Alfred's Verse Preface to the Pastoral Care and the Chain of Authority

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Verse, Comparative Literature, Historical Linguistic, Symbolic Capital, Prose

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The Verse Preface to Alfred the Great's Pastoral Care completes the work of the preceding Prose Preface by appropriating religious language and authority to Alfred. The Prose Preface sets England at the end of a chain of intellectual and religious transmission which starts with the Hebrews and extends through the Greeks and Romans. Drawing on Pierre Bourdieu's work on legitimate language and symbolic capital, this essay explores how Alfred extends his translatio studii in the Verse Preface. Alfred presents himself as successor to Pope Gregory the Great and his emissary to England, Augustine, and the interpreter of the pope's written commands to all Englishmen, including bishops. Alfred's appropriation of church language helps justify his appropriation of authority and church wealth. Yet Alfred also employs Anglo-Saxon poetic tradition to enact in the preface the cultural translation he describes. By simultaneously demonstrating his knowledge of the prestigious Latin language and his willingness to use vernacular terms and tropes, he uses what Bourdieu terms a "strategy of condescension." Alfred's strategies ultimately assert authority over both lay and religious readers.

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Neophilologus, v. 85, issue 4, p. 625–633