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Early British Literature The Celts and the Anglo-Saxons.

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Presentation on theme: "Early British Literature The Celts and the Anglo-Saxons."— Presentation transcript:

1 Early British Literature The Celts and the Anglo-Saxons

2 Celtic Literature

3 Irish Literature ðIreland has the oldest vernacular tradition of literature in Europe with written texts dating from the 6 th c. ðOld Irish: before 900 ðMiddle Irish: ðLate Middle/Early Modern Irish: ðModern Irish and Scots: 1650-present Brian Boru Harp

4 Old Irish Literature ðThe oldest writings are poems written in the margins of 6 th c. continental manuscripts: short lyrics on religious or nature themes. ðThe early literature has survived in Middle and Late Middle Irish manuscripts: miscellaneous collections of prose and verse containing legend, history, bardic and lyric poetry, and medical, legal, and religious texts from several periods

5 The Scribe 8 th -9 th c A hedge of trees surrounds me. A blackbird’s lay sings to me. Above my lined booklet The trilling birds chant to me. In a grey mantle from the top of bushes The cuckoo sings. Verily—may the Lord shield me!— Well do I write under the greenwood.

6 Major Irish Medieval MSS. ðThe Book of the Dun Cow (before 1106): contains tales of the Ulster Cycle and Fenian legends ðThe Book of Leinster (before 1160): contains heroic legends ðThe Yellow Book of Lecan, The Great Book of Lecan,The Lebor Brecc, and the Book of Lismore (late 14th or early 15th c.) ðThe Royal Irish Academy alone has more than 1300 mss. – mostly religious, historical and legal treatises Leabhar na hUidre [Book of the Dun Cow], p.73

7 Tain Bo Cuailinge: The Cattle Raid of Cooley from The Book of the Dun Cow

8 Filí (Old Irish); File (Mod. Irish) ðThe filí (filíd pl.) in the earliest times combined the functions of magician, lawgiver, judge, counselor to the chief, and poet. ðLater, but still at a very early time, the offices seem to have been divided: Brehons devoted themselves to the study of law, and the giving of legal decisions Druids claimed the supernatural functions, and priestly offices Filíd were principally poets and philosophers ðThe division seems to have already existed in Ireland at the time of St Patrick, who was in constant opposition with the druids. ðFilíd underwent years of training to compose in verse the laws, genealogies, legends and traditions.

9 Bards ðIn Old Irish culture, the bards were the performers of the filíd’s poems ðThey were record keepers and lineage holders, for the bards could determine a king's legitimacy. ðTo satirize a king was to declare his access to the throne suspect. ðThe role of the bard was historian and social commentator. They glorified heroes while insulting cowards and villains. ðThey were both the newspaper and the opinion page.

10 MACSWEENEY DINES AS BARD RECITES: "The work of the file or poet was recited to the accompaniment of a stringed instrument,....The reacaire or reciter [bard] was a subordinate employee of the composer, who sat by the chieftain (his patron) enjoying his own composition." Declan Kiberd, "Irish Literature and Irish History, " in The Oxford Illustrated History of Irieland, ed. R. F. Foster (1989)

11 Welsh Literature ðThe earliest Welsh manuscripts date from the 12 th c., but the earliest poetry comes from the 6 th c. ðBefore 1100: Y Cynfeirdd ("The earliest poets") or Yr Hengerdd ("The old poetry") ðThe core tradition was praise poetry -- patronage from kings and nobles. ðThe other aspect of the tradition was the professionalism of the poets sustained by the Order of Bards, with a 'rule book' emphasizing the making of poetry as a craft. ðPoets undertook an apprenticeship of nine years to become fully qualified.

12 Welsh Poets ðNennius’ Historia Britonum list poets active during the reign of King Ida (547-59): "At that time, Talhaiarn Tataguen was famed for poetry, and Neirin [Aneirin], and Taliesin, and Bluchbard, and Cian, who is called Guenith Guaut, were all famous at the same time in British [that is Brythonic, or, Welsh] poetry." ðPoems by Taliesin and Aneirin are believed to have survived in the Book of Taliesin and Y Gododdin, Aneirin’s epic of a battle between the Celts and the Saxons.

13 Roman Britain 1st-5th c.

14 5th Century: Celtic Disarray  408: Devastating attacks by Picts, Scots and Saxons led Britain to declare “independence” from Rome in 410.  : Civil war and famine in Britain. Country divided along factional lines  445: Vortigen authorized use of Saxon mercenaries against Scots and Picts  450: adventus Saxonum: Hengest arrived with 3 ships of warriors. Saxons increased settlements.

15 Anglo-Saxon Literature

16 The Kingdoms of Anglo- Saxon England

17 Anglo-Saxon Royal Genealogy


19 England as a Nation ðBede may have been the first writer to articulate the idea of the English as one people in 732 in his History of the English Church and People. ðViking Invasions ðDestroyed kingdoms of Northumbria and East Angles in the 860s ðWessex emerged as the power that defeated the Vikings under Alfred the Great ð878: Alfred defeated the Vikings at Edington ðAt his death in 899, Alfred was the most powerful regional king in England

20 House of Wessex Wessex: West Saxons Alfred the Great, his son Edward and wife Ealhswith at the Witan -- Assembly of the Wise

21 Wessex Dynasty ðEdward the Elder (r ) succeeded his father Alfred and conquered the Midlands and East Anglia. ðHis son, Athelstan (r ), brought the Scots, the Welsh, the Cumbrians and the Cornish under English rule by 928: he became King of all England and “Emperor of the World of Britain.”

22 Tomb of King Athlestan in Malmesbury Abbey

23 E or A = Æ Canute of Denmark Harthacanute Harold I Ælgifu Alfred Coin from King Edgar’s reign House of Wessex

24 Genres: Prose ðSermons: most popular of prose genres ðTranslations of Latin religious works and Biblical works ðSaints’ Lives ðLegal texts: wills, records, deeds, laws, etc. ðScientific and Medical texts ðChronicles: historical writing: Anglo Saxon Chronicle

25 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle ðCollection of annals (yearly history) narrating the history of the Anglo-Saxon settlement in Britain. ðFirst continuous history written by Europeans in their own language. ðProbably begun during the reign of King Alfred in the 9 th c. ðAfter completion of the original chronicle, copies were sent to monasteries and updated yearly. ðNine surviving MSS. The initial page of the Peterborough ChroniclePeterborough Chronicle

26 Known A-S Prose Writers ðKing Alfred (849-99): translated a variety of Latin works such as Gregory’s Pastoral Care, Augustine’s Soliloquies and Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy. ðAelfric, abbot of Eynsham ( ?): known as Grammaticus: greatest writer of A-S sermons, saints’ lives and Biblical glosses and translations.Grammaticus ðWulfstan II, archbishop of York (10 th c.): author of highly stylistic sermons and clerical legal texts. Alfred the Great

27 Genres: Poetry ðThula: alliterative lists of names or tribes ðGnomic verse: proverbs, traditional wisdom ðSpells: invoke natural and supernatural powers ðRiddles: what am I? ðReligious poetry: retellings of Old Testament stories, saints’ lives, “Dream of the Rood” ðAdaptations of classical philosophical texts: e.g. Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy ðWisdom poetry: lyrical, meditative, elegiac – “The Wanderer,” “The Wife’s Lament,” etc. ðHeroic court poetry: celebration of historical events related by scops: Beowulf, etc.

28 Manuscripts with Anglo-Saxon Poetry ðExeter Book: Codex Exoniensis – 10 th c. ms. ðLargest existing collection of Old English poetry ðDonated to the library of the Exeter Cathedral by Leofric, the first bishop of Exeter ðContains “The Wanderer,” “The Seafarer,” “The Wife’s Lament,” “Widsith,” “The Ruin,” “Deor,” etc. ðJunius MS. – begun c ce ðAnthology of religious poetry: Genesis, Exodus, Daniel, Christ and Satan ðIllustrated: only about one-third of illustrations completed ðBodleian Library, Oxford University

29 Junius MS: Angel Guarding the Gates of Paradise

30 Manuscripts with Anglo-Saxon Poetry ðVercelli Book – 10 th c. ms. ðCathedral Library, Vercelli, Italy ðContains 23 sermons, a life of St. Guthlac and six poems including “The Dream of the Rood” ðNowell Codex: Cotton Vitellius A xv – late 10 th - 12 th c. mss. ðBritish Library’s Cotton Collection ðComposite of two mss. Bound together in the 17 th c. – damaged in an 18 th c. fire in the Cotton Library ð 1 st Codex (12 th c): Old English prose: Alfred's translation of Augustine's Soliloquies, the Gospel of Nicodemus, “Solomon and Saturn”, and a fragment of a life of Saint Quentin. ð2 nd Codex (10 th c): Beowulf, Judith and 3 prose works

31 First page of Beowulf from the Cotton Vitellius MS.

32 Beowulf Prologue

33 What are those weird-looking letters? Omniglot

34 Poetry Thula ðAlliterative lists of names and tribes ðOral mnemonic device ðFound extensively in Widsith ðTechnique also found in Old Testament Gnomic Verse ðProverbs, traditional wisdom ðHit becwæÞ – It is said “As the sea is smooth when storms are at rest, So people are quiet when peace is proclaimed.” (Exeter Book)

35 Riddles I war with the wind, with the waves I wrestle; I must battle with both when the bottom I seek, My strange habitation by surges o’er-roofed. I am strong in the strife, while still I remain; As soon as I stir, they are stronger than I. They wrench and they wrest, till I run from my foes; What was put in my keeping they carry away. If my back be not broken, I baffle them still. The rocks are my helpers, when hard I am pressed; Grimly I grip them. Guess what I’m called. The Anchor The Exeter Book

36 Spells and Charms Charm for a Swarm of Bees Take earth with your right hand and throw it under your right foot, saying: I've got it, I've found it: Lo, earth masters all creatures, it masters evil, it masters deceit, it masters humanity's greedy tongue. Throw light soil over them [the bees] as they swarm, saying: Sit, wise women, settle on earth: never in fear fly to the woods. Please be mindful of my welfare as all men are of food and land. Trans. Karl YoungKarl Young

37 Known A-S Poets ðCædmon: herdsman attached to the Whitby monastery during the abbacy of St. Hilda (657–681). Author of “Hymn,” oldest A-S poemSt. Hilda ðThe Venerable Bede (c ): Benedictine monk at Jarrow; author of the Historia Ecclesiastica: The History of the Church of England and “Bede’s Death Song” Benedictine monk at Jarrow ðCynewulf (fl. ca. 750): author of four poems, Christian narratives, Elene, Christ II, Juliana and The Fates of the Apostles. ðKing Alfred (849-99) Depiction of Cædmon carved on a stone memorial cross on the grounds of St Mary's Church in Whitbystone memorial cross

38 Bede’s “Death Song” Facing that enforced journey, no man can be More prudent than he has good call to be, If he consider, before his going hence, What for his spirit of good hap or of evil After his day of death shall be determined. Fore ðæm nedfere nænig wiorðe ðonc snottora ðon him ðearf siæ to ymbhycgenne ær his hinionge hwæt his gastæ godes oððe yfles æfter deað dæge doemed wiorðe. Beda Venerabilis from an medieval manuscript

39 Anglo-Saxon Poetic Conventions ðElegiac mood: the transitoriness of life ðUbi sunt: Where are they??? ðHeroic mode: active, loyal to kinship group, boastful ðThe inevitability of Wyrd: fate ðFigures of speech ðKennings: two words as metaphor for one: hron-rāde whale-road – sea; hord-cofan word-hoard – mind, thoughts ðLitotes: ironic understatement -- "That [sword] was not useless / to the warrior now." (Beowulf)Beowulf ðVariation: parallel appositive phrases – see “Cædmon’s Hymn”Cædmon’s Hymn ðAlliterative verse: alliteration is used as the principal device to unify lines of poetry

40 Beowulf Prologue: Alliteration

41 Wisdom Poetry ðLyrical: expressions of feelings, meditations on life ðEmphasis on transitoriness of fame, glory, kinship, life itself: ubi sunt theme ðBoethian in exploration of fickle fortune Boethius: author of The Consolation of Philosophy ðMost found in Exeter Book: “The Ruin,” “The Wanderer,” “The Seafarer,” “The Wife’s Lament,” “The Husband’s Message” ðKing Alfred: author of “Lays of Boethius”

42 Heroic Court Poetry ðNarrative oral compositions handed down from generation to generation ðInteractive: warriors in the audience were given their turns to boast: to proclaim their self-worth in a stylized solo declamation, which all recognized as a beot or gilph (boast). ðCelebrations or commemorations of cultural heroes and historic events ðSung at court feasts which also included mead drinking, gift giving, harp playing and displaying of trophies

43 Anglo-Saxon Heroic Poems ðBeowulf (c ) ðFragments: The Fight at Finnsburh and Waldere ðThe Anglo-Saxon Chronicle contains various heroic poems inserted throughout. ð937: The Battle of Brunanburh celebrates the victory of King Athelstan over the Scots and Norse. ðFive shorter poems: Capture of the Five Boroughs (942); Coronation of King Edgar (973); Death of King Edgar (975); Death of Prince Alfred (1036); and Death of King Edward the Confessor (1065).

44 The Scop ðCourt singer ðHistorian ðGenealogist ðTeacher ðComposer ðCritic ðWarrior ðReporter “The Anglo-Saxon scop was a professional or semi-professional tribal poet who celebrated cultural values by singing epics on occasions of great ceremony and festivity…. He was a man of repute, the equal of thanes.” Anglo-Saxon Scops

45 Artemesia Gentileschi, Judith Slaying Holofernes, ðJudith as model of psychic liberation -- female who acts- confrontation of sexes from female point of view

46 Artemesia Gentileschi, Judith and Her Maidservant

47 Artemesia Gentileschi, Judith Slaying Holofernes, 1620

48 Artemesia Gentileschi, Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes, c. 1625

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