‘Prostitutes and killers of children’. The two form part of a long list of alliterating pairs of social dangers in Wulfstan’s Sermo Lupi Ad Anglos. They can be found with man-slayers and woman-slayers, priest-destroyers and church-haters, and so on.
I remarked to the Bocera this afternoon that it was a bit harsh, equating prostitutes with killers of children. Some early form of ‘but think of the children!’ hysteria? The Bocera looked over his glasses at me and pointed out that ‘killers of children’ is probably referring to abortions or child abandonment- and who would be in a worse economic or social position to raise children than prostitutes?
He then went on to tell me that in excavations of Anglo-Saxon settlements, it is not uncommon to find the bones of newborns in the rubbish heap, and that presumably these were the successful abandonments, since they weren’t discovered and given a proper burial.
But what about still-births, I asked. Still-births, he informed me, were always given a proper burial. In the excavation of Anglo-Saxon churches and cemeteries, the graves of children who died before baptism are usually found under the eaves of the church, in the hope that they would be ‘baptised’ by the water running off the sanctuary.
I learn something new every time I see the Bocera.1 Today: one gruesome, one sweet, and both sad…
1. Did you know that Neil Ker died by falling out of an apple tree? The Bocera tells me, with his impenetrable Bocera expression, that this is not an uncommon way for scholars to die.