My Notes of OE Hist, Lit, Lge

Old English History
*449 to 1066
*Anglo-Saxon Period or “The Dark Ages”
*Inhabitants include
-original Britons
-home of King Arthur (Welsh Celtic, Beowulf contemporary)
-inhabited from 700 BC to Roman Invasion
-Language dominated until 5th c
-Scotland, Ireland, Wales
-religious, legal system contained individual rights
-skilled artisans, introduced iron
-place names ending in chester or caster are Celtic
-fell under attack and rule of Romans (several hundred years)
-became dependent on them for military protection, thus became a
vulnerable people
-so when Germanic tribes invaded, they were too weak to retaliate; they
were pushed westward to Welsh Mtns, Northwestward to Scotland, and
Southwestward to Cornwall
-invasions began with Julius Caesar in 55BC after he visited
-invasions continued with Emperor Claudius 100 years later
-built network of roads, protective walls
-by 409, Romans returned to homeland to settle problems there,
the Celts a vulnerable people against
tribal attacks from Jutes, Angles,
Germanic Tribes: Jutes, Angles, Saxons
*449 AD / settled in Kent
-extended from Iceland to Northern Italy before they rudely settled
in civilized Roman territory; seen as barbarians by the Romans, they
helped bring the Roman Empire to an end. / Jutes came first, from
Jutland (Danish peninsula); the Angles and Saxons came later from what
is now Germany/ together the three tribes shared a common language and
created the AS England that lasted 600 years
-physical characteristics: large build, light complexion, blonde
-negative traits: enjoyed eating, drinking, gambling,
boasting, fighting
-positive traits: courageous, loyal, generous, hospitable,
prudent, moral
*brought with them
1) heroic ideals and set of traditional heroes
2) Old English Language (Latin) common to all three tribes
(peasants still spoke Celtic language)
3) literature characterized by melancholy, stern, haunted by sea,
dangers, heroes
4) women’s roles were important until the Norman Invasion
5) religion characterized by fatalism
6) A.S. gods in days of the week: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday,
and Friday
*King Alfred the Great of Wessox
1) 849-899 / reigned 871-899
2) with the help of a resurgence of
Christianity, was able to unite the three
tribes and push Danish invaders
(Vikings) to the N.E. part of England
3) rebuilt his kingdom: restored
England to a learning, leading
facility; and reestablished just law
4) Greatly influenced OE Literature
(see notes on OE Literature)
*Germanic tribes of England lived
peacefully for two hundred years
Vikings (Danes)
-Beowulf (brought Old Norse—Scandinavian tongue
-William the Conqueror of France
-took control of Anglo-Saxons and the Danes
-brought the greatest influx of Latin
*belonged to the same
Nordic race as did the
AS and Vikings
-later, Scandinavian tongue brought influence on language
Meanwhile . . .
*Christianity came to England, again
*2nd or 3rd c. (314 AD)
*from the North (Celtic Christianity of
Ireland, known as “the center of
*from the South (St. Augustine and
monks landed in Kent—Canterbury;
St. Augustine was the first Archbishop
of Canterbury)
*wrote in Latin
*wrote about scripture and theology
*set up monasteries (Northumbria),
which became important learning
*monks spent their days copying
manuscripts in cloistered settings (800
years prior to the printing press)
*Caedmon—1st English religious poet
*Bede the Venerable
1) most outstanding writer
2) wrote about Caedmon
3) prolific writer
4) foremost scholar of his time
5) regarded as the greatest
ecclesiastical authority until
6) “Father of English History”
7) Wrote The Ecclesiastical History
of the English Church and
8) began translating Gospel of St.
John into Latin
9) lived 673-735
*Norman Conquest (1066), lead by William the
Conqueror of France, marked the end of the
Anglo-Saxon (Old English) time period
*See map of Roman Invasions and charts of Indo-European Language and Germanic Tribes
A-S Levels of Society
Earldorman --nobility -- king
--wealthy but owed allegiance to
--(means companion) – owed land
and allegiance to earl, thane,
--owed rents or services to those
who owned land; farmed
Theows and Thralls --(serfs and slaves)
prisoners of war; performed menial
tasks on the land or in homes of
upper class
*haunted by sea and dangers
*shortness of life
*eager to depict and praise acts of heroism
*heroic traditions and exploits
*elegiac traditions
*fatalism—dominant mood
*old pagan heroic tradition was later mixed with
*Little literature available
*Caedmon—first English religious poet
*Bede (673-735)—most outstanding writer
1) wrote about the life of Caedmon in The
History of the English Church and People
2) sang it, as most lyrics were
3) began translating Gospel of John into
4) child prodigy
5) wrote 40 books, considered the last word
on their subjects for centuries (saints,
grammars, biblical, commentaries, literary
criticism, scientific treatises)
6) without him we would know little about
English History up to the Norman
*poetry was memorized and recited by scops
*not written down, thus not read
*riddles, caesuras, kennings, alliteration,
repetition, variation, simple, but full of imagery
*few surviving pieces (Exeter Books, Beowulf,
among few)
1) name means “bear”
2) Beowulf was an actual Swedish warrior
in early 6th c. (see pages 11-12 in text, Sutton Hoo ship)
3) poem refers to historical events that date
as early as 516 – 520
4) composed around 700 AD (Bede’s
5) 3,182 lines long
6) anonymous author / recited, not read
7) written in Old English around 1000 BC
(stored in British Museum in London)
8) oldest surviving in any modern European
9) Epic poem
*long story on a serious theme,
narrating the adventures of a hero
*one central heroic character
* set in distant past
* mood is noble, religious, dignified,
and sublime
* includes formal, genealogical
* warrior heroes, perilous journeys,
monsters, eternal struggle of good
versus evil
10) Scandinavian setting
11) offers glimpses of Scandinavian feuds
between the Geats and Swedes, Frisians
and Danes, but mostly reflects English
life as was in 7th c.
12) monster-battles
13) story is an allegory
*initiation into adulthood
* testing one’s courage as an adult
* honorable conquest by one’s death
14) told with concreteness, adventure, detail,
and sympathy
15) Beowulf embodies the characteristics of
an epic hero
* embodies outstanding char’s of race
* involved in a struggle against
opposing forces of nature
* represents his people through good
deeds, linked together in a narrative
* represents a heroic ideal
* honesty, integrity, courage, loyalty
* sadness, fear
* symbolic role as a fighter of monsters
*Alfred the Great (849-899) / aka King Alfred
1) continued the translation of the
Gospel of St. John into Latin (began
by Bede—see below)
2) produced “great books”—set of
translations of Europe’s classics such
as Bede’s English History and AngloSaxon Chronicles (1st important piece of prose
written in English)
3) considered the “Father of English
4) helped to bring respect for the
English Language to England
5) Established the first “public schools”
6) All of this while he was nearly
single-handedly saving the Germanic
Tribes from Danish invasion!!! (see
notes on OE History)
Comprised of 3 major contributors
1) Scandinavian (sk / sc sounds: scab, scowl,
skull, ransack, scare—negative meanings
suggest a ruthless people-- and linking verbs);
otherwise called Old Norse
2) Latin (by 1100 AD, hundreds of Latin words
were scattered among the Germanic lges
because of the constant intercommunication
with the Romans;language of the church, the
learned, and the wealthy/ replaced by French
in Middle English)
3) Celtic (‘chester’ and ‘caster’ in place names;
dominated OE until around 5th century)
*Today exists between 3-6 thousand languages
*In 1100 AD, lexicon was about 50,000 / by 1900,
over 650,000
*Latin and French were responsible for driving out
85% of the Germanic vocabulary, w.o. disturbing
*By 8th c AS, though primarily illiterate, began
writing and keeping manuscripts
*See scales of Language Development