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PhD Defence

Growing Old among the Anglo-Saxons

Tuesday 26 April 2016
Academy Building
Rapenburg 73
2311 GJ Leiden


Prof. R.H. Bremmer
Prof. W. van Anrooij

Short Description of the PhD Research

This PhD dissertation comprises a detailed study of the Anglo-Saxon cultural conceptualisation of old age as manifested and reflected by words, texts and artwork of the inhabitants of early medieval England. While prior studies identified the Middle Ages as a ‘golden age for the elderly’, this dissertation offers a more complete and nuanced picture of how people considered old age over a thousand years ago.
This dissertation stands out for its multidisciplinary approach, which highlights that a study of how people thought about growing old should take into account as much of the cultural record as possible, ranging from visual arts to texts and even individual words. Individual chapters deal with early medieval definitions of the life cycle; a lexicographical study of the semantic field of old age in Old English; an analysis of the merits and downsides of old age, as represented in homiletic and literary texts; and the cultural roles attributed to specific social groups, such as saints, warriors, kings and women.
On the whole, the Anglo-Saxons were aware of the opportunities provided by senescence (e.g., wisdom and authority), but, at the same time, they were afraid of the consequences (e.g., physical decay and sadness); they looked up to those elderly that managed to remain active despite their age, but denounced those that could not. As such, the early medieval ideas about old age may not be so different from our own. 


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Dissertations by Leiden promovendi can be found in digital form via the Leiden Repository and are generally freely accessible. In a small number of cases, there is a temporary embargo on a dissertation and the text is then available at a later date.

Questions from the press

Inès van Arkel, Scientific Communications Adviser, Leiden University
+31 71 527 3282

Summary in Dutch

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