Mægð Modigre or Þeodnes Mægð: Judith's Heroism in the Anonymous Anglo-Saxon Judith


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Studies on female heroism in Old English literature have recently taken hold, and many scholars of the Old English anonymous poem Judith perform such analyses by comparing Judith’s display of heroism to other conventional expectations of the hero, namely the female saints Juliana and Elene or the epic hero Beowulf. Such arguments, though the aim is to understand and seemingly conventionalize Judith’s heroism in the poem, are possibly limiting our understanding of Judith’s potential as a female heroine by forcing her into one of two categories in which she does not fully meet the expectations. Thus, I move to reexamine the anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet’s source, Jerome’s translation of Judith in The Vulgate, and reconsider the literary model for Judith’s heroism, the story of Jael in Judges 4, to bring to light the poet’s intentional and significant modifications to his version of Judith’s character. I also move to examine Judith within the generic contexts that scholars often limit the Judith poem to, the female vita and the epic poem, in order to demonstrate that such comparisons are problematic and, ironically, do not bring scholars closer to understanding Judith’s display of female heroism. I conclude by providing two possible avenues I see future research on this subject taking: a deeper look into the poem’s authorship or a greater understanding of the limitations applied to fictional women in Old English literature.



Judith, Female Heroism, Feminist Criticism, Sam Houston State University, Graduate School, Texas.