; Anglo-Saxon Background Notes
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Anglo-Saxon Background Notes


  • pg 1
Background Notes
  British Literature
      English 12
     Beowulf: Anglo-Saxon England:
      Between 500 and 1000 A.D
• Beowulf is an archetypal      • Beowulf is an old pagan story;
  Anglo-Saxon literary work       combination of a pagan story
• Beowulf was composed in         with a Christian narrator
  England but is set in         • Christianity eventually
  Scandinavia before the          replaced the old warrior
  migration to Britain            religion, linking England to
• Anglo-Saxon society             Continental Europe.
  developed from kinship        • Monasteries brought learning
  groups led by strong chief.     and literacy and preserved
• People also farmed,             works from the older oral
  maintained local                tradition.
  governments, and created      • English- not just the Church’s
  fine crafts, especially         Latin- gained respect as a
  metalwork.                      written language.
              Celtic Heroes
• Celts were tall blond warriors
• Greatest technologists of the ancient world
• Skilled metalworkers, builders of roads and chariots,
  and experts in agriculture and animal husbandry
• Developed an alphabet called the Ogham (owam) –
  sacred and used for special recordings
• Eventually the Christian church forcibly replaced
  Ogham with the Latin alphabet
                 Celtic Heroes
• Religious to a high degree (ethical teaching of the Druids:
  worship the gods, do no evil, be strong and courageous)
• Religion – Animism (from the Latin word for “spirit”)
• Priests were called Druids. They communicated between
  people and the spirits. (they were healers, judges,
  astronomers, teachers, and oracles)
• Druids had three divisions within their order: the Bards
  (poets), the Ovates (prophets, philosophers), and the Druid
• Stonehenge: mysterious place in Great Britain
• Celtics influenced many later writers
              Women Roles
• Druidesses were highly      • Children took the mother’s
  revered among the Celts       name and daughters
• Red-haired women were         inherited her possessions.
  sacred to the war           • Virginity was not valued;
  goddesses, as red was the     twice the dowry was given
  color of life blood and       for a woman previously
  menstrual blood               married or with children.
• Wells, springs, fountains   • Abortion and choice or
  and ponds were considered     change of mate was a
  female symbols, water-        woman’s right
  passages to the
  underground womb of the
  Great Mother.
            The Romans:
       The Great Administrators
• Caesar led invasion in 55 B.C.
• Romans provided armies, built a defensive
  wall, public baths and roads.
• Romans left because of trouble in Italy.
  After Romans left, many individual
  kingdoms came into being.
• Christianity was their religion.
• Their language became dominant
• Several independent principalities came
  into being (each with their own king)
• In 1066, William, the Duke of
  Normandy, beat the Anglo-Saxons and
• Then unification of the country began.
     Anglo-Saxon Religion
• Dark and fatalistic
• Came from Germany
• 3 gods
• - Odin – most important god: god of death,
  poetry, and magic
• - Thunor: god of thunder and lightning
• - Dragon: protector of treasury
• Religion was based on friendship, loyalty and
        The Bards – Ballads
• Skilled storytellers      • Poets provide hope; tell of
                              heroic deeds
• Song of Gods and
  Heroes                    • Monasteries served as
                              strongholds of Christianity
• Not considered inferior     and centers of learning that
  to warriors                 preserved older traditions.
• Heroic tales of war,      • Works were written in Latin,
  disease and old age         the language of the Church.
                            • Monks worked in covered
• Anglo-Saxon heritage        walkways, ink would freeze,
  was passed down in          hand printed manuscripts
  Christian Monasteries     • Latin language was the
                              language of scholars
                            • Old English was the language
                              of common people.
  Warm Hall – Cold World
• Law and order was responsibility of leader
  (whether family, clan, tribe, or kingdom)
• Everything was gained by loyalty to the
• Lifestyle – wooden buildings, close to
  animals in single-family homesteads
• Wooden stockade surrounded village for
                 Beowulf…the epic
• The author of Beowulf is             • The major subjects of their
  unknown but the story was              literature include battles, love of
  probably passed down through           home, brave acts and a warrior’s
  many generations.                      glory.
• The first literature of the Anglo-   • Beowulf is the greatest of the
  Saxons was poetry since its            Anglo-Saxon poems and the
  rhythm made it much easier to          oldest surviving epic of any
  remember than prose.                   Germanic people.
• It was not written but recited or    • Beowulf exhibits many qualities
  sung and passed down orally.           of an epic including a great
• The Anglo-Saxons were a very           national hero and the struggle of
  intense people. They were              good against evil.
  capable of deep emotions such        • Beowulf’s struggles occur over a
  as love of freedom and glory.          fifty-year period.
          The Anglo-Saxon Hero
• Strong, intelligent, and       • Strength alone is not enough to
  courageous                       define a hero. Beowulf shows
• Warriors had to be willing       that every hero must have
  to face any odds, and fight
  to the death for their glory   • Death for a warrior is honorable,
  and people                       and courage must be shown
                                   through deeds, even if it means
• They were humble and             death.
  kind                           • A hero must be willing to die to
• Beowulf is the                   achieve glory.
  quintessential hero.           • He must display courage in the
• His strength and courage         face of overwhelming or
  are unparalleled, and he is      impossible odds, and he must
  much more humble than            have the strength to back his
  many of the corrupt              courage.
  warriors around him.
       A brief look…

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