Saturday, July 23, 2011


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The Anglo-Saxons were the first peoples to invade Briton after the Romans evacuated. By defeating the Celts and other inhabiting tribes the Anglo-Saxons became the dominant culture in England for about 600 years. In these years, their beliefs and customs flourished and many of these can be observed through the reading of Anglo-Saxon literature, especially in Beowulf. The presence of the “Other” in Anglo-Saxon literature is noted in three distinct interpretations by which the Other is excluded from society, used to classify oneself against, and frequently used to displace personal tribulations.

Although people generally fit into the social order there are those among us (“Others”) who are alienated by diverse characteristics not familiar to a certain society. This interpreted quote by Foucault implies both the physical and mental differences that separate those who lived in clans and those who were outcasts. Most people lived in single family homesteads and were organized around a leader. As in the case with the dragon, which we see as a monster, might have actually been an outsider with whom others could not relate. Such a person could be either of a different race or of deformed nature and probably had a different mindset then most members of the community. With the dragon his looks were unacceptable to the public and he had a greedier demeanor by hoarding his treasures. This last part is particularly not acceptable since leaders and people with wealth were supposed to give gifts to their followers.

Most people fashion themselves based on an established norm or in other cases by being the converse of the established outsider. Utilizing Greenblatt’s quote we can infer that peopled prided themselves in being part of a close knit clan and despised those “Others” who did not follow suit. Grendel, who was always the outsider due to his hereditary background, is an easy person for people to define themselves against. His solitude, cannibalism, cowardice, and ancestry prove him to be the antithesis of the Anglo-Saxon culture. This person in society may have been a descendant from a once abandoned member of society that most exemplified these traits.

Even if there is scrutiny among familiar peoples there will always be an outcast (“Other”) to which blame can be placed upon. Kamp’s quote sheds light on the fact that not all people are perfectly molded to fit into society, and that they use these insecurities to place even more fault on those who are outsiders. In doing this the people can maintain social equality among themselves and keep the outsiders from fitting back into society. When Beowulf came to Hrothgar’s mead-hall he was challenged by Unferth’s disbelief in his abilities. By condemning Unferth for killing his own kin Beowulf escapes further persecution and is compelled to boast of his accomplishments. This fulfills poetic ideals in Anglo-Saxon culture as to how fame and reverberation in poetry could provide defense against death.

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Through these three interpretations of Anglo-Saxon literature the culture is defined by the use of antagonists and relation to the Other. Almost all examples from the book Beowulf can provide an adequate expression of Anglo-Saxon culture. Possibly through the use of other literature and poetry originating in the Anglo-Saxon era many more ideas and concepts can be extracted.

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