The Anglo-Saxon period is written in “narrative verse that is elevated in mood and uses a dignified dramatic and formal style to describe the deeds of aristocratic warriors and rulers”. This statement applies very well to the text of The Battle of Maldon. This wonderful piece of poetry has many characteristics of the Anglo-Saxon period. I will show the extent to which The Battle of Maldon is representative of the period. This will be shown by the description of the Anglo-Saxon period, a description of the author and the parallel between the period and the text.
The Anglo-Saxon period lasted from the seventh century to the fifteenth century. Throughout this time writers have stayed within the boundaries of their interests of the time. For them their leaders and heroes were important and this is reflected through their literature. The heroic ideal, which was very important for this period, was for the people to look up to their heroes for leadership. It is said that in this period “kingly behavior was perhaps the chief spiritual force behind the civilization.” The hero or the king had to strive to do better than anyone else in many things. The hero also had to be very skillful and courageous. He was expected to sail a ship through a storm, swim a river or a bay, tame a wild horse and set firm defenses but above all he was to fight. The hero would lead his men into battle and to bring them to victory or he would die trying. This was a lot of things for the hero to live up to. Also, during this time, England was under steady attack by the Danes and the Vikings. England was now “punctuated by ever increasing raids upon their territories by ravaging and pillaging Vikings.” England was suffering because many raiding parties were coming from Scandinavia for over five hundred years. The Vikings were raiding the shores of England for many years now but because of the political instability in England the raids were becoming more frequent. At the time, England was ruled by Aelheird “the unready”. He was called the unready because his reign was known for a large increase in the number of raids upon his territories by the pillaging Vikings. The raiders which were Vikings or Danes from Scandinavia, came to England in small groups looking for booty and would leave before any resistance was encountered. This caused great distress in England and eventually a tax was imposed on the people of England so the king could by the raiders peace. As a result of this many poets would write about England’s exploits against the Vikings.
Although the Battle of Maldon is a great example of the Anglo-Saxon period, the author is unknown. No one knows who the author is because the original manuscript was burned. Also due to this fire, the text is lacking ” a number of lines at the beginning and end, though most scholars feel that nothing very substantial has been lost.” The author of the Battle of Maldon is a very talented writer, his work is compared to one of the greatest Anglo-Saxon texts of all time. The author “was apparently well versed in heroic English poetry of the type of Beowulf.” The author had a great imagination because he “does a brilliant job of adapting traditional epic mannerisms to his description of a local battle of no historical importance.” Also “the poem is remarkable for its vivid, dramatic combat scenes and for its Germanic ethos of loyalty to a leader.” This quote shows us that the author is staying with the characteristics of the period and the heroic ideal.
The text, the Battle of Maldon, has many things in common with the characteristics of the period in which it was written. The Battle of Maldon puts a very strong accent on the heroic ideal. The hero of this poem is the Earl of Essex, his name is Birhtnoth. Birhtnoth was a great leader and loved by all his men for even though he was slain in battle, they continued fighting to avenge his death. Birhtnoth definately had skill and courage which are very important for the hero to have. Even though he was killed he was a very skilled fighter and slew many of the enemy. Birhtnoth was also extremely courageous. The vikings who were camped on an island, could only reach the mainland by a natural causway during low tide. Even then only two could cross abreast at one time. As a result of this the vikings boldly asked for free passage to the dryland for an even fight and Birhtnoth overconfidently accepted. This overconfident choice although a brave and courageous one killed him and all his men. This text as does the period deals about Viking invaders. The Vikings at Maldon were there in search of booty. They told Birhtnoth that they would leave and give them peace in trade for gold and silver. When birtnoth refused they fought and Birthnoth and his men suffered a great defeat. As we can see The Battle of Maldon has a very strong parellel with its period.
In conclusion we can see how The Battle of Maldon is representative of the Anglo- Saxon period. We have seen this through an explanation of the period in question, through the author and the similarities between the period and the text. This battle that took place “would be no more than a dim episode in a monotonous succession of disasters were it not for the great poem which describes the death of Birhtnoth.”
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