Title: “They Began to Sing Him a Sorhleoð”: Possible Echoes of the Anglo-Saxon Funerary Rites in ‘The Dream of the Rood’


Neubauer, Łukasz

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Article : original article


Acta Poloniae Historica T. 120 (2019), Studies


Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences


Instytut Historii PAN

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p. 5-25


The Dream of the Rood constitutes one of the most intriguing products of Old English literature, both in terms of its highly imaginative, heroicised depiction of Christ and the Cross and on account of its numerous Christian and pre-Christian intersections. One of the most arresting issues in it, however, particularly as regards the poem’s cultural background, is its mention of a sorhleoð (l. 67), the ‘sorrow-song’, or ‘dirge’ that the disciples begin to sing once they have placed the body of the Saviour in the sepulchre. Given that there is no mention of any songs being chanted at the time of Christ’s burial in the canonical Gospels, it seems rational to suggest that the anonymous poet must have supplied this ‘missing’ information on the basis of his own, perhaps somewhat antiquarian, knowledge of the burial customs in Anglo-Saxon England.


The Catholic Bible: Revised Standard Version (San Francisco, 2006) ; Dickins Bruce and Ross Alan S.C. (eds.), The Dream of the Rood (London, 1951) ; Kroonen Guus, Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic (Leiden and Boston, 2013) ; O’Brien O’Keeffe Katherine, ‘Values and Ethics in Heroic Literature’, in Malcolm Godden and Michael Lapidge (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature, Second Edition (Cambridge, 2014), 101–19 ; Owen-Crocker Gale R., The Four Funerals in Beowulf and the Structure of the Poem (Manchester, 2009) ; Pollington Stephen, Anglo-Saxon Burial Mounds. Princely Burials in the 6th and 7th Cen- turies (Swaffham, 2008) ; Swanton Michael (ed.), The Dream of the Rood (Exeter, 2000) ; Tacitus Publius Cornelius, Germania (Poznań, 2008) ; Valsamis George (ed.), The New Testament: Original Greek (Koine) Text (Athens, 2012) ; Webster Leslie, ‘Archaeology and Beowulf’, in Daniel Donoghue (ed.), Beowulf. A Verse Translation (New York and London, 2002), 212–23 ; Wrenn Charles Leslie and French Bolton Whitney (eds.), Beowulf (Exeter, 1996)


Acta Poloniae Historica



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Resource Identifier:

oai:rcin.org.pl:116510 ; oai:rcin.org.pl:116510 ; 0001-6829 ; 2450-8462 ; 10.12775/APH.2019.120.01


IH PAN, sygn. A.295/120 Podr. ; IH PAN, sygn. A.296/120 ; click here to follow the link




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Copyright-protected material. [CC BY-ND 4.0] May be used within the scope specified in Creative Commons Attribution BY-ND 4.0 license, full text available at: ; -

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Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences

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Library of the Institute of History PAS

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Ministry of Science and Higher Education ; National Programme for the Development of the Humanities



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