OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE (449-1066)
THE ANGLO-SAXON INFLUENCE
In the fifth century A.D., several tribes landed in England. They were the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes. Together they are referred to as Anglo-Saxons. The island got its name from the Angles – Anglo-land, later shortened to England. The present English literature is based on the language of the Anglo-Saxons.
The longest and the earliest surviving piece of the Anglo-Saxon literature is Beowulf. It is based on the ancient traditions which the Anglo-Saxons brought from their home continent. Other literary pieces as old as Beowulf were few riddles, battle poems, and songs that show the interests of the people of their melancholy and restless wandering.
English literature is particularly indebted to the Venerable Bede who wrote in Latin The Ecclesiastical History of the English People. This book comprises in a single flowing narrative a coherent history of the conversion of the English people to Christianity.
Another great patron of English literature was King Alfred the Great (871-910) who established a system of education and made Winchester a center for scholars and writers. He wrote in English and caused many Latin books to be translated into English for the people. He also started the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, the oldest account of English history written in English which recorded the national history yearly as it occurred.
The Anglo-Saxon period was brought to a close by the Norman Invasion in 1066, a century after Alfred’s death.