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September 26, 2003

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The Anglo-Saxon Literature

Sanyat Sattar

Reading Anglo-Saxon literature can be for modern readers like listening to fingernails scratched on a blackboard. Here a mind conditioned to democracy, fair play and (public) modesty is recoiled at primitive sensibilities embodied in the heroic ideal.


Burton Raffel (Translator)
Signet; September 1999
ISBN: 0451527402

Beowulf is the earliest extant epic poem of war and adventure in a modern European language. It was composed in England four centuries before the Norman Conquest. But no one knows exactly when it was composed, or by whom, or why. As a social document this great epic reflects a feudal, newly Christian world of heroes and monsters, blood and victory and death. As a work of art, it rings with a beauty, power, and artistry that has kept it alive for more than twelve centuries. This epic has been translated in various versions and Burton Raffel's modern language translation from the original Old English remains the most celebrated one.


The Earliest English Poems
Michael Alexander (Translator)
Penguin USA; January 1992 (3rd edition)
ISBN: 0140445943

This is a lovely compilation of translated versions of Old English (or Anglo-Saxon, more precisely) poems. An excellent introduction to this anthology prepares new readers for the Anglo-Saxon world and world-view. Perhaps the greatest adventure story is the survival of these poems themselves. They were recounted from memory for generations, transcribed by monks who layered Christian morality on top of pagan ideas, survived Viking raids and library fires as charred manuscript scraps. Old English is a language as alien to modern English as the surface of Mars is to Earth. Despite the difficulty of translation and difference of perspective, it is worth looking back to read these poems again and again.

Old English Literature
R. M. Liuzza (Editor)
Yale University Press; March 2002
ISBN: 0300091397

Recognizing the dramatic changes in Old English studies over the past generation, this up-to-date anthology gathers twenty-one outstanding contemporary critical writings on the prose and poetry of Anglo-Saxon England, from approximately the seventh through eleventh centuries. The contributors focus on texts most commonly read in introductory Old English courses while also engaging with larger issues of Anglo-Saxon history and culture. Their approaches vary widely, encompassing disciplines from linguistics to psychoanalysis.


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