Welcome to my second Medieval Book Club entry. For this month we read through some Anglo-Saxon poetry (in translation, of course), found free online. If you haven’t had a chance to read them yet, follow this link and give them a read. Let me tell you, it was a blast reading through this poem and, if you are familiar with the stories in the Book of Genesis, you’ll find yourself fascinated with this poetic retelling.
For March we will be reading The Discarded Image by C.S. Lewis. The preview post for this one can be found here, and I am looking forward to reading that book. If you are at all interested, I would love to have you read along and come back to discuss that book on March 16th!
My Thoughts on Genesis A&B:
I really, really loved reading through this poetic retelling of the major stories in Genesis. This captures so many major events throughout the Book of Genesis:
The fall of Satan
God creating the earth
God creating Eve (the pages with about half of the creation story, including Adam, are missing from the manuscript)
The temptation of Eve and her persuasion of Adam to eat the fruit
The fall of man and removal from the Garden of Eden
Cain and Abel
Noah and the Flood
The tower of Babel
Abraham up through the sacrifice of Isaac
As mentioned above, there are spots where the website indicated pages were missing from the manuscript, which is most disappointing early on with the removal of much of God’s creation of the world. We do not see his forming of fish, birds, beasts, or Adam. Yet even with the missing pages, this is a wonderful rendition. I loved seeing the various ways in which the Anglo-Saxon culture was woven into the poetry: gold-givers, thanes, emphasis on combat, the sending of a raven before the dove on the ark, and many others. In spite of these flavorful additions, the poem mostly stays true to Scripture.
It would seem that this poem might have been the influence for Milton’s Paradise Lost, as it begins with Satan being cast down from Heaven and then, a little later, returns to him and has him sending his fallen angels out to try and corrupt mankind. It is not Satan, but one of his minions that tempts Eve. There is a tree of life, but that is not the forbidden tree that Adam and Eve eat from but rather one that is black and corrupted. And the serpent tries to persuade Adam first, who rejects the offer and scorns the serpent before it turns to convince Eve. These are likely made with no ill intent, but they are among some of the major deviations. Yet that being said, I enjoyed them as they added a little extra character and some variety to a story that I know so well from the Bible. It’ll never become what happened, but I can appreciate the creativity here.
There really isn’t much more to say about this. I wish that we could have seen their version of Joseph’s story, as I am certain it would have held some great gems that tied into their culture. I am also very excited to read the Anglo-Saxon poems for Exodus and Daniel a little later this year. It is great that they created these poems in Old English, long before printed Bibles could be easily manufactured. It would have allowed everyone to know some of these basic stories without the need to read latin or any other unfamiliar language in which the few Bibles would have been transcribed into. The best way to ensure the religion spreads through the culture would be to take the stories, put into their common language, and put a modern flavor on some aspects of the stories. That is exactly what we have here.
And, true story, I laughed when I read that Noah sent a raven out from the ark.
- What were your overall impressions from reading the poem? Were there parts of the poem that really stood out to you as being more enjoyable to read in this format?
- Which Biblical stories would you like to see done in Anglo-Saxon form? They did these Genesis stories, Exodus, and Daniel. Are there any other stories or books in the Bible that stand out as ideal for Anglo-Saxon poetry? My thoughts are that Samson and Joshua would be prime candidates.
- While this is certainly no replacement for Scripture, do you think an approach like this could make the Bible, or parts of the Bible, easier for today’s readers to read and enjoy while still taking away key principles from Scripture?
I am so bummed I missed this month’s reading. I just finished an OE Texts course at Uni Nottingham and read Genesis A in OE. I think there is something so lovely in the original that just doesn’t come across the same in modern English, although they are techincally the ‘same’ language (just 1400 years apart!).
David Wiley said:
I’m trying to teach myself to read in OE and it is a slow process. I agree, though, that it is a lovely language as you grasp it. Any suggestions on how to approach gaining proficiency in OE?
I only wish I were proficient! Adequate perhaps describes my skills best. I found a basic primer, such as Peter S. Baker’s Introduction to Old English a very helpful guide, as it has what he calls ‘mini-texts’ for translation practice. It also helped that I had a tutor and coursework to complete! But the most helpful work I did was simply translation itself–line by line, reading and comparing it against a ModE version. There is also a great FB Old English page, frequented by some very scholarly and very enthusiastic spakers of all backgrounds, interest levels and abilities. Hope to see you there!
I look forward to future correspondence vis a vis The Discarded Image.