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Anglo-Saxon Literary Context ENGL 203 Dr. Fike. Why We Need This Lecture We are stressing “periodicity”: the reciprocal relationship between texts and.

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Presentation on theme: "Anglo-Saxon Literary Context ENGL 203 Dr. Fike. Why We Need This Lecture We are stressing “periodicity”: the reciprocal relationship between texts and."— Presentation transcript:

1 Anglo-Saxon Literary Context ENGL 203 Dr. Fike

2 Why We Need This Lecture We are stressing “periodicity”: the reciprocal relationship between texts and literary periods. Textual historicity: we know about history through our reading of texts. Historical textuality: Texts reflect and reinforce historical periods and characteristics. Regarding this relationship: The Anglo-Saxons are so remote from our day that understanding the literature requires some significant background information.

3 Major Divisions in the Development of the English Language Old English/Anglo-Saxon: 449-1066 (Germanic invasion of Britain to Norman Conquest) Middle English: 1066-1485 (Norman Conquest to accession of Henry VII, the first Tudor king) Modern English: 1485-present

4 Note The Anglo-Saxon period and the Middle English period can be collectively called the Medieval Period. Modern English breaks down into various sub- periods that will be the subject of this course. Examples: –Early Modern –Neo-Classicism/Restoration/18 th century –Romantic –Victorian –Modern –Postmodern

5 The Founding of Britain Myth: Brutus, a descendant of the Trojan Aeneas, founded Britain. Fact: Britain’s founders were Roman 55-54 B.C.: Julius Caesar invaded the island, which was peopled by a branch of the Celts and by the Gauls. Stiff resistance  Caesar withdrew. 43 A.D.: Emperor Claudius invaded. 85 A.D.: Conquest complete. 410: Occupation forces were called home because the Goths (a Germanic people) attacked Rome. At this point, as Bede (a famous historian) reports, there were four nations: English, British (Welsh), Picts, and Scots. Each had its own language + Latin.

6 More on the Founding of Britain Germanic invasions followed: Angles, Saxons, Jutes. Thus "Anglo-Saxon" refers to the invaders. They came when Vortigern, a 5th century king of the Britons, invited them to help fight the Picts and the Scots. Successful  the Germanic tribes stayed.

7 Characteristics of Tribal Life Under the Anglo-Saxons Tacitus’s statement (handout). The mead hall—e.g., Heorot in Beowulf—was the center of tribal life. Comitatus: train, retinue, following, counselors; made up of warriors, relatives, friends: –The king's men (theigns or thanes) were the government and provided military service in exchange for material compensation and legal protection. –Had to be ready to die for the king, and they were supposed to avenge him after his death. –Thus honor was a big part of the comitatus relationship.

8 Kinship: An Important Part of Tribal Life Kinship was central. If someone killed your relative, you were responsible for avenging such a wrong. Alternatives: Vengeance vs. wirgild (man payment).

9 Poetry: An Important Part of Tribal Life A scop (pronounced skop; Anglo-Saxon poet; literal meaning = “shaper”) played a harp and sang tales of real or fictional heroes. And tales were transmitted orally. Rhyme was virtually unknown. Caesura: a break in the middle of a line of poetry; the two parts are known as “half lines”. Alliteration: 4 stressed syllables per line; the third accented syllable determines the alliteration. "When Nithad ordered knife to the knees Breaking the tendons to bind his better." –Example of alliteration from Francis Fike’s translation of "Deor"

10 Kenning Kenning—a compound of two terms used in place of a common word. A-S people delighted in this kind of figurative diction: –swans' road –world candle –ring giver –life's house— –bird's joy –fresh-tarred floater –bone rings –loaf-sharer

11 Answers swans' road = sea world candle = sun ring giver = prince, king life's house = body bird's joy = feather fresh-tarred floater = ship bone rings = vertebrae loaf-sharer = lady

12 Heiti Heiti: a one-word substitute for an ordinary noun: ash/wood for spear, iron for sword.

13 Variation Variation: the use of equivalents for poetic purposes: "Our leader lies low, // the lord of the Weders": the second half line adds nothing new.

14 Litotes Litotes (lahy-tuh-teez): a form of understatement in which a thing is affirmed by stating the negative of its opposite. E.g.: To say that someone is aware of something, say that “she is not unmindful"; to say that someone is sun tanned, say that “she is not pale as a ghost.”

15 One More Characteristic of A-S Poetry Another characteristic: moralizing asides. Strong ethical consciousness.

16 Early Attempts To Christianize England Christianity played a crucial role in the transition from tribal life to the civilization of medieval England.

17 St. Augustine’s Role 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."

18 Pope Gregory’s Instructions Go slowly; don't stamp out pagan customs; remold pagan customs gradually. Examples: –Destroy idols but retain pagan temples in the form of Christian churches. As a result, there arose a mixture of pagan and Christian elements, as in the following example. –Eostre was the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring (Eostre may also have been a dawn-goddess). Easter was originally the name of the pagan spring festival that took place around the time of the resurrection.

19 Mixture of Pagan and Christian Elements Best example: The Sutton Hoo burial ship. –In August 1939, at a private estate called Sutton Hoo, a cenotaph was discovered (a monument honoring a dead person whose funeral was somewhere else). See Life magazine, July 16, 1951. – /sutton_hole.gif /sutton_hole.gif –Why would the guy be buried somewhere else? –Spoons: Saul & Paul etched into them to honor the king's baptism into the Christian church and pagan artifacts like weapons.

20 Coifi’s Role in Promoting Christianity Coifi was the chief pagan priest who made the argument on your handout. What does this tell you about life in ancient England?

21 A Possible Paraphrase The life of human beings is like a sparrow's flight through a warm room in wintertime: brief and framed on either side by a dark and unknown wintry waste. In light of such conditions, argued the chief priest to the king, Christianity offers a comfort that our pagan world view, emphasizing courage in battle and endurance in the face of all worldly ills, does not.

22 Christianity’s Civilizing Impact Augustine made Canterbury the seat of the Roman Church in England. Schools were established in Canterbury and York to train priests. Christianity provided administrative and organizational unity. It fostered nationalism, literacy, and the spread of learning. Latin became the scholarly language. Oral transmission  writing in the 7th century A.D. The waning of the heroic outlook (comitatus). God > Wyrd (fate).

23 Vikings and Alfred the Great (849-899) Danes = Vikings. King Alfred stopped them at the Battle of Edington in 878. Alfred set out to educate people and translated Boethius's The Consolation of Philosophy into Old English. But from 980 onward the Danes renewed their assaults, and finally in 1017 the Danish military leader Canute occupied the English throne. But Anglo-Christian culture survived.

24 End of the Anglo-Saxon Period A-S period ends in 1066 when William the Conqueror invaded and conquered England. This was the most important event in the development of the English language. French transformed Old English into the Middle English that Chaucer wrote.

25 Two Really Important Themes Consolation: Life sucks, but certain things—like Christianity or the turning of the wheel of fortune or the role of philosophy—take the edge off (The Consolation of Philosophy, “Deor’s Lament,” and “The Wanderer,” respectively). Heroic ethic: It is hollow at the core (“Battle of Maldon,” Beowulf). –It privileges individual honor over personal safety or the tribe’s well-being. –It plays out on the physical/material plane, which cannot support humans’ spiritual longings. –And it ignores the need to vent one’s feelings. END

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