Women and Religious Boundaries
The Treatment of Self and Other -Three Anglo-Saxon Poems
By: Jennifer Mauck
Fall 1999
for English 331 at Purdue University

The space between self and other is vigorously maintained with respect to those objects inside and outside the society.  However, self cannot be defined without other, just as there is no need to define society without the existence of something outside of it.  Contact with the other is inevitable, and the society must find a way to resolve not being the only.

In terms of religion, the ideals of self, other, and only are important to the belief system.  There must be a good and an evil, an us and a them.  They, whoever the other is, must be wrong because we, the self, must be right else there is no point in making distinctions.  Interestingly, every religion believes they are the only ones who are right which causes them to strive toward actually becoming the only.

In Juliana, Elene, and Judith, these lines are drawn, crossed, and corrected.  In all three instances, the definition of self in a patriarchal society is made more difficult by the fact that the main perspective is that of a woman.  The authors of each have, in one subtle way or another, tried to deal with this problem.  But, the greater problem remains: how is the other resolved.

In all three works, becoming the only is accomplished.  This is important because it reassures the audience that what was wrong has been set right by God, or divine will.  It enforces the distinction between right and wrong, respectively self and other.

In Juliana and Elene, the religious distinction is between Christian and pagan or Jew.  In Judith, the difference is the same, but from the perspective of the Hebrews.  The problem remains the same no matter the perspective.

In Juliana, the problem of self and other is complex and presents a contradiction.  Juliana is a Christian.  As a Christian, she relates to the audience and can be identified as part of the self of that society, what could be called the relative self.  The fact that she is a woman is neatly set aside since she remains a virgin.  However, she is the only Christian in a pagan society, in a sense making her an outsider to them, the actual other, part of an extreme minority.  So, Juliana represents both aspects in the same person.

Similarly, the pagan people represent both aspects.  For the reader, who does not identify with the pagans, they are easily classified as other (relative other).  Within the context of the story, however, as a majority, they represent the self (actual self), they define the society.  So, with both Juliana and her community both as self and other, we have a paradox.

This presents some problems for the reader.  While she is urged toward conformity, she offers Eleusius an easy answer.  She states she will concede and marry him if he will become a Christian (pp 303).  She offers him the chance to conform, to become absorbed into the relative self.  This is what the reader is supposed to want.  It is encouraged when the devil comes to visit Juliana.  But this also shows how difficult it is to be an individual.

The difference between self and other must be resolved.  Juliana spends her time in this story defying the wishes of her community, her father, and the devil.  Her community cannot let this go unpunished.  On the other hand, her devotion to God and her beliefs cannot go unrewarded.  Her torture and confinement are more attempts at forcing her to conform to the community.  It is during her confinement that God speaks to her, thus showing the reader that her beliefs are not wrong and also providing an opportunity to expound on the nature of sin.

The people are commanded, by the devil coincidentally, to boil lead and to put her into it to put her to death (pp 316).  The solution to having a Christian in their midst is to kill her.  That certainly eliminates the problem of other for the community.  Unfortunately for them, that did not work, so her head is cut off.  This is the end as far as the people are concerned, but this leaves the Christian audience wanting.  The reader is assured that Juliana receives everlasting bliss (pp 318).

Juliana's death would seem to be the end of the story, but Eleusius and his people are still an unresolved problem.  However, he and some warriors go out to sea and are destroyed (pp 318).  The author goes on to tell us that they are headed to hell since they had no reason to look toward God as salvation.  After this, the body of Juliana is buried with much praise and suddenly God is celebrated in Nicomedia (pp 319).

So, the unbelievers are either converted or punished by apparent divine will and the faithful are rewarded with eternal bliss.  It appears that Juliana's final speech converted some, absorbing them into the relative self, which then no longer needs the distinction of relative or actual.  The other is eliminated completely leaving just the only.  The paradox is neatly resolved by switching self and other to only the perspective of the audience.  Though the problem of how to deal with the other is practically skipped over.  The obvious answer seems to be to terminate the other, which was the solution both sides took, Juliana and Eleusius both dead at the end.  So, the problem is moderately resolved, but not as obviously or completely as in Elena.

In Elena, Helen, Constantine's mother, sought the Cross for her son.  She was sent to the land of the Jews on this mission (pp 170).  Once she and her retinue arrive, the wisest Jews are called to a synod where Helen condemns them for forsaking God (pp 172).  This makes it fairly easy to define self and other.  In this story, the Jews are the enemy, deceivers, and the killers of God -- safely defined as the other.  Since the story follows Constantine and Helen from the very beginning, this defines the self.

Here, the problem of Helen being a woman is eliminated in a similar manner to both Juliana and Judith.  The audience is often reminded that Helen is the emperor's mother, reassuring that she is under the power of her son (pp 181).  Also, she is referred to as the queen of the Christians which lets the reader know that she recognizes she is under the power of God as well (pp 191).

Unlike in Juliana, here the definitions of self and other are not at all ambiguous.  The only apparent similarity is how the other is dealt with, by the absorption into the self.  The process of incorporating the Jews and the acquisition of the Cross are accomplished simultaneously. 
By choosing Judas, Helen has chosen the one who would betray his faith, again but in a different time as the devil notes (pp 188).  He is thrown in a pit for seven days after which he surrenders, willing to take Helen to the site of the Cross (pp 182).  Once they near the site, Judas prays that the exact spot will be revealed (pp 184).  When smoke rises from the spot, he accepts God since he has witnessed His workings (pp 185).

Constantine commanded that a church be built on the site of the discovery of the Cross.  Judas was baptized, eventually appointed to the priesthood, made bishop of Jerusalem, and received a new name (pp 190-1).  After all this, the people were converted and praised God willingly (pp 192).  Having seen the error of their ways, they are absorbed into Helen's people.  The problem of other is resolved.
The solution to this problem is somewhat similar to the solution in Juliana, except in this story, there is no need for killing for resolution and the absorption is more complete.  During the conversion of the people, Judas, now called Cyriacus, reflects on the inspiration and the growth of his belief in God (pp 190 ff).

In Juliana, the people were not necessarily the enemy.  Juliana seemed very accommodating, offering peacefully a compromise.  In Elene, Helen comes into Jerusalem accusing and condemning the Jews.  Judith takes this attitude, except toward the Assyrians, to more of an extreme.

Judith is a story where right and wrong is very important.  It is important because the story relies on the assumption that the Israelites are supported by God.  In fact, Judith only has the strength to kill Holofernes because God gave her the courage (pp 498).  And in the end, Judith and the author both praise God because of this (pp 504).

Self, in this work, can be defined as Judith and her people because the reader follows Judith and celebrates her victory.  More importantly, though, is the fact that God truly is on her side.  It is because the Israelites are the self that the Assyrians can only be the other.  The reader is encouraged not to identify with Holofernes, and by association, his people, by describing him as a villain, "abhorrent to the Savior," and persecutor (pp 497, 498).  It is in the description of his terrible decision to take Judith to his bed that the reader knows, without doubt, that God is on Judith's side.  When Holofernes' intent to defile Judith is related, it is stated that it was God who prevented it (pp 498).  And, after he is beheaded, the reader is informed that his soul went down to hell (pp 499).

The problem of Judith being a woman is solved through descriptive phrases such as: "noble virgin," "the Maker's maiden," and "glorious handmaid of the Savior" (pp 497, 498).  At every turn, the audience is reminded that she is not working of her own will, but rather the will of God.  She is like Helen in this respect.

The resolution of the problem of other takes place in the second half of the manuscript.  After Judith shows her people the head of Holofernes, she told them God would assure their victory (pp 501).  The Israelites attacked the Assyrians in their camp and spared no one (pp 501).  As this progressed, the Assyrian men wanted to wake Holofernes but were afraid to because they believed Judith was still with him (pp 502).  After one of the officers entered the tent and saw the decapitated body of Holofernes, the men were demoralized and ran away (pp 503).  So, the Israelites either killed or chased the heathens away.  It is stated that few survivors managed to escape.  So the problem of the other's existence is, almost literally, pushed away -- those who are not killed are chased out.  However, the primary solution is to kill them.

To some extent this is similar to the fate of the other in Juliana.  The difference being that, in Juliana, the other who are not converted are killed at sea -- not directly by the hands of the self.  There is absolutely no absorption as in Elene.  In fact, the idea of absorption seems abhorrent.  It is made clear to the reader how despised the Assyrians are through the names used to describe them, such as odious foes.

It is ironic to note that history seems not to forget this tactic for dealing with the other.  The wholesale slaughter of those who are called outsiders is repeated many times, with the Jews being persecuted as the other on more than one occasion.

These three works each demonstrate how those who are different, threatening, or unwilling to conform can be dealt with.  However, none of these works show how an individual reacts to the ominous other somewhere out there.  Instead, these show what might be construed as the proper response to such a threat.

The occurrences in Juliana are like a bridge between Elene and Judith.  In Juliana, the other is both converted and killed.  The other two works take each of these and use them to their fullest extent.  However, it appears that one tactic might be more acceptable than the other might.
Over all, more people are converted than are killed and this is very important.  Both Elene and Juliana deal with Christianity.  It might be considered reassuring to know that people will change to follow the "correct" religion and that they do not have to be killed.  It also goes to reinforce the idea that those who do not change and embrace the belief in Christ are punished, like Eleusius.

The masses have their worries concerning the other assuaged by hearing that they can be dealt with.  This may seem unimportant, but people can hardly work well or fulfill their duties when even a nameless worry nags the edges of their thoughts.

In the same vein, Judith serves a similar purpose.  It shows that the chosen people of God will not and cannot be defeated.  It strengthens the audience's beliefs and assures them that they are right and those who oppose them, the other, are wrong.

In all the stories, the problem of the protagonist being a woman is solved similarly.  In Juliana, it is a disturbing image to see the daughter disobeying her father in any way; however, this is precisely what Juliana does.  Because she is a virgin, and because she marries herself to God, her actions become acceptable.  Even though it appears she is acting through her own will, she is not.  She is under the power of her Lord, a male figure.

In Elene, even though Helen no longer has a husband, she is under the control of her son, and also, more importantly, under God.  Judith is lauded as a virgin and subject of God.  So, she is also not acting without the injunction of a male figure.

With the concerns over the female gender set aside, the goal of the only is achieved in all three stories.  In Juliana and Elene, the other is converted and the other is left nonexistent.  In Judith, the other is eliminated.  The end result is the same for all: the self is redefined by "victory" and becomes the only entity in their small universe.

This division between self and other is a theme that can be found in almost all literature.  In these three works, the division is drawn on religious lines, between Christian and pagan, Christian and Jew, and Jew and pagan.  Though each pairing is different, their struggle is the same.  Each of the three women in these works approach it differently.  Juliana was passive but held to her beliefs until her death and did not let that death worry her.  Helen commanded through the power given to her by Constantine and was backed by an army which would follow every command she gave them without question, confident that they were righteous.  And finally, Judith, who found her solution as the edge of a blade slicing through flesh.

Despite any contradictions or difficulties the reader may encounter, the conclusion of each story is resolved by divine will.  Any intrusions made by the other are corrected and the world within the story is left sound and whole with no more worry of another intrusion.  The pagans in Juliana were converted, the Jews in Elene were also converted, and the Assyrians in Judith were killed.

"For this be glory into eternity to the dear Lord who created the wind and the clouds, the skies and the spacious plains and likewise the cruel seas and the joys of heaven, through his peculiar mercy" (pp 504).

Work Cited

All page numbers refer to:
Bradley, S.A.J.  Anglo-Saxon Poetry.  Everyman's Library.  1997.