The Vercelli Book: Introduction

The Vercelli Book: Introduction
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The Vercelli Book contains twenty-three homiletic or hagiographic texts in prose. Among these are interspersed six poems, the most well known of which is “The Dream of the Rood.” Two of the other poems are signed by Cynewulf, a noted eighth- or ninth-century poet from northern Britain, either Mercia or Northumberland. [1]

The book was written all by one hand and seems to be organized around themes instead of according to the Church’s liturgical calendar, as most homiliaries were. [2] The scribe copied dialectical and punctuational differences into this collection, making no attempt to edit for consistency with these matters. [3] The scribe’s organizational consistency, however, provides coherence to the book, which is concerned with non-canonical religious history and using it to teach the illiterate and preliterate Christian ideals. [4]

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1. Margaret Drabble, ed., The Oxford Companion to English Literature, 5th edition, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 248.

2. S.A.J. Bradley, trans. and ed., Anglo-Saxon Poetry (Everyman: London, 1982), 109.

3. Treharne, Elaine, ed. Old and Middle English: An Anthology. Malden: Blackwell, 2000, 89.

4. Bradley, 110.


Krapp, Philip, ed. The Vercelli Book. New York: Columbia UP, 1932.

Scragg, D.G., ed. The Vercelli Homilies and Related Texts. New York: EETS, 1992.

Sisam, Celia, ed. The Vercelli Book A Late Tenth-Century Manuscript Containing Prose and Verse, Vercelli Capitolare CXVII. Copenhagen : Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1976. (facsimile)

Szarmach, Paul E., ed. Vercelli Homilies IX-XXIII. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1981.


Kemble, John Mitchell, trans. The Poetry of the Codex Vercellensis with an English Translation. London : Ælfric Society, 1843-1856.

Critical Studies

Greenfield, Stanley B. & Daniel Gillmore Calder, eds. A New Critical History of old English Literature. New York : New York UP, 1986.

O’Keeffe, Katherine O’Brien. Visible Song : Transitional Literacy in Old English Verse. New York : Cambridge U P, 1990.