The Anglo-Saxon Harp

Speculum 71 (2):290-320 (1996)
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Occasionally we respond to events, theories, and even discoveries in other fields with somewhat more enthusiasm than that of the more cautious specialists in those fields. The reaction of Beowulf scholars to first the provisional and then the final replica of the Anglo-Saxon “harp” found in the Sutton Hoo burial is a case in point. Particularly interesting is the exchange between C. L. Wrenn and the archaeologist Rupert Bruce-Mitford, the guiding spirit of the harp's reconstruction. Wrenn wrote of the discovery of the Sutton Hoo burial that “it may well seem the most important happening since the Icelander Jon Grimur Thorkelin made his transcripts of the Beowulf MS. and from them published the first edition of the poem.” Of the harp Wrenn wrote, “The discovery of [its] fragments … gave something like a new impetus to the exploration of the music of Anglo-Saxon verse.” Bruce-Mitford, who personally exhibited to Wrenn the fragments of a similar “harp” found in the Taplow Barrow, quoted the first remark more than once and commented wryly in print, “Archaeologists must not claim too much for their discoveries, lest they mislead colleagues in other fields of study, or worse, cause the evidence itself to be underestimated



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