An Introduction to Beowulf The first epic poem in the English Language
Literary Eras we Study As determined by the Brits! Anglo-Saxon: 450AD – 1066AD Medieval: 1066- 1453 Renaissance: 1453 – 1620 Enlightenment: 1620 – late 1700s Romantic: Late 1798 –1800s Victorian: 1837-1901 Modern: 1900s Contemporary: Late 1900s - Present
Opening Questions Why Anglo-Saxon anyway? What does it even mean? Why is the first major English poem set in ancient Denmark? Why does Old English resemble German more than it does Modern English? Mwahahaaaaa…Keep watching!
In the beginning… Celts lived in Albion then Bretons lived in Brittania … so there was no such thing as the English or England!
And it was all part of Rome From 43-410, the Romans held Britain as one of its many colonies Latin was the official language of the governing class
But Rome didnt last Germanic Tribes gain power in the 400s The Roman troops pulled out of Britain from 450-on, leaving the country essentially defenseless…
And a new culture began to evolve… New leaders = New Language Anglo-Saxon! –Also known as Old English
Say What? Hwæt! We Gardena in geardagum, þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon, hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon. Oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum, monegum mægþum, meodosetla ofteah, egsode eorlas. Syððan ærest wearð feasceaft funden, he þæs frofre gebad, weox under wolcnum, weorðmyndum þah, oðþæt him æghwylc þara ymbsittendra ofer hronrade hyran scolde, gomban gyldan. þæt wæs god cyning!
But We Dont Speak That! Why Not? 1066 – The French (Norman) Invasion
So If we werent French, wed be German!.. Er? About 85 percent of the 30,000 Anglo-Saxon words died out after the onslaught of the Scandinavians and Normans; Only about 4,500 Old English words survived. Yet, among those surviving words are some of the most fundamental words in English: and, at, brother, but, child, drink, eat, fight, for, house, in, live, love, man, on, sister, sleep, to, and wife. According to the book The Story of English (McCrum, Robert, New York: Viking, 1986), every one of the 100 most common words in English is Anglo-Saxon.The Story of English
But Back to the Angles & Saxons! (Before she gets angry!)
Conversion to Christianity in 597 St. Augustine of Canterbury converted the land to Christianity (via missionaries) in 597 – about the same time that the new Anglo- Saxon leaders were gaining authority.
790 A Viking Invasion! Eep! Vikings rule, but A-S language remains
Vikings are… Scandinavian! And Beowulf, our British story, is actually about a bunch of Danes and Swedes! Why might a man living in England at this time write a story about Scandinavians, and not fellow Englishmen?
How does Beowulf fit into all this? If its true, when did it take place? When was it written? How did it the story get passed down all those years? You will see the conflicts that arise when an author of one culture attempts to tell the story of another from centuries before.
If the people are real… Is the story real? Again, were not sure. The only incident that has definitely been confirmed as historically true is the death of King Hygelac (which occurs towards the end of Beowulf). HOWEVER, we DO know that the villain of the story, unfortunately, looks nothing like Angelina Jolie. Sorry, fellas.
So who wrote this business? We also dont know who wrote Beowulf. All that we really know about the poet is that he was probably a Christian.
In the 1800s, Beowulf was regarded for its historical value, telling details about the ancient Anglo-Saxon culture It was not until 1936, when Oxford scholar J.R.R. Tolkien (ring any bells?) published a paper about Beowulf that the manuscript gained recognition as a piece to be studied for its literary merit. Why Study It?
Things to remember to avoid confusion! While Beowulf was recorded in England by an English person, it is a Scandinavian tale. The latter is also where the story takes place. When the story was first told, Christianity was not in the picture (tellers were Pagan). However, when it was recorded, England had been converted, and so many people in England were Christian.
Heroes and Leaders Thoughts on what an Anglo-Saxon hero will be like? What about a leader? Do you think they will be the same, or different?