Andreas is an Old English poem, which tells the story of St. Andrew the Apostle, while commenting on the literary role of the "hero". It is believed to be a translation of a Latin work, which is originally derived from the Greek story The Acts of Andrew and Matthew in the City of Anthropophagi, dated around the 4th century. However, the author of Andreas added the aspect of the Germanic hero to the Greek story to create the poem Andreas, where St. Andrew is depicted as an Old English warrior, fighting against evil forces. This allows Andreas to have both poetic and religious significance.
Although the author of Andreas is unknown, there are more general theories concerning its origins. Andreas is the first poem in the Vercelli Book, and is followed by a poem entitled The Fates of the Apostles, written by Cynewulf. Since both works have similar subjects, and because of their proximity in the Vercelli book, they were at first thought to be written by the same author. Andreas is often tied to Cynewulf because of its religious theme; although the exact identity of Cynewulf is unknown, all of the proposed identities were religious figures of the late 8th to early 10th centuries. This clearly ties to Andreas' religious theme, and leads scholars to make a connection between the two. Andreas is included in a group of twelve poems, often referred to as "the Cynewulf group". Still, only four poems are truly attributed to Cynewulf, which are those that are directly marked with runic symbols of his name. Other scholars argue that Andreas may have been written by a disciple of Cynewulf, which would explain the parallels between the two works. However, still other researchers argue that they are different authors because of the drastic differences in the writing style. Some scholars even deduce that Andreas was inspired by Beowulf, as there are many likenesses between the two works in style, language, and theme.
The poem itself is a 1,722 line poem that tells the story of St. Andrew, as he rescues St. Matthew from a cannibalistic race called Mermedonians. Cameron states: "The poem is forceful and is the closest to Beowulf in style and tone among the surviving Old English poems". In this anonymously written tale, St. Andrew defies the hardships that he faces, such as turbulent sea and other types of torture and captivity, which mirror the pain and suffering that Christ experienced. The work has religious significance because of the way St. Andrew is loyal to God, and his troops are loyal to him in the poem. This literary allusion helps to give the work religious symbolism, which is characteristic of many works of the time.
The first five hundred lines of the poem tell of St. Andrew's time spent at sea rescuing Matthew, which was his mission from God. Matthew had been blinded and held captive by a troop of cannibals in Mermedonia. Jesus and two angels accompany St. Andrew on the ship, masked as a helmsman and two sailors. As this is a tale of discipleship, St. Andrew, or Andreas preaches to the helmsman and the good news of the Bible and the stories of the life of Christ. He is unaware of the true identities of his crew as he speaks with Christ about His life. Andreas' followers loyally stay by his side through the turbulent seas. This ties into the alleged Greek influence on Andreas, as some scholars interpret this a "comitatus", which Riedinger defines as "the traditional aristocratic warrior band." Andreas holds loyal faith in God's power to calm the seas, and the ship and the seas begin to settle. Andrew and his men drift off to sleep, and awaken outside Mermedonia. Christ and His two angels had raised them up and placed them outside the city while they slept. This event allowed St. Andrew to realize their identities.
Then, in epic and heroic style, St. Andrew is made invisible by God for the close of the poem, which allows him to free the imprisoned from Mermedonia. After doing so, he reveals himself to the enemy and is tortured for three days and nights. Upon praying for forgiveness, God frees and heals Andreas and punishes all of Mermedonia. When the Mermedonians repent and convert, they are restored, and Andreas establishes a Christian church. Andreas is able to sail on after appointing a bishop to watch over the church. This poem has huge religious importance, as many parallels can be drawn between Christ and St. Andrew. Also, this poem encourages repentance and discipleship, which were vital to the growth and well-being of the Catholic Church at the time. The religious significance of Andreas may be the very reason why this text survived, as monks copied it in their manuscripts because of its religious message.
The Andrew legend in Old English prose
The story also appears in a briefer prose version in the Blickling Homilies (no. 19). A somewhat different treatment of the apostle is found in the prose Life by Ælfric of Eynsham, who relates Andrew's martyrdom in Achaia.
- Bjork 227
- Bjork 228
- Reidinger 34
- Cameron 279
- Scragg 32
- P. Clemoes (ed.). Ælfric’s Catholic Homilies. The First Series. EETS 17. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997.
- Editions and translations
- Bintley, M. & R. North (ed.). Andreas: An Edition. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2016.
- Clayton, Mary (ed. and tr.). Old English Poems of Christ and His Saints. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013.
- Brooks, Kenneth R. (ed.). Andreas and The Fates of the Apostles. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961.
- Krapp, G. (ed.). Andreas and The Fates of the Apostles, 1906.
- Krapp, G. (ed.). The Vercelli Book. Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 2. New York, 1932.
- Bradley, S.A.J. (tr.). Anglo-Saxon Poetry. London, 1982. 110-53.
- Secondary literature
- Bjork, Robert E. "Cynewulf." Medieval England: an Encyclopedia, ed. Paul E. Szarmach, M. Teresa Tavormina, and Joel T. Rosenthal. Vol 3. New York: Garland, 1998. pp. 227–9.
- Cameron, Angus. "Anglo-Saxon Literature." Dictionary of the Middle Ages, ed. Joseph R. Strayer. 9th ed. United States of America: American Council of Learned Societies, 1982. pp. 279, 287-8.
- Riedinger, Anita R. "Andreas." Medieval England: an Encyclopedia. Ed. Paul E. Szarmach, M. Teresa Tavormina, and Joel T. Rosenthal. Vol 3. New York: Garland, 1998. pp. 33–4.
- Scragg, Donald. "Andreas." The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Michael Lapidge. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Ltd, 1999. p. 32.
- Scragg, D.G. "Vercelli Book." Medieval England: an Encyclopedia, ed. Paul E. Szarmach, M. Teresa Tavormina, and Joel T. Rosenthal. Vol 3. New York: Garland, 1998. pp. 755.
- Thurston, Herbert. "Cynewulf". The Catholic Encyclopedia. Trans. Paul Knutsen. 1908.
- Walsh, Mary. "St. Andrew in Anglo-Saxon England: The Evolution of an Apocryphal Hero." Annuale Mediavale 20 (1981). 97–122.