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LECTURE 1 OLD ENGLISH (ANGLO-SAXON) PERIOD. OLD ENGLISH PERIOD (450-1100 AD) Begins with the invasion of Britain by the Germanic tribes who spoke a Proto-Germanic.

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Presentation on theme: "LECTURE 1 OLD ENGLISH (ANGLO-SAXON) PERIOD. OLD ENGLISH PERIOD (450-1100 AD) Begins with the invasion of Britain by the Germanic tribes who spoke a Proto-Germanic."— Presentation transcript:

1 LECTURE 1 OLD ENGLISH (ANGLO-SAXON) PERIOD

2 OLD ENGLISH PERIOD ( AD) Begins with the invasion of Britain by the Germanic tribes who spoke a Proto-Germanic dialect Begins with the invasion of Britain by the Germanic tribes who spoke a Proto-Germanic dialect They were pagans and could not read or write, so theirs was an oral culture. They had to rely on speech and memory. Their oral tradition was highly developed: they liked repetition, word-play, figures of speech, their poems went in circles. They were pagans and could not read or write, so theirs was an oral culture. They had to rely on speech and memory. Their oral tradition was highly developed: they liked repetition, word-play, figures of speech, their poems went in circles. Under the influence of Old Norse (a language spoken by the Vikings in the 8 th century), Anglo-Saxon dialect lost most of its complicated grammar features, and the two dialects blended into one, which is now called Old English. It closely resembles today’s Norwegian or Icelandic. Under the influence of Old Norse (a language spoken by the Vikings in the 8 th century), Anglo-Saxon dialect lost most of its complicated grammar features, and the two dialects blended into one, which is now called Old English. It closely resembles today’s Norwegian or Icelandic.

3 ‘BEOWULF’ Among the Old English literary works that survived to the present day the greatest is ‘Beowulf’. It is an epic poem, about the deeds of a hero. Interestingly, England is never mentioned: the hero, Beowulf, is from Southern Sweden, and much of the story takes place at King of the Danes’ court. Among the Old English literary works that survived to the present day the greatest is ‘Beowulf’. It is an epic poem, about the deeds of a hero. Interestingly, England is never mentioned: the hero, Beowulf, is from Southern Sweden, and much of the story takes place at King of the Danes’ court. Beowulf gives us an interesting picture of life in those days. It tells us about men who spent all their lives fighting: the enemies, the elements, the cruel sea, or their own weaknesses. They were obsessed with transience of life, with heroism, and with the keeping of dignity in the face of defeat. Beowulf gives us an interesting picture of life in those days. It tells us about men who spent all their lives fighting: the enemies, the elements, the cruel sea, or their own weaknesses. They were obsessed with transience of life, with heroism, and with the keeping of dignity in the face of defeat.

4 The most typical feature of ‘Beowulf’ and Old English poetry is the alliterative verse or consonant rhyme. Each half-line is joined to the other by words beginning with the same consonants. The half-lines are separated by a pause, a ‘caesura’. Each half-line has two stressed syllables; the first stressed syllable of the second half-line should alliterate with the second or both stressed syllables of the first half-line. The most typical feature of ‘Beowulf’ and Old English poetry is the alliterative verse or consonant rhyme. Each half-line is joined to the other by words beginning with the same consonants. The half-lines are separated by a pause, a ‘caesura’. Each half-line has two stressed syllables; the first stressed syllable of the second half-line should alliterate with the second or both stressed syllables of the first half-line. –fyrene fremman feond on helle. –("to perpetrate torment, fiend of hell.") -- Beowulf, line Beowulf, line 101Beowulf This was a typical feature of Germanic poetry, as opposed to vocalic or end-rhyme of Romance languages. Today’s newspaper headlines and marketing still use this technique (‘Big is Better’). In the oral tradition, this helped people remember the lines more easily. This was a typical feature of Germanic poetry, as opposed to vocalic or end-rhyme of Romance languages. Today’s newspaper headlines and marketing still use this technique (‘Big is Better’). In the oral tradition, this helped people remember the lines more easily.

5 Other features of Anglo-Saxon poetry are: Other features of Anglo-Saxon poetry are: metaphor, called kenning, which are formulaic phrases which describe one thing in terms of another (whale’s road=sea) metaphor, called kenning, which are formulaic phrases which describe one thing in terms of another (whale’s road=sea) Litotes, negative statements with a positive meaning Litotes, negative statements with a positive meaning

6 INTERPRETATION The language of ‘Beowulf’ suggests that it was meant to be heard, not read: alliteration, repetition, figures of speech, metaphors, episodes not linked directly to the main plot all show that it was passed orally, and that each poet (‘scop’) added his own contribution. The language of ‘Beowulf’ suggests that it was meant to be heard, not read: alliteration, repetition, figures of speech, metaphors, episodes not linked directly to the main plot all show that it was passed orally, and that each poet (‘scop’) added his own contribution. There has been a long debate between scholars over oral tradition of Beowulf: whether it was passed down orally before being written down, or was it a manuscript? There has been a long debate between scholars over oral tradition of Beowulf: whether it was passed down orally before being written down, or was it a manuscript? This is also a question of religious content of the work: whether it draws from pagan, Germanic, tribal tradition, or is it a work of a literate Christian, probably a monk, trying to revive the old language, style and pagan world of ancient Germanic poetry? This is also a question of religious content of the work: whether it draws from pagan, Germanic, tribal tradition, or is it a work of a literate Christian, probably a monk, trying to revive the old language, style and pagan world of ancient Germanic poetry?

7 There is evidence of both in ‘Beowulf’: There is evidence of both in ‘Beowulf’: it is certain that Beowulf was composed in a Christianized England, since conversion took place in the sixth and seventh centuries. Yet the only Biblical references in Beowulf are to the Old Testament, and Christ is never mentioned. The poem is set in pagan times, and none of the characters is demonstrably Christian. In fact, when we are told what anyone in the poem believes, we learn that they are pagans. Beowulf’s own beliefs are not expressed explicitly. He offers eloquent prayers to a higher power, addressing himself to the “Father Almighty” or the “Wielder of All.” Were those the prayers of a pagan who used phrases the Christians subsequently appropriated? it is certain that Beowulf was composed in a Christianized England, since conversion took place in the sixth and seventh centuries. Yet the only Biblical references in Beowulf are to the Old Testament, and Christ is never mentioned. The poem is set in pagan times, and none of the characters is demonstrably Christian. In fact, when we are told what anyone in the poem believes, we learn that they are pagans. Beowulf’s own beliefs are not expressed explicitly. He offers eloquent prayers to a higher power, addressing himself to the “Father Almighty” or the “Wielder of All.” Were those the prayers of a pagan who used phrases the Christians subsequently appropriated? Grendel and his mother are described as descendants of Cain. Grendel and his mother are described as descendants of Cain. On the other hand, heaven and afterlife are never mentioned; a belief in the power of fate, of inescapable doom that awaits every man, a concern for one’s good reputation which is the only things that lasts after death belong to a pagan tradition. On the other hand, heaven and afterlife are never mentioned; a belief in the power of fate, of inescapable doom that awaits every man, a concern for one’s good reputation which is the only things that lasts after death belong to a pagan tradition.

8 In historical terms, the poem's characters would have been Norse pagans (the historical events of the poem took place before the Christianization of Scandinavia), yet the poem was recorded by Christian Anglo-Saxons who had largely converted from their native Anglo-Saxon paganism around the 7th century - both Anglo-Saxon paganism and Norse paganism share a common origin as both are forms of Germanic paganism. Beowulf thus depicts a Germanic warrior society, in which the relationship between the lord of the region and those who served under him was of utmost importance. In historical terms, the poem's characters would have been Norse pagans (the historical events of the poem took place before the Christianization of Scandinavia), yet the poem was recorded by Christian Anglo-Saxons who had largely converted from their native Anglo-Saxon paganism around the 7th century - both Anglo-Saxon paganism and Norse paganism share a common origin as both are forms of Germanic paganism. Beowulf thus depicts a Germanic warrior society, in which the relationship between the lord of the region and those who served under him was of utmost importance.Norse pagansChristianization of ScandinaviaAnglo-Saxon paganismGermanic paganismGermanicNorse pagansChristianization of ScandinaviaAnglo-Saxon paganismGermanic paganismGermanic

9 –Although Hrothgar and Beowulf are portrayed as morally upright and enlightened Pagans, they fully espouse and frequently affirm the values of Germanic heroic poetry. In the poetry depicting warrior society, the most important of human relationships was that which existed between the warrior - the thane - and his lord, a relationship based less on subordination of one man's will to another's than on mutual trust and respect. When a warrior vowed loyalty to his lord, he became not so much his servant as his voluntary companion, one who would take pride in defending him and fighting in his wars. In return, the lord was expected to take care of his thanes and to reward them richly for their valor. This society was strongly defined in terms of kinship; if someone was killed, it was the duty of surviving kin to exact revenge either with their own lives or through weregild, a payment of reparation. thanekinshipkinweregild thanekinshipkinweregild

10 ‘Beowulf’ is reminiscent of Viking war poems which ‘smell of blood feuds and their consonant rhymes sound like the smashing of swords under the gloomy northern sky: there is always a sense of imminent danger in the narratives. Sooner or later, all things must come to an end, as Beowulf eventually dies at the hands of the monster, he spends the tale fighting. The feelings of Beowulf that nothing lasts, that youth and joy will turn to death and sorrow entered Christianity and were to dominate the future landscape of English fiction’. ‘Beowulf’ is reminiscent of Viking war poems which ‘smell of blood feuds and their consonant rhymes sound like the smashing of swords under the gloomy northern sky: there is always a sense of imminent danger in the narratives. Sooner or later, all things must come to an end, as Beowulf eventually dies at the hands of the monster, he spends the tale fighting. The feelings of Beowulf that nothing lasts, that youth and joy will turn to death and sorrow entered Christianity and were to dominate the future landscape of English fiction’.

11 The Character of Beowulf The character of Beowulf gives unity to the epic; the story constantly shifts between his past, present and future deeds of valour. He is an ideal warrior of the Germanic tradition: fearless and selfless, prepared to die to save his people. He knows that he must perish in the battle with the forces of evil, but fights them nevertheless. The character of Beowulf gives unity to the epic; the story constantly shifts between his past, present and future deeds of valour. He is an ideal warrior of the Germanic tradition: fearless and selfless, prepared to die to save his people. He knows that he must perish in the battle with the forces of evil, but fights them nevertheless.

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13 Other Literary Forms Religious poetry – poems based on biblical events. Among the best of all O.E. poems is ‘The Dream of the Rood’. Religious poetry – poems based on biblical events. Among the best of all O.E. poems is ‘The Dream of the Rood’. Two poets – Caedmon and Cynewulf Two poets – Caedmon and Cynewulf Lyrics – poems such as ‘The Wife’s Complaint’, ‘The Husband’s Message’ Lyrics – poems such as ‘The Wife’s Complaint’, ‘The Husband’s Message’ Prose – ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, an early history of the country. It was King Alfred ( ) who brought the different writings into some kind of order. He was an educated monarch and even translated some Latin books into O.E. so that the people could read them. Prose – ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, an early history of the country. It was King Alfred ( ) who brought the different writings into some kind of order. He was an educated monarch and even translated some Latin books into O.E. so that the people could read them.


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