The Anglo-Saxon Period
(449 A.D.-1066 A.D.)
I. The Historical Background Ⅱ.Characteristics of Anglo-Saxon Literature Ⅲ. Anglo-Saxon Poetry Ⅳ. Anglo-Saxon Prose V. Questions
I. The Historical Background
? The making of the nation: from the following formula, we can know that the English people are of a mixed blood:
Angles Britons + Saxons + Danes + Normans = English Jutes 3 famous conquests in the British history: (1)The Roman Conquest (55B.C-410A.D.) (2) The Anglo-Saxon Conquest (449A.D.-1066) (3) The Norman Conquest (1066-1485)
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(1)The Roman Conquest
The beginning of settlement in Britain took place in about 700 B.C. The earliest settlers were Britons(不列冬 人）, a tribe of Celts, from whom the island got its name—Britain. The Britons were primitive people, living in the tribal society. ? Britain was invaded by the Romans under the leadership of Julius Caesar in 55 BC. But Britain was not completely subjugated to the Roman Empire until 78 A.D. At the beginning of the 5th century, the Roman Empire was in the process of declining. And in 410 A.D, all the Roman troops went back to the continent and never returned, thus ended the Roman occupation in Britain. With the Roman Conquest the Roman mode of life came across to Britain also. It was during the Roman rule that Christianity was introduced to Britain.
(2) Anglo-Saxon Conquest
? In 449 A.D., Britain was invaded by three Germanic tribes from the Northeast of Europe: Angles（盎格鲁人） , Saxons（撒克逊人） & Jutes（朱特人）, who had reached the later stages of tribal society. At first they established some small kingdoms in Britain which by the 7th century were combined into a united kingdom called England (the land of Angles). Its people was called the English. The three dialects spoken by them naturally grew into a single language called Anglo-Saxon or Old English. ? Angles, Saxons and Jutes usually known as AngloSaxons are the first Englishmen. Language spoken by them is called the Old English, which is the foundation of English language and literature. With the Anglo-Saxon settlement in Britain, the history of English literature began.
(3) The Norman Conquest
? 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. The conquest also greatly influenced the English language.
Ⅱ.Characteristics of Anglo-Saxon Literature
? English literature actually began with the AngloSaxon settlement in England. England was christianized part by part in the 7th century. Monasteries were built all over the country. It was in these monasteries that the earliest English books were written down, as at that time few except monks could read and write. ? There were two literary divisions: one was pagan and the other was religious. And the main literary forms are poetry and prose, and poetry was in oral form.
? 3 characteristics: ? 1. Anglo-Saxon literature is almost a verse literature in oral form. It could be passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation. Its creators for the most part are unknown. It was only given a written form long after its composition. 2. There are two groups of English poetry in Anglo-Saxon period—pagan (世俗诗) and religious （宗教诗） poetry. Pagan poetry was represented by Beowulf while religious poetry was represented by the works of Caedmon （凯德蒙） and Cynewulf(塞内武甫）. 3. In the 8th century, Anglo-Saxon prose appeared. The famous prose writers of that period were Venerable Bede （比德） and Alfred the Great （阿尔弗烈德大王）.
Ⅲ. Anglo-Saxon Poetry
? 1. Pagan Poetry（世俗诗） ? The pagan poetry, also called secular poetry, does not contain any specific Christian doctrine and emphasizes on the harshness of circumstance and the helplessness of humans before the power of fate. Beowulf is the representative. ? 2. Religious Poetry（宗教诗） ? The religious poetry is also called Christian poetry. It is mainly on biblical stories and saints’ lives. But sometimes there is a mixture of Christian and pagan ideas in these poems. It is represented by Caedmon and Cynewulf.
1.The Pagan Poetry: The Song of Beowulf
? i. Beowulf: the poem and the story ? ii. Significance of “Beowulf” ? iii. Poetic Form and Features of “Beowulf” ? iv. What is an epic?
i．Beowulf: the poem and the Story 贝奥武甫
? The Poem: Beowulf is the greatest Old English poem. It belongs to the 7th century. The poem consists of 3182 lines and is the lst English epic. The name of its author is unknown. It was originally in an oral form, sung by the minstrels at the end of the 6th century. It had been passed from mouth to mouth for hundreds of years before it was written down in the 10th century or at the end of the ninth century. The manuscript was discovered in 1705. ? The main stories are based on the folk legends of the primitive northern tribes. Through the description of the fights with the monsters, we see it is essentially concerned with the heroic ideal of kings and kingship in Northern Europe: courage and strength, wisdom. Beowulf is shown not only as a grand hero, but also as a savior of the people.
1. Its characters: Beowulf: nephew of Hygelac Hygelac: king of Yeats(叶亚特）in Jutland Hrothgar: king of the Danes Grendel: a monster 2. Its plot: 1) Beowulf’s fight with the monster Grendel in Hrothgar’s hall (Heorot) 2) Beowulf’s slaying of Grendel’s mother in her lair 3) Beowulf’s return to his uncle, and his succession to the throne. 4) Beowulf’s victory in death, fifty years later, over the fire dragon
The Story of Beowulf
? Beowulf, the story of the poem, is not about England, but about Hrothgar, the King of the Danes, and about a brave young man, Beowulf, from southern Sweden, who goes to help the King. Hrothgar is in trouble. His great hall, called Heorot, is visited at night by a terrible creature, Grendel, which lives in a lake and comes to kill and eat Hrothgar’s men. One night, Beowulf waits secretly for this thing, attacks it, and in a fierce fight pulls its arm off. It manages to reach the lake again, but dies there. Then its mother comes to the hall in search of revenge, and the attacks begin again. Beowulf follows her to the bottom of the lake and kills her there. It is there, too that he finds the dead body of Grendel. He cuts off the heads of the two monsters and brings the two hairy heads as trophies back to the Danish hall. The triumph is celebrated in feasting and song. ? Then Beowulf goes home and becomes the king and reigns over his people for 50 years. Then he has to defend his country against a fire-breathing creature (fire dragon). He kills the animal but is badly wounded in the fight, and dies. The poem ends with a sorrowful description of Beowulf’s funeral fire. ?
Hrothgar, king of the Danes
Heorot (The mead hall)
Grendel, the monster
Beowulf went to help Hrothgar.
The queen filled Beowulf's Cup.
Beowulf tore off Grendel’s arm and shoulder…
The she-monster almost killed Beowulf.
Beowulf finally succeeded.
Beowulf ruled the country for about 50 years…
The Fire Dragon guarded the treasure. A runaway slave stole the treasure …
Beowulf went to fight with the Fire Dragon.
Beowulf fought against the Fire Dragon.
Beowulf was wounded and died.
They killed the dragon and got the treasure…
ii．Significance of “Beowulf”
? It is the longest & finest of extant old English poems & the national epic of the English people. It sings of the exciting adventures of a great legendary hero whose physical strength demonstrates his high spiritual qualities, i.e. his resolution to serve his country & kinsfolk, his true courage, courteous conduct, and his love of honor. In the poem, Beowulf is strong, courageous, selfless, and ready to risk his life in order to rid his people of evil monsters. (Thematically, this poem shows how the primitive people fight against the forces of the natural world under a wise & mighty leader.)
iii. Poetic Form and Features of “Beowulf”
? Form: Beowulf was written in alliterative verse (头韵) . ? Features: (1) The use of alliteration is one of its most striking features. (In alliterative verse, certain stressed words in a line begin with the same consonant sound. There are 4 stresses in a line generally, three or two of which show alliteration, as can be seen from the lines from the end of the poem: ? “Thus made their mourning the men of Greatland, ? For their hero’s passing, his hearth-companions ? Quoth that of all the kings of earth, ? Of men he was the mildest and most beloved, ? To his kin the kindest, keenest to praise.” (In modern translation)
Features of “Beowulf”
? (2)The use of compound-words (kennings) to serve as metaphors: “Ring-giver” is used for king, “hearth-companion” for his attendant warriors, “swan’s bath” or “whale’s road” for sea, “sea-wood” for ship, the soldiers are called "shield-men"; the chieftains are called the "treasure keepers"; human-body is referred to as "the bone- house"; God is called "wonder-wielder " ; monster is referred to as "soul-destroyer"， “bird’s joy” refers to the wing, “sky’s candle” refers to the sun, etc. (Such metaphors occur in great numbers.)
(3) The use of understatements(抑言陈述) or euphemism (委婉语) ? The use of understatements gives an impression of reserve, and at times, a tinge of ironical humor. This quality is often regarded as a permanent characteristic of English. ? e.g “not troublesome” for very welcome, “need not praise” for a right to condemn, “sword-play” for fighting, “sleeping” or “leaving life’s feast” for death, etc.
（4） It is not a Christian but a pagan poem, despite the Christian flavor given to it by the monastery scribe. It is the product of all advanced pagan civilization. The whole poem presents us an allround picture of the tribal society and Christian culture. The social conditions and customs can be seen in it. So the poem has a great social significance.
iv. What is an epic(史诗)?
? Epic is an extended narrative poem in elevated or dignified language, like Homer’s Iliad (伊利亚特) & Odyssey（奥德 赛）. It usually celebrates the feats of one or more legendary or traditional heroes. The action is simple, but full of magnificence. Today, some long narrative works, like novels that reveal an age & its people, are also called epic.
2. The Religious Poetry
? The religious poetry is also called Christian poetry. It is mainly on biblical stories and saints’ lives. But sometimes there is a mixture of Christian and pagan ideas in these poems. It is represented by Caedmon （凯德蒙） and Cynewulf （塞内 武甫）.
(1) Caedmon (610-680)
? Caedmon is the first known religious poet of England. He is known as the father of English song. His life story is vividly described in Bede’s Historic Ecclesiastical（英格兰人教会史）. His first poem is called The Hymn of Praise (赞美诗）. Later on, Caedmon composed many other poems by using the biblical materials.
(2) Cynewulf (early 9th Century)
? Cynewulf lived in the early 9th century. Except the unknown composer of Beowulf, he is regarded as the greatest Anglo-Saxon poet. Of his life we know very little. He was probably an ecclesiastic 牧师 and a scholar. His name remained unknown until 1840. ? Cynewulf took his subject matter partly from the church liturgy, more largely from the homilies of Gregory the Great. Throughout the poem, a deep love for Christ and reverence for Virgin Mary are expressed. ? He produced four poems: Christ, Juliana, The Fates of the Apostles, and Elene.
Ⅳ. Anglo-Saxon Prose
? Prose literature did not show its appearance until the 8th century. There were two famous prose writers: Venerable Bede, Alfred the Great.
(1) Venerable Bede （比德） (673-735)
? The most important of his works is The Ecclesiastical History of the English People（英格兰人教会史）. The book not only tells us how religion was introduced and spread in England but also recounts some historical events of that period and Anglo-Saxon mythological legends.
(2)Alfred the Great （阿尔弗烈德大 王）(871-901)
? Alfred the Great, king of Wessex kingdom, is another important figure in prose writing of Anglo-Saxon period. During his reign, he tried every means to improve the state of education, such as founding colleges, and importing teachers from Europe. He was a well-known translator. He translated some important Latin works into English. But of his works, the most important is The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles（盎格 鲁-撒克逊编年史）. This book records the main happenings of the Anglo-Saxon period. It is the best monument of the Old English prose.
1) How many groups does the Old English poetry fall into? What are they? 2) What features does Beowulf have in writing? 3) What are the main characteristics of Anglo-Saxon literature? 4) What is Alfred’s most important contribution to British literature?