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1157Re: New Beowulf

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  • Ted Sherman
    Feb 29, 2000
      Just to keep this on topic (for those who are unaware), Tolkien was
      Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford (and wasn't he also later
      Rawlinson Professor when at Merton?).

      "David S. Bratman" wrote:
      > From: "David S. Bratman" <dbratman@...>
      > When I wrote that there is nothing else like Beowulf in OE literature, I
      > didn't mean just that there were no other versions of the story of the
      > man Beowulf. There are some great short poems in OE, but I know of no
      > other works of creative art in that language remotely comparable to it in
      > combination of length and quality. If you do, I would like to know of them.
      The so-called Caedmonian poems--Genesis (A and B), Exodus, Daniel,
      Azarias; the Cynewulf poems--Elene, the Fates of the Apostles, Andreas,
      etc.--as well as Judith (the other poetic piece in Cotton Vitellius
      A.xv, the Beowulf manuscript): these are all "remotely comparable" in
      length and quality. The key word, obviously, is "remotely." Then there's
      some of the fragmentary pieces: Battle of Maldon (simply glorious) and
      the Finnsbug Fragment.

      > > Well, England did have its own cycle: the Arthurian cycle. (I know that
      > > some/much of the Arthurian material comes from France.)
      > For Tolkien, the Arthurian cycle didn't count. He said it was
      > imperfectly naturalized, by which he meant not so much that a great deal
      > of what we think of as Arthurian comes from Chretien and other French
      > romancers, but that the whole retains a Celtic air: it isn't English, and
      > he wanted something English.
      Yes, I knew Tolkien didn't count the Arthurian cycle because of its
      non-native elements as well as its "Celtic air." The problem, however,
      is with the whole notion of how to define "English." The English
      are/were an amalgam of native British (read Celtic), Roman soldier
      immigrants, Germanic invaders, Norse and French invaders, etc. The
      Celtic air is in the atmosphere of England, just as the Germanic air and
      French air are.

      > > The Brut by Layamon could easily be viewed as England's
      > > Odyssey or Aeneid, especially the latter (since it kind of takes up
      > > where the Aeneid stops).
      > A good point, though the Brut is of course not Old English but Middle
      > English. It's not the only English work that is in a sense a sequel to
      > the Aeneid (which certainly seems to have had more of a hold on the
      > British imagination than it does on mine): Geoffrey of Monmouth's History
      > (in Latin, unfortunately for the sake of OE literature) also ties in to
      > the Aeneid, and doesn't "Gawain and the Green Knight" start off with some
      > references to the Odyssey/Aeneid period? (I don't have a copy here to
      > check.)
      Good point, David, about the Brut being in ME, but keep in mind that
      there isn't a clear break between Old and Middle English. And much
      material now in OE was originally written in Latin: Bede's History,
      Nennius, Gildas, etc.

      > > > (As for why the English are so bereft, that permits of a three-word
      > > > oversimpliciation for an answer: the Norman Conquest.)
      > > >
      > > Actually, the Norman Conquest is only partially responsible; the main
      > > culprits, really, are the Vikings and Henry VIII.
      > As I said, an oversimplification. While the Vikings and H8 did the
      > destruction, they and others like them destroyed many more ancient
      > manuscripts, in many languages in many times and places, than they ever
      > let survive. What's the fault of the Norman Conquest is that there
      > weren't _more (and later) copies_, a few of which might have survived.
      > (The Vikings didn't help much there either.)
      Again, I don't know (and I could easily be wrong) that the Norman
      Conquest is the cause for there not being more and later copies of much
      OE material. The Normans didn't necessarily lay waste to the monasteries
      and scriptoria in their conquest of England; they did, however, replace
      English abbots and bishops with French ones.

      What the Norman Conquest really did was the screw up the language and
      spelling of English; but that's another topic.


      Dr. Theodore James Sherman
      Department of English, Box X041
      College of Liberal Arts
      Middle Tennessee State University
      Murfreesboro, TN 37130
      615 898-5836; FAX 615 898-5098
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