January 19, 2011

Geat out of here

The theme here lately is Beowulf, although you can skip that part and scroll down to the links and comments section if this isn't your cup of mead. Beowulf is the first major work of English literature, with the English being of the Old School Anglo-Saxon variety. Whatever you may have heard about the real Anglo-Saxons, they weren't WASPish.

The work presents all kinds of problems. Although it's written in Old English, none of the action takes place in England and none of the characters are English. The first part of the story takes place in what is now Denmark. The title character is a Geat,with Geatland presumably being somewhere in southern Sweden.

The earliest manuscript seems to date from around the 10th century, but the scholarly debates about how old the story itself is gets downright nasty. I tend to think the story goes back a few centuries for political reasons.

Starting in the late 700s, England was the target of Viking raids, which continued in a big way for a couple of centuries. The Vikings were a real pain in the backsides of the Anglo-Saxons, but in the poem the Danes and Geats (proto-Vikings, if you will) are portrayed sympathetically. I don't think too many Anglo-Saxons would write a pro-Danish epic when their monasteries and villages were being raided by their descendants. This seems to me to argue for an earlier date.

Interestingly, some of the characters in the story, such as the kings Hrothgar and Hygelac, seem to have been real people whose names were mentioned in other sources and may have dated from around the early 500s. Some scholars believe the social setting was similar to that which prevailed around the North Sea in the 500s, somewhere around the time when the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes invaded or migrated to England.

Too bad there is no historical record of cool man-eating and mead hall raiding monsters. More to come.

NOTE: I apologize to email subscribers, but you may have accidentally gotten a not ready for prime time version of this post yesterday.

JOB KILLER? Not so much.


INTERESTING TIMES. WV politics have been a little bit weirder than usual lately. Yesterday's state supreme court decision just ramped that up a notch or two.

TALKING SENSE. This NY Times editorial works for me. I'm not sure it will work for the new majority in the US House.


SO I COME BY IT HONESTLY. Ancient Celts liked their brewskis.


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