"The history of a national literature is part of the whole national story"(1) -- important idea! Eliot and Pound said you can't write something new until you know from whence you came. The history of English is their in its literature and the begin pieces are few: Beowulf, Widsith, The Ruin, "The Seafarer", "The Wanderer", Exeter Book, Vercelli Book, Junian Manuscript.
"Christian scribes first wrote down the heathen memories," oral traditions (2). "Irish missionaries who used a Roman alphabet. A school of Roman handwriting was established in the south of England by Augustine" in the 5th century (2).
When Northumbria was Christianized by the Irish, "the preachers taught their disciples to write the Word in the characters more pleasing to God than the ruins of heathendom" (2).
Interesting research: Lindisfarne Gospels of 700 AD
"The writing materials of medieval England included wooden tablet, coated with wax, and written upon with bone or metal. Parchment and vellum were used for writing meant to endure" (3).
"A professional class of scribes came into existence working in the monasteries" (3). The first English poet known is Widsith, a scop in the 6th century, for the "Wide Wanderer". "Deor's Lament" is a similar style poem about misfortune for those who were once happy (3). The life of the English sea going people was a harsh living.
An Old English elegy poem about a man who has lost the protection of his lord and wanders for a resting place. Only in dreams does he find happiness, but day brings the reality of the cold sea.
A dialogue between an old man who know the joyless sea life and a young man who will not be deterred from adventure by the old man's tales. Or a man who hates the cruel sea, but knows no other life.
(notes from page 3)
"Wife's Complaint" and "Husband's Message" - in "The Ruin" tale of Exeter book
They describe the life and practices of the time period.
(notes from page 4)
Old English verse was made for oral delivery (5). The alliteration was "meant to mark the chords and clashes of noise" for action in the story (5).
Unwritten or Written
"Some communities have regarded writing as the enemy of man's memory"so they refused to write their story (5). "Laws were recorded before lyrics" (5).
German Barbarians and Roman Religion
"Invading German barbarians overwhelmed British religion" (6). Celtic (Irish) missionaries and Augustine re-Christianized the British, "Wyrd would give place to an all-seeing Father and grace," hope, mercy to lighten the dark terror of the heathen faith (6).
1st - define what is "culture".
2nd - what would help you understand a culture more quickly and more completely, a copy of their laws or a story, some lyrics?
3rd - what does is say about a society that they would preserve their materials used for writing to keep records of their laws before recording their folklore, oral stories?
Beowulf is a pagan tale converted to Christian English poetry. "God and angels, or Christ and the apostles, take something life the form of English chief with the shining host of unconquerable clansmen" (6).
Celtic not Roman --
St. Augustine landed at Ebbsfleet in 597
St. Columba was at Iona in 563
St. Aidan from Iona came to Lindisfarne in 635
Use these web addresses to locate:
St. Patrick Island- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Patrick's_Island
--The point is this: "the missionaries who carried Christianity into the Anglian kingdoms came not merely from the island of St. Patrick but from the island of Deirdre, and it was in a monastery ruled by Celtic, not Roman, usage that Caedmon found his gift of song" (6). Thus northern English literature was influenced by the Celtic. This is important to emphasize because language is by the people for the people (those invaders, Britons, and Celts), not the ruling government (Romans-Latin). Those Irish missionaries and monks would preserve the oral memories of those invading Germans and bring to them the Roman Christian ideals in a mix of Anglo-Saxon (and Picts, etc.) language.
Dante and Chaucer realized language is for the people when they chose to write in the vernacular instead of the Italian and courtly French of the elite.