Monday, December 13, 2010


Beowulf is an extremely well known and influential piece of Anglo-Saxon literature. The 3182 line poem, which operates under the appropriate description of ‘heroic  epic’ poetry.
This poem was written sometime in the period between the 8th and 11th centuries, though the identity of the writer is unknown, and was set in Scandinavia.

The ever increasing, and wide ranging popularity of this poem meant that it drew much interest, in terms of many different translations being offered. One translation, however, which has been highly credited as the most accurate and true to the original story, is the translation carried out by renowned Irish poet, Seamus Heaney. It has been noted that Heaney’s translation contained Northern Irish diction, and many Irish phrases, which may have contributed to its qualities of uniqueness.

On a more general level, the original version of Beowulf is quite a typical example of Anglo-Saxon poetry in terms of the techniques and language styles used. As with most Anglo-Saxon literature, alliteration plays a big role in the oral telling of the poem.

‘He put no blame on the blade’s cutting edge’ (line 1811, Seamus Heaney’s translation)
This line from the modern translation is a good example of how Heaney managed to successfully preserve the alliterative qualities of the original version of the poem. This is a great achievement, as the translation is also fully idiomatic.

The poem’s story itself is quite intriguing, regarding its reflection on how society operated at the time of writing. It is of course a mythical interpretation rather than realistic, though it is quite gripping nonetheless. Beowulf himself has the qualities of a great warrior, and throughout the poem, he engages in three major battles.

of Heorot, where King Hrothgar, and his wife WealhÞeow spend time singing and celebrating with their warriors. Grendel’s attack and murder of Hrothgar’s warriors prompts Beowulf to come to offer to help Hrothgar. During this battle, Grendel’s skin proves impenetrable by the swords of Beowulf’s thanes. Grendel is finally defeated by Beowulf, who tears Grendel’s arm from his body, which leaves him fleeing home to die in the marshes.

Grendel’s mother is the source of Beowulf’s second battle. The monster attacks Heorot in an Beowulf, who, armed with a sword presented to him by another warrior. Once in battle, Beowulf realises that this sword is powerless over his enemy, and he throws it away. Beowulf eventually defeats her by grabbing a sword from her armoury and using it to behead her.

Having coming through this second battle victorious, Beowulf returns home to his people, and becomes king. Much later in Beowulf’s life, a slave steals a golden cup from the lair of a dragon, who is furious when he realises what has happened, and flies into a rage in which he burns everything he can. Beowulf comes to confront the dragon, with two warriors. One of his warriors, Wiglaf, stays to help him. Between them, they slay the dragon, however, beowulf died of his wounds. In the end, Beowulf was cremated and buried with the dragon’s treasure.

For me, this incredible poem has been extremely influential since its conception, and will continue to provide inspiration for many texts in the future.

Anglo-Saxon Literature Vs Modern Literature

The Similarities and Differences Between Anglo-Saxon Literature and Modern Literature

As can be expected due to the relative polarity between the two cultures, there are many differences between literature as it was then and as it is now, in its more developed form. In general, areas that have undergone major changes include the use of themes, and of course, language usage, which has improved due to the relatively recent development of literary techniques, some of which did exist in the Anglo-Saxon era.

Old English literature, is an extremely interesting subject to study, particularly poetry, with its renowned oral tradition.  There were a couple of disadvantages to reciting poetry rather than writing it, but they were far outweighed by the benefits of such an intriguing style. In general, oral poets were afforded much more freedom of expression, because the Anglo Saxons didn’t document any rules of poetry, so as far as we know,  they weren’t necessarily confined to the many rigid rules and structures to which modern poetry is bound. Today,the poetry of that time might possibly be referred to as “freestyle”. We also know that sometimes poetry telling could be accompanied by background music. There is no concrete proof, but the instruments used for this purpose may have varied. We are aware that the harp was one instrument, but any others cannot be known for definite.

Alliteration is one of the literary techniques which did exist in Anglo-Saxon literature.  According to Collins English Dictionary, “alliteration” is defined as ‘the use of the same sound at the start of words occurring together’. As I have stated earlier, the use of this literary technique allows a group of words to flow. There are examples of this in both modern literature, and in Old English literature. As a modern example, in the music genre Hip Hop, 2Pac’s song ‘If I die 2nite’ from his album ‘Me Against the World’, is a highly alliterative song, in which the sounds created by the use of broad vowel alliteration in particular gives the song quite an aggressive appearance. “Picture perfection, pursuin’ paper with a passion”is a line which shows this technique very well.

  “Beowulf” is a famous Old English heroic epic poem which has all of the elements of a good oral work of literature. It consists of 3182 alliterative lines in its original form. Seamus Heaney’s poetic translation of this incredible poem does great justice to the way in which it was originally composed. Heaney managed to keep much of the alliterative style of “Beowulf”. The line ‘He put no blame on the blade’s cutting edge’ (line 1811) is an appropriate example of the great job that Heaney did with his translation.

The ballad is another form of Anglo-Saxon poetry, which was typically sung rather than spoken
Due to the poetry’s oral nature, Old English poets needed a very specific skill set in order to be able to cope with the complexity of their task. In general, these poets needed an extremely strong memory; both for holding memories of the past, and for holding the stories that needed to be told. They obviously also needed to be very skillful in the vocal department so they could succeed in storytelling. In addition, they were usually quite boastful of their skills, possibly so that they may come across as intimidating, maybe in order to make it more difficult for new poets to displace them  

In further reference to the genre of Hip Hop in modern music, rappers share many of the same characteristics as Old English poets. Like their Anglo Saxon counterparts, they can be quite boastful. No other rappers however, seem to be quite as boastful as one in particular; Eminem. He certainly makes sure that his confidence can be clearly communicated through many of his songs. For example, the first few lines of his song “’Til I Collapse” are a clear indication of his confidence in his own ability. These particular lyrics say:
 “’Til I collapse i’m spillin’ these raps as long as you feel ‘em, ‘til the day that I drop you’ll never say that i’m not killing ‘em”.

 He is a rapper at the summit of the modern music industry. His incredible lyrical ability has been praised many times, and his vocal ability, which is second to none in the modern age, is perhaps an indication of how similarly talented Old English poets may have been. Even though our knowledge of them is quite bare, there are a couple of Old English poets we are familiar with today. Caedmon is one with whom we are well acquainted, for the reason that “Caedmon’s Hymn”  is one of the very few original Old English poems that we know of. This nine line poem praises “the might of the creator”, and has many other holy connotations. Indeed, this poem gives us a huge insight into how important religion may have been to those who lived in these times. The fact that there are eight different names for “God” within the nine lines of this poem show us how religious thought was at the forefront of Caedmon’s mind. Caedmon and Bede are two of the three Old English poets to have a proper biography on them, Alfred being the other.

I personally love the idea that people who lived in the 14th and 15th centuries can value the same skills as people who live in the 21st. Much has changed during those five or six hundred years, but equally, there are many surprising comparisons. The similarities between modern hip hop and Old English poetry are fascinating. In my opinion, these similarities may provide some insight into the possibility that the modern music industry has in some way been influenced by the incredible oral tradition of Old English poetry.

Despite poetry being quite a prominent form of Anglo-Saxon literature, prose, which consists mostly of stories, was also a very popular, and extremely intricate. In terms of themes, they were strongly dominated by religion. It seems to have been divided into two sections, Christian prose, and Secular prose.  
King Alfred was one of the most well known authors of the Christian theme. He translated mainly from Latin to Old English. ‘The Consolation of Philosophy’  by Boethius is an example of one of the major texts from this theme.

Secular prose is quite the opposite to Christian prose, as the very definition of the word “secularism” is that political or governmental rule is favoured over religious rule. lfric and Wulfstan were two of the main authors from this end of the spectrum.

Anglo-Saxon literature is majestic both in appearance and content, and it is fascinating to see how wide ranging the differences are between Old and Modern English, yet at the same time, they are quite similar in many aspects.   

Monday, November 29, 2010

Robin Hood

Robin Hood: one of the most popular and enduring myths of all time.

Almost everybody has grown up with and is familiar with some version of the Robin Hood myth. I certainly remember spending my childhood watching the Walt Disney adaptation of the outlawed hero’s tale in all it’s animated glory. In fact, this particular version is a perfect example of just how timeless the tale really is; by virtue of the fact that even though it was created in 1973, it was still extremely popular and widely available on VHS throughout the 1990s. While this is very interesting (and a little bit nostalgic), this is a subject which should be examined in an objective and un-biased manner, so that we can uncover the true reasons that this is such an incredible myth.

The main reason for the durability of the Robin Hood story is that it reaches out to the majority of the world’s population, in no small part due to the “take from the rich to give to the poor” philosophy which has become so renowned, which certainly has an influence in modern times, and of course, it is especially resonant in recessionary times such as these. For example, in the context of Irish politics, the Labour party is one group who have adopted a sort of modern political variation of this philosophy in the hope that it will win over the majority of the Irish electorate. My point in this digression is, I believe that the equal distribution of wealth is a sentiment that people will always agree with, regardless of the time period.

There were many ballads and tales written about Robin Hood in the Medieval time period. The earliest known ballad is “Robin Hood and the Monk” [1], written sometime after 1450 AD. In this particular ballad, Robin orders Little John to carry his bow, “But Litull John shall beyre my bow, til that me list to drawe.” but Little John Refuses refuses. “Thou shall beyre thin own.” This sparks an argument between the two, causing them to separate. Robin is then captured by the sheriff, and placed in prison. When Little John hears this, he swears to rescue him. This ballad has been recognised as a very influential text, and has had much praise heaped upon it.                                                                                 After this ballad, came a collection of tales, called “A Gest of Robyn Hode”, and then “Robin Hood and the Potter”, circa 1503. Between these texts, the story and myth of Robin Hood was firmly established, along with the  philosophy of stealing from the rich to give to the poor.

Another major factor in the popularity of the myth is of course, its continued use in modern film. Indeed, it can be found that each of these films keep the famous philosophy of “taking from the rich to give to the poor”. One difference I have found, however, is that the films don’t necessarily seem to keep the traditional image of Robin Hood’s unique green suit. As I have already mentioned, Walt Disney created the version with which I am most familiar. I think that the animation played a huge part in its 20 year lifespan, and the use of anthropomorphic animals was extremely clever. What child doesn’t like the idea of a heroic fox with a bear as a sidekick?[2]                                                                          Robin Hood had a cameo appearance more recently in another well known animated film; Shrek. This was quite a humorous portrayal, in which he is given a slight French accent, presumably to accentuate the humour[3].                                                                                                                                      And of course, it would be silly to forget the portrayal of Robin Hood in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, as Sir Robin the-Not-Quite-So-Brave-as-Sir-Launcelot.[4]  The more serious adaptations of Robin Hood, however, such as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,[5] and the most recent version, Robin Hood[6] (2010) are just as enthralling, as they stick more closely to the original portrayal of the myth.

We have now seen how popular and enduring the tale of Robin Hood is, and how it is a tale that will always prove popular among every age group, and in any era. On a personal level, I find it absolutely fascinating how there can be so many different cinematic interpretations of a single myth, which range from purely comic, to serious representations. I think that this apparent popularity is a true indication of how many future generations will also be enriched by this tale of such a fantastic hero.  

Monday, November 1, 2010

                    Aimee Morrison’s Article on Blogging:
I have only recently read this article, and I regret not doing so sooner due to the volume of information presented.

   The article, in its entirety, can be found here: 
 I realise that the general opinion is that this is a very disorganised article, and I can appreciate this viewpoint. However, to me, this seems  to be the case only due to its length. Once I took the time to read through it in detail, I found it to be a very informative article, even for those who consider themselves knowledgeable in the subject. On the other hand, it is an article to which I wouldn’t hasten to refer anyone who knows little about such facets of modern technology. It seems that Aimee Morrison has placed an emphasis on ensuring that her article is easily understandable for anyone who should choose to read it.

As I have briefly mentioned earlier, I think that Morrison’s use of relatively simple language should be commended, as it makes an understanding of the world of blogging a little bit more accessible to the average person. I also like the manner in which she takes us step by step through each section of the article. This, however, is a minimum requirement, given that otherwise, we would be faced with an almost insurmountable text, which can look quite intimidating on first glance. That said, I personally don’t think she could have made it as engaging if she had skipped some of the detail. 

 I think that the statistics she uses, though useless to those looking to learn about blogging, are quite interesting for those who are looking to read this piece of writing in a more relaxed manner, and they contribute greatly towards giving the article a feel of being complete, which of course is essential if it is to be taken as an authoritative source of information on the subject. For example, the fact that there were only 23 blogs present anywhere on the internet by 1997, just shows how recent a phenomenon blogging – and of course the internet itself – really  is. The tag “phenomenon” is one that is emphatically placed upon the entirety of the alternate universe known as the internet. However, when you see the astounding rate of growth of the online community, it becomes clear that it truly is a phenomenon. Since those modest beginnings in 1997, the popularity of blogging has rocketed. According to Morrison’s article, as of the end of 2006, there were 54 million blogs online. However, I have yet to mention  the really amazing statistic: it has been estimated that a new blog is created every second. This mind boggling nugget of information prompted me to take out my calculator. I eventually worked out that at the rate of one blog per second, assuming that the creation of these blogs began from scratch, it would take around three years and 143 days for every single person on the planet to eventually have a blog. Yes, that’s what I do with my spare time....
 Morrison continues on to describe in detail the many different types and genres of blog,  highlighting “blogging in literary studies” as holding a significant proportion of the blogging "market". I don’t find it at all difficult to believe this statement; after all, that is exactly the purpose of this blog, isn’t it?
Even if it is slightly long, I found Aimee Morrison’s blog to be quite an entertaining read, packed full of interesting facts and figures. It is a fantastic article for those who take an interest in such matters. However, if you are not already familiar with the world of blogging and are looking for advice and instruction, I would advise you to look elsewhere.