Aldhelm's Fandom: The Humble Virtues of Boniface's Riddles

Megan Cavell, Jennifer Neville

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


St Boniface, the eighth-century scholar, missionary, and eventual martyr, is generally characterised as an important historical figure but a bad poet. In part it is because his verse is so strongly marked by direct borrowings from Aldhelm that it is easy to assume he did not possess the creativity or ability to write for himself. Here, we seek to rehabilitate Boniface’s collection of Latin riddles about the personified Virtues and Vices, engaging especially with Humilitas Cristiana (‘Christian Humility’), Virginitas … humilium (‘Virginity of the Humble’), Superbia (‘Pride’), and Vana gloria iactantia (‘Vainglorious Boasting’). We examine Boniface’s riddles through the lens of fan studies, arguing that fandom and fan fiction provide insights into group-identity formation and gift-giving that reframe Boniface’s debt to Aldhelm, as well as his entire creative project. Like a writer of fan fiction, Boniface creates new characters based on his reading of Aldhelm’s De virginitate (‘Concerning Virginity’) and, through them, he develops Aldhelm’s warning against taking pride in virtue. However, Boniface’s riddle-subjects speak an encoded message that only a true fan of Aldhelm could appreciate. Distance from this fandom has led to scholarly neglect of a fascinating poetic collection, but we hope to bridge the gap.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberhgad077
JournalReview of English Studies
Early online date6 Sept 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Sept 2023


  • Boniface
  • Aldhelm
  • early medieval
  • Riddles

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