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Ancrene Wisse (also Ancrene Riwle) or Guide for Anchoresses is a monastic rule (or manual) for anchoresses, written in the early 13th century. 'Ancrene Wisse' was originally written for three 'sisters' who chose to enter the contemplative life. 'Ancrene Wisse' is made up of eight Parts: Parts 1 and 8 deal with what is called the "Outer Rule" (relating to the anchoresses' exterior life), Parts 2-7 with the "Inner Rule" (relating to the anchoresses' interior life). The conflict between the external and internal worlds is a fundamental concern of the author, as illustrated by this passage from Pt. 2:
"Hwether ei totilde ancre fondede eaver this, the beaketh eaver ut-ward as untohe brid i cage? Hwether the cat of helle cahte eaver towart hire, ant lahte with his cleavres hire heorte heved? ... To wrather heale beakede swa ut ancre."
Language and textual criticism
It is written in an early Middle English dialect known as 'AB language'. This comes from the sigla of MSS Bodley 34 (A) and Corpus Christi 402 (B). Bodley MS 34 contains the final revision of Ancrene Wisse. Corpus Christi MS 402 contains Ancrene Wisse together with a set of texts that have become known as the "Katherine Group": 'Katerine', 'Margerete', 'Iuliene', 'Hali Meiðhad' and 'Sawles Warde'. AB language was described by J.R.R. Tolkien as "a faithful transcript of some dialect...or a 'standard' language based on one' in use in the West Midlands in the 13th century."
Ancrene Wisse is found in seventeen manuscripts. There are eleven manuscript versions in existence containing all or part of the text in its original Middle English; there are also four versions in Anglo-Norman French, and a further four Latin translations. The oldest manuscript in English is kept at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. A number of the 17 manuscripts have only extracts of the text. The shortest extract is the Lanhydrock Fragment (Oxford, Bodleian Library), made up of only one page. 'Ancrene Wisse' has a very complex manuscript history. Paul Zumthor has suggested that given the way mediaeval texts were transmitted, we should see many mediaeval works not as "a single, completed entity but as something more fluid and open-ended, constantly adapted as it travelled through space and time".
Many scholars since Tolkien have worked on editing some of the versions.
- J. R. R. Tolkien, N. R. Ker, eds. (1962) The English Text of the Ancrene Riwle (Ancrene Wisse, Corpus Christi College Cambridge MS 402). (Early English Text Society; 249). Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-722249-8
- Arne Zettersten, Bernhard Diensberg, eds. (1976) The English Text of the Ancrene Riwle, The 'Vernon' Text; Bodleian Library MS Eng. poet. a. I.. (Early English Text Society; 310). Oxford U. P. ISBN 0-19-722314-1
- Geoffrey Shepherd, ed. (1959) Ancrene Wisse: Parts six and seven, London: Nelson
- Robert Hasenfratz, (2000) online edition at rochester.edu
- Joseph Hall (ed.) (1920) "Ancrene Wisse; Ancrene Riwle" (extracts) in his: Selections from Early Middle English, 1130-1250. Oxford: Clarendon Press; vol. 1, pp. 54-76; 2, pp. 354-407 (The seven deadly sins; The outer rule. Based on CCCC 402, Cotton Nero A.xiv and 3 other MSS.)
- J. R. R. Tolkien, Ancrene Wisse and Hali Meiðhad (in Essays and Studies; 1929).
- Eric John Dobson, Robert Grosseteste, Moralities on the Gospels: New Source of "Ancrene Wisse" Oxford: Clarendon Press (1975) ISBN 0198120567
- Anne Savage, Nicholas Watson, Benedicta Ward, Anchoritic Spirituality: "Ancrene wisse" and associated works, Paulist Press (1991), ISBN 0809132575 Google Books Search
- Elizabeth Robertson, Early English Devotional Prose and the Female Audience, (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1990)
- Jennifer Potts, Lorna Stevenson and Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, eds. Concordance to "Ancrene Wisse": MS. Corpus Christi, Cambridge 402, 1249 p. (Woodbridge: D. S. Brewer, 1993)
- Hugh White, Ancrene Wisse: Guide for Anchoresses Harmondsworth, New York: Penguin, 1994.
- Yoko Wada, ed. A Companion to 'Ancrene Wisse' (Woodbridge: D.S. Brewer, 2003).
- Christopher Cannon, 'The Grounds of English Literature', (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005)
- Uni-hd.de (German)
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- Liturgy in the Style of the Anchoresses as used today in All Saints' Church, Norfolk
- The Ancren Riwle: a treatise on the rules and duties of monastic life; edited and translated from a Semi-Saxon MS. of the 13th century by James Morton. London: Camden Society, 1853
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