Bede's Story of Caedmon from Benjamin Slade. Bede's Ecclesiastical History from Fordham's Medieval Sourcebook, Bede (c. 672/673 – 25 May 735), Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum. See also Bede's World
English 245 with Dr. G @ SUNY TC3
2. Beowulf 1
3. Beowulf 2
4. Middle Ages
6. Sir Gawain
9. Wife of Bath
11. Biblical Drama
12. Play of Mankind
14. Thomas More
15. Philip Sidney
16. Print Culture
17. Walter Raleigh
18. Twelfth Night 1
19. Twelfth Night 2
20. Civil War
22. Aphra Behn
23. Reading Papers
25. Rape of the Lock
27. New God
*** 4. THE MIDDLE AGES ***
A sampler of Celtic, Latin and Saxon
READINGS FOR THIS LESSON
Read Vol. 1A 96-135 in the
Longman 3rd ed.
ASSIGNMENTS FOR THIS LESSON
The lesson includes both a quiz and a journal writing assignment to be submitted on the interactive course site at SUNY Learning Network.
After you have completed the readings, write for an hour (or more if you have time). Some journaling ideas for today include:
See (for more detail) British Literature Timeline
Early Irish Narrative
|Left: statue of Death of Cú Chulainn in the General Post Office in Dublin. At last, the hero found a stone pillar and chained himself to it, so that he would not fall but die standing on his feet. None of his enemies dared approach, for Morrigan [the goddess of war] transformed herself into a raven and perched on his shoulder as long as he remained alive.|
Cú Chulainn, hero of The Tain, like bee-wolf and the incredible Hulk, transforms to a monstrous "distorted one" in his berserker battle rages. His exaggerated powers in fighting are often compared to those of Homer's Achilles, but Cú Chulainn embodies social ideals that Achilles fails to attain. He exemplifies a heroic military code of fair fighting and right motivation. Fairness means that he stands squarely alone in single combat, never using deception.
His enemy the greedy Queen Medb is unfair in sending
him--and they always lose, no matter how many of them gang up or what
cheating tactics they employ. Medb
lures these losers to her cause of cattle theft by
promising all of them the hand of the fair young
To win the girl, they must kill Cú Chulainn; hundreds are attracted by
this unethical proposition, but this is no romance or fairy tale,
and they are killed. Cú Chulainn is driven only by the doglike desire to protect his master's
herd. He is at times a show-off and braggart, but he bites as well as he barks,
and he pays the ultimate sacrifice, winning the ultimate praise of his community in
Left: "Cu Chulainn's Stone" in County Louth, Ireland, where legend says CuChulainn died. In one important aspect of its meaning the Tain is an imaginary geography of ancient Ulster. The tale describes how the mountains, stones, rivers and other geographical features were created or named. In this view of events, Cu Chulainn is the creator of the world.
Riddling is as important in Celtic literature as it is in Angle-Saxon. The subject addressed in "To Crinog" turns out to be not only the poet's former lover, and a wise crone, but an old book returned to the poet after many years in other readers' hands. She is his teacher, perhaps a prayer book that he sleeps with, and he wishes he could be as pure as she, but she is mortal and will fall apart like the author. Here is a wonderfully concise expression of the monastic life where love transcends the sexual.
"A Grave Marked with Ogam" and "Writing in the Wood" feature two kinds of writing, in stone and on parchment. "Pangur the Cat" written by an Irish monk in a German monastery, plays on the delights of the difficult, the skill of hunting down a textual problem, like Pangur hunts mice. All of these poems take pleasure in indirection and riddling. (For similar Saxon riddles, see Damrosch 1A pages 159-160.)
Immigrations of Irish to the New World may have started long before the potato famine: St. Brendan and other monks of the Dark Age searched the seas for supernatural wonders. The uncanny encounters in "The Voyage of Máel Dúin" compare with those in later Celtic works to be covered in later lessons, especially Marie de France's "Lanval," which Marie explicitly claims to have come from the Celtic world of the Breton lai, and the mysterious quest of Gawain in "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight."
Rome did not altogether "fall" in the dark age: it morphed from political empire to church and retook Britain in that new guise, beginning with the mission of Augustine of Canterbury (d. 604?) from Pope Gregory the Great in 597. This mission and later ones from the Celtic-Christian north were so successful that the barbarian kingdoms in Britain all were converted by 800 CE. The Roman re-conquest famously described by Venerable Bede in The Ecclesiatical History of the English People (731) can be compared with prior military conquest covered in Lesson 1 (recall "Ancient Britain Source Texts").
Christianization of Saxon sagas like Beowulf was not the only literary weapon in the Roman arsenal. To convert the Saxons, Christian monks and missionaries translated and paraphrased the Bible into Old English. (This contrasts to the later medieval church prohibitions against Biblical translations.) Vengeance-seeking militancy in the Hebrew scriptures seems to have translated most readily. For a rape victim to stand up and defend herself occurs in the classical British story of Boudicca (whose daughters' rapes, according to one surce, ignite the uprising against Nero), but following the Hebrew story of Judith, the poem's heroine easily rids the land of foreign occupiers, wining her opponent's arms and the glory of a united community. The poem celebrates the power of the Lord to defend weak and oppressed believers; contrast Beowulf.
"Judith" may reflect the resistance of Christian Anglo-Saxons to invading non-Christian Danes in the tenth century. Possibly the poem was written to inspire rebellion against the "enemies of God." Much the same theme is expressed in "The Battle of Maldon," the poetic account of the doomed struggle of a small band of Anglo-Saxon defenders against a much larger army of invading Danes, but here as in Beowulf, the English commander's death is paradoxically heroic and vain.
Left: a stone marked with Ogam script
Where was Mael Duin? Several early Irish texts treat of long, fantastical sea voyages long before Columbus!
The Dream of the Rood
This poem maintains surreal dream qualities of traditional heroic fantasy. It is elegiac like Beowulf and other melancholy Old English poems such as "The Wanderer," "Wulf and Eadwacer," and "The Wife's Lament." The dreamer presents himself as an exile longing to join his friends in the home of "the high Father." The Christian image is imbued with gloom.
|The Ruthwell cross in Northumbria has some of the poem engraved on it. The talking Cross recalls the speaking objects in Old English and Anglo-Latin and Celtic riddles, several of which also recount their origin as plants or trees. Here is where Tolkien's Ents were born.|
Ethnic and Religious Encounters
Bede's primary allegiance is to the Pope, and to the Bishop of Canterbury, and he uses his writing imaginatively in their service. The story of Imma's loosened bonds is a good example of a conversion tale designed to convince nonbelievers of the power of the Roman religion. The Christian prayer amazes the pagans whose "loosening magic" is nowhere near as effective on bonds! Caedmon's story is another on the power of Christian words: here an English language story-teller derives his gifts of expression from Christ.
Left: image of St Luke from a sixth century manuscript at Canterbury Cathedral known as the St Augustine Gospels, possibly a book from the library of St Augustine, the Apostle to England. This is thought to be the oldest surviving Gospel in Latin.
Asser marks Alfred as a king by a series of more or less conventional attributes: his good looks and the universal affection he gained as a boy, his love of books and wish to overcome illiteracy (very like Einhard's Charlemagne), his hunting skills, patronage of craftsmen, and support of religion. Notwithstanding all of these polite refinements, Alfred establishes kingship as a warrior in a series of conflicts and triumphs against the Viking invaders, which culminate in their conversion and expulsion into the Danelaw in the northeast of Britain. For Asser, much as for Bede, religious practice is the fundamental divide; his Alfred builds a nation against "assaults of the heathen."
Asser learned to speak English, presumably, for his own advancement, and his account of Alfred emphasizes the importance of English in Alfred's court. According to Asser, heathen invaders prevented young Alfred from getting a better education, but Alfred's love of "Saxon poems" was a key sign of his youthful promise.
King Alfred, Preface to Pastoral Care
In his preface, Alfred justifies his translation of Pastoral Care from the perspectives of history and language. He wants to restore learning to a people among whom Latin has steeply declined, but he wants to do it in Anglo-Saxon, "the language which we can all understand." The great king clearly sees that language even more than religion unites the Anglo-Saxons. He conceives of an England that can be understood by all.
Left: Alfred the Great, "King of the Anglo Saxons" and translator of various useful Latin works into English. Pastoral Care discusses the qualities of leadership. The Consolation of Philosophy discusses coping with adversity.
The last Chronicle assumes a nation of "English people" who oppose
Normandy. Nowhere is the tone of loss and lamentation at the fall of
Anglo-Saxon kingship more acute than here. The passage depicts
moving feverishly between an old enemy, the Norwegians (who had
maintained close relations between their own country and the Danelaw),
and the new invaders, the Normans. Yet the Chronicle, especially
in these passages, also adopts a much wider perspective of divine
disfavor, cosmic signs, and punishment for "the sins of the people." It
sees the Normans as an alien invading force, but even more as God's
punishment for Anglo-Saxon corruption. The latter notion echoes historiographical
The Battle of Hastings
The courageous leaders mutually prepared for battle, each according to his national custom. The English, as we have heard, passed the night without sleep, in drinking and singing, and in the morning proceeded without delay against the enemy. All on foot, armed with battle-axes, and covering themselves in front by the juncture of their shields, they formed an impenetrable body which would assuredly have secured their safety that day had not the Normans, by a feigned flight, induced them to open their ranks, which till that time, according to their custom, had been closely compacted. King Harold himself, on foot, stood with his brothers near the standard in order that, so long as all shared equal danger, none could think of retreating. This same standard William sent, after his victory, to the pope; it was sumptuously embroidered with gold and precious stones, and represented the figure of a man fighting.
On the other hand, the Normans passed the whole night in confessing their sins, and received the communion of the Lord=s body in the morning. Their infantry, with bows and arrows, formed the vanguard, while their cavalry, divided into wings, was placed in the rear. The duke, with serene countenance, declaring aloud that God would favor his as being the righteous side, called for his arms; and when, through the haste of his attendants, he had put on his hauberk the hind part before, he corrected the mistake with a laugh, saying "The power of my dukedom shall be turned into a kingdom." Then starting the Song of Roland, in order that the warlike example of that hero might stimulate the soldiers, and calling on God for assistance, the battle commenced on both sides, and was fought with great ardor, neither side giving ground during the greater part of the day.
Observing this, William gave a signal to his troops, that, feigning flight, they should withdraw from the field. By means of this device the solid phalanx of the English opened for the purpose of cutting down the fleeing enemy and thus brought upon itself swift destruction; for the Normans, facing about, attacked them, thus disordered, and compelled them to fly. In this manner, deceived by a stratagem, they met an honorable death in avenging their enemy; nor indeed were they at all without their own revenge, for, by frequently making a stand, they slaughtered their pursuers in heaps. Getting possession of an eminence, they drove back the Normans, who in the heat of pursuit were struggling up the slope, into the valley beneath, where, by hurling their javelins and rolling down stones on them as they stood below, the English easily destroyed them to a man. Besides, by a short passage with which they were acquainted, they avoided a deep ditch and trod underfoot such a multitude of their enemies in that place that the heaps of bodies made the hollow level with the plain. This alternating victory, first of one side and then of the other, continued so long as Harold lived to check the retreat; but when he fell, his brain pierced by an arrow, the flight of the English ceased not until night.
In the battle both leaders distinguished themselves by their bravery. Harold, not content with the functions of a general and with exhorting others, eagerly assumed himself the duties of a common soldier. He was constantly striking down the enemy at close quarters, so that no one could approach him with impunity, for straightway both horse and rider would be felled by a single blow. So it was at long range, as I have said, that the enemy=s deadly arrow brought him to his death. One of the Norman soldiers gashed his thigh with a sword, as he lay prostrate; for which shameful and cowardly action he was branded with ignominy by William and expelled from the army.
William, too, was equally ready to encourage his soldiers by his voice and by his presence, and to be the first to rush forward to attack the thickest of the foe. He was everywhere fierce and furious; he lost three choice horses, which were that day killed under him. The dauntless spirit and vigor of the intrepid general, however, still held out. Though often called back by the kind remonstrance of his bodyguard, he still persisted until approaching night crowned him with complete victory. And no doubt the hand of God so protected him that the enemy should draw no blood from his person, though they aimed so many javelins at him.
This was a fatal day to England, and melancholy havoc was wrought in our dear country during the change of its lords. For it had long adopted the manners of the Angles, which had indeed altered with the times; for in the first years of their arrival they were barbarians in their look and manner, warlike in their usages, heathens in their rights. After embracing the faith of Christ, by degrees and, in process of time, in consequence of the peace which they enjoyed, they relegated arms to a secondary place and gave their whole attention to religion. I am not speaking of the poor, the meanness of whose fortune often restrains them from overstepping the bound of justice; I omit, too, men of ecclesiastical rank, whom sometimes respect for their profession and sometimes the fear of shame suffers not to deviate from the true path; I speak of princes, who from the greatness of their power might have full liberty to indulge in pleasure. Some of these in their own country, and others at Rome, changing their habit, obtained a heavenly kingdom and a saintly intercourse. Many others during their whole lives devoted themselves in outward appearance to worldly affairs, but in order that they might exhaust their treasures on the poor or divide them amongst monasteries.
What shall I say of the multitudes of bishops, hermits, and abbots? Does not the whole island blaze with such numerous relics of its own people that you can scarcely pass a village of any consequence but you hear the name of some new saint? And of how many more has all remembrance perished through the want of records?
Nevertheless, the attention to literature and religion had gradually decreased for several years before the arrival of the Normans. The clergy, contented with a little confused learning, could scarcely stammer out the words of the sacraments; and a person who understood grammar was an object of wonder and astonishment. The monks mocked the rule of their order by fine vestments and the use of every kind of food. The nobility, given up to luxury and wantonness, went not to church in the morning after the manner of Christians, but merely, in a careless manner, heard matins and masses from a hurrying priest in their chambers, amid the blandishments of their wives. The commonalty, left unprotected, became a prey to the most powerful, who amassed fortunes, either by seizing on their property or by selling their persons into foreign countries; although it is characteristic of this people to be more inclined to reveling than to the accumulation of wealth. . .
Drinking in parties was a universal practice, in which occupation they passed entire nights as well as days. They consumed their whole substance in mean and despicable houses, unlike the Normans and French, who live frugally in noble and splendid mansions. The vices attendant on drunkenness, which enervate the human mind, followed; hence it came about that when they engaged William, with more rashness and precipitate fury than military skill, they doomed themselves and their country to slavery by a single, and that an easy, victory. For nothing is less effective than rashness; and what begins with violence quickly ceases or is repelled.
The English at that time wore short garments, reaching to the mid-knee; they had their hair cropped, their beards shaven, their arms laden with gold bracelets, their skin adorned with tattooed designs. They were accustomed to eat till they became surfeited, and to drink till they were sick. These latter qualities they imparted to their conquerors; as to the rest, they adopted their manners. I would not, however, had these bad propensities ascribed to the English universally; I know that many of the clergy at that day trod the path of sanctity by a blameless life; I know that many of the laity, of all ranks and conditions, in this nation were well-pleasing to God. Be injustice far from this account; the accusation does not involve the whole, indiscriminately; but as in peace the mercy of God often cherishes the bad and the good together, so, equally, does his severity sometimes include them both in captivity.
The Normans---that I may speak of them also---were at that time, and are even now, exceedingly particular in their dress and delicate in their food, but not so to excess. They are a race inured to war, and can hardly live without it; fierce in rushing against the enemy, and, where force fails of success, ready to use stratagem or to corrupt by bribery. As I have said, they live in spacious houses with economy, envy their superiors, wish to excel their equals, and plunder their subjects, though they defend them from others; they are faithful to their lords, though a slight offense alienates them. They weigh treachery by its chance of success, and change their sentiments for money. The most hospitable, however, of all nations, they esteem strangers worthy of equal honor with themselves; they also inter-marry with their vassals. They revived, by their arrival, the rule of religion which had everywhere grown lifeless in England. You might see churches rise in every village, and monasteries in the towns and cities, built after a style unknown before; you might behold the country flourishing with renovated rites; so that each wealthy man accounted that day lost to him which he had neglected to signalize by some munificent action.
left: tapestry representation of Harold Godwinson, usually characterized as the last of the Saxon kings--but was he actually a usurper and oath-breaker as William the Conqueror claimed?
OTHER RESOURCES & AMUSEMENTS
Tain Bo Cuailnge ("The Cattle Raid of Cooley") which features Cú Chulainn's single-handed defense of Ulster against the multitudes of evil Queen Medb, exists in several late medieval manuscripts: the Book of Dun Cow from the 11th or 12 century, the Yellow Book of Lecan from the 14th century and the Book of Leinster from the 12th century. These texts illustrate the problems of literature in the age of manuscripts. There are no true copies; each manuscript goes its own way, leaving few clues as to what the real story or original story may have been. A Dun Cow/Yellow Book version translated by Winfred Faraday (1904) is published online at www.yorku.ca/inpar/tain_faraday.pdf and a Leinster edition translated by Joseph Dunn (1914) is presented at http://adminstaff.vassar.edu/sttaylor/Cooley/
Another well known early Irish epic is The Destruction of Dá Derga’s Hostel which is available at Bartleby. It deals with the Ulster succession after King Conchobar.
CELT (Corpus of Electronic Texts): The Online Resource for Irish History, Literature and Politics http://celt.ucc.ie/index.html
Internet Sacred Text Archive: Celtic Folklore
Regia Anglorum: Anglo Saxon, Viking, Norman and British Living History: a reenactment society.
Bishop Asser, The Life of King Alfred at the Online Classical and Medieval Library
Codex Junius 11 (Anglo-Saxon religious verse) at the Online Classical & Medieval Library
Life of Edward the Confessor from Cambridge University Library
Nennius, Vortigern, Horsa and Hengist (Saxon invasions) from History of Britain at the University of Rochester Camelot Project.
British Broadcasting, Ancient History: The Anglo-Saxons
Notable Latin Lit of the British Middle Ages:
Bede's Story of Caedmon from Benjamin Slade. Bede's Ecclesiastical History from Fordham's Medieval Sourcebook, Bede (c. 672/673 – 25 May 735), Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum. See also Bede's World
Students are not examined on these "other resources and amusements." However, if you know of an excellent website that would wonderfully complement this lesson, please send it to Dr. G.
|Copyright 2008-2012 by Gary Homer Gutchess.|