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In Memorium: Stephen O. Glosecki (1950-2007)


A Remembrance by Jill Frederick, Marijane Osborn, and Elaine Treharne

Stephen O. Glosecki was a scholar of remarkable grace and breadth, and the world of Anglo-Saxon studies is much poorer for his death on April 4, 2007 as a result of the cancer he battled courageously and without self-pity for close to a decade. Steve earned his doctorate in English from the University of California at Davis in 1980, completing his graduate career under the careful mentorship of Marijane Osborn. He joined the faculty of the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1982, where he remained until his death. In 1991, he won the Ellen Gregg Ingalls Award for Excellence in Classroom Teaching, and in 1991-92 he served as Fulbright Professor of Historical Linguistics at the University of Tromsø in Norway. His teaching was broad and imaginative, and brought Old English to many fortunate students, as well as Literature of the Vikings, Images of the Outlaw, and numerous other courses.

Steve embodied, in many respects, the focus of much of his literary study, the folkloric, mythic, and tribal aspects of Old English poetry. He was something of a shaman himself, a man of magical transformations: scholar, translator, poet and artist. In each instance he consciously attended to the things of both this world and the other. Steve's interest in the ecstatic world of the shaman is reflected most obviously in his first book, Shamanism and Old English Poetry (1989). This profoundly innovative and challenging work, warmly appreciated by reviewers upon its publication, has become firmly embedded in contemporary Anglo-Saxon scholarship and has had a major impact on studies of secular poetry from many early literate cultures. Steve's work on "elf-shot" and the attributes of magical beings also inspires current scholars; at the SEMA conference in 2007, for example, Brad Busbee gave a paper entitled "A Sleeping Spell in Beowulf?," using Glosecki and Grundtvig to frame his argument.

Steve's numerous articles appeared in ELN, Journal of Ritual Studies, Mankind Quarterly, Medieval Perspectives, OEN, and elsewhere. His somewhat autobiographical article, "Skalded Epic (Make It Old)", published in an OEN Subsidia volume in 2002, won UAB's 2002 Connor Prize for an essay in the history of ideas. In it he illustrated his efforts to uncover the bardic elements of Old English poetry, a theme that underpinned much of his scholarly work, but also played a key role in his own poetry and translation. He often recited Old English poetry publicly in his own seminars and at conferences. At the conference of the Teachers of Old English in Britain and Ireland, he very memorably read parts of his own alliterative translation of Beowulf to a hugely appreciative audience; he read at the International Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo, which he always enjoyed, and at the 2002 Southeastern Medieval Association meeting, where he chanted the Grendel episode from Beowulf during an opening ceremony entitled "Voices of the Past."

In September 2001, Steve served as Convenor of the 5th G. L. Brook Symposium on "Myth and Language," held in the John Rylands Library of the University of Manchester. A volume containing papers presented at this conference has recently appeared as Myth in Early Northwest Europe, edited by Steve himself (MRTS 320. Tempe, AZ: Arizon State University Press, 2007). Incorporating work by some of the world's leading scholars of myths and mythology from early-medieval Northwest Europe, this volume is sure to be a lasting memorial to Steve's work and scholarly leadership.

In addition to his purely scholarly analyses, Steve devoted much of his time to working on his remarkable translation of Beowulf. In this work, completed last autumn but not yet published, Steve's professional attention to the language of Anglo-Saxon England merged brilliantly with his own considerable abilities as a poet. This version of the poem that emerged slowly over the years, which he often shared piece by piece with his friends, balanced a linguistic and metric justice to the original with Steve's own profound sense of wonder and pleasure in the language and the physical world depicted. His translation of Judith, published in the Broadview Anthology of British Literature in 2006, is equally entertaining, true to the spirit of the original, and wonderfully poetic in its evocation of the heroine and her acts of courage. His translation work had recently moved into the poetic renditions of Scandinavian texts, and he was himself, of course, also a frequent contributor to volumes of poetry; parts of his Beowulf translation were published in the Birmingham Poetry Review.

Steve embraced the physical world in visual art as well, and believed all forms of art to be ennobling. His friends looked forward every year to the original etching that graced his family Christmas card, accompanied by one of his own poems. Indeed, the front cover of Myth in Early Northwest Europe is enhanced by one of his own linocuts: the woman with the drinking horn based on a ninth-century silver figurine found on the island of öland in Sweden.

Steve's own totem, as he often told his friends, was the bear, and however he arrived at his totem spiritually, it also reflected the physical being of the man. Sadly, this totemic animal could not protect him from another "beast," as he often called his cancer. His greatest wish from a scholarly perspective was to finish his Beowulf translation, which he managed to do. But even more than Steve was committed to his scholarly work, he was devoted to his family: his wife Karen Reynolds and their two sons, Dylan and Christopher. It is with them, and his whole family, that our sincere sympathies lie.