Part I - .II. Anglo-Saxon Epic Poem Beowulf ... Old English Period and Beowulf (450-1066) way to

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Text of Part I - .II. Anglo-Saxon Epic Poem Beowulf ... Old English Period and Beowulf (450-1066) way to

  • Part IOld and Middle English Periods

    (450-1485) 1

    1. Therearedifferentdivisionyearsindifferentliteraryhistories.Here,theyear450istheyeararoundwhichAngles,SaxonsandJutescametodrivetheCeltsaway;andwefollowtheNorton Anthologyinchoosing1485astheendyearoftheMiddleEnglishPeriod.

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  • Chapter 1 Old English Period and Beowulf (450-1066)

    Chapter 1O ld English Period and Beowulf (450-1066)

    I. Old English Period

    1. A Brief Account of the Historical Situation

    InaboutBC600Celts,whoinhabitedtheupperRhineland,startedtomigrate to theBritishIsles,andamongthemtheBritons,abranchof theCelts,cameto theIsles inBC400toBC300,fromwhomBritaingot itsname.At thetimeofmigration, theCelticsweretribalpeopleat theearlystageoftheIronAge.Later,troopsledbyJuliusCaesaroftheRomanEmpireinvadedtheBritishIsles,defeatedtheCeltsandruledtherefromBC55toAD407,bringingwiththemtheslavesystem.TheRomanreignoverBritainwentonforfourandahalfcenturies,buttheBritonsneverceasedfightingagainst them.At thebeginningof the5th century, theRomanEmpiredeclinedand inAD410 all their troopswerewithdrawn.TheRomanshadbuilt towns,roads,walls,andmilitaryfortressesduringtheirrule,butbecausetheydidnotreallysettledownormixupwiththeCelts, theyleftlittleinfluenceonthenativepeople.

    After theRomans, theTeutonicorGermanictribesofAngles,SaxonsandJutesmovedtoliveintheBritishIsles.ThishappenedinaboutAD450.TheydrovetheCeltstoWales,ScotlandandIreland,settleddownthemselvesandnamedthecentralpartoftheislandEngland,thatisthelandofAngles.These tribeswereaseafaringpeoplewhooriginally livedalongthecoastofDenmarkandGermany.Theybecame themastersofEnglandand theancestorsoftheEnglishpeople.Bytheendofthe6thcenturytherehadbeenestablishedsevenSaxonkingdomsinEngland,andafeudalsocietygraduallyreplacedtheprimitivetriballife.

    InthemodernEnglishlanguage,almostnotracesoftheCelticlanguage

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  • Part I Old and Middle English Periods (450-1485) oftheancientBritonscanbefound.Despitethefactthatinthecourseofitsdevelopment theEnglishlanguagehasgraduallychanged,suchas thelossofmostoftheflexionsoftheoldAnglo-Saxon,boththegrammaticalrulesandthebodyoftheshortwordsthatformsthebasicword-stockofModernEnglishareofAnglo-Saxonorigin.

    Startingfromthelate8thcentury, theDanesfromScandinaviacameplunderingtheIsles.Theywereastrongseapeopleknownas theVikingsandatfirsttheymainlyinvadedtheeasterncoastofEngland.Butsoontheypushedinlandtoplunderthewholecountry.Itwasinthesecondhalfofthe9thcenturyandunitedundertheWessexKing,AlfredtheGreat(849-c.899),thattheEnglishpeopledrovetheVikingDanesoff.KingAlfredalsomadecontributionsother thanmilitary.Heencouragededucationandliterature.ThefirstAnglo-Saxonchroniclewaswrittenduringhisreign,whichwasalandmarkof theOldEnglishPeriod.Afterhisdeath, theDanesovercametheSaxonsagainin1013.Itwasnotuntil23yearslaterinearly11thcenturythatthepiratingoftheVikingswasfinallybroughttoastop.AlthoughsomeDanesmadepermanentsettlementsintheBritishIsles,yetliketheRomansbeforethem,theyfailedtoleavemuchinfluencebehind.

    Thegreatesthistoricalevent thatfollowedwas theNormanConquestof 1066. The Normans came from Normandy in northern France toattackEnglandandwonadecisivevictoryat thebattleofHastingsunderthe leadershipof theDukeofNormandy,usuallyknownasWilliam theConqueror.William thenclaimed theEnglish throne,promising the lastSaxon king Harold that he would protect England from the Vikingsinvasions.Franceat that timewasmoreadvancedinthesocialsystemandeconomy.TheNormanConquestnotonlyhurriedEnglandtowardamoredevelopedfeudalsociety,but its influence in theevolutionof theEnglishlanguage,lifestyleandculturewasalsoverysignificant.Theyear1066wasthenmarkedasadividingpointintheEnglishhistory.AlthoughtheNormanrulers spokeFrench,English survived. In1349Englishwasofficiallyintroducedinschoolsandin1362incourtsoflaw.AndgraduallytheEnglishlanguageenteredanewperiodofitshistory,whichisknownastheMiddleEnglish.

    Before finishing this brief historical account, we must also saysomethingabout thebeginningofChristianityinBritain.BoththeearliestCelticsettlersandtheAngles,SaxonsandJutescametoEnglandasheathens.Theyworshipped theirowngods thatwere related to themythologyofNorthernEurope.Itwasintheyearof597thatPopeGregorytheGreatofthe

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  • Chapter 1 Old English Period and Beowulf (450-1066)RomanCatholicChurchsentSt.AugustinetoEnglandtoconverttheAnglo-Saxons.KingEthelbertofKentwasthefirsttobeconvertedandhefoundedinKenttheCanterburyAbbey.Inthenorth,theearlierChristianisedIrelandwasengagedinsendingmissionaries to theAngles.ThemonasteriesbuiltbytheminNorthumbriaweretheearliestcivilisinginfluences,andthewell-knownNorthumbrianSchoolinliteraryhistoryreferstothelearnedmonksinthesemonasteries.FromCanterburyandNorthumbria,Christianityspreadthroughoutthecountry.However,it tooktheRomanCatholicChurchaboutacentury toChristianiseallEngland.Moremonasteriesweresetupand,likethesituationinEurope,monkswhoweretrainedinLatinbecamethemostlearnedpeopleofEngland.ThegreatLatinistofNorthumbrianSchoolwastheVenerableBede(c.673-735),alearnedtheologianandhistorianwithworkssuchasanaturalhistoryandachronologyof theChristianera.HismostoutstandingworkisThe Ecclesiastical History of the Angles,whichisstill thechiefauthorityforknowingtheOldEnglishPeriod,includingitsearliestpoetry,poetsandliteraryachievements.

    2. Chief Literary Achievements of the Period

    Old English Poetry:Theearliest formsofEnglish literaturehaveperished.Weknowvery little of theOldEnglishpoetry in its rudestshape.ThefirstEnglishpoetknowntous isWidsith,meaningtheWideWanderer,whowasascoporitinerantminstrelofthe6thcentury.WidsithleftusapoemnamedafterhimselfcalledWidsith,whichisaround150lineslongabouthisownlife,hisjoyandgrief.ThenthereisamovingelegyThe Wandererof115lines,alamentofamanwhohaslosthisprotectinglord,andwandersafterwardsoverthewaterstofindarestingplace.AnotherpieceThe Seafarer isusuallyreadasadialoguebetweenanoldmanwhoknowsthejoylesslifeoftheseaandayoungmanwhowillnotbepersuadedawayfromtheseaadventures.ThereareotherfragmentarypoemssuchasThe Wifes Complaint andThe Husbands Message,etc.But thepoorshapeofthemanuscriptmakesallofthepoemsdifficulttoread.Beowulfisthemostreadableandcompleteoneofthem.Ittellsthehard,joylessyetheroiclivesoftheoldEnglishforefathers,andisregardedastheirgreatnationalepicpoem.

    Christian Poetry:Christianpoetryoccupiesanimportantplaceintheliteratureofthisperiodtoo.AugustineandtheRomanmonkswhocametoconvertEnglandchangedmuchofthesubjectmatterandfeelingofEnglish

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  • Part I Old and Middle English Periods (450-1485) poetry,but left its formandartistic features unaltered.For instance, the subjectchanged from descr ibingpeopleshardandmelancholylife to the story of Christand the deeds of sa int lyheroes,but the formof theverse lineand theshapeofthepoem remain the sameas thoseofBeowulf.Also,St.Augustines theologicalinfluencestayed,butmainlyinthesouth.Inthenorth,themonasteriesweresometimesheadedbyCelticChristians,and thus northern Englishliteraturewas touchedbyaCelticinfluence,theeffectofwhichwas tomakeEnglishpo e t r y more subje c t iveand lyric.Among theearlyAnglo-SaxonpoetsCaedmon(fl.670) fromNorthumbria

    mustbementioned.HegrewupandlivedinamonasteryruledbyaCelticAbbessandwasrememberedforhisChristianpoetry.According tohim,hewastoldinavisiontosingofGod.Whenhewokeup,herememberedthelinesandwrotethemdown.Andthiseventstartedhimontheroadofcomposingpoetry.HewroteinAnglo-SaxonapoeticparaphraseoftheBible.Another importantpoetwhoappearedacentury laterafterCaedmonwasCynewulf(fl.750).Hewastheauthorofpoemsonreligioussubjects.

    II. Anglo-Saxon Epic Poem Beowulf

    The Anglo-Saxons came to England with their own folklore andtheirearlypoetrymostlytellsofeventswhichtookplaceontheEuropeanContinent.AftertheirsettlementinEnglandthetribalformofsociallifegave

    A page of Old English verse

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  • Chapter 1 Old English Period and Beowulf (450-1066)waytotherisingfeudalsystem,whichwasaccompaniedbytheconsolidationofChristianfaiththatfinallyreplacedthepaganbeliefsinthe7thcentury.ButevenafterChristianitywasofficiallyadoptedbytherulingclassesandLatinwas taught inmonastic schools, thecommonpeoplecontinued tokeepintheirmemorythesongsandepicscreatedbytheancientscops.Andin thiswaysomeof theancientAnglo-Saxonpoetrywerepreserved.ThewrittenAnglo-SaxonlaterdevelopedonthebasisoftheLatinalphabetandwaspractisedbyscribesandscholarswhowereoftenoflowbirth.Thesemonastery-trainedwritersknewLatinandwere influencedby theLatinlanguageandChristianculture.Theyrecordedandpasseddownancientpoemsofwhich The Song of Beowulfwasthemostimportant.

    1. The Story of Beowulf

    Part One:The storybeginswithadescriptionof the reignof theDanishkingHrothgarwhohadbuiltagreatfeast-hallHeorottoentertainhiskinsmenandwarriors.Butthefeastsattractedahugesea-monsterGrendel,whowasaman-eaterandlivedin theneighbouringswamps.HeregularlyappearedinHeorotatnight-timeandatesomewarriors.Thehallwassoondeserted.ThenewsofthedisasterreachedBeowulf,HrothgarsnephewandayoungandmightywarriorofGeats(Jutes)whohadwonfameandrespecteverywhereforhisbraveryandself-sacrificespirit.HeimmediatelysailedforthwithasmallbandofwarriorstoDenmark.Hrothgarwelcomedthemandgaveabanquet. In thedeadof thenight themonstercameandkilledawarrior.BeowulffoughtGrendelandcaughtthemonsterinanirongrip.Theirfightwassofiercethatthewallsofthehallshook.AtlastGrendeltorehimselfaway,but lefthisarminBeowulfshand.Heescapedandcrawledbacktohislairtodie.

    ThenextnightagreatfeastwasthrowntocelebrateBeowulfsvictory.ButGrendelsmother,awater-witch,cametoavengehersonandkilledoneofthewarriors.BeowulfandhiswarriorssetouttothelairofGrendelsmotheratthebottomofastagnantpoolfullofsea-serpentsandfrothingwithblood.Beowulfplungedintothe