Sie sind auf Seite 1von 53

Anglo-Saxon Literature

Instructor Ecaterina Hantiu PhD

English literature is one of the oldest European literatures. Based on the material provided by the wanderings of the Germanic tribes, it underwent many changes, nevertheless managing to preserve its originality. Some of the main features of the present day English literature have their roots in the first literary attempts of a remote past: a peculiar, sometimes weird atmosphere, a note of sadness intermingling with a specific sense of humour and a style in which certain devices, such as the alliteration and the metaphor predominate.

The United Kingdom

Map of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

British literature is literature from the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. By far the largest part of this literature is written in the English language, but there are also separate literatures in Latin, Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Scots, Cornish, Manx and other languages. Northern Ireland is the only part of Ireland still part of the United Kingdom and it possesses literature in English, Ulster Scots and Irish. Irish writers have also played an important part in the development of Englishlanguage literature.

Early History

Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in the English county of Wiltshire, about 8 miles (13 km) north of Salisbury. Archaeologists believe the standing stones were erected around 2200 BC and the surrounding circular earth bank and ditch, which constitute the earliest phase of the monument, have been dated to about 3100 BC.

THE FIRST INHABITANTS of the British Isles were probably the Iberians (the Megalithic Men), who are believed to have erected huge stone monuments, the most famous of which is Stonehenge.


The Celts
The Celtic knot one of the best known Celtic symbols

Druid and the sacred oak tree

The Celts, who came from the Danube and upper Rhinelands, entered Britain after 700 B.C. in successive waves. Celtic society was rurally based and its centre was the tribe. Their religion was polytheist. The druids played an important part in the life of Celtic society.

Objects of Celtic Life

The Romans

The Romans first came to Britain under Julius Caesar (54-55 B.C.) and later under Claudius (42 A.D.). The Britons were defeated and took refuge behind the mountains. In Wales, Scotland, Cornwall or the Isle of Man they preserved their culture and language.

Britons and Romans

England has produced many fierce, noble warriors down the ages who have fought to keep England free, but there was one formidable lady in history whose name will never be forgotten Queen Boudica or Boadicea. The Warrior Queen who fought the might of Rome got her revenge, as in 1902 a bronze statue of her riding high in her chariot, designed by Thomas Thorneycroft, was placed on the Thames embankment next to the Houses of Parliament in the old Roman capital of Britain, Londinium.

While the Romans thought highly of Britain as a colony, they were less happy about the Britons themselves. They are tall and bandy-legged with crooked bodies (Strabo) Savages (Tacitus) Creatures which are half-man and halfbeast live there. (Anonymous)

Roman Britain

The Roman invasion of Britain was a significant event ever to happen to the British Isles. It affected language, culture, geography, architecture and even the way of thinking.

Roman Buildings in Britain

Hadrian's Wall was built, beginning in 122, to keep Roman Britain safe from hostile attacks from the Picts. It was the northernmost boundary of the Roman empire until early in the fifth century. The wall, stretching from the North Sea to the Irish Sea (from the Tyne to the Solway), was 80 Roman miles (about 73 modern miles) long, 8-10 feet wide, and 15 feet high. In addition to the wall, the Romans built a system of small forts called milecastles (housing garrisons of up to 60 men) every Roman mile along its entire length, with towers every 1/3 mile.

Roman Buildings in Britain

The Roman Baths complex is a site of historical interest in the English city of Bath. The complex is a very well-preserved Roman site of public bathing, and is a major tourist attraction.

Roman Buildings in Britain

The Smardale viaduct (Yorkshire)

The Germanic Invaders

The Roman Empire collapsed in 410 A.D. and after the Roman legions left Britain several Celtic kingdoms emerged in the Romanized parts of England. The Germanic migratory tribes of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes came about A.D. 449 and once again the Britons had to change places. The Angle, Saxon, and Jute tribes who invaded Britain in the 5th and 6th centuries are known as the Anglo-Saxons. They left their homelands in northern Germany, Denmark and northern Holland and rowed across the North Sea in wooden boats.

The Germanic Invaders

The Anglo-Saxons took control of most of Britain, although they never conquered Scotland, Wales and Cornwall. They divided the country into kingdoms, each with its own royal family. The stronger kingdoms often took control of the weaker kingdoms. By around AD 600 the five main Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were Northumbria, Mercia, Wessex, Kent and Anglia.

Languages Spoken in Britain after the Germanic Invasion

Welsh in Wales Gaelic in parts of the Highlands of Scotland Erse in Ireland Breton in Brittany (France) Manx in the Isle of Man Cornish in Cornwall

The Danish Invasion

The Danes raided the country starting with the 8th century. For a time, they were held back by king Alfred the Great of Wessex, but after his death the Danish prince Canute became the king of England in 1016.

The Norman Conquest

1066 was a remarkable year: England had Three kings Three battles and a comet! There is no other year in history quite like 1066.

Timeline of 1066
DATE (approximate)


5th January 6th January early May all Summer early September 20th September 25th September 28th September 13th October 14th October 24th December

Edward the Confessor dies. Harold Godwinson crowned King. Halley's Comet is visible. Harold waited for William to invade. Harold Hardrada lands in Northumbria. Hardrada wins Battle of Fulford Gate. King Harold wins Battle of Stamford Bridge. William lands in the south. Having rushed south, Harold camps at Senlac. The Battle of Hastings William crowned King in Westminster Abbey

The beginning of the trouble

At the beginning of 1066, Edward the Confessor ruled England. He was 61 years old, and was dying. King Edward had no children, so succession was difficult. There was no direct heir to the English throne. King Edward died on January 5th - in the first week of the new year. As King Edward had no children, it was uncertain who would rule next.

The Comet

There are reports of a bright 'star' in early 1066, around the time of King Edward the Confessor's death. At the time, seeing a star like this was a sign of bad things - a bad omen. The 'star' can be seen in the Bayeux tapestry, just a Harold Godwinson becomes King - a bad omen for him! The 'star' was in fact Halleys Comet. The death of King Edward did bring trouble for England, so perhaps the star was indeed a bad omen!

ON THE The 14th October 1066 A date that changed the course of British history


Stitched on linen, twenty inches wide and 231 feet long, in eight colors of worsted yarn: the Bayeux Tapestry is a fabulous piece of medieval art: created (or at least begun) as early as 1067.

The Normanization

The Duke of Normandy in the Bayeux Tapestry

William I of England (William the Conqueror; c. 1028 9 September 1087) was a medival monarch. He ruled as the Duke of Normandy from 1035 to 1087 and as King of England from 1066 to 1087. As Duke of Normandy, William was known as William II, and, as King of England, as William I. He is commonly referred to as William the Conqueror. His reign brought Norman culture to England, which had an enormous impact on the subsequent course of England in the Middle Ages. In addition to political changes, his reign also saw changes to English law, a programme of building and fortification, changes in the English language and the introduction of continental European feudalism into England.

Christianity in Britain

Christianity came at the pagan Anglo-Saxons from two directions: The Celtic Church, pushed back into Wales, Cornwall, and particularly Ireland, made inroads in the north from an early base on Lindisfarne Island. The Roman Catholic Church approached from the south, beginning with the mission of St.Augustine to Aethelbert, King of Kent, in 597.

Augustine as depicted by Sandro Botticelli, c. 1480

Early Christian Ireland

Following the arrival of St Patrick and other Christian missionaries in the early to mid-fifth century, a syncretised form of Christianity subsumed the indigenous pagan religion by 600 AD. Christianity has played a major role in Ireland's history and culture.

St Patrick b. 415 d. 493

563AD - Columba arrives on Iona to spread Christian Faith

Scottish Island of Iona Iona is credited with being the launch point of Christianity into Scotland. The tiny 1800 acre island has a special significance for all Christians because that is where in 563 AD, Columba and his followers arrived from Ireland to extend the religion in Scotland and the north of England.

The Celtic Cross

The Celtic cross combines the cross with a ring (symbolizing the sun) surrounding the intersection. It is the characteristic symbol of Celtic Christianity, though it may have older, preChristian origins. Such crosses formed a major part of Celtic art. This design is also referred to as the Irish Cross, or as the Cross of Iona.

768: The Celtic Church is Reunited with Rome

Celtic Cross Nevern (Pembrokeshire)

Following centuries of isolation, first following the lead of the Irish Bishops, then those of the rest of Britain, the Celtic Church in Wales decided to conform to the Rules of Rome and the authority of the Church that had been set up by Augustine and his successors at Canterbury and agreed upon at Whitby in 664.

Monasteries as Cultural Centers

The Church played a central role in the flowering of culture. The monasteries were both religious and cultural centers: the monks were both scholars and artists (see the beautiful illuminated manuscripts).

Anglo-Saxon Poetry

Runes are an ancient Germanic alphabet, used for writing, divination and magick.

The first literary productions were oral and anonymous. The ancient scribes used a primitive alphabet (the letters of which were called Runes), but the Runes were replaced by the Roman alphabet in the 9th 10th centuries. The writing materials of ancient Britain included the old boc a wooden tablet coated with wax and written upon with a style made of bone or metal.

Anglo-Saxon Poetry

The first scribes were the learned monks, but later a professional class of scribes came into existence.

The Lindisfarne Gospels. Early eighth century; Lindisfarne. The manuscript produced at the monastery of Lindisfarne contains 258 leaves of vellum

Anglo-Saxon Poetry

The manuscripts that have come down to us containing the earlier pieces of Anglo-Saxon literature were written down only after the Christianization of Britain.

Anglo-Saxon Poetry

A reconstructed Viking Age longhouse (28,5 metres long).

The works have been transmitted by word of mouth until then. Stories were told and songs were sung in the mead halls of the great thanes.

Anglo-Saxon Poetry

The works that have survived are to be found in 4 manuscripts: Beowulf (a single ms.); The Exeter Book (Codex Exoniensis) contains some partly pagan lyrical compositions such as Widsith, riddles, but also pious poems and maxims; The Junius (Junian or Bodleian) Manuscript contains Christian religious poetry, probably composed by Caedmon, or imitations of his style; The Vercelli Book contains religious poems such as andreas, The Dream of the Rood a.s.o. Besides these, there are loose pages of parchment, such as Waldhere, The Battle of Finnsburgh etc. The first page of Beowulf

Bards and Entertainers

Story-telling and singing was already a profession in the 6th-7th centuries. The minstrels were divided into scops (the shapers of verse) and gleemen (entertainers). Widsith (The Wide Wanderer) and Deor are the first bards known to us by name (or nickname). Their songs present different aspects of life, although they draw on similar material.

Deors Lament
We have heard of Eormanric's wolfish mind; he ruled men in many places in the Goths' realm - that was a grim king. Many a man sat surrounded by sorrows, misery his expectation, he often wished that the kingdom would be overcome. That went by, so may this. .

Welund tasted misery among snakes. The stout-hearted hero endured troubles had sorrow and longing as his companions cruelty cold as winter - he often found woe Once Nithad laid restraints on him, supple sinew-bonds on the better man. That went by; so can this.

I wish to say this about myself: That for a time I was the Heodenings' poet, dear to my lord - my name was "Deor". For many years I had a profitable position, a loyal lord until now that Heorrenda, the man skilled in song, has received the estate which the warriors' guardian had given to me. That went by, so can this.

An Anglo-Saxon Riddle (The Exeter Book)

I'm by nature solitary, scarred by spear and wounded by sword, weary of battle. I frequently see the face of war, and fight hateful enemies; yet I hold no hope of help being brought to me in the battle, before I'm eventually done to death. In the stronghold of the city sharpedged swords, skillfully forged in the flame by smiths bite deeply into me. I can but await a more fearsome encounter; it is not for me to discover in the city any of those doctors who heal grievous wounds with roots and herbs. The scars from sword wounds gape wider and wider death blows are dealt me by day and by night.


Beowulf is an Old English heroic epic

of anonymous authorship whose dating is uncertain. Its creation is typically assigned by scholars either to the period 700750 C.E., or to the time of composition of the only manuscript, circa 1010. At 3183 lines, the poem is notable for its length. As the single major surviving work of Anglo-Saxon heroic poetry, the work in spite of dealing primarily with Scandinavian mattershas risen to such prominence that it has been described as "England's national epos. The events described in the poem take place in the late 5th century and during the 6th century after the AngloSaxons had begun their migration and settlement in England, and before it had ended, a time when the AngloSaxons were either newly arrived or in close contact with their Germanic kinsmen in Scandinavia and northern Germany.

Sweden in the 12th century: the land of the Geats in blue, the land of the Swedes in yellow


Beowulf , written in Old English sometime before the tenth century A.D., describes the adventures of a great Scandinavian warrior of the sixth century. A rich fabric of fact and fancy, Beowulf is the oldest surviving epic in British literature. Beowulf exists in only one manuscript. This copy survived both the wholesale destruction of religious artifacts during the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII and a disastrous fire which destroyed the library of Sir Robert Bruce Cotton (15711631). The Beowulf manuscript is now housed in the British Library, London.

The latest Beowulf movie - 2005

Main Features of Anglo-Saxon Poetry

THEN from the moorland, by misty crags, With God's wrath laden, Grendel came. The monster was minded of mankind now Sundry to seize in the stately house. ...

No rhyme; The rhythm and musicality were provided by alliteration; Each line was divided into two parts with the help of a caesura; Parallelism; Metaphors (kennings); An interweaving of fantastic and real, heathen and Christian elements; Gloomy atmosphere

Old English Religious Poetry

Although there are many Christian elements in the Anglo-Saxon poetry, it is obvious that they were added by the monastic scribes to the original pagan texts. The genuine Christian poetry appeared later. Cdmon is the earliest English poet whose name is known. An Anglo-Saxon herdsman attached to the double monastery of Streonshalch (Whitby Abbey) during the abbacy of St. Hilda (657680), he was originally ignorant of "the art of song" but supposedly learned to compose one night in the course of a dream. He later became a zealous monk and an accomplished and inspirational religious poet.

Cdmon's only known surviving work is Cdmon's Hymn, the nine-line alliterative vernacular praise poem in honour of God he supposedly learned to sing in his initial dream. The poem is one of the earliest attested examples of Old English. A long narrative entitled Genesis is also attributed to Cdmon.

Now [we] must honour the

guardian of heaven, the might of the architect, and his purpose, the work of the father of glory as he, the eternal lord, established the beginning of wonders. He, the holy creator, first created heaven as a roof for the children of men. Then the guardian of mankind, the eternal lord, the lord almighty, afterwards appointed the middle earth, the lands, for men.

Cynewulf is one of twelve AngloSaxon poets known by name today, and one of four whose work survives today. He is famous for his religious compositions, and is regarded as one of the preeminent figures of Old English Christian poetry. Posterity knows of his name by means of runic signatures that are interwoven into the four poems which comprise his scholastically recognized corpus. These poems are: The Fates of the Apostles, Juliana, Elene, and Christ II (also referred to as The Ascension). Unlike his literary predecessor, Caedmon, whose biography is solely derived from Bedes Ecclesiastical History, Cynewulf's life is a veritable mystery to scholars. Cynewulf is the accepted poet of the exeter Book, just as Caedmon is the poet of the Junian Ms.

Despite new discoveries, Cynewulf remains the shadow of a name.

Anglo-Saxon Prose
The first prose works in Old English appeared beginning with the 8th century. Much of the older literature of Christian England was written in Latin and dealt mainly with historical issues. Generally speaking, when we refer to Anglo-Saxon prose, we refer to The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

The initial page of the Peterborough Chronicle

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a collection of texts in Old English narrating the history of the Anglo-Saxons. The annals were created late in the 9th century, probably in Wessex, during the reign of Alfred the Great. Multiple manuscript copies were made and distributed to monasteries across England, and were independently updated. In one case, the chronicle was still being actively updated in 1154. Nine manuscripts survive in whole or in part, though not all are of equal historical value, and not one of them is the original version. The oldest seems to have been begun towards the end of Alfred's reign, while the most recent was written at Peterborough Abbey after a fire at the monastery there in 1116. Almost all of the material in the chronicle is in the form of annals, by year; the earliest are dated at 60 BC, and historical material follows up to the year in which the chronicle was written, at which point contemporary records begin. These manuscripts collectively are known as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

The Latin Sources

The ruins of Glastonburyy Abbey

The parts of the Chronicle originating before the reign of Alfred the Great, the king of Wessex, who reigned between 871 899, were based on earlier Latin sources. One of these Latin chronicles was De Excidio Britannie (On the Ruin of Britain) by Gildas Sapiens (Gildas the Wise) - (c. 494 or 516 c. 570).

The Venerable Bede

Bede (also Saint Bede, the Venerable Bede, or Beda (c. 67 735), was a Benedictine monk in the English county of Durham He is well known as an author and scholar, and his most famous work, Historia

ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People) gained

him the title "The father of English history". Besides being a historian, Bede showed great talent for telling stories.

Alfred the Great

Alfred (c. 849 899) was king of the southern AngloSaxon kingdom of Wessex from 871 to 899. Alfred is noted for his defense of the kingdom against the Danish Vikings, becoming the only English King to be awarded the epithet 'the Great. A learned man, Alfred encouraged education and improved the kingdom's law system. He was a scholar himself, a translator and a historian.

Other Chroniclers
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was continued after Alfreds death for two and a half centuries by chroniclers of Norman England, such as Simeon of Durham, William of Malmesbury, Geoffrey of Monmouth, John of Salisbury, Walter Map. Some of their works display exquisite literary qualities. The first narrative account of Arthur's reign is found in Geoffrey of Monmouth's 12th century Latin work

Historia Regum Britanniae

("History of the Kings of Britain"), an imaginative and fanciful account of British kings.

Geoffrey of Monmouth (c. 1100 c. 1155) was a clergyman and one of the major figures in the development of British history and the popularity of tales of King Arthur. Merlin, King Leir and Cymbeline were some of the characters in his works that became sources of inspiration for the writers to come.

From Alfred to the Norman Conquest

King Alfred the Great died at the turn of the century and was succeeded by his son, Edward the Elder (who died in 924) and then his grandson Athelstan, but the Danish influences as well as some first Norman influences could already be felt. One of the famous historical events of the time was the Battle of Brunanburh. The Battle of Brunanburh was a West Saxon victory in 937 by the army of king Athelstan and his brother Edmund over the combined armies of Olaf III Guthfrithson, Viking king of Dublin, Constantine, king of Scotland and King Owain of Strathclyde.

The tomb of King Athelstan in Malmesbury Abbey, Malmesbury, England

From Alfred to the Norman Conquest

Alexander fighting Persian king Darius III. From the Alexander Mosaic, Pompeii, Naples.

During the years between 960 1000 there was a great activity in the production of homilies. The famous 19 Blickling Homilies spoke about virtue and vice, expressing the genral belief that the world would end in the year 1000. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was continued by clergymen like Aelfric or Wulfstan. Other literary productions included popular creations such as gospels or legends brought over from the Continent (about Alexander the Great or the wonders of the East).

The development of Anglo-Saxon Literature was suddenly checked by the Norman Conquest, which introduced a foreign idiom and changed not only the language, but also the customs and the whole cultural spirit of the country.