The order of words and patterns of opposition in the Battle of Maldon

Research paper by Helen Phillips

Indexed on: 01 Jan '97Published on: 01 Jan '97Published in: Neophilologus


Word ordering in Maldon is often mimetic: it enacts aspects of the physical experiences the poem describes. Diction and syntax create patterns of opposition and reciprocity, control and firmness. Recurrent lexical sets evoke a sense of muscular movement and gesture in a restricted space, of control of hands and feet, and of aggression countered by aggression. In line with this leitmotif of duality, honour is presented as a choice between two alternatives. Aspects of Maldon are compared with Maxims, and with two other battle poems Judith and Brunanburh. In Judith similar stylistic devices create a very different effect: that of rapid and unchecked movement; Brunanburh presents battle in abstract and visual terms. The patterns of opposition and reciprocity, and the physical evocation of activity and control of hands, weapons, feet and firm stance in Maldon serve to define and underline the text's presentation of conflict, payment, and giving, and they have as powerful a role in the import of the text as more overt themes like loyalty and courage.