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The Anglo Saxon Society, the King and the Scop.

·614 words·3 mins·ðŸ™ˆ ·

The Anglo Saxon society had a hierarchical structure.

Since Anglo Saxons were Germans, the Germanic values were held in great consideration:

  • loyalty
  • physical courage (to fight)
  • personal freedom
  • bravery

The King #

The king, at the top of the society, had its own group of warriors, the thanes, bound by loyalty to him - the most important value. King and thanes togheter form the comitatus.

Usually the king also created a mid-hall, like the one we’ve seen in Beowulf, which is a large room in the castle, where people joined to celebrate victory and to drink. The main hobbies of Germanic people, were, in fact, feasting and drinking.

The most common jobs were artisans, farmers and warriors.

The Scop #

The word scop comes from the word shape, which is derived from the Old English verb shippam “To Create”, since the Scop manufactured stories like an artisan creates shapes.

He had to tell folks in the mid-hall, traditional stories, orally, since the major slice of the population was illiterate.

He was also present in battles, as a commentator and an observer, this way scops managed to record centuries of Old English language, common life and heroic acts.

The Scop didn’t just tell stories, he also played musical instruments, usually a harp to make the stories easier to recall for the illiterate listeners.

The Scop had vocal conscience: he was telling history, but also collecting history.

Thanks to this figure epic poems, such as the Beowulf, survived through centuries, without being written. We find a similar case with the Iliad and the Odyssey, heritages from the Greek oral tradition too.

Anglo-Saxon Poetry #

Poems were usually sang or accompanied by music, tramanded orally by scops. The main themes are

  • historical events, like invasions, emphasizing bravery and honour of the warriors.
  • pagan sources
  • inspired from the bible

Anglo-Saxon poems can be splited in two main genres: Epic poems and Elegies.

Elegies #

The main theme of an elegy is the MC’s sorrow and solitude, while he is contemplating his loneliness.

Usually the MC is an exiliated man from his community, he is afraid of remaining alone, he contemplates his loneliness while wandering alone.

Solitude, according to Germanic logic, is worse than dying for the community.

Epics #

The Beowulf is the most-important Anglo-Saxon epic poem, and it is the only one which survived in old English. The main themes of the Beowulf are bravery, courage and history, both of the hero and of the Danes.

Epics can be splitted in two types:

  • Primary Epics, first transmitted orally then written down, like the Iliad.
  • Secondary Epics, first written down then chanted, like the Anaeid.

Features of Anglo-Saxon poetry #

The main features of Anglo-Saxon poetry are three, like Caesura, Allitteration and Kennings.

Caesura is a pose in the middle of a line, indicated by a punctuation mark. Caesura made the composition more pleasant-sounding and allowed the scop to inhale air.

Allitteration, repetion of letters and syllabes to give a song-like sound to the poem.

Kennings are unique to Old-English and are made combining two words. For example, the term bone house refers to the skeleton, since the skeleton is the house of bones.

Anglo-Saxon in daily life #

To this day, Anglo-Saxon culture and Old English still is a pillar of English language.

The first example is England itself: the name England comes from Engla + land which means land of the Angles. Engla is the genitive case of Angle.

Reading and Birmingham both have germanic origins. The suffix ing refers to a folk family, for example Birmingham probably was the farm (ham) of the Birm family.

The etymology of Manchester instead comes from Latin too: Manchester was a castra (military camp) of men.