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Universitatea Petrol-Gaze din Ploieti Facultatea de Litere i tiine Specializarea:Limb i Literatur Englez-Limb i Literatur Francez An I, grupa 4331

Old English Literature

Coordonator: asist. univ. dr. Ioana Jieanu Student: Cristina Podeanu

General Background

The first inhabitants of the islands were the Iberians, who are believed to have come from Spain around 3000 BC. The most important proof of their culture and civilisation is the mehalithic ruin known as Stonehenge,which stands on the downland of Salisbury Plain three kilomtres west of the town of Amesbury, Wiltshire, in Southern England. In the sixth and fifth century BC,Celtic tribes immigrated to the British Isles. Celtic art is considered to be the first great contribution that Non-Mediterranean people made to the development of European art(Dobrinescu 2005,24). They gave their customs and language to Ireland and the north of Scotland.In spite of the linguistic differences between English and the Celtic dialects.Their literatures offer important points of similitude, to say nothing of the fact that Celtic mentality has left a deep imprint on English literature through the remarkable genius of a good many of its English-writing authors(e.g. Thomas More, Charles Wolfe, Oscar Wilde, John Synge, Bernard Shaw, W.B. Yeats,Frank OConnor etc. All of Irish extract: James Thomson, Adam Smith, Walter Scott, Robert Burns etc. Scottish(Levichi 1974,16). The oldest record of the Irish epic is The Cycle of Ulster, focusing on the kingdom of Ulster, its king, Conchobor mac Nessa and his young nephew Cu Chulainn, the son of Conchobors sister and the god Lug; The Cycle of Ulster was followed later on by The Cycle of Munster. Cu Chulainn is an ideal of moral perfection for ancient Ireland he is brave and generous, always ready to lend a helping hand, he is polite to women, he never breaks his world(Levichi 1974,17).

The Anglo-Saxons
The Old English literature or Anglo-Saxon literature encompasses literature written in Old English or Anglo-Saxon during the period of 600-year Anglo-Saxon Britain, from the mid-fifth century to the Norman Conquest. Almost 400 manuscripts containing epic poetry, sermons, Bible translations, chronicles, riddles survived until nowadays.Old English belongs to the Germanic or West Teutonic branch of the Indo-European family, and it was related to the Icelandic and Scandinavian languages or North Teutonic languages, to the Gothic or East Teutonic and to Frisian and Franconian or West Teutonic .The national Germanic alphabet, was in runes (angular shaped letters), the world itself meaning mistery, secret.They were considered to have magical powers, the function of communication coming next to that of myth. Odin, the rune-master, was believed to have sacrificed his life in order to gain their use and hidden wisdom. They were engraved on tablets of wood, coins, rings, staves, weapons, stone monuments.The tablet of wood 2

was called boc (book). It was later superseded by a coating of wax scrathed with a painted instrument of metal, parchement or velum (sheep-skin or calf-skin), but it was only in the fifteenth century that paper manuscript, pen and ink-horn became available(Tupan 2004,12). Old English texts are hard to understand, as there are great differences in the grammatical structure of Old English (a syntethical language) and Modern English (analytical), and the same may be said about their vocabularies (after 1066 many French words were introduced, etc.), though the basic word-stock of Modern English is chiefly traceable to Old English lexical units(Levichi 1974,21).

Anonymous Old English Poetry

The bulk of Old English literature is divided into two classes: lyrical poetry and epic poetry. Describing a human society in its state of infancy, Old English poetry faithfully record its childish mentality (the runes had magic powers if used in a proper sequel, wells,they were held in veneration, etc.), its primitive beliefs and fears, its gloating over feasts and external glamour(Sisam 1975,35).

Didactic Elegies
Elegies lament over the loss or passing away of beloved persons, places, or things. In Old English, elegies used the basic four-stress, oral-formulaic line.The poets job was to keep the communitys collective memory on occasion when the dead and the vanished had to be recalled in sadness.Like the biblical psalmists, the Anglo-Saxon bards tended to generalize the consequence of Times corrosive effect on all human ambitions. Leon Levichi(Levichi1974,25) says that The Wandererexpresses aloud the elegiac meditations of a forsaken thegn whose lord has died and who, obliged now to seek another protector somewhere else beyond the seas, is painfully haunted by his former happy days.

Lyrical Poems
Among the most important lyrical poems, we may mention The Wifes Complaint, also known as The Maidens Complaint, which is the first love poem in English Literature.Even though the text has reached us as fragments of isolated words and it is therefore obscure in its general meaning, seemingly it voices the anguish of a slandered woman who has been forbidden any intercourse with her lover (or husband)(Leyser 1996,250).The speaker is the woman who bewails the ever increasing troubles with which she is beset.First her husband departed from her over the sea.Then, apparently at the instigation of his relatives, she is imprisoned in an old 3

dwelling dug out of the earth under an oak, where she sits in solitude bewailing her troubles the whole day long.She has no friends at hand, and all the vows of lasting love which she and her husband had exchanged in time past have come to nothing(Pope 2001,60).

Heroic Legends
Beowulf It has become a linguistic cliche to say that Beowulf is as important for English Literature as The Odyssey and Iliad are to Greek language and literature. The oldest piece of vernacular literature of any substance not only in England but the whole of Europe, it breathes the true spirit of the Northen Heroic Age(Swanton 1997,1). The most probable date of composition is the eighth century, taking into account linguistic grounds. Another argument for this date is that the common use of phrases such as as wuldur cyning, sigora waldend, King of glory, ruler of victories to describe the Almighty shows that the author was familiar with poetry of the Caedmonian school, which is presumed to have flourished during the last decades of the seventh and the opening of the eighth century(Swanton 1997,3). Most of the historical characters reffered to in Beowulf are well known figures from Migration times. Because of the oral features that this poem presents Leon Levichi(Levichi 1974,35) defines the heroic legend as a series of repetions without end, especially of the redundant type. These repetitions were the fashion of that period, when storytelling was the principal entertainment in the northen winter, when a continuous slow-moving story would please better than the less restful succesion of shorter pieces(Ionescu 2008,15).

1. Ionescu, Arleen, A history of English literature: the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Ploiesti: Editura Universitatii Petrol-Gaze,2008; 2. Leyser, Henrietta, A Re-Hearing of Old English Literature, Manchester : School Talk, 1996; 4

3. Pope, Rob, Old English Literature, London : Notes and Queries, 2001; 4. Sisam, Michael, Old English Literature, Oxford: Oxford Press, 2000; 5. Swanton, Michael, Early National Poetry, London: The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, 1997;