The Anglo-Saxons and Beowulf A presentation by Prof. M. Sajid Iqbal ED 205-16
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow• One of the most important remains of Anglo-Saxon literature is the epic poem Beowulf. Its age is unknown; but it comes from a very distant and hoar antiquity…It is like a piece of ancient armor; rusty and battered, and yet strong.
Historical Perspective• Ancient civilizations, some of which were quite advanced, had arisen in other parts of the world well before the Anglo-Saxon period.• For example, the great pyramids had already been built along the Nile.• City states had risen and fallen in Mesopotamia.• Persia had already united many lands.• China was a unified, powerful empire.• The beginnings of democracy had already come and gone in Greece.• By contrast, Britain was a green, dark, isolated, sleepy island where civilization and empire had yet to bloom.
Table of Contents• Anglo-Saxon Era: Timeline• Anglo-Saxon society• Pagan vs. Christianity• Anglo-Saxon Literature• Beowulf• Resources
The Anglo-Saxon Era: Timeline• 43CE Romans invade Britain. – Encountered the Celts. – Romans build roads, villas, huge buildings, and forts. – Introduced Christianity.• 420CE Romans leave.
Timeline Continued• 450CE Jutes from Denmark, and the Angles and Saxons from Northern Germany invade England. – Germanic tribes. – Anglo-Saxons push out Celts• 597CE Anglo-Saxons become Christian
Timeline Continued• 787CE Viking raids begin• 871-899CE King Alfred the Great becomes King of England. – Established education systems, rebuilt monasteries. – Fought Danes and forced them from Wessex. – Unified Anglo-Saxons under one king to resist the Viking invasions. – Danes ruled in the North, Anglo-Saxons in the South.• 1066CE Norman Conquest by William the Conqueror. – From Norman French. – Defeated Danes and Anglo-Saxons. – Officially ended Anglo-Saxon era and brought about the beginning of the Medieval Period.
Anglo-Saxon Society• Anglo-Saxon society. – Lived in tribal groups with a high class of warriors. – Kings emerged as society developed.• Spoke Old English. This was the language that Beowulf was written in.• Became Christian but still valued heroic ideals and traditional heroes.• Their culture valued human contact, family, virtue, and a good story. They feared humiliation and loneliness in their lives. In addition, the Anglo-Saxons desired richness, power, and appreciated heroic actions of warriors.
Pagan vs. Christianity in Beowulf The Anglo-Saxons mixed both pagan and Christian traditions. Beowulf contains traces ofPagan both beliefs. Christianity • God is mentioned by two of• Strong nature the main characters in the presence poem: Beowulf and Hrothgar.• Strength of the • Grendel as Lucifer – Both are outcasts warrior – Perform a task for God – Grendel is described as a son or descendant of Cain, a clear Biblical reference.
Anglo-Saxon Literature• Anglo-Saxon literature began as an oral tradition. Stories, poems, and songs were all told aloud and passed from generation to generation orally through minstrels (also called scops).• Poems traditionally had a strong beat, alliteration, and no rhyme.• Caesura: “a cutting.” A break in a line of poetry, used in Old English to depict a half line. We use a comma for a modern effect. – i.e. Da com of more under mistheleopum “Out from the marsh, from the foot of the hills.”• Kenning: derived from the Norse word “kenna” which means “to know, to recognize.” It is a compact metaphor that functions as a name. • i.e. helmberend: “Helm bearer” or “warrior”• Old English example
Why Is Beowulf Important?• It is the sole survivor of a great epic tradition.• It is great poetry.• It is an archaeological relic which is most interesting.• As a linguistic document, it’s full of revelations.• It gives us information about Old English social life and politics.
Language of the Age• English is divided into three periods: Old English (ca.449-1100), Middle English (ca. 1100-1500), and Modern English (ca. 1500-).• Old English is sometimes known as Anglo-Saxon.• The English language changed from Old English to Middle English in 1100 and from Middle English to Modern English in 1500. These shifts took place over hundreds of years.• It is important to realize that the wide-spread notion of a standard language or even of standardized spelling are modern notions made possible by the printing press.
The Epic!• Beowulf is the most well-known Anglo-Saxon poem, and is a form of poetry called the epic. Such other examples are Homer’s The Iliad and The Odessey.• Long narrative that celebrates a hero’s long journeys and heroic deeds. • J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Ring series and George Lucas’ Stars Wars could be called modern epics.• Characteristics include a noble hero whose character traits reflect their society’s ideals. The hero performs brave acts and appears superhuman.
Heroic Code• The epic poem Beowulf strengthens the Heroic Code. This code was derived from the Anglo-Saxons’ Germanic roots, and called for strength, courage, and loyalty in warriors. It also required kings to be hospitable, generous, and have great political skills. This code was a basis for Anglo-Saxon honor.
Common Themes Of an Epic Poem• Universal themes of epic poetry – Good vs. evil • Beowulf vs. Grendel – Isolation – Courage and honor • Beowulf is fearless and brave while fighting the monsters. – Gods or semi-divine creatures • Grendel, Grendel’s mother, the dragon – Tale involves the fate of an entire race • Beowulf saves Hrothgar’s village from Grendel.
Common Themes of An Epic• Takes the form of a long narrative poem about a quest, told in formal, elevated language• Narrates the exploits of a larger-than-life hero who embodies the values of a particular culture• Begins with a statement of subject and theme and, sometimes, a prayer to a deity• Deals with events on a large scale• Uses many of the conventions of oral storytelling, such as repetition, sound effects, figures of speech, and stock epithets• Often includes gods and goddesses as characters• Mixes myth, legend, and history [Holt 55]
Beowulf• Most famous of early Germanic poems• Written anywhere between 400- 1000, but most likely after the 500s.• The author is unknown, but likely to be Christian. It is likely that a few different authors elaborated on the tale.• Takes place in Sweden, Denmark, and Frisia. – The Norse were at this time attacking Britain, thus allowing knowledge of places, people, and ancestors to be available.
Characters• Beowulf: main character, a hero featuring all the qualities of an epic hero. He has superhuman strength and is fearless and brave in battler.• Hrothgar: the king of the village that Beowulf saves from Grendel.• Grendel: a monster terrorizing Hrothgar’s village.• Grendel’s mother: a monster set out to avenge her son’s death.
The Plot …in six sentences.• Beowulf travels to Hrothgar’s village to save them from Grendel, a terrifying monster eating their warriors. An epic battle ensues with Beowulf is the winner. Of course, Grendel’s mother comes seeking vengeance for her son’s death. Again, Beowulf is called upon to save them all, and he fights heroically and defeats the evil monster. After being vastly rewarded and refusing an offer from Hrothgar to be his heir, Beowulf makes the long trek back to his homeland where he becomes a mighty and generous king for many years. He fights a massive dragon who is threatening his people. He and the dragon both die in the struggle, but he is heroic until the end.
Anglo Saxon Elements in the poem• Stern, barbarous life• Relgious feeling, fatalism of Anglo-Saxon• Mixtures of savagery, sentiment, and nobility• Love of nature and especially being influenced by the sea• Common sense, power of endurance, seriousness of thought• Emotional, imaginative, sensitive.
Ideals of Society• Love of glory• Allegiance to lord or king• Reverence for women• Love of personal freedom• Open-handed hospitality of lord to thane• Honoring truth• Repression of too much sentiment
Old English Example Old English circa 500CE-1100CE“Cyning” means “king,” so “Cyningas” must mean “kings.” What other words look familiar to today’s language?