A glance at the lay-out of the three texts edited here shows that the verse format used by both Skeat and Assmann has been abandoned for one of continual lineation, akin to modern prose. Modern word-division norms are followed and punctuation supplied.

Paragraphing reflects the sense of Ælfric's Old English texts rather than the corresponding chapters of the source material. Capital letters mark proper nouns(1) and the beginnings of sentences. The problem of parataxis is evident in Ælfric's preference for lengthy sentences. Many sentences have been divided at some of these conjunctions, and to clarify this the Tironian sign is printed in bold type rather than expanded to ‘And’.

Spelling is that of the base manuscript unless otherwise noted in the variants, and all abbreviations, except for the Tironian sign, are expanded and indicated by italics. The Anglo-Saxon characters ‘þ’ and ‘ð’ are kept, but 'w' is used for ‘wyn’. To facilitate reference to earlier editions, at every ten lines the corresponding lineation in the edition by Skeat or Assmann is noted in the right hand margin. Folio changes in the base manuscript are also noted there.

Beneath the text, variants in the manuscripts are noted, with all Old English words in italics and the rest in Roman script. The word(s) to the left are from the edited text, and to the right are the variants found in the manuscripts and other editions. These are listed in alphabetical order, according to the manuscripts' sigla. Only significant variants are recorded: differences in punctuation, word-division, ‘y/i’ and ‘ð/þ’, have not been noted. Insertions above the line are listed. These are incorporated into the edited text where it is deemed that the homily is improved by them and that they are in keeping with Ælfric’s style and diction. The abbreviation ‘om.’ denotes ‘omitted by...’. A commentary follows the texts giving a fuller explanation of some editorial practices; points of interest in relation to source material and explication of the text; and more detailed palaeographical information.

It is necessary when editing a text to settle on a ‘base’ manuscript. In the case of Esther, no decision was required as the text only appears in L'Isle's transcript. However, this problem needed to be confronted for Judith and the Maccabees as the texts appear in a variety of forms.

For Judith, the choice was between British Library, MS Cotton Otho B. x, and Cambridge, MS Corpus Christi College 303. As noted in Chapter II, manuscript O was badly damaged by fire with only two folios remaining of the Judith homily. However, C contains 329 of the 381 lines of edited text extant, duplicating c.53 of the 99 lines covered by O, and, more importantly providing 269 lines not covered by either O or W. The decision then to take C as the base manuscript was based chiefly on these figures. The poor condition of O added further justification.

With the Maccabees, however, the choice is far more difficult. Manuscript L was discounted because it does not contain all the text(2). However, J, C, and E all do. Therefore, these manuscripts had to be analysed further before the decision over the base manuscript could be made.

Manuscript E can be seen to be the least acceptable of the three. It continually retains ‘hio’ for ‘hi’, or ‘sio’ for ‘si’, and is inconsistent with its endings for the preterite third person plural. Most importantly, it continually omits major phrases which the other manuscripts retain. Manuscripts C and J were very similar in the numbers of abnormalities and inconsistencies noted, and it was from these two that the base manuscript had to be chosen. Eventually J was chosen for two major reasons. First, it was Skeat’s base manuscript, which is clearly regarded as the main collection of the Lives of Saints still surviving. Therefore, when comparing this edition with Skeat's, the use of the same main manuscript would facilitate consultation. Second, it is clear that the manuscript has had a lot of attention paid to it since its construction. There are several interlinear additions which are retained in this edition, even though these are not present in C, or for that matter, in the other manuscripts. These are all in keeping with Ælfric’s diction and are therefore included, however much they may intrude on the metre (a reason one suspects for Skeat often failing to keep them in his edition). For these reasons then, J was chosen as the base manuscript for Maccabees.

In summary:

Judith is based on Cambridge, MS Corpus Christi College 303 (C); with variants from British Library, MS Cotton Otho B. x. (O); Wanley's Catalogus (W); and notes to Assmann's edition (A).

Esther follows the single late transcript of Oxford, Bodleian, MS Laud Misc. 381 (M); with notes to Assmann's edition (A).

Maccabees is based on British Library, MS Cotton Julius E. vii (J); with variants from Cambridge, MS Corpus Christi College 303 (C); Cambridge, MS Corpus Christi College 198 (E); Cambridge, University Library, MS Ii.i.33 (L); Oxford, Bodleian, MS Hatton 115 (5135) (P); Cambridge, Queen's College, MS Horne 75 (Q); Cambridge, MS Corpus Christi College 178 (R); British Library, MS Cotton Vitellius D. xvii (V); and notes to Skeat's edition (Sk).

(1) ‘God’ is given a capital letter when referring to the Christian God so that it is easily distinguished from the adjective ‘god’, but other titles such as ‘dryhten’ or ‘scyppend’ are not given capitals. [To return to the appropriate part of the text click here.]

(2) Beginning at l. 283, it contains only 490 of the 773 lines. [To return to the appropriate part of the text click here.]