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The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology Paperback – Mar 12 2009
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About the Author
Kevin Crossley-Holland is the winner of the Carnegie Medal.
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I was not especially impressed with the poetry translation; the alliteration is sporadic in the extreme and the division of each line into two half lines of two beats was occasionally lacking. Seamus Heaney has a much better (stylistically speaking) translation of Beowulf and Lee Hollander is much more consistent in his translation of the very similar Norse poetry.
Overall: a nice broad introduction to the Anglo-Saxon culture, but the poetry translation is stylistically lacking.
If you have more than a passing interest in Anglo-Saxon literature, though, I would strongly recommend that you take a few weeks to learn Old English. (here is a marvelous tool that includes an audio CD so you can hear Anglo Saxon spoken slowly and clearly as you learn: Complete Old English (Anglo-Saxon) with Two Audio CDs: A Teach Yourself Guide (Teach Yourself Language) ).
Once you have learned some Old English, you can start reading Beowulf right away with this excellent student edition that has a running dictionary, so you don't have to keep looking up words: Beowulf: A Student Edition.
Even if you take the time to learn some Old English, I would still recommend getting this book just to have it. You will probably return to it again and again.
As always, if you feel this review is unhelpful, please leave a comment and let me know how it can be improved. Thanks!
Anything from the Anglo-Saxon time period would have been written in Old English which is unreadable except to scholars today so you have to read in translation. This is a great one. It has the feel, the emotion and the drama that I assume the original poet would have wanted to convey. Beowulf is a very dramatic poem. It's the heroic code in a nutshell. It's also where Tolkien got many of his ideas for The Hobbit. I am so glad to have been forced to read and discuss this when I really wasn't excited about it.
The other reason for enjoying it so much is that I have a great and inspiring literature professor. These older and sometimes difficult texts come alive with someone who loves them. The Anglo-Saxpms became living, breathing people. I love having my mind stretched and this book did it.
Firstly we get an introduction that like so many Oxford World Classics is well worth a read. We then get into the ‘meat and potatoes’ of the book with a selection of Heroic Poems. These are interesting in that they set the scene for the book overall and especially for the later epic Beowulf. We get discussion about laws, extracts of The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and elegies to/about different character types such as ‘The Wanderer’ and ‘The Seafarer’. We also get examples of letters between men of importance which gives insight into the concerns of them (though perhaps not the laymen). Moving onwards there are examples of wills and land grants and even examples of charms and remedies used to heal the sick. One of the last parts is an example of a sermon.
The whole point of this book is to give the reader an overview of literate Anglo-Saxon society. It does this with aplomb given the choices made by the translator (and presumably editor/publisher). The way legal documents were set forth is evinced by the deeds, wills and grants, the manner of churchmen in their dealings with each other and the manner of the exhortations to the great and good is well shown by the sermon and the epic Beowulf is ably backed up by the other heroic poems at the start of the book when it comes to illustrating the cultures world views. It has to be said that much of this could be considered fairly heavy going. It is certainly a more academic read than it would have been had it only consisted of Beowulf and the other heroic poems as some of the other pieces are hardly riveting in terms of action and suspense. They are, indeed, of more interest to someone wanting to get at that Anglo-Saxon world view and the behaviours and ideals that were put on the proverbial pedestal by that culture.
If you are the sort of person who already has works like Beowulf, Gilgamesh and the Mabinogion on their bookshelf this will sit happily alongside it. Just be advised that is has a lot of inclusions that aren’t of the heroic nature of the above as it is using a variety of source types to illustrate, well, the Anglo-Saxon world.