PPT on history of OE and Anglo Saxon aesthetics

Beowulf Manuscript
• Written between middle 7th and late 10th c.
• 1st mentioned in 1536
• Owned by the antiquarian Sir Robert
Cotton, who owned the most extensive
library of Anglo-Saxon texts ever
• 1700: the Cotton library was willed to
England and moved to the Ashburnham
House in Westminster
• October 23, 1731: The Ashburnham Fire
• 1833: first English edition of Beowulf is
Cotton Vitellius A.xv
Four Dialects
of Old English
700 – 1066
• West Saxon
• Kentish
• Northumbrian
• Mercian
Old English
1. Alphabet and pronunciation
th sound:þ (the thorn)
ð (the eth)
æ (digraph)
sc (“sh” sound)
c (“k” sound)
c (“ch” sound)
wiþ (with)
ða (then)
a in “hat
sceap (sheep)
Rarity of words from Latin and
French that make up large portions
of our language now (post Norman
85% of Old English words are
no longer in use.
gæs (grass)
god (good)
weall (wall) feohtan (fight)
Old English is a synthetic, not an analytic,
language: parts of speech have endings
for different persons, numbers, tenses,
and moods (nominative, genitive, dative,
Audio of lines 194 -224
Beowulf Prologue (audio with text)
Sutton Hoo excavation site in Suffolk
Shield Mount
Anglo-Saxon Necklace
Boar Crest
Sutton Hoo Helmet
Sutton Hoo Helmet
The Royal Shield
The Royal Shoulder Mounts
The Great Gold Buckle
Buckle Mount for Sword Scabbard
Beowulf in the news…
Old English Poetics:
Genre and Form
Epic or Heroic Epic: long narrative poem on a
serious subject told in a formal or elevated style
and centered on a heroic or quasi-divine figure
on whom the fate of a tribe, nation, or the human
race depends. Beowulf is a primary epic; that
means it originates in the oral tradition.
Elegiac: a formal and sustained lament in verse for
the death of a particular person or about the
transitory nature of life.
Lines: The poetic lines of Beowulf are constructed
of two half lines, each with two strong stresses
and of varying syllables (8 -12 for Beowulf)
Old English Poetics:
Definition: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds
Use in Beowulf: The alliteration of Beowulf always occurs
between the first stress of the second half line and one
or both of the strong stresses of the first half line.
Translators of Beowulf into modern English vary in their
success in mirroring this style of alliteration.
Oft Scyld Scēfing sceaþena þrēatum,
monegum mǽgþum meodo-setla oftēah;
Old English Poetics:
The Kenning
Definition: a kenning is an OE
compound metaphor
Examples from Beowulf:
“wave piercer” (1273)
“Heaven’s candle” (1391)
“war icicle” (1420)
Old English Poetics:
The Litote
Definition: A figure of speech, in which an
affirmative is expressed by the negative of
the contrary (OED); often an ironic
Examples from Beowulf:
“a pyre on earth, an unweak one” (3138)
“That exchange was not good” (1304)
“That was not an easy journey” (2586)
Old English Interlace
The Franks casket (c 700)—left panel
Old English Interlace
South face of the Bewcastle Cross in Cumberland (pre-710)
Old English Interlace
Facsimile of the Book of Durrow (folio 192 verso) (mid or late 7th c)
From http://illuminations.ca/ms-durrow.html
Old English Interlace
The hilt of the Crundale sword (late 7th c)
From http://extraordinarybookofdoors.com/AppendixI.aspx
Old English Interlace
Carpet page from the Lindisfarne Gospels (c 700)
Old English Interlace
The Gandersheim Casket (later 8th c. or early 9th)
Image from http://www.historicmedals.com/viewItem.php?no=283
Old English Poetics:
Beowulf’s Digressions
First digression (778 - 810)
Thematic focus: What is a good versus a bad king?
Second digression (937 - 1019)
Thematic focus: Commentary on problems within the
heroic code of vengeance
Third digression (1720 - 1735)
Thematic focus: What is a good versus a bad queen?
Old English Poetics:
Beowulf’s Digressions
Fourth digression (1796 - 1827)
Thematic focus: Loyalties and peace are transitory.
Fifth digression (1981 - 2003): “The Lay of the
Last Survivor”
Thematic focus: We are often misguided in our values,
including those that require revenge.
Sixth digression (2146 - 2215): “Friscian
Campaign” and Beowulf’s lineage
Thematic focus: your actions are more important than
your birth
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