Emily Thornbury

Emily Thornbury's picture
Associate Professor of English

Emily V. Thornbury is a scholar of Old English and Anglo-Latin literature, with a particular interest in early theories of aesthetics. She joins the English department from the University of California at Berkeley. Her first book, Becoming a Poet in Anglo-Saxon England (Cambridge UP, 2014) explored how and why people set about composing verse in England prior to the Norman Conquest. Whether in English or Latin, the Anglo-Saxons’ poetry was enmeshed in the social circumstances in which it was composed, and reveals the ways that communities—or their absence—continually shaped and reshaped poets’ ideas of form and their expectations for what their art could achieve. Presently, Thornbury is working on a book called The Virtue of Ornament, which traces the nonclassical, largely untheorized aesthetic principles of Anglo-Saxon art and literature through a series of productive encounters with Classical forms. Ornament—understood in Classical aesthetics mainly as an extraneous overlay or elaboration, but by Anglo-Saxons as a transformative act—provides an entryway into a world of thought in which surface and depth, proportion, symmetry, and value itself had very different meanings. By understanding how ornament worked for the Anglo-Saxons, we can glimpse alternative ways of reading, seeing, and understanding art.

Selected Publications


Becoming a Poet in Anglo-Saxon England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

Edited collections with Rebecca Stephenson, Latinity and Identity in Anglo-Saxon England (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016).

Articles and essays

‘Æthilwulf poeta.’ In Latinity and Identity in Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Stephenson and Thornbury. Pp. 54–72.

‘Lyric Form, Subjectivity, and Consciousness.’ In A Companion to British Literature, ed. Robert DeMaria Jr., Heesok Chang and Samantha Zacher. Vol. I. (Oxford: Blackwell, 2013). Pp. 30–47.

‘Building with the Rubble of the Past: the Translator of the Old English Gospel of Nicodemusand his Flawed Source’, in Anglo-Saxon Traces, ed. Jane Roberts and Leslie Webster, Essays in Anglo-Saxon Studies 5 (Tempe, AZ: ACMRS, 2011). Pp. 297–318.

‘Strange Hybrids: Ælfric, Vergil and the Lynx in Anglo-Saxon England’, Notes & Queries56 (2009): 163–6.

‘Ælfric’s Zoology’, Neophilologus 92 (2008): 141–53.

‘Aldhelm’s Rejection of the Muses and the Mechanics of Poetic Inspiration in Early Anglo-Saxon England’, Anglo-Saxon England 36 (2007): 71–92.

‘“Ða Gregorius gamenode mid his wordum”: Old English Versions of Gregory’s Bilingual Puns’, Leeds Studies in English 38 (2007): 17–30.

‘Admiring the Ruined Text: the Picturesque in Editions of Old English Verse’, New Medieval Literatures 8 (2006): 215–44.