Mini-Lecture 5 Other OE Heroic Verse

Mini-Lecture 5 Other OE Heroic Verse - Mini-Lecture 5:...

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Let us first consider the fragmentary Old English poem The Battle of Maldon . This poem exists in a single manuscript (like Beowulf ) that, as with the codex (i.e., a bound volume containing several medieval manuscripts) that contains Beowulf (called the Nowell codex), was damaged in the 1731 Ashburnham House fire. The incredible library of antiquarian and collector of medieval manuscripts, Sir Robert Cotton, had temporarily been stored in Ashburnham House pending removal to the British Library. Tragically, the house suffered a serious fire, and many irreplaceable manuscripts were destroyed or badly damaged. The manuscript on which The Battle of Maldon is written suffered as well. It now exists as a fragment – both the beginning and the end are missing, though it seems not too much has been lost on either end. Still, what remains of the poem sheds light on a turning point in the history of Anglo-Saxon England. Though the various manuscripts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle record in brief the events of 991, nowhere can we find such description and detail as in the poem that bears witness (though probably some few years after the events related) to the battle at Maldon between a troop of local Anglo-Saxons under the leadership of a seasoned and important earl, Byrhtnoð, and an invading Viking force. As you see, the Vikings were victorious; and, with their victory, a long period of peace and prosperity for the English came to an end. Hereafter, England was regularly harried by Viking raiders, who exacted ever-increasing sums of money. Eventually, the nation was bankrupted and so weakened that, first, the Danish king Cnut ruled England, and, in 1066, William I and his Norman forces defeated the Anglo-Saxon native army at the Battle of Hastings, ending the Anglo-Saxon period and ushering in the Anglo-Norman period, during which French became the language of government, Church, and court. The poem opens with Byrhtnoð marshalling his forces for battle. We soon learn that the Viking forces occupy an island separated from the mainland, where the A- S army stands at the ready, by the river then called Pante (now Blackwater). As this is the river’s estuary, the tidal flow alternately covers or exposes a causeway between the island and the shore. Initially, the tide is in, and it is impossible for either army to engage the other. However, eventually, the tide recedes and the A-S forces hold the causeway such that the Vikings cannot cross. In scholarship on the poem, what happens next has been the subject of extended
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Mini-Lecture 5 Other OE Heroic Verse - Mini-Lecture 5:...

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