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Anglo-Saxon Period 449-1066 “It is better never to begin a good work than, having begun it, to stop.” -Bede A History of the English Church and People. Introductory Notes British Literature. Inhabiting the British Isles. The Groups….

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Introductory Notes British Literature

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    1. Anglo-Saxon Period449-1066“It is better never to begin a good work than, having begun it, to stop.”-Bede A History of the English Church and People Introductory Notes British Literature

    2. Inhabiting the British Isles

    3. The Groups… • The islands were inhabited by the Britons and the Gaels. These were Celtic people who came from Europe • Languages descended mainly from the Celts—Irish, Scottish, Gaelic, Welsh, and Breton • The Celts were farmers and hunters. Their society was organized into clans ruled by tribal chieftans elected from a class of Pagan priests. These priests, the Druids, composed hymns, poems, and historical records • They studied the heavenly bodies, served as judges, and conducted religious ceremonies in secret places in the woods and in places like Stonehenge • These islands were eventually taken over by Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire

    4. The Coming of the Anglo-Saxons • Early in the 5th century, the Roman legions left Britain to protect Rome from invasion • Over the next 100 years, fierce Germanic invaders arrived (the Jutes from the Danish peninsula, the Angles and the Saxons from Europe) • The Angles established 3 kingdoms in the Northern part of the island • The Saxons established 3 kingdoms in the South • The Jutes settled on the island that is now Ireland

    5. Early Anglo-Saxon Life • Society was split into four different groups (classes): • Earls—ruling lords who owed their position to the king • -Freemen—men allowed to own land and engage in commerce—included thanes • Churls (serfs)—bonded servants who worked the land in return for military protection • Thralls (slaves)—usually military prisoners or people being punished

    6. Beliefs/Religion • Many Anglo-Saxons (in the early part of the period) had Pagan beliefs • They worshipped ancient Germanic gods • They took a rather grim view of life • They believed every human life was in the hands of fate • Roman Church tried to send missionaries through Europe to convert people—it worked in Britain • The church also brought two important facets of civilization: education and written literature • Printing presses did not exist yet, so everything was an original, or it had to be completely copied by hand

    7. Life in the Times • Anglo-Saxon life was simple and crude • An eye-for-an-eye mentality ruled and public punishments were common and well-attended • Blood feuds, invasions, and desire for land or treasure led to frequent warfare • Life among the Anglo-Saxons was harsh and unpredictable. Death from disease, famine, battle wounds, or storms at sea could occur at any time, depending on the whims of the goddess Wyrd, or “fate” • “Fate often saves an undoomed man if his courage is good.”

    8. The End of the Anglo-Saxon Era • Between 925 and 939, King Athelstam conquered the rest of the island of Britain, making it one nation • The Anglo-Saxon peace was not to last. In 960, waves of Danish invasions began, culminating in 1016 with the crowning of Canute, a Dane, as King. • The Anglo-Saxons soon fought back and regained the crown • In 1066, a Norman duke, William the Conqueror, crossed the English Channel and defeated the English King Harold at the Battle of Hastings, bringing the Anglo-Saxon era to a close

    9. Anglo-Saxon Literature • Many people believe that storytellers, memorizing and reciting long, heroic poems about Celtic leaders and their deeds were the origin of literature from this time period • These storytellers wanted to pass along tribal history and values to an audience that could not read

    10. Anglo-Saxon Literature(continued) • Topics mainly included military victories or ceremonial occasions • Only about 30,000 lines of Anglo-Saxon verse still exist, falling into one of two categories: • 1) Heroic Poetry: recounts the achievements of warriors involved in great battles • 2) Elegiac Poetry: sorrowful laments that mourn the deaths of loved ones and the loss of the past

    11. Anglo-Saxon Poetry • The reciting of poems often occurred on ceremonial occasions such as the celebration of a military victory • Some poetry recitations lasted for hours, some for days • Scholars now suppose that these recitations took place to the accompaniment of a harp • These poems followed a set formula of composition, which probably made them easier to memorize

    12. Anglo-Saxon Epic Poetry • A-S Epic Poetry has two distinctive features: • 1) The two part line: each line is separated by a pause, known as a caesura, with two strong beats per part • 2) The kenning: a colorful, indirect way of naming something • Ex. The sea is: a whalepath, the sun is: thecandle of the skies