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Anglo-Saxon Literature[1]

English Literature
Lecture One

The Anglo-Saxon Literature

A brief history of early Britain
a. The Earliest Settlers The beginning of settlement in Britain took place in about 700 B. C. The early settlers were certain Celtic-speaking tribes called Britons, from whom the island got its name--Britain ( the land of Britons ). The Britons were a primitive people, a bronze-age people entering upon an age of iron.

b. The Roman Conquest
In 55 B. C. Britain was invaded by the Roman general Julius Caesar. The Britons fought bitterly against the Roman conquerors (for about 100 years) and was not completely subjugated to the Roman Empire until 78 A. D. With the Roman Conquest, the Roman mode of life and civilization came across to Britain also. The Roman Conquest ended in 410 A. D.

c. The Anglo-Saxon Invasion
In the mid 5th century, Britain was invaded by three Germanic tribes--the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes, from the Northeast of Europe, fierce Germanic tribes in late stages of tribal society established small kingdoms in Britain by the 7th century combined into a united kingdom called England ( the land of Angles ). people called the English. three dialects spoken by them grew into a single language called Anglo-Saxon, or Old English, a derivative of Low German.

About the English People
The English people are the descendants of English-speaking Angles, Saxon, and Jutes(朱 特人日耳曼一族的成员)(The three Teutonic tribes) who conquered the native Celts and settled in the island in the fifth century, naming its central part Anglia, or England. The language they spoken is generally called Anglo-Saxon or Saxon which is now called Old English.

Angles(Angle—fishing) Saxon( a short swordswordsman) Anglo-saxon means the spirit of bravery and vigor By the 7th century these small kingdoms were combined into a whole people called English. (A. D. 600—1100) 南北朝, 隋,唐,五代,北宋。

Celts---A lost tribe

d. The Christianization of the AngloSaxons In 597 St. Augustine and his monks landed in Kent. Heathen England was christianized part by part in the following century. Monasteries were built all over the country. It was in these monasteries that the earliest English books were written down because at that time few except monks could read and write.

e. The Danish Invasion
From 787, the English began to be troubled by bands of Danish vikings (Scandinavian sea robbers). invaded parts of the country from time to time came to make permanent settlement and ruthlessly destroyed many of the monasteries. King Alfred fought to drive off the Danes. The Danes finally occupied England in 1013 and held it for about 30 years.

f. The Norman Conquest The French-speaking Normans, under the leadership of Duke William, (William the Conqueror) came in 1066. After defeating the English at Hastings, William was crowned as the King of England. The Norman Conquest marks the establishment of feudalism in England. This Conquest also greatly influenced English language.

The Formula of the Nation
Original Britons Angles/ Saxons/ Jutes Danes Normans English

Old English Literature
-----Anglo-Saxon Period

Early English Literature
Oral tradition
The Britons (Celts) had no written language, so their myths and legends were not recorded for many centuries. Legends about King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table were not written down until they reached the eleventh century France English literature actually began with the AngloSaxon settlement in England.

Old English Literature: Beowulf (or The Song of


Of Old English literature, only one long poem which runs about 3000 lines really calls our attention. It is “Beowulf”, the national epic of the Anglo-Saxon and English people.

What Is an Epic?
A long narrative poem on a great and serious subject, told in an elevated style, and centered on a heroic or quasi-heroic divine figure on whose actions depends the fate of a tribe, a nation, or the human race
Iliad and Odyssey by Homer Aeneid by Virgil Beowulf Paradise Lost by Milton

? ? ? ? ? ? the most important work of Old English literature the national epic of the English people of Germanic heritage, perhaps the greatest Germanic epic, and contains evidently pre-Christian elements existing at first in an oral tradition probably composed sometime around 750 and passed from mouth to mouth for generations before it was written down the extant manuscript was written in the Wessex tongue about 1000 A. D. consisting altogether 3183 lines.

Character: Beowulf—the teutonic hero Hrothgar—the King of the Danes Monsters—Grandel and his mother/fire dragon

What shall we learn from Beowulf?
The image of Beowulf and his warriors: The worship of Heroism in Anglo-Saxon period:. 1) The spirit of the AngloSaxon 2) This tendency of worship runs through the whole old and middle English period.( Sir Gawain and the Green Knights)

The image of Grendel and his mother: it is closely connected with Anglo-Saxon people’s fear towards Nature. Facing the stormy ocean and the dark forest, the primitive people had to struggle against the forces of nature which remained mysteriously unknown to them.

Intercultural exploration
The image of fire dragon:The Epic of Beowulf has one of the earliest recorded dragons as western culture commonly depicts them today: a winged reptilian with separate front and hind legs that had the ability to breathe fire and bore venomous fangs, the guardian of a large trove of treasures.

Intercultural exploration
This story, though written much later than many eastern and Oriental tales, was quite possibly the basis for much of the dragon myth and legend that was to follow during the Middle Ages and the Medieval Period.

the first long poem in English

the hero and setting have nothing to do with England perhaps brought to England by the Angles, yet it is not even about the Angles, but about the Scandinavians (the Geats and the Danes in the southern part of Sweden)
Beowulf’s character seems to be a blending of historical figures with various mythical heroes of an earlier day

Do we have our national epic?
德国哲学家黑格尔认为中国人没有民族史诗,“因为他们的观照方式基 本上是散文性的”。如此说来,中国古代真的没有民族史诗吗? 答案是:有。 在《诗经》的《商颂》和《大雅》中,有不少记述商族与周族开国诗篇 的祖先祭歌与英雄颂歌,如《那》、《烈祖》、《玄鸟》、《长发》、 《殷武》、《生民》、《公刘》、《文王》、《大明》等。假如把人类 童年时期创造的歌颂本民族诞生和英雄业绩的古老叙事诗称作史诗的活, 当然可以把上述诗篇看作我国最早出现的史诗。 具有史诗规模的长篇叙事诗(如《伊利亚特》和《奥德赛》),由唐朝 的变文、俗赋、词文,到宋金的鼓子词、诸宫调、掐弹词,已具雏形, 发展到元明的鼓书弹词,终于完成了。比如《大唐秦王词话》、《大明 兴隆传》、《二十一史弹词》等。 而在中国的许多少数民族,唐宋以后,也陆续产生了大量民间传奇故事 诗,有的则是名副其实的大型民族史诗,如藏族的《格萨尔王传》、柯 尔克孜族的《玛纳斯》、纳西族的《创世纪》、蒙古族的《格斯尔传》 等。这些长篇巨构可与古希腊、古印度的史诗相媲美,置于世界古典文 学之林,也毫不逊色。

English Literature

Medieval English Literature (1100-1500)

Social Background
the three centuries following the Norman Conquest saw the large-scale introduction into England of French culture, including its customs, manners, literature the literature of Italy and other European countries the extensive use of the Norman-French language in the cities and the big manors where the Norman nobility lived.

Two Distinct Periods of the Medieval English Literature
1100-1350: The Anglo-Norman Literature 1135-1500: The Middle English Period

for almost two hundred years after 1066, two languages existed side by side in England, together with Latin native English used by the overwhelming majority of common people Norman French at the king’s court, in big manors and at the law courts

Changes of English
By the mid-14th century, English finally gained supremacy in the whole country, gradually but radical and extensive changes had taken place borrowing words from French and Latin and Greek through French dropping old inflectional forms simplifying the formal grammar English in the transitional stage from Old English to modern English has generally been known as Middle English (12th to 15 centuries).

Literature in the First Half of Middle English Period
the early and mid-Middle English literature witnessed little achievements. towards the end of the mid-Middle English period, romances flourished. Romances constitute the bulk of the literary works in English in the three centuries after 1066.

Medieval Romances
The most prevalent genre of literature in Feudal England was romance which was a long composition, first in verse, but later also in prose, describing the life and adventures of noble heroes, frequently that of a knight of noble birth, kings, or distressed ladies, acting under the impulse of love, religious faith, or the mere desire for adventure.

Middle English Romances
Most of the English romances fall into three major themes the Matter of Britain about Arthurian legend; the Matter of France concerning Charlemagne and his knights; the Matter of Rome about the Trojan war to Alexander the Great

Most of the English romances of the time were metrical, after the fashion of the French poetry the most popular theme was about the legend of King Arthur and his Round Table Knights. Layamon, a humble priest, told the Arthurian story for the first time in English in his alliterative verse Brut (1205). the most outstanding single romance on the Arthurian legend was Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, written in 1360-1370 in alliterative verse.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
The romance contains four fits: In the first fit, Arthur holding a Christmas feast when a green knight rushes in with a sharp axe The second fit tells the adventures Sir Gawain while looking for the Green Knight The third fit deals with the three days of Gawain’s sojourn at the castle. In the fourth fit, Gawain goes to the Green Chapel and meets the Grreen Knight

Motifs in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
The two motifs in the story are the tests of faith, courage and purity / nobility the human weakness of selfpreservation / human weakness of the hero


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