General Introduction Background of This Age Characteristics of Literature Major Achievements Literary Terms Exercise for This Part
This period extends from about 499 to 1066, the year of the Norman conquest of England. The Germanic tribesAngles, Saxons and Jutes- from Europe who overran England in the 5th century, after the Roman withdrawal, brought with them the Old English, or Anglo-Saxon, language, which is the basis of Modern English (see English Language). Meanwhile English literature began. Of old English literature, what has been preserved today are poems, or songs, of which figured Beowulf, the national epic of the English people. Back
In the ancient times, there were three tribes called Angles, Saxon and jutes in the northern Europe. In the 5th century, they conquered Britain and settled down there. After driving the native people into the deep mountains of Wales and Scotland, They divided the whole land among themselves, and set up some small kingdoms as Wessex, Essex and Sussex. Gradually seven kingdoms arose in Britain. By the 7th century, these small kingdoms were combined into a united kingdom called England. Angles, Saxons and Jutes usually known as Anglo-Saxons 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.
Characteristics of Literature in This Period
? Anglo-Saxon literature, that is, the Old English Angloliterature is at most exclusively a verse literature in oral form. It could be passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation. Its creator for the most part is unknown. It was only given a written form long after its composition. ? the pagan poetry represented by Beowulf was one major group of literature in Anglo-Saxon Angloperiod.
Introduction of Beowulf
Beowulf, the most important epic in Old English literature. It survives in a 10th-century manuscript but is generally dated to the 8th century when Anglo-Saxon England was being won over from paganism to Christianity. The poem, which represents the fusion of Norse legend and history and Christian belief, describes two major events in the life of the Scandinavian hero Beowulf. In the first, the young Beowulf fights and kills the water monster Grendel, the scourge of the Danish king Hrothgar and his followers; he then kills Grendel's mother. In the second, set fifty years later, Beowulf, by now the ageing King of the Geats of southern Sweden, confronts the dragon who threatens his people with destruction. In the combat both the dragon and Beowulf are mortally wounded. The poem is over 3,000 lines long and is written in strongly accentual alliterative verse.
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 all-round picture of the tribal society. The social conditions and customs can be seen in it. So the poem has a great social significance. The use of the alliteration is another notable feature. A lot of metaphors and understatements are used in the poem. For example, the sea is called "the whale-road" or "the swan road"; the soldiers are called "shield-man"; the chieftains are called the "treasure keepers"; human-body is referred to as "the bone-house"; God is called "wonderwielder"; monster is referred to as "soul-destroyer''. Back
Alliteration--(also known as 'head rhyme' or 'initial rhyme'), the repetition of the same sounds--usually initial consonants of words or of stressed syllables--in any sequence of neighboring words. For example, 'landscape-lover, lord of language' (Tennyson).