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Anglo-Saxon Literature Essay, Research Paper

Anglo-Saxon culture is greatly reflected in the literature of that time. The main Anglo-Saxon works were Beowulf and The Seafarer. These writings were passed down by the scops. A scop is an Old English historian or poet who is responsible for passing stories such as these down from generation to generation. Scops would either tell stories or sing them. By singing them, it allowed the stories to be more easily remembered. There were three predominant cultural values in Anglo-Saxon Literature. These values were Christian versus Pagan beliefs, violence and gore, and boasting.

Christian versus Pagan religion was one of the biggest cultural values expressed in Anglo-Saxon Literature. People of this time were either Christian or Pagan in their religion. Christians believed in one God and in Heaven. Pagans believed in many gods and in fate, which meant everything in life was predetermined and nobody had control over it. Many examples of this religious conflict can be found in both Beowulf and The Seafarer. In Beowulf, Grendel was “bearing God’s hatred,” (286) but then at the same time, ” fate, that night, intended Grendel to gnaw the broken bones of his last human supper.” (309). In The Seafarer, the speaker says, “But there isn’t a man so graced by God, that he feels no fear as the sails unfurl, wondering what Fate has willed and will do.” (39). These examples show how both religions were incorporated into the literature and sometimes gets confusing. This probably angered readers whose religion was not used in a story, while the other was. After thinking about it, authors may have incorporated both together in the same story to attract readers of both religions. If only one was used, then only one religion of people would read it. I wonder if this is what would really have happened.

Violence and gore played a big part in the literature during the Anglo-Saxon age. According to the dictionary, violence is physical force or activity used to cause harm, damage or abuse. Gore is defined as blood that has been shed or to stab or pierce. This is exactly what was in the stories of this time-stabbing, blood, harm, damage, abuse, etc. This can be seen a great deal in Beowulf. One of the many examples in Beowulf reads, “He came to, ripped him apart, cut his body to bits with powerful jaws, drank the blood from his veins and bolted him down.” (315). Another was “And the bleeding sinews deep in his shoulder snapped, muscle and bone split and broke.” (390). I think these quotes speak for themselves. This explicit detail shown in the story most likely attracted male readers and did the opposite to females. That must explain why I thought it was a great way to describe a fighting incident taking place in a story.

In the Anglo-Saxon age, warriors, or anybody for that matter, would boast over their accomplishments, some of which were probably even lies. Boasting would be done a great deal, especially in literature, showing that humility was not valued back then. Beowulf does a lot of this throughout the story. One great example that shows just how much he brags about his powers is when he says, “They have seen my strength for themselves, have watched me rise from the darkness of war, dripping with my enemies’ blood. I drove five great giants into chains, chased all of that race from the earth. I swam in the blackness of night, hunting monsters out of the ocean, and killing them one by one.” (246). If that is not boasting, I do not know what is. Today, talking about your own accomplishments would be looked down upon and would annoy people a great deal. In that time though, all boasting did was give Beowulf more fame than he already had. I guess that is how things were passed around since there were no newspapers or TV news shows.

Christian versus Pagan beliefs, violence and gore, and boasting all were included in Anglo-Saxon works of literature. Beowulf and The Seafarer were both great stories, and I can see why they stand out among the rest of the works of that time. Believe it or not, after reading Beowulf, I decided it is one of the most interesting stories I have ever read, especially in English class. I enjoy detailed, action-packed stories a great deal. Beowulf was exactly that. The violence and gore described in it, gave it that nice touch it needed. Since I enjoyed reading the literature of this time so much, it makes me curious of if I would have enjoyed actually living in it.

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