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Copy of Anglo-Saxon and Beowulf Background Notes
Transcript of Copy of Anglo-Saxon and Beowulf Background Notes
Germanic tribes who invaded the British Isles and
exiled the Celtic tribes in the 5th century. The British Isles were seen as precious land and they are
the most invaded land in all of history.
After the Anglo-Saxons
defeated the Celts they divided
Britain into 7 kingdoms. Each
kingdom was inhabited by
a different tribe and ruled by a king (cyning).
The Anglo-Saxon tribes were
savage, ruthless people
who lived life by a strict warrior
For hundreds of years the
seven tribes fought in great wars
against each other to gain power of
the entire British Isles.
Although the Anglo Saxon people
were ruthless warriors, they were
widely known for their courage and nobility
in war and everyday life.
Anglo-Saxon literature (or early
Medieval Literature) has many conventions
Anglo-Saxon literary Conventions:
1.) The cyning or king was the central part
of every kingdom and tribe. He was in charge
of the protection of his people, land, and giving gifts to
his loyal warriors. Loyalty to one's king was the
Anglo-Saxon's main virtue. The king's warriors could
not surpass him in valor or fall below him in bravery.
He was the loaf protector.... this means he
was the giver of bread, which was the basic substance to survive in the medieval period.
Like many other illiterate societies,
the Anglo-Saxons relied on oral composition
to pass on their war stories, traditions, and literature.
A scop (shaper of tales) was a person who would
travel across the country learning historic or fictional
tales of battle, love, and courage. Their purpose was to
pass on stories through generations so they would not be forgotten. They were both historians and entertainers.
Women were highly regarded
in the Anglo-Saxon culture. They were said to
have a sixth sense (see future) which was
important during wars. At feasts they were cup
bearers which was an honored position. Women were said to be pure and lived in a monogamous
relationship with their husbands. They also
had strong, respected relationships with their
fathers, uncles, nephews, sons. . .ect
3.) Warrior Attitude in Battle
The Anglo-Saxon warrior's attitude
toward battle was always fearless and brave.
In their belief system the gods and mankind were
in constant battle ag. evil. If evil won, the world would be destroyed. They believed if they fought
as hard as they could in life (wars) they would die a glorious death on the battlefield and they then could achieve immortality. Warriors confronted life as embracing death. They did not look at obstacles or warfare as a bad thing. They not only accept their wyrd (fate) but rejoiced in dying on the battlefield because they would achieve glory in death.
4.) Dark/Light Imagery
In many pieces of literature
(including Beowulf) there is a sudden
jump from a dark tone to a light tone.
For example, warriors could be feasting and
rejoicing in a mead hall and then a monster kills
people. Then everyone is happy again. This
symbolizes their outlook on life: life is difficult, but one must accept and embrace ones fate. . . become a better person.
5.) Mead Hall (mead= alcohol of honey)
The mead hall was the center of Anglo-Saxon
society. This is where warriors met, made important
decisions, celebrated. . . ect. The mead hall was essential to their society because this is where they bonded with each one another. They called their friends or comrades their "shoulder companions." If someone broke the law a common punishment would be exile. To be exiled from one's tribe was a fate worse than death. Loss of companionship= great sorrow.
In the mead hall or on the battle field,
a warrior needed to boast about
their past and future accomplishments
to create a good reputation. However, the
warrior would need to follow through on
his bragging. If they didn't they were considered cowards. They needed both words and works.
While reading Beowulf you will
be asked to recognize these 6 conventions
within the poem. In addition, be aware of the
1. Contrast good/bad kings
2. transitory of life
History of Anglo-Saxon Civilization
Anglo-Saxons and Literature