Communal Creativity in the Making of the 'Beowulf' Manuscript

Towards a History of Reception for the Nowell Codex


In Communal Creativity in the Making of the ‘Beowulf’ Manuscript, Simon Thomson analyses details of scribal activity to tell a story about the project that preserved Beowulf as one of a collective, if error-strewn, endeavour and arguing for a date in Cnut’s reign. He presents evidence for the use of more than three exemplars and at least two artists as well as two scribes, making this an intentional and creative re-presentation uniting literature religious and heroic, in poetry and in prose.

He goes on to set it in the broader context of manuscript production in late Anglo-Saxon England as one example among many of communities using old literature in new ways, and of scribes working together, making mistakes, and learning.

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Simon Thomson, Ph.D. (2017), UCL, is a researcher at Ruhr-Universität Bochum and edits a Brepols series, ‘Medieval Narratives in Transmission’. He has published on the scribes and artists of the Beowulf manuscript, and on Cnut the Great’s rule of England.
Communal Creativity is a very well-written and highly readable book … The material is meticulously presented and lavishly illustrated with tables, charts and images in both black and white and colour.”
Francis Leneghan, St Cross College, Oxford. In: The Review of English Studies, New Series 1-3 (2019).

List of illustrations
List of tables
Terms used
List of abbreviations


Chapter 1 – (Re)Introducing the texts of the Nowell Codex
The Passion of Saint Christopher
The Wonders of the East
The Letter of Alexander to Aristotle
Reading the Nowell Codex in the eleventh century

Chapter 2 – Reconstructing the Nowell Codex
Dating and placing the scribes of the Nowell Codex
Extant gatherings
Judith, St Christopher and the missing gatherings
Sequence of production

Chapter 3 – The Images in The Wonders of the East
A ‘collection of absurdities’?
The two artists of the Nowell Wonders
The planning and control of the images
Variant styles; multiple exemplars

Chapter 4 – Scribe A’s performance
The value of the Nowell Codex’s prose texts
Scribe A’s density of copying in Beowulf
Usage of capitals
Minor capitals
Form of capitals
Explicits and incipits
Scribe A and the metre of Beowulf

Chapter 5 – Scribe B’s performance
Scribe B’s density of copying
179 (BL182): The palimpsest
Usage and form of major capitals
Minor capitals
Scribal decoration

Chapter 6 – Communal manuscript production in late Anglo-Saxon England
Communal use of manuscripts
Communal production of manuscripts
‘Supervisors’, ‘directors’, and ‘compilers’
Final suggestions

Appendix 1 – Sections and structural ideas in The Wonders of the East

Appendix 2 – Images and colours used in The Wonders of the East

Appendix 3 – Scribal corrections in the Nowell Codex
Scribe A’s corrections
Scribe B’s corrections

Appendix 4 – Readers’ annotations
103 (BL106)v.19: the explicit to Wonders
111(119) (BL122)v.20, 112 (120) (BL123)v.12, and 117(109) (BL112)r.17: f-shaped marks
164 (BL167)v.18: marginal cross
128 (BL131)r: drypoint sketches
202 (BL205): marginal designs

Works cited
Editions and facsimiles
Critical texts
All interested in Beowulf, or in late Anglo-Saxon England, or in manuscript culture more broadly. Primarily academic institutions and researchers but accessible to students and educated laypeople.