Volume 40, 2019
Fact and Fish Tales in Ælfric’s Colloquy
Ælfric’s Colloquy has often been read as a window into the life of the working class in the Anglo-Saxon period. A close reading of Ælfric’s portrayal of the fisherman further shows the Colloquy to be a text that provides an equally revealing picture of its ecological context. Reading the fisherman’s section of Ælfric’s Colloquy in light of archaeological, historical, and ecological evidence illuminates where the author accurately represents the Anglo-Saxon fishery and where he wanders into uncertain waters. Specifically, by comparing the Colloquy’s lists of fish species to the evidence for what archaeologists call the “fish event horizon” of the late tenth and early eleventh centuries, the Colloquy provides a surprisingly accurate depiction of the ecological context of the Anglo-Saxon fishery as it begins to shift from an inland, freshwater fishery to a marine one.