beowulf. Poem of a hero. Timeline of England. 449 is the traditional date of Anglo-Saxon invasion 597 Christian missionaries land in Kent; Christianity begins to spread among A-S. According to Venerable Bede the pagan A-S were impressed by the missionaries’ certainty of an afterlife.
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beowulf Poem of a hero
Timeline of England • 449 is the traditional date of Anglo-Saxon invasion • 597 Christian missionaries land in Kent; Christianity begins to spread among A-S. According to Venerable Bede the pagan A-S were impressed by the missionaries’ certainty of an afterlife. • 793 Vikings begin first raids on A-S kingdoms • 871 Alfred the Great becomes king of Wessex (to 899) • 1016 Cnut, a Dane becomes king of England (to 1035) • Norman conquest-Wm. The Conqueror defeats Harold at Hastings and becomes king of England • 1166 Henry II institutes judge and jury system • 1170 Thomas a Becket murdered • 1171 Henry II declares himself lord of Ireland, beginning centuries of English-Irish conflict • 1215 King John signs Magna Carta • 1282 England conquers Wales
1295 Model Parliament assembled under Edward I • 1301 Edward II becomes first Prince of Wales, a title thereafter given to male heirs of British throne • 1337 Hundred Years’ War with France begins • 1430 Modern English develops from Middle English • 1476 Caxton establishes first printing press in Britain; prints first dated book in English language
Historical Anglo-Saxon England • Before the Germanic invasions, Britain was inhabited by various Celtic tribes who were united by common speech, customs, and religion. • Each tribe was headed by a king and divided by class into Druids (priests), warrior nobles, and commoners.
The lack of political unity made them vulnerable to their enemies; hence, during the first century, they were conquered by Rome and for the next 300 years, Romans provided Britons (Celtic people from whom the island takes its name) the protection necessary from attack. • Romans armies then abandoned Britain to return to defend their native city of Rome from invaders. Britain became independent in 410, however, this event left the country again vulnerable to attack.
The inhabitants of the north began attacking Britons leading towns to seek help from the Foedarati, who were Roman mercenaries of German origin for the defense of the northern parts of England. • Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and other Germanic people then left their northern European homelands and began settling of Britain’s eastern and southern shores. • According to legend, a man named Hengest arrived on the shore of Britain with “3 keels of warriors.” • With this “adventus Saxonum,” or the coming of the Saxons led by Hengest in 450, the Foedarati stopped defending Britain and they too began conquering southern and eastern shores of the country.
These invaders then drove Britons north and west. Northern Saxons called retreating native Britons “wealas” (foreigner or slave) which became the modern word Welsh. • Many Germanic tribes began migrating to England including Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Frisians, and Franks. • Angles migrated from Denmark and Saxons from northern Germany; however, there is debate on the exact origins of the Jutes. Frisians and Franks migrated mainly from the low countries and north-western Germany.
During the 6th and 7th centuries, Germanic invaders started to carve out kingdoms, fighting both the native Britons and each other for land. First called Saxons, the German invaders were later referred to as Angles. Eventually, differences between the Germanic tribes ceased and they referred to themselves Anglo-Saxons or English. • Old English began to evolve into 4 major dialects. Kentish (Jutes), West Saxon (Saxon), and Northumbrian (Angles) and Mercian (Angles). • Settlements took on new names, i.e. –ton (fenced area), -wick (dwelling), -ham (home)
By 550, native Britons had been converted to Christianity and the religion became established within their culture. • Attempts to convert Anglo-Saxon pagans, however, was initially futile. At the end of the 6th c. Roman church envoy Augustine established Christianity within the highest echelons of society. However, the four kingdoms relapsed into paganism, but by the end of the 7th c., England was reconverted. • Problems then arose with the Celtic Christians—communication with Roman churches ceased for 200 years. They did not practice new theological ideas brought to the Anglo-Saxons by Augustine. In the end, the Roman church did dominate and with that came the biggest influx of Latin terms such as altar, mass, psalm, temple.
Then came the 8th c. and the beginning of Viking raids in 793. Raids continued along most of the southern and eastern coast of England for a decade. About 40 Old Norse words were introduced to Old English (law, take, cut, anger, wrong, freckle). • Vikings also introduced surnames to distinguish people. They added the name of a person’s father or mother to the child’s name. Harald Erik’s son became Harald Erikson.
During the 9th c., Danes began series of raids on England. This ended in agreement which left Danes in control of half of the country. Alfred the Great eventually fought the Vikings to a standstill at Edington which established Danelaw. The fighting would continue, and in 866, Alfred captured London from the Danes. The name Engla lande (land of the Angles) was used.
The 10th Century • The aristocracy: 7 separate kingdoms referred to as the heptarchy. Each kingdom was ruled by a king, the king’s sons (aethlings) and the ruling nobility (eolderman). • The basic unit of land was called the “hide” which was enough to support one family. • For each 100 hides, one leader known as the hundred eolder, was responsible for administration, justice, and supplying military troops. The office was not hereditary.
The thane, similar to a knight, stood at the lowest echelon. Good service by a thane resulted in gifts, granting of land, and elevation to eoldorman. • The middle class included the free men (ceorls), the geneatas (peasant aristocracy who paid rent to an overlord), and geburs (lower middle class). All ceorls had a duty to serve in the fyrd, which was the A-S military.
The lower class was the slave or bondsmen, also known as the “theow.” • They were entitled to some provisions, allowed to own property, and could earn money which could allow them to buy their freedom.
Comitatus • A system of reciprocity—an eoldorman expected martial service and loyalty from thanes, and the thanes expected protection and rewards from the lord. • Thanes became professional warriors because their position in society depended on it. Loyalty to a lord was the greatest virtue for the thane.
So, what else did they leave us?? • Pagan feasts and festivals we celebrate today include Halloween, a tradition handed down from the Celts and altered by Romans, preceded the Christian feast of Hallowmas, or All Saint’s Day. It was regarded as a time to examine the portents of the future. • Easter comes from the pagan Saxon goddess Eostre, and Yule comes from the pagan midwinter celebration of Geol.
Law and Order: Trial by Ordeal • When the Germanic tribes migrated from the continent, the brought a well developed legal system. They included the hundred court, the shire court, and the officials presiding were the eoldorman, the bishop and the king’s shirereeve (sheriff). • The trial by ordeal was administered by the church officials. Before the trial, the accused was given the opportunity to confess. If not, he was given the choice between 2 ordeals: water or iron. . . . . . . .
Ouch! • For the cold water ordeal, the accused was given holy water to drink and thrown in the river. The guilty floated while the innocent sank. During the hot water ordeal, the accused placed his hand in boiling water and retrieved a stone. For the iron ordeal, the accused carried a glowing hot iron bar nine feet. The hand was bandaged, and if the hand healed without festering, the guilty was presumed innocent. • No jails, so one had 3 options: fines, mutilation, or death.
Okay, so why read Beowulf? • Beowulf has been a classic for generations. (I had to read it, so do you). • Beowulf is both the first English literary masterpiece and the earliest European epic written in the vernacular instead of the customary Latin. • It reminds us of just how slender the thread is that holds us to our past. It survives in one fragile manuscript copied by two scribes near the end of the 10th century. • The original manuscript has had some narrow escapes. In the late 700’s, these two anonymous scribes wrote the story on parchment using West Saxon, a Germanic dialect dominant for literary composition in England at the time. The manuscript is only 5x8 inches.
It contains historical elements as King Hygelac’s death during his war against the Franks (520) as recorded by Saint Gregory of Tours. • It was nearly destroyed by King Henry VIII as he dissolved monasteries and broke up their libraries. It was saved by Lawrence Novell. It then found its way to the library of the Elizabethan physician and antiquary Robert Cotton. After Cotton’s death, the manuscript came under the protection of the Crown as a national treasure.
in 1731, the Cottonian Library caught fire and much of the collection was destroyed. The manuscript began to crumble with time. Luckily, Grimur Jonsson Thorkelin, a 19th c. linguist and antiquary from Iceland, made two transcriptions that preserved evidence of now missing or faded words.
Proposing that Beowulf was composed in the 6th c. raises several questions. Where was it being told, how did the poem change as it passed from singer to singer for 500 years? • Why did people continue to listen to it and keep it alive? Why the poem with a Scandinavian hero exists in Old English is a mystery. Beowulf is seen as an unpromising hero for an English folk epic, especially in 10th c. Saxon England. Scandinavian raiders had been ravaging English shores for 2 centuries. • This timing has been used by some scholars to uphold their arguments the Beowulf was composed before the coming of the Northmen about 790 A.D.
However, a poem featuring a Scandinavian hero may have been able to flourish at the court of King Cnut, who added England to his Danish empire in 1016. • Finally, why is there Christianity in the poem? The scribes were undoubtedly Christian and it is certain that it was composed in a Christianized England since the conversions took place in the 6th and 7th c. Yet, only Old Testament references are made and Christ is never mentioned. The poem is set in pagan times, and none of the characters appears to be Christian.
Interlaced with the stories of Beowulf’s battles with monsters are tales of human struggle and less than exemplary people. • The poem depicts good against evil. Darkness is frightening. Challenge is constant and death always awaits. There are victories, but in the end even the hero’s strength and vitality must be sapped by age.
BEOWULF Beowulf , written in Old English sometime before the tenth century A.D., describes the adventures of a great Scandinavian warrior of the sixth century.A rich fabric of fact and fancy, Beowulf is the oldest surviving epic in British literature. • Beowulf exists in only one manuscript. This copy survived both the wholesale destruction of religious artifacts during the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII and a disastrous fire which destroyed the library of Sir Robert Bruce Cotton (1571-1631).The poem still bears the scars of the fire, visible at the upper left corner of the photograph. The Beowulf manuscript is now housed in the British Library, London.The first page of the Beowulf manuscript.
An Elegy • The land was overmuch like scenery,The flowers attentive, the grass too garrulous green;In the lake like a dropped kerchief could be seenThe lark's reflection after the lark was gone;The Roman road lay paved too shininglyFor a road so many men had traveled on. • Also the people were strange, were strangely warm.The king recalled the father of his guest,The queen brought mead in a studded cup, the restWere kind, but in all was a vagueness and a strain,Because they lived in a land of daily harmAnd they said the same things again and again. • It was a childish country; and a child,Grown monstrous, so besieged them in the nightThat all their daytimes were a dream of frightThat it would come and own them to the bone.The hero, to his battle reconciled,Promised to meet that monster all alone. • So then the people wandered to their sleepAnd left him standing in the echoed hall.They heard the rafters rattle fit to fall,The child departing with a broken groan,And found their champion in a rest so deepHis head lay harder sealed than any stone. • The land was overmuch like scenery,The lake gave up the lark, but now its songFell to no ear, the flowers too were wrong.The day was fresh and pale and swiftly old,The night put out no smiles upon the sea;And the people were strange, the people strangely cold. • They gave him horse and harness, helmet and mail,A jeweled shield, an ancient battle-sword,Such gifts as are the hero's hard rewardAnd bid him do again what he has done.These things he stowed beneath his parting sail,And wept that he could share them with no son. • He died in his own country a kinless king,A name heavy with deeds, and mourned as oneWill mourn for the frozen year when it is done.They buried him next the sea on a thrust of land;Twelve men rode round his barrow all in a ring,Singing of him what they could understand.
Beowulf Shrinklet • Monster Grendel's tastes are plainish.Breakfast? Just a couple Danish. • King of Danes is frantic, very.Wait! Here comes the Malmo" ferry • Bring Beowulf, his neighbor,Mighty swinger with a saber! • Hrothgar's warriors hail the Swede,Knocking back a lot of mead; • Then, when night engulfs the HallAnd the Monster makes his call, • Beowulf, with body-slamWrenches off his arm, Shazam! • Monster's mother finds him slain,Grabs and eats another Dane! • Down her lair our hero jumps,Gives old Grendel's dam her lumps. • Later on, as king of GeatsHe performed prodigious feats • Till he met a foe too tough(Non-Beodegradable stuff) • And that scaly-armored dragonScooped him up and fixed his wagon. • Sorrow-stricken, half the nationFlocked to Beowulf's cremation; • Round his pyre, with drums a-muffleDid a Nordic soft-shoe shuffle.
Anglo Saxon speech • Introductions • Hwæt eart þu? Who are you (sing.)? • Beowulf is min nama. My name is Beowulf. • Min nama is Michael. My name is Michael. • Interjections (betwuxaworpennyss) • Wa me Woe is me! • Eala Alas! Lo! (etc.) • LaLo! Oh! Ah! (etc.) • Wa la wa Woe! (etc.)
Old English Audio • http://faculty.virginia.edu/OldEnglish/Beowulf.Readings/Prologue.html