Early English Literature, Lecture 1

Early English Literature, Lecture 1.
Kiricsi Ágnes
Anglo-Saxon Prose
GILDAS (Chronicle c.540)
- life spent in Wearmouth and Jarrow. First man of letters, monk and priest. Wrote in Latin [hagiography (Cuthbert- prose+verse), natural science, poetry, biblical
-Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (5 books) The first work to represent English
as one nation. (gens anglorum - all God’s people, all Christian) > tells a success story
of how Christianity came to England + success because they were Christians
>3 waves of Christianity
1.: Pope Gregory sent St Augustine of Canterbury
2.: Irish mission of St Patrick> monastic tradition
3.: Archbishop Theodore 667 > 1st flourishing of prose > BEDE’s age
KING ALFRED THE GREAT > [ Life written by ASSER] king of the West Saxons(871-99)
Great man of letters and excellent military leader (Vikings).
REFORM OF LEARNING - 2nd flourishing of prose (both in OE + Latin)
Preface to Pope Gregory’s Pastoral Care > hortatory epistle. Importance of learning +
translations into OE emphasised
- translations Bede (H.E.G.A.), Boethius: Consolation of Philosophy, St Augustine,
Paulus Orosius: History >> translation = additions alterations, explanations!!!
- Anglo-Saxon Chronicle - 6 MSS
3rd flourishing of prose
ÆLFRIC (+ c.1020) - abbot
- homilies - 2 series (80). Written in alliterative prose; elegant - to strengthen people vs.
Viking attacks
+ theological questions used Bible as authority
WULFSTAN / LUPUS (+1023) - archbishop of York, statesman
-Canons of Edgar (vs. reproach to paganism + lazy clergy)
-21 sermons - e.g.: Sermo Lupi ad Anglos - Style: alliteration, rhetoric! - scaring people,
Vikings are God’s punishment vs. low standard of morals > much more energetic than
Anglo-Saxon Poetry (1)
30,000 lines in 4 MSS (The Exeter Book, The Vercelli Book, The Beowulf MS = Cotton
Vitellius A xv., The Junius MS) mostly religious.
Unfortunately in England not many survived. Gmc heritage: legends, verse making, verse
form >>> Other characteristics: topic not A-S; heroes are from continent (of Teutonic Heroic
Age 4-6th c)
- short celebratory recitation about a hero by scop (AS poet)
 Widsith - About kingship. Not too heroic itself. In the Exeter Book.
 Deor - about mutability of scop's fortune. Elegiac tone
 Waldere - Walter of Aquitaine defends his mountain retreat against Gunther of Burgundy epic fragment
 Fight at Finnsburgh - fragment of a pagan lay, referred to in Beowulf.
 Chronicle poems - The Battle of Brunanburh entry for year 937 in A-S Chr in 4 MSS. A
panegyric on heroism of King Aethelstan and his brother Eadmund (grandsons of Alfred
the Great) who put to flight the combined forces of King Constantine II of Scotland, King
Eugenius (Owen) of the Strathclyde Britons and Anlaf, son of the Viking king of Dublin.
 The Battle of Maldon (991)-fragment. Original perished in Cottonian fire. Survived in a
transcript by John Elphinston 1724). Byrthnoth vs. Viking forces. About heroic behaviour
 Beowulf
3182 lines. MS Cotton Vitellius A xv.
Questions of composition
1) a collection of lays patched together by a later Christian poet
2) ORAL FORMULAIC TRADITION: F. P. Magoun (and A. B. Lord as he described it in
The Singer of Tales) applied M. Parry's theory to OE poetry.
FORMULAS (Milman Parry: "a group of words which is regularly employed under the same
metrical conditions to express a given essential idea.") e.g.: sinces brytta = bestower of
treasure (Beowulf: lines 607,1170,1922,2071) + Genesis 3X, Elene, The Wanderer.
3) Theory of written composition: a clerical person familiar with traditional ways composed
the epic in its present form in writing. It shows features of oral style.
broga gecyðed
snude to soðe,
þæt his sylfes ham
bolda selest
brynewylmum mealt,
(Beowulf 2324-7)
Then the terror was quickly and truly
made known to Beowulf, that his own home,
the best building, the throne of the Geats
had melt in surge of fire.
- desire of fame and glory
- centred on individual + aristocratic warrior heroes. Lord + retinue
- kinship esp. uncle-nephew relationship
- Feud
- Gift giving
- Acquiring wealth
- Competitive / boasting behaviour in the hall