By André Bastos Gurgel, OAB
Today we’re going to look at some of the great literature produced by the Anglo-Saxons, the people whose language gave birth to Middle and Modern English. Although it is spoken by billions around the world, most people don’t realize that English comes from Anglo-Saxon or Old English. There are some marvelous pieces of Old English literature including an epic poem, historiography, and wisdom literature.
BEOWULF: AN EPIC POEM MASTERPIECE
This epic poem tells the story of the hero Beowulf who comes to Denmark to aid the Danish king against a monster who has been terrorizing his people for a long time.
Although the plot may seem childish at first, Beowulf is far from it. In fact, there are deep symbolic meanings for every event in the poem, while some aspects and details can only be understood by a person already familiar with the mythology of the Germanic peoples. It’s worth mentioning that the famous philologist J.R.R. Tolkien, who is best known as the author of the Lord of the Rings series, was particularly fond of Beowulf and even wrote an article called “Beowulf: the Monster and the Critics”.
In my opinion, this is one of the greatest epics ever produced by man. If you’d like to find out whether one of your friends is an Anglo-Saxon enthusiast, simply recite “Hwat! We Gardena” and see if he answers “in geardagum, þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon.”
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a must-read for all history enthusiasts who wish to understand the origins of the English people. The Chronicle is the single most important historical source for the period in England between the departure of the Romans and the decades following the Norman conquest. If you are also interested in Roman history, the beginning chapters will provide you with a lot of information concerning the Roman invasion of England in 60 BC.
Another work worth mentioning is Ælfric’s Colloquy. Ælfric was a great scholar and polymath. The Colloquy gives us a testimony of daily Anglo-Saxon life which is still used today by the students who study it. The book was intended to teach Latin to Anglo-Saxon monks and therefore is also useful for Latin students.
Wisdom poetry is a very common world literature motif and the Anglo-Saxons wrote their share of excellent pieces. Among those worthy of mention is “The Wanderer”, an anonymous 115-line philosophical writing whose date is unknown. At the beginning of the poem, the author is a warrior who takes pride in killing until fate turns against him. He loses his lord, kinsmen, and comrades in battle and is forced into exile. He then wonders if there was ever any meaning to his life as a warrior.
Here is an excerpt:
“Where is the horse gone? Where the rider?
Where the giver of treasure?
Where are the seats at the feast?
Where are the revels in the hall?
Alas for the bright cup!
Alas for the mailed warrior!
Alas for the splendour of the prince!”
If you are interested in Anglo-Saxon, please visit our site at http://www.latintutors.net/tutor-search/anglo-saxon/.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
André Bastos Gurgel, OAB (Order of Attorneys of Brazil), Academic Advisor for the Carmenta Online Latin School, is a life-long student of both modern and ancient languages. Mr. Gurgel is fluent in English, Portuguese, Latin, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Italian, and German and has a working knowledge of Danish, Hebrew, Ancient Greek, and Sanskrit. He has also worked as a tutor and teacher in a number of languages. Mr. Gurgel has been instrumental in expanding the Carmenta Online Latin School’s presence in a variety of social media.
Click here to read Mr. Gurgel’s full profile.