Before the development of optical science, sight was largely understood to function extramissively, with rays emitted from the eyes effectuating sight as they came into contact with the physical world. In early-medieval England in particular, a very strong correlation between extramissive sight and an extracorporeal mind is evident, based in part on a potential source for this model that has yet to be identified in scholarship: De opificio Dei, by Lactantius. The connection between sight and the mind accounts for anxiety about the possibility of seeing God, manifest in some early-medieval English translators’ careful revision of biblical texts. Sight also developed as a metaphor for power and control within the greater context of Germanic literature, as is especially demonstrated in Beowulf and other works of Old English poetry, but also evident in historical reactions to blinding, as with the 1036 blinding of Prince Alfred by the troubled King Harold Harefoot.
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Old English poetry, early-medieval England, Old English prose, sight, Beowulf
Jackson, Kevin S.. "Beyond Seeing: Sight, Mind, and Power in Early-Medieval England." (2022). https://digitalrepository.unm.edu/engl_etds/329