The Six Ages of the World and Biblical Genealogy in Anglo-Saxon Encyclopaedic Notes

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Abstract

In the early medieval period, history was commonly organised into six epochs lasting roughly one thousand years each, according to certain calculations of the world’s age. The idea of the six ages emerged from and was consolidated by allegorical interpretations of the Hexameron in which the material endurance of the world was thought to mirror the initial length of its Creation. This historical schematisation enjoyed widespread currency in Anglo-Saxon England, even after Bede had proved that the world was not, in fact, approaching 6,000 years. This article analyses how the topos of the six ages is used and adapted within a hitherto understudied group of related encyclopaedic notes in three Anglo-Saxon manuscripts. How these texts relate to and differ from the wider corpus of encyclopaedic texts on this subject is also charted. The following study investigates the ways in which encyclopaedic texts on the six ages were adapted, expanded and transmitted, and the religious and political motivations driving such changes. This article offers the first in-depth analysis of this particular group of texts, foregrounding the sophistication of micro-texts that explain the six ages. Overall, this study emphasises the pedagogical, theological and historiographical applications of this concept in early medieval English thought.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)437–455
JournalNeophilologus
Volume105
Issue number3
Early online date13 Jul 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021

Keywords

  • Encyclopaedic notes
  • Sex aetates mundi
  • Transmission
  • Chronology
  • Eschatology

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