Tag Archives: anglo-saxon

The once and future blog post

“Who so pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil is rightwise king born of England.”

During the thousand years before the Norman Conquest of Britain in 1066, life for the British was one stinkin’ thing after another. If it wasn’t the Romans, it was the Angles. If it wasn’t the Angles, it was the Saxons. Or the Jutes. Or the Frisians. Everybody invaded Britain back then, it was the thing to do. Sometime during the ad 500s the British were in a life-and-death struggle to keep the Saxons from taking over their island. The Roman Empire had imploded and the Brits were on their own. The Saxons were unrelenting, ruthless and seemingly invincible. The British desperately needed a leader: someone just and moral; someone who could out-general the invaders; someone with a trusted band of mighty warrior-heroes; someone who would rally his countrymen to save their sceptre’d isle. They got one. The catch was that this chieftain and his friends were doomed—their time was to be only one brief shining moment. This chieftain? His name is Arthur.

Wow! That was some pretty good writing, huh? I should get a Brit actor like Kenneth Branagh or that Cumberbatch fella to read it out loud, backed up by an orchestra quietly playing the overture to Camelot.

https://www.history.com/news/was-king-arthur-a-real-person
https://www.history.org.uk/primary/resource/3860/teaching-romans-anglo-saxons-and-vikings-in-brit
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5AR9mk83VQ4
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8h7E5rtnFH4

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Don’t forget: I wrote another Western Civ User’s Guide! Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.

Beowulf in one sentence

And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for. Yes, you lucky readers, it’s time for my patented Western-Lit-In-Only-One-Sentence ® treatment of Beowulf! Ready? Hang on to your horned helmets ‘cause here we go—

The drinking song from The Student Prince ran through my head while I drew this one, so here’s the link. Isn’t that Anne Blyth adorable, though? Mario Lanza does the singing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OI3Bcgh4Jko

In Denmark King Hrothgar builds a big mead-hall it’s a big barn where his warriors can hang out and party (mead is an adult beverage) play music and listen to storytellers they’re whooping it up and making a racket at all hours which annoys Grendel who is a horrible monster who lives in the swamp near the mead-hall Grendel terrorizes the Danes every night he even kills a bunch of

them which dampens the party atmosphere none of the Danish warriors is a match for Grendel finally a young Geatish warrior named Beowulf hears about Hrothgar’s situation Beowulf sails to Denmark with 14 guys Hrothgar holds a big feast for Beowulf at the feast a little wiseacre named Unferth says maybe Beowulf isn’t up to the job the music stops Beowulf tells the crowd all about the big things

he’s done the party starts back up again but then Grendel bursts in and Beowulf fights him unarmed because he’s so strong they have a rip-roaring mortal battle and Beowulf rips Grendel’s arm off so Grendel limps back to his swampy home to die the warriors party on and eventually fall asleep but things are about to get real Grendel’s mom is a much worse monster who chews gum and kills Danish warriors and she’s all out of chewing gum she comes to Hrothgar’s party and grabs Esher who was the emcee so Beowulf says I’ll handle this and tracks Grendel’s mom to a lake where Esher’s head is bobbing in the water and he thinks this must be the place so he dives down to her underwater lair at the bottom of the lake and they have a knock-down drag-em-out fight the situation looks bad for our hero but there’s a magic sword on the knick-knack shelf Beowulf grabs it and kills her with it so now no more monsters in Denmark King Hrothgar thanks Beowulf with great heaping piles of treasure they have another big party and Beowulf heads home with his pals he gives his treasure to King Higlac who rewards Beowulf with real estate and swords now we skip ahead 50 or 60 years Higlac is dead and Beowulf is king of the Geats there’s an underground cave full of treasure that’s guarded by a dragon some stupid Geat steals a bejeweled cup from the cave while the dragon’s asleep and when the dragon wakes up he knows right away the cup’s missing so he goes on a rampage and burns everything down including Beowulf’s house so Beowulf goes to the cave to kill the dragon but he’s not so young as he used to be they have a harum-scarum fiery battle Beowulf breaks his sword and the dragon bites him on the neck Beowulf’s old pal Wiglaf comes to the rescue and stabs the dragon then Beowulf cuts the dragon in half with his knife (it doesn’t say lengthwise or crosswise) but it’s game over for Beowulf that was his last fight Wiglaf builds a giant tomb for Beowulf with lots of treasure the Geats give Beowulf a viking send-off with a big funeral pyre and bury his ashes and treasure in the tomb.

https://www.ancient-literature.com/other_beowulf.html
https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-suffolk-43045874
Here’s a movie reviewer who gets Beowulf. https://www.salon.com/2007/11/20/beowulf_2/

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Don’t forget: I wrote another Western Civ User’s Guide! Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.

Frontier poetry

Well, okay, there’d been vernacular literature before the Renaissance. Poets who lived in the far-flung fringes of the Roman Empire had been writing their stuff in their own language long before the Renaissance. It seems reasonable to figure since so few people spoke or read Latin on the frontier, Latin wasn’t the best language to go with when writing poems. The epic poem Beowulf was written in Old English/Anglo-Saxon and dates from at least ad 1000—probably earlier.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Beowulf is a warrior-hero who slays monsters. His poem is the model for many epics that followed. F’rinstance, J.R.R. Tolkien was a mediæval literature scholar who got plenty of mileage out of Beowulf for his Lord of The Rings saga.* Dungeons & Dragons, Game of Thrones—how about Dune, Star Wars, comic books and superhero movies? How To Train Your Dragon did a neat twist on the Beowulf story. Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky is a Beowulf spoof. I have a crackpot theory that Beowulf was the inspiration for Dr Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! https://johnmanders.wordpress.com/2009/11/23/youre-a-mean-one-mr-grendel/

Beowulf is a poem but it doesn’t sound like any poem we’re used to hearing. Instead of lines that rhyme with each other, poems from those days used alliteration. The Beowulf author repeated consonants, like in ‘the far-flung fringes’ from 2 paragraphs ago. I was lucky enough to hear Benjamin Bagby perform Beowulf (more alliteration!) in Pittsburgh some years back. Here’s Mr Bagby at the 92nd Street Y in NYC— https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WcIK_8f7oQ

* Tolkien wrote a translation of Beowulf—https://www.amazon.com/Beowulf-Translation-Commentary-J-R-R-Tolkien/dp/0544570308 you may also like Sir Gawain and The Green Knight https://www.amazon.com/Gawain-Green-Knight-1996-02-06-Paperback/dp/B014BGYZCC/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&keywords=the+green+knight+tolkien&qid=1626837983&s=books&sr=1-3

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Don’t forget: I wrote another Western Civ User’s Guide! Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.

You’re a mean one, Mr Grendel

Let’s face it: there’s nothing new.  We create only by standing on the shoulders of giants.  What came before is a blueprint for our every effort.  The legacy of Western culture is a valuable gift because without it, there’s hardly anything for us creatives to draw from.  The classics of literature, for instance, can become a set of toys for a talented genius to play with.

Take the epic poem Beowulf—in which ‘there lived a monster in a cave. He was a hideous beast with green fur and yellow teeth. The townspeople feared him and would never approach his cave, he in turn would never venture out to the town for he knew he was not wanted and didn’t like the people much anyhow. There was one particular day of the year that he couldn’t stand, and on this day he vowed to ruin the towsnfolk’s fun, for if he could not have any, why should they.’

It must have occurred to Dr Seuss to bend this ancient story to his own use; to retell it as a picture book.  I was thinking about the similarities between Grendel, the monster from Beowulf, and the Grinch—even down to their names.  What really struck me was the bit about how neither one could stand the sounds of civilization.

“It harrowed him / to hear the din of the loud banquet / every day in the hall, the harp being struck / and the clear song of a skilled poet / telling with mastery of a man’s beginnings, / how the Almighty had made the earth . . .” (Beowulf 34).

And:

If there’s one thing I hate…oh the noise, noise, noise, noise! …They’ll blow their flu-flubas.  They’ll bang their tartinkas.  They’ll blow their who-hubas.  They’ll bang their gardinkas!”

A quick search on Google revealed a couple of essays written about Grendel/Grinch. Here‘s one by Courtney Shay. She brings up other similarities I hadn’t thought of:  both monsters are miserable—without joy, and wreak their havoc on society in the darkness of night.

To compare Grendel to the Grinch is to appreciate how a master of the picturebook can distill an assortment of ideas down to one clear and simple storyline.

As we descend into the chaos of the season, spare a thought for the anonymous Anglo-Saxon scribbler whose poetry lives on in How The Grinch Stole Christmas!