The scop in Anglo-Saxon times had a very defined role. A comparison between the scop in Beowulf and the scop in Widsith will more clearly define for us what that role was.
The 142 verses of Widsith are the oldest in the English language, and form the earliest output in verse of any Germanic people. Widsith contains a huge catalog of 70 tribes and 69 important people, many of whom are proven to have lived in the third, fourth and fifth centuries. The vast knowledge of history which was required of a good scop, just amazes the reader. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature(v1,ch3,s6,n30) states that so many princes and peoples are mentioned in the course of the poem that its importance for the history of the migration period can hardly be overestimated. This Old English poem was transcribed by a monk around the year 1000. Widsith tells the story of the scop Widsith, who accompanies Ealhhild, a Lombard princess, on her journey eastward from Angel to the court of Eormanric the Goth. Ealhhild, the sister of Aelfwine, King of the Lombards, is made to marry Eormanric. In this poem the geography and the chronology are not precise or accurate.
“At an early date Germanic kings began to keep professional poets, with functions not wholly unlike those of the poet laureate or official poet of later times” (Malone 75). This pretty well expresses the life of Widsith, except that he was not located at any one court, rather he travelled from the country of Egypt, India and Israel to Britain and to northern Europe, going from court to court. His home court, if it can be called such, was with King Eadgils. But Widsith travelled to all the “heathen” and non-heathen k...
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...st was the theme of sacrifice. . . .” ( Malone 77).
It’s obvious from our brief comparison between the scop in Beowulf and the scop in Widsith that the scop in Anglo-Saxon times had a very defined role: He was singer, storyteller, public relations man, recipient of gifts, traveller, linguist, historian, and servant of the audience.
Chickering, Howell D.. Beowulf A dual-Language Edition. New York: Anchor Books, 1977.
Ward & Trent, et al. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1907–21; New York: Bartleby.com, 2000
Malone, Kemp. “The Old English Scop and Widsith.” In Beowulf: The Donaldson Translation, edited by Joseph F. Tuso. New York, W.W.Norton and Co.: 1975.
The Earliest English Poems, translated by Michael Alexander. New York: Penguin Books, 1991.
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