Anglo-Saxon Literary Context
- In British literature, there are three major divisions
according to developments in the language:
- Old English/Anglo-Saxon:
- Middle English:
- Modern English:
- The founding of Britain:
- Actual Roman founders:
- Germanic invasions followed:
- Characteristics of tribal life under the Anglo-Saxons:
- See Tacitus's statement.
- Mead hall
Thus honor was a big part of the comitatus relationship.
- Kinship was central, esp. wirgild.
- Poetry—an important part of tribal life: a scop
(shaper) played a harp and sang tales of real of fictional heroes. And
tales were transmitted orally.
Rhyme was virtually unknown.
Kenning—a compound of two terms used in place of a common word. A-S
people delighted in this kind of figurative diction:
Heiti: a one-word substitute for an ordinary noun: ash/wood for spear,
iron for sword.
Variation: the use of equivalents for poetic purposes: "Our leader lies
low, // the lord of the Weders": the second half line adds nothing new.
Litotes (lē' te tēz'): a form of understatement in which a thing is
affirmed by stating the negative of its opposite. E.g.: "she was not
unmindful"; to say that someone is sun tanned, say that she is not pale as a
ghost. See H&H 286.
Another characteristic: moralizing asides. Strong ethical
- Early attempts to Christianize England:
- Xty played a crucial role in the transition from
tribal life to the civilization of medieval England.
- Conversion of English people began in earnest in 597:
Pope Gregory sent St. Augustine to England (not the guy who wrote the
Confessions). This was as a result of a moving personal experience.
One day in the market place in Rome, Gregory saw some handsome captives
being sold as slaves. He reportedly said, "Alas! What a pity that the
author of darkness is possessed of men of such fair countenances; and that
being remarkable for such graceful aspects, their minds should be void of
inward grace." When he was told that they were "Angles," the Pope replied
punningly, "Right for they have an Angelic face, and it becomes such to be
coheirs with the Angels in heaven."
- Gregory's instructions: go slowly; don't stamp out
pagan customs; remold pagan customs gradually. Examples:
Idols and temples:
- Example of mixture of pagan and Christian elements: the
Sutton Hoo burial ship.
- In August 1939
- Why would the guy be buried somewhere else?
- The case for Christianity
was strengthened by Coifi, the chief pagan priest, who argued for it: "For
none of your people has applied himself more diligently to the worship of our
gods than I; and yet there are many who receive greater favors from you, and
obtain greater dignity than I, and are more prosperous in all their
undertakings." He is disillusioned with paganism's lack of material
usefulness. He goes on to say that the Christian religion may offer a more
comforting haven during one's brief life: "O king, the present life of man on
earth seems to me, in comparison with the time of which we are ignorant, as if
you were sitting at a feast with your chief men and thanes in the winter time,
and a fire were kindled in the midst and the hall warmed, while everywhere
outside there were raging whirlwinds of wintry rain and snow; and as if then
there came a stray sparrow, and swiftly flew through the house, entering at
one door and passing out through another. As long as he is inside, he is not
buffeted by the winter's storm; but in the twinkling of an eye the lull for
him is over, and he speeds from winter back to winter again, and is gone from
your sight. . . . So this life of man appeareth for a little time; but what
cometh after, or what went before, we know not."
this tell you about life in ancient England?
- The result of
Christianizing: a civilizing impact.
- Augustine made Canterbury
the seat of the Roman Church in England.
- Schools set up in
Canterbury and York to train priests.
- Xty provided
administrative and organizational unity.
- It fostered nationalism,
literacy, and the spread of learning.
- Latin became the scholarly
- Oral transmissionà
writing in the 7th century A.D.
- The waning of the heroic
outlook (comitatus). God > Wyrd ( ).
- Vikings and Alfred the Great
period ends in 1066 when William the Conqueror invaded and conquered England:
most important event in the development of the English language. French
transformed Old English into the Middle English that Chaucer wrote.