The Anglo Saxons

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The Anglo-Saxons are a people that are almost entirely unknown to the world today. Their society flourished a thousand years ago, after the fall of the Roman empire and very few remnants of their life remain. As such, the only glimpse of these people lies within their literature: the poems and letters remaining from the time. However, understanding the writings of any society requires a knowledge of the context and culture behind them. This creates a devastating paradox in which it becomes nearly impossible to deduce an unbiased view of life in Anglo-Saxon England. Thus, in order to make sense of Anglo-Saxon culture, linguists must use their knowledge of the progression of Old Norse into Modern English to derive meaning from the tortuous web of writings left from the Nords and the Anglo- Saxons, ranging from mythological texts such as the Elder Edda of the Nords to the poems of the Anglo-Saxons such as those found in the Exeter Book. As with any culture, the heroes of Anglo-Saxon lore represent the ideals that should be upheld by its people. Beowulf is an Anglo-Saxon poem with one such hero. It is believed to have been passed down through oral tradition long before being recorded in writing, telling an historical story from the Nords. This allows Beowulf to serve as a bridge between the Scandinavian roots of the Anglo-Saxons and the Anglo-Saxons themselves, allowing an analysis of the shift in ideals from Nordic to Anglo-Saxon life. Beowulf speaks against this idealistic shift, challenging Anglo-Saxons to unite and honour their comrades, warning against the ignorance of Fate as the ultimate power in life. Both the Anglo-Saxons and the Nords had a very high regard for Fate, or wyrd. The idea of a higher power controlling the outco... ... middle of paper ... ...gth and his power. His last statement, “Gǽð á wyrd swá hió scel.” [“Goeth Fate as she shall.”] (455), uses words with weak connotation (e.g. gæð, scel) in association with wyrd is normally translated as “Fate will unwind as it must!” (Raffel 455). However, this is a misinterpretation. Beowulf’s use of the weak words gæð and scel diminishes the power of wyrd. In addition, a finalization of his boast of power and strength that puts his life in the hands of not himself, but of Fate devalues the courage he has shown in his boast. Rather, the poet used this line to show how Beowulf believes that Fate is a whimsical power that he can overcome. Beowulf says this in an attempt to say that Fate will do what it will, but shall not be a factor in the outcome. This line sets the stage for an elegiac Beowulf and a hero that in the end dies because of his foolishness to defy Fate.

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