HISTORY OF ENGLISH LITERATURE Anglo-Saxon Period (450 – 1066) Lecture 4 MA English COMSATS Virtual Campus Islamabad
Overview • In this class we will discuss: • A brief history of early Britain • What is Anglo-Saxon/Old English? • Brief History of Anglo-Saxons • Anglo-Saxon Poetry • Anglo-Saxon Prose • Literary works during the period
A brief history of early Britain • The Earliest Settlers • In ancient times Britain was inhabited by Iberians of whom little is known. • The beginning of settlement in Britain took place in about 2000 – 1200 B. C. • The early settlers were certain Celtic-speaking tribes called Britons, from whom the island got its name--Britain ( the land of Britons ).
Pre-Historical/Pre-Roman The Celts were Pagans and their religion was known as “animism” a Latin word for “spirit.”
A brief history of early Britain The Earliest Settlers • The Britons were primitive, bronze-age people. • They lived in round, wooden huts and were mainly farmers • They lived as tribes with a king or queen as their leader.
The Roman Conquest • Conquest: Oxford dictionary Definition • Act of taking control of a country or city by force • In 55 B. C. Britain was invaded by the Roman general Julius Caesar. • The Britons fought bitterly against the Roman conquerors (for about 100 years) and were not completely subjugated to the Roman Empire until 78 A. D. • With the Roman Conquest, the Roman mode of life and civilization came across to Britain also.
The Roman Conquest • The Romans introduced their civilization and language and build towns, roads, baths and temples. • For over a century they tried to conquer Caledonia, Scotland, but did not succeed. In the end King Hadrian ordered building of a wall across the north of England. • The Roman Conquest ended in 410 A. D.
The Most Important Results of the Roman Occupation • Established camps that eventually became towns. • Maintained relative peace. • Latin heavily influenced the English language. • Christianity begins to replace Paganism, especially after St. Augustine converts King Aethelbert in 597.
What is Anglo-Saxon or Old English? • The earliest phase of English Literature • Anglo and Saxons---two tribes occupied Britain • English----Common tongue of these tribes • Before the occupied Britain, they lived along the coasts of Sweden and Denmark • The land which they occupied was called Engle-land • These tribes-----fearless, adventurous and brave • They sang at the feasts about battles, gods and their heroes • Some of their chiefs were also bards • Through their songs of religion------English poetry began in the ancient Engle-Land. • Britain was still a Roman province
Anglo - Saxons • First landed in England in the middle of 5th century and by 670 A.D. they occupied almost whole country • The came as conquerors • They made England their permanent home • The became ancestors of the English race • They ruled till 1066 • Harold, the last Saxon king was defeated in the battle of Hasting by William the Conqueror of Normandy, France
Background of Anglo – Saxon Language • Branch if Indo-European family of languages • It has same root words for: • Father and mother • God and man • Common needs and common relations of life As we find in Sanskrit, Iranian, Greek and Latin
What is Anglo-Saxon or Old Literature? • Mush of the Anglo-Saxon poetry is lost • Only some fragments are left • Poems: • Widsith describes continental courts visited in imagination by a far wandering poet • The Flight at Fibbesburg deals with the same favorite these of battle against fearful odds • Complaint of Deor describes the disappointments of a lover • Beowulf----the most important poem of this period
Themes in Anglo – Saxon Poetry • Five great principles: • Love of personal freedom • Responsiveness to nature • Religion • Love for womanhood • Struggle for glory All these principles are reflected in their literature.
Beowulf • Greatest Germanic epic in the world of Literature • Tale of adventures of Beowulf-----the hero • A champion and slayer of monsters • Full of all sorts of references and allusions to great events • To the fortunes of kings and nations
Old English Poetry • Few books were written; most of those were written in Latin, for religious purposes. What are the earliest works written in Old English? Four books of Old English poetry exist today. • Stories from the Old Testament turned into Old English poetry • Christian poems based on themes from the New Testament or lives of saints. • An anthology of different short poems • The fourth contains Beowulf. Badly burned in 1731; today it is carefully preserved in the British Museum, in London
Beowulf • First page of the Beowulf manuscript • How Old English sounds: • http://www.engl.virginia.edu/OE/Beowulf.Readings/Prologue.html
Old English Poetry • Our ignorance about Beowulf. • Was it a traditional heroic story, written down by a monk and then recopied by other monks who added a thin veneer of Christian moralizing to a basically pagan tale? • Was it written by a scholar trying to create something like the great Latin epic, theAeneid?
Introduction “The poem called Beowulf was composed sometime between the middle of the seventh and the end of the tenth century of the first millennium, in the language that is today called Anglo-Saxon or Old English. It is a heroic narrative, more than three thousand lines long, concerning the deeds of a Scandinavian prince, also called Beowulf, and it stands as one of the foundation works of poetry in English.” - Seamus Heaney (translator, poet)
Background on Beowulf • 3182 lines • Chief literary monument of the Old English Period • Author unknown - - likely composed in 8th century, by monk putting down oral tradition, with a mixture of Christian tenets (unique combo of Germanic pagan heroism + early Christian teaching/world-view) • first printed in the 19th century
Background on Beowulf • Setting: not in England, but in earlier period in Scandinavia (though it has been transformed into a uniquely English text) • in the heroic age of Germanic peoples (5th and 6th centuries) • hence, celebrates a past centuries old, glorified by oral traditions
Beowulf and Poetic Beginnings • Use of Contrast (man-filled Heorot vs. lonely Grendel stalking among corpses) • Early use of Symbolism (Beowulf hangs Grendel’s arm on wall: symbol of victory) • Hyperbole (struggle so fierce even the mighty Heorot is threatened)
Alliteration and Beowulf • The most striking feature in Beowulf is the use of alliteration. • In alliterative verse, certain accented words in a line begin with the same consonant sound. • examples: Of men he was the mildest and most beloved, To his kin the kindest , keenest to praise. (In modern translation)
Metaphor and Beowulf • Ring-giver is used for King • Hearth-companions for his attendant warriors • Swan’s bath / whale’s road for sea • Sea-wood for ship Such metaphors occur in great numbers in this work.
Anglo - Saxon period and Christianity • After the Anglo – Saxons embraced Christianity, the poets took up religious themes as the subject matter of poetry • Major portion of Anglo – Saxon poetry is religious • Two important religious poets: • Caedmon • Cynewulf
Caedmon • He sang in series the whole story of the fate of man • From creation and the Fall to the Redemption and Last Judgment
Cynewulf • His most important poem is the Crist • Narrative of leading events of Christ`s ministry upon earth • Christ`s return to judgment
English Prose and Anglo – Saxon Period • Began in King Alfred` s times • Alfred`s translations from Latin– a common available prose • There was no break in prose of Anglo – Saxon Period and Middle English Period • Comparatively easy to understand • Prose– based on religious instructions • Two great pioneers of English prose: • Alfred the Great • Alefric
Anglo-Saxon Prose Alfred the Great • The glorious King of Wessex • Translated a number of Latin works in English Aelfric • A priest • Wrote sermons in a sort of poetic prose
Anglo-Saxon Prose 1. Bede ( the Venerable Bede) • Father of English History • HistoriaEcclesiasticaGentisAnglorum (631) • later translated from Latin into Anglo-Saxon by King Alfred as The Ecclesiatical History of the English People in 891 • covers from the Roman Invasion of Britain to AD731, 4 years before the author’s death
2. King Alfred’s contributions to English literature • Translations from Latin, including Bede’s History • his free way of translation helped him to write in a natural style in English, his contribution to the development of English prose • launching the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (also known as Old English Chronicle), a historical register of national events from dim past to his own age. This work was continued by monks long after his death.
References • A critical History of English Literature by Dr. Mullik • A critical History of English Literature by David Daiches • A dictionary of Literary Terms by Martin Gray
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