, the De octo principalibus vitiis (first printed by Delrio, Mainz, 1601). The two works are what is sometimes called an opus geminatum or "twin work".
Carmen rhythmicum, rhythmic poem which describes a travel through western England and the way a wooden church was affected by a storm.
Carmina ecclesiastica (modern title), i.e. a number of Latin tituli designed for inscription on a church or altar. They are: (1) In Basilica Sanctorum Petri et Pauli, for a church dedicated to St Peter and St Paul, possibly the church which Aldhem founded at Malmesbury, (2) In Basilica Beatae Mariae Semper Virginis, St Mary's Church, possibly also at Malmesbury, (3) In Ecclesia Mariae a Bugge Extructa, for the church built by Bugga, that is Eadburh of Minster-in-Thanet, a royal lady of the house of Wessex, (4) the twelve tituli known collectively as In Duodecim Apostolorum Aris and (5) In sancti Matthiae Apostoli Ecclesia.
Aenigmata, 100 (hexa)metrical riddles, included in the Epistola ad Acircium for purposes of illustration (see above); among the more famous are the riddle entitled Lorica, and the last and longest riddle, Creatura. Aldhelm's model was the collection known as Symposii Aenigmata ("The Riddles of Symphosius"). The Praefatio or preface precedes the riddles: it is remarkably contrived, incorporating both an acrostic and a telestich: the first letters of each line in the left-hand margin spell out a phrase which is paralleled by the same letters on the right-hand margin of the poem, a double acrostic. The 36-line message reads in translation: "Aldhelm composed a thousand lines in verse". Aldhelm's Aenigmata were very influential: they popularised the genre as is seen in the Latin riddles of Tatwine, Boniface and, possibly, the Bern Riddles, but they likely formed a model for the tenth-century Old English Exeter Book riddles.
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