Friday, November 21, 2014

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Off the Shelf: Peter Baker

Peter S. Baker, “Honour, Exchange, and Violence in Beowulf,” Boydell & Brewer Ltd.

Peter Baker, professor of English in the College of Arts & Sciences, has published a new book that examines the medieval “economy of honor” in the Old English poem, “Beowulf.” As Baker explains in another article, in the medieval economy of honor, “the killing of a foe introduces both wealth and honor into the heroic economy, and as these goods circulate, the violent act circulates with them.”

“Honour, Exchange and Violence in Beowulf,” situates the epic poem and its protagonist in a northern European culture where violence was not stigmatized as evidence of a breakdown in social order, rather was seen as a reasonable way to get things done, where kings and their retainers saw themselves above all as warriors whose chief occupation was the pursuit of honor and where most successful kings were those perceived as most predatory.

In the book, Baker shows that although kings and their subjects yearned for peace, the political and religious institutions of the time did little to restrain their violent impulses. Drawing on works from Britain, Scandinavia and Ireland, which show how the practice of violence was governed by rules and customs, the book makes use of historical and anthropological approaches to its subject.

“Honour, Exchange and Violence in Beowulf” follows Baker’s previous book, “Introduction to Old English,” published in 2012 by Wiley and Blackwell. His academic specialties include medieval studies and the digital humanities.

by Dana Cypress

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