Christ and Satan Old English Poem
Christ and Satan is a religious poem consisting of 729 lines in verse. It is located in a codex of Old English biblical poetry called the Junius Manuscript. The Junius Manuscript consists of two booklets, referred to as Book I and Book II, and it contains an assortment of illustrations. Book I of the Junius Manuscript houses the poems Genesis A, Genesis B, Exodus, and Daniel, while Book II holds Christ and Satan, the last poem in the manuscript.
Christ and Satan is generally divided into three sections. The first section runs from lines 1-365 and is comprised of the grievances of Satan and his fellow fallen angels. In this section, Satan and his fallen brethren direct their complaints toward Christ the Son. This is an unusual and unparalleled depiction of the story, as the complaints of Satan and the fallen angels are usually directed toward God the Father, as is the case in the preceding poems Genesis A and Genesis B (Orchard 181). The second section runs from lines 366-662 and offers an account of the Resurrection, Ascension, and Last Judgment, with emphasis on Christ’s Harrowing of Hell and victory over Satan on his own ground (Orchard 181). The third and last section runs from lines 663-729 and recalls the temptation of Christ by Satan in the desert (Orchard 181). Unlike the poems in Book I, which rely on Old Testament themes, Christ and Satan encompasses all of biblical history, linking both the Old Testament and New Testament, and expounding upon a number of conflicts between Christ and Satan (Orchard 181).
Francis Junius was the first to credit Caedmon, the 7th century Anglo Saxon religious poet, as the author of the manuscript. Junius was not alone in suggesting that Caedmon was the author of the manuscript, as many others noticed the “book’s collective contents strikingly resembled the body of work ascribed by Bede to the oral poet Caedmon” (Remley 264). However, the inconsistencies between Book I and Book II has made Christ and Satan a crucial part of the debate over the authorship of the manuscript. Most scholars now believe the Junius Manuscript to have been written by multiple authors. One piece of evidence that has called the authorship of the manuscript into question is the fact that unlike Genesis A and Genesis B, the complaints of Satan and the fallen angels (in the Book II poem Christ and Satan) are not made against God the Father, but rather Jesus the Son (Orchard 181). This variance is just one example of why the authorship of the manuscript is under suspicion. Another cause for suspicion is the opinion that Satan is portrayed “as a much more abject and pathetic figure [in Christ and Satan] than, for example in Genesis B” (Orchard 181). Furthermore, a single scribe is responsible for having copied out Genesis, Exodus, and Daniel, but Book II (consisting only of Christ and Satan) was entered “by three different scribes with rounder hands” (Rumble 385).
While Christ and Satan is generally divided into three sections, scholars such as Donald Scragg still questioned whether it should be read as one poem broken into sections or many poems since it lacks a consistent narrator. Christ and Satan does follow some logical order though, for example, the Resurrection is followed by the Ascension and then the Day of Judgment, which a single mind is controlling, connecting it all into a single narrative (Scragg 105).
The poems of the Junius Manuscript, especially Christ and Satan, can be seen as a precursor to John Milton’s 17th century epic poem Paradise Lost. It has been proposed that the poems of the Junius Manuscript served as an influence of inspiration to Milton’s epic, but there has never been enough evidence to support such a claim (Rumble 385).
Orchard, A.P.M. “Christ and Satan.” Medieval England: An Encyclopedia. Ed. Szarmach, Paul E., M. Teresa Tavormina, Joel T. Rosenthal. New York: Garland Pub., 1998. 181.
Remley, Paul G. “Junius Manuscript.” The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Ed. Lapidge, Michael. Oxford: Blackwell Pub., 1999. 264-266.
Rumble, Alexander R. “Junius Manuscript.” Medieval England: An Encyclopedia. Ed. Szarmach, Paul E., M. Teresa Tavormina, Joel T. Rosenthal. New York: Garland Pub., 1998. 385-386.
Scragg, Donald. “Christ and Satan.” The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Ed. Lapidge, Michael. Oxford: Blackwell Pub., 1999. 105
Tennant, Roy. Christ and Satan [Modern English Translation]. The Online Medieval and Classical Library. 25 October 2007. http://omacl.org/Junius/christandsatan.html.