I. Old English Literature Anglo-Saxon Period V-X Centuries

In the 5th century England was called Britain. The inhabitants of Britain were called the Britons. They spoke the Celtic language, because they were the representatives of the Celtic race. Their life and their culture were primitive. However, among them there were rich priests, the Druids, who ruled over Britain. As a result, common Celts had to obey the Druids. Moreover, all the Celts believed in Gods and were very religious.

At the same time, in the 5th century, Angles, Saxons and Jutes came from the continent to invade Britain. These were the fighting tribes, that’s why they were attacking each other for supreme power. Nevertheless, they united into one nation that was called English, because Englise was the name of the most numerous tribe. The English were pagans, and they had no written language. All the stories of ancient people, consequently, had to be memorized, so we can say that they had only spoken form of the Old English Language.

The main theme of the stories was the adventures of the brave men. Very often such stories were composed in verse, but without rhyme. They were called epics. The first English epic is called “Beowulf” and belongs to the 7th century. “Beowulf” is worth mentioning, though the author is unknown and the action isn’t set in England. This epic is about a daring young man, Beowulf by name, who comes to Denmark in order to help the King Hrothgar. The King and his men suffer a lot from a terrible monster Grendel who comes at night and kills some of Hrothgar’s men. Beowulf is brave and willing to help. He attacks Grendel and kills him. But that isn’t the end of their sufferings, because Grendel’s mother comes to the King’s castle to take the revenge. Beowulf kills her and is made the king. Being the king he has to defend his people and his country against other terrible creature, a fire-breathing animal. Although Beowulf kills it, the animal hurts him in the fight. As a result, Beowulf is badly wounded and dies. His funeral is emotionally described. It is interesting to know that the sorrowful events are revealed in “Beowulf” much more interesting than the happy ones.

Other poems which appeared in those times were more religious in comparison with “Beowulf”. Though the poets were English, they had to write in Latin, because Latin was the language of the Christian Church which proclaimed the Catholic Religious all over the world. Pope Gregory, the head of the Roman Church wanted to spread his influence over England, and he managed to do this. He sent his monks to convert the English people to Christianity. The monks settled in Kent, and the first Catholic Church was build in Canterbury which remains the English religious centre up to this day.

That was the reason why English poets had to write in Latin. But some of them dared to write in Old English with the help of alliteration. All of them praised God and dealt with the Bible where different events from Christ’s life were described. Caedmon and Cynewulf skilfully depicted sorrowful events. Caedmon’s Paraphrasewas written in Old English where alliterative verse took place. Besides this kind of verse there in the 7th century appeared lyrics. The central character of a lyric was a singer who sang about the poet’s feelings and thoughts. Again, a lyric described cruel and sad events, somebody’s wishes or complaints. They were called “Deor’s Complaint”, “The Wife’s Complaint” or The Husband’s Message”. The first poems and songs were sung. They were written down much later.

Old English prose appeared in the 9th century. The Old English authors preferred writing in Old English. However, some of them followed a demand to write also in Latin. For example, Bede wrote in Latin. He was a well-educated person who wrote a religious book The History of the English Church”. That book was a scientific one. What’s more, religion was the main theme of all the books of those times.

Other writers wrote in Old English; alliteration was used to join sentences together. The writers praised God, described the religious scenes of his life. Among those writers Aelfric was the most well-known one. He wrote several religious books: Homilies” — the religious talks, and “Lives of Saints” where he described the first seven books of the Bible in his own words using alliteration.

The third group of Old English writers translated some Latin Books into English. King Alfred the Great (849-901) was one of them. More than that, he wrote “The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle”, consisting of the chronicles of different cities.

Read Beowulf on Google Books

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